Collective construction of a journey

There is a difference between understanding the functions of the Itaaká, discussed in the previous section, and building and practicing it – even more so if this making and practice takes place in contexts that are not entirely indigenous. It was precisely this challenge that Irineu Nje'a faced when proposing the realization and collective activation of this instrument in the Con/Cri/Tec residency. There were, yes, other Terenas, but also indigenous people from other ethnic groups, as well as non-indigenous people from Brazil and many other regions of the world. 


How to deal with such diversity? How does this non-homogeneous network affect the agencies produced by the use of Itaaká? How to manage this distance between Terenas and non-Terenas using this instrument?


These questions were partially answered based on two precautions taken into account in this experience proposed by Irineu. The first concerns time. In total, there were 11 uninterrupted days of conversations, exchanges, mutual help and pondering. This allowed for the construction of a context that did not necessarily aim to reconstruct or simulate the traditional ritual of the Terenas in relation to Itaaká, but rather to activate its collaborative, oral, affective and respectful essence that is customarily constructed and used in Terena culture. The second caution concerns the idea that the workshop was coordinated entirely and with complete freedom by Terenas themselves. Irineu, his son Thales and Dario Machado Terena, also a leader from Aldeia Kopenoti, were responsible for designing and carrying out all stages of the workshop, without the need for any intermediation from non-indigenous people.


This may seem like an obvious precaution, but it should be noted that often indigenous ancestral knowledge is not transmitted as it should be, that is, from the indigenous people themselves. Since the Terenas learned this and other practices from their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, it is crucial that the same happens in contemporary activities like this one. It is always more important for an indigenous person than anyone else to talk about his own history. Indigenous people of the new generation in Brazil and in several other parts of the world are increasingly inserted in the legitimized spaces of science and culture of non-indigenous people – thanks to, for example, university quotas and other affirmative policies. Such a transformation forces us to build contexts in which they speak for themselves.


In this exercise of making the Itaaká by Terenas and not Terenas, the concept of distance was once again expanded. If we previously discussed how the functions of the Itaaká show us that distance is also an opportunity for transmission, here we understand that distance also concerns the path, trajectory, accumulation (in the collective case) of experiences.


In this sense, a practical experience of producing a spiritual instrument of a certain culture involves a certain accumulation of experience that, when traversed, can then establish a direct connection between one world and another. But this is not done without comings and goings, curves and other types of windings. When the Itaakás from the workshop proposed by Irineu were ready and activated in a public ceremony for all the other participants in the residency, this connection between worlds was only possible thanks to the idea of a cumulative, contextualized and collective construction between different cultures.


Having as a central point the ritual of the collective practice of building the Itaaká (whether by the Terena “initiates” of the past or the indigenous and non-indigenous people of Con/Cri/Tec), the Terenas manage to establish the connection between worlds only after a journey of making which is by no means level and rectilinear. The connection established via Itaaká is, for the Terena culture, the leveled representation of a much more complex experience than what can be noticed in its public activation.


In the 11 days of invoice of the Itaaká during the Con/Cri/Tec event, non-indigenous people had to go through a process of initial discomfort because they were performing practices from another culture; non-Terena indigenous people had dreams and other types of visions that symbolized important authorizations for them so that this agency could actually be established; and the Terenas themselves often had to deal with adaptations and updates, since the production of the Itaaká was being carried out in an urban context and not within the usual community experience.


With this journey practiced together, which involved the unexpected and even a certain constructive conflict, the making of the Itaaká mediated distances between worlds based on the idea of a journey built collectively. Thus, the idea of initiation, coming from the Terenas who became Koipihapati, was somehow preserved by assuming the fundamental importance of the cumulative practice of experiences. Only from this trajectory was it possible to establish a connection capable of dealing with the distance between two worlds – different for non-indigenous people, potentially connected for the Terenas.


