|Self-denomination||Where they are||How many||Linguistic family|
|1.459 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
445 (Colômbia, 1988)
The Miranha people appear in the history of indigenous peoples as a kind of anti-hero. Considered by naturalists as "barbarous" and "anthropophagous", their chiefs became known for selling prisoner enemies, members of rival groups, or even their own children, to the Whites. The impact of nation-state expansion in the 20th Century, however, has made the descendants of these people an ethnically stigmatized group.
Name and language
The term Miranha was employed in colonial society as a generic classifier, which encompassed enemy tribes, whose languages were mutually incomprehensible (for more information on the tribal designation, see the item "The formation of Miranha lands").
The Miranha language is considered a very close variant of the Bora language, which belongs to a set of languages strictly related amongst themselves, which, in turn, are part of the family to which the Uitoto language belongs.
The Miranha language is currently not used among the Miranha in Brazil who communicate in Portuguese, although there still are in Brazil former speakers of this language and their descendants. They know that in Colombia, there exist Miranha groups who continue to communicate in the native language. In Brazil, they nourish a long-time interest in maintaining an exchange with the Colombian Miranha, declaring that they would like to "bring a teacher from there who could teach the Miranha language" in the school.
Nevertheless, as frontier conflicts strongly influence "Brazilian" and "Colombian" nationalities on the local scene, this accentuates the contrast in identities between the "Brazilian Miranha" and the "Colombian Miranha", thus presenting difficulties for this type of exchange, which is not looked upon well by the FUNAI and other local actors.
The existence of Miranha indigenous territories was recognized by the Indian Protection Service on the middle Solimões and Japurá back in the first decades of the 20th Century. The Méria Indigenous Land(municipality of Alvarães, on the middle Solimões, AM) was demarcated in 1929, by that agency, with an área of 585.49 hectares and a perimeter of 12 kilometers (being ratified only in 1993). The Miratu Indigenous Land(municipality of Uarini, on the middle Solimões, AM) was demarcated in 1982, by the FUNAI, with an area of 13,198.78 hectares and a perimeter of 48 kilometers (ratified in 1991). The delimitation of the Cuiú-Cuiú Indigenous Land(municipality of Maraã, on the Japurá, AM), which has an area of 38,310 hectares and perimeter of 112 kilometers, was officially recognized in 1998 and ratified in 2003, overlaying the Amanã Sustainable Development reserve, contiguous with the Mamirauá sustainable Reserve.
The existence of these people in this territory predates the establishment of the national borders, and, these days, members of the group live not only in Brazil but also in Colombia, where there are around 600 Miranha, 600 Bora and 1,900 Uitoto. In Peru, there are around 2,000 Bora and 1,000 Uitoto Indians. Although the Miranha in Brazil and Colômbia are not in direct contact, their common origin leads them to consider themselves as the same people.
The Miranha population units are not closed, but rather are movable social networks that function within a dynamic process of interactions. The demarcation of lands has not meant for the Miranha their restriction to isolated areas: they are part of a rural-urban circuit both in terms of their "business affairs" (sale of manioc cereal, castanha, fruits and fish), in their search for services - above all, health and education.
It may be seen that on the Miratu Indigenous Land, there has been an oscillation in population since the records of the 1980s. In 1982, in Miratu there were records for 282 residents. In 1985, the year of demarcation of the indigenous land, there were 350 people, this number being reduced, by 1989, to 262 people. In February, 1999, the UNI-Tefé calculated that there were 290 people in Miratu. In 1982, the Méria Indigenous Land had 77 people, this number having decreased, according to the data of the UNI-Tefé to the present population of 26 people. In part, this decrease occurred as a result of internal conflicts which resulted in fissions. As for the Cuiú-Cuiú Indigenous Land, the inverse holds true. In 1989, only three of its residents identified themselves as Miranha. In 1998, the UNI-Tefé counted 150 people, and in 1999, 297 people. This growth cannot be understood in terms of vegetative growth or migration, but rather by the fact that a significant number of residents had assumed Miranha identity, mobilizing themselves organizationally around the issue of the demarcation of Cuiú-Cuiú lands and giving positive worth to this ethnic identity.
Presently, according to the UNI-TEFÉ survey of February, 1999, the Miranha have a total population of 613 people.
