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FOSPA 2022: faith-based organizations, indigenous peoples and traditional populations discuss fundamentalism and religious racism in the amazon

The tenth edition (2022) of the Pan-Amazonian Social Forum (Fórum Social Pan-Amazônico: FOSPA) took place between 28 and 31 July in Belem. Approximately 5 thousand people gathered at the event, promoting dialogue between representatives of a range of movements and social organizations from the Pan-Amazonian region of Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and other countries in Europe and Asia, as well as leaders of indigenous peoples, traditional communities and social movements, environmentalists, teachers, scientists, representatives of civil society and the authorities to present and discuss policies in defence of the Amazon.

THE TAPIRI

During the forum, with support from the Ford Foundation, the following faith-based organizations collectively constructed an Ecumenical and Inter-religious Tapiri (Tapiri Ecumênico e Inter-religioso): the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviços: CESE), the ACT (Brazil) Ecumenical Forum (Fórum Ecumênico ACT Brasil: FEACT), the Process of International Networking and Dialogue (Processo de Articulação e Diálogo Internacional: PAD), the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (Conselho Nacional de Igrejas Cristãs do Brasil: CONIC), the Churches and Mining Network (Rede Igrejas e Mineração), the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (Rede Eclesial Pan-Amazonica: REPAM), the Amazonizar Network (Rede Amazonizar), the Council of Mission among Indians (Conselho de Missão entre Índios: COMIN), the Indigenous Missionary Council (Conselho Indigenista Missionário: CIMI), the Amazonian Council of Christian Churches (Conselho Amazônico de Igrejas Cristãs: CAIC), the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra: CPT), the Dorothy Committee (Comitê Dorothy), the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession (Igreja Evangélica de Confissão Luterana: IECL) in Belem, the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil (Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil: IEAB) in Belem, the National Centre of Africanity and Afro-Brazilian Resistance (Centro Nacional de Africanidade e Resistência Afro-Brasileira: CENARAB), the Inter-religious Committee of the State of Pará (Comitê Inter-religioso do Estado do Pará) and Koinonia.

Tapiri is an indigenous word meaning a “hut to shelter wanderers”. More than a space for dialogue, networking and welcome, from 29-31 July, the Tapiri represented a trench for the struggle and resistance against intolerance and inter-religious racism, in defence of the struggles of the Amazon. Intolerance and religious racism in the Amazon have intensified and created a range of victims – people who suffer violence for professing their faith.  At the Tapiri roundtables, the exchange of knowledge between representatives from various peoples, organizations and collectives led to an in-depth examination of these themes, providing promising prospects for future work in the fight against fundamentalism.

The Tapiri’s physical space was approached in the same manner: as a space in which everyone is welcome.  Glauce Rocha and Roseane La-Roque, set designers from Pará, proposed the composition of a truly Amazonian space, with rivers and indigenous elements, using buriti as a raw material – a palm that only exists in the Amazon region.

Bianca Daébs, one of the great TAPIRI coordinators for CESE, described the collective construction of the ecumenical and inter-religious tent and took stock of these activities, saying: “Our Tapiri was only possible because we worked together, towards the same goal.”

Both the process and the activities were a concrete testament that it is possible to live together with our differences, without the hatred that produces violence. Where there was respect and understanding, our singularities flooded the tent, overflowing it with welcome and filling us with the hope to go forward in our daily struggles for peace and justice.  Now, we are certainly not how we once were, the presence of the Tapiri has entered the history of Ecumenism and Inter-religious dialogue in Brazil. Until we meet again, may our Holy One continue to inspire us in Faith, Love and Courage,” said Bianca, who is also a Reverend for the IEAB.

Programme:

The Tapiri programme involved important dialogue about religious intolerance and how it has affected indigenous people, quilombolas and, in particular, women in the Amazon.  Several presentations by Amazon groups and artists took place inside the Tapiri, with a great deal of mysticism and spirituality. Over the two days of activities, the Tapiri was packed out with an interested and participative audience.

According to Sônia Mota, CESE’s Executive Director, 10 months of preparation, a huge number of link-ups and meetings were required for the Tapiri to mature, gestate and appear fully-grown at the 10th FOSPA: “In this Tapiri, this arena for a dialogue of diversity, we have woven together hope, created memories and nourished the resistance.  It has been a time of learning, of knowledge, of forming bonds and now we know that ‘to walk, we need to walk united in hopeful solidarity’.”

The Ecumenical and Inter-religious Tapiri began with indigenous songs and a presentation by the Suraras do Tapajós.

