Collective transformation in the Amazon

Rios de Encontro
Brazil (Marabá )

In the small Afro-Indigenous community of Cabelo Seco in Brazil, an arts-as-transformation project is addressing the survival and transformation of both the community and our planet’s most precious and vital natural habitat.


This region of the Brazilian Amazon, between the Itacaiúnas and Tocantins Rivers, has the greatest biodiversity and also the greatest concentration of iron ore and drinking water in the world. It’s also an area plagued with violence, poverty and social marginalisation that was considered a ‘no-go favela’.

Rios de Encontro

Since 2008, a growing number of young people, art educators, local institutions, international collaborators and social movements have transformed the place and their futures, by partnering through the project called locally Rios De Encontro (Rivers of Meeting).

Co-founded by eco-cultural activist Dan Baron Cohen, his partner Manoela Souza and the young artists of Cabelo Seco, together Rios nurtures Amazonian community culture through afro-contemporary dance, musical and percussion performance, video production, kite-making and bike-riding festivals, and medicinal garden projects. The community explores its cultural identities in the street, school, home and through intercultural residencies towards a sustainable, self-determined solar-powered future, as an alternative to industrial development.

Young people, who didn’t even know they were from the Amazon – the biome that sustains the world – and who fail school year after year come together in a community learning environment, a ‘university of the rivers’. They come to understand that they have knowledge and that motivates them to return to study.

“During our Kite Festival”, explains Dan, “people who suffer the worst formal education in the world, make complex maths and physics calculations, experimenting, evaluating, connecting: any error and their kite will not fly”. Through the generations working together and exchanging stories, creative intelligence flourishes and stigmatised youth themselves become teachers.

“For me” continues Dan, “this is the essence of ‘transformance’. Without words, we transform an authoritarian approach to education into a model of sustainable community. The Bike Rides for Life is another inspiring example: the participants transform the everyday murder of black youth – by the police, by drugs mafia – into a celebration of cooperation, solidarity and empathy, with each other and with their rivers.”

The collective of cooperatives that makes the whole Rios de Encontro project and is the heart of this community, is now making its way out into the world beyond. “When our young AfroRaiz coordinators speak at international conferences, we are proud to see how they can articulate their lived and learned experience with the language of cultural action for transformation.”

Rios de EncontroSocial distancing makes it extremely hard for collectives and grassroots organisations to carry out their work. Yet, Dan tells us that there are “sparks of hope.” During the pandemic, Rios de Encontro’s Amazonian show Rio Voador (Flying River) and artistic-pedagogic narrative The Brazil Nut Trees Remember (video below) entered the houses and touched the hearts and minds of people from all over the world, and youth activists launched popular intergenerational virtual performances and forums with artists and ecopedagogy experts from 4 continents.


In June 2021, the collective organised a forum to introduce Ecocide or Good Living?, a campaign to make ecocide an international crime. Below you can find the reflections born out of the Circle, moderated by Dan (Portuguese and Spanish audio.)


As part of CultureFutures, we spoke to Rios de Encontro co-founder Dan Baron Cohen to find out how, in the heart of the rivers, Rios de Encontro has culture and creativity at its heart ► Brazil’s rivers of creativity: FutureLeague Rios de Encontro

The Rios de Encontro collective ► Dan introduces us to the collective of eco-cultural youth activists.

AtlasAction ► Participate or collaborate in annual forums and festivals, artistic-cultural residencies, donation of solar panels, residencies and tours by getting in touch here.

? AtlasEvent ► Dan and drummer Elisa were both speakers at Fixing the future 2019 in Barcelona.

Written by

Cathy Runciman, Co-founder, Atlas of the Future (29 October 2018)

Project leader

Dan Baron Cohen, Manoela Souza and the people of Cabelo Seco


This project has been selected as part of CultureFutures, a new storytelling project that maps creative and cultural projects with a social mission – and the artists, collectives and entrepreneurs behind them.

Atlas of the Future is excited to join forces with Goldsmiths Institute of Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship and the British Council Creative Economy.

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Children live poetry in the street, on the project billboard, t-shirts and posters

AfroMundi defends the Amazon, by recovering afro-indigenous roots

AfroRaiz performers transform the capital Belém through dance-percussion

Beautiful Amazon Festival billboard, Cabelo Seco

Meet Mano, Camylla, Katrine, Evany, Elisa, Lorena, Rerivaldo and Dan

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