- Where they are How many
- MS 69 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
- Linguistic family
Until the start of the 20th century the Ofaié were numbered in their thousands and inhabited the right shore of the Paraná river from the mouth of the Sucuriú to the headwaters of the Vacaria and Ivinhema. Living in small groups, they shifted location continually throughout this region. Their territory was occupied by cattle ranches and it was only in the 1990s, when just a few dozen survivors remained, that they managed to recover a small portion of their lands, still yet to be ratified by the Brazilian President.
Name and language
Opaié or Ofaié, pronounced with an imprecise consonant between 'f' and 'p,' is this people’s name for themselves, while the name Xavante was given to them by the non-Indians who during the first centuries of colonization explored the Brazilian mid-west.
The Ofaié name has been pronounced and written in a variety of forms: Opayé, Opaié, Ofaiê, Faiá, Faié, Fae, Faiá, Kukura, Xavante, Chavante, Shavante, Chavante-Ofaié, Chavante-Opaié, Guaxi, and so on. They were called ‘Xavante’ because they lived in a region with a savannah-type environment (šhavante, those who live in the savannahs), predominantly covered in low-lying vegetation and small to medium sized trees, typical of the cerrado of Mato Grosso do Sul.
The Ofaié have nothing in common with their namesakes, the Xavante of the Rio das Mortes (the Akwen Xavante) or with the extinct Xavante of Campos Novos in the state of São Paulo (the Oti Xavante).
In 1958, a phonemic and morphological study conducted among an Ofaié group in Mato Grosso do Sul by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL, today also called the Sociedade Internacional de Lingüística) established their affiliation to the Ge linguistic trunk. The Ofaié language was also studied by Meiremárcia Guedes (1989), who researched the Brasilândia (MS) group. This work was continued with the research by Marlene Carolina de Souza, O povo Ofaié: uma breve abordagem lingüística (1991), resulting in the production of a textbook edited by the latter author. More recent studies of the language of this people can be found in studies produced by Lúcia Helena Tozzi da Silva (2002) and Maria das Dores de Oliveira (2004), whose research is still under way.
Today most adults speak the Ofaié language. They attend the Ofaié-E-Iniecheki Municipal School, run in the village itself with a non-indigenous teacher who teaches a mixed group of around 15 students of different grades. Until 2004 there was an indigenous teacher. The textbook used is the same as the non-indigenous municipal education system (1st to 4th grades).
Location and population
The Ofaié-Xavante Indigenous Territory, measuring 1,937.62 ha and located in the municipality of Brasilândia (MS), was declared the permanent possession of the Ofaié in 1992. However the area was occupied by farms and contested by their owners. The Ofaié had, therefore, to stay provisionally in another area, which years later was flooded following construction of the dam for the Engenheiro Sérgio Motta Hydroelectric Plant (formerly Porto-Primavera). It was only in 1996 that the challenges to the Indigenous Territory were ruled groundless in a ruling issued by the Ministry of Justice, but even today the IT has yet to be ratified by presidential decree. [Learn more about this process in the section Contact history]
