eye of water, eyes of earth
Photos and videos by Milena Schuindt
English translation by Raphi Soifer
Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil May 20, 2022
Today was World Bee Day.
This week, I went to the mountaintop to talk to some very special people. A wordless conversation between skins of very different textures.
The conversation was with the Earth
clay, gully, Mud
With the River, with the leaves, with the cold (11º C), and with the Sun between the Trees.
Water-Earth is what gave us a body, and that is who will be with this body once we are no longer here with Èmí.
I went to the mountaintop because one of the sources of the Macaé River is there.
Here, where I’ve lived since 2020, is a region of the Atlantic Forest full of watersheds. As a result, there are many economic interests in the river basins, the sources, and the Rivers themselves. In 2013, three corporations presented studies requesting the right to exploit the River as an “energy resource.” At that time, the Free Macaé River movement was formed to defend the River. Due to strong public pressure, the corporations turned back and gave up on their development goals. Recently, however, one of these companies resumed negotiations and once more began the process of building a small hydroelectric centre. One of the things that the Free Macaé River movement alerted us to is that the Macaé river has some of the best-preserved biodiversity of all rivers in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The current project submitted by the Ipar corporation aims to divert the Macaé River, and makes proposals including the construction of a tunnel through bedrock. Such an intervention would make it impossible to preserve the riparian forest and would damage flora and fauna. Furthermore, it would cause intense degradation in a robust area of the Atlantic Forest measuring seven kilometres, as well as a drastic reduction in the area’s hydric output. The installation will affect the region’s biodiversity and increase processes of erosion and silting throughout the waterways.
This is why I went to be close to Earth and to Water at one of the River’s sources: so that I could dedicate some spells to them.
The place I went to is part of a path that is not very well known. Few people pass through the forest here, and because there is still enchantment, the non-human beasts are more at ease.
Milena, my consort, spent her childhood close to this place, so she knows the path well, and took me there. We first went last September. At the time, I had dreamed of a priest of Oxum who placed her hand on my heart as I cried and said: “After I met Oxum, I was never again in a desert.” This dream shook up my emotions and my physical sensations; I spent days feeling her hand on my heart. I wanted to go to a waterfall to leave a gift of gratitude for the enchanted beings of the waters. And this is how I went to one of the sources of the Macaé River for the first time. Milena heard my dream and my desire, and she led me there without my knowing exactly that I was going to pray at the Source of a River.
I was born on the coast of Northeastern Brazil, and I grew up with my father, mother, and siblings in an apartment in the city of Fortaleza. When I was a kid, we would spend school vacations with my cousins and grandparents in a house on Pacheco beach, in the Fortaleza metropolitan region. This beach is on the west coast, and the house I grew up playing in no longer exists because of the rising sea.
I don’t know my blood family’s history very well. The people I asked resisted talking about it and seemed annoyed. Maybe they don’t think it’s important. Or maybe there’s pain that they don’t want to access and relive. So I quiet my anxiety at not understanding the lacunas of these stories, and I attempt to live my life at peace with this not-knowing. At the moment, I’m slowly rescuing some far-off ancestor’s practices of planting and cultivating the earth. I have friends who are farmers and/or whose parents are farmers, and/or whose grandparents were farmers. As far as I know, my grandparents were not farmers. Neither were my parents. They never put their hands in the earth, never worked with plants, not even to arrange ornamental plants in vases. This personal story that I’m sharing with you who are reading me, is part of a constellation of family stories of people who experienced an exodus from rural lands. It’s the effect of the meticulous work of building a negative imaginary of rural life and improving industrial agricultural techniques, both of which were processes that took people out of the countryside and forced them to exist in urbanized, central locations. This becomes clear when we look at the data regarding Brazil’s rural exodus: in 1930, 70% of the population of people who today we call Brazilians lived in rural areas. By 1970, this number had been inverted. This was a coercion to make people precarious, to make them lose their lands and their territories so that they would forget how to plant, among many other practices.
