The Xikrin-Kayapó: People of the Big Water

Project Date: March-August 2013

Expected Book Release Date: February 2014

“I would like our language and culture to be preserved, to not lose them as other people have,” says Mukuka Xikrin, a young leader from Poti-Krô village of the Xikrin-Kayapó tribe.

The Xikrin live on the Bacaja River, a tributary of the Xingu River in the Brazilian Amazon. Just a few miles from Poti-Krô village, the Xingu will soon be home to the third-larget dam in the world, the Belo Monte. Despite over 20 years of indigenous, environmental, and local protest, Belo Monte is reaching peak construction this year, threatening to displace roughly 20,000 people while it converts the power of the Xingu into 11,233 MW of electricity.

The government of Brazil is investing heavily in this dam, which is expected to contribute to major development in the country. But what will this mean for local people like the Xikrin who rely on the river for their livelihood?

“Everything we need, we have here,” says Ngrenhkarati, a Xikrin woman. “For food we can fish, harvest manioc, and hunt.”

The Xikrin live a subsistence lifestyle within the village and depend on the river as a supplier of food, the sole mode of transportation, and a tie to their ancestors. The Xikrin and their relatives, the Kayapó, refer to themselves as Mebengokre, or “People of the Big Water.”

But when the Belo Monte dam is complete, the Bacaja will run the risk of running drier and lower, impacting the wildlife of the river. The Xikrin, whose lives, history, traditions, values, and practices depend on the river, have not been given proper consultation under the law and are fighting an uphill battle against the construction of the dam.

“We have to fight until the government changes,” says Mukuka. “If it doesn’t change, it’s over. Maybe things won’t change until the day we put an indigenous person in power.”

As construction of Belo Monte reaches its peak this year and the Xikrin adjust to the possibility of life without the “big water,” the Vanishing Cultures Project will travel to the Big Bend and document the culture of the Xikrin before their river heritage is altered forever.