Oga Pysy: Techniques of Dialogue
Documenting Guarani and Kaiowá Ceremonial Houses in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil
A project led by Raffaella Fryer-Moreira, in collaboration with Fabiana Assis Fernandes, and the UCL Multimedia Anthropology Lab (MAL), with the support of the British Museum's Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP)
The Oga Pysy: Techniques of Dialogue project is designed to document the material processes and technical knowledge through which Guarani and Kaiowá ceremonial houses (Oga Pysy) are constructed, the local cosmological frameworks that imbue their architecture, and the sacred ritual practices that these captivating structures contain and enable. The close collaboration between the community, UCL MAL and the British Museum’s EMKP will utilise a wide variety of innovative digital media in the process of documenting such practices, knowledge, related traditional objects and construction anatomy, including technologies of multi-sensory immersion such as VR/360 video, 3D models, photogrammetry and compelling ambisonic sound. This project is absolutely crucial for the preservation of the community’s distinct cultural heritage, especially considering the recent threats posed to the Guarani and Kaiowá, including the ruthless arson of Oga Pysy ceremonial houses such as the Guyra Nheengatu Amba, by neighbouring non-indigenous populations, in an attempt to destroy a unique culture that should be respected and protected. The audiovisual material produced will directly contribute to the development of an important collection which will preserve, pay homage to, and educate diverse global audiences about the rich cultural heritage held by Guarani Kaiowá indigenous communities in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.
Dangers have further intensified over the past couple of years. The threat of violent conflicts with neighbouring non-indigenous population, reduced living space, land access, malnutrition, lack of ecological resources and reduced access to the raw materials used for building ceremonial houses, has led to a stark reduction of Oga Pysy being built, at a time when they are need most. In June 2019, the Guyra Nheengatu Amba ceremonial house in Reserva Indigena de Dourados was subject to a deliberate arson attack. Not only was the Oga Pysy violently burnt to the ground, but with it all the sacred objects contained inside, such as the cherished Chiru, Jeguaka, M’baraka, Kiha, Cocho and Apyka were destroyed; emphasising the imminent danger of losing the material practices and technical knowledge through which these architectures and artefacts are made.
The incident was filmed, and all that is left now is a moving video which demonstrates the devastating impact this vicious arson had on Seu Getúlio and Dona Alda, the indigenous Shamans who resided in and were responsible for the ceremonial house. It is resources such as this video that allow the story of the Guarani and Kaiowá culture to be told, so it is crucial to create even more multimedia material of this kind, to use in developing a collection and archive to protect the endangered material knowledge and heritage of the community for future generations. Currently, the community aims to build another three Oga Pysy to be used as vessels to connect with deities and enhance congruency in their community, a process which will be documented by this project.
British Museum EMKP Website:
UCL MAL Website:
Project Investigator: Ms. Raffaella May Fryer-Moreira - UCL Anthropology, University College London
Collaborator: Ms. Fabiana Assis Fernandes - Instituto para o Desenvolvimento da Arte e da Cultura (IDAC)
Supported by: The British Museum's Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP)
Location of Research:
This project takes place in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, throughout the region surrounding Dourados, Amambai, and Paranhos territories where Guarani and Kaiowá populations reside; including: Reserva Indígena de Dourados (Dourados Indigenous Reserve) in Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul; and Reserva Indigena de Amambai (Amambai Indigenous Reserve) in Amambai, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.
With the approval of the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI) and the local community leadership represented by the Aty Guasu (Grand Assembly of Guarani Kaiowá), the research and documentation that will be carried out by UCL MAL (an interdisciplinary research network that incorporates a range of digital technologies to innovate research methods and instruments), has been authorised across all Guarani Kaiowá territories, and will become part of the British Museum’s respected Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP) repository, as a collection ready to be accessed by new audiences globally. This will be presented in a multi-media and multi-sensory manner to enrich the broader public’s cultural awareness of Guarani Kaiowá heritage and sacred practices. The project has established strong links with indigenous members of the community especially the youth, who are interested in acquiring skills with audiovisual recording technologies, and are being trained to contribute in the documentation efforts, making this a truly innovative and creative collaboration.
Furthermore, alongside the British Museum’s EMKP repository, the project aims to directly contribute towards a collection being created by the Indigenous Cultural Heritage Working Group, held by the Museum of Image and Sound in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Notably, a copy of the data and digital documents produced will also remain stored with the Guarani Kaiowá leaders, serving both as a historical archive which will enable the community to retain an in-depth record of existing yet endangered material practices, but also acting as a blueprint to ensure that the remarkable cosmological knowledge and social relations they articulate are adequately preserved and accessible for future generations to explore and learn from, while continuing to foster a dialogue between the source community and the rest of the world.