From Povos Indígenas no Brasil
Photo: Milton Guran, 1979

Manchineri

Self-denomination Where they are How many Linguistic family

The Manchineri share with the Piro, in Peruvian Amazonia, the same Arawak language (from the Maipure branch) and much of their sociocosmological system, and can be considered groups that comprise or once comprised part of the same people. In Brazil, most of the Manchineri inhabit the Mamoadate Indigenous Territory, though there are still many families living in rubber extraction areas (seringais) in Acre, especially within the Chico Mendes Extractivist Reserve.

Location and environment

Foto: Tony Gross, 1979.
Foto: Tony Gross, 1979.

The Manchineri currently occupy part of the southern region of the state of Acre in Brazil and other points in Peru and Bolivia. In Brazil, the Manchineri people are today spread between the Mamoadate Indigenous Territory (IT) and the Manchineri of the Guanabara ''Seringal'' (Rubber Extraction Area) IT, as well as smaller numbers on the São Francisco and Macauã rivers, and in the city of Assis Brasil.

Generally speaking, the natural environment occupied by the Manchineri is divided by them into three groups: rivers, open fields and forest. Historically the Manchineri have used these three environments ever since they occupied the region.

The rivers and forests are fairly fixed locations without large seasonal variations in their positions. The open fields, however, are located by river shores and generally only appear in the summer period. As they comprise floodplains inundated during the rainy season, when the river level falls part of the terrain that had been flooded is occupied by a variety of grasses. In these locations, grazing animals, such as deer, and others that live close to the river, like capybara, are found with some frequency and hunted.

Overall, the forest is divided into: restinga – forest without taboca (a type of spiny bamboo), clear of undergrowth, easy to walk through and abundant in game, which comprises the oldest vegetation, closest to ecological climax. These forests are generally some distance from the point of human occupation. In direct opposition is the forest with taboca, sparsely occupied by small and medium-sized trees and comprising newer vegetation. This forest is more common on the side of trails, around swiddens and where the latter have been abandoned. There is also a transitional space of mixed forest where the taboca forest has completed its lifecycle and begun to die, allowing taller forest to grow, though as yet with few or no large trees.

Funai created the Mamoadate Indigenous Territory in 1975. The sertanista José Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Jr. was responsible for transferring the Indians from the Guanabara Seringal, setting for an intense conflict between extractivists and landowners caused by the fact that vast areas were being sold to cattle ranchers from the south of the country.

The Mamoadate IT is 313,647 ha in size and located next to the Iaco river (whose headwaters are found in Peru), beginning at the Mamoadate creek and extending as far as Brazil’s border with Peru. The following villages are located within the IT: Peri, Jatobá, Santa Tereza, Santa Cruz, Laranjinha, Senegal, Cumaru, Lago Novo and Extrema. Apart from Senegal, all are located on the right shore of the Iaco river (Haverroth 1999).

The Guanabara Seringal is situated in the northwest part of the Chico Mendes Extractivist Reserve and is officially under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Sena Madureira. There the Manchineri inhabit the following settlements: Altamira, Mamoal, Água Boa, Samaúma, Javali, Mutum, Boa Vista, Natal, Paxiubal, Divisão de Guanabara, Mantiqueira and Livramento (Haverroth 1999).

History

The nineteenth century explorer Antônio Loureiro identified the Manchineri as natural inhabitants of the Macauã and Caiaté rivers, absent from the Iaco in the 1880s (Gonçalves 1991). Manchineri people aged around 90 years old contradict this information, however, since they claim that they always lived there and that their parents and grandparents had occupied that area for a long time. According to their estimates, in the past there were something like 2,000 people occupying the region from the upper Iaco, from Abismo creek, to what is today the Nova Olinda Seringal, even reaching as far as Sena Madureira.

Also according to the Manchineri, prior to the intense contact with the extractivist fronts, they were divided into Manchineri, Hijiuitane, Uinegeri, Cuchixineri, Hahamlineri and Iamhageri. They formed the Yineri (derived from the word Yine, ‘us’), living close to each other and marrying between themselves. The anthropologist Peter Gow describes a similar situation for the ancient Piro, who rather than living as a single people, were divided into many groups or neru. Each group had a name, such as the Manxineru (Tamamuri tree people), Koshichineru (small bird people), Nachineru (hungry people), Getuneru (toad people) and Gimnuneru (snake people). However, according to Gow (1991:63), the Piro say that these groups did not marry between each other. They only began to do so when they were enslaved and forced to live together by the rubber bosses.

