Teko Porã

On Art and Life

© Vhera Poty.

Cristine Takuá is an indigenous philosopher, educator, and artisan who lives in the village of Rio Silveira, state of São Paulo, Brazil. She currently serves as a representative within the indigenous education group of the Education Secretariat in São Paulo, and is also a founding member of the Forum for the Articulation of Indigenous Teachers in the State of São Paulo (FAPISP). For over a decade she has studied and worked with medicinal herbs and the issue of indigenous food sovereignty rights. As well as contributing to spiritual work in the community’s house of prayer, Takuá is a teacher in the Indigenous State School Txeru Ba’e Kuai’ of Rio Silveira, and is also founder of and advisor to the Instituto Maracá, where she has been developing means for cultivating cultural resiliency, indigenous memory, and museological practice. As a representative to the Guarani Yvyrupa Commission (CGY), she has led investigations on how to encourage greater tolerances for indigenous practices amongst Brazilians as a whole, to preserve the knowledge of Guarani midwives and shamans, as well as the intimate knowledge of the forest exhibited in traditional medicinal herbs and preparations.  

Cristine Takuá was invited to present a contemporary perspective on questions and tensions raised by interactions between the indigenous communities and the mainstream art system, as well as to address Brazil’s specific social and political context. In the following essay she responds to this proposition through Teko Porã—a crucially important concept to Amerindians that expresses “balance, respect, and harmony,” or “good living”—contrasting the values inherent in this term with the crises generated by modernity, which, for her, maintains a system of exploration and appearances in which official art practices are still based.

© Photo: Carlos Papa.

In the same way water dampens the land and plants germinate, we walk following the teachings of our ancestors, sowing wisdom in our children and youngsters. We know that we live today in a complex and emergent human crisis, one reflected in our present social, political, and environmental relations. This leads us to question and rethink being and knowledge, and through this process, to become aware of the need to relearn how to think, to act and to walk in the world. However, due to their continuous search for understanding, domination, order, and control of their environment and themselves, human beings are undoing the structures of nature and speeding up its disequilibrium.

The model of society we currently inhabit makes us forget who we really are; it doesn’t let us grasp the depth of our essence or allow us to break through the frontiers of the unknown. At its root is an immense flow of information that has submerged us, harmful dietary habits that poison us, selfishness, lovelessness, and an utter lack of good sense that drives us towards unhealthy modes of living.

Today western civilization is broadly realizing that a large number of the assumptions it maintained for a long time are leading, from the point of view of the survival of the species, towards an unsustainable situation, especially in relation to environmental conditions. One of the main things indigenous societies possess which makes their thought of value is precisely a different way of conceiving of the relationship between society and nature, between humans and non-humans; a different way of understanding the link between humanity and the rest of the cosmos. This “other” way holds forth the possibility of balance, with all beings interacting and respecting each other; not only the elderly and the pajés,1 but everyone, including the youth and children.

Humanity needs to return to nature, placing all living beings on the same level; all connected, interrelated, interacting within an immense web. Along with history, science—that mode of knowledge based on the development of capacities slavishly following logic and reason—has fragmented, divided, and separated everything, resulting in the distance that exists today between human beings and nature.

© Photo: Carlos Papa.

What type of reason is it that transforms and modifies everything? What do we intend to do with it?

Such questions have already impregnated the minds of many, but it is necessary to go beyond thought, beyond reason, and look at the real foundations that give structure to thought. We indigenous peoples who live and know the forest—a forest that is the basis for science and wisdom in our culture—also let the forest give structure to our walking. Nature gives meaning to life. Everything in it is balanced. That immense web in which everything is interlinked is itself a living organism. Its power lies in its capacity to give us direction, to show the path that lights the way towards wisdom. Every sign we receive has a meaning for our lives. A birdsong can point at something; thunder passing indicates something is about to happen; the ants in the middle of the road, the shape of clouds, the direction of the wind … many premonitions are communicated by the signs of nature, which, with its gentleness and wisdom, guides us and teaches us how to live well. “Good living”—a phrase that in Guarani could be translated as teko porã—is a philosophical, political, social, and spiritual notion that is expressed when we live in balance, respect, and harmony. Teko porã is the good and beautiful way of being, walking on this land.

The complex crises of relations that humans live in today is nothing but the reflection of centuries of bad walking, since before recent times, almost all of us lived in nature, with nature, and as part of nature. Today people have become disinterested in nature, using and abusing it in order to survive. They do so without remembering we are part of that immense web, which cannot and should not be separated.

For the Guarani, and indigenous peoples in general, there is no tekó without tekoá: that is, there is no way of being without a place for being. Due to this, in order to live our culture, our art, and our knowledges—in order to be faithful to our essence—it is necessary to consider the land, the forests, the waterways, and all the living beings that inhabit them.

© Vhera Poty

To live teko porã to its fullest extent might seem impossible today, as many situations divert us from it and lead us to tekó vai, or bad living: for example, through consumption without control, or the strange habit of voluntary serfdom in which many people live as slaves to their desires. It is present in wars, in individualism, in polluted rivers, in impoverishment, in depression, and in other situations that place humans in an incessant search to live a more affluent life, following the illusion that material goods, comfort, and luxury will bring the delicate and deep satisfaction that happens when good living is reached in daily life, penetrating life by being itself.

But is it possible to apply this system, this indigenous philosophy of good living, within the world’s cities as a way of creating revolution? To produce a metamorphosis in the relations of democracy itself, torn apart by abuse and egocentrism? I do believe that once practised, by following this broad concept we might bring back balance to the chaotic scenes of violence, pollution, and religious intolerance that dominate the urban scene.

© Photo: Carlos Papa.

For centuries indigenous peoples have resisted the most diverse forms of abuse and aggression against themselves and their cultures. Even today they practise respect, tolerance, equality, participation in politics, and patience with the elderly and children: they practise good living in its multiple facets.

I think there is still time to reconstruct and harmonize ourselves. There are several ways of doing so, such as turning to the educational practices of the tekó porã: the acknowledgement, valorization, and respect of indigenous philosophies, arts, and medicinal practices. For the world’s indigenous peoples, tekó porã becomes manifest in the diverse and complex forms of daily life, from giving birth to planting a seed to painting a graphic form. But those knowledges and practices are not respected by society as a whole, and today indigenous peoples are marginalized and persecuted.

I think that, like the seeds, people need to know their origin, the words that inhabit each of them. Every being who succeeds in listening to the voice of silence hears her truths. There is a bridge between visible, written knowledge and the wisdom that invisibly inhabits singing, dancing, weaving, and all the other spiritual arts of indigenous peoples. However, it is necessary to break down the barriers of appearance. I always think about this. As long as some of us are trapped in the realm of appearance rather than in the being of things, we will not reach the greater dimension of true knowledge, the wisdom of those who manage to feel their own shadow.

  • 1 Pajé is a term used by populations of the Tupi-Guarani linguistic tree to refer to an individual with spiritual responsibilities within the community.
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