Foto: Michel Pellanders, 1987

Arara

  • Autodenominação
    Ukaragma
  • Where they are How many

    PA363 (Siasi/Sesai, 2012)
  • Linguistic family
    Karib

Contact with nacional society

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The history of contact between the Arara and Brazilian national society is relatively long. Reports as early as the 1850s mention peaceful contacts between the Arara Indians and settlers along the shores of the Xingu and Iriri rivers near to Altamira. In 1853 they figured for the first time in the official registers, detailed in the reports of the President of Pará Province, after appearing peacefully on the lower Xingu river. In 1861 an Arara group stayed for about ten days among rubber tappers below the Large Waterfall on the Iriri.

In 1873, Bishop Dom Macedo Costa took some Arara to Belém. Between 1889 and 1894, they were persecuted by rubber tappers in the watershed region between the Amazon and Xingu/Iriri. During his 1896 expedition, Coudreau met only one Arara woman, but collected further information about them: their peaceful character and nomadic exploration of the entire Xingu and Iriri region, the famed beauty of their women, their miscegenation with other indigenous peoples and, above all, about the existence of 'wild Arara.' In the first decades of the 20th century, the Arara even visited the town of Altamira at different opportunities.

At various moments of their history, many Arara subgroups were forced to undertake small migrations within the wide territory they occupied, whether in response to attacks by other indigenous groups (mainly Kayapó and Juruna), or due to persecutions by rubber tappers, hunters and settlers. From the beginning of the 1950s, big cat hunters and rubber tappers on the Iriri accidentally encountered the Arara, who until the end of the decade used to appear in former village sites by the shores of the river.

In 1961, the Arara were attacked by the Altamira Police, who harassed the Indians in revenge for the death of a pet animal belonging to a settler from the outskirts of the town. In 1963, turtle hunters travelling upriver on the Penetecaua were attacked by the Indians, who felled trees to block the channel and ambush the hunters. In 1964, the adventurer Afonos Alves da Cruza followed the trails left by the Penetecaua Indians: they were wide, long and clear of vegetation, giving the impression of a sizeable population in continual transit. The swiddens were also impressive. He estimated the group's number to be above 300 individuals. The years 1964 and 1965 saw an enormous movement by a large Kayapó group (Kubenkankren) within the same region, giving rise to their biggest conflicts with the Arara. These conflicts with the Kayapó still persist in the Arara memory and imagination as the cause of the flight, separation and disappearance of several of the past local groups.

The final years of the 1960s saw a profound change to the dynamic throughout the entire region close to the town of Altamira, due to the start of construction work on the Transamazonian highway and the radical transformation of the region's profile. Planned to pass exactly along the watershed of the Xingu/Iriri and Amazon rivers (given its better geo-morphological suitability for the construction of a road that was intended to endure) , the Transamazonian ended up imposing itself as a previously non-existent spatial 'barrier.' In bisecting the territory traditionally used and occupied by the Arara (the watershed region), the new highway became a visible limit to the possibility of interaction between various subgroups. The impact caused by the implementation of the new projects related to constructing the Transamazonian highway on the Arara's traditional way of life mainly affected the local groups' pattern of spatial dispersion and political articulation and the possibility of intensive exploration of the different ecotypes (micro-environments along the creeks belonging to the Amazon and Xingu/Iriri basins). The most evident outcomes of the projects that came in the wake of the new highway were: (a) the strategic clustering of various local groups in proximate villages as a means of confronting the pressures from non-indigenous penetration into the region; and (b) the limiting of usable territory to the Xingu/Iriri basin, with the restriction on access to the majority of the creeks of the Amazon basin (located to the north of the highway) and the consequent loss of flexibility in the utilization of the different ecotypes.