Wauja Summer Experience A Collaboration with Indigenous Scholars

This 6-credit, 3-week interdisciplinary program takes you to the Wauja Indigenous village in Central Brazil. We will live as guests in Wauja homes, sharing in domestic life. Classes are held in the village, as well as surrounding forest and waterways. Join us! No prerequisites or travel experience required. Course covers: community-based and collaborative ethnographic method, interethnic contact, and environmental challenges. Cities visited: São Paulo and Cuiabá.
Our first city in Brazil is Cuiabá, where we visit the nearby Chapada dos Guimarāes National Park, a spectacular plateau with dramatic red sandstone cliffs very different from the lowland Wauja terrain we'll see later.
From Cuiabá, we fly to the Wauja village of Piyulaga, in the Xingu Indigenous Territory.
Near the circular village are family garden plots, orchards, and forest. The path at left leads to Lake Piyulaga. The wider path at right is the airstrip.
We team up with Wauja collaborators to record elders providing master classes in their traditions. During the recording session, students will rely on their observational skills, just as they would in the early stages of fieldwork. When the recordings are reviewed, students will hear the Wauja commentary translated into English, allowing students to analyze the event from a perspective closer to that of the later stages of fieldwork. If possible, the Wauja will provide master classes on topics requested by students.
Three sisters demonstrate the demanding art of spinning cotton.
Young Wauja scholars will help us learn about their culture. In the same spirit, we will share our knowledge and skills with them. Here, a young woman has just learned how to operate a video camera, and is helping an elder listen to a recording of her own voice explaining Wauja traditions.
Today, fish hooks, spearguns and nets are used for fishing, and firearms for hunting. These elders are the last generation that knows how to make and repair bows and arrows. Here they are gathered in the men's house in the central plaza to give a master class.
Above: Heating a section of the arrow shaft to straighten it.
We will learn an essential Amazonian skill of sociability: applying body paint (and being painted). Students will be taught some common designs and their meanings, and will receive extra credit if they can document additional ones in their field notes.
This year the Wauja will celebrate a major intertribal ceremony that honors a deceased person who was important to the community. From time to time during the previous year, ritual performers have been playing the long watana double flutes.

Men playing the long watana double flutes, accompanied by young women emerging from ritual seclusion with unshorn hair.

Song masters chant as long lines of men and women dance.
Akari (below left, holding a string of fresh fish) provides hearty meals for intertribal events and for visitors to the Wauja village. Chief Atakaho and his daughter-in-law Usixuwi are shown cooking in an open kitchen behind the family's shared home.
Lower left: Usixuwi is making the manioc-flour flatbread that accompanies every meal in the Xingu
For a few hours after lunch, students will work one-on-one with their Wauja learning partners. These local scholars are advanced high school students and local village schoolteachers, some of whom are studying anthropology at Brazilian universities, and will be home for the summer holidays. The project faculty, Emi Ireland (bottom center) and Phil Tajitsu Nash (bottom left) are available to facilitate and answer questions.
A particularly spacious and beautiful traditional longhouse under construction in 2018. When the roof is finished, it will be pleasantly cool and dark inside.
Like other Wauja women, these two sisters incorporate both traditional and borrowed designs into their meticulous beadwork. Students will have the opportunity to buy or barter for hand-crafted market goods at the Wauja fair held at the end of the course.
The sponsor of the ceremony formally greets messengers from neighboring groups.
Champion wrestlers from each of the invited communities have the honor of wrestling first.
Dusk at Lake Piyulaga, a good place to wash up before turning in for the night. Old canoes are handy for sitting on, washing your clothes, or parking your soap while you relax.
Time to say good-bye to your friends and host family in the Xingu.
In São Paulo, we visit the venerable Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at the University of São Paulo. Among its holdings is an important collection of Wauja material culture made in the 1950s by Brazilian anthropologist Harald Schultz.
We stop by the gallery of Walter and Silvana Gomes, who have provided fair trade opportunities for Indigenous artists for many years. Phil chats with their son below.
We visit São Paulo's Liberdade neighborhood, the heart of the largest population of people of Japanese descent outside Tokyo. We will enjoy dinner with Walter Gomes, who can talk about how styles, themes and materials of Indigenous art in Brazil have changed over the years in response to the market and other influences. Did we mention superb all-you-can-eat sushi and fresh tropical delicacies?

Interested? Here's more Information

All majors are welcome! No Portuguese language required. We adapt the course to meet your professional goals.
  • Estimated course dates: July 20-August 13, 2020
  • Estimated course cost: $4,600

Applications are open!

For more information, please email: Prof. Emi Ireland at waujacourse@gmail.com or Dr. Laura Zanotti lzanotti@purdue.edu

About the Profs

Emilienne Ireland waujacourse@gmail.com, Faculty Co-Director, is a Fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Dept. of Anthropology, and Director of the Wauja Language Revitalization and Documentation Project at the Americas Research Network, arenet.org. Emi received her training in anthropology from Columbia and Yale universities, speaks Wauja, and has worked with the Wauja community since 1981. Clip from a 2012 BBC documentary.

Phil Tajitsu Nash pnash@umd.edu, Faculty Co-Director, has served as a Curator at the Smithsonian Institution and as co-leader of courses based in the Wauja and Mebêngôkre-Kayapó communities in Central Brazil. He is affiliated with the Asian American and Latin American Studies Centers at the University of Maryland, and has been documenting and supporting the Wauja community in Piyulaga since 1996.

Course development made possible by generous support from the Betty J. Meggers Grant Program of the Americas Research Network, as part of the CoLing Project


Photos: Chapada dos Guimarães: Waterfall, by Jeff Belmonte, Wikipedia Commons; Crista de Galo (rooster crest) rock formation, by Chostakovis, Wikipedia Commons. First aerial shot of Piyulaga village from plane, Peti Yewé Waurá. All other Wauja photos by Jeffrey David Ehrenreich, Emilienne Ireland, and Phil Tajitsu Nash, Copyright © 2015-2020, All Rights Reserved.