Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
companies in the early 1920s. While the missionaries set out to “save the savages'
lost souls,” the loggers and miners “domesticated the wilderness,” opening the way
for the Brazilian colonizing enterprise to take over the economic and demographic
“void” of the country's heart. The occupation of the traditional territories of the
Xavante and of several other native populations thus became one of the principal
fronts of the nationalist program of Brazil's president Getúlio Vargas in the 1930s and
40s, and in the next decades by the geopolitics of national security (Lopes da Silva
2000). In the late 1950s, the Xavante realized the political advantages of “peaceful
contact” with the broader Brazilian society, if only to guarantee the people's
physical survival. This meant, among other things, embracing some fundamentals of
economic “development,” such as sedentary agricultural production (planting rice
and beans) and confinement in missionary boarding schools. The Summer Institute
of Linguistics (SIL) became an official partner of the Brazilian government in 1958,
the very year the Xavante were finally deemed “pacified Indians” (Maybury-Lewis
1967). Therefore, several protestant missionaries who worked for SIL also controlled
schooling practices on Xavante lands in the 1960s and 70s, working feverishly to
translate the Bible into the Xavante language and convert the communities into
Christianity. 5
The complex social structure of the Xavante people was the focus of most of
the early studies published in the 1960s by anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis at
Harvard University, and later on by his student Aracy Lopes da Silva in the 1980s
at the University of São Paulo (USP). It was because of Aracy that I first started as
a school teacher among the Xavante of Parabubure (then Kuluene) in 1978, after
teaching English with her for a couple of years in a language school in São Paulo
City. Aracy was then writing her doctoral thesis at USP based on her ethnographic
fieldwork in Kuluene in the 1970s, about the role that names and formal friends
occupy in the Xavante social structure (Lopes da Silva 1986). Upon my arrival
in Kuluene in 1978, I brought with me a letter from Aracy written in the Xavante
language addressed to apitó (chief) Thomas, introducing me to the villagers as
her inó (little sister). I immediately became part of the sophisticated network of
Xavante kinship, a position that greatly facilitated my relationship with the people,
the learning of the Xavante language and their oral history, and the understanding of
the foundations of their socionumerical system. The very first article I published in
my life, at the age of 22, described details of this educational experience (Ferreira
1981). In 1985 I became an Anthropology student at the University of São Paulo,
and later wrote my master's thesis on Indigenous education under Aracy Lopes da
Silva's supervision (Ferreira 1991).
It was precisely in the early 1980s that a new trend of anthropological research
developed in Brazil that focused on understanding Indigenous history and Indigenous
perceptions of time, space and the body. In-depth research in Brazilian archives, as
well as keen attention to Indigenous oral histories, had a major political impact on the
Brazilian Constitution of 1988. This was especially true because the data were made
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