Disappearing Cultures, Cultural Identities and Traditions: Case Study about the Loss of Traditional Communities of Fishermen on the North-East Coast of Brazil Leaving Their Islands an Artistic Approach

Abstract

During visits to remote fishermen islands located on the coast of the state of Maranhão in the North-East of Brazil, we realized that a significant proportion of the traditional community left the islands. In this article we investigate the reason why those people left the islands where they lived for generations, to find out about their whereabouts and to answer the question why their culture, cultural identities and traditions are disappearing. And at last to answer the main question what is killing our natives. A special approach for the communities was taken through our ongoing artistic project SUI GENERIS that started in 2012 to produce portrait photography of the people living on the islands, with the aim to enhance the self-esteem of the local population through artwork[1]. For the consecution of the aims of the research, we used series of interviews with the fishermen, which were realized in different periods during our frequent visits of the islands, in compilation with the data obtained from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) and from the administrative organ of the reserve, the Institute Chico Mendes for the Conservation of the Biodiversity (ICMBIO), in completion or comparison with in loco observations undertaken by us while living with the traditional communities during periods of ten to fifteen days three or four times a year from 2012 to 2016. We concluded that the traditional communities had left the islands to move to the two main cities Cururupu and Apicum-Açu three and a half boat hours away for multiple reasons, varying from retirement of the elder, buying with the retirement money land and building houses, calling their daughters and sons to live with them, to the search for better educational opportunities for the children as on the islands teaching is only for elementary education and further attending of schools is only possible in the city. Non-reversible social and cultural modifications in the community are taking place, as children of fishermen do not anymore necessarily like to become fishermen themselves by persueing other professions. Traditional community knowledge about their former habitat, diversity of flora and fauna, areas of fish capturing and artisanal techniques are lost with their absence from the reserve area. By living in the city, former supportive and warm-hearted individuals helping each other out and gifted with their distinct hospitality and openness towards strangers become increasingly afraid of other individuals due to urban violence they are not used to and the fact that, on one hand, they are living in the urban environment, while, on the other hand, being mostly excluded from social live due to their low incomes and precarious living conditions. The former, economically stable low-income lives on the islands, based on sharing habitat and fishery and being supportive towards each other when necessary, changed by living in the city; consequently, their human characteristics and social behaviours with the involvement of money necessary for everything what is needed to buy in the city are ultimately and definitely changing, too. One scenario for the future is that the whole fishermen community will leave their islands and live in the city, coming back to the islands only periodically for the purpose of fishing, while they stay in their fishermen cottages (in Portuguese ranchos), this will result in the loss of cultural identities, ways of life, social organization and traditions which are not anymore continued in the urban environment, as well as change in behaviour to loose their singular solidarity, hospitality and openness towards strangers which were related to their former simplicity of life on the islands.          

[1] The locations of the portrait photography production between 2012 and 2016 were the studied fifteen remote islands where fishermen communities live and 20 Quilombola communities in the Baixada Maranhenses region of Maranhão, from Alcântara to Apicum-Açu. The related artwork of portrait photography resulted in a book release with its premier edition in 2016 under the title SUI GENERIS – L’ESSENCE DE LA VIE .:: People and Landscape, accompanied by ongoing itinerate exhibition projects travelling throughout the country and abroad from 2012 to 2016.

Keywords: Artisanal Fishermen, Fine-Art Photography, Maranhão, Marine Extractive Reserve of Cururupu, Photographic Portrait, Traditional Communities


Article Review Status: Published

Pages: 1-44 (Download PDF)

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