Around a photo of an Indian mother inBrazil. Culture of the other place and educational interpellation

René Barbier (University Paris 8)
 lecture at the " Worldwide Comparative Education Forum: EconomicGlobalization & Education Reforms" 14-16 th October 2002, Beijing NormalUniversity China


Trips to Brazil and the photography discovery.

Since 1992, I have gone to Brazil several times to givelectures and to lead research groups. On  my last trip, in July-August2002, within the framework of a research seminar at the Federal  Universityof Brasilia (UnB), I found a poster of an Indian mother in the office ofthe  head of
the Educational Sciences department that strongly impressedme. I asked whether I could get this document.  One of my friendsprinted a copy of it and sent it to me so that I could digitalise it. It is  around this image that I want to reflect with you on theculture from elsewhere and its
repercussions upon educational imaginary.

Educational questionning

The structure of the photography (see below) does notfail to question our way of seeing as  Westerners. It questions usspecifically on our connection with the body, with the animal  world,with sharing, with the acquaintance in education and it reveals to us theunvoiced
comment of our culture which is set up upon reason. Moreclosely let us examine this image in  a listening sensitive way, suitablefor the transversal approach (Barbier, 1997).

1. Mother in  amerindian and negro-African culturefrom Brazil

 Structure of the photograhy

 - Archetypal Mother

At once  a central character is expounded to us bythis image : native Amerindian mother (see  note). Since the verybeginnings of humanity, the mother has been praised. In Egypt, she is Nout: Egyptian goddess of  heavens, and Tefnetís daughter, Gebís sister,Osiris, Isis,
Haroëris, Seth, and Nephtys' mother. She is depictedas a woman with a curved body above the Earth with her arms extended tothe West, her feet touching the East, and her belly, the stars,  orsometimes like a cow raised up on the top of Universe, geniuses supportingher legs. She is the mother and wife of the Sun, and every morning shegives birth to a golden calf which grows, and which, at its zenith, inthe shape of a bull, fertilizes his mother... (the myth of the Bullís mother).Appeared in a human shape, she carries around bowl upon her head. She isprotective of death, one often sees her holding the narrowly embraced deceased.
On our photography, one notices that she is squattinghalf-naked and that she carries her own child quite tightly in one of herarms. Her only clothing is a kind of loincloth. Nevertheless, one can realizethat she does not disdain necklaces. Her feet are naked too. Her otherarm is
supporting a small animal (a pup, a small fox ?) whichis sucking from his motherís right breast. It's mother's glance is directedtowards the animal and all her attitude reveals a sustained attention.She is the feeder Mother par excellence. The one who protects and guarantees
against the pangs of hunger and suffering. Around her,the nature with its luxuriant vegetation. Traces of modern civilizationare not visible. The path is neither tarred nor organized. Plants growthere.

- Place of the child

The child does not worry overmuch about this mysteriousfoster brother. He is well fixed on his motherís shoulder, and he seemsto be looking elsewhere, biding his time. Let us suppose that he is gettingan education about sharing, about being non possessive about his relationshipwith others (human beings, natural, vegetable and animal worlds).

- The nature

 It is omnipresent. It is a nature touched by thehuman culture despite everything. It is not a jungle. But, in the background,one can feel the presence of its chaotic, non-controllable dimension. Itis at the edge of civilization, ready to invade it if we donít watch it.

- The animal

It came, seemingly fearlessly. It is sucking from thewoman's breast as it would with its own mother. Undoubtedly it is an orphanand, quite naturally, is taken in within the group by human beings. A receptionprobably without forfantery, without laces. A reception ensuring
food but not dogs' "three stars canned food" from Europeancity grocers. But, here, it is without a collar, free of coming and goingwhere it wants to. Its "owner" (but is he really ?) wonít be penalisedfor the nauseous waste it might deposit here and there. It is surely ananimal
which will still preserve a certain hunter instinct.In France, the putting back of wolves in the Alps, with ecological reasons,is strongly fought by the inhabitants of the neighbouring localities inthe name of an ancestral fear and of a so-called destructiveness attributedto free
and wild animal.

2. Transversal Approach of an image

What does this photography tell us ? Why does-it touchus at once and before any analysis ? A transversal approach which combinesthree imaginary aspects : instinctual, social and sacral and three listenings: private clinic, institutional and mythopoetic, will allow there sometopics of reflexion there.

