School of the Arts: Ulupuene Villagers Visit Their Sacred Cavern
Since 2011, the Amazon Conservation Team has been working with the Waurá people of the Ulupuene village located in the southwest corner of Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park. Much of the work revolves around the protection of their territory, strengthening their culture and traditions. An important piece of this effort is enabling Waurá youth to learn and take pride in their ancestral history. Thus, we were thrilled to accompany several Waurá villagers from multiple generations to visit one of their tribe’s sacred sites, the Kamukuaká cave.
The Kamukuaká cave is sacred to the Waurá people. In addition to its role as a place of reverence, it is a home to impressive artwork created by the Waurás’ ancestors—this artwork is the inspiration for Waurá ceramics, which are famous throughout the Amazon. The cave is not only a site for Waurá ear-piercing rituals, but also the origin point of the Kuarup ritual practiced by both the Waurá and Kalapalo people of the upper Xingu.
Because of the cave’s cultural significance, we were more than happy to make the three-hour journey—two by river and one by unpaved roads—from the Ulupuene village to the cave. When we arrived, villagers prepared a traditional Waurá ceremony donning their best necklaces, while elders hung artwork and traditional ornaments. Once the site was prepared, the men, women, and children held a thanksgiving ritual, with a special song and dance. Later, the elders showed the cave art to the younger generation while telling them traditional stories associated with Kamukuaká.
By the end of our visit, both the older and younger generations agreed that they needed to return to Kamukuaká in the future, not only to continue the Waurá tradition of the ear-piercing ritual at this site, but also to maintain the sacred connection between the Waurá people and their past.
There is hope that we can preserve this piece of Waurá culture for future generations of villagers. Kamukuaká has been registered by IPHAN, Brazil’s national historical and artistic heritage institute, meaning that it is protected by law; however, enforcement in this area is lacking, and the site now suffers from the proximity of Brazilian fishermen who leave the area littered with a large quantity of garbage, cans and bottles.
Our brief visit demonstrated how protecting the Kamukuaká cave and other sacred sites is a crucial element of preserving the Waurá’s culture and tradition. It was a time of great excitement for everyone, especially the Waurá youth. They were enchanted by the area landscapes, the ancestral drawings that covered the rocks, and the stories that their elders told. It was also a wonderful experience for the elders, who were delighted to pass along the history and culture of this enigmatic, sacred place.