As explosions from a rock quarry shake the ground and evangelical churches move in, one Kaiowá family in Brazil is rebuilding their traditional prayer house and keeping their way of life alive.
Jaguapiru village, Dourados Indigenous Reserve, MS, Brazil - The cracks in the walls of Floriza de Souza Silva’s home ran deep the day the prayer house came down.
They spread like tree roots, splitting the clay-like mud held in place by bamboo framing as the ground shook from the explosion across the rust-dirt road. The three buildings where the matriarch lived with her husband, Jorge da Silva, and parts of her extended family stood firm, but the oca - where many Guarani-Kaiowá Indigenous people living in and around the Dourados Indigenous Reserve came to pray - began to buckle, its thatched roof cascading to the ground.
It was 2015 and this was the second time a blast from the neighbouring quarry had brought the family’s prayer house down. The first, built in 2000, came down five years before. The wide, oval building with its high peaked roof was never meant to withstand the earthquake-like tremors. Its bamboo framing was woven together and hammered in place with long nails by Silva and his sons and its walls held together with the same mud as their home.
Its strength came from within, where they prayed for the protection of their children, sang traditional songs for crops to grow plentiful and robust, and taught the Guarani language to the young and those who had forgotten how to speak their mother tongue.
Souza, now 60, and Silva, 64, have spent their lives fighting to protect the Kaiowá culture, language and religion in a place where colonisation had tried to rob them of everything they had centuries ago. When the oca, or prayer house, collapsed, they knew they would rebuild it again. It was a beacon of hope, standing tall to show that the Kaiowá would resist, and remain on their land for generations to come.