The 19th century saw the start of the large-scale invasions of the region when the Indians began to suffer the horrors of the correrias (massacres). Pressure came from two directions: from Peru towards Brazil, by caucho rubber extractors, and from the Amazon towards Bolivia, by rubber tappers, who also settled their families in the region. At first the Indians were not incorporated as a workforce in the extraction, but as forest guides in the quest for new rubber areas. Only when the crisis hit (caused by the fall in the product’s commodity price) were they encouraged to extract rubber.

According to the Manchineri, rubber transformed their way of life, provoking inter and intragroup conflicts and the dispersal of their ancestors, Yineri. There was a long conflict with the Bolivians and Peruvians, who tried to expel them from their lands and later enslaved them for work in rubber extraction, agriculture, supplying game and fish, as well as domestic tasks. Batista & Roquete Pinto in 1926 provided a good sketch of the overall situation:

“The Maneteneris are the most warlike group of their region. Hunters, fishermen, they have quickly become excellent assistants to the rubber tappers, tamers of Acre and builders of the first civilized towns” (in Gonçalves 1991:181).

The next strategy for attempting to control the Indians was the destruction of the malocas, located during this period on the shores of the Iaco river. The Manchineri then began to live alongside different groups, indigenous and non-indigenous. As well as tapping rubber, the men began to fish, remove timber, hunt and even plant for the rubber bosses. Likewise the women began to tend their swiddens and houses.

In the 1940s and 50s, there was a fresh surge in the extractivist industry, leading to the re-occupation of lands previously abandoned. From 1966 onwards the Brazilian government implemented a policy to encourage definitive occupation of these lands with investment in mining, logging and farming. This prompted a period of intense land speculation. The indebted rubber bosses sold large properties to speculators from the south of Brazil. During this period, the high level of land ownership concentration and the consolidation of large properties to be used primarily for cattle ranching produced social conflicts that resulted in the expulsion of settlers and Indians from the former rubber areas (Gonçalves 1991:37).

Land demarcation

The tension began in the 1940s and 50s lasted until the end of the 1970s. In 1975 FUNAI, through the indigenist José Meireles, resolved to remove the Indians from what had become a cauldron of conflicts. Most of the Manchineri who were transferred to the Mamoadate IT were living in the Guanabara Seringal. In 1977 there were 500 Indians living there, including Manchineri and Jaminawa.

The clashes between extractivists and cattle ranchers in the region increased in the 1980s and culminated in the events leading to the death of Chico Mendes, leader of the local union who had fought for the rubber tappers to remain working in the forest, trying to contain the wave of deforestation, and for the later creation of the Extractivist Reserve bearing his name, where the Guanabara Seringal is located. However one family group, which today has very weak kinship ties with the inhabitants of the IT, remained in the seringal.

Social organization

Foto: Milton Guran, 1979.
Foto: Milton Guran, 1979.

Among the Manchineri, the basic house is formed of grandparents and their children and grandchildren. Either they all reside in the same house, or occupy nearby residences at the same site. However, each couple has a separate swidden.

The denominations of the Manchineri kinship categories are listed below. In the first situations, the denominations are independent of ego’s gender. The denomination for the maternal and paternal uncles and aunts is independent of the age relationship between the siblings. Npaliqleru and Npaliqlero are like the children of a given couple, and are prohibited (in the form of an incest taboo) from marrying the couple’s real children, designated by the same name. Marriage is therefore prohibited between parallel cousins. Marriage between cross cousins, on the other hand, is very common, though not a rule.

Another category frequently found among the forest peoples of Acre, including the Manchineri, are the compadres and comadres (godfathers and godmothers). Godparents play a fundamental role in the alliances between families. Compadres are like brothers, a fact that becomes evident in people’s speech when they refer to someone as their compadre. The same occurs among the rubber tappers. Godparents at a child’s baptism and the parents of children who marry both become compadres.  

Shamanism and rituals

Shamanism

 The word for shaman was described to me as Karrunhotí. Gow records the term in Piro as Kagonchi. This figure is found in various circles of Manchineri life.

 

There was the Karrunhotí. He would venture alone into the forest to consume [ayahuasca] vine. He went alone and with whoever he was going to cure into deep forest. He hung a hammock in the trees and drank ayahuasca. The next day the patient was well. And women wouldn’t go on any account. He was the same as the Tuxau [the political chief], he was bigger than the Tuxau. He knew different things to the Tuxau. He would suspend his hammock and begin to sing, and when the time was right he would say ‘come here.’ Then the sick person would come. What he could take out with his hands, he took out; what he couldn’t, he would suck out. The next day the person had improved. He showed what he had pulled out. Karrunhotí killed. When someone died, he would take revenge. They fought among themselves because one would want more power than the other. That’s what they did in the past. My father told me. He said that someone would go hunting, an uncle, a nephew, and he would send a jaguar to accompany him. So if he became lost, the jaguar would appear and say ‘no, the path is right over there!’ The jaguar worked for the Karrunhotí. My father sang, he sang alone like that” (Charuto, son of a famous Manchineri shaman, Ananias Batista).

