Ground Report | New Delhi: An indigenous Tiktok user; In the middle of the Amazon rainforest, on the banks of the Rio Negro, a young woman in face paint was bored. The coronavirus pandemic had cut off the flow of visitors, further isolating this indigenous village, accessible only by boat. So Cunhaporanga Tatuyo, 22, spent her days, phone in hand, trying to learn TikTok modes.
An indigenous Tiktok user
He danced to songs, dubbed videos, wildly distorted his appearance – the full TikTok experience. None of them found much of an audience. He then showed the camera a thick, gnarled beetle larva. “People ask, ‘Cunhaporanga, is it true that you really eat larva?’ “Of course we eat them! You want to see?”.
The insect met its end (“Mmmhhh,” Cunhaporanga said) and a new viral star was born, transmitted from the most remote places. Cunhaporanga’s house is a group of thatched-roof huts along the riverbank, surrounded by nothing but the Amazon rainforest.
The dozens of residents who live here are members of the Tatuyo people. They paint their faces bright red, wear elaborate feather headdresses, live alongside squawking macaws that, Cunhaporanga cautions, should not be mistaken for pets, and survive on what they can grow or catch.
Growing social media presences in Brazil
All of this is now a vivid backdrop for what has become one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing social media presences in Brazil. In just over 18 months, Cunhaporanga has collected more than 6 million followers on TikTok, simply showing scenes from his everyday life. For her, the activities she posted were unremarkable. But for their growing audience, they brought a sudden intimacy to a world that couldn’t have seemed more distant.
Cunhaporanga offering a plate of larvae to his family to eat: 6.7 million visits. Cunhaporanga brandishing a tool used to make cassava flour: 16.1 million visits. Cunhaporanga dancing on the pristine riverbanks (it’s still TikTok after all) to a viral pop song – 4.1 million views.
As social media reaches the Amazon rainforest, one of the last frontiers of digital media, it is opening an unprecedented window into indigenous life, removing barriers once imposed by geography. For the first time, some of the most isolated peoples on the planet are in daily communication with the outside world without the traditional filters of journalists, academics, or advocates.
Cunhaporanga’s phone lit up with messages and notifications. A video she had posted showing facial paint being removed with soap and water was peeling off. More than 2 million people had seen it and millions more would soon see it. But inside her family’s cabin, she was already embarking on her next TikTok story.
Six million followers, and still barely surviving, worried about paying their electricity and internet bills. They were digitally famous but somehow poorer than ever. If the virus continued to alienate tourists, he was concerned that he would have to shut down the Internet and disappoint his daughter.