Editor’s Note
January 2014
Staying True
Feather headdresses—here worn by Kayapo men Okêt (left) and Mryprire—are passed down in families.
Photos: Martin Schoeller

We cover indigenous cultures all the time and have done so, you might say, ever since John Hyde, an early Editor of the magazine, ran a photograph of a Zulu bride and groom in 1896. It’s part of our DNA, one of the many ways in which we show readers the great diversity of our world.

Often these are sad stories of dispossession and disappearing cultures, but this month’s feature about the Kayapo, perhaps the richest, most powerful of Brazil’s indigenous people, is different. Though the Kayapo follow a subsistence way of life, they have satellite dishes, disposable cigarette lighters, and boat motors. But the artifacts of modernity have been incorporated without compromising the tribe’s identity. As Chip Brown reports, their language, ceremonies, and cultural systems remain intact. They have their land—an expanse of rain forest—and have been successful in protecting it. Most important: They know who they are.

This certitude also shines through in Martin Schoeller’s remarkable portraits. Schoeller, who made his career as a celebrity portraitist, has written that a photographic close-up creates “a confrontation between the viewer and the subject that daily interaction makes impossible.” Through Schoeller’s lens we see these remarkable men, women, and children as they are—ineffably human. We meet their gaze and connect across the distance of place and culture.

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