 

Table 1 – How Fundamentalism and Religious Racism has affected the lives of the indigenous and of devotees of African-origin Worship Houses

Nhandeci Adelaide/Guarani Kaiowá People

This roundtable looked at the resistance indigenous and African-origin religious women have constructed against fundamentalism. Roundtable participants told a lot of stories of violence, principally describing how religious fundamentalism directly affects indigenous peoples.  Nhandeci Adelaide/Guarani Kaiowá People gave a very important talk about her people’s situation. She confirmed that they are under threat from people who want to impose another religion and eradicate Kaiowá culture. “I am here to share the pain I feel in my breast,” she declared, explaining:

“In the name of the Guarani Kaiowá people of Mato Grosso do Sul, I denounce the aggression we have suffered, the burning down of our prayer houses.”

Clarice Gama da Silva Arbella/Tukano People, from the Association of Indigenous Women Residents from Alto Rio Negro in Manaus (Associação das Mulheres Indígenas do Alto Rio Negro Residentes em Manaus: AMARN), also confirmed that religious fundamentalism affects indigenous people, particularly women.  For her, “Racism against original peoples was much crueller during the pandemic. Racism perpetrated by the Brazilian Government.  Indigenous people did not have the right to public healthcare. And with this came religious racism, made concrete through the male and female pastors who arrived in indigenous communities reproducing the words of the Brazilian government’s administration.”

Edina Carlos Brandão, from the Shanenawa People and the Union of Indigenous Women of the Brazilian Amazon

Edina Carlos Brandão, from the Shanenawa People and the Union of Indigenous Women of the Brazilian Amazon (União das Mulheres Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira: UMIAB) declared that talking about religious fundamentalism means talking about women, since chauvinism is very present, including in indigenous religions, where only the men can be chiefs. “To have a voice and become visible, women had to set up a village. When you talk of culture, you are talking of religion.”

Mãe Nalva de Oxum – an African-origin religious Yalorixá from Ilê Axé Yaba Omi

 

Mãe Nalva de Oxum – an African-origin religious Yalorixá from Ilê Axé Yaba Omi,  greeted her kin and original peoples (stewards of the land) and asserted that “Even today, African-origin religions survive because [its practitioners] are stewards of the land.” She talked about her experience of her grandmothers, saying that this hatred provoked by fundamentalism didn’t used to exist and that her grandmother, who is a traditional faith healer, has always blessed “believers” who sought her out and were healed. “It was a time of respect.”

 

 

 

Clarice Gama da Silva Arbella/Tukano People

 

 

Table 2 – How has Fundamentalism and Religious Racism affected the lives of Women, Young People and traditional peoples and communities?

This roundtable dialogue addressed the urgent need for everyone to confront fundamentalism. In her initial speech, Raquel Yarikazu Xipaya/Xypaia People, indigenous activist and law student at the Federal University of Pará  (Universidade Federal do Pará: UFPA) told the story of the Jesuit invasion and the removal of the Xipaya people from their territory in order to receive the catechism.  Raquel denounced the significant racism in the region of Altamira, in Pará, and the way that indigenous peoples are accused of atheism, because they are not Christian and worship the Tupã God: “The colonizers obliged the indigenous to abandon their culture, to change their names and give up their language.  Today, many indigenous people reject their beliefs and rituals, to follow Christian rituals.”

Raquel Yarikazu Xipaya/Xypaia People

 

 

With the phrase “Get Fundamentalism out of the Way – For the Lives of Women,” Concita Maia from the Amazonian Women’s Institute (Instituto Mulheres Amazônia: IMA) began by affirming that “Fundamentalism is translated into the concrete gestures of fundamentalism when they deny diversity. They form a criminal network. Through dogma, their agents defend the criminalization of women. In the lives of girls and women they represent a death project. They represent significant power, mapped out by a strategy that is the theology of prosperity.”

Concita Maia from the Amazonian Women’s Institute

 

Josilana da Costa Santos of the Association of Young Residents and Rural Producers (Associação de Jovens Moradores e Produtores Rurais) from the Santa Luzia Quilombo of Maruanum and member of the Amapá Quilombola Network, highlighted the history of her quilombola people’s faith and struggle and the feeling of belonging and ownership that everybody feels about the Maruanum quilombo: “Being a black woman in the Amazon and in Amapá isn’t easy, but the people will not fall.”  There was a particularly striking moment at the Tapiri, when Joislana asked for a round of applause for all the ancestors who have fallen so that black people could still be there today.

Josilana da Costa Santos of the Association of Young Residents and Rural Producers from the Santa Luzia Quilombo of Maruanum and member of the Amapá Quilombola Network

The audience of this activity made a number of statements about religious racism, telling the members of the roundtable about similar situations in their own territories. A powerful presentation by the Rebeldia Cabana Group (Grupo Rebeldia Cabana), from the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores/as Sem Terra: MST), drew a large audience to the Tapiri and brought the roundtable to an end for the day.