One of the signals that someone is ready to be initiated in the acquisition of shamanic techniques is the encounter with supernatural beings, such as the Caboclinho do Mato, a small man who lives in the forest. He is responsible for deciding how much game can be hunted. In addition, he is one of the spirits who teach the shaman apprentices. These teachings generally take place during ayahuasca sessions and the encounter with one of these beings during an ordinary state of consciousness is always a somewhat dangerous event. The Caboclinho do Mato was an Indian who transformed into an Enchanted Being after consuming huge amounts of ayahuasca. He was transported to the spiritual world, including his body, without passing through death.

A Karrunhotí acquires his power from a physical or spiritual being. The entire process of forming a Karrunhotí is a means of preparing the body and mind for the knowledge to be perceived and received. Perceiving requires being ready to ready to receive at the right place and the right time, and with a particular state of spirit. This enables a bridge to be formed between worlds, a living bridge taking the form of the shaman, the Karrunhotí.  

Festivals

Traditional festivals include the girl’s initiation ceremony at fifteen years, when she becomes a woman. The girl, Iunaulu, is painted all over by her grandmother with genipap dye on a base of cooked annatto. A festival is then held for the entire village, sponsored by the girl’s parents, which lasts the entire day with large amounts of caiçuma (fermented drink) and food. Gow (1991:130) mentions that this festival to celebrate puberty “is no more than a memory” for today’s Piro. By contrast, for the Manchineri this festivity is the only remnant of any kind of collective ceremony. However this festival only occurs in the villages inside the Indigenous Territory and not in the rubber extraction areas (seringais).

Older people recall another collective event, Hincaclu, a traditional dance of which just a few steps are remembered. Dona Maria Paula recounts:

My grandparents lived on the upper Iaco, where Extrema village is now located, and they danced our real dance from the past. They held each other’s hand and danced. I never saw it, my mother tells me about it. In the past they joked and embraced. My father, the leader, played and there was a lot of food. He played that long bark of the cumaru-de-cheiro [Amburana acreana], the boys arrived from the forest carrying it. My father sang along with the men and women, everyone together. I don’t know the music anymore, my mother knows, I don’t know any. The festival took place when they wanted to play, and they talked with the others and held the dance when they wanted to celebrate.

 

Cosmological aspects

Foto: Milton Guran, 1979.
Foto: Milton Guran, 1979.

For the Manchineri, the ‘other worlds’ are intertwined with this one without any clearly discernible boundaries. These worlds are manifested in accordance with the individual’s state of consciousness. Although alterations to these states do not necessarily involve the use of inebriating substances, their peak comes through the use of ayahuasca, fairly common among the Manchineri.

At the beginning of time, the people of the vine transformed into enchanted beings after they were taken to the sky alive. These beings help the shaman in his tasks. But in order for him to be able to visit the sky, he needs to abstain from the world of hunting. Or he abandons the sky in order to penetrate the universe of hunting. Initiation into shamanism generally turns the shaman into a poor hunter, since he can talk with the animals, recognizing them as kin, making it difficult to kill them.

According to mythology, ayahuasca appears as follows: a shaman encounters a being in the forest, the vine itself, which before identifying itself as such claims to be a woman. The vine tells the shaman how he should prepare it and what he should mix with it – the leaves or other ingredients – in order for it to be fully effective.

As among most Amerindian peoples, many Manchineri myths have jaguars as protagonists, which embody the prototype of the other, whether a stranger or affine. There are narratives of bands of jaguars that attack hunters in the forest, and others that attack malocas. The first Manchineri maloca, says the myth, was destroyed in a jaguar attack. Subsequently a new settlement was started. A woman married an Indian who fails to look after her properly: he doesn’t give her meat and lives away from home. She lives off the manioc that she herself plants. Rummaging through her husband’s things, the woman finds a basket with the bones of Indians of other villages. Is this husband a cannibal, a warrior or a shaman? The fact is that he collects bones and transforms them into flutes.

The woman then encounters a new husband in her own home, a personification of one of the bones, the most beautiful of them all. Tso'lati, the father, emerges in the bone and Tso'lati the son in the woman’s belly. The father is eventually killed by the betrayed husband. But the son survives in the womb. The mother is expelled from home and the unborn son guides her as she wanders through the forest, until the woman, tired of the talk from her son still inside her womb, thumps her belly. The child becomes angry, stops guiding his mother and the woman becomes lost, arriving at the village of the jaguars where she dies, though not before giving birth to eight sons.

