I am a Dutch photographer and I went to Brazil to cover the World Indigenous Games. Indigenous people from all over the world traveled to Palmas to compete in these Indigenous Olympics. It was an explosion of colors and a once in a lifetime experience.
I often used slow shutter speed to paint the athlete’s ancient rhythm. The resulting soft images connect us to our roots, to the old drawings in caves, dating back to prehistoric times – universal and fundamentally innate to all of us. But, the hazy imagery is also a metaphor for the fact that indigenous people are fading.
The so-called ‘civilization’ is closing in on them everywhere. Their land is being taken, their rights trampled, their way of life is being destroyed and they are being captured and killed. For land, for money, for power, for greed.
They are the only humans left on earth who live like our ancestors thousands of years ago. Living off the land, leaving no footprint, in harmony with their environment and with respect for all living things. And they are being annihilated.
I feel that this is one of the most shameful injustices of our times. Future history books will judge the fact that we stood by and did nothing.
The indigenous people of the world need our help to protect their way of life and to ensure their lawful claims to their land.
But we need them just as much, if not more. Their knowledge of nature, how everything is connected, is something we need now more than ever. Their profound wisdom is a clear beacon in troubled times. They are our last connection to our roots. We have a fundamental obligation to them – and ourselves – to ensure they do not fade away.
Let’s hope that together, we will learn how to respect nature. To respect that part of us that longs for forests and waterfalls, that playful part that wants to explore and be free to roam the earth in touch with our own ancient rhythm.
Last weekend, Brazil elected a new president, the far-right Jair Bolsonaro. He has vowed to destroy indigenous rights, to take the land that is rightfully theirs.
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To me, this photo represents the true ancient rhythm of indigenous people. It reminds me of old drawings in caves dating back to prehistoric times – universal and fundamentally innate to all of us
They truly are our last connection to our roots, to our ancestors, to that part of us that is nature. That part of us that is neglected and almost forgotten, but that is still there in us all
These photos are a tribute to the beauty, grace and strength of people still living a traditional lifestyle in harmony with nature
The World Indigenous Games was a mix of cultural performances and competitions between nations playing ancient sports
From spear throwing to archery to tug of war, it was truly a journey into the past
What impressed me the most was the deep sense of community: winning or losing was something they did together
Everything was done together as a group. Winning or losing was something they did together, competing with the whole community, from small children to the elderly. That sense of shared bond – the deep realization that we are in this life TOGETHER – has been lost to most of us but is still very much alive among the indigenous people of the world. They are very rich indeed.
The vast arena was entirely made up of sand, just as in ancient times. Demarcations were created by using heavy ropes, hauled and reorganized in between games
Some sports were very local traditions, played only by a specific village or tribe. One of the most spectacular examples was a kind of hockey played with a ball on fire
This match was played on the 10th day, the final evening.
My assistant and I were very lucky to be granted access to the living areas of the tribes
Indigenous is getting ready.
In the background, there are the temporary living quarters of the different tribes for the remainder of the Olympics
Indigenous man arriving at the stadium, watched by heavily armed police officers
Indigenous child playing with the camera of one of the journalists
A 70 year old indigenous man kept on trying to catch the camera drone as he was fascinated by the unknown mysterious object
Tribes gave symbolic performances in which this they expressed mourning over the loss of their traditional lifestyle
I was deeply touched by the kindness and beauty of indigenous people from everywhere around the world. They radiated health and vitality seldom seen in the ‘modern world’. Their happiness and boundless energy is clearly visible
On the fifth day of the World Indigenous Games, there were rumors of a protest. Nobody knew when or what, but the air was thick because Brazil had just passed the unjust new law PEC 215 which makes the indigenous people of Brazil even more vulnerable that their land will be taken from them
Brazil elected a far-right president Bolsonaro. Backed by big agrobusiness he has vowed to annihilate indigenous rights. “Not one centimeter of land will be demarcated for Indigenous reserves or quilombolas”, – he said
In the evening an impromptu protest erupted and emotions ran high. The indigenous people of Brazil showed that they were prepared to fight for their ancestral rights
They could have sabotaged the entire remainder of the Games, but they decided not to. Instead, they chose to honor the spirit of the Games and to respect all the tribes from all over the world who came to Brazil to participate in the Indigenous Olympics
They showed that wisdom is more than just words. They live their wisdom and it was one of the most special times of my life to witness and absorb their spirit and their energy for a week
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