Actress and activist Kay Sara would perform Antigone in Milo Rau‘s ‘Antigone in Amazonia’, premiering on Saturday, May 16th, 2020. She would have been the first indigenous person ever to have given a speech on the stage of the Burgtheater and open the Wiener Festwochenin Vienna, Austria. Although the festival was cancelled, here is her speech, entitled “This Madness has to stop”. A cry from the heart of the Amazon.
This speech begins with many conjunctions. I should have been on the Burgtheater stage today to open the Wiener Festwochen. I would have been the first Indigenous woman to give a speech in this theatre, which is said to be the largest and richest theatre in the world. I would have started with a quote from a European classic, Sophocles’ play Antigone:
“Many things are monstrous, but nothing is more monstrous than mankind.”
I would have come to you directly from our rehearsals in the Amazon, for a new European-Brazilian staging of the play Antigone. I would have played the role of Antigone, who rebels against the ruler Creon, who does not want to allow his brother to be buried because he is considered an enemy of the State. The choir would have consisted of survivors of a massacre of landless people caused by the Brazilian government. We would have carried out this new Antigone on an occupied road that crosses the Amazon – those forests that are constantly on fire. It would not have been a play, but an action. Not an act of art, but an act of resistance: against that state power that is destroying the Amazon.
But none of this happened. The road that cuts through the Amazon forest wasn’t occupied and I did not play the role of Antigone. We are all scattered around the globe again, and we only see ourselves on a screen – like now.
My European friends asked me how I’m doing. I’m fine. I am in the Amazon, in the north of Brazil, on the banks of the Oiapoque river. Nature surrounds me, it protects me and nourishes us too. I live in the rhythm of birds singing and the rain and performed an ancient ritual for my protection. For the first time in over 500 years, Europe and America are separated again.
I belong to the third clan of the Tarian people, the Clan of Thunder. I’m a daughter in the bloodline of the Thunder God, the daughter of a king, like Antigone. A myth says that we Tarians were stone people. But in modern times we assumed a human body, so we could communicate with the people who came to us. My mother, of the Tukana people, gave me the name Kay Sara. Which means “she who cares for others”. On my father’s side, I am of the Tarian people. But I speak to you in Tukano, in my mother tongue. I am a mixture of many things, like everyone else:
“I am Tariana and Tukana, a woman, an actress, an artist, a resistance fighter. I speak to you being all of that.”
We, Natives, are called Indians. But I insist that we are called Indigenous. “Indians” is an insulting word that was imposed upon us by the invaders, to say that we are inferior. So, I want to change that. I became an actress to talk about us, about our existence.
For a long time, our story has been told with the words of non-Indigenous people. Now is the time to tell our own story. Our misfortune began when the Spanish and Portuguese came to our land. First came the soldiers, then came the clergy.
Along with the Europeans came the diseases. Thousands of tribes died. Millions more died at the hands of soldiers and clergy. But this event has been forgotten and is not written down anywhere. They murdered in the name of one God and one civilization, in the name of progress and profit. Some of us worked for them. But these natives and black people were enslaved and killed as soon as they finished their job, so they wouldn’t get paid. Today, there are only a few of us left.
I’m one of the last of the third clan of the Tariano. And a few weeks ago, the next illness came to us from abroad: the new coronavirus. You may have heard that in Manaus, the capital of the Amazon, the disease is particularly terrible. There is no time for proper funerals. People lie in mass graves filled up by tractors. Others lie dead in the streets, unburied like Antigone’s brother.
The whites use the chaos to penetrate even deeper into the forests. The forests burn, the deforestation has become even worse. Who does this? Whoever falls into the hands of the loggers is murdered. And what has the President done? What he always does: shaking hands with his supporters, mocking the dead. He has instructed his collaborators to let the Indigenous people to their fate. This is a call to murder us. He wants to complete the genocide of the Indigenous people, which has been going on for 500 years.
“I know, you are used to speeches like this. When it’s already too late, a seer always shows up.”
When Cassandra or Teiresias appear in the Greek tragedies, you know that the disaster has already taken its course. For you like to hear us sing, but you don’t like to hear us speak. And when you listen to us, you don’t understand. The problem is not hat you don’t know that our forests are burning, and our people are dying. The problem is you’ve gotten used to this knowledge. But we haven’t. So, I will tell you what all of you know already.
A few years ago, the tributaries of the Amazon dried up for the first time in living memory. If we don’t act now, in ten years, the Amazon ecosystem will collapse. The heart of this planet will stop beating. That’s what our scientists say, and that’s what you scientists say too, and maybe it’s the only thing they agree on. We will disappear if we don’t act. We cannot be so selfish to deny the future generation the most important thing we have, Nature. And with it, everything we need to survive.
We’ve got a lot of petitions signed by celebrities in the last few weeks. You want to fly less, kill less, steal less. But how can you believe that after 500 years of colonization, after thousands of years of subjugation of the world, a thought can come to you that will not only bring more destruction? If you listen to yourself, you will find only your guilty conscience. And when you travel the world, you will find only the dirt with which you have contaminated us. There is no turning back. But we can’t let it destroy us anymore.
“I’m not afraid for myself, I’m afraid for our descendants.”
Now it is time for you to be silent. The time has come to listen. You need us, the prisoners of your world, to understand yourselves. Because the thing is so simple: there is no gain in this world, there is only life.
And that’s why it’s good that I’m not on the Burgtheater stage. That I’m not talking to you as an actress, because it’s not about art anymore, it’s not about theatre anymore. Our tragedy happens here and now, in the world, before our very eyes.
And maybe that’s what worries me most when I hear Creon speak: He knows he’s wrong. He knows what he’s doing is wrong. That it’s wrong in every way. That it will bring his fall, the fall of his family, the Apocalypse. And yet he does it. He criticizes himself; he hates himself, but he still does what he hates. This madness must end. Stop being like Creοn. Let’s be like Antigone. Because when lawlessness becomes law, resistance becomes duty.
“Let’s resist together, let’s be human. Each in his own way and place, united by our differences and our love, for the life that unites us all.”