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World Cup Fever Spreads to Brazil's Amazon Rainforest

by Himabindu Venkatakrishnan on June 26, 2014 at 3:53 PM
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 World Cup Fever Spreads to Brazil's Amazon Rainforest

The World Cup is big news and brings big business, out of the stadium, right inside the Amazon rainforest.

The two dozen or so Indians in the tiny village of Tupe with one cheek covered in ritual tattoos and the other painted in the nation's green and yellow are closely following the world's premier sporting event.


They are also warmly welcoming an influx of tourists keen to add a bit of indigenous culture to their World Cup experience -- monkeys, vultures, traditional costumes and all.

Normally, only two or three groups of intrepid tourists a week head to Tupe, which is located about 35 kilometres (20 miles) from Manaus, the regional capital and host of four World Cup matches.

But since the start of the World Cup, the numbers of groups headed to the village -- which was established in 2002 and is home to 25 residents from five different tribes -- has been rising from a trickle to a steady flood.

One day earlier this week -- as Brazil took on Cameroon, eventually winning a spot in the final 16 -- tourists flocked to Tupe, which is on a section of the Taruma Mirim river, which flows into the Rio Negro.

As one group of visitors waits outside the community, admiring handicrafts and jewelry, others watch a carefully choreographed show -- one performed many times.

It is a colorful spectacle, geared for maximum impact -- the tribespeople are wearing feathered headdresses and loincloths, and dancing bells on their feet.

Village women invite the tourists to take part in the dancing, and then everyone poses for the obligatory souvenir photos -- the visitors of course don't forget first to place a few coins in baskets set out for that purpose.

One detail doesn't quite fit with the traditional image -- one of the dancers is clad in branded Celio boxer shorts.

- 'Traditional life', modern outlook -

Raimundo Veloso Vaz, a 78-year-old shaman who has made several visits to Europe to defend tribal culture, acts as head of the community and a self-styled "ambassador of the Indians."

"A hotel had just been built nearby and we thought it was a good opportunity for our traditions to be discovered," he explains.

"Gradually, other Indians have joined us."

The village, which includes a school which offers distance learning over the Internet, has two generators that hum into the night in order to generate electricity.

"People live a traditional life here and that allows us to keep our culture intact," says Vaz.

"Some are open to that; others less so. We have never forced anyone" to follow a particular cultural path, he insists, a cigarette dangling from his mouth after the day's tourist swarm has left.

"We live off tourist revenue. For some groups, it's just a show, while others are really interested in it. We'd like to do more to restore our environment, but we can't touch the forest" to develop the area, he says.

"So we have to buy food. I like what I do but I know I am participating in a system," he reflects.

- Passion for football -

Quickly, his interest shifts -- to the national football team, which the community watches on their flat-screen televisions.

"We support them all the more as we are more Brazilian than the rest -- we were here first, after all," Vaz says with a smile.

He says his community backs the World Cup, even if some Brazilians are upset at the cost of some $11 billion.

"This World Cup is a good thing for the country. For us, it is the chance to earn some more money and I hope people will get to know our culture better and respect it more."

Brazil's goals are celebrated with blasts on foghorns and flares. As the match wears on, beer cans and candy wrappers pile up on the ground.

"Every Saturday, we have matches in the community and the girls have penalty shot sessions -- that's the bit that is exciting," enthuses 25-year-old Umussi.

The young woman, whose enthusiasm knows no bounds as Brazil seal their win, says she likes the simple life she leads.

"It's great for us here. We can easily buy food in Manaus and there is a children's hospital. Where we lived before, the forest vegetation was very dense.

"If we didn't work with the tourists, we'd be unable to make ends meet," she explains, handing out her Facebook details.

Source: AFP

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