In September of last year, Nilson Tuwe Huni Kui traveled from a village of 600 in the Amazon rain forest to New York City. The 29-year-old Tuwe has a unique way of describing jet lag: “First you arrive physically and you are very tired,” he told BBC. “But only after a while, your soul gets here, too. Because the plane is very fast, but the soul takes longer to arrive.”
Tuwe is set to finish up his nine months in the US at the end of May, having come to New York to study English as a Second Language and to take filmmaking and film-editing classes. His trip is sponsored by Tribal Link’s Indigenous Fellowship Program and the Nataasha van Kampen Foundation. Tuwe is working on a documentary called Us and Them, showing the challenges faced by peoples living in voluntary isolation near the border of Peru and Brazil as they are confronted by illegal loggers, narco-traffickers, and oil prospectors. His goal is to learn English and sharpen his technical skills so that he can become a professional filmmaker, to get the message out to a wider audience.
This is not Tuwe’s first trip as an ambassador to the outside world. Tribal Link originally met him five years ago at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity‘s 9th Conference of the Parties in Bonn, German, and then, last summer, talked with him again in Rio de Janeiro at Rio+20.
Following are a BBC video highlighting Tuwe’s introduction to New York and an interview from Tribal Link in which Tuwe further explains his role as “a spokesperson and a messenger of [his] people.”
I can only wonder about the effects of reverse culture shock on Tuwe as he returns to his tribe. It may take even longer for his soul to catch up on the return trip.
(“Culture Shock for Amazon Chief’s Son Who Left Rainforest for New York,” BBC News, March 17, 2013; “Tribal Link Welcomes to New York Nilson Tuwe Huni Kuin, 2012 Indigenous Fellow,” Tribal Link, December 15, 2012)
[photo: “New York City,” by Kaysha, used under a Creative Commons license]