History of the contact
The existence of the Miranha came to be more systematically observed from the time of the naturalist travellers. In the reports of these travellers, the Miranha tuxauas (chiefs or "headmen") became known for their selling slaves of enemy "tribes" and also their own children to the merchants of Tefé. The slaves were acquired to serve as common laborers for families of Tefé, and the women, in general, became concubines. The Miranha thus participated in the mercantile relations of colonial society, including the "sale of slaves", which were frequently traded for iron tools.
They maintained their traditional territory, however, which was seen as a "no-man's land" disputed by the colonial States, as Martius noted in the report of his voyage in 1820 to Araraquara Rapida, on the upper Japurá, or Caquetá River, in present-day Colombian territory. The Miranha whom Martius met there lived in what appeared to have been their traditional habitat for a long time. In the eyes of the naturalist, the tribes nearby lived in a constant state of war, and bore distinctive markings by which they recognized each other upon meeting each other either alone or in bands, during their hunts. According to Martius, the Miranha disfigured their face boring holes in their nostrils and putting wooden cylinders or shells in the holes. Consequently, they bore the distinctive trait of widening the nostrils. The "signal drum", a large drum carved out of a single treetrunk, was used as an instrument for long-distance communication.
The naturalist highlighted their custom of eating enemies killed in war. But they began to give preference to selling prisoners, as a known and feared chief revealed to him (the chief was known not only among the Miranha, but throughout the region, for his courage in enslaving enemies both from his own tribe and from neighboring tribes, and for his skill in selling them to the Whites). His supremacy was gained from this commerce with the Whites, which he controlled in the name of all other groups, and which he imposed among his fellow tribesmen.
Impacts of the Rubber Boom
Having survived commercial expansion, the Miranha were brutally affected by the exploitation of rubber. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Koch-Grünberg, when he visited the Japurá and the Apaporis, described villages abandoned as a result of fear of the Colombians, and reported that many Miranha had been killed in their traditional territory, the Cahuinari River, in the watershed between the Caquetá and the Putumayo; a region which was at that time in dispute between Colombia and Peru. Violence and terror spread throughout Amazônia. Many Miranha were taken from the Japurá, to rivers such as the Purus, Juruá, Jutaí, to work in rubber extraction.
The genocide committed by the Casa Arana, a Peruvian rubber-gathering company the principal shareholders of which lived in England, was widely denounced in the press at the time, and documented by Ethnology. Miranha acts of resistance were nevertheless left on record, which can be compared with their oral histories. The Miranha remember their leaving the Japurá, in statements by indigenous witnesses and their descendants, as a flight from the "Colombian Indian killers". According to current Colombian studies, the network of exploiters of indigenous labor permeated the entire Colombian political field, including even the President of Colombia, Rafael Reyes (1904-1909), who was accused of "treason to the Country" in a criminal process against the Colombian rubber bosses, who had connections with him and who "rented" territory which was considered Colombian, to the Peruvian company. Mercantile operations also involved Brazil, according to consular documents stored in the Historical Archives of Itamaraty, in Rio de Janeiro.
The Brazilian government was accused of conniving with the "traffic", or secret transportation of Miranha Indians to slave labor in the Brazilian rubber-stands. Despite the denunciations in Colombia of participation by the Brazilian government in questionable business dealings, the diplomatic relations of Peru and Colombia with Brazil were friendly, above all because of access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Amazon River, which had been open to international navigation since 1873.
In 1929, the SPI (Indian Protection Service) recognized the indigenous lands of Méria and Miratu, and demarcated the first. This act represented a counter-proposal against the denunciations that merchants "were trafficking" Miranha slaves, and the demand on the part of the Colombians for their "repatriation". The border marks between Brazil and Colombia were set in 1936, less than a decade after the recognition of Miranha territories. The Brazilian state manifested its recognition of the citizenship rights of those who had been transported to Brazilian territory. On the Japurá River, frequently cited as a route for irregular business, the state of Amazonas limited its actions to subsidizing a regular navigation line by steamboat up to the port of Jubará, which was the last stop for legalized commerce.
