Berti was born in the village of Kamarata, located in Venezuela’s
Canaima National Park, in the northern Amazon. She is a Pemón of
the Kamarakoto tribe – the Pemón people who inhabit the Kamarata
Hortensia is the great-granddaughter of a legendary chief, Capitán
Alejo Calcaño. Calcaño had five wives. Hortensia’s
mother’s mother was the first-born of his first wife, and Hortensia's
father’s father was the son of Calcaño’s only sister.
Until recently, for eight years, Hortensia managed a tourism camp
named Kavak, at the foot of the majestic Auyántepuy, the mountain
that houses Angel Falls. Kavak is a community owned enterprise, and
a very important one since tourism is the Kamarakotos only source
of employment and income. Today Hortensia divides her time overseeing
the camp at Kavak and managing her own business, a craft shop she
runs from Kavak and from Uruyén, a smaller camp run by her
husband Enrique Carvallo’s family. She sells crafts made by
the men and women of her tribe, and she oversees the quality of the
jewelry, baskets, bows and arrows, ceramics and other crafts the
Hortensia has two children, Rafael and Antonio.
She met Isabel Barton in November 2003, when Barton visited Kavak
during an historic journey organized and led by Angel Conservation’s
president, Paul Stanley, to retrace the steps of Ruth Robertson’s
1949 expedition to measure Angel Falls. Barton had read Robertson’s
book “Churún-Merú, the tallest Angel,” where
she credits Capitán Calcaño for the success of her expedition.
Calcaño conducted an intricate negotiation with the Kamaracotos
to convince them to portage her expedition. The canyon where the falls
are located is considered by the Pemón to be inhabited by evil
spirits. Without Calcaño’s intervention Robertson’s
trip would have failed. Unaware of their family connection, Barton asked
Hortensia if she knew anything about Calcaño. Berti was as surprised
by the question as Barton by Berti’s answer: that he was her great-grandfather,
who had organized their culture and whose teachings had never been written
down and were on the verge of disappearing with the passing of the elders.
A collaboration was born at that moment. Barton and Berti have been
working on the film WOMEN OF THE FALLS since then.
The history of Calcaño is unfolding through Berti’s questioning
of the elders in the villages of the Kamarata Valley, while Barton records
with her camera. And, since Calcaño’s quest was to save
the Pemón culture from the influx of western civilization, a
vision of the bits and pieces of the culture is coming to light.
is an apt ambassador for her community. She has traveled outside the
valley to many areas of Venezuela to attend tourism conventions and
fairs, and she has been a spokesperson for the needs of her people in
various newspaper articles and television news shows, as well as when
receiving guests at the tourism camps. Her mission is to help fulfill
her great-grandfather’s legacy.