Top to bottom: Painting the book covers; preparing Buriti-Dão; Buriti-Dão book launch, Riacho dos Ventos. Photographs by Sol Barreto and Julio Brabo by the reaction of one of the participants, and a further poetic reflection by Sol. On one page, the passage quoted – “Life in the countryside is a war” – elicits the following testimony from leaf-picker Luciana: “We women are warriors. The war is waged every single day.” In turn, Sol responds thus: “Every day they get up early to work. They work with difficulty and care. Collecting leaves. The daily collection is a war waged to avoid defeat.” Defeat, here, means the loss of their forests, their lands, their livelihoods and, ultimately, their survival as a community.
The opening fragment of Buriti-Dão is equally telling. Responding to a line by Guimarães Rosa – “The silence is never silent” – Cristina agrees: “At night time in the Cerrado there are creatures. It’s not totally silent. There’s the cricket and the owl… Here in Riacho, cars pass with headlights, and there’s the fire.” Valuing – and listening to – the stories of these historically marginalised communities is crucial to effecting change on local and global levels. As Marianne Brown argues in a recent issue of Resurgence & Ecologist, the act of listening is crucial in a world “where debate (political and otherwise) all too often consists of shouting over opposing views”. In the case of the leaf-pickers, we have much to learn, not only about the ‘war’ they are waging to survive and their attempt to live and work sustainability against the odds, but also from their skills as ‘listeners’ of an ecosystem under threat: the Cerrado.
Listening to the natural world is a way of connecting to it. Listening to the leaf-pickers’ stories is a means of connection, engaging with the leaves that, as their collective epigraph states, are pages of their lives. BuritiDão, like many other cartonera books, is a repository of that listening: every page encloses multiple layers of listening – listening to crickets and owls, to cars and forest fires, but also listening to those who are there suffering from the effects of the fires. In that sense, it is a repository of multiple horizontal exchanges. On the one hand, Catapoesia trained the community members in everything involved in making cartonera books: the recording of stories, memories and oral histories, textual production, digital editing, printing, painting, cardboard-book-making, publicity and event production. On the other hand, the participants taught Sol and Júlio about their highly localised traditions and practices, and the stories carried by the leaves in the wind. In the Story Garden, this horizontal process of listening, connection and exchange is taken to a transnational level: as the wind sweeps across our book-making workshop, carrying autumn leaves alongside the paper and cardboard from the tables, Sol observes: “The women of Riacho dos Ventos are here. The gusts of wind are their spirits, asking us to read their stories!”
Lucy Bell is senior lecturer in Spanish and Translation Studies at the University of Surrey. She is a member of the Cartonera Publishing Project research team, which organised the London Cartonera Festival. www.cartonerapublishing.com With thanks to Alex Flynn, co-leader of the Cartonera Publishing Project.
Resurgence & Ecologist