The table below lists the indigenous population living in the Ofaié de Brasilândia Indigenous Territory, compiled by Carlos Alberto dos Santos Dutra on 30/06/2001:
|Nº||non-indigenous name||Family nº||Indigenous name||Kinship||Ethnicity||Birth|
|2||Maria Aparecida Lins Souza||Wife||Ofaié||26.05.87|
|3||José de Souza||2||Kói||Husband||Ofaié (*)||24.07.75|
|4||Rosilei de Souza||Cunhã-tapy||Wife||Kaiowá||17.12.78|
|5||Josiel de Souza||Son||16.01.95|
|6||Josieli de Souza||Daughter||29.08.98|
|7||Severino de Souza||3||Ha-í||Husband||Ofaié (*)||20.12.68|
|8||Neuza da Silva||Teng-hô||Wife||Ofaié (*)||22.08.60|
|9||Márcio da Silva||Son||15.03.88|
|10||Fernanda da Silva||Daughter||16.02.97|
|11||Arlindo de Souza||4||Oti-chô||Husband||Ofaié (*)||13.07.80|
|14||Cleide Martins de Souza||Daughter||27.11.98|
|15||Rogério Martins de Souza||Son||13.04.01|
|16||Juracy da Silva||5||Husband||Ofaié||22.11.77|
|17||Lídia Siqueira Manari||Wife||Não Índio||09.01.52|
|22||Ataíde Francisco Rodrigues||7||Xehitâ-ha||Husband||Ofaié (*)||15.04.57|
|23||Zenaide Benite Rodrigues||Wife||Kaiowá||08.01.62|
|24||Ademir Francisco Rodrigues||Kregraí||Son||11.03.97|
|25||Felipe Martins Oliveira||8||To-tê||Husband||Ofaié (*)||02.01.35|
|26||Marcos Lins Nantes||9||Husband||Ofaié||13.02.80|
|27||Cleonice de Oliveira||Kní-i||Wife||Ofaié (*)||29.04.88|
|28||Osmar Pereira||10||Cha-taí||Husband||Não Índio||03.03.51|
|29||Joana Coimbra||Okúin-hê||Wife||Ofaié (*)||12.09.56|
|30||Ramona Coimbra Pereira||Fue-koi-fuara||Daughter||21.08.83|
|31||Carlos Coimbra Pereira||Katái||Son||20.02.89|
|32||Patrícia Coimbra Pereira||Cha-râ-a||Daughter||20.12.91|
|33||Jorge Coimbra Pereira||Kokôt||Son||25.04.95|
|34||Marcelo da Silva Lins||11||Husband||Ofaié||06.06.82|
|35||Tatiane Rodrigues Almeida||Wife||Ofaié||13.05.85|
|36||Maria Aparecida de Souza||12||Hanto-grê||Husband||Ofaié (*)||27.09.53|
|37||João Carlos de Souza||Can-hê||Son||Ofaié (*)||02.08.78|
|38||João Pereira||13||He-í||Husband||Ofaié (*)||15.08.33|
|39||Francisca da Silva||He-gueí||Wife||Ofaié (*)||06.09.38|
|41||Marilda de Souza||Chá-tâ||Wife||Ofaié (*)||15.04.67|
|44||Léia de Souza Eliandes||Daughter||18.08.97|
|46||Luciana Lins da Silva||Chami-ri||Wife||Ofaié||22.07.79|
|47||Elissandro Eliandes da Silva||Son||17.01.96|
|48||Wéllington Eliandes da Silva||Son||12.03.01|
|49||Elissandro Eliandes da Silva||Son||17.01.96|
|51||Hélida Isnard Eliandes||Wife||Kaiowá||06.10.71|
|52||Eliane Isnard Eliandes||Daughter||06.02.90|
|53||Marinalva Isnard Eliandes||Daughter||29.05.92|
|55||Eliezer Isnard Eliandes||Son||12.03.99|
|56||Márcio de Souza||17||Husband||Kaiowá||11.07.82|
|57||Vanízia Fernandes de Souza||Wife||Kaiowá||07.09.86|
|58||Simeire Fernandes de Souza||Daughter||26.12.00|
The first reference to the Ofaié dates from 1617 when they were spotted on the right shore of the Paraná river (now Mato Grosso do Sul), according to research by indigenist João Américo Peret.
Between 1716 and 1748 the presence of indigenous groups was recorded on the Tietê, Paraná, Pardo and Inhanduí rivers as far as the Aquidauana river by various expeditions undertaken during the gold cycle in Portuguese America. The Ofaié were then located between the Serra do Maracaju and the upper Paraná river.
In the 19th century, as farm colonization of the region increased, Joaquim Francisco Lopes (responsible for exploring communication routes between the provinces of São Paulo and Mato Grosso), recorded the Ofaié occupation of the headwaters of several affluents of the Paraguai (Negro, Taboco and Aquidauana rivers).
