Igorot braves compete in tribal ‘Olympics’ | Global News

Igorot braves compete in tribal ‘Olympics’

/ 05:37 AM October 24, 2015

PALMAS, Brazil—What was billed as the first “indigenous Olympics” kicked off on Thursday with a raucous cultural mash-up that saw grimacing Maori warriors, gong-beating Filipinos and feather-crowned tribespeople from Brazil preside over a traditional fire-lighting ceremony.

The World Indigenous Games was to officially open Friday, with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff expected to attend a lavish opening ceremony in Palmas, a remote outpost in the sunbaked heart of Brazil.

But Thursday’s fire ritual, which saw hundreds of indigenous people from around the world converge on Palmas’ central square decked out in their traditional finest, set the tone for the event, which runs through Oct. 31.


Tribal representatives broke into traditional song and dance as the media and other indigenous peoples from as far afield as Ethiopia and Mongolia formed tight, flashbulb-popping, iPhone-snapping circles around them.


Igorot man in loincloth

A phalanx of Maoris from New Zealand, looking fierce with wide-eyed stares and menacing throat-slicing gestures, appeared to stand guard over Manoti men from Mato Grosso state as they labored over the fire, finally emerging triumphant with a flaming torch.

Elvis Balabal Julius of the Philippines’ Igorot people hailed the event as “amazing.”

“It’s my first time outside of the Philippines and I took five planes to get here,” said Julius, 23, sporting only a loincloth and the metal gong with which he and two other tribe members had entranced their audience.

“I never thought I would see so many indigenous peoples together. We’re very similar and very different at the same time,” Julius said.

World unity


The “Olympics” has been billed as a chance for indigenous peoples to test their mettle alongside other tribes in sports, including archery, spear throwing and racing with heavy logs.

Brazilian ethnic groups led the ceremonial lighting of the flame to symbolize energy and life and world unity. About 1,800 athletes from 23 countries were to take part.

This was the first year Brazil had opened its annual indigenous games to foreigners, giving it the flavor of a low-key version of next year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The concentration of indigenous groups, many decked out in traditional garb, brought a splash of color to a remote, dusty city rarely visited by tourists.

Dozens of people in robes and feathers disembarked from buses. Broad-chested men with symmetrical black markings on their faces walked with groups of women who pulled along children.

Something of a headdress fashion show developed, featuring black, green and yellow feathers. There were grass skirts, painted bare chests, sculpted hairstyles—and, not infrequently, modern sunglasses.

With the heat making even some of the tough indigenous athletes mop their brows, ice cream vendors did especially well.

The upbeat mood contrasted with the palpable anger at a protest by a small group of indigenous people denouncing what they said was poor organization and unnecessary spending on the games.

A dozen protesters decried the event’s more than $14-million (P650-million) price tag, saying the money would have been better spent improving the conditions of Brazil’s impoverished indigenous peoples.

Narube Werreria said she saw the event as a bid to cover up the real situation of Brazil’s indigenous populations.

“The government is using the event to cover our eyes and say everything is all right here,” said Werreria, a government employee from the Karaja tribe. “But everything is not all right.”

Rampant poverty

Estimated to have numbered between 3 and 5 million in pre-colonial times, Brazil’s indigenous people now make up just 0.5 percent of the country’s 200 million population. They face rampant poverty and discrimination and clash with farmers, ranchers and illegal miners eager to oust them from their lands.

“In Brazil, soy plants are better treated than Indians,” Cacique Doran, a leader of the Tupi Guarani people, shouted at the protest.

Raul Pako, a Brazilian man who had come to take part in tug-of-war and archery, had mixed feelings.

“I am very happy because today is the first world games,” said Pako, who had a weathered face and a thick necklace of green beads.

However, conditions at the games’ humble equivalent of an Olympic Village made him wonder how much the athletes were valued.

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“We’re missing water, we’re missing a few other things too, like soap,” he said, adding that the bus trip was difficult because “there was no air-conditioning or toilet.” Reports from AP and AFP

TAGS: Maori, Olympics, Rio de Janeiro

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