The further we grow away from a direct relationship with the Earth, with the production of foods and medicines, the more lost we become. When we plant, the plants care for us. It is one of the most beautiful relationships of mutual exchange and strengthening that I have experienced in my life. We also recover an understanding of Time forgotten by people, communities, and generations that have removed themselves from the earth. The Time of every fruit, every vegetable. The Time to sow, to germinate, to prune. Everything happens at different periods, specific moons for occurring or not occurring. Time is circular and spiral, and plants are teachers. When we distance ourselves from plants, from relationships with non-human animals, from observing heavenly and earthly cycles, we become hostages of linear time, of machine time. Too much contact with machine-time and set hours brings about anxiety and illness.
I have conversed with the Earth through certain everyday practices like planting. To plant is to be the Earth’s auxiliary in the task of helping to develop life/enchantment for places, especially for places that have been destroyed or made into deserts by the terrible management of the industrial agro-patriarchy.
To plant is to enchant, and it is one of the forms of participating in the Living network that resists micro- and macro-necropolitics every day. May every person have their own way of connecting to Enchantment, may they have the choice to practice—for at least one moment of their Time—whatever makes them vibrate and co-sense with Life.
The white people who once ignored all these things are now starting to hear them a little. This is why some of them have invented new words to defend the forest. Now they call themselves ‘people of the ecology’ because they are worried to see their land getting increasingly hot. (Kopenawa, 2013, p. 398)
It will never be too much to say—while we are still living under the nefarious effects of epistemicides and ecocides produced by European and Christian invasions—that colonization is the murder of being-existences and of perspectives of the world. Colonization, together with the imposition of a canonic, westernized, normative mode of existence, “produced armoured mentalities…These mentalities remained as forces that maintained and reproduced an incantation that denied diversity” (Rufino and Simas, 2018, p. 21). Rivers, Mountains, Earth, and Plants were made destitute by these agencies; they were captured, enslaved, and converted into “natural resources.” Colonization, capitalism, and the agro-patriarchy poisoned and continue to poison our foods, our waters, and our diverse ways of thinking.
They wanted to bury and disappear the keys to connection with Enchantment, which is life, and to confuse us with capitalist sorcery; such as, for example, “sustainable development,” “green revolution,” “private property,” and “agro is pop,” among many others. They use genetic modification to cast spells on seeds in order to make us forget, to make everything “pass by in white.”
However, the key to Life-Enchantment remains. And it is kept in the heart of many traditions and communities that have been resisting the genocide of their people since 1500. These are the guardians of heirloom seeds, the protectors of agro-biodiversity and of ecosystems. They are also those who transgress the agro-toxic beguiling of the Big House; those who hang on with their nails to the mad bull on a moonless night, at the other side of the night.
Eye of Water, Eyes of Earth is a spell made at one of the sources of the Macaé River, inspired by the following passages from Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness:
Sun in Taurus, full moon in Capricorn
I ask the Earth’s permission to touch its shining skin and to collect a bit of Clay
I ask the River’s permission to be with the waters
to synchronize with the gift of Water-Earth
and to permit myself to co-sense, to be in synthesis
to be danced and touched by others
to recall the feeling that inhabiting a body is also participating in a larger body
the whole skin is made up of various eyes
these are the pores
muchos ojos, un solo corazón
be guided by skin, by sound, and by sensations
the skin of the Earth is extensive
the Earth of the skin is various degrees
pore by pore.
pore by pore.
pore by pore.
May the bureaucracies sail off, and may the River flow freely
May the Rivers of the Earth be free.
If capitalism wants to end all openings toward connection and with Enchantment-Life,
May Enchantment-Life end all openings, folds, and beguilements of capitalism.
May Enchantment-Life end all openings, folds, and beguilements of capitalism.
May Enchantment-Life end all openings, folds, and beguilements of capitalism.
May the sorcery be turned against the sorcerers.
It already is.