Tso’lati lives in constant hunger until he discovers his origin and the identity of his true mother. He begins to scheme his revenge against those who killed his mother and gradually, primarily though joking behaviour that the jaguars are unable to imitate, the brothers end up killing the entire band of jaguars. Amid this killing, Tso’lati transforms into a god. A god who avenges the death of his mother and becomes an example for the ancient people, who used to flee from their enemies to survive.

In another myth, a jaguar finds a enchanting girl and takes her away. At first her brothers (she was an orphan and was raised by her already married brothers) were not bothered much by her disappearance, but later decided to search for her. They meet monkeys on the path who tell theme that the girl has already transformed into a jaguar. They find her and end up following her to the place where she is now living with the jaguars. Suspicious of her company, they are invited to sleep there. During the night they flee in fear, calling their sister to return with them. But she declines since she had already turned definitively into a jaguar.

Hence living with others transforms the person, the body being moulded by the universe in which the person is inserted. The person migrates through the world, eating other foods and living with other people. Over time the person eventually transforms, adopting the typical form of the culture where he or she is now living. But, according to the Manchineri, the incorporation of salt in people’s diets (arising from contact with non-Indians) represents the end of the capacity of humans to transform into other beings. Today humans no longer transform into animals because their bodies contain salt. The appearance of salt breaks the previous continuity between the sweet and the bitter, creating a new symbolic arrangement.

Productive activities

The Manchineri use a variety of hunting techniques. One of them involves the use of personal trails: rather than belonging to anyone, these are personalized by starting on a particular person’s land and are used more or less restrictively, though no permission is required to use them. These trails may be short, about half an hour’s walk in length, or they may run for a longer distance, covering some 3 or 4 hours walk from the house. The hunter may be armed with a rifle or merely a machete, but generally uses dogs.

The worst fate for a hunter is to acquire panema, or bad hunting luck. The animals flee from him and his shots miss their target. He returns home empty-handed and the family’s meal is prepared without the highly valorized meat. To rid himself of panema, he must spread tipi over his entire body (a cultivated plant also used as a fish poison) and drink sanango (another plant, whose leaves are used), an emetic, for ten days running. With each session of vomiting, the hunter’s organism is increasingly purified, expelling whatever was harming him.

Net fishing is another important source of food. People also use hooks and lines, as well as diving and catching fish with a harpoon when the river is low and the water clears. Even if there is no meat to eat (something highly valorized), there is always fish, both in the Iaco river and the creeks and igapós (flooded areas).

The husband works in the swidden when he is not hunting, while his wife spends most of her time there. Women looking after small children do not work in the swidden. As soon as summer begins, around June, it is time to clear the swidden so that by August it will be dry enough to burn. This marks the end of rice harvesting (which began in September). The swidden is burnt in August at the height of summer. After burning, people plant pumpkin, manioc, maize and rice, in that order, followed by papaya and potato (yams). Sometimes people plant sugarcane and peanuts. The look of the crop and the agriculturist’s sensibility determine the time for harvesting. When winter arrives, the old swidden is replanted and weeded.

The current form of agriculture in the IT is extremely similar to that practiced by the inhabitants of the Chico Mendes Reserve. There are just a few small variations in terms of the products.

Sources of information

  • FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio), 1977. Jaminaua e Machineri do Alto Rio Iaco. Brasília: Núcleo de História Indígena e do Indigenismo, Fundação Nacional do Índio, Ministério do Interior.

 

  • GONÇALVES, M. A., 1991. Acre: História e Etnologia. Rio de Janeiro: Núcleo de Etnologia Indígena, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro.

 

  • HAVERROTH, M., 1999. Relatório da Viagem à Terra Indígena Mamoadate. Rio Branco: Comissão Pró-Índio. Programa de Saúde Sujo, Limpo & Contaminado. Capacitação de Agentes de Saúde em Higiene e Saneamento Ambiental e Assistência Primária de Saúde

 

  • MAUÉS, R. H., 1994. Medicinas populares e “pajelança cabocla” na amazônia. In: Saúde e Doença, um Olhar Antropológico (P. C. Alves & M. C. S. Minayo, orgs.), pp. 73-81. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Fiocruz.

 

  • MERCANTE, M. S., 2000. A Seringueira e o Contato: Memória, Conflitos, Situação Atual e Identidade dos Manchineri no Sul do Acre. Florianópolis : UFSC, 2000. (dissertação de mestrado)

 

  • SMA (Secretaria de Meio Ambiente do Estado do Acre), 1991. Áreas de Proteção Ambiental (Mapa). Rio Branco: Governo do Estado do Acre.