Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
accessible to the Indigenous Peoples themselves in the process of claiming their
ancestral territorial rights (Lopes da Silva 2000:213). It was in the midst of this very
turbulent political context, still during the period of Brazil's military dictatorship
(from 1964 to 1985), that I arrived in the area in 1978. The 1,200 inhabitants of
Kuluene's three villages - Ubãwãwe, Ri'tuwãwe, and Ri'tubre - were then planning
to repossess the vast tract of land that separated them from the Couto Magalhães
Reservation, occupied by a huge farmland known as Fazenda Xavantina, owned by
wealthy and corrupt politicians.
I had brought with me to Kuluene a suitcase-load of documents, including
maps, dictionaries, legislation, and topics by educator Paulo Freire, as well as other
materials all considered “subversive” by the military-controlled Funai. The detailed
study of these important sources of information became the main focus of our daily
schooling activities. I was part of a group of five young educators under Aracy's
direction, all assigned to work with Xavante communities under the “Projeto de
Desenvolvimento da Nação Xavante” (Xavante Nation Development Project). Our
main revolutionary goal followed Freire's pedagogy of liberation, in an attempt to
help the people free themselves from the tight grip of the military. The military
controlled Funai, which is still responsible until this day for the protection of the
country's Indigenous Peoples.
Starting in the 1960s, however, Funai granted hundreds of contracts to logging,
mining, and cattle ranching businesses that took over Indigenous ancestral lands all
over Brazil. In doing so, the military dictators violated the country's 1934 Constitution
(the new 1988 one was still in the making), which granted Indigenous Peoples
possession of their ancestral lands. Funai, however, understood the development of
Brazilian “Indians” as their assimilation into the broader national society. This meant
confinement onto small parcels of land where they would eventually grow rice and
beans, and raise their own cattle, pigs, and chicken. Cattle never materialized as a
reality for the Xavante people, even though some communities did give it a try. It is
no easy task to clear the dry brushy Savannah vegetation to make room for grass to
feed the livestock. Chicken and pigs also present huge challenges due to predators -
big and small cats mostly, and the scorching heat of the cerrado sun. Fences need to
be erected and water sources are scarce. Caring for livestock is expensive and most
communities just give up. In many Xavante villages today, rice and sweet potatoes
are basic staple foods, supplemented with an occasional piece of meat (deer, wild
boar, and an occasional anteater or tapir) that Xavante men are still able to hunt
down. Malnutrition is the main cause of infant mortality and the ill health of the
community at large.
For the Xavante, and for myself, the study of mathematics played a very
important role in understanding the complex relations between local, national, and
global economics, and Indigenous Peoples' political situation in central Brazil.
We studied maps and other key documents provided to us by the Comissão Pró-
índio de São Paulo (Pro-Indian Commission of São Paulo), founded by activists
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