Such a built route also helps us to understand the importance of experience and, consequently, of the elderly in the culture of the indigenous peoples of Brazil. As Caboco (2012, no page), Wapishana indigenous artist and researcher, writes: “some keep memories in books, but indigenous populations dream their memories. And our knowledge, looks and critical thinking come from grandmothers. It's the experience. The steps we take are the footprints of our elders.” (our translation)


Producing Itaaká, even in a non-indigenous context, seems to be a possible way to practice this ancestry based on a learning flow that is not directly from one point to another. This learning, which assumes the participation of ancestors, establishes a communicative link between poles based on an accumulation of knowledge coming from a path marked by immersion, accumulation and collective commitment – from the present and also from the past. Distance is then transformed into an invitation to build a possible journey.

by Irineu Nje'a Terena, in dialogue with Bruno Moreschi.

The Proposal itself

For 11 days, Irineu Nje'a facilitated one of the subgroups of the artistic residency Con/Cri/Tec, which had, among its organizers, Bruno Moreschi. With his subgroup formed by 15 people, Irineu taught how to produce and handle an instrument of his culture called Itaaká. In this process, the participants could be exposed to the universe of the Terenas, since they did not make a simple object, but an instrument loaded with ancestral knowledge. Irineu commented in his first conversation with the group that, coincidence or not, this activity took place in the most spiritual period of the year, according to the Terenas. The month of May, in addition to marking the beginning of a new year, also represented the end of a learning process, known as Êxiva. In it, traditionally, some Terenas become Koixomuneti, spiritual leadership, or even a great Naati (chief). These “initiates” usually celebrate the end of the ritual with the honey festival. Why not imagine that the participants also experienced this initiation process with their Itaaká?

Centuries separate this ritual from today.

Still, is it possible to imagine new rituals that contain the same idea of collective teaching that marks this ancestral initiation? If so, is the artistic activity proposed by Irineu a possible form of this? To what extent can collective constructions like this bring non-indigenous people closer to non-linear, non-dichotomous conceptions of time and space, and allow for parallax perspectives (white, non-white, indigenous in general, and Terena indigenous)? And how do these synergies alter our normative and scientific understanding of concepts like distance?


The end of this collective construction was marked by a performance performed for all other Con/Cri/Tec participants. It was the moment when the “initiates” of Irineu's subgroup could finally turn their Itaaká for the first time – in a kind of public activation of this ancestral instrument.


Practicing culture and the notion of living cultural memory are important ideas for Terenas and many other indigenous people in Brazil. Paying attention to the functioning of ancestral instruments and their activation practices is to understand with more complexity the dynamics of a living process of preservation, activation and updating (contextualized) of practices among indigenous peoples.

Itaaká and its process of building bridges to overcome the distance of distant worlds (section 1), as well as the idea that the connection is made through practice (whether coming from the making of Itaaká in the present or in the knowledge of ancestors) are opportunities to understand how complex and dynamic the practice of ancestry is (section 2). Thinking about it from an expanded idea of distance is a way of looking at ancestral practices like Terena's beyond an exotic, caricatured and watertight vision.

Agencies, bridges, connections, accumulation of practices to establish the shortest possible path of integration are dynamics present in the construction and use of Itaaká. As well as many other indigenous practices and objects. Contextualized contexts, of extended duration such as the Con/Cri/Tec residency and built by representatives of the culture put into practice, are possible ways of understanding part of this complex communication network. With the Terenas and their Itaakás, we learned that distance is not an impediment, but rather, always an invitation to the shared connection of worlds.


The work between Irineu and Bruno was supported by the Decay Without Mourning | Future Thinking Heritage Practices (GI21-0001), an international research project with three teams based in Sweden, South Africa and Brazil. Together our project explores foregrounding decay as a central concern of heritage studies. The project is funded by Volkswagen Stiftung, Fondazione Compagnia di SanPaolo, Wallenberg Foundations and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond. Part of this article was written while Moreschi was an early-career fellow at the Collegium Helveticum, Zurich.



