Thursday, August 07, 2008

Brazil: Deep in the Amazons, Ticuna tribe members come out as gay

Unless I see it in Spanish-language media, I often miss out on news items from Brazil. Portuguese is close enough to Spanish so that I can grab the general sense of an article and Babel Fish always comes in handy for those words that I don't get, but it takes time to go through an article and sometimes I don't have too much time on my hands.

One recent alternative has been Gay News Watch. Having made Brazil his home for a couple of years (and having a Brazilian partner as well), Chris Crain - who runs GNW - probably understands more Portuguese than I do and keeps a more vigilant eye on stories from the country.

In any case, if it wasn't for this AG Magazine translation of this article* from Folha Online, I would have missed the following:

Deep in the Amazon jungle, in the Brazilian border with Peru and Colombia, a few young men from the country's most populous indigenous tribe - the Ticunas - have begun to defy cultural norms requiring they behave in a masculine manner or that they marry a member of the opposite gender already designated for them during their childhood.

Three Ticuna tribe members from the Umariaçu village, including 22 year-old Natalicio Ramos Guedes (above) say that at least twenty of the 3,600 village members - including them - are gay.

The Indian National Foundation of Brazil confirms that different tribes have recently reported members coming out.

"This is something new for us," says Darcy Bibiano Murati, a Ticuna tribe member who is the director of the Foundation, "We never saw indians such as these, now there has been rapid growth in all communities, young men from 10 to 15 years of age."

Ramos Guedes, whose brother Marcenio is also gay, participates in a local folk dance group. Both dress up like women and perform traditional dances at different social events throughout the region.

Both brothers say that it hasn't been easy to be so open. Marcenio says he left home when he was fifteen because he could not stand the constant fights with his father and moved to neighboring Tabatinga where he worked as a domestic servant. Now 24, he is back home and says that his family now supports him and backed him in launching the dance troop (both brothers are pictured left with their father and other members of their family).

"I do not suffer discrimination for dancing," says Marcenio, "Everyone sees it with respect. I suffer the prejudice of other young people in the village. If I say something they want to beat me up or throw stones."

Natalicio tells Folha Online that he is afraid to walk on his own and always makes sure he has company when he goes out.

Among the first of the Ticunas to ever come out publicly is 32 year-old Claricio Manoel Batista who studies pedagogy at the State University of the Amazon and also is a primary school teacher. He came out to his parents in 1992 when he was sixteen years of age when he lived in the Umariacu village.

Batista says that his father never mistreated him because he liked to stufy and took care of the chores at home but even to this day, while they have stopped asking him about it, it is clear to him that they would rather not have a gay son. "They say that no one accepts it," says Batista.

In published studies, the late anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro (1922-1997) stated that there were registered cases of gays among the different Amazon tribes as far back as the 19th century but sociologist and historian Raimundo Leopardo Ferreira says that it's the first he has heard of it.

Ferreira says that his concern is that as more tribe members come out as being gay, the prejudice and homophobia that currently exists among tribe members will make it so difficult for gay Ticunas that they will be driven to substance abuse or have other social problems stemming from societal rejection.

* Original article and images by Katia Brasil for Folha Online.

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