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Shine a Light teaches the digital arts to marginalized children all over Latin America, so that their communities can come to see themselves -- and show themselves -- in a new light.

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Digging up history in a runaway slave colony

Kurt Shaw

    We came to the Morro do Fortunato Quilombo, in southern Brazil with plans to help the community document its history as a refuge for freed and runaway slaves; this sort of oral history is a required part of the application for a quilombo (runaway slave colony) to win land rights from the Brazilian government.  Perhaps the greatest surprise for me has been how little work it has taken: the community takes pride in its history in a way I have seldom seen, and the names of the founders of the village are constantly on everyone's lips, even though they died more than 100 years ago.

    On Saturday, we sat with three of the quilombo elders to talk about the founding of the Morro do Fortunato.  Vitor Cardoso, who has been running the project for Shine a Light, had been doing a lot of archival research on the community -- birth and baptismal certificates, wedding records, etc -- and he wanted to see how the documentary evidence stacked up against their well-remembered oral history.

    Many quilombos were founded by runaway slaves: they fled the brutal fields of sugarcane and manioc and made a life for themselves wherever they could.  Some of the largest quilombos, like Palmares in Brazil's northeast, became more populous than the Portuguese colonies on the coast.  Morro do Fortunato is different: the people there remember that the land came as a gift to the freed slave Fortunato.  "He got it as a gift from his father," Maurício Machado explained.  "Ignácio was his father's name, at least that's what my grandfather told me, and in that generation, they still kept 'Inácio' as a surname."

    "It isn't on his birth certificate," Vitor replied.

    "We really want to know who that man was, and how he had the land to give such a huge area to Fortunato."

    Everyone chatted for a while, trying to remember the names of landholders on both sides of the quilombo, until Vitor, the historian, remembered something.  "The slaveholder who owned Fortunato's mother was named Ignácio Pereira da Silva," he interjected.  "It's not that uncommon a name, but it is more than a coincidence."

    "The stories tell us that Fortunato was a light skinned man, short and very, very strong," explained another of the elders in the community.

    Was Fortunato the son of the landholder with his slave?  Vitor had discovered that she was a recent arrival from Africa, and had been bought in a market in Ribeirão, in the south of what is now Florianópolis.

    As the conversation continued, an even more interesting hypothesis emerged.  Though the quilombo has few documents of sale or deed, people there remember clearly the names and surnames of all of the landholders around them for generations.  "We don't have the deed of gift when Ignácio gave this land to Fortunato," Vitor said, "but maybe the family is still around here.  Any Pereiras or da Silvas who still own land here?"

    "The still down the hill, where there is the sign that they vend cachaça [moonshine]: the owner is a Pereira," Maurílio responded, and quickly they had traced the bootlegger's family back three or four generations.  His family had owned the land as long as the quilombo had been there; the clearing in the valley could well have been the center of a large plantation.  Ignácio Pereira da Silva could well have given the forest on the mountain to his illegitimate black son.

    Children have been the lead researchers on the project, asking questions and making small films about different elements of their quilombo.  As they listened to the conversation, I wondered if they understood the big deal that was happening in front of them, the intellectual adventure of digging up history: not the tales of kings and generals, but their own community.  The excitement was palpable among the adults, and I hope that the kids, as they grow up, continue to take as much pride in their history as their parents and grandparents do. 

    As we do more research in the archives and in the quilombo, I'll keep you up to date on these mysteries!

From GOOD Magazine

Kurt Shaw

Stimulant of the Masses

An interview with liberation theologian, Leonardo Boff. by Kurt Shaw

    

 July 4, 2014

Almost 25 years ago, I was learning to organize miners and peasants in the north of Chile. One of the movement’s leaders pulled me aside and handed me a worn copy of Comunidades Eclesiales de Base, a book by Leonardo Boff. “This is how to make it work,” he told me. A couple of years later, in a refugee camp in El Salvador, I got the same book as a gift. Since then, I have found Boff’s books on the shelves of human rights lawyers in Colombia, activist journalists in Mexico, and peasants trying to win land rights throughout Latin America. Boff, who spent most of his career as a Catholic priest, was both a spiritual and political leader, providing both moral weight and practical guidance to the fight against dictatorships and rapacious capitalism throughout Latin America’s most tumultuous years.  

Continue reading at http://magazine.good.is/features/an-interview-with-liberation-theologian--leonardo-boff

Top 25, #16: El Iskar

Kurt Shaw

José Angel Colman, a Kuna actor and philosopher, organized the 1925 project for Shine a Light.  In this amazing short film, he tells the story of how the Kunas stole fire from the jaguar, and then the children of KosKuna, an indigenous neighborhood near Panama City, tell the story through acting and cartoons.

Top 25, #17: 2003, 2005: la historia bolivian atrás de la novela

Kurt Shaw

One of SAL's most interesting project was a telenovela (soap opera) made by indigenous children living int he shantytowns above La Paz, Bolivia.  Not only was it an amazing artistic endeavor, but it got shown on Bolivian national TV.  In this film, the actors and the artistic director reflect on life in the 2003 and 2005 revolutions, the epoch in which the telenovela was set.

Top 25 Shorts #18: La Bombonera, Corazón de Moravia

Kurt Shaw

In 2005, we worked with a group of young leaders in Moravia, once the most violent slum in Medellín, to document their work in using mediation to reduce violence.  This film shows how soccer transformed many gangs into soccer teams and changed conflict into competition.

En los años 1990, Moravia era uno de los barrios más peligrosos en el mundo, pero ahora se ha tornado un modelo para la construcción de la paz en Medellín y Colombia. Aquí, jugadores de fútbol y mediadores de conflicto explican cómo transformaron la cancha de fútbol en territorio de paz.

FavelaNews in the News

Kurt Shaw

Amy Swietlik-Rodrigues, a Fulbright Scholar studying in Recife, did a blog post on FavelaNews a couple of weeks ago.  

Yesterday we had the opportunity to meet up with the guys of FavelaNews along with Kurt Shaw and Rita da Silva of Shine A Light. FavelaNews was filming an episode of their cooking series and we were invited to watch and enjoy the meal.

For the full post: http://amyjanelaaberta.wordpress.com/

Top 25 Shorts #20: União

Kurt Shaw

As a part of the Cartography of the Favela, we asked each of the four researchers to develop an aesthetic research project about violence in their community.  Adriano da Silva narrates the story of war between in-laws through dance, and then speaks with the friend to whom it happened.

Top 25 Shorts, #21: War and Peace in Arruda

Kurt Shaw

When FavelaNews began its work in the favelas along the Canal de Arruda in Recife, the area was one of the most violent in the city, if not the country.  Two years later, the neighborhoods have had a year of peace.  With this report, the journalists at FavelaNews ask people in the community what drove this change, and what it means for them. (In Portuguese)