Guilherme Meneses, Ph.D. (C)

Guilherme Meneses is enrolled in the doctorate program in social anthropology at FFLCH-USP. He has a master’s degree in social anthropology (FFLCH-USP), a bachelor’s in social science (FFLCH-USP) and a bachelor’s in business administration (FGV-EAESP).
Guilherme Meneses, Ph.D. (C)

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Although electronic games are now one of the most popular forms of entertainment, the layers of the meaning embedded in them may not be immediately apparent. Electronic games have practical effects on the creation of meaning, and can be powerful tools for the circulation of content.

The purpose of the Huni Kuin: Yube Baitana project was to develop an electronic game that addresses the culture of the Kaxinawá people (or Huni Kuin, as they call themselves) to provide an experience of exchanging indigenous knowledge and memories through the language of video games. The purpose of the game itself is to provide players with an immersive experience of the Huni Kuin universe so they can get in touch with the culture of this people—such as songs, graphics, stories, and rituals—enabling them to circulate more widely.

In the contemporary world scenario, where games from large companies (mostly North American, Japanese, and European) dominate the market, and where there is little space for independent creations, we saw the opportunity to develop a game with Brazilian indigenous themes. Developing content related to social movements and local themes is both a challenge and an opportunity provided by this new time, in which there is, for example, greater accessibility to game development engines and the possibility of dissemination through social media without costs.

to act against the prejudice that plagues indigenous peoples to this day, mainly because the general population is not aware of them

The main objective of the game is simple: to act against the prejudice that plagues indigenous peoples to this day, mainly because the general population is not aware of them. It is alarming how much of the population believes that indigenous people are no longer indigenous people because they carry cell phones or wear clothes. A “common sense” approach seems to forget that they are indigenous, first, because of their kinship. That is, they are Huni Kuin because they are sons and daughters of Huni Kuin parents. This group, one of more than 300 indigenous peoples in Brazil, speaks their own language, the Hãtxa Kuin (the true language), which is one of more than 200 Brazilian indigenous languages. Indigenous peoples have their own ways of life and culture that are in continuous transformation and may incorporate technology artifacts that are manipulated through their own conceptions.

This game is not meant to simply “preserve” the Huni Kuin culture; it also addresses the transformation of their culture

This game is not meant to simply “preserve” the Huni Kuin culture; it also addresses the transformation of their culture. The game aims to show the richness of their culture and enables us (and, also, the young Huni Kuin) to learn from it. Besides seeking a space for themes apart from the clichés of video games, this game is intended to enable people, from children to adults, to respect and value indigenous peoples, their culture, way of life and spirituality.

The Project

The Huni Kuin game began to take shape in 2012, via meetings with some Huni Kuin leaders in southeastern Brazil, both in the academic environment and in rituals of nixi pae (ayahuasca), where contacts were established that allowed the project to commence, even without a financial source.

Abel Ibã drawing.  Photo credit: Nadja Marin

In addition to the bibliographic research and the game design, an important part of the game’s creation methodology was the four ethnographic incursions, lasting one month each, to the Huni Kuin villages in Acre, in the Kaxinawá indigenous lands, Alto Rio Jordão, Baixo Rio Jordão and Seringal Independência, where drawing, singing, and storytelling workshops were held to elaborate the thematic proposal of the game, as well as visual and narrative content production for each level. During the workshops, there was direct involvement of the Huni Kuin in the elaboration of the script, choice and narration of the stories, recording of the songs, capturing of sound effects, translation into the indigenous language, and narration of the cut scenes, as well as drawing the artwork that are entirely inserted in the game.

Screenplay

In the plot of the game, the main characters are a pair of twins who were conceived by the boa snake Yube in dreams and who inherited its special powers. A young hunter and a small artisan, throughout the game, go through a series of challenges to become a healer and a master of drawings (kene), respectively. In this journey, they acquire skills and knowledge of animals, plants, and spirits (yuxin); and they engage in communication with visible and invisible beings of the forest to become, finally, true human beings (huni kuin).

The character begins in the present time, where everyone is in a village, wearing clothes and playing musical instruments, such as the acoustic guitar and maracá. In the sequence, the character is transported to the plane of stories through the blowing of a pajé, where he acquires knowledge and returns, afterward, to the present time.

Pajé Dua Busẽ organizing the drawings. Photo credit: Nadja Marin

During the first workshop on the indigenous land, a meeting was held to define the focus of the general roadmap in which the choice was made for the cosmological approach, i.e., the stories of the ancient ones (shenipabu miyui). Then, each one of the stories was chosen: Yube Nawa Ainbu (Woman-Enchanted Boa), Siriani, Shumani, Kuin Dume Teneni (Tobacco Smoke) and Huan Karu Yuxibu. Both the Huni Kuin and the nawa (non-indigenous)team participated in choosing.

The script of the game and the stories are related to the processes of acquiring Huni Kuin knowledge. In the first sequence of levels, corresponding to the story of Yube Nawa Ainbu, the character learns to trigger the special power of the vine, the nixi pae. In the second story, Siriani, the player learns about the graphics patterns (kene). In the third story, which tells the adventures of a little enchanted forest being named Shumani, he also learns about the use of annatto (mashe) and jenipapo (nane) paintings. In the fourth story, Kuin Dume Teneni, the player, learns to gather tobacco and ashes from trees to prepare dume deshke (rapé) so he can use his power to confront forest animals like the harpy eagle (nawa tete), the black monkey (isu), the giant owl (Pupuwan), the scorpion-king (Nibu Baka Pianan), and other enchanted beings. In the last story, Huan Karu Yuxibu, the player learns about the emergence and classification of medicinal plants and the secret of immortality.

