From Povos Indígenas no Brasil
Photo: Cloude de Souza Correia, 2001

Nukini

Self-denomination Where they are How many Linguistic family
AC
622 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
Pano

The Nukini form part of the group of Pano-speaking peoples that inhabit the Juruá valley region and that share both very similar ways of life and views of the world, and a devastating history of dispossession, violence and exploitation since the mid-19th century at the hands of the rubber industry. The Terra Indígena Nukini, adjacent to the Serra do Divisor National Park, now forms part of one of the most important protected area mosaics in Brazil. However the Nukini are demanding the expansion of their official territory to cover a part of the National Park. Whether or not the Nukini are successful, the main challenges facing this group will be to ensure its physical and cultural reproduction and to establish good relations with environmentalists and other stakeholders active in the Park. The interests of these do not always coincide with those of the Nukini and there have been a series of conflicts which made mutual dialogue difficult, as well as joint activities to protect the area, constantly threatened by loggers, hunters and drug traffickers.

Population, location and environment

Nukini families are spread out along the Timbaúba, Meia Dúzia, República and Capanawa streams and the left bank of the Môa river. The majority are located inside the Terra Indígena (TI) Nukini, located in the municipality of Mâncio Lima. Approximately 553 Nukini inhabited this TI in 2003. Other members of this people can also be found in other municipalities in the state of Acre, including Cruzeiro do Sul, Rodrigues Alves and Rio Branco.

Acre, the Juruá and the environment

The Terra Indígena Nukini is located in Acre, in the far southwest of the Brazilian Amazon region. The state has international frontiers with Peru and Bolivia and national boundaries with the states of Amazonas and Rondônia. The landscape is mainly composed of sedimentary rocks that form an unbroken platform gently dropping from 300 metres above sea-level at the international boundaries to just above 100 metres at the boundary with the state of Amazonas. In the extreme west the relief is altered by the presence of the Serra do Divisor, an outlier of the Peruvian Contamana range and the highest point in the state, with a maximum altitude of 600 metres.

The soils of Acre are covered by natural vegetation comprised mainly of dense tropical forest and open tropical forest, characterized by floristic diversity of high economic value. The climate is of the tropical hot and humid type, with high temperatures, high levels of precipitation and high relative air humidity. The hydrography of Acre is made up of the Juruá and Purus basins, both right bank tributaries of the Solimões (Amazon) river.

The Juruá basin covers a large area of 250,000 km². The total length of the Juruá is 3,280 km, with a drop of 410 metres. The river rises in Peru at an altitude of 453 metres where it is called the Paxiúba. Downstream from its confluence with Salambô it is known as the Juruá. It crosses the north-western part of the state of Acre is in a south-north direction, subsequently entering the state of Amazonas where it enters the Solimões.

The Juruá has nine main rightbank tributaries: the Breu, Caipora, São João, Acuriá, Tejo, Grajaú, Natal, Humaitá and Valparaíso. There are also nine important leftbank tributaries: the Amônea, Aparição, São Luiz, Paratati, Rio das Minas, Ouro Preto, Juruá-Mirim, Paraná dos Mouras and Môa. The TI Nukini is located on the left bank of the upper Môa.

This TI is part of a mosaic of 25 federal areas on the upper Juruá that make up a large region of socio-environmental importance for their indigenous and regional populations, and where national and international interests converge. These federal areas are made up by a National park, three extractive reserves and 21 Terras Indígenas.

The biodiversity value of the biodiversity of the Serra do Divisor National Park (PNSD) is amongst the highest so far found in the Brazilian Amazon. This biological diversity has been used and conserved for centuries by the resident population of the area, including the Nukini whose lands are home to a large part of the biodiversity.

Name and language

The currently autodenominated Nukini are a people of the Pano linguisic family. It is possible that in the past they used another auto-denomination. In some historical texts the Nukini are also referred to as Inucuini, Nucuiny, Nukuini, Nucuini, Inocú-inins and Remo.

As a result of contact with those involved in the expanding rubber frontier, there are currently few mother tongue speakers of Nukini. Possibly because of having been mocked and discriminated for speaking the language, the Nukini stopped passing on the language to their descendents, thereby creating a younger generation speaking only Portuguese.