The last festivals
The festivals of the past, which supposedly lasted for several days and nights, were described by the naturalists in terrifying ways. From the point of view of "civilization", at that time considered the highest level to be attained, "savage" customs, and the "merrymaking" spiced by the uncontrolled enjoyment of sensuality, the demonstrations of warrior strength and challenge on the part of the chief and the group were all transformed into a single body social through dance and songs presenting in succession the names of ferocious animals. There also have been recorded, from those who knew the "ancient ways", the custom of periodic meetings to discuss war, hunting and business, as well as the use of the "signal drum" and the "tobacco-lick", a kind of paste prepared from tobacco which was passed around among the assembled men who licked it in order to seal an alliance or a decision taken. Today, the elder men remember the dances and festivals with a certain nostalgia, as a time when they lived without fear or shame of the stigma associated with their name. They see the ancestors as "others", and give their reasons for having left the ancient customs behind, which nevertheless are maintained alive in their memories and transmitted from the Elder to the younger generations.
Since the Indian in general was considered inferior and constantly cheated, the Miranha sent their sons to learn the "White man's language", because they believed that in this way they would not be deceived. With the passage of time, the succeeding generations continued to lose the indigenous language and abandon the ancient festivals. Today they retain the memory of the conflicts, and proudly hold on to what they conquered. Today, the fact of their being Brazilian citizens does not prevent them from defending the territorial and ethnic boundaries, which provide them with a guarantee of their access to land the right to be recognized as different.
The formation of Miranha lands
The Miranha lands are located on the banks of darkwater lakes, the vegetation of which, called araparizal, is covered during the flood season thus protecting the houses against the entrance of undesired intruders. The present Miranha "villages" consist of clusters of residential groups on the "banks" of the lakes and streams, which do not differ greatly from other neighboring groups who are not recognizably indigenous. Like them, the Miranha live in houses built on stilts, following the regional custom.
The Miranha of the Solimões state that their lands were formed, ever since the beginning, in areas where indigenous peoples of distinct "nations" lived. They received the name of Miranha, but they included individuals of different ethnic origins, who had fled from the "forced labor" of the cities, especially the Issé and the Maku, among others.
During the rubber boom, Miranha lands were sought by fugitives from the exploitation of caucho who had been forced to abandon their traditional territory in search of better living conditions. Not only the Miranha, but also Uitoto, Carapanã and others were forced into this situation. Despite this, they all came to receive the name Miranha, both because this was the name of the historically predominant ethnic group, and because their principal chiefs were of this group, including Trovão, Manoel Alfredo, Mariano and Gregório Monteiro. Gregório Monteiro was called "Paisano"[fellow countryman] because he was removed when he was a child from his traditional land and from living together with his immediate kin, and raised in caucho work-camps among the Peruvians. Moving to the Japurá, he initially lived in Cuiú-Cuiú, and later in Miratu.
In Jubará, on the Japurá River, there still exists an old barracão [rubber shed], which served as residence for the bosses and center of a "trading post" where Miranha intermediaries did business. Miranha territory, the present-day Cuiú-Cuiú Indigenous Lands, was formed in a contiguous area, where these intermediaries lived with their families, protected and dependent. At the present time, there are no relations of exploitation between the Whites of Jubará and the Miranha of Cuiú-Cuiú, for both depend on the river merchants who connect them to the network of exploitation and mercantile commerce of the products of extraction.
The elders relate that there are roads, that is, overland trails in the middle of the forest, between Miratu and Méria, which have been traversed on foot ever since the early formation of the indigenous lands. The Miranha of the Solimões travelled on these roads to participate in meetings, festivals and disputes with outside agents, to defend and guarantee their territories, which neighboring peoples were forced to respect. Although the Miranha established relations with the White merchants, for which SPI representatives and the Indians themselves served as intermediaries.
It is very common, however, for the Miranha to aspire to have a house in the neighboring urban centers: Tefé, Alvarães or Uarini. The tendency to urbanization of the Indians, however, does not necessarily result in their break with indigenous territories. Despite having a house in the city, they go on making gardens on indigenous lands and develop trade relations with kin and affines who live there, providing housing for the children who reach highschool and need to study in the city. In Tefé, they easily find individuals who are recognized as Miranha with kin in Miratu, Méria, and other communities which are not recognized as indigenous, such as the "community" of Perseverança.
The Miranha who live in the cities frequently refer to Miratu and Méria as "my village", for they trade with the Miranha who live there, and "my property", claiming rights over gardens and scrub forest that they say they still possess in those areas. They also say that they have plantations in other rural areas near Tefé, which causes conflict when others appear who also say they are "owners". In the same network of relations, individuals who are recognized as kin of the Miranha state that they are descendants of Maku, Uitoto and Mura, saying that they prefer life in the city to facing the conflicts and hard work of cultivating the land.
The social organization of Miranha lands today, has been structured in terms of a chief whose main activity is mediating the interests of the group and outside interests, such as local and extra-local merchants and representatives of the national society. The chief, known as "tuxaua" (a term used by the regional society) or "captain" (a term used in present indigenist policy), is elected by members of the group and exercises power, the attributes of which include domineering roles such as "the boss" and the "master". The limits of a chief's political power in relation to external agencies is determined by his internal political participation in the group, which removes him from office if he does not satisfy the interests of its members. The Miranha thus have a certain autonomy in relation to the FUNAI, the Indigenist Pastoral group of the Catholic Church, and even the Union of Indigenous Nations, an organization that represents the indigenous peoples of the region polarized by the city of Tefé.
The chief acts in the sense of constituting communitarian forms of organization which are differentiated from other non-indigenous communitarian organizations. The notion of the "indigenous community" defined by the Federal Constitution of 1988 as a legal subject, bestows on it a political and organizational reality which other local associations do not seem to have. This reality, nevertheless, is subject to the particular circumstances and motivation which do or do not result in ethnic mobilization.
The indigenous movement in Tefé was initially stimulated by the organization of indigenous assemblies. Thus, the 1st Meeting of Tuxauas of the Middle Solimões was held in Miratu during Indian week in 1979, with the support of the Indigenist Pastoral group of the Prelacy of Tefé and, besides the Miranha of the Solimões, counted on the participation of the Mayorúna, Cambeba, Caixana, Ticuna, Canamari, Kulina and others. From then on, Miranha mobilization began to become visible. One of their principal leaders, Lino Pereira Cordeiro, had connections with the labor unions in Manaus, and became publicly known after a pronouncement he made on alliances between Indians and unionized non-Indians, which he presented to the Pope in his visit to Manaus in 1980. In the same year, he was elected tuxaua of Miratu and participated in national meetings of indigenous leaders. He was chosen as Secretery-General of the Union of Indigenous Nations, in 1981, in São Paulo, in a meeting that included 73 participants of 32 peoples. Traditional chiefs, in an indigenous assembly held in Aquidauana, MS, questioned the legitimacy of this meeting. The board of directors elected in São Paulo in 1982, with the support of indigenist organizations, organized the 1st Meeting of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, held in Brasília between June 7 and 9, 1982, during which a commission which represented the indigenous peoples of Brazil was formed, in which Lino Cordeiro continued to perform the role of Secretery General. With his frequent journeys to Brasília, his legitimacy came to be questioned in Miratu. He returned to the area, gave up being chief and became distant from the indigenous organizations on the regional and national levels. Even after twenty years, he is sought by the Miranha of Miratu to settle local-level questions, although he no longer exercises the role of chief. Presently, he is active in an association of rural producers in the municipality of Uarini.
If the Miranha were for a long time - at least in the 19th and 20th centuries - the best known Indians of the middle Solimões, today their importance has become relative to the mobilization of representatives of other ethnic groups who have become politically organized and whose territorial rights have been recognized by the FUNAI and other representatives of Brazilian society and the indigenous movement.
Despite the fact that they are not presently part of the board of directors of the UNI-Tefé, the Miranha also participate through elected representatives, in other organizations on the regional level, such as the AMINS (Association of Indigenous Women of the Middle Solimões), the COPIAR (Comission of Indigenous Teachers of Amazonas, Roraima and Acre), the CAPOIB (Coordinating Comission of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Brazil) and the COIAB (Coordenting Committee of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon).
The indigenous peoples represented in the UNI-Tefé hold bimonthly organizing meetings, biannual assemblies on the Middle Solimões and Japurá, and bi-annual general assemblies. They seem, however, not to circumscribe their territoriality to the rural circuits of the interior of the State, where they are subordinate to unequal relations of domination and subjection, but rather they opt to search for political and institutional channels of participation, being active in labor union politics and in the Chamber of Councilmen of Alvarães, their representatives having participated in the elaboration of the Basic Law of the Municipalities of Tefé and Alvarães.
The Miranha of the lower Japurá, who until now had maintained contact with the Miranha, Cambeba e Mayorúna of the Solimões, but did not declare their identity, from 1991, along with the Canamari, became part of the Indigenous Committee of the Japurá, connected with the UNI-Tefé, but as an autonomous organization.
With their crises of representation, the Miranha, who in other moments had assumed the leadership of the indigenous movement on the middle Solimões, became distant, after the demarcation of their lands, from the discussions concerning the composition of the indigenous organizations. One cannot fail to see their history, however, as a significant example of struggle for citizenship rights by a people marked by the stigma of alterity, despite the recognition of their Brazilian nationality and the discourse of national construction materialized in local practices of official indigenist policy. In this way their social place was created. However, the recognition of their particularity and the guarantee of their basic rights are far from being concretely established.
Note on the sources
These people first became known in the history of the Ethnology of Amazonas through the reports of the naturalist-travellers, such as Martius and Bates, and the ethnologist Koch-Grünberg (1910). The historical record of their dislocation from their territory by the Casa Arana, on the Putumayo (documented by Casement and Hardenburg, in 1912) and later resettlement in bordering countries, such as Brazil, is found in historical sources of the Archives of Itamaraty. The genocide and regime of terror which reigned on the Putumayo at the height of the rubber boom are themes which were discussed recently in the works of Michael Taussig. The Miranha are frequently cited in the texts of the missionary and ethnologist Tastevin, who explored the region in the beginning of the 20th Century. Recently, the importance of the Miranha for indigenous history in Brazil was highlighted by Arnaud (1974) and, on the Caquetá, was studied by European and Colombian Americanists (especially Guyot and Pineda Camacho. Since 1981, Priscila Faulhaber has dedicated her work to the study of problems related to these people, which is the topic of her Master's dissertation and one of the focuses of her Doctoral thesis, both published (1987 e 1998), and has elaborated anthropological papers both of a theoretical nature as well as for a wider distribution.
Sources of information
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- BATES, H. W. Um naturalista no rio Amazonas. São Paulo : CEN, 1944.
- CASEMENT, Roger. The Putumayo indians. The Contemporary Rewiew, Londes : s.ed., n. 102, p. 317-28, 1912.
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. Entrosando : questões indígenas em Tefé. Belém : MPEG, 1987.
. Índios civilizados : etnia e alianças em Tefé. Brasília : UnB, 1983. 248 p. (Dissertação de Mestrado)
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. Terra devastada. In: RICARDO, Carlos Alberto (Ed.). Povos Indígenas no Brasil : 1987/1990. São Paulo : Cedi, 1991. p. 259-63. (Aconteceu Especial, 18)
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. Le travail du caoutchouc chez les indiens Bora et Miraña. Journal de la Sociétè des Américanistes, Paris : Sociétè des Américanistes, n. 61, p. 177-214, 1972.
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. El sendero del arco íris : notas sobre el simbolismo de los negocios en una comunidad amazónica. Rev. Colombiana de Antropologia, Bogotá : Colcultura, n. 22, p. 29-58, 1979.
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. A formação de uma aldeia do Solimões (Nogueira). Rev. do Museu Paulista, São Paulo : Museu Paulista, v. 14, p. 635-49, 1926.
. La légende du Grand Serpent en Amazonie. Société Française d’Ethnographie, Paris : Librairie Emile Larose, s.n., p. 172-206, 1925.
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. Le merveilleux développement de l’agriculture toujous "précolombienne" des indiens insoumis de l’Amazonie brésilienne. Revue Anthropologique, Paris : Institut International d’Anthropologie, v. 1, n. 1, p. 169-77, jun. 1955.
. The Midle Amazon : its people and geography. Washington : Office for Emergency Management, 1943.
- TAUSSIG, Michael. Xamanismo, colonialismo e o homem selvagem : um estudo sobre o terror e a cura. São Paulo : Paz e Terra, 1993.
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