Table 3 – Indigenous people in resistance and mobilization for their territories talk to Integral Ecology and the Amazon Synod.

Auricélia Arapium, Executive Coordinator of the Tapajós Arapiuns Indigenous Council (Conselho Indígena Tapajós Arapiuns: CITA) started the roundtable with forceful words: “The federal government managed to finish off the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio: FUNAI), they haven’t demarcated any indigenous territories, but they haven’t managed to finish off indigenous peoples, because resistance has been strong.  There have been many victories in Congress, but the territorial framework has become a reality, it is happening in practice. Mining occurs within indigenous territories, despite indigenous people’s legal strategies.

Auricélia Arapium, Executive Coordinator of the Tapajós Arapiuns Indigenous Council (CITA)

Davi Krahô, from the Krahô People, began his talk by noting that the current situation facing all indigenous peoples seems like something from the past, but is taking place in the present. “If there is no change in government or in Congress, it will be hard to resist.” He noted that the indigenous territory in which he lives, the Ilha do Bananal, is very small, the size of a football pitch, because the territory hasn’t been demarcated.  “Education is precarious and health practically doesn’t exist.”

Davi Krahô, from the Krahô People

Johny Fernandes Giffoni talked about the 2022 National Council of Justice (Conselho Nacional de Justiça: CNJ) Resolution no. 454, which defines how public security and legal structures should treat indigenous peoples. The public defender affirmed that bodies such as REPAM should train people so that they know and can apply the law; he set down a challenge: “Advocacy should be undertaken at the CNJ of the National Council of the Public Ministry (Conselho Nacional do Ministério Público: CNMP), advocacy should be undertaken at international level. We need to train people so that they know and can apply the law to indigenous peoples.” Fernandes pointed out that the federal government has reiterated a very dangerous discourse, which had apparently been legally buried – that is the paradigm for the assimilation and integration of ethnically different peoples. “He wants to transform the Brazilian nation into a great hegemony, ending diversity and the plurality of culture, cosmology and the way of life, leading to a dispute in the legal narrative.”

Dorismeire Almeida de Vasconcelos/REPAM confirmed that the Synod’s protagonists were the peoples of the Amazon.  It was time for the church to listen to and walk alongside these peoples: “Listen to the cries of the land and the peoples.  The Amazon is the biological heart of the planet.  We are allied to the original peoples of the whole world, and to the peoples of the Amazon, in this common house.” “The church needs to pick a side.  The message of the people is: don’t betray us,” declared Father Dário Bossi from REPAM.

The Dorothy Committee organized artistic interventions during this event with songs of hope!

Table 4 – What has your faith done to defend the Amazon?  Sharing good practices of faith and resistance.

Rodrigo Fadul/REPAM confirmed REPAM’s interest in strengthening ecumenical dialogue and practices. “After the Amazon Synod, listening arenas opened up. And during this listening process the response was: ‘the church needs to be on our side’; the side of socio-environmental justice, good living and an agenda for ecological, sustainable and socio-environmental practices as a way of overcoming the imposed model.”

The words of Pastor Romi Bencke/CONIC provided reflection and self-criticism: “In all the talks of the Tapiri roundtables, there have been recurring demonstrations reflecting the damage that the Christian religion has done to original peoples.”  Romi pointed out that FEACT’s work has been focused on minimizing the effects of the churches’ attitude of intolerance. “Racism and fundamentalism are not exclusive to neo-Pentecostals.”

“We are here to find out how it is that we, as Christians, can work to deconstruct or face down the Christianity that attacks, or believes that others don’t have the right to practice their faith according to their tradition,” Sônia Mota declared.  The pastor emphasized the church’s position of privilege and how Christianity is responsible for discriminating against traditional peoples’ religions: “We need to emphasize these issues within the church itself.  We also need to promote advocacy activities together, ecumenical journeys, ecumenical missions, to ensure that the cries to defend traditional peoples’ religions sound out.”

Reverend Cláudio Miranda, from the IECLB and the Amazonizar Network, addressed the issue by asserting: “We are in a region where, despite the ecocide, life is constant.  Through enculturation, the Anglican Church began to understand the Amazon identity, bringing it into its faith. So, the church began to approach the peoples, the riverside dwellers, and to expand its vision and its participation in ecumenical bodies, expressing the church’s identification with life.”

Representing the Amazonizar Network, Bishop Renato de Souza talked about how the network has served as an arena for denunciations, pointing out that when it approaches the movements that suffer the most intolerance – particularly the LGBTQIA+ community – the church needs to be able to exercise its role of service, and as an instrument to combat all forms of discrimination and prejudice. “We, as Christians, need to reclaim our vocation to bring hope to people.”