- Attachment and loss

What strikes, at first sight, is the meaning of the motherísattachment to the relationship between her child and another being belongingto another living species. She does not neglect her child, she puts it,temporarily "between brackets" to deal with another living  beingwhich
has lost its reference marks and which is hungry. Sheintuitively knows that the small animal needs physical contact, heat, fur.She did not read scientific works by Rene Spitz, John Bowlby (1978), ReneZazzo (1979), or Hubert Montagner (1988). She seems to know from
the very beginning  that a living being fundamentallyneeds safety, which starts with food, a roof, but also with physical contactand tenderness. She  knows the power of care and attention to theother. Undoubtedly she also knows the suffering of the loss involved inany
feeling of joy within the infinite process of life. Asconfucian philosopher Mencius would, she would readily go to the edge ofa well to withdraw a child who has just fallen into it, moved by simple,spontaneous, altruistic behavior.

-  « Reliance » (connection with thewhole life, "linkedness")

This poster expresses the reality of the feeling of «reliance »  (Marcel Bolle de Bal, 1996) in the cultures thatonce some used to "savages". Claude Lévi-Strauss (1962) paid homageto their relationship with the world, too much coded as "primitive mentality"by the ethnology of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1996) in his first works.Holistic cultures, organized around and for the social group, in whichindividuals have a meaning only if they are integrated in a living unit.Often in hierarchical cultures, the authority is assessed according tothe services which the head ensures to its members. In traditional Chineseculture, one knows that the Emperor of China could be dislocated and thepopular rising legitimated, if he had not been able to or did not knowhow to contain social dysfunction and disastrous inequalities, far fromthe "right middle", always at work in the process of life. Harmony is atthe root of a collective human reality as well as a natural and cosmicone. The Chinese respected what went along these lines and their ancestralphilosophy became lead by its "process" (F.Jullien, 1989). In Amerindiancultures, this sense of harmony and "reliance" remains. The Indians fromNorth Colombia - Kogis - assert for example that they live on earth toguarantee the ecological survival of humanity and they developed an extremelysubtle philosophy of life (É. Julien,
2001). But, in the end, donít North-American Indiansas well as South-American Indians both come from the same stock, on iceera, thirty thousand years ago, through the completely frozen strait ofBehring ? Aren't they descendants of former Shamans from archaic Asia ?

- Vital energy

The image causes a kind of call to order on ourselves.Life is not only made up with computers, quantities to be measured, profitsto be accumulated. It is the form of a fundamental vital energy, the expressionof a relationship of the unknown with - the tao - spoken about by the
Chinese traditional thought (Anne Cheng, 1998). A kindof connection with the sacred without god, without priests or holy books,a connection with religion not instituted  at first by some sacredintermediary, as Leon Vandermeersch notices about ancient China, but bysome average
households (Vandermeersch, 1994). We can feel all thepower of this vital energy flowing through the characters of the scene.A flexible and deep energy combining at the same time the child who isasleep with his attentive mother, the busy animal with the detached and
connected plant, the foreground with the background ofthe picture. A vital energy indicating the necessity of an écosophieas Felix Guattari says in "three ecologies" (1979), underlined by a " layspirituality" relieved of every old idol as a wise man like Krishnamurti(1997) talks
about. There is in this photographic fresco, an estheticswhich expresses an ethics, as in the Chinese liberal arts, specificallyin painting and poetry (Kamenarovic, 1999). Admittedly, Chinese paintershardly place characters at the center of their work. It is rather the naturethat they draw, the one of vacuum and slenty (F.Cheng, 1979), where mountainand water meet, to tell the double yin and yang slope of every thing, intheir infinite variation. But isn't it what one feels here ? The womanknows, almost intuitively, that the situation of the small animal couldbe that of her own child's, on another time or another place.

- Body and actual experience

Westerners who are accustomed to the repression of thebody or, in a very modern way, to its spectacular and glossy exhibition,will be surprised by this photography. Here is a naked body in all itssimplicity, its grace and its beauty. If a certain sensuality emerges,it is not in
any way a kind of eroticism. It is about sensuality suitablefor life in act, for living and giving life drives. A sensuality that remindsof the given fruits of Brazil. One is thrown by this connection with thebody. The body is no longer a trick, it is lived from day to day, in allits wholeness. There is not the body and something else but a living bodyallowing other things to appear. One locates it very well in the condombléceremony in Brazil. With the dancing body, it is a festive sharing, a communion,a "reliance" with the ancestors, in a final analysis, a meaningful life.

 3. Educational questionning

This photography reminds us that our philosophy of lifeand education is particularly restrictive as soon as one considers anotherway of being in relationship with the world, in the cultures from elsewhere.

The first point is the sense of linkedness with everyliving thing.

