Identity constructions based on plurality and the collective


The first time I heard from Djankaw was at a debate about youth and climate justice, and I felt instigated about everything she said. From the Quilombola Paiol de Telha - Núcleo Entre Rios (Paraná) community, Djankaw, 25 yo, is a black travesti, bachelor in social work and graduate in pedagogy of the earth. Passionate speaking, she projects herself beyond any box: her identity is permeated by plurality, and her political performance, by dreams and imagination.

“I understood what it means to be a quilombola in a structurally racist society, especially here in Paraná, where racism, colonialism, monoculture, and large landowners are very present. (...) [But] I realized that besides these markers that involved violence, we could build our identities from our own experiences, our history, our ancestors, from what is passed on by our parents. There is not only this way of praying, of worshiping deities, there are other ways, there are other ways of loving, other ways of doing, of relating to the land and relating to people. ”

And it’s with these powerful words that Djankaw agreed to hang around MJournal to tell a bit about her story, between resistances and existences.

The photos were taken by Jeff (@caodenado), remotely, taking into consideration the moment we’re living in Brasil.

To start this convo, “Djankaw”: is there a meaning behind your name?

Yes, “Djankaw” comes from the Swahili, an African language, mainly spoken in Gambia, Tanzania and West Africa. This name was given to me in a passage ritual, from childhood into youth.

I’m a member of a quilombola community, in the countryside of Paraná, and when I was 10 years old, the elders organized themselves to set up a theater group to start a recovery process, and tell a little about the history of our community. That's when I got that name. Djankaw means "dancing mystique" in Swahili. Today I identify it not only as a cultural name, as an artistic name, but as my personal and civil name.

What a beautiful story. A collective process to find someone's name, right? Can you tell us a little about your community?

Quilombo means collective, it means community of warriors, of people who resist. Our elders have always taught us to live collectively. Planting collectively, living collectively. But because of slavery, the process of distancing ourselves from our values, we ended up losing a lot.

I live in Quilombo Invernada Paiol de Telha, which has a history of more than 100 years of struggle and resistance, and is the oldest community in the state of Paraná in this process of land recovery, of going back to our territory. Today we are more than 500 families, divided into four groups. I live in a place between rivers, which is close to a colony of Germans and Ukrainians, and so it was a long process for me to be able to rebuild myself and identify myself as a quilombola, since I was distanced from our speech, from our language.

The group that gave me my name, called Kundum Ballet - which in the African language Conde means “the one who accomplishes” -, started to recover our identity values in 2007. It was a group of young people who studied our history and autonomously recovered what it would be like to be quilombola, what were the values that our African ancestors intended for us. This recovery process still happens daily.

You are part of other artistic & cultural collectives, right? Do they also carry out this recovery process?

Definitely. When I was invited to the Kundum Balê by the older teens in my community, it was when this recovery process really flourished, and I understood what it’s like to be quilombola in a structurally racist society, especially here in Paraná, where racism, colonialism, monoculture, and large landowners are very present. That’s when I started. It was an affective exchange of knowledge, but it was also a political formation, in which I found myself to be a black person, quilombola, and that was why it was necessary to think about other strategies to access basic rights. Because I realized that in addition to these markers that involved violence, we could build our identities from our experiences, our history, our ancestors, from what is passed on by our parents. There is not only this way of praying, of worshiping divinities, there are other ways, there are other ways of loving, other ways of doing, of relating to the land and relating to people. So when we started to recover these values, we saw how powerful they were, and that we were not only resisting, but were also existing.

The Kundum Balê went from 2007 to 2012, and today we organized and articulated ourselves as the artistic cultural collective Paiol das Artes, which also includes several other people in the community. We have a cultural shed, where we welcome people, students from public schools, universities and autonomous groups to come and visit us. In it we also work with cultural tourism, quilombola cuisine, workshops, trails for waterfalls, conversation circles and overall knowledge exchange, you know. The aim is to increase the awareness of these people about what it means to be quilombola, what it means to be black in Brasil, and to problematize the issues that go through our experience.

Really inspiring, Djankaw. Think the world beyond markers. One thing that you pointed out is this return to the territory and to the identities based on the relationship with the land. Is that what made you study Pedagogy of the Earth? Can you tell us a little about this study?