In 1864, five Ofaié villages were encountered on both shores of the Paraná river, at the mouths of the Tietê and Sucuriju rivers – a region bordering the lands of the Guarani-Kaiowá, with whom relations were unfriendly.
From the mid 1880s, farmers from Miranda moved to the Maracaju Reserve and settled on the slopes of the Paraná and the fields of Vacaria. The intensity of this colonization forced the Ofaié to abandon their lands and migrate to the south of the state, close to the Samambaia river, while a smaller group took refuge in the marshland of the Taboco river, and affluent of the Aquidauana.
According to Curt Nimuendajú, the Vacaria fields “were precisely the centre of the tribe, which stretched from there to the boundary, following the Brilhantes and Dourados rivers. Some 60km from the mouth of the latter river, the boundary climbed the high watershed between it and the Santa Maria river.”
He observes that to the north the Ofaié shared lands with the Kayapó inhabitants of the so-called Sertão do Camapuã, on the upper Inhanduí river, as well as the Pardo and Verde rivers. They frequently crossed the Paraná, at the mouth of the Santo Anastácio river, on hunting trips. The Paraná river separated the territories of the Kayapó from those of the Kaingang, their enemies.
As the first inhabitants of Vacaria (today the municipality of Brilhante), during the Paraguayan War the Ofaié experienced a ‘truce’ from the persecutions and violence perpetrated by non-Indians. In 1886, they were once again expelled and moved eastwards. They ended up occupying the Forest Zone along the Samambaia, Três Barras and Equiteroy rivers. On the boundary of the Inhanduí and Ivinhema rivers they were once again persecuted and expelled from the lands by farmers who had colonized vast areas with fenced pastures.
At the end of the 19th century the Ofaié were employed as manual labour in the regional economy of Mato Grosso do Sul. In 1903, General Rondon achieved peaceful contact with the group, then located in the savannahs along the Negro river and totalling approximately 2,000 Indians.
In 1907, the Geographic and Geological Commission of the State of São Paulo referred to the presence of the Ofaié and other groups on an expedition to the Peixes river, an affluent of the left shore of the upper Paraná.
In 1911, the SPI (Indian Protection Service) registered the need to “convert the Xavante” (as the Ofaié were called by non-Indians) located in the basin of the Paraná river and planned to officially set aside two savannah areas to settle them between the Taquarussu and Pardo rivers and/or between the Taquarussu and Verde rivers. The following year the Order of Capuchins asked the São Paulo State Congress to grant an area of 14,400 ha on the left shore of the Paraná river, in the Ribeirão das Marrecas Valley, for the purpose of ‘catechizing’ the Ofaié and Kaiowá.
In 1913, Nimuendajú reported the presence of this group at the mouth of the Rio Verde, close to the site of the Capuchins, remarking that most of them had malaria. The ethnologist travelled down the Verde river on the right shore of the Paraná in order to contact the Ofaié, but actually found them not there but on the shores of the Ivipiranga. Journeying down the Paraná he found remains of the group’s settlements, estimating their population at 250 people. The region was being invaded by cattle ranches.
Nimuendajú also observed that on the upper Paraná, at a site known as Boa Esperança (mouth of the Taquarussu), the Ofaié appeared at a livestock ranch belonging to the US company Brazil Land Castle and Packing Co. (known as a British company under the name Argola, which founded the modern town of Brasilândia).
In an understanding with the SPI, the government of Mato Grosso (decree 683, dated 24/11/1924) reserved two areas of devolved land, each 3,600 ha in size, one for the Ofaié and the other for the Kaiowá.
Until the 1950s, the Ofaié remaining on the Samambaia and Ivinhema rivers (with the closure of the Peixinho and Laranjalzinho Posts in 1924) made closer contact with the group living on the Verde river (an affluent of the right shore of the Paraná) since 1901. They settled in an area that was transformed into the Boa Esperança Farm and from where they were expelled by São Paulo farmers in 1952. The lands belonged to the state of Mato Grosso and were leased to the Boa Esperança Comércio, Terras e Pecuária S.A (COTERP). After the agreement expired, the Ofaié lands were bought by the farmer Arthur Hoffig, who for his part transferred the Indians to the shores of the Verde river, but the Ofaié failed to adapt to the local conditions.
