Virtual Reality brings back to the Wauja Indigenous Community, in Xingu, the educational experience of visiting their most sacred cave.

2021 marks the third year that the Wauja community from the Upper Xingu, Amazon region, are unable to make their annual pilgrimage to Kamukuwaká, their “book of learning”, an archaeological site that holds Wauja’s believes, customs and history. In 2018, this ancient decorated cave, considered the most sacred historical site for the Wauja and for the other fifteen indigenous communities of the Xingu Indigenous Territory, was violently desecrated by an unknown assailant. The destruction is likely to be a result of the ongoing tensions between indigenous and farming communities in the state of Mato Grosso, in Brazil. (BBC news story, in Portuguese)

Now, PPP,  associated artist Nathaniel Mann and the Indigenous Association Tulukai (AIT) are working collaboratively to develop an innovative VR (virtual reality) interface to the cave of Kamukuwaká, supported by the British Council Digital Collaboration Fund. The technology will enable the new generations of indigenous people to learn about the ancestral knowledge that was engraved in Kamukuaká’s rock-art panels without leaving their village. This educational experience will be shared with other communities in the Xingu indigenous territories and enable a digital future for their ancestral knowledge. The project also assists the Wauja in retaining their sovereignty and independence through the protection of their cultural heritage.

Kamukuwaká VR: enabling digital futures for indigenous knowledge from the Xingu is a result of a well-established relationship with the Wauja Community, PPP and Factum Foundation that started in 2018. In September that year, an expedition to the sacred cave of Kamukuwaká organised with members of the Wauja community, specialists from Factum Foundation and an independent team of Brazilian anthropologists, found its ancient petroglyphs had been systematically destroyed. In a groundbreaking undertaking, the Wauja led an international network of organisations, academics, and volunteers to create a meticulous digital restoration of their sacred engravings.

Drawings of the Kamukuwaká by the indigenous people, existing photos and the scanning of the site were digitally documented by a team of international artists and technologists. In the Factum Foundation studio in Madrid, they turned the gathered information into an impressive 3D-eight meters long replica of the cave, securing the sacred engravings for future generations. Details of this project you can read here, and a publication can be downloaded here.

 

However, due to logistical and high cost of transportation, there are no foreseeable opportunities to return the reconstructed facsimile of the cave to the Xingu. And at present Kamukuwaká’s 3D data is accessible only to those with specialist equipment and skills. The VR will now replicate this experience with the use of headsets and laptops donated to the Wauja villages.

Kamukuwaká VR will equip local schools with connectivity,  computers and VR devices enabling young people and to an extent, all 700 community members to “travel” again to the sacred cave of Kamukuwaká without leaving their villages. The Wauja will share access to this technology with the other 15 indigenous peoples in Xingu for whom the cave of Kamukuwaká is also a sacred site of spiritual and historic importance. The delivery of the project will be documented in the Wauja villages by filmmaker Piratá Waura.

Kamukuwaká VR: enabling digital futures for indigenous knowledge from the Xingu is supported by the British Council Digital Collaboration Fund, which supports the UK and overseas cultural partnerships to develop digitally innovative ways of collaborating.

People’s Palace Projects’ Associate Nathaniel Mann is the Project Manager, Mafalda Ramos is the Project Coordinator in Brazil, and teacher and filmmaker Piratá Waurá is the Wauja producer and community liaison. British artist Adam Lowe will act as a consultant for VR development.