Darkness is erotic because it invokes us to feel, to reformulate our body in space. Darkness invokes us to a state of full attention, to be with other senses of the body that luminosity causes to slumber. De-ocularizing can be a form of increasing the vision’s potential capacity. The eye imagines that it sees everything, but it does not always take in. Holding our faces in the Earth-Mud amplifies certain layers of perception: seeing with the skin. Refining listening. Feeling another weight with the body. Changing temperature.
Dear person who is reading,
I invite you to spend some time in a place with a greater biodiversity of presences, especially of non-human animals. If possible, where the presence of non-human animals is in greater proportion to that of human animals.Invite someone you trust to go with you to this place, to support your experience.
It is very important that you both take care to speak as little as possible. The idea is that the path to the chosen place be taken in silence, communicating only what is absolutely necessary, so as to synchronize your listening with the environment. I imagine a place that can be accessed by walking, where your body can be in the space for at least part of the trajectory. If you feel that you can do it safely, I propose the experiment of walking carefully with your eyes closed, being guided to the space through listening and through the other senses. You can also walk with the help of the person accompanying you, by embracing them or placing your hand on their shoulder. This person can let you know whenever there is an obstacle, so that you do not get hurt.
If you think this part is very complicated or risky, you can close your eyes when you reach the place you have chosen.
When you arrive, keep your eyes closed. If you arrived with open eyes, close them. Dedicate yourself to being there, to feeling your breathing.
Ask permission of the beings who inhabit the place. Even if you do not have a specific belief in them, they are there. There is nothing supernatural about it. It’s very pragmatic, because they’re everywhere. The greater the diversity of non-human existence, the greater will be the concentration of presences to which we are not accustomed (unless you already live in an environment with a very diverse quantity of presences).
Dedicate yourself to co-sensing the sounds of the environment. Just be there, without trying to stop to think or anything like that. Don’t place any importance on your thoughts now; amplify the attention you pay to the outside world.
Can you perceive the sounds? How many different textures can you perceive?
How are they layered? Which are closer? Which are farther away?
How do you feel in relation to them? What feelings and emotions arise?
When you feel that you’ve been listening for a while, synchronizing and co-sensing, choose a physical gesture that makes sense to you.
Let your body invite you into the movement.
Now you are welcome to break the silence.
I invite you to shape, in verbalized words, blessings for the Earth on which you are standing. Concentrate your thoughts and your intention, pay attention to your body. A blessing is a wish for happiness, and a gift. The idea is that you dedicate a few moments to make this wish in the space where you are. You should extend wishes for happiness to other places you visit, places you live, places you know, as well as places you don’t know. Dedicate wishes for freedom and resistance to places in the world that are threatened by feudalism, by the agro-patriarchy, and by necro-capitalism.
You may begin in the place you are, and extend these wishes to all territories.
In your silence, in the darkness, in the intention, you can—in your own way—construct a sentence that breaks any beguilement going against Life.
Here, I give an example of a contemporary chant that various Indigenous peoples in Brazil have used:
“Bahia, terra do côco e azeite de dendê. A água do coco é doce, eu também quero beber. Vamos cantar, dançar o catimbó, trazer o Bolsonaro amarrado no cipó!”
This chant can be considered a form of breaking capitalist beguilement, in which traditional chant has been slightly modified to directly address, resist and contribute to a healing of the current political scenario of Brazil. It says: “Bahia, land of coconut and palm oil. Coconut water is sweet, I want to drink it, too. Let’s sing and dance catimbó; may Bolsonaro be tangled up in vines!”
I recommend repeating each phrase three times.
You can also create chants, or sing some that you already know that resonate with the spells proposed in eye of water, eyes of earth.
Open your eyes.
For a few moments, reflect on how the water that you drink and the food that feeds you arrive at your house. Are businesses and supermarkets responsible for facilitating this relationship of access? Do you know who produces your food and water? Do you produce them yourself?
Reflect on the community movements of resistance to the commodification of Life in which you participate. What abilities do you dedicate to the collective? What other abilities could be brought? How can your creativity aid these struggles?
When you feel ready, leave the place, thanking the permission granted by the presences that guard it.
I recommend taking this action accompanied by someone who can support you, the intention is that it be a safe experience. The exercise is the same for vision-impaired people.
Eye of water, eyes of earth is a spell inspired by the text Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness, by Dani d’Emilia, Vanessa Andreotti, and the Gesturing Toward Decolonial Futures collective. I am immensely grateful to Dani d’Emilia for our encounter, and for inviting me to compose this project alongside artists I admire and respect greatly.
I would also like to thank the Enchanted Ones and all beings who contributed to and guided this work, and permitted it to occur.
 In Portuguese, an “eye of water” refers to a spring or stream feeding into a larger river. (T.N.)
 Pollination carried out by bees guarantees the production of food, as well as the survival of a variety of native plants. Other animals—such as butterflies, bats, and birds—are also pollinators, but bees are responsible for pollinating more than 70% of all plant species cultivated in the world. Degradation of bees’ natural habitats, together with inadequate handling of beehives, and the actions of chemical pesticides, are among the challenges facing the conservation of these pollinators.
 Although 11ºC (~52º F) might not seem very cold in relation to Canada or other parts of the Global North, such temperatures impact the body very differently—both physically and culturally—in the Atlantic Forest.
 In the Yoruba tradition, Èmí is the lifeforce breathed into every human being. When Èmí no longer exists, life ceases to be.
 The Macaé River is the largest river in the state of Rio de Janeiro. It begins in the mountains of Nova Friburgo and flows down their slopes toward the ocean, joined along its path by many different tributaries. The Macaé River is one of the reasons that the environmental protection area (APA) of the Upper Macaé was established. The entire region, especially in areas containing tributaries of the Macaé river, are under the protection of the APA.
 I live in São Pedro da Serra, a district of Nova Friburgo, which is a municipality in Rio de Janeiro state.
 I recommend watching the Friburgo Community radio program 104.9 FM with the geographer Cristiane Passos de Mattos, representing the Free Macaé River movement (in Portuguese): https://bit.ly/3sOp69i (Accessed May 21, 2022)
 Oxum is the Orixá connected to fresh water, to fertility, and to prosperity. Rivers, waterfalls, streams, and springs are among her foundations. The orixás are deities that arrived in Brazil and other Latin American countries along with Nigerians through compulsory immigration during colonization. In Brazil, we culture the orixás through some traditions, such as Candomblé Ketu, Umbanda, the Yoruba Traditional Religion and other traditions of African and Afro-Brazilian origin.
 Rising sea levels along the coast of Ceará state occur because of coastal erosion. According to specific studies, many beaches in Ceará are located at the epicentre of a global problem: namely, rising sea levels resulting from climate change and from negligence in human occupations along the seafront, including construction on sand dunes and other examples of improper urban planning. Seasonal variation of wind direction, waves, swells forming at high tide, the formation of wind tunnels, and inadequate practices of human occupation are the primary causes of these processes. Source: https://oestadoce.com.br/cadernos/oev/os-efeitos-do-avanco-do-mar-no-icarai-e-litoral-oeste/ (Accessed on May 21, 2022)
 I share the view that, in order to walk, we must know who walked for us, so that we can heal the wounds provoked and felt by these ancestors, and thereby fabulate futures. These are the lacunas of stories that cannot be accessed through oral transmission, because they are crossed by different forms of systemic violence that cause forced silence. This has led me to exercise patience, and to be at peace with agony.
 There is great complexity among what is commonly understood as “Brazilian populations.” Speaking generally about rural colonial demographics, the arrival of European invaders caused major conflicts with the original peoples of Abya Yala (a traditional Indigenous name for what is today known as the Americas). Indigenous communities were—and still are—murdered, persecuted, and coerced into abandoning their territories. There are also African diasporic populations throughout the countryside, many of which are organized as quilombos: territories that resisted the slavery economy of the agro-patriarchy. Additionally, European rural workers arrived in Brazil to substitute enslaved labour and to encourage the whitening of the population through eugenicist public policies that aimed to cede land to European immigrants.