Game Mechanics

One of the central points of the game is its approach to the relationship of the character to domains such as water, forest, and sky from Kaxinawá cosmological conceptions of yuxin and yuxibu that involve matters related to the corporeality, materiality, and spirituality of this people.

Character hunting. Game Screenshot. Photo credit: Beya Xinã Bena

In the Huni Kuin world, everything that is alive, such as animals, plants, and humans, belongs to entities called yuxibu, such as the “owner of the waters” (Yube), the “owner of the sky” (Inka), or the “owner of the forest” (Ni). They are embodied by beings such as the boa (yube), the hawk (nawa tete), the jaguar (inu), and the samaúma tree (shunu), among others.

An attempt was made to translate this concept to the game mechanics. Thus, if the player draws much vital energy from the forest, it will make the yuxibu mad. The character, in this way, must maintain a good relationship with the yuxibu by not killing too many animals in a short time; otherwise, the latter will take revenge, turning passive animals into enemies, making their flesh rotten, and elevating their game life points and their range and ability to attack.

To trigger the effect of the nixi pae and get access to the world of yuxibu, the player must join both beams of vine and queen leaves. In the case of dume deshke (rapé, a tobacco snuff mix) medicine, it is necessary to collect tobacco and ashes from trees such as murici (yapa), cumaru (kumã) or tsunu. In altered states caused by the ingestion of such substances, gravity acts differently; less, in the case of nixi pae, and with more pressure, in the case of dume deshke. In addition, one’s attacks have increased power and vital energy is restored at a greater speed precisely because of the medicines’ agency.

Game Issues

It was established that the copyright of the game belonged to the collective Beya Xinã Bena (New Time Culture), a group formed by the indigenous participants during the game’s first workshop in 2014. Such a collective was founded with the aim of collecting, promoting, and disseminating the audiovisual productions linked to digital technologies of the Huni Kuin of Rio Jordão.

Rio Jordão selection screen. Game Screenshot. Photo credit: Beya Xinã Bena

the alliances that are built between these two peoples, as in the case of projects and journeys related to shamanism, open the way to exchanges of knowledge and tools between “the science of the forest” (medicines) and “the instruments of the white people” (technologies). 

During field experiences, we quickly noticed the Huni Kuin’s fascination with technology. Many times, we heard the following expression: “We, the Huni Kuin, own the science. You, the nawa (white people), own the technology.” From a broader perspective, the alliances that are built between these two peoples, as in the case of projects and journeys related to shamanism, open the way to exchanges of knowledge and tools between “the science of the forest” (medicines) and “the instruments of the white people” (technologies). 

during the project, we had the opportunity to install solar energy systems in nine villages

A kind of ethnographic pact was built around the implementation of allegedly long-lasting benefits to the villages. Considering that the Huni Kuin who participated in the project are co-authors of the game, it was decided to reserve a part of the project’s budget for the installation and maintenance of solar energy systems in the villages. This was a demand of the local people themselves, who chose it as one of their main needs today. So, during the project, we had the opportunity to install solar energy systems in nine villages, lighting houses, creating small points of culture, and restoring those that already existed in the region. The idea was also to strengthen local productions with so-called digital technologies. Thus, training workshops were offered by the nawa team for Huni Kuin participants in three different areas, including subjects covering audiovisual filming and editing, computer science, and the maintenance of solar energy systems.

Solar Energy Maintenance Class. Photo credit: Nadja Marin

Let’s have this contact, the youngster has to take this contact and give continuity…. Because it gave a light, it opened a way. Path of the boa, right? …. So, we are no longer lost; technology is in our hand, we are connected, so let’s follow this project…. So we are here, our spirits are there and our image, we want to put our stories inside the Internet and show them for the world, for this society to understand better that we, Huni Kuin people, we are citizens as well as human beings, we have wisdom, we have our stories, we have this beautiful identity to show for the world. This is what we youngsters, in this new time, want to show – Tadeu Siã

Tadeu Siã telling a story. Photo credit: Nadja Marin

the best way to make his knowledge alive after his passage would be not to isolate it, hide it or guard it, but to spread it through the villages and around the world

In the present time, or, as the Huni Kuin say, “the time of culture,” the Huni Kuin want to relate even more to other peoples and beings. The game Huni Kuin: Yube Baitana, as well as other projects of this new time (xinã bena), come in the wake of dreams like those of the deceased pajé Agostinho Manduca, who envisioned that the best way to make his knowledge alive after his passage would be not to isolate it, hide it or guard it, but to spread it through the villages and around the world. This implies, therefore, the weave of alliances and partnerships with the nawa people.

This project is a brief example of how an indigenous people can use technology to spread their culture and to pass it on to other generations and to outsiders, maintaining its identity, that is, not becoming “less indigenous” or “tainted” by whites’ technology. The very collaboration of members of the Huni Kuin people for the construction of the game reflects this movement of openness to other.


For more information, see: http://www.gamehunikuin.com.br/en


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