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Cover of the January 2014 National Geographic magazine showing the face of a Kayapo youth.

Cover of the January 2014 National Geographic magazine showing the face of a Kayapo youth.

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PROMOTIONAL USE OF COVER AND COVER IMAGE. USAGE COVERED UNDER TERMS OF PERSONAL RELEASES.

Cover photo by Martin Schoeller, National Geographic

Rachel Hartigan Shea

National Geographic

Published December 19, 2013

Her face is painted, the crown of her head shaved, and her eyelashes and brows plucked in the traditional manner of her Amazon tribe. That tribe, the Kayapo, is the subject of the January National Geographic cover story. The girl with the direct gaze personifies the tribe's determination to defend their culture and their homeland.

But the child on the cover is not just a symbol. She is a little girl of about four named Nhiaka-e, and she lives in Kendjam, one of three villages in northern Brazil that photographer Martin Schoeller visited to document the story. "She was shy," says Schoeller, who spent roughly ten days in Kendjam, "but she was always checking me out to see what I was up to."

From the iPad edition cover: See Martin Schoeller at work in Kendjam.

To take Nhiaka-e's portrait, as well as those of other Kendjam residents, Schoeller set up a makeshift studio in the local school and asked the teachers to spread the word that anyone could come to get their picture taken. He estimates that about 80 percent of the village showed up. "We were the entertainment," he said, "with our big lights and the monitor where they could see the pictures."

Nhiaka-e didn't seem nervous about posing. "What I love about Nhiaka-e is that she looks so proud," says Schoeller. "She has a great sense of attitude."

Faces rarely appear on National Geographic magazine covers, says creative director Bill Marr. "When you think of the newsstand market, nearly all other magazines are selling their issues with the familiar faces of celebrities," he says. "The faces of the Kayapo are not familiar-they are exotic. And we hope readers will react positively to them."

Schoeller himself is a celebrity photographer with a portfolio that reads like a who's who of the bright and beautiful. But his favorite kind of work is to document indigenous cultures. "I don't watch that many movies, I don't watch TV, and I've only liked a little bit of the music by the musicians I've photographed," he says. "I'm way more interested in people who haven't been photographed much." His previous work for National Geographic magazine has included stories on multiracial Americans, twins, and the Hadza, an African tribe.

Two of Schoeller's favorite people from Kendjam are featured on the cover of the iPad edition: Ynhire, a Kayapo warrior, and Pukatire, the village chief. "Pukatire was really on our side," he says. "I spent a lot of time with him, which signaled to the rest of the tribe that we were okay."

When Schoeller wasn't with Pukatire, he was following Ynhire around. Unlike other tribal members, the energetic warrior didn't wear a T-shirt-but he would don sneakers for a pickup soccer game after a long day of hunting.

Despite modern incursions like sneakers and soccer balls, says Schoeller, "these people are fine without us." For this story about the Kayapo isn't the familiar sad tale of an indigenous people facing extinction from the forces of modernity, but the surprising story of a powerful tribe holding its ground. Or as the cover line puts it, the Kayapo are "taking on the modern world. And winning."

Follow Rachel Hartigan Shea on Twitter.

7 comments
Ranko Medojevic
Ranko Medojevic

Amazon region is the last frontier for Brasilians Indians where they can exsist and survive.They are cultural treasure from ancient wether for all of us .We must save tham as our ancestors.Unfortunately We are destroing their home Amazon jungle .If we destroy Amayon We will kill our planet.

Luiz Neto
Luiz Neto

The situation of Brazilian indigenous peoples is dramatic. Economic pressures come from all directions masked as development initiatives that end up deeply threatening their way of life and worse than that: there is an enourmous lack of concern about what is happening on the part of the remainder of the population. It is definitely hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Shame on us all here.

b. nascimento
b. nascimento

ainda não foi despertado o interesse pela cultura indígena, pela sua história, tão pouco zelam pela sua preservação tanto de memórias como preservação da população e suas  terras. Fico feliz em saber que enquanto aqui os indígenas não são tidos como parte importante do nosso povo e não tem espaço na mídia, digo em revistas e documentários originalmente produzidos por brasileiros ,

 uma revista como o natgeo tomou frente e fez essa belíssima matéria, eu estou muito feliz, e queria poder comprar uma também. Lindos, lindos e lindos.  Espero que seja o primeiro de vários que virão.

Adel Kaesemeyer
Adel Kaesemeyer

Thank uuuu, my heart is so touched by these beautiful and brave children that still manage to have a smile for people around them- I want to cry- wishing I could help in some kind of way...

David Aguilar
David Aguilar

Wow!! Can'r wait to read this issue!! I'm always interested in the Amazon Tribes, it's great to hear something positive for once!!

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