When a big chief dies on the Xingu Indigenous reservation, its tribes gather for a unique funeral ritual called the Kuarup. Wearing body paint and bird feathers, they join in ceremonial dances, combat and feasts to celebrate life, death and rebirth.
Manapu, a Yawalapiti man, holds a blue and yellow macaw during the Kuarup funeral ritual to honor the memory of Cacique Aritana, at the Xingu Indigenous Park in Brazil, Sept. 4, 2021.
The loss of Chief Aritana of the Yawalapiti people to COVID-19 in August has shaken the Xingu, leaving its tribes without a strong leader and able negotiator to unite them against mounting pressures on Brazil's agricultural frontier, which has advanced across the Cerrado savanna and into the Amazon rainforest.
A Yawalapiti man waits before taking part in a wrestling match during the Kuarup funeral ritual to honor the memory of Cacique Aritana.
Besieged by illegal loggers, cattle ranchers, soy farmers and even gold miners, the Xingu communities face growing degradation of their natural habitat and the challenge of preserving its rich biodiversity for future generations, said Aritana's son and likely successor, Tapi Yawalapiti.
Yawalapiti children play in the Tuatuari river during the Kuarup funeral ritual to honor the memory of Cacique Aritana.
"We are not united today. The Xingu no longer has someone who can organize all the chiefs," Tapi told Reuters, sitting on a tree bough on the banks of a tributary to the Xingu River, which he fears is drying up due to agricultural use.
A Yawalapiti man fishes in the Tuatuari River during the Kuarup funeral ritual to honor the memory of Cacique Aritana.
A Reuters photographer was the only journalist invited to the funeral celebrations last month, which lasted several days and gathered upwards of a thousand members of neighboring tribes.
Totomai, a Yawalapiti man, plays the urua bamboo flute during the Kuarup funeral ritual to honor the memory of Cacique Aritana.
The next generation of leaders in the Xingu are seeking unity at a critical time, as far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is undermining indigenous rights by encouraging commercial farming and mining on protected lands with the support of powerful political lobbies in Brasilia.
A Yawalapiti boy takes part in a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during the Kuarup funeral ritual.