Spirit of the Amazon: The Indigenous Tribes of the Xingu
This book charts the changes in the lives and fortunes of these incredible people. It focuses on their humanity and on their individuality. It shows that they are people, just as we are people, and not simply exotic objects. It tells us that they have a fundamental right to our respect, and that we have an obligation to protect their land, their environment and their chosen way of life.”
Spirit of the Amazon is the work of photojournalist Sue Cunningham and writer Patrick Cunningham. It is a celebration of cultural difference and a call for better stewardship of the world. Sue’s stunning photos bring the tribal cultures of the Xingu River basin to life; she photographs indigenous people in their rainforest environment as they celebrate traditional ceremonies, and during their everyday lives. Patrick questions policies which set out to impose mainstream materialism on them and explains spiritual differences which set them apart, while showing their relevance to the modern world. The book follows the fascinating history of their interactions with non-indigenous people, from first contact right up to the current Brazilian government, and it describes how they have suffered, survived and now exist alongside mainstream Brazilian society.
During the Heart of Brazil Expedition the authors followed the course of the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, travelling 2,500 km by boat. Having visited numerous indigenous villages over the years, usually arriving by small aircraft, they wanted to better understand the geographical and cultural interrelationship between the many ethnic groups which inhabit the Xingu River basin. They were the first outsiders since 1887 to take six months descending the full length of the river and on th
During the Heart of Brazil Expedition the authors followed the course of the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, travelling 2,500 km by boat. Having visited numerous indigenous villages over the years, usually arriving by small aircraft, they wanted to better understand the geographical and cultural interrelationship between the many ethnic groups which inhabit the Xingu River basin. They were the first outsiders since 1887 to take six months descending
the full length of the river and on that epic journey they visited 48 tribal villages in this remote part of the Amazon.
This is the story of the tribal communities they met; their daily lives, their connection to the land and to the rivers, the threats which pervade each day of their lives. It is also a validation of their importance to the rest of the world; why these small, remote and often secretive indigenous communities are so important to our own lives and to our shared planet. It is a celebration of their vibrant cultures, their rituals and their rites of passage, of cultures very different from each other, but with a shared spiritual basis which respects the trees, the rivers and the rain. And it is a call for the world to protect them, their lands and their forests and rivers from the destruction which our avaricious greed for natural resources drives ever closer and deeper into their realm.
About the author & photographer
Photojournalist Sue Cunningham was born in London, but moved to Brazil at the age of twelve. Writer Patrick Cunningham was born in Northamptonshire. In the early 1980s, while on a commission to cover industrial mining in the Amazon, Sue came into contact with the Xicrin tribe. She experienced first-hand the discrimination they suffered and the immense threats they were under from pressures for the development of the Amazon. Sue later took Sting, and Anita and Gordon Roddick (The Body Shop) into the Amazon to visit the tribes of the Xingu and help raise global awareness.
In 2007, Sue and Patrick won a Royal Geographical Society award for their Heart of Brazil Expedition. They slept in hammocks as guests of the communities they visited, or camped on the sands of the Xingu. The 48 remote tribal communities they visited are formed of 17 ethnic groups, who between them speak 14 languages. They were accompanied only by indigenous boatmen, who alone know and understand the treacherous rapids. With so many wild animals in the vast tracts of virgin rainforest the chance of a dangerous encounter was always present, but the couple chose to go unarmed, aware that carrying a weapon – or even having one in their possession – may give the wrong message to their indigenous hosts. It was a unique and hard-won privilege to gain extended access to tribes who keep the outside world at a distance, and a life-changing experience for them.
In the years since, Sue and Patrick’s dedication to the cause of indigenous peoples’ rights has grown into a consuming passion, and has become their life’s work. They established the charity Tribes Alive. Sue has exhibited her work in the UK, Holland, Portugal, Brazil, the USA and Japan. Her images have featured in countless books, magazines and newspapers, including Out of the Amazon, co-authored by her with text by Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, then Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
“Our hosts on the Xingu River were generous with us; they fed us, and they nourished our souls. They asked us to tell their story, to show the world that they are one with the forests, the rivers, the rocks, the trees and the sky, but to make people understand that they, too, are men and women, human beings, with hopes, aspirations and dreams for the future of their children and grandchildren.”