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Bittencourt, C. M., & Ladeira, M. E. (2000). A história do povo Terena. MEC.
Castro, E. B. V. de. (2015). Metafísicas canibais: Elementos para uma antropologia pós-estrutural. Cosac Naify : N-1 Edições.
Caboco, G. (2020). Baaraz Ka’Aupan. Editora Picada.
Carvalho, E. de A. (1979). As alternativas dos vencidos: Índios Terena no estado de São Paulo. Paz e Terra.
Castelnau, F. de. (1949). Expedições às regiões centrais da América do Sul. Cia. Ed. Nacional.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (2000). Mil platôs: Capitalismo e esquizofrenia. Editora 34.
Diniz, E. S. (1978). Uma reserva indígena no Centro-Oeste paulista: Aspectos das relações interétnicas e intertribais. Museu Paulista.
Nje’a Terena, I. (2016). Mito de origem do povo Terena: História ilustrada da cultura Terena. Independent publication.



This exhibition discusses the collective construction of an ancestral instrument of the Terena indigenous people in the context of the artistic residency Con/Cri/Tec, held in 2023 at Casa do Povo, in São Paulo, and organized by the Center for Arts, Design and Social Research (CAD+SR). The functions of the Itaaká instrument, as well as the process of creating it in the residency, offered decolonial opportunities for understanding the idea of "distance" beyond the non-indigenous scientific view. The first contribution to this expanded understanding of distance comes from the functions of the Itaaká, in particular, that of reducing the distance between the terrestrial and the spiritual worlds, based on the idea of "transmission". The second perspective of distance analyzed here came from the experience of building the Itaaká, seen in the Terena culture as part of a collective initiation ritual. The making of Itaaká performed in the artistic residency showed part of this ritualistic character and how this ancestral instrument relates distance to the idea of collective construction of a "journey".

Distance, transmission, and journey

in the collective construction of an Itaaká

Author 1

Irineu Nje'a Terena is an indigenous ceramic artist and historian belonging to the Terena ethnic group. He is one of the leaders of Aldeia Kopenoti, located in the interior of São Paulo, Brazil. For more than a decade, Irineu has carried out activities related to the culture of the Terena people for non-indigenous people in schools, universities and cultural centers.


According to the 2010 Brazilian Census, most of the 28,845 indigenous Terenas live far from Irineu and his community – in the Midwest of Brazil, more than 1,200 kilometers from Aldeia Kopenoti. In the 1930s, as part of the territorial policy of the Brazilian State for the indigenous population, coordinated by Marechal Rondon, Irineu's descendants moved from the Center to the Southeast of Brazil. The intention was to strengthen the presence of indigenous people in the interior of the state of São Paulo, an area of interest to non-indigenous farmers. Since then, the 1,068 Terenas from the Brazilian Southeast live in a relationship of affection from a distance with their relatives in the Midwest (Carvalho, 1979; Castelnau, 1949; Diniz, 1978).


This displacement of the village of Irineu away from the rest of the Terena ethnic group is important information to understand his interest in creating collective and contextualized methodologies to transmit and preserve the knowledge of the Terena people. In a way, these exercises are also ways for Irineu and his community to keep their traditions alive, the sense of ethnic belonging and communication with their distant relatives.


The Terenas are indigenous people known for their various productive skills, including ceramics – Irineu is a sculptor who uses ceramics. In the past, the Terenas were also recognized for their weaving, but the practice is not so common in the new generations.

Author 2
Bruno Moreschi is an artist and researcher in the arts, with projects related to the deconstruction of systems, and interested in rethinking new ways of seeing in museums, in archives and in machine training datasets. As part of his work on the Decay Without Mourning: future thinking heritage practices project, Moreschi collaborated with Irineu to carry out collective experiences of transmitting ancestral knowledge to indigenous and non-indigenous groups.








Transmission between worlds

The Itaaká (also known as Maracá) is an instrument of power used by several indigenous peoples in Brazil. This means that we are talking about an object that is present (and transforms) in a considerable part of the 305 different peoples that, together, reach more than one million indigenous people and 274 languages. Even having specificities according to the indigenous community, its material constitution tends not to change. Itaaká is made from organic products found in nature such as dried gourd, bamboo, seeds, as well as secrets inside that are not completely revealed to non-indigenous people.


