Decolonial thinking rejects Eurocentric ideas of the world and reclaims the knowledge and actions of original peoples. For this group, the name for America goes back to Abya Yala, as it was called by some peoples of the land before colonial invasion.
“Bixa, if I conjure...”, photograph by Catalina Torres, 2023. Courtesy of the artist.
“weeds, succulents and carnivorous plants”, digital collage in collaboration with Yná Kabé, Romulo Barros, and Rodrigo D'Alcântara, a continuation of the 'anticolonial herbarium', during the TransWeb residency. Courtesy of the artist.
YBYRATYBA, performance in collaboration with Leticia Rocha and trees at the Horto de Niterói garden, 2022. Courtesy of the artist.
Visitors to the two floors of the exhibition Xingu: Contacts in the charming building that houses the Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS), on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo, will find a rich audiovisual archive and documents about the first indigenous land to be demarcated in Brazil, in the early 1960s. Among photos and videos of the territory and the 16 different ethnic groups that inhabit Xingu Park, in the Amazon, there are records from different eras made by Brazilians and foreigners who visited the region, as well as a prolific collection of work produced by the indigenous people themselves. Audiovisual content has been increasingly used as a tool for indigenous people to tell their stories and about their cultures, and to have a voice in the narratives told about their ways of life, rather than being portrayed only through the eyes of others.
In the 1980s, the Franco-Brazilian anthropologist and indigenist Vincent Carelli created the Video in the Villages project, to help train indigenous filmmakers. The objective of the project, as described on its website , “was, from the beginning, to support the struggles of indigenous peoples to strengthen their identities and their territorial and cultural heritage, through audiovisual resources and a shared production”.
Centering indigenous people in audiovisual production is one of the many faces of a strong resistance movement in Latin America that aims to value the ancestry of the original peoples who inhabited the region before invasion by European colonizers, when they saw their ways of life and culture despised and denied. The various peoples who inhabited these lands were disrespected in what made them unique, and all were equally called “Indians”. Abya Yala, one of the names these original peoples called their land, was baptized America.
As part of this resistance movement, there was an agreement to return to calling the region Abya Yala (“living land” or “land that flourishes”), as the Kuna people of Colombia and Panama called it in their original language. In Brazil, America’s name was Pindorama.
“When the name Abya Yala is used, this is a way of confronting the name Latin America, which was given by the invader,” says professor and researcher Janssen Felipe da Silva. “Its use is the affirmation that we, those who work with epistemology in the Global South and Latin America and with decolonial thinking, accept it as a confrontation.”
Rastros de Diógenes, Maps, photography, artist's collection, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
When the name Abya Yala is used, this is a way of confronting the name Latin America, which was given by the invader.
According to him, decolonial thinking defends thinking and acting based on experiences, the struggles of the Amerindian people and the knowledge produced in South America by both indigenous people and people of African origin. “Abya Yala is a confrontation of the epistemology of the North, which, in the invasion of the continent, arbitrarily named us. Abya Yala was previously used and part of Latin American thinking as a form of reaffirmation”, he says.
Indigenist and university professor Eliene Amorim de Almeida details in her doctoral dissertation at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE) that the liberation of colonized countries did not change this dynamic of social organization that considered indigenous people and Blacks inferior and despised their epistemologies, inserting their knowledge, beliefs and traditions in the field of superstition. “Even after supposed independence and the creation of Latin American national states, the Creole elite continued to maintain the world standard of power, which decolonial thinking calls colonial heritage or coloniality,” she says an excerpt from the dissertation.
Coloniality is, therefore, the legacy of colonialism that shapes modern structures and institutions. According to the professor, in addition to shaping institutions, colonial heritage also enters mentalities, imaginaries, subjectivities and epistemologies, giving form and content to current societies. Coloniality, a constitutive part of modernity, “is found in every sphere of social existence: in work, in sex, in subjectivity, in authority, in Eurocentric knowledge, and is linked to various types of hierarchies: ethnic, racial, sexual, gender, knowledge, language, religions; therefore, coloniality involves a complex system.”
The idea of decolonial thinking, which supports studies on modernity and coloniality, is to seek other paths than those imposed by this system that ignores traditional knowledge. A kind of return to the origins with respect to ancestral knowledge and ways of doing. According to Eliene Amorim, this modernity/coloniality group understands that, in addition to the coloniality of power, there are also dimensions of knowledge, being and nature.
The Modernity/Coloniality Network brings together intellectuals from different countries and areas of knowledge who have been researching Latin America and addressing these issues since the 1990s. According to Eliene Amorim, the group views Latin America not only as a geographic space, but as a sociopolitical, cultural and epistemic territory forged by colonialism.
Rastros de Diógenes, Bean Field, Terreiro Afetivo performative offering, UFPB, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
Multimedia artist Rastros de Diógenes, the stage name of Diógenes M. Potiguara or Dyó Potyguara, brings all this restlessness to her artistic work. “Decolonial thinking in my work appears from the awareness of my body in the world, from performance and is highly focused on everyday aspects, especially in a context of migration, erasures and resumption of ancestry,” she said in a written conversation with C&. “Nowadays I am concerned with plotting with my ancestry, knowing that it is part of a whole, a territory and various linked fictions.”
Since 2015, the artist has developed the Terreiro Afetivo project, in the rural area of São Gonçalo, a town in the Metropolitan Region of Rio de Janeiro. Terreiro Afetivo intends to be an open laboratory, committed to the healing of the earth, networks and points of ancestral exchange. “In this case, there is an interest in valuing and reclaiming processes with the land, with the territories I move through,” says Rastros de Diógenes. “There’s intertwined knowledge, stories and memories, acting in peripheral and institutional contexts. (…) In Terreiro Afetivo, my migratory ancestry joins with that of other migrants and our memories together are planted, nourished, and harvested in the construction of new worlds in compost.”
Fábia Prates is a journalist whose work has appeared in major Brazilian media outlets. She currently writes on topics related to culture, behavior and corporate communication.
Translation: Zoë Perry