They returned to the region of Boa Esperança Farm and settled at the rear of the property. The farmers had placed cattle in the area and planted signal grass. Following the death of Arthur Hoffig, ‘owner’ of the Ofaié lands, the 190,000 ha were divided up by his heirs; the area that included the main Ofaié village was bought by third parties, who recognize the prior presence of the Ofaié in the area, but not in the location that they had bought.
On August 6th 1976, the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo published a news item on a group of 24 Ofaié in a calamitous state, sick and landless. The report alleged that Funai had never visited the village, “comprised of six small houses, precariously built in a clearing of the Boa Esperança Farm,” 5 Km from the road linking Brasilândia to the former district of Xavantina (today the municipality of Santa Rita do Pardo, Mato Grosso do Sul).
In 1978 the Ofaié were transferred to the Kadiwéu Indigenous Reserve in Porto Murtinho (Mato Gross do Sul). In 1983, conflicts erupted in the region of the Serra da Bodoquena between tenants, farmers, Terena Indians and the Kadiwéu, over the leasing contracts practiced by rural landowners. Once again the Ofaié were forced to move. In 1986 the group that had been transferred to the Kadiwéu Reserve returned to Brasilândia and tried to settle in their original area, but were again expelled. Provisionally they were settled on the shore of the Paraná river by CIMI (Missionary Indigenist Council), which provided aid to them in the form of food and seeds for planting beans. This was a period of illnesses and deaths caused by the insalubriousness of the site. They lived in tarpaulin shacks on the side of the road by the shores of the Paraná. In the words of the former leader Ataíde Xehitâ-ha, they lived for six years as “outsiders on their own land,” working on farms and dispersed with survivors of this people also scattered in Bodoquena, Brasilândia, Brilhante and Bataiporã, Nova Andradina and regions of the Ivinhema and Bataguassu rivers and Campo Grande.
1987 saw the launch of the campaign “Ofaié Xavante – we’re still alive” (led by the leader Ataíde Francisco, CIMI, UFMS, CPT, PT-MS, UNI-MS and other organizations) for the demarcation of their lands, which culminated in the identification of an area of almost 2,000 ha in 1991, which, however, had been appropriated by farmers. The denunciations of the poor living conditions of the Ofaié (even including slave labour on some farms) led to councillors from Brasilândia-MS and some municipalities in the west of São Paulo state to pass motions in support of the Ofaié, asking Funai for a solution to the landless state of the Ofaié. Funai of Campo Grande-MS, in partnership with CIMI, then succeeded in persuading Mr. Luiggi Cantoni, owner of the Olympia Farm of the Cisalpina Group to lease to use 110 hectares within the lands of the Cisalpina farm for occupation by the group, which at this time numbered 70 people. However, a few years later this area was flooded to form the reservoir for the Engenheiro Sérgio Motta Hydroelectric Plant (formerly Porto Primavera), owned by the Companhia Energética de São Paulo (CESP).
In response to the flooding of the area occupied by the Ofaié, CESP, by way of compensating the Indians and through the intermediation of CIMI, signed an agreement with Funai by which it would finance the demarcation of the Ofaié Indigenous Territory, including the removal of the farmers, and implement other compensatory measures, including the environmental recuperation of the identified area, which was in an advanced state of degradation.
In 1994, the Ofaié received 484 ha of native forest area acquired by CESP in view of the area identified by Funai as the Ofaié Indigenous Territory, totalling 1,937 hectares, was placed sub judice (contested by farmers) and CESP prevented from being able to advance in the negotiations with the farmers occupying the area. The Ofaié were only finally transferred there in March 1997. In the area acquired by CESP, which borders the traditional territory of the Ofaié identified by Funai, a semi-artesian water well was built along with a health post, school and community hut, and basic food items began to be provided over the course of the first year.