The Inter-religious Committee of the State of Pará brought their approach to Promoting Ecumenical Dialogue and Combating Religious Fundamentalism to the Tapiri through the reflections of Juscelio Pantoja – Popular Educator at the Centre for Alternative Culture (Centro Alternativo de Cultura) in Pará, alongside Mam´etu Nangetu, from the Inter-religious Committee of the State of Pará, and Reverend Claudio Miranda, from the Anglican Diocese of the Amazon (Diocese Anglicana da Amazônia).  The roundtable was mediated by Reverend Bruno Almeida, from the Centre for Anglican Studies (Centro de Estudos Anglicanos).

Intolerance of African-origin religions emerged as the enslaved spread their religions – after centuries of extermination, the gods they worshipped were symbolically transformed into demons. “The best example of this is how Brazil turned the divinity Nagô Exu into an image of the Christian devil,” Mam´etu Nangetu reminded the audience. “We need to proclaim what we are and what we worship.  More than being tolerated, I want to be respected” she declared.

Juscelio Pantoja pointed out that research does not count the number of incidents of racism or intolerance that Afro-Brazilian children from African-origin, non-Christian, religions suffer at school.  As a teacher, she asserted that most fundamentalism occurs in the classroom, through the faith choice of this or that teacher of religious education, who is a promoter, catechist and evangelizer of their faith, in both public and private education. “How to teach Amazonian and Afro-Brazilian religiosity? This is a very sensitive issue, one to address in religious education. Who is educating their children in religious education? More important than recognizing my expression of faith, is recognizing the other’s expression of their faith.  Racism, prejudice and intolerance begin to be addressed when we work with learning, with the pattern of learning and recognizing difference.”

On the afternoon of 30 July, several publications were launched within the Tapiri:

Mercantilização da Natureza (Commodification of Nature) / CIMI – Amazônia Ocidental; Relatório da Violência Contra os Povos Indígenas no Brasil (Report on Violence Against Indigenous Peoples in Brazil) / CIMI; O direito à consulta e ao consentimento prévio, livre e informado e os protocolos comunitários no Brasil: um exercício de autodeterminação (The right to consultation and prior, free and informed consent and community protocols in Brazil: an exercise in self-determination) / PAD; Agenda 2030 das Mulheres da Amazônia (Agenda 2030 for the Women of the Amazon) / IMA; Mártires da Floresta Amazônica (Martyrs of the Amazon Rainforest)/ Grupo Articulação Ecumênica e Inter-religiosa – TAPIRI; Campanha ”Eu voto pela Amazônia” (“I vote for the Amazon” Campaign)/ REPAM; and Combate à Intolerância Religiosa e ao Fundamentalismo Religioso na Amazônia (Combatting Religious Intolerance and Fundamentalism in the Amazon) /Rede Amazonizar.

Agenda 2030 for the Women of the Amazon / IMA

Combatting Religious Intolerance and Fundamentalism in the Amazon /Rede Amazonizar.

 

The right to consultation and prior, free and informed consent and community protocols in Brazil: an exercise in self-determination / PAD.

 

Commodification of Nature / CIMI – Amazônia Ocidental Non-demarcated indigenous lands / CIMI

 

Check out our social media and website for interviews and videos from the Tapiri roundtables

Graphic facilitation by Brendal Farias (@a_arte_do_dal ) and Bruno Pedroso (@bruniac15)

Other CESE activities at the 10th FOSPA

CESE hosted the ecumenical TAPIRI, the ACT for the martyrs and also launched a publication in homage to the Martyrs of the Amazon Forest, activities which were constructed collectively with the Ecumenical and Interreligious Coordination Group (Grupo Articulação Ecumênica e Inter-religiosa).

In addition to these activities, on 29 July, in partnership with the Dema, Podaali, Babaçu and Puxirum Funds, CESE hosted a seminar under the heading “Socio-environmental Funds for the Autonomy of the Peoples of the Amazon”, in the auditorium of the Institute of Geosciences at the Federal University of Pará (Universidade Federal do Pará: UFPA), to discuss the political actions of community funds in the Amazon, as well as the development of strategic activities to support the protagonism of indigenous peoples, quilombola communities and traditional populations, in order to guarantee rights and defend common goods.  CESE’s Projects and Training Advisor, Vinícius Benites Alves, represented the organization at the seminar. Throughout these activities, from the Tapiri, to the act and the seminar, CESE supported 14 grassroots organizations and social movements, mobilizing approximately 145 people who participated in a range of activities at the Pan-Amazonian Social Forum.