The Newsletter 92 Summer 2022

RCM Pilot Project: Xingu River and City of Altamira, State of Pará, Brazil

Satya Patchineelam

What follows is an attempt to tell the story of the Xingu River from its own perspective. The narrative explores the traditional life of the river as well as the disruptions wrought by a hydropower development project. These dynamics are the subject of my Ph.D. research as well as the RCM pilot project.

Tale of the Xingu: The River That Was Dammed

I was life. I would transport sediments, rocks, dead leaves, insects, animals, and others. That would be my daily routine. I flowed downstream, taking nutrients to other places, fertilizing grounds and carrying seeds to germinate in some other locations. There would be animals crossing, boats passing through. I was a leisure space for people and animals. Giving life and taking life. My cycle was constant and healthy, I would renew myself constantly. I was always fresh, vibrant, clean, sometimes wavy, other times calm, feeding animals and the abundant vegetation around me. 

Throughout half of the year the rain would fill me up, make me stronger and faster. I would create hiding spots for some animals by flooding areas filled with vegetation, this way the animals would reproduce without being exposed, securing the eggs and baby animals in these secluded and sometimes mysterious spots. During these generous and strong seasons, I would flood through spaces that riverine people cleaned up to plant their crops and help take nutrition to the soil, helping their production. But sometimes I would also invade their houses and show my force. During that time, I could also be dangerous, and the riverine people would be scared of me, and the motors of the boats would work twice as hard to drive against my flow.  

The other half of the year, the heat would force my water to evaporate, and the lack of rainfall would weaken and slow me down. I would dry up, the rocks throughout my body stretch would appear, creating small ponds, and the sunshine would pass through to the ground. The small, beautiful fish would find it hard to hide from the people.  

After many years, strange people whom I had never seen before started coming by to observe me, mapping and collecting pieces of me. Suddenly one day, I felt a strong explosion. It shook the ground in such a way that animals ran away and stopped coming back, rocks fell, and that part of me became damaged. 

A part of my body was connected to another part of my body and disconnected from another, which did not make much sense and affected my entire life cycle. Blocks of concrete were built up, blocking my water to feed all of the bits and pieces. Suddenly part of my body became steady water, like a pool but with some of the water flowing down without the consistency it would naturally have. Many fishers came during that period, the fish were trapped in this reservoir, they became such an easy catch. The community of riverines that grew up around me were pushed aside, many did not come by as often as they would before. The water in this pool became so high that the trees were constantly submerged, resulting in many trees dying. I felt sick. There were no more fruits and seeds to take downstream, the fish in my waters became hungry and sick too. The riverine community that grew up here and created a livelihood of respect towards me became hungry and sad. I saw a few familiar faces coming back, mostly men, as most women stopped coming here. The kids were not around anymore either. I missed them, as it was fun to have them playing with me in years past. 

I finally understood, my body was dammed, and life as I knew before was over. My web of life was disrupted. 


Satya Patchineelam is a PhD Candidate at IHS/Erasmus University Rotterdam and the Principal Investigator of the RCM’s Xingu River pilot project. Email: