This madness has to stop
Speech, given at the opening of the Wiener Festwochen
By Kay Sara, noted by Milo Rau
This speech begins with many subjunctives. Today I should have stood on the stage of the Burgtheater and opened the Wiener Festwochen. I would have been the first indigenous person ever to give a speech in this theatre, the biggest and richest theatre in the world, I was told. I would have started with a quotation from a European classic, Sophocles ’Antigone : ‘ Much is monstrous. But nothing is more monstrous than man.
Because I would have come to you directly from our rehearsals in the Amazon, a European-Brazilian new production of Antigone. I would have played Antigone, who rebels against the ruler Creon, who doesn’t want to bury her brother because he’s considered an enemy of the state. The choir would have consisted of survivors of a massacre of landless people by the Brazilian government. We would have performed this new Antigone on an occupied road through the Amazon - those forests that are 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 has happened. The road through the Amazon was not occupied, I did not play Antigone. We are all scattered around the globe again, and we only see each other on screens – like now. My European friends have asked me how I am doing. I’m fine. I am in the forest with my people, in the very north of Brazil, on the banks of the Oiapoque river. Nature surrounds me, it protects and nourishes me. I live in the rhythm of the birds singing and the rain, and I perform the rituals that put me in contact with my ancestors. For the first time in 500 years, Europe and America are separated.
I belong to the third clan of the Tariano people, the Clan of Thunder. I am a daughter of the God of Thunder, a king’s daughter, like Antigone. In the past, the myth tells us, we Tariano were people of stone. But in modern times we assumed a human body so we could communicate with the people who came to us. My mother, a Tukana, gaveme the name Kay Sara. It means ‘the one who cares for others’. So from my father’s side, I am a Tariana. Like everyone, I am a mixture of many things: I am Tukana and Tariana, a woman, an activist, an artist. I speak to you as all of this.
We Tukano are called Indians. But I insist that we are called Indigenous. Because indigenous means native. I became an actress so that I could tell about us, the indigenous people. For a long time our story has been told in the words of non-indigenous people. Now it is time for us to tell our story ourselves. Our misfortune began when the Spanish and Portuguese came to our land. First came the soldiers, then came the clergy. With the Europeans, the diseases came to us. Millions died. Millions more died at the hands of the soldiers and the clergy, in the name of the one God and the one civilisation, in the name of progress and profit.
Some left the woods to work in the fields. But at the end of the work, they were killed to avoid paying them. Today there are only a few of us left. I am one of the last of the Tariano. And so a few weeks ago the next disease came to us from Europe: Corona. You may have heard that in Manaus, the capital of the Amazon, the disease rages particularly terribly. There is no time for proper funerals. People lie in mass graves, tractors fill them up. Others lie in the streets, unburied like Antigone’s brother.
The whites use the chaos to penetrate even deeper into the forests. The fires are no longer extinguished. By whom? Who ever falls into the hands of the woodcutters will be murdered. And what has Bolsonaro done? What he always did: He shakes the hands of his supporters and mocks the dead. He has instructed his staff to notify the indigenous people that a disease has broken out. This is a call to murder us. Bolsonaro wants to complete the genocide of the indigenous that has been going on for 500 years now.
I know: you are used to speeches like this. When it is already too late, a seer always comes to you. 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 do not like to hear us speak. And when you listen to us, you do not understand us. The problem is not that you do not know that our forests are burning and our people are dying. The problem is that you have become accustomed to that knowledge.
So I will tell you what you all know: a few years ago, the tributaries of the Amazon dried up for the first time in living memory. In ten years’ time, the Amazon’s ecosystem will collapse if we don’t act now. The heart of this planet will stop beating. That’s what our scientists say, and that’s what your scientists say, and maybe it’s the only thing they agree on. We will perish unless we act.
We’ve been sent a lot of pamphlets signed by celebrities these past few weeks. Less flying, less robbery, less killing. 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 further destruction? If you listen to yourself, you will find only your guilty conscience. And when you travel through the world, you will find only the dirt with which you have defiled it. For you, there is nothing to return to. I am not afraid for me, I am afraid for you.
So it is time for you to be silent. It’s time 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 is why it is good that I am not on the stage of the Burgtheater. That I’m not speaking to you as an actress. Because it’s no longer about art, it’s no longer about theatre. Our tragedy takes place here and now, in the world, before our 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 downfall, his family’s downfall, the apocalypse. And yet he does it. He criticizes himself, he hates himself, but he continues to do what he hates.
This madness must stop. Stop being like Creon. 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.
With a speech by Kay Sara (Brazil), followed by a discussion with Tania Bruguera (Cuba) and Milo Rau (Belgium), moderated by Lara Staal (Netherlands)