Walking across the womb of the Atlantic Rainforest
The Earth is a living body,
she is Nhandecy eté, our mother.
When we walk on the earth
we are treading on a woman's body.
Sandra Benites - 2020 - Nhandecy (only in Portuguese)
Arandu Nhandecy eté - women's knowledge
Arandu are the knowledge passed on through oral narratives, always mentioned by our grandparents. Like the story of our first parents, Nhanderu ete (our father) and Nhandecy eté (our mother).
My grandmother explained to the boys and girls that these stories must be told so that we do not make the same mistake as Nhanderu eté and Nhandecy eté. She always said that the teachings are in the Guarani language itself.
Therefore, men need to listen and understand to bring the awareness that women have always been part of them, but they are different bodies. They should always seek to know the complexity of a woman's body because respecting a woman means respecting her principles, since the woman is the basis of the human being.
To explain our way of thinking, I use the metaphor of the tree and the poetics of the Guarani language.
Among my people, mother, cy, can be understood as a tree, a pillar of the human being. The children, on the other hand, xe memby - would be the branches, because memby, in spoken Guarani language and translating it, means something that is born from the same body and always stays there. Corn cobs, for example, are awati memby because they come from the trunk, the "foot" of corn. Branch, in Guarani, is memby because it is born from the same trunk. So, when I refer to my daughters and sons I know that they are my branches, my ears, because they will always be glued to me, cy re (into their mother).
The tree is how we women understand a mother's body in the Guarani Nhandewa language. The structure of our body is directly linked to our daughters and sons, maintaining a close relationship with them, like the tree and its branches, unlike men who have different ways of naming, understanding and relating to their daughters and sons. When a Guarani refers to his son he says xe ra’y, my piece. Girls are called xe radjy, my flesh, my nerve. According to xe djaryi, for the father the children have a closer connection with the navel, as if it were a rope that connects the child to the father. That is why, when a man has a newborn child he must follow several rules, safeguards until kuera, "heal" the navel - this can take up to three months.
In the guard period, if the father needs to hunt, he has to 'close' the crossroads with ashes and he must go and return the same way. This is because the baby is connected to the father by the navel - it is as if the child is following him. The father cannot use knives, machetes, "sharp things", he must not eat red meat, etc. He must observe these prohibitions and avoid being captured by the mba'e dja - 'owners of things' - or mba'e vai - bad things -, animals, other beings, bad feelings, because in this period “the father smells”, as say the ancients, in danger of being attacked by jaguars, just as Nhandecy eté was killed in the myth of our origin.
Sandra Benites, a Guaraní Nhandeva woman, is the first Indigenous adjunct curator of Brazilian art at the Assis Chateaubriand São Paulo Art Museum (MASP). She is currently undertaking a PhD in social anthropology at the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). She has a MA in social anthropology from the same institute. In 2018 she was the curator of the exhibition "Dja Guata Porã | Rio de Janeiro indígena" together with José Ribamar Bessa, Pablo Lafuente and Clarissa Diniz in the Art Museum of Rio (MAR). She participates regularly in a diverse range of cultural and educational events concerning the role of Indigenous women and Indigenous art in Brazil.
Sandra Ara Rete Benites
Photo: Marcos Brailko