At Brazil’s Indigenous Olympics, players celebrate culture, sport | Gallery News

As a bonfire lit by children finished burning, the winners at the first Indigenous Games of Peruibe received the wooden medals around their necks with little fanfare.

The spectators, though, screamed and howled around the village’s arena as defeated competitors applauded between smokes of their pipes.

The two-day competition last weekend in southern Sao Paulo state was not exactly the Olympics, but some of the friendly spirit of the past echoed among about 120 athletes of the Guarani, Tupi-Guarani and Fulnió communities – plus 21 of their non-Indigenous friends allowed to compete on Piacaguera Indigenous land.

The programme was a mix of white imports and local traditions; archery, tug of war, football, a Brazilian Indigenous wrestling named Uca-Uca, a log-carrying relay race on the beach and dart blowing. The spear- and rock-throwing competitions were suspended because of rain. There were not enough people to play in the Indigenous badminton category, so it was cancelled.

The Indigenous peoples spread among 17 villages around Peruibe, a beachfront city 140km (85 miles) south of Sao Paulo, frequently hold sporting events during other celebrations of their culture. But one year ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics, there is enough interest among youngsters for a solo sports competition, which elders expect to reinforce their heritage in the region.

“We didn’t expect so many people here, among competitors and visitors,” chief Awa Tenondegua dos Santos said.

Wearing Paris Saint-Germain shorts and black paint on his body, he competed – and lost – in every sport he played during the games.

“This is more fun than anything else,” he said. “We are not the Olympic Games, but we are a success too.”

Organisers said at least 500 people showed up for the event, held in an area smaller than five football fields but invitingly close to a beach and a lake where locals swim all year round. Dozens chose to camp around the village from Friday to Sunday and live out in the open like the Indigenous.

April is Brazil’s Indigenous Awareness Month, an occasion that is once again widely celebrated under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. His predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, was a critic of Indigenous celebrations and repeatedly said the original peoples would be better off joining whites as one nation and fostering economic activities that often hurt the environment, such as mining and logging.

The Indigenous Games of Peruibe are a response to that, according to elder Dario Tunpan.

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