Pedagogy of Earth or Pedagogia do Campo emerged in 2017, based on a proposal organized by Pronera (National Education Program in Agrarian Reform), which is a national program that considers public policies for education in rural areas and contemplates quilombola, indigenous, riverside and MST communities. It is different from rural education - which thinks a lot about simply passing a technological education, which will train you to work in the labor market - because Pedagogy of the Earth is thought from other epistemologies, pedagogies that are more liberating per say. We do not want the academy to take its education into our communities; we want the academy to think with us, understand that we are in a position to create and think of new epistemologies to educate our own.

Rural education criticizes this technical education with its developmental discourse: Development for whom? Evolution for whom? For which group, in what way? What are the consequences for the land? What are the consequences for humans? So it’s a study that thinks that human beings, as well as our daily practices, impact the earth. And the name itself says: it’s thinking about what the land has to teach us, what the land has to contribute to our education.

Amazing, Djankaw! A much more grounded movement, right? Than the well known “sustainability”. And from what you brought, we are talking about interdisciplinarity, right? Connection between actions and reactions. Can we talk about the climate crisis or environmental racism, then? How do you see these issues?

This cystem, and when we talk about the cystem with c, heteronormative, it’s a capitalist system, and those who are managing public policies, thinking about the state's governance are men, white, wealthy and of a descent that we already know well. And daily we are crossed by this system, we are not outside of it. When we speak as a quilombola or indigenous community, unfortunately, even though we have other practices, we need to buy seeds, we need some things that we only find in the supermarket, so we have to understand that we live collectively. We are crossed by innumerable systems of violence, and when we talk about environmental racism, for example, this violence will not only act against people with black or indigenous skin, or not hetero-cis-white-centered, it will act against the territories of these people as well.

I am responsible for updating, weekly, MJournal's STATUS COVID, a report in which I bring important news and information about the progress of the pandemic and coronavirus. For some time now, there have been many scientific statements about how human interventions on the planet influence the emergence of pandemics. What do you think of this relationship?

These systems of production, of work that we live in today were naturalized; long years  being educated and domesticated to think in that way, to reproduce, to speak in a compartmentalized way, for many times. What I wonder about is when will we naturalize fighting for nature, when will we connect the dots or “wake up for life”, as we say here in the community, we are the nature, that being an environmental activist, and fight for basic issues is not just a duty of the quilombola communities, or something of those who "live in the forest". Because we all breathe oxygen, we all drink water, it’s a practical question, it’s a logical question. If we had other practices, would nature pay in this way? This is certainly a reflection of the distance from the land, a reflection of the way we have been consuming.

In the debate where I saw you speak for the first time, I remember that you commented on the importance of thinking about new corporate projects. How do you see this possibility?

As Conceição Evaristo says: with new imaginary. We first need to imagine, build inwardly, subjectively to bring new possibilities into materiality. With a new social imaginary we need to think: how can I live with the land? How should I consume in a less degrading way, in a less destructive way? How can I relate in a less oppressive way? Imagine! We need to look for other social values, in the way of doing and relating, of thinking about the world and diversity.

Right, I always think about that. Capitalism is an invented “game”, which we have been playing for a long time. It has worn out a long time ago, right? We really need society projects that make more sense. What inspires you to do that?

What has inspired me is to think about micropolitics. As Ailton Krenak says, these are small practices. Because if we always think at the macro level, we may be paralyzed, unable to move. So we need to be flexible enough to think about our territorial space, and then think macro. Certainly, it’s not necessary putting this on communities to solve because the State is absent, they should therefore articulate a mapping to think about effective public policies. But since that doesn't happen, I think that, as a social worker, we need to think from our demands. How can I improve or minimize problems? How to organize micropolitics practices?

Quite a lot of work, right? Finally, what does Djankaw dream of?

My first dream is to have this pandemic ending soon. It really is a war, we are fighting to stay alive. So I think that first is to stay alive, to stay strong, because as a territorial body, I am that body, so I need this vehicle to stay here and help and contribute to society.

I also dream of a school here in Paiol de Telha, to think about quilombola education for the children of our community, to build a critical citizen awareness.

I also dream of a more egalitarian society in practice, where travestis, black women, and quilombola women can be more respected. And that children and the youth can also be seen as beings of political subjects.

I dream of a society that thinks of the environment as a rightful citizen, may Gaya, Onilé, Omulu have life. I dream of a new, plural, more diverse, more humane society. As Ailton Krenak says "a society with plurihumanities".