When I was in my 20’s, I was living my dream as an airbrush artist working every day in beachwear, along Florida’s coasts. I didn’t care much about too many things, but always lived by a motto that was central to my life: "do good and good things will come back to you".
As I grew up, after 7 years of air brushing and realizing that my bank account just couldn’t rise in any way if I kept doing what I did, I decided to find a better way to make a living, but one that could still be in line with my ethical concerns.
So I mixed my creativity with my curiosity and decided to explore the work of doing temporary tattoos using Jagua, a fruit from the Amazon region, which was a fully natural, safe and chemical-free ingredient . That was how I became a pioneer in the US, having been one of the first to offer safe, beautiful and realistic temporary tattoos made with Jagua.
I also decided that I wanted to learn more about this natural ingredient’s roots, namely about how it was used by the Amazon tribes, and that was how I first learned about the Kayapo, and the way they adorned their bodies with striking tattoos and glass bead bracelets, chains and ear rings.
The aesthetics of it left me hooked, so I immediately fell in love with what little I knew back then about the Kayapo culture.
In 2014, while running my tattoo booth in the art walk in Wynwood, Miami, I met Alice Kohler, a professional photographer who hosted a beautiful exhibition of her award-winning pictures of the indigenous people of the Amazon – namely of the Kayapo.
For many years Alice has been collected donations from around the world to help the Kayapo. She is helping with this campaign and will play a major part in the distribution of donations.
As we met, we realized that we were kindred spirits in so many ways. Alice had been in contact with the Kayapo for many years, not only as a photographer, but also as a philanthropist. She collected donations from people around the world to help the Kayapo people, so I immediately offered a donation from my Fresh-Jagua tattoo company to her praiseworthy cause.
In 2015, as I heard about the World Indigenous Games, I felt that the time had come for me to visit Brazil to hook up with Alice, and meet the Kayapo. I was firstly able to establish a relationship with many of the Kayapo representatives, which has opened the door for an invitation that they made me to visit their village in the state of Para, in Brazil.
In 2016, I finally had the opportunity to visit them. Together with Alice, I arranged a visit to a few Kayapo villages, and that was when we became committed to get a new business opportunity taking off, so to help them generate resources from their art. In this occasion, I donated the raw materials beads for them and subsequently bought over 33 pounds of fine, beautiful, intricate designs of bracelets, neck chains and other Kayapo jewelry to sell on a dedicated Etsy shop named KayapoArt.
I also had a chance to see their beautiful tattoo art, which is a fundamental tradition that goes back to their old history, and I was impressed with the beauty of their glass bead jewelry that I decided to help them sell. I can tell you that, at the time, I came back to the USA full of ideas, truly inspired, and having left a promise behind me that I knew I had to keep: that of helping them to generate a much needed income for the Kayapo people’s needs.
You see, the Kayapo are very proudly and charmingly primitive, in a way that is true to their roots. They live in perfect balance with nature. That’s why they don’t expect that many visitors from the outside world. However, the outside world has been forcing itself upon them – and in a very aggressive way. I can tell you that I became fascinated about their culture and traditions, as much as I became deeply concerned about the threats that they are facing.
You see, on the one hand, the Kayapo have an extremely simple way of life. Men hunt and do some cooking. Women, on the other hand, take care of raising the children and educate them according to the tribe’s traditions, which includes painting their bodies with the tribe’s traditional symbols (a cultural practice that is widely spread throughout the Amazon and that changed the way I worked as an artist). On their spare time, women also craft this beautiful jewelry from glass beads that people donate to them – they literally turn otherwise uninteresting beads into stunning pieces of impressive indigenous jewelry.
Together, as a people, the Kayapo are a living testament to the purest way of living in the Amazon. That’s also why, on the other hand, they need to fight for their land and their way of life, namely against the threat of loggers, ranchers and miners, and of planned infrastructure buildings that may forever disrupt their right to live according to their heritage.
That made me realize that simply helping them to sell their glass bead jewelry wasn’t enough, so we told them that Alice and I would start an initiative to raise funds in order to support them. This was what led us to start this crowdfunding initiative, to bring a new source of support and awareness-raising for the Kayapo cause. After all, they need all the friends they can get to obtain financial help in order to take forward solid education programs, and to gain access to better agricultural and solar power resources to help them produce better and more plentiful food.