Speakers of Pano family languages can be found in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. In Brazil the Pano-speaking groups are found in the south and west of the state of Acre, from where they extend eastwards to western Rondônia and northwards into the area between the Juruá and Javari rivers in the state of Amazonas.

History

References to the Nukini are found in several texts and documents recording indians living in the Serra do Divisor region, an outlier of the Serra da Contamana. As previously mentioned, these records generally refer to this people using a variety of names that are variations on the designations Nukini and Remo. In respect of the latter there are a considerable number of references to the Remo in the literature. Quoting Coutinho, “everything suggests that the Nukini are one of the surviving remnants of the indians known as Remo” (Coutinho, 2001).

For Oppenheim, Remo was a name given to the people who referred to themselves as Nukini, as the following quote shows:

“According to Braulino de Carvalho of the Boundary Commission, he encountered some families of Rhemus indians on the right bank of the Jaquina river who called themselves ‘Nucuinis’. Are not the ‘Nucuinis’ of the Paraná da República and the upper Igarapé Ramon from the same tribe as the indians of the Jaquirana? Or are they from another tribe encountered by past explorers, now disappeared or absorbed into the present ‘Nucuinis’?

We note that when we explored the valley of the Tapiche river we encountered several indians with the tattoo identical to that already described for the ‘Nucuinis’, and who spoke the Pano dialect. They were known as Rhemus and who had come from the Jaquirana, although they referred to themselves as ‘Nucuinis’.

We can accept that we may be dealing with two different tribes, ‘Rhemus’ and ‘Nucuinis’. Given the common practice amongst Amazon tribes of stealing women and children and the extermination of the men in the constant wars between neighbouring tribes, this phenomenon of the absorption of a weaker tribe by its stronger and more numerous neighbour can easily have occurred in the case of the tribes of the ‘Rhemus’ and the ‘Nucuinis’. Whatever the case may be, it seem certain that in recent times a large tribe of ‘Nucuinis’ dwelt in the region between the Paraná dos Mouras and the Jaquirana river and that the denomination ‘Rhemus’ does not correspond to any of the known tribes of this region going by the name of ‘Nucuinis’” (Oppenheim, 1936: 151).

Accepting the idea that the Nukini and the Remo are one and the same, and recalling that Curt Nimuendajú’s ethno-historical map of 1944 shows the Nukini and the Remo as located in areas very close to each other, we can point to several sets of information on this people contained in the historical literature. On their denomination, Castello Branco states:

“Some tribes of this family [Pano] were known by names other than their true names, differing from the ‘naua’ suffix. These names were given by explorers or rubber tappers, in accordance with some birthmark, sign or adornment of their members such as Remos, Araras, Bocas Pretas, Espinhos [oars, macaws, black mouths, thorns], or adopted by the indians as a way of avoiding enemies and the constant state of warfare they lived under” (Castello Branco, 1950: 28-29).

If the Nukini could also be known as the Remo, then it is also possible to argue that over the course of the 19th century they were found to the east of the Ucayali, between the Serra de Contamana and the Tamaya river, mainly in the Callaria and Abujao valleys, as well as close to the Canchahuaya mountains. At the beginning of the 20th century we find mention of the Remo in the regions of the upper Juruá Mirim, the upper Jaquirana and on the Tapiche, a tributary of the lower Ucayali (Coutinho, 2001).

There is much information on the presence of the Remo on the boundary between Brazil and Peru. However only from the beginning of the 20th century do we see specific references to the Nukini, situated on the upper Môa river. At this time some Nukini indians, under the leadership of Xáxá-Baca, were taken by the Peruvian D. Francisco Baría into Peruvian territory under the pretext of a visit. There they were used as a means of paying off the debt the Peruvian owed to his boss, also Peruvian. Resisting this fate, the Nukini fled Peru and returned to their maloca [longhouse] on the Gibraltar rubber estate, inside Brazil. According to Máximo Linhares, an Indian Protection Service (SPI) inspector, who was in the Môa region in 1911:

“On their return the fearless Xáxá-Baca tried to become the chief of the Inocu-inins, engaging in a formidable club fight with the true chief called Purivavô, known to the civilized world as Evaristo, who is also very warlike. This led to the division of the community into two factions living side by side” (Linhares, 1913).

