Welcoming the Wauja - Recovering Voices

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Emilienne Ireland

Sincere thanks to Judith Andrews, Keren Yairi and all the outstanding Smithsonian staff who so warmly welcomed the Wauja. As an epilogue, I must report that the Recovering Voices Project provided a felicitous, unplanned benefit to the Wauja. In order to travel to the United States, the Wauja passed through São Paulo, Brazil's largest metropolis. There, they seized the rare opportunity to visit museum collections of images taken of the Wauja a half-century ago. They discovered photos of Atapucha's own mother, who died when he was a baby, and whose face he had longed to see throughout his life. The Wauja's search across two continents to recover and document their history, and their participation in the Smithsonian's Recovering Voices project, was written up in a leading newspaper, O Estado de São Paulo, in an article titled "Recovered Voices" (in Portuguese), as well as in other articles in the Brazilian press.

Below are quotes, translated into English, from the three Wauja participants (Kuratu, Tukupe, and Atapucha Waura) describing their experience at the Smithsonian. (Excerpted from the articles published by O Estado de São Paulo, Oct. 16 and 23, 2016, and written by Juliana Ravelli and Daniel Trelli.)

"Kuratu's father, the renowned storyteller Arutatumpa, died recently. In addition to his private grief, Kuratu had to shoulder heavy ritual responsibilities in order to properly honor his father. In the midst of these burdens, he became very ill, but understood that he needed to recover and travel. "I knew nothing about this country. We went to the museum and they showed me pictures of my ancestors. I saw my father, whom I had just buried. I saw my father's older brother, and so many others who have died. It was sad. Well, my father died, but his image will remain. We allow you to have these images, but take good care of them," says Kuratu."

"Before receiving the invitation to participate in the project, Atapucha and Tukupe knew they needed to rebuild their house before the onset of the rainy season, which is starting now. Because of the trip, they will have to improvise a tarp over the roof this year. "I believed in this work and immersed myself in it," says Tukupe. "We build a house and after 14 years it is falling apart, and we have to rebuild it again. This was the time for us to rebuild our home – but our history, once it is lost, can never be rebuilt again. I know there will be consequences for my house this year. We will suffer a bit. But when I'm back home, we'll solve the problem," he added."

"The knowledge of our ancestors, we must record it." says Atapucha. "I'm interested in explaining what it is, and what it does. We must tell everything about it, so as not to lose it later. Who knows, someday our children may turn to the museum in search of our culture and our knowledge. That's what I'm fighting for, to document all that we have so that it is not lost. As long as I live, I will continue fighting. Whatever is within my reach, I will do. I didn't come here to see the big city, just to see the sights. I came in search of knowledge."

Phil Tajitsu Nash

Thanks for this wonderful overview of the Wauja visit. Emi and the Recovering Voices staff did a lot of logistics support to make this happen, but it has had a tremendous impact on the Wauja community.

Tukupe said that his time at the Smithsonian, including visits with other indigenous leaders, was among the most valuable educational experiences he has ever had.

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