Foto: Adelino de Lucena Mendes, 2002

Kanoê

  • Other names
    Canoe, Kapixaná, Kapixanã
  • Where they are How many

    RO282 (Siasi/Sesai, 2012)
  • Linguistic family
    Kanoe

The Kanoê of the Omerê River

In contrast with the inhabitants of the banks of the Guaporé, this Kanoê group is considered a group of "isolated Indians" by the Funai, having been contacted by them only in 1995, after ten years of attempts by the contact front (today called the Ethnoenvironmental Protection Front). The group consists of a single family, comprised of the mother, Tutuá, about 50 years old; a daughter, Txinamanty, about 30 years old; a son,

Purá, around 25 years old; and two grandsons, one of whom is called Operá, five years old, whose father is Babá, the chief of the Akuntsu, another very much reduced "isolated" indigenous group on the Omerê. The other child was born in the beginning of 2002. In the beginning of 2003, Tutuá and the boy Operá, then seven years old, gotten malaria (a febrile disease) and died.

This family is monolingual in Kanoê and, having fled into a forest reserve of a ranch, they were able to survive from direct contact with the white man, despite the massacres which resulted in the near dissolution of the group.

Back in 1943 in the report of Estanislau Zack to the Rondon Commission, it was recorded that there were Kanoê Indians located on the left bank of the Omerê River, tributary of the left bank of the Corumbiara (Cf. Maldi, 1991:263). Much later, in the mid-70s, the Funai was informed about the possible presence of isolated indigenous groups in the region of Corumbiara. In 1984, reports pointed to the existence of Indians in the forest reserves of areas that were being deforested by the lumber industry and to form cattle ranches, although local ranchers guaranteed that there were no more Indians in the region. In 1985 the Contact Front was created which officially initiated the work of contact and in 1986, an area of 63,900 hectares and 103 kilometers perimeter was interdicted for the attraction of isolated Indians. Since then, attempts have not ceased to destroy whatever vestiges of Indians by clearing the forest, constructing roads and attacking with tractors at the order of the ranchers. However, by means of aireal and land incursions, the contact team found various indications of indigenous presence such as gardens, trails, traps, dwellings, and articles of clothing.

The indigenists even gathered various statements from Indians and ranchhands. Several ranchhands affirmed that there were gunmen killing the Indians who sought to stop the cutting of the trees. A Sabanê Indian woman (Nambiquara branch) reported the visit of three unknown Indians: an old man, an old woman and a girl about 13 years old, armed with bow and arrow and carrying a Mamaindê (nambiquara) basket, which they found on the riverbank, a gourd with honey and another with collars of black shells. They also carried a stone and stick with artifacts to make fire. They said they were looking for companions who had dispersed more than a week before, when, one night, they were forced to flee by a tractor that bulldozed their houses and cut through the middle of their gardens.

In May, 1986, the federal judge of Porto Velho deferred a Security Order, petitioned by the ranchers of the interdicted area, ordering the suspension of the President of Funai's decree. But the indigenist agency appealed and the interdiction was maintained. The indigenist Sidney Possuelo was then put in charge of coordinating the work of locating the Indians. In his report, he declared that the area was being intensely cut up by roads used for removing lumber in all directions, with a large number of trucks passing through, hundreds of workers, planes constantly flying over the region and deforestations of more than 30 kilometers long. Possuelo then concluded that the area where there were the most vestiges of Indians had been totally devastated, but that until recently it had been inhabited by a much reduced indigenous group which possibly had abandoned the region, pressed by the circumstances. Thus, in December of the same year, the interdiction of the area was lifted, and the ranchers regained ownership of the area.

However, the indigenists of the Contact Front, Marcelo dos Santos and Altair Algayer, did not give up their investigations. Extra-officially, in the following years they continued searching for and getting together evidence, raising hypotheses and getting around the obstacles set up by lumbermen, landjumpers and cattle-ranchers. In 1993, the indigenists began to rely on a valuable resource: recent satellite images made it possible to cross with precision accumulated evidence of the presence of the Indians with strips of forest left from the clearings of the ranches. Then they began systematic tracking of these regions of the forest. On the first two expeditions they found nothing. They tried a third time and the evidence appeared again. Finally, they located on a satellite image a red dot (sign of deforestation) the size of a pinhead, in the middle of a strip of forest six by four kilometers. They marked the coordinates and the team confirmed the location of the village.