As well as highlighting the internal conflicts existing at the time among the Nukini, Máximo Linhares tells us that this people lived on the Gibraltar rubber estate and the name ‘inocu-inins’ signified ‘odorous and poisonous jaguar’. He considered the Nukini to be hard workers and friends of the ‘civilizados’, with whom they traded on a small scale. Linhares adds that there were around “60 inocu-inins indians on the upper Môa”. He sought to establish an indigenous settlement under SPI administration with a view to ‘civilizing’ this group (Linhares, 1913).

Shortly after this SPI inspector made his report another traveller, father Tastevin, refers to the Nukini indians located in the region of the Môa river. As we can see from the reports of other travellers, the Nukini continued in this region throughout the first half of the 20th century. Oppenheim, for example, records them as living on the boundary with Peru, on the headwaters of the Igarapé Ramón, a tributary of the upper Moa:

“We came across a group of some ten families of this tribe in the area bordering Peru, on the headwaters of the Ramon, a tributary of the rio Môa. Years ago these indians formed part of a numerous tribe that lived on a tributary of the rio Môa, which we call the Paraná da República. This stream is currently uninhabited and the few families that survived the fever epidemics are now found in the areas previously mentioned” (Oppenheim, 1936: 151).

They survived the fever epidemics as well as the expansion of the rubber frontier. During the early years of the 20th century the Nukini were incorporated into the rubber industry and have remained in the Môa region to this day. Following decades of working as rubber tappers, the Nukini only gained official recognition of their right to their lands, where they remained even after the end of rubber collection, at the end of the 1970s.

Process of officially recognizing the Terra Indígena

The administrative procedures for the demarcation of the Terra Indígena Nukini began with the issue of Portaria [executive order] n° 160/P, of 23/03/1977, which established a working group to undertake the survey and boundary identification of the indigenous areas in the region between the Serra do Divisor or Contamana and the River Juruá. On the basis of the report submitted by the anthropologist Delvair Montagner, the area of the TI was estimated at that time as being approximately 23,000 hectares, as contained in the Edital [bill] of 08/02/1979, published in the Diário Oficial da União (DOU) on 26/04/1979.

Subsequently, under the terms of Portaria nº 1619/E, of 30/01/1984, a group coordinated by the anthropologist José Carlos Levinho was designated to carry out property and field surveys with a view to defining the indigenous area. The same instruction determined that the work also cover the lands of the Poyanawa, Jaminawa do Igarapé Preto e Katukina do Campinas indians. The anthropologist’s report contained the proposal for an area of approximately 30,900 hectares for the TI Nukini.

In 1985, Portaria nº 1911/E, of 31/06/1985, determined that the physical demarcation of the TI should begin. This order was extended by another (nº 1958/E, of 16/10/1985) and then by a further order (nº 1986/E, of 02/12/1985). The area proposed for demarcation was examined by Working Group 83 which, in its Opinion nº 047, of 17/12/1985, endorsed the proposed limits of the ‘Área Indígena Nukini’.

Almost six years later the administrative process was concluded with the publication of Decree nº 400, of 24/12/1991. The area approved was 27,263 hectares. The following year the ‘Área Indígena Nukini’ was registered in the Cruzeiro do Sul land registry. After this registration, however, Portaria nº 1204, of 25/11/1993, published in the DOU on 29/11/1993, established a working group to identify the boundaries of several indigenous areas in the state of Acre, including the ‘Área Indígena Nukini do Recreio I’. At the time the Nukini were not calling for any changes to the boundaries of their land. It was only from 2000 onwards that the Nukini started to call for the revision of the northern and western limits of their lands, creating a superimposition over part of the Serra do Divisor National Park.

Way of life

According to Philippe Erikson, the Pano ethnolinguistic family is characteriised by a high degree of territorial, linguistic and cultural homogeneity; however its internal diversity should not be forgotten.