Specifically for the Terena culture, the Itaaká has shamanic functions that are connective. For example, Antonio Lulu Kaliketé, in a report for Bittencourt and Ladeira (2005), recounts how the shaking of the itaaká was able to mediate the discussion of two indigenous leaders (koixomonetis), making the rain stop in order to allow contact with spirits from another dimension.


As an object that mediates contacts, the Itaaká allows us to considerably expand the idea of distance shaped by western and non-indigenous science. Paying attention to the systemic network that this instrument builds and activates in Terena culture is to enrich ontological discussions about objects, practices, collectivities and worlds.


The main function of the Itaaká is to establish a connection between two distant fields: this field (where we are now) and a field beyond it (spiritual and immaterial). Thus, this instrument is responsible for helping in the interconnection of agencies that, interrelated, partly characterize the cosmopolitical theory of indigenous America. As Viveiros de Castro (2015, p. 43) points out, this cosmopolitics is a universe populated by “different types of agencies or subjective agents, human and non-human – gods, animals, the dead, plants, meteorological phenomena, often also objects and artifacts – all endowed with the same basic set of perceptual, appetitive and cognitive dispositions, or, in a nutshell, a similar 'soul'.” (our translation) For the Terena culture, the Itaaká is one of the possible links of engagements and transmissions between these agencies/agents. 


But this approximation of worlds is not done by Itaaká directly. It follows the following steps:


1. Entry into the spiritual world;

2. Establishment of a dialogue with the Koipihapati (the guiding spirit for the Terenas);

3. With the help of Koipihapati, calling good spirits;

4. Finally, the removal of evil from the negative energies where the Itaaká is being activated in the terrestrial field.


These steps are only validated if they are performed in a specific context: the Ohekoti ritual. In this ritual, the Itaaká is frantically shaken by the right hand until it causes a constant sound. This specific sound is often accompanied by spiritual chants in Aruak, the language of the Terenas and some other indigenous peoples of South America.


According to the Terenas, this constant rotation of the Itaaká causes vibratory waves capable of creating a transmission relationship between the Earth's animals (this includes human beings) and the guide spirit Koipehapati. This informational link between two worlds occurs only because the vibration of the Itaaká is capable of breaking the molecules of the vibratory field of something here on Earth, causing a kind of alignment and balance to occur between here and there (Baldus, 1950).


It is not uncommon for the Terenas to use a comparison between the Itaaká and the idea of an antenna to better explain this whole process of communication to non-indigenous people. It is worth noting, however, that the connection made through Itaaká is not an uninterrupted process, as commercial antennas tend to be. This connection necessarily needs a command, the already specified shaking, that is, a ritualistic context.


The functioning of an Itaaká refers to a series of important themes that can be deepened in other studies: the idea of different interrelated worlds; that of communication based on assemblages that involve the idea of legitimized intermediaries (in this case Koipihapati), as well as the very idea of movement between body and instrument in the creation of extracorporeal immaterial connections. In this exhibition, however, we are interested in a fourth aspect raised by the use of Itaaká that radically subverts the relationship between the idea of “distance” and “distancing”.


As much as these two words in the etymological understanding of non-indigenous people are closely related, dependent on each other, the same does not occur from the perspective of the Terenas. For this culture, distant worlds are not distanced worlds, which do not communicate, as they can often be connected through the ritualistic use of Itaaká. In this sense, being distant from what is distant is much more a situation than an inherent condition. Thus, from the contextualized use of Itaaká, according to the Terenas, distant poles are poles that can be perfectly connected based on the idea of transmission. 


