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Amazon Culture Comes to China

A very beautiful side of Beijing is revealed when you ascend the towering North Gate of the Palace Museum and looks out towards Jingshan Hill, which is only five minutes' walk away.

With the palaces of the Forbidden City at your back, you see the canal running beneath your feet, and cars, bicycles and pedestrians rushing to and fro on Jingshan Qianjie street outside the red palatial wall -- all of it seeming like a vivid silent movie.

Across the street, at the foot of the green hill are rows of old houses and courtyards.

The gate, which is called "Shenwumen," has been open to the public only since last Tuesday, when the first exhibition given by a foreign country in the Forbidden City kicked off in the tower above the gate.

Objects displayed above the gate are a sharp and interesting contrast to the royal palaces which embody the monumental glory of Chinese architecture.

Titled "Amazonia: Native Traditions," the show features 344 traditional artifacts made by past and present indigenous peoples of Amazonia, who have lived in the rainforest for some 5,000 years.

It is jointly sponsored by BrasilConnects, a private non-profit entity that organizes exhibitions in Brazil and around the world, and the Palace Museum.

The exhibition, which will run until August 24, is one of the most fabulous shows to come to Beijing so far this year.

It is well worth a visit to those interested in Latin American culture.

The exhibition is composed of two parts: archaeological finds, such as pottery from the areas of Maraca, Guarita and Ariste; and modern Indian artefacts such as feather ornaments and ceremonial masks.

Besides the carefully chosen artifacts, the show also boasts a wonderful curating job, which is the result of in-depth and systematic research.

A major activity staged to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Brazil, the show has received congratulatory messages from Chinese President Hu Jintao and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who visited China last week.

Lula and Chinese State Counselor Chen Zhili presided over the opening of the show on Tuesday.

"Through the exhibition, the Chinese will have an opportunity to get to know something about the largest tropical forest in the world, with its rich biodiversity and more than 170 indigenous peoples, who speak around 100 different languages," said the Brazilian President.

"Though concern over the future survival of the Amazon, the planet's lungs, has reached every corner of the world, little is known about the peoples who have lived in the Amazon forests for 5,000 years, and how they developed a rich and complex interaction with nature, with practices, beliefs, myths and rituals that have been maintained until today," said Edemar Cid Ferria, chairman of BrasilConnects.

Actually Amazonia is today home to about 220,000 Indians, who live in the so-called Legal Amazonia, an area essentially covered by forest in Brazil, said Luis Donisete Grupioni, anthropologist with the University of Sao Paulo, who is one of the two curators of the exhibition.

They live on 401 Indigenous Lands, with some degree of juridical recognition by the Brazilian Government, and have a total protected area of more than 1 million square kilometers.

There are 46 other groups who do not have permanent contact with the rest of Brazilian society.

As a general rule, Brazil's indigenous peoples are small in numbers, more than half of the groups consisting of less than 500 people, said Grupioni.

These groups have an amazing linguistic and cultural diversity. Today 180 languages are known, distributed into 41 families in two major linguistic branches, as well as other isolated languages.

The objects the people make embody ideals of beauty and perfection that go far beyond the objects' functional requirements, said the anthropologist.

Visitors to the exhibition will be surprised to find how flourishing the indigenous cultures have been in the rainforest, and how blind people have been to the ancient civilization, which has been generally thought to be "primitive" and "marginal."

"I hope Chinese visitors will learn from the art show the cultural diversity of humanity, further understand the importance of protecting the global ecological environment, and love the globe as the habitat of mankind as well as the colorful cultures of humanity more than ever," said Chinese President Hu Jintao.

(China Daily June 1, 2004)

Ritual Objects Reveal Life Thousands of Years Ago
Exhibition Explores Ties Between Man And Nature
Amazon Culture Brightens Beijing
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