L’équipée Girls, March 30. Grand Finale: Discovering The Beauty Rituals Of The Amazonian Indians

Leaving Manaus harbour. The Parisians haul their bikes onto the traditional riverboat and sail away. The river is wide and mighty – you can barely make out its edges.

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Swimming with pink dolphins

Leaving Manaus harbour. The Parisians haul their bikes onto the traditional riverboat and sail away. The river is wide and mighty – you can barely make out its edges. The boat enters a branch of the river that penetrates deep into the jungle.

After an hour, the girls stop in São Tomé village, a meeting point for pink dolphins. Amazonian Indian Marcia Ferreira Mesquita works there every day, striving to protect this endangered species from extinction. The girls trade their helmets for swimsuits and dive in with her. Marcia calls the dolphins, who immediately come and swim with the girls. The river’s red water makes them appear a surprising shade of pink. Louise D is ecstatic, and tries her hardest to communicate with them. Dolphins are compassionate animals – the soundwaves they emit are soothing, and help boost self-confidence and self-esteem. The girls harvest these positive vibes and take them back with them on the boat, which is now taking them to their next destination: Tatulandia.

Bathtime in the river

The girls from L’équipée have barely stepped onto the wooden dock when the community chief comes to welcome them. Eight families live here, from different tribes, each with a name more evocative than the last: the people of nature, the people of the day, the people of the night… (Dessana, Tukano, Tuyuca, Tariana, Kobeua). After the presentations, and as night descends, the girls are invited to join the community’s women to share the bathtime ritual with them.

The women laugh and talk – or at least they try to. The children play and splash around. Afterwards, they all share a meal together in silence. Each woman has prepared a different dish. Soon, bedtime comes. The girls put up their hammocks in a roofless house with a palm-leaf roof, and go to sleep. A TV hums somewhere. A generator purrs. Somebody is snoring. And the sounds of the jungle are all around.

The secrets of the beauty ritual

After a fidgety night, the girls are woken up by a rooster – at 4:30 am. Breakfast has to be gathered in the forest: small red berries that the men pluck from the trees. ‘We take a special pleasure in eating and drinking. We take our time and we enjoy,’ says Cindy. A party has been organised to welcome the girls, and they are invited to join the community women as they pamper themselves for the occasion. Here, make-up is 100% natural, made with products from the forest.

A red paint made from Urcum, traditionally used to shield skin from the sun and mosquitoes, is applied to their bodies. A black paint is made from Genipa, which has curative and antibacterial properties. The clear Genipa juice turns black when it corrodes, and is used to make temporary tattoos that last several weeks. The whole morning is spent drawing the paintings that express welcome and sharing, with graphic motifs reminiscent of animal hides. The girls comply with this ritual, impressed and a little stunned. ‘It’s a very emotional moment,’ Cindy explains. ‘The women explain that they don’t emphasise their eyes or lips, but that to feel beautiful, they paint their tribal patterns all over their faces and bodies.’

As a final touch to their preparations, the community women take off their clothes and go nude. Traditionally, the body is a means of communication and expression that shouldn’t be hidden. These women have a very close relationship with nature – an intimate bond has to be lived through the body. At last, it’s time to dance. ‘The men invite us to join the dance, they lead us with strength and precision, and we are carried away by the music and the determination in their steps,’ the girls say.

The end of the road

The day comes to an end, and the members of the community accompany the girls back to the boat. ‘I want this moment to last as long as possible,’ says Cindy. ‘We leave the Amazon with a heavy heart. We have to end this amazing adventure, and it’s really really hard!’

It’s the end of the Road to Beauty in Brazil. Relive the best moments of the girls’ adventures, along with interviews, throughout April and May, here on this website.

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