It should be noted that this expanded notion of distance for the Terenas is potentially a notion of connection/transmission, and not necessarily of loss. It is also important to understand the depth that notions of preservation, conservation and heritage of indigenous cultures contain, but permeates (and a lot) the idea of protection. More than that, with the active rotation of the Itaaká, the Terena culture and that of many other indigenous peoples of Brazil are protected and valued by themselves based on an idea of dynamism and frequent connection between worlds, which also includes the connection with their ancestors. This is not replicated in the preservation taken into account by non-indigenous people who tend to relate to objects and practices with more watertight, closed, expository relationships, little susceptible to use.


Such considerations lead us to a second expansion of the idea of distance that Itaaká can offer us. An expansion that arises from the idea of collective and cumulative practice.

Keywords: Itaaká; Terena culture; transmission; journey; tool; collective practices.






The context

Critical Technological Conscientização (Con/Cri/Tec) was an intensive research residency organized by the Center for Arts, Design, and Social Research (CAD+SR), with the support of the Museum of Contemporary Art of São Paulo (MAC USP) and SESC Sao Paulo. The event took place in person at Casa do Povo, in São Paulo, from April 23 to May 3, 2023, and had 45 Brazilian and 45 international participants – artists, designers, technologists, academics, activists, writers and other transdisciplinary researchers.

Con/Cri/Tec focused on the importance of alternative geographies and ontologies for digital, informational and computational awareness and knowledge. Thus, the residency took technology out of laboratories, classrooms and the imaginaries of the Global North, bringing it to its everyday invention and appropriation that occur, for example, in the activism of artists and activists, indigenous peoples, feminist groups and /or anti racists and in the many other actions of technological counter-hegemony that we find in the relationships between humans, tools and nature.

The residency program was mediated by artists and researchers. Among them, Silvana Bahia (Olabi/Pretalab), Rodrigo Ochigame (Leiden University), Carlos Oliveira (Vamoss/SuperUber), Fernanda Bruno (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), Fernanda Pitta (Museum of Contemporary Art of São Paulo), Giselle Beiguelman (University of São Paulo) and artists Rosana Paulino and Irineu Nje'a Terena. Con/Cri/Tec was organized by Dalida María Benfield (CAD+SR & Tierra Común), Christopher Bratton (CAD+SR & Aalto University), Gabriel Pereira (London School of Economics & Tierra Común) and Bruno Moreschi.

The Center for Arts, Design and Social Research (CAD+SR) is directed by Dalida María Benfield and Christopher Bratton.

Writing mode

For this exhibition, Irineu and Moreschi decided to alternate uni and bi authorial writing – thus taking advantage of the design and creation possibilities of the Research Catalogue. The main content was conceived by Irineu based on conversations recorded by Moreschi. That main text is formatted like this paragraph.


The excerpts in italics are indications of thoughts built with Irineu during these exchanges, but of greater belonging to Moreschi. This other text style also highlights the fact that the second author of this exposition (Moreschi) is not a specialist in indigenous themes, as is the case of Irineu. Moreschi is not an indigenous person.


Thus, the intention was not to excessively divide the collectively constructed thoughts, but, even partially, to indicate how exchanges like this result in complex collective thoughts, which may belong more or less to each of the authors. We sought to graphically represent a synergy that is not uniform, but open and transparent, capable of highlighting intellectual independence, when deemed necessary. This form is a reaction to much indigenous research that tends to camouflage the noise and friction inherent in any construction of thought carried out between indigenous and non-indigenous people.


This way of writing is also related to the questioning that Viveiros de Castro (2015, p. 25) poses about what studies of indigenous peoples by non-indigenous peoples can offer to the same peoples. Would it only provide ideological debates, related to the formation of power in intellectual fields such as the academic context? Viveiros de Castro believes that no, that it is possible to carry out research that embarks on “the imaginative effort” of the very societies that one intends to understand. In this sense, indicating in this text what is more Irineu's thinking, what is more Moreschi's thinking, but also mixing these two perspectives into a single result is accepting the opportunity to “think with another mind, to think with other minds”, to elaborate a theory that be “sensitive to the creativity and reflexivity inherent in the life of a collective whole” (our translation). Deleuze & Guattari (2000, p. 123) call exercises such as this collective writing as “generalized chromatism”.