How, in our education systems, do we maintain this senseof unity of the living world ? What is our connection/ratio with the environment,beyond the speeches of the last "Summit of the Earth" at Johannesburg inSeptember 2002 ? How many universities have ecology courses in educationalSciences in France ? What is the importance of the control of pollutionin China at the present time ? (Barbier, 2002)

The second point is the place of the body and the feelingin any education.

Beyond the expensive fashion of the body-building in theWest, how do we lean towards a harmonious and non competitive developmentof the body in our education ? Don't we have to learn from these remotecultures ? And in France, how do we consider the way the Chinese live
their body by practising, at the first light of dawn,exercises of Tai Ji Quan in parks or even in the streets of the large Chinesecities, before going to work ?

The third point : Sensitivity.

The woman on our poster is sensitive to another livingbeing. We  must insist on the nature of essential sensitivity in educationand, more widely in social sciences (Barbier, 1997). Cognitive educationshould not crush education to sensitivity. One knows the role of the sensitivityin China. One does not think over there with the head but with the heart,as the ideogram indicates it. As Claude Larre remarkably puts it, in connectionwith the Chinese culture, "the control of life is the art of the heart"(Larre, 1998, p.355) which allows deep knowledge of what is. One is alwaystouched by arts and by Chinese poetry expressing so well this sensitivelistening of the nature and of the world in a non exuberant style, loanof reserve and primarily founded on allusion and subtle repercussion aboutwhich François Cheng speaks so well (1979, 1990) or our Vietnamesecolleague Lê Thành Khoî (2000).

The fourth point: the aesthetic dimension of life.

Even if clothing is simple, the woman is wearing necklaces,a sign that she belongs to a culture. The aesthetic sense of human life,and the symbolic system, in clothing, in jewels, in everyday life objectsis ancestral. It indicates cultural and social elements within the veryheart
of each and every individual. It shows a connection withthe world that does not want to be exclusively mercantile and functional.What is the place of art in our education? What do we make in our universities,our schools, our factories, our offices, to make walls, corridors,
spaces of collective life pleasant to see ? Where arethe artists on our walls ? Why are there so many  indecent and indeliblegraffitis and tags in our classrooms ? What influence can our culture haveon the sense of beauty in our students and our pupils ' minds ? What doour students know about universal poetry? Which Chinese intellectual canstill recite a poem by Li Bai, by Du Fu or by Wang Wei ? Which professorof university in France could intelligently speak about Rene Char or Rutebeuf?


According to certain archaeologists who worked in theNortheast of Brazil during the 80s, traces of population in this area existedmore than 30.000 years ago, but it is more likely that the first humansettlements in South America went back as far as approximately 15 000 yearsBC. Situated in the coastal regions of Venezuela and Colombia, they indicatea populating of northerly origin, introduced by the isthmus of Panamá,spread bit by bit along the littoral and penetrating in the heart of thecontinent along waterways. Of the system of Orénoque in that
of the Amazon, the passage is easy thanks to the "canal"of Casiquiare ; on the immense area crossed by rivers which goes from theAndes Cordillera on the West, to the savannas of the Northeast, no naturalobstacle, no change of geographical environment prevented the
movements of population and cultural development.
So a homogeneous culture built itself up during ages,in all the area  of the low and woody lands, which extends beyondthe strictly geographic frame of the Amazon. From the ethnological pointof view, the Indians of the Southern Amazon ( Mato Grosso) and the Westerner(class(course) of Mara ñ ó n and of its tributaries) area part of the same cultural group as those of Guyana and of Orénoque.They differ from all the groups of the high Andes plateaux, the moderateand cold plains of the South of the continent and those who, in savannasespecially, lived until our days (or almost) exclusively as hunters andpickers. Before the Europeans arrival, there was a relatively restrictednative population. These people can be classified in two main groups, apopulation partially sedentary that speaks the Tupi language and has culturalaffinities, and the natives who moved from place to place through thisvast territory. We consider that there are approximately one million persons,native people who live scattered in all the territory. There are approximately200 Indian societies living in Brazil ; 200 cultures with different languages,religions and specific social organizations. The federal constitution declaresinalienable the right of the Indians to possess the earth which they liveon. However, because of the unlimitedness of the Brazilian territory andthe lack of
means by the governmental body the interests and therights of the Indians have to be defended and guaranteed, the FUNAI (FundacãoNacional doh Indio - national Indian foundation) has not succeeded in imposingthe law which guarantees adequate health and education yet, or in applyingprojects aiming at developing productive activities.


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Thanks for the translation to Jacqueline COULON and Marc MARCISZEWER