(1983:28-29). According to Max Weber, the “predatory” nature of “parasitic” capitalism has an
“irrational and speculative character” and can be “directed to acquisition by force, above all the
acquisition of booty, whether directly in war or in the form of continuous fiscal exploitation of the
subject populations” (1983:28-29).
See, for example, D'Ambrosio (1990:28), Lave (1988:125), Tambiah (1991:18), and Weber (1983:28-
In 1981 the Diauarum Indigenous School was founded in the Diauarum Indigenous Post by the
Juruna, Kayabi, Suyá, and Panará populations of the Xingu Indigenous Park. I was invited by leaders
Carandine Juruna, Mairawê Kayabi and Kuiussi Suyá in April 1980 to help establish the Diauarum
School, after having worked in 1978-79 as a school teacher among the Xavante of the Kuluene
Indigenous Reservation, also located in central Brazil (Ferreira 1981). This research is thus based on
my experience as a school teacher in the Xingu Park from 1980 to 1984; as a researcher and consultant
for MARI - Grupo de Educação Indígena at the Univerdidade de São Paulo from 1985 to 1982; and
as an anthropological expert working for the Suyá people in 1999 (see Chapter 2).
All new students were asked to state their reasons for attending the Diauarum School. Of the
approximately 300 students that attended the school between 1980 and 1984, 84 percent cited
mathematics (although they spoke no Portuguese) as the main reason for their studies. Others
(15 percent) stated the need to learn Portuguese as the main reason (Ferreira 1992).
The number of malarial attacks one has suffered, and the number of “wild Indians one has pacified”
is sometimes used by Funai employees to present themselves as “old timers” in the “Indian business.”
The massacre of Indigenous Peoples, a valued performance during the colonial period, has persisted
well into the 21 st century. A recent report on violence against Indigenous Peoples in Brazil by the
Conselho Indígena Missionário (Indigenous Missionary Council) states that at least 53 Brazilian
Indigenous persons were murdered in 2013 as a direct or indirect result of conflict over dispute of
land (CIMI 2013). CIMI states that more than 500 Indigenous persons were murdered in Brazil since
During the dry season (June-October), when the waters are low, fish get trapped in small lakes and
ponds, which form near the river beds. Several Xingu peoples thus engage in fishing sprees in which
a natural fish poison ( timbó ) is used to numb fish in small ponds or dams, making it easy for anyone
to spear or collect them in baskets.
Gardner (1992) reminds us of the historical changes and developments mathematics has undergone.
Babylonians, for instance, saw mathematics as a way of astronomical reckonings, while, for
the Pythagoreans, “it was thought of as an embodiment of the universe's harmonies”. During the
Renaissance, scientists used mathematics to uncover “nature's secrets.” For Kant, “it was the perfect
science whose propositions were constructed in the deepest layer of our rational faculties, while for
Frege and Russell, it became the paradigm of clarity against which ambiguities of ordinary language
could be judged.”
Two basic propositions regarding cognitive skills have long oriented my research on what is now
called “ethnomathematics” (D'Ambrosio 1990): (1) that such skills are universal (Piaget 1952), which
presupposes, in turn, that “cultural differences in cognition reside more in the situations to which
particular cognitive processes are applied than in the existence of a process in one cultural group and
its absence in another” (Cole et al. 1971:226); and (2) that cognition is located “in the experiencing of
the world and the world experienced, through activity, in context” (Lave 1988:178).
After more than 30 years of negotiation between nation-states and Indigenous Peoples worldwide, the
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was finally adopted by the UN National Assembly
on September 13, 2007. An overwhelming majority of 143 voted in favor, with only 4 negative votes
(Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States), and 11 abstentions. Human Rights Declarations
become universally applicable upon their adoption by the UN regardless of how individual states vote.