When a bonfire lit by children burned out, the winners of Peruibe’s first indigenous games received the wooden medals around their necks with little fanfare.
However, the spectators screamed and howled throughout the village arena as defeated competitors applauded between smoking their pipes.
Last weekend’s two-day competition in the southern state of Sao Paulo wasn’t exactly the Olympics, but some of the friendly spirit of the past echoed among about 120 athletes from the Guarani, Tupi-Guarani and Fulnió communities – plus 21 from their non-native friends are allowed to join in on the Piacaguera Indigenous land.
The program was a mix of white imports and local traditions; archery, tug of war, soccer, a Brazilian native wrestling called Uca-Uca, a relay race with logs on the beach and blowing darts. The javelin and stone-throwing competitions were suspended due to rain. There weren’t enough people to play in the Indigenous badminton category, so it was cancelled.
The indigenous peoples spread across 17 villages around Peruibe, a beachside town 140 km (85 mi) south of Sao Paulo, regularly hold sporting events during other celebrations of their culture. But a year ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics, there’s plenty of interest among young people for a solo sporting competition, which seniors expect to bolster their heritage in the region.
“We didn’t expect so many people here, between participants and visitors,” said chef Awa Tenondegua dos Santos.
Wearing Paris Saint-Germain shorts and black paint on his body, he competed – and lost – in every sport he played during the games.
“This is more fun than anything,” he said. “We are not the Olympics, but we are also a success.”
Organizers say at least 500 people showed up for the event, held in an area smaller than five football fields but invitingly close to a beach and lake where locals swim year-round. Dozens chose to camp around the village from Friday to Sunday and live outdoors like the indigenous people.
April is Indigenous Awareness Month in Brazil, an occasion once again widely celebrated under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. His predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, was a critic of indigenous celebrations, saying repeatedly that the native peoples would be better off if they joined the whites as one nation and encouraged economic activities that are often environmentally harmful, such as mining and logging.
The Peruibe Indigenous Games are an answer to that, according to Elder Dario Tunpan.