As a result of their close contact with rubber tappers, small producers and riverbank communities on the upper Juruá, the Nukini have adopted many of their habits whilst maintaining their own identity, especially as regards social organization.

The Nukini have a clan-based organization. The eldest members are able to identify precisely the entire patrilinear descent of Nukini families, classifying their members according to the clans they belong to: Inubakëvu (‘people of the spotted jaguar’), Panabakëvu (‘people of the assai palm’), Itsãbakëvu (‘people of the patoá palm’) or Shãnumbakëvu (‘people of the serpent’). However many younger Nukini are not aware of which clan they belong to and do not use this as a criterion for their choice of marriage partner.

Nukini houses generally contain nuclear families. Near to one house there may be others belonging to married children who have constituted their own nuclear families. Residence patterns are often associated with marriage rules, where a son will live close to his father-in-law. This rule however is not always followed and after marriage a couple may chose to live in a place distant from their families of origin.

Nukini residences are generally built using resources from the forest. Some houses have walls and floors made of paxiubão [a palm trunk] and roofs of palm leaves, especially the caranaí palm. Other dwellings are built with walls and floors of sawn planks, generally of good quality timber (amarelinho, bacuri, copaiba, cedro-vermelho, louro, or angelim), whilst stays and roof beams are made of maçaranduba, muirapiranga, louro-abacate and pau d’arco. There are also buildings with zinc roofs, mainly schools and health posts.

Descent is patrilinear, as appears to be the case in the majority of Pano peoples, with clearly defined divisions of labour by sex and age. Men are mainly responsible for hunting, gathering and agricultural activities. Women are responsible for activities within the domestic sphere, as well as gathering forest products, making handicrafts and helping with agricultural activities.

In respect of politics, the Nukini now have a system of representation by means of election. Thus the political leader of the community, the president of the production association and the representative of the group on the Consultative Council of the Serra do Divisor National Park, created in 2002, are elected.

Regarding rituals the Nukini, like other Pano groups in the region, currently dance the mariri and sing many indigenous songs, some composed by themselves and others taught by the older members.

Economic activities

Organized into small population groups, the Nukini have not developed a group economy as their customs involve family-based production activities. Fishing, carried out mainly in the dry season, is practiced with gillnets and hooks using small fish as bait. Given the poor availability of fish, fishing is a secondary activity that complements agriculture and hunting. The Nukini generally fish in the streams and lakes within the Terra Indígena, such as the Timbauba, Montevidéu, Meia Dúzia, Paraná dos Batista and Capanawa. The fish most caught are: traíra, cará, piau, piranha-roxa-pequena, aruanã, cachorra, mandi, surubim, braço-de-moça, casca-grossa  (cascudo), mocinha, tucunaré, mapará, cará-açu, curimatã, pacu, jaú, bodó, casa-velha, cachimbo, bode-amarela, bode-sapateiro, pirarara, bagre  and piramutaba.

Hunting also takes place in the same stream systems as the fishing. The wild animals most consumed are wild pig, peccary, deer, agouti, turtle, coati, armadillo, tapir, guan, curassow and monkey. There are four basic hunting techniques: drinking place, hide, traps and dogs. Hunting at the drinking place involves a three or four hour walk along hunting trails to a salt lick or drinking place. Hunting with dogs involves the same. Hunting by means of a hide or with traps can be practiced inside the forest or near the swidden gardens.

In addition to obtaining animal protein by means of hunting, the Nukini also raise domestic animals for consumption, many of which are raised close to the houses. The main animals raised are pigs, chicken, ducks, sheep, goats and cattle. Cattle are raised on a small scale by creating small areas of pasture on former swidden gardens.

They also gather several types of forest products in the river basins referred to above, which coincide with the hunting areas. The main foodstuffs gathered from the forest are the fruits of the açaí, bacaba, buriti, patuá and pupunha palms. There are also many medicinal plants used by the Nukini and those that follow are just a few examples. The pau-amargoso, a large tree, is used against insect bites. The bark of the jatobá, together with the copaíba and the arranha-gato, are used to prepare infusions to serve as painkillers and remedies for coughs and inflammation of the nerves. An infusion of the bark of the quina-quina is used to treat malaria. The sap of the jarina and the açai are used for insect bites. The squeezed sap of the guaribinha vine is used for colds. The bark of the chichoá steeped in cachaça is a general tonic. Malvarisco is used for colds, coughs and as a sedative. Watercress is used for colds, coughs, toothache as well as an anti-inflammatory.

