As the legendary site of the residency and reclusion of the mythical hero-ancestor Kamukuwaká and his people, it is a space that is associated with the origin of the initiation ritual of Xinguan communities’ young leaders. Its engravings represent the source of much of the Xinguan traditional graphic repertoire, being widely reproduced in ritual body paintings, traditional pottery, and basketry.
A video describing the stages of the project
The exclusion of this important element of indigenous, national, and world heritage from the Xingu people’s demarcated territory contributed to the tragedy that befell the site in 2018, when the engravings were systematically destroyed. Although the exact identity of the assailant is unknown, the destruction is representative of the tensions felt between indigenous and farming communities in Mato Grosso. In addition, deforestation at the headwaters upstream has resulted in increased sedimentation of the river and the rise of the water levels, aggravating the factors of erosion to which the rock art panels in the cave are directly exposed. Kamukuaká is a site that deeply resonates with the traditions of the inhabitants of Xingu, as well demonstrates the grave contemporary threats to their way of life.
In September 2018, an expedition to Kamukuwaká was organised as one of the first steps in a project to ensure the preservation of the listed cave. Collaborating with an independent team of Brazilian anthropologists, it aimed to document the site using high-resolution 3D-imaging technologies, including laser-scanning and photogrammetry: precautionary measures intended to safeguard against precisely such a disastrous event. Upon arrival at the site, it was revealed to have been devastated with the most important petroglyphs hacked away. Factum Foundation’s team recorded the site in its vandalised state.
The mapping of the vandalised areas of the cave from the LiDAR and photogrammetry data will be used in combination with photographic documentation dating from before the attack to produce an accurate 3D restoration of the cave, at a scale of 1:1. The reconstructed physical cave will be exhibited with material that explores the cultural significance of the site as well as the technological challenge of restoring it.
It is hoped that this artistic and technological statement will have a real-world impact, by gathering support for the Wauja with what they believe to be the only way to safeguard Kamukuwaká: to reclaim it and its surroundings as indigenous lands and reinstate a village nearby. With the unprecedented political threat to the Amazon rainforest posed by the current Brazilian government, the restoration of the cave of Kamukuwaká will serve as a platform for the voice of its indigenous communities.
The physical 3D reconstruction of the cave will be sent to the Wauja community. It will be able to continue its work of transmitting a sense of place and history from one generation to the next.
Preventative and post-damage digitisation, as well as 3D reconstruction, will never replace the value of at-risk or vandalised testimonies from the past. It is nonetheless becoming more and more urgent to demonstrate that there are ways to face those threats. The engravings, restored through 3D-modelling from the historical photographs, will reinstate sections that have been removed by the iconoclasts. This is painstaking scientific work on local knowledge and documentary photographs. But this digital reconstruction can preserve the memories and creation myths of the Wauja people. In an unstable political situation, there are more and more examples of orchestrated destruction or mindless vandalism. It is increasingly urgent to demonstrate that technology can be used to help to face fundamentalist or commercially motivated destruction of cultural heritage.
This data was materialised through a 3 axis CNC machine milling directly onto medium density polyurethane at a resolution of 200 microns. The high-resolution details from the digital restoration will be integrated manually onto the surface, before the application of an acrylic resin. The resin will give the polyurethane the appearance of the original cave.
On the 18th and 19th of October 2019, Factum Foundation hosted an event at its workshops in Madrid to launch the facsimile of the restored sacred cave of Kamukuwaká. Representatives from the Wauja people, the singer Akari Waurá and his son Yanumakakuma, the Kuikuro, the filmmaker Takuma Kuikuro, and from the Krenak of Minas Gerais, the activist and spiritual healer, Shirley Krenak, as well as the non-indigenous archaeologist Mafalda Ramos, travelled to Madrid to tell the story of the cave and its contemporary significance at a time of unprecedented threats to indigenous populations and land.
The event was a celebration of the collaborative endeavour that brought about the facsimile of the cave, an opportunity to explore what it represents for the culture and traditions of Xingu – brought to life by Akari’s songs relating to the cave and his recounting of its myths – and a moment to reflect on the next stages of the project. This latter aspect took place over the course of a day of discussions held between the main participants of the project and a public audience. Two themes emerged through the stimulating debates: first, the need to ensure that the facsimile, with its potent message about the role of indigenous communities in protecting the environment, reaches an international audience; second, that it reaches its final destination of Xingu, for it to continue its role of transmitting ancestral knowledge to future generations.