However the absence of streams in the area left the Ofaié fairly dissatisfied with the measure and for months they pressurized Funai to sign the agreement that would allow the physical demarcation of their lands – something that has yet to come about. The soil is inadequate for any kind of crop cultivation and for nine years the Indians depended on basic food supplies in order to survive.
After nine years of impasse, with the support of the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Ofaié community was able to use the compensation paid by CESP, to the value of R$ 1,641,500, to purchase 605 hectares, corresponding to the area of seven small farms, whose owners were contesting the indigenous ownership of the lands in the courts. They received this extremely high value for the improvements made in the area and agreed to drop the court actions. They therefore obtained access to the Sete and São Paulo streams. However, this corresponds to less than a third of their lands. The largest farm, covering 1,332 hectares and owned by the Hoffig family, still continues to contest the indigenous ownership of the land and may block the full ownership of the territory identified by Funai for many more years to come.
In the past the Ofaié lived from hunting, fishing and gathering fruits and honey. They built their encampments by the shores of rivers, occupying a large area that stretched from the Sucuriú river to the headwaters of the Vacaria and Ivinhema rivers in what is now the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
They always lived in small groups which made changing location easier. Their houses were built from tree trunks and covered in palm leaves or thatch. There were no walls but the roof almost touched the ground. Arranged in a circle, the houses surrounded a clearing in the centre of the village used to hold rituals.
During the cold part of the year they slept in holes dug in the ground, lined with grass and wrapped in animal skins. They also lit a fire in the centre of the house.
During the dry season, the water level in the rivers was low, which made fishing easier. During this period the Ofaié moved to the shores of the rivers. The abundance of fish enabled large festivals to be celebrated.
With the arrival of the rains, the fruits appear along with the animals that feed off them. This was therefore the hunting season. People also collected honey at this time of year. As they spent days on end outside the village, they would build temporary shelters to spend the night.
Today this activity is no more than a memory for the oldest, since the long distances that they once trekked and the rivers filled with fish that they frequented – the Verde, Paraná, Taquaruçu, Boa Esperança, Ivinhema and Samambaia, among others – are now located on private properties. Today this activity is confined to collecting honey, still available in hives made by the Indians themselves in modern style with technical assistance from Funai and students of universities who sometimes visit the village to develop experimental projects.
Work in the village is split between men and women. The younger men take care of the hunting while the others cut and bring the firewood from the forest, and make the houses, bows and arrows. Women, including girls, carry out the household tasks and gather fruits and honey. They also made the fibres for bow cords. Another female activity is preparing ‘cauim,’ a drink made from fermented maize and heavily used in the festivals.
The preferred musical instruments were the flute and a small rattle. Singing involved a choir of various voices in rituals that included dancing and cauim drinking. Today the Ofaié no longer devote their time to music. The constant changes of location that they were forced to adopt undoubtedly did not give them options or motives for commemorating. A recording made in 1981 with a group of 23 Ofaié Indians who met in the Tarumã region (part of the municipality of Porto Murtinho in the west of the state) by the historian Antonio Jacob Brand confirms this hypothesis. Singing was undoubtedly a rarity: in a mourning tone, the song translates and externalizes losses and the feeling of pain experienced by a tiny group living far from their ancient territory (Dutra 1996:50-59).
A recording of this song was used in the opening of the interview ‘The last song of the Ofaié,’ conducted by the journalist Patrícia Moribe and included in the double Compact Disk Pantanal and Amazonia, produced by Radio Netherlands in 2003. It also forms part of the opening and closing scenes of the experimental video Ofaié, directed by Udovaldo Lacava and Geraldo Anhaia Mello, for the Companhia Energética de São Paulo (CESP) in 1992.
Religion was always manifested in the reverence for a creator being. The ‘Father,’ a kind of priest, is mentioned among the Ofaié by a number of authors, such as Nimuendajú. The personal experience of the researcher Carlos Alberto Dutra over a twenty year period working with the Ofaié reveals that they sometimes revere ‘Agachô’ (God the creator), rarely in the company of strangers. After the death of