Some natural resources are used for body adornments and general handicrafts. Annatto seeds are mashed in water to form a paste which is used for body painting and as a food colorant. Genipap is cut in half and placed in hot water until it turns blue. The titica vine is used for basketry and adornments which are painted with annatto and genipap. Ashes of the bark of the caripé are used in pottery to bind the clay used to make several types of objects. Handicrafts produced by the Nukini include clay pots, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, brooms and baskets.

Several types of plants are grown. Fruits grown include mango, soursop, coconut, cashew, jackfruit, pineapple, lemon, Barbados cherry, guava, avocado, pupunha, cupuaçu and papaya. The swidden gardens are used to grow maize, rice, sweet manioc, beans, sugarcane, tobacco and yams.

Surplus production from the swidden gardens tend to be marketed in the town of Mâncio Lima. The main product sold is farinha [manioc flour] produced by the Nukini in the various casas de farinha that exist in the TI. Farinha and game meat form the basis of the diet of the Nukini, who produce hardly any vegetables with the exception of some salad greens in raised growing trays.

As a result of contact with non-indians, the Nukini used not to practice agriculture since during the rubber boom they tapped the latex from rubber trees for the production of rubber. They also worked as lumberjacks for loggers and rubber estate bosses. Like other indigenous peoples of the Juruá valley, they were professional oarsmen, trailblazers and hunters at the service of the estate bosses, including working under conditions akin to slavery. Nowadays however the use they make of their natural resources is linked to their agricultural activities, collection of forest products, hunting, fishing and handicrafts.

Sources of information

  • CASTELLO BRANCO, José Moreira Brandão. “O gentio acreano”. In : Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro. Rio de Janeiro : Imprensa Nacional, Vol. 207, Abril-Junho, 1950. pp. 3-77.

 

  • COUTINHO JR., Walter. Relatório de viagem : áreas de ocupação indígena ainda não regularizadas no Acre e sul do Amazonas. Brasília : Funai, 2001.

 

  • ERIKSON, Philippe et al.  Kirinkobaon kirika ("Gringos' Books") : an annotated panoan bibliography.  Amerindia, Paris : A.E.A., n. 19, 152 p., supl., 1994.

 

  • ERIKSON, Philippe. “Uma singular pluralidade: a etno-história Pano”. In: CUNHA, Manuela Carneiro da (org.). História dos índios no Brasil. São Paulo : Companhia das Letras, FAPESP, SMC, 1992. pp. 239-266.

 

  • FUNDAÇÃO DE CULTURA E COMUNICAÇÃO ELIAS MANSOUR; CIMI.  Povos do Acre : história indígena da Amazônia Ocidental.  Rio Branco : Cimi/FEM, 2002.  58 p.

 

  • LINHARES, Máximo. “Os índios do Território do Acre. Impressões de um Auxiliar da Inspetoria do Serviço de Proteção aos Índios e Localização dos Trabalhadores Nacionaes”. In: Jornal do Commércio, 12 de janeiro de 1913.

 

  • MENDONÇA, Simone Sussekind de.  Nukini.  In: GONÇALVES, Marco Antônio Teixeira (Org.).  Acre : história e etnologia.  Rio de Janeiro : Núcleo de Etnologia Indígena/UFRJ, 1991.  p. 271-6.

 

  • OPPENHEIM, Victor. Notas ethnographicas sobre os indígenas do alto Juruá (Acre) e Valle do Ucayaly (Perú). Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, vol. 8:145-155, 1936.

 

  • TASTEVIN, Constant. “Em Amazonie. Sur lê Moa, aux limites extremes du Brésil et du Perón”. In : Missions catholiques, Tomo XLVI, 1914, pp. 502-504; 514-516; 526-528; 537-539; 550-552 e 559-561.