Konhún Mág (The path of return to the forest of Canela)
This film is the product of exchanges among students and the Kaingang people from Konhun Mág retaking in Canela, a tourist city in southern Brazil. It was filmed amongst the Araucária Forest, an endemic species of pine, which is both sacred for the Kaingang and also endangered by economic exploitation. The Kaingang are fighting for their land – which was stolen in the 19th century – since 2005, and re-entered the territory when the current government started development projects in the National Forest of Canela, a historic Kaingang territory, where the Araucária is still preserved.
The Kaingang people have inhabited the southern plateau of Brazil long before the arrival of Europeans in America and the existence of ‘Brazil’. Ancestors raised the araucaria forest as a great legacy for their descendants, this tree being a sacred element of Kaingang cosmology and spirituality, and its fruit, the pinhão, a traditional food. The Pit Houses that can still be found in these regions today were built by the ancestors of the Kaingang to survive the cold winters of the highlands. This people, led by the great chieftains Pay Mág, are socially organized based on dualism and complementarity, characteristics of the Jê linguistic trunk. Kamé and Kanheru are the two mythological heroes from which the Kaingang descend.
The Kaingang have resisted three centuries of attempted invasion of their territories by the Portuguese, Spanish, and Brazilians. With the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in 1808, the violent advance into their territories intensified, with wars that were half a century long. In Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state, the policy of reservations began in the 1840s, expropriating territory for the establishment of farms and colonies for European immigrants, and confining all indigenous groups into a few reservations near the Uruguay River. However, a chief called João Grande / Nicuó resisted these advances, fighting to the last consequences in the region of mountains and forests where today are cities like Canela and Caxias do Sul.
During the 20th century, the Kaingang people were subjected to the guardianship of the state, living in a regime similar to slavery, being exploited in the so called Indian Posts run by the state Indian agencies.. Other peoples, after centuries of “domestication” and “pacification” were totally abandoned by the state, subject to exploitation and extermination by ranchers, gold miners, and other businessmen linked to development projects. In the 1970s, Kaingang leaders such as Nelson Xangrê and Angelo Kretã started the retaking movements in order to take back their territories. In 2005, the group led by Zílio Jagtyg Salvador began the claim for their ancestral territory, in the municipality of Canela, in a touristic region that considers only its European heritage – having built itself upon this narrative, thus being commonly known as “the Brazilian Europe” – and promotes the neglect of indigenous origins.
With his death in 2017, his son took over the leadership of the retaking and in February 2020 began a new process of retaking the territory known as the National Forest of Canela. There are many marks of the Kaingang presence in this area, such as the remains of pit houses, stone artifacts, traditional cemeteries, and many stories that the residents tell about encounters with indigenous people in the woods in a not so distant past. The Konhun Mág retaking is not only the Kaingang’s struggle for a piece of land, it is the expression of an umbilical connection between the people and their territory.
Territory is the center of the political, social, ritual, and educational organization of the originary peoples, and the retakings must be understood as spaces of subversion of the domination system that has historically imposed itself on these peoples. The retaking of Konhun Mág is therefore also the retaking of the history of their ancestors, warriors who “fought to the end” to protect their people, an inspiration for the young cacique Maurício Salvador who seeks to rebuild in Konhun Mág a community whose values are rooted in courage, strength, and wisdom.
Núcleo de Antropologia das Sociedades Indígenas e Tradicionais (NIT/PPGAS/UFRGS)