Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
One of the first anthropologists to work for the Serviço de Proteção aos Índios
(Indian Protection Service, SPI) was Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira in the 1950s. The
SPI was the first official agency for Indigenous affairs in Brazil, active between 1910
and 1961, when it was replaced by Funai. In its early years, SPI was dominated by
what we call sertanistas and indigenistas - mostly adventurous “jungle dwellers,” fur
hunters, and gold prospectors interested in the riches of the country's mysterious rain
forest. Exploratory expeditions of the late 1940s into the heart of the country, central
Brazil, such as the Expedição Brasil Central , and the Expedição Roncador-Xingu
led by the famous Villas-Bôas brothers, fed the popular imagination with images
of pristine and primitive populations, presumed to be “wild” because untouched by
civilization. Post-cards with imageries of naked “Indians,” their bodies covered in
red urucu ( Bixa orellana ) and genipapo ( Genipapa Americana ) dyes, displaying
bows and arrows, or simply dancing, soon made their way to faraway lands.
Presidents, first ministers, and global personalities soon elected the Xingu Indigenous
Park as a sanctuary of “pre-historic life.” During the dictatorship period, the XIP was
made into an exotic tourist resort. The country's Air Force flew illustrious guests
to monthly, sometimes weekly, gastronomic feasts among the “savages” (Ferreira
1998d). Military maps, unquestioned, showed an empty void, a no man's land needy
of progress and development. But progress and development for whom?
In this chapter, you will be introduced to Indigenous shamans who have fought
very hard to exert their shamanic power over Brazilian court cases to regain control
over their ancestral territories. Their determination to have Indigenous rights
protected, overseeing the right to ancestral territories, is particularly significant since
September 13, 2007, when the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was
finally adopted by the United Nations, after more than 30 years in the making by
Indigenous Peoples across the planet.
The shamans' knowledge and power, they say, stem from creatures that we
would not hesitate to call animals or supernatural creatures, but which appear in
XIP peoples' cosmologies as both animal and human. Here is what anthropologist
Anthony Seeger, who worked for more than two decades among the Suyá, has to say
about the importance of understanding a people's cosmology:
Cosmology can be defined as the way in which the members of a society
construct their universe and think of themselves and other beings within it. Thus
it is an attempt to create order in the world. This finding of order is not isolated
from the rest of their lives in some philosophical never-never land. Order is
created in the building of a village, in the ornamentation of the body, in the use
of a given kinship terminology, and in the systematic performance of certain
kinds of behavior…It is also expressed in the classification of animals and
human beings, in dietary restrictions and culinary customs (Seeger 1981:21).
Recent studies conducted among Amerindian societies of the Amazon have shown
that humans and animals stand as substitutes for one another, and hold equivalent
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