One month later, in September 1995, they prepared a new expedition, this time certain that contact would occur. They called reporters and, with the help of a compass, they found the village four days later. The first contacts were amply publicized in the press, especially by the journal O Estado de São Paulo, by the magazine Veja and by the TV Globo program Fantástico, with images produced by Vincent Carelli, anthropologist and cameraman of the Center for Indigenist Work/SP who had followed the case since the 80s.

According to the report by Pablo Pereira, journalist of O Estado present on the occasion, on the top of a slope two Indians covered with adornments appeared. They seemed withdrawn. He, about 1.60 meters high. She, shorter, dark skin, barefoot, carrying bows and arrows. They talked loudly in an unknown language. By means of gestures, the members of the Contact Front tried to demonstrate that the visit was peaceful. The first steps of the couple were timid. The woman began a cerimony in which she appeared to grasp evil spirits in the air and blow them into the forest. On aproaching the whites, they touched their arms and hands. The woman trembled. The man babbled an unintelligible sound. Later, all of them smiled. The Indians indicated the presence of another group in the same area, which they referred to as "Akuntsu". In fact, a month later, contact with the Akuntsu was made.

After the contact was proved, the area was again interdicted, a decade after the first interdiction. The ranchers reacted immediately, trying to spread a version that the contact announced by the Funai was a farce, set up with Indian actors. They even went to the village of the recently contacted Indians, accompanied by the Cinta-larga, to tape a counter-proof in video. After that, they requested from the Villas-Boas brothers an opinion with regard to the truth of both tapes, accompanied by a "present" of a new video cassete. The indigenists preferred to watch the tapes on their old machine and attested to the veracity of Carelli's material, as well as the images made at the ranchers' orders, with induced questions and reactions. Later, the "present" was returned intact.

After this episode, the Federal Police in Rondônia opened an investigation of the charge of genocide against the Indians, based on the accusation that the ranchers took Cinta-larga infected by flu to contact the Kanoê, who had as yet not been immunized.

After that, contact of the Funai team with the Indians came to be more frequent, although they were still not identified ethnolinguistically. At the time of first contact, the Funai did not have any indigenous interpreters. From the recordings made by Vincent Carelli, interpreters of the Mequém language, another people whose survivors live in indigenous areas of Rondônia, were tested but without results.

The indigenist Inês Hargreaves collected a list of 123 palavras by means of contact with two Indian women of the group, which allowed Nilson Gabas Jr., linguist of the Museu Goeldi of Belém, to identify a great proximity with the Kanoê language. An elderly man of about 70 years of age, who spoke the Kanoê language - a language considered by linguists to be practically extinct - fluently, was quickly located on the Guaporé Indigenous Land. With the good understanding that Munuzinho Kanoê had of the tape recordings, and the answers the Indians gave on contact with him, the Indians were identified as Kanoê.

A Funai camp was set up at the entrance to one of the forest reserves, on the banks of a small stream, tributary of the Omerê. A medical and a dental team began making regular monthly visits to the village and a nursing assistant, trained in first aid, stays at the camp continuously for three weeks every month. There is even an employee to protect the Indians, in the absence of the chief, from eventual interferences by curious outsiders or intruders (such as cowhands, lumbermen, and extractors of palm cabbage), as well as to keep watch over the camp for possible retaliations by annoyed landholders and lumbermen.

In January, 1999, a technical group was formed to define the limits of the Omerê Indigenous Land, inhabited by the Kanoê and Akuntsu, which delimited an area with 26,000 hectares and 81 kilometers perimeter. The Land was declared official by the Ministry of Justice in december of 2002 and awaits homologation by the President of Republic.