Spirit of the Amazon

The Indigenous Tribes of the Xingu

Sue & Patrick Cunningham

Foreword by Sting

A beautifully illustrated account of an expedition into the heart of the Amazon, documenting the tribes: their culture, rituals, and the threats facing their lands.

255 x 310 mm

228 pages


ISBN: 978-1-906506-67-4


IPPY Gold Medal 2020 - Photography

Subjects: Photography / Environment

Spirit of the Amazon is the work of photojournalist Sue Cunningham and writer Patrick Cunningham. It is a celebration of cultural difference and a call for better stewardship of the world. Sue’s stunning photographs demonstrate the spiritual and material value of the Xingu tribes to all mankind; they keep the forest alive and they protect the climate of South America and the rest of the world. Their spiritual connection to their environment and the wider Earth shows us an alternative way to connect to the natural richness of the planet, built on foundations completely different from those of global materialism.   During their expedition by boat, the authors followed the course of the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, travelling 2,500 km through the heart of Brazil. They visited 48 tribal villages in this remote part of the Amazon, accessible only by small plane or by negotiating the rapids of the Xingu.   This is the story of the tribal communities they met; their daily lives, their connection to the land and to the rivers, the threats which pervade each day of their lives. It is also a validation of their importance to the rest of the world; why these small, remote and often secretive indigenous communities are so important to our own lives and to our shared planet. It is a celebration of their vibrant cultures, their rituals and their rites of passage, of cultures very different from each other, but with a shared spiritual basis which respects the trees, the rivers and the rain. And it is a call for the world to protect them, their lands and their forests and rivers from the destruction which our avaricious greed for natural resources drives ever closer and deeper into their realm.

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Sue & Patrick Cunningham

Photojournalist Sue Cunningham was born in London, but moved to Brazil at the age of twelve. Writer Patrick Cunningham was born in Northamptonshire. In the early 1980s, while on commission to cover commercial mining for financial and trade magazines, Sue came into contact with the Xicrin tribe. She experienced first hand the discrimination they suffered and the immense threats they were under from pressures for the development of the Amazon. Sue later took Sting, and Anita and Gordon Roddick (The Body Shop) into the Amazon to visit the tribes of the Xingu and help raise awareness of indigenous peoples. In 2007, Sue and Patrick won The Royal Geographical Society’s Neville Shulman award for their Heart of Brazil Expedition, to travel the 2,500km length of the Xingu River by boat. They visited 48 remote tribal communities from 17 ethnic groups, who between them speak 14 languages. They slept in hammocks as guests of the communities they visited, or camped on the sands of the Xingu. They were accompanied by indigenous boatmen, the only people who know and understand the treacherous rapids. It was a unique and hard-won privilege to gain extended access to tribes who keep the outside world at a distance, and a life-changing experience.  In the years since, Sue and Patrick’s dedication to the cause of indigenous peoples’ rights has grown into a consuming passion, and has become their life’s work. They became Trustees of the charity Tribes Alive. Sue has exhibited her work in the UK, Holland, Portugal, Brazil, the USA and Japan. Her images have featured in countless books, magazines and newspapers, including Out of the Amazon, co-authored by her with text by Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, then Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

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“This book charts the changes in the lives and fortunes of these incredible people. It focuses on their humanity and on their individuality. It shows that they are people, just as we are people, and not simply exotic objects. It tells us that they have a fundamental right to our respect, and that we have an obligation to protect their land, their environment and their chosen way of life.”

"Sue and Patrick Cunningham’s vision of the indigenous peoples of the Xingu river basin is unique in many ways. They were the first outsiders ever to take six months descending the full length of that mighty Amazon tributary. On that epic and many other journeys, they had permission to visit almost fifty villages, of a wide variety of tribes. They were welcomed as old friends, so could join in everyday life, shamanic rituals, and spectacular festivals. They were accomplished photographers and observers. And they were seeing Brazilian Indians at a fascinating time in their transition from traditional to more modern society."
Dr John Hemming

"As someone who has travelled extensively in the Amazon forest and amongst Its native peoples this book brings back so many memories for me. The Cunningham’s journey down the Xingu River was no easy task, but they achieved and recount here an epic journey that so vividly describes their adventures, the Amazon rainforest and particularly the inhabitants with whom they have such a special relationship."
Professor Sir Ghillean Prance FRS

"Tracing the pair’s fascinating journey, the book focuses on and celebrates the individuality of indigenous peoples, and highlights the importance of protecting their land, and way of life."
Outdoor Photography Magazine

"Stunning book."