Native Village 
Youth and Education News

December 1, 2013

Indigenous Games: Holistic Alternative To the World Cup And Olympics
Condensed by Native Village


A Bororo Indian attends the Indigenous Games in Cuiaba, Brazil

Brazil: Body paint in place of uniforms. Bare feet instead of shoes. And a competition that assigns little value to winning.

The 12th Indigenous Games were held in Cuiaba in Brazil’s Amazon region. Many call the cultural and athletic event a “holistic” alternative to Brazil's upcoming extravaganzas : the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

“We’re not looking to crown champions or find great athletes,” said Carlos Terena, organizer of the games. Terena, like many indigenous Brazilians, uses his tribe’s name as his surname. “This isn’t about competition, it’s about celebration. Competition is more a thing for the Western world anyway.”

More than 1,500 participants came from 48 Brazilian tribes, as well as a dozen other nations. All participants earned “medals” carved from wood, seeds and other natural items.

The more traditional tribal sports were carried out as exhibitions rather than competitions.

A crowd favorite was a wild tree-trunk relay race. Nine or more runners sprint 550 yards around a red-dirt arena, taking turns carrying a 220-pound chunk of tree over their shoulders. Just getting to the finish line is considered victory.

Another sport, “xikunahity,” resembles soccer except the players must crawl along the ground and can only use their heads to push the ball forward.

Several tribes exhibited their own traditional forms of fighting. Most resembled wrestling or judo.

Other events such as archery tested the real-life skills of indigenous peoples. Participants carrying simple long bows put their toes along a line of palm leaves laying on the earth. About 40 yards away was their target: a large figure of a smiling fish leaping from the water. The most points are scored for drilling the arrow right into its eye.

“This is the fourth time I’m participating in these games and for me they represent a cultural revival more than anything,” said Yakari Kuikuro from the Xingu river in the Amazon. Kuikuro is part of his tribe’s tug-of-war team. Many of my family members stopped painting their bodies, they no longer dance in the villages. When I come here, I see pure Indians, with body paint, dancing together. It’s important for others to see this and take it back to their villages.”

Chief Willie Littlechild of the Cree Nation is a former member of Canada’s Parliament. Attending the games was “truly a blessing, to see that such a rich culture exists with indigenous peoples around the world,” he said. He also hoped the games allowed non-indigenous spectators “to join us in a celebration of life, to join us in our holistic approach to wellness, to the physical, the mental, cultural and spiritual well-being of humans.”

The games were held on a 17-acre chunk of park. Tents dotted the land, each holding tables of traditional crafts such as pottery, wooden bowls, woven cloth and delicately carved musical instruments that mimic the songs of jungle birds.

Other tables held seeds from dozens of types of edible plants. Food security was a main theme of this year’s event. Tribes from across Brazil were encouraged to trade seeds and take unknown varieties back to their villages.

Amelia Reina Montero from Mexico's Nahua tribe said the gathering offered a rare chance for tribes from the Americas, often with limited contact to the outside world, to interact and learn from one another.

“Despite that fact that our languages are different, that are skin varies, we’re uniting here with one heart,” she said. “That’s the Indian way.”

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