Meg Kidd is a Friend who has been translating human rights documentation for indigenous peoples in Brazil. The people she has been working with, the Mbya Guarani, have a deep relationship with nature and keen knowledge of botany, which makes this conversation by email an interesting story to share on Thanksgiving.
With thanks to Richard (Dick) Nurse, (Princeton Meeting) who brought this story to PYM.
Q. What first took you to Brazil and how did Friends support you as you embarked on translating?
I have been to Brazil four times.
I’ve been living in Keene, NH, pretty much in solitude for the past 18 years, (while) serving as a volunteer human rights translator for indigenous peoples in Brazil.
Preparation for translation began in 2004. It took over about a year, with clearness committee (support) graciously provided by Keene Meeting and New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) at the start. Two Quaker foundations provided grants to get things rolling.
Most of the volunteer translation work has been with the Indigenist Missionary Council in Brasilia, a branch of the Brazilian National Conference of Bishops. They have been doing the heavy lifting on documentation relevant to indigenous rights. They publish an annual report, Violence Against Indigenous Peoples in Brazil, first translated into in English in 2008.
The Guarani are among the most well documented of the indigenous peoples especially in academia. Cosmo-theology, martial art of Xondaro, and the history of the botanical encyclopedic knowledge traditionally embedded in the agraphic Mbya Guarani language. The history embedded in these works was introduced as part of a report written by anthropology professors at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, from 1998, to serve as the basis for their formal federal procedure to ratify their traditional land.
Q. How did you begin this project? What is the land access/restitution goal of the Guarani peoples?
My initial contact with (the) Mbya Guarani was in 2003. Their traditional land is situated on the Atlantic terminus of an ancient trans-continental indigenous foot path to Peru and the Pacific called the Piabiru. (Their claim to) the land—though documented and accepted by the Ministry of Justice—has yet to be ratified. (It) remains a stunningly heartbreaking and frustrating struggle that is ongoing.
The Guarani continue to work with academics and indigenous rights organizations all over the world in an effort to be recognized by the west having “written” dreadfully incomplete versions of history.
We were able to get the first international statement for the Guarani in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay on the floor of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2009 – with the aid of NEYM and New York Yearly Meeting (NYYM) both financially and by Friends opening their homes to put me up for the two weeks in Manhattan and beloved Brooklyn.
Q. As a translator, can you name a couple of the Guarani language’s linguistic conventions that are particularly interesting?
Representatives chosen by the Mbya, more knowledgeable than myself, should really be answering this.
- Sacred processes from conception to birth and life in the arrival of sacred “word soul” arriving, and the entire cosmological orientation presents perspectives of unique practical applicability in the intricately interwoven sacred universe.
- The linguistic name structures for plants, for instance, include identification beyond western taxonomy – such as whether a plant is food or medicine; and apparently in some cases (name) animal and plant ‘companions’.
This information was introduced by Litaiff and Darella in the reports utilized for the federal process of traditional land ratification.
Q. What of the Guarani history and the Spanish and the Jesuit incursions into Guarani lands?
There is an irrefutable and long-standing bibliographic record on anything anyone might want to know. The history dates back to the earliest arrivals of the Jesuits with the 1639 publication of the first Spanish/ Guarani dictionary Tesoro de Lingua Guarani (and other books) by Fr. Antonio Ruiz de Montoya.
The traditional musical disciplines of the Guarani stunned the Jesuits.
They were taught European canticles and reportedly performed them better than any European choir; became master craftsmen in instrument production. The film The Mission, by Roland Joffey, actually presents aspects of this history. The making of the film is itself an interesting historical record.
Q. What issues do the Mbya Guarani face? Can you share what the international community has done to respond?
The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (AIPB) are issuing a plea to the international community (concerning) the emergency situation that has been erupting under Bolsonaro. APIB filed a case in the International Criminal Court at the Hague and joined with organizations of Brazilian civil society and became amicus curiae in the case which was heard in October. The Brazilian Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case on Bolsonaro and his backers’ attempts to eliminate Constitutional protections for traditional indigenous lands and territories.
International Rivers (a nonprofit) has posted more background on the legislative travesties introduced by Bolsonaro and his allies.
I think we need international emergency scale restoration of what has been “externalized” by western technocracies. The massive extraction of natural “resources” and hydrographic distortions and socioenvironmental destruction caused by hydroelectric dams is covered by Philip Fearnside. Systematically and all too frequently the industrial model is institutionalizing criminal practices including human rights violations in ongoing genocide. We need desperately to end the centuries of attempted erasure by the domination model of the autochthonous integrity of the originary peoples stewarding entire ancestral biomes.
In essence, what I can provide is an elementary introduction to seminal materials and their authors.
Q. What are your personal goals?
One of my prayers is to see an ecumenical outreach to CIMI for their leadership in defining ways to support the efforts of the indigenous peoples in building international outreach and recognition.
I will continue to translate. As far as I know there has been no English publication of the academic translations I’ve drafted – nor do I yet have permission to do so. The Mbya cosmological interface with the creation is needed now more than ever. Explanations of this thinking are desperately needed in order to give full attention to the traditional land. The Guarani peoples are experiencing the contortions of climate chaos with increasing attention to near future prospects.
While the world is considerably more aware of indigenous contributions at the same time, corruption in land grabbing and unethical / criminal real estate activities, etc., continue This has a deleterious impact on entire remnants of Atlantic Forest biomes. The need for support for these efforts are at apex.
I don’t know anyone might be interested in what is in some ways a virtual parallel universe. People could learn from what ancestral models of engagement with Mother Nature look like minus the distortions of capitalism.
Whatever the case, Montoya’s characterization of the Guarani language as ‘treasure’ remains as true today as it was the seventeenth century.
What do you feel you have learned thorough your work in Brazil?
These people have taught me how to strengthen one’s heart when it all seems exhausting… a spiritual element shared deeply by both Mbyá and Friends.
The traditional land has a section that reaches onto the coast, and the real estate interests are quite active. The elements for which the Mbya are struggling embody a potential epiphany for western society in a time of global crisis. There is profound beauty in the idea that the Mbya call Yvy Maräe-ÿ, (which means) “The Land Without Evils.” Their section of the Atlantic Forest, and possibly the greater character of the entire biome was fostered by ancestral Mbya specialists in forest stewardship, over more than a millennia.
– Meg Kidd
Resources provided by Meg Kidd:
- Mongabay Series: Indigenous Peoples and Conservation
- Tesoro de la Lengua Guarani
Photo Credits: Pixaby