“But we were wise. We knew that man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard.”
—Chief Luther Standing Bear

For five weeks I stayed with the Xukuru indians in Pernambuco, Brazil. One of the reasons I visited them was because I am fascinated by the re-identification of indigenous peoples. The Xukuru are among them. After five centuries of repression by the colonizers, which almost cut them off entirely of their native culture and religion, the Xukuru are in a process of revival and restoration of what went lost. From the beginning of the colonization, the Portuguese forced the Xukuru to accept intercultural marriage; that’s why today they do not look exactly like we expect indians to look. Among the Xukuru there are African looking people, Asian, and even white, blond-haired people. They wear modern clothes. But when they celebrate an important fest or when they dance the Toré they wear traditional clothes like the barritina (Xukuru headdress) or the indigenous skirt made of palm leaves.

They drive around in cars, have cell phones, internet..but simultaneously they treasure their spiritual leader: the Paje, and their holy ancestors, the Encantados.

In western society, we have often this image in mind of ‘true’ indigenous: People who live in remote places of the world, have not yet been into contact with civilization, have never heard of internet or television, and look stunning in their traditional clothes. But all over the world there are indigenous peoples who do not fit into this aesthetic, photogenic picture. Are they then less indigenous, less true?

I have photographed individual Xukuru with my iPhone, and I used the Tinto 1884 Hipstamatic App. I chose this app beforehand, because I wanted to emphasize this ambivalence: this mix of the modern with the traditional; the old with the new, and by doing so, raise the question: “What is authentic, what is fake?” Is this ‘re-identification’ possible or is their ‘authentic’ culture definitely and irreversibly gone lost? Or do these people create a new kind of identity, well fit for the 21st century?

The philosophy of Bem Viver (Good Life), as practiced by the Xukuru:

We emphasize again that life is sacred , and that the earth, our mother, nourishes us and offers our sanctuaries a stay. We need to take care of her, which is a prerequisite for a ’ Good Life ‘. We experience how politics and big development projects initiated by the federal government threaten us and invade our areas to destroy the holy nature and Mother Earth, and disturb and hinder the ‘Good Life’. We reject the construction of dams, of building nuclear power plants, the diversion of the San Francisco River, and other plans for the exploitation of indigenous lands in Brazil .

We know that the ‘Good Life’ should entail a change of institution. Therefore it is necessary that we reject the values of the colonial rulers, where they are still being practiced. We want to live with respect for nature, water, forests, rocks, mountains and animals. We respect the elderly, women, youth and children. Older people are an example to us. Solidarity, unity, participation, friendship, religion, dancing the tore, harmony, freedom, impartiality, obedience, these values we cherish and we want to live. We invite anyone who wants to join us to build the ‘Good Life’.

In this series I made use of the old and the new also, by making family portraits with my analogue Mamiya 6x7 to accentuate the timeless and universal importance of family bonds.

—Claire Felicie