 These numbers can be consulted in Fausto Brito’s article (in Portuguese) O deslocamento da população brasileira para as metrópoles. Available at: https://www.scielo.br/j/ea/a/ybD6Zn3KWKf3kffYcmSPRMh/?lang=pt (Accessed May 20, 2022).
 Learning and experimenting with agro-ecological plant handling in backyards.
 One of the perspectives of capitalism as sorcery is proposed by Isabelle Stengers (Portuguese translation): https://revistadr.com.br/posts/o-preco-do-progresso-conversa-com-isabelle-stengers/ (Accessed May 21, 2022)
 “Agro is pop, agro is tech, agro is everything,” are propaganda slogans broadcast by Brazil’s monolithic Rede Globo television network since 2016. These slogans present the idea that agrobusiness is a positive force: eradicating hunger, creating jobs, and generating income. In fact, agrobusiness has led to the mass poisoning of rural workers, as well as of water, earth, bees, animals, and entire ecosystems, all contaminated by chemical pesticides. Seeds, in addition to being poisoned, are increasingly subject to genetic modification for use in monoculture.
 Facing the imminent threat of the contamination of heirloom seeds—or “passion seeds,” as they are known in the northeastern Brazilian state of Paraíba—the Borborema Seed Network has organized the campaign “I don’t plant GMO seeds so as not to erase my history” since 2016. You can learn more about the campaign through this link (in Portuguese): https://aspta.org.br/2016/08/29/campanha-nao-planto-transgenicos-para-nao-apagar-minha-historia/ (Accessed May 22, 2022)
 In Brazil, to “pass by in white” (passar em branco) is an expression related to forgetfulness or a lack of importance. For example: “your birthday can’t pass by in white.” In the text, the expression takes on a double meaning by associating forgetfulness and disdain with whiteness, which produces cis-temic erasures.
 The expedition led by Portuguese invader Pedro Álvares Cabral arrived in the territory now known as Brazil on April 22, 1500. Therefore, in Brazil, 1500 marks the year in which invasions, enslavement, and genocide began, all of which formed the basis for the founding of the Brazilian state.
 “So that the gaze turns up into an earth flower looking up at you. Because you’re not the one who does the looking, it’s the earth that looks at you” T.N. A quote from the Spanish-language documentary Mar Arriba (2009, 27 ’33”, Dir. Julio Ramos), translated and subtitled in Portuguese by Marina Murta and Nina Nadine. Available at: https://vimeo.com/191010897 (Accessed May 20, 2022).
 A reference to the project “Unid@s contra la colonización: Muchos ojos, Un solo corazón” (“United against colonization: many eyes, one heart”), by the artists Juma Pariri and Margarita Rodriguez Weweli-Lukana.
 Erotic, in the sense of the dilation of the life force, is how Audre Lorde uses the concept in her 1984 essay “Uses of erotic: the erotic as power.”
 The profit-hungry forces behind Brazil’s so-called Marco Temporal (Time Frame) legislation aim to deny Indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands unless it can be proven they occupied these lands at the time that Brazil’s 1988 constitution—which was supposed to have guaranteed such land rights—was ratified. Meanwhile, Act 490, which is currently under consideration by Brazil’s congress, seeks to open Indigenous lands to industrial agriculture, mining, and other forms of extraction. Unfortunately, Act 490 has already gained preliminary approval from Brazil’s Constitution and Justice Commission, but it continues to face fierce resistance from Indigenous peoples, civil society organizations, Indigenous rights groups, and environmental protection organizations, and it has yet not ratified. More info on Marco Temporal can be found here: https://decolonialfutures.net/defend-the-land-defenders/
 Catimbó-Jurema is a religious practice with origins related to ancestral Indigenous populations in what today is considered Northeastern Brazil.