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The sport in which the sky gods taught men how to use their heads

BarcelonaAll cultures have their myths and legends about how the world came into being. This is how a sport was born in the middle of Brazil. Paresis Indians live in different areas of the state of Mato Grosso, where every day is a struggle to defend a way of life. A region on the front line of the fight against deforestation and climate change and to keep alive the traditions and way of life of hundreds of indigenous peoples. Ever since the first Europeans came into contact with peoples like the Paresis, their way of life has been in danger. Their land was stolen, they were told they couldn’t speak their language. They have been tricked into using them as labor without paying them what they deserve. But the village of paresis is one of the best organized in Brazil. For example, they are pioneers in using new technologies, from telephony to computers, to organize themselves. Paresis people keep their identity alive, and they do it with their heads held high, because they know how to use it well. Its founding myth, in fact, speaks to this.

According to them, a deity called Wazare was in charge of distributing the peoples around the world. It was this God who gave the Paresis the lands where they have lived for centuries. Before returning to his world, Wazare organized a great party to explain to the Indians that the head is the most important part of the body, and created the game called xikunahati. By hitting a ball with his head, he wanted to show that it must be the brain that decides what the rest of the body does. How can you not love a deity who organizes parties and creates a sport in which you play with a ball?

When the first Europeans came into contact with the Paresis, they were surprised to see that they practiced this game, which came into action in festivities but also to settle disputes between clans and tribes. Before they came to blows and started a war, matches were played in which the winner kept a contested land, or a crop. The chronicles say that this is also how it would have been decided who married a woman if there was more than one suitor. Today paresis women play a xikunahati and choose their own destiny. One step forward.

One of the first whites to arrive, by the way, was Antônio Pires de Campo, a scout. That is to say, one of the Portuguese colonists who during the 16th century penetrated the interior territories of Brazil in search of gold and slaves. It was he who named this town Paresis, since they call themselves another way: halíti, which means, in their language, town. That Western delusion of believing that you discover a people who have been in a place for centuries and take the right to change their name. The Halíti, therefore, remind anyone who wants to listen who they are. And the xikunahati it has become one of its pillars, and they have modernized it by opening it to neighboring towns. It used to be a sport practiced only by them, but in 1999 they made an exhibition at the Indigenous Peoples Games which was so popular that after two years a match was organized against members of the Enawene-Nawe tribe, which he is fond of this sport.

And how do you play it? The ground is sandy, as the players have to walk on the ground. Two teams, of six or twelve players, face each other. And they never cross a line that separates the field of play. The idea is to get the ball to the other side by hitting it only with your head. You win a point if opponents can’t return it or touch it with a part other than the head. The small ball is made of sap. The game has spread to other tribes and in 2015 it made its debut at the World Indigenous Games, a meeting that brings together indigenous peoples from all over the planet to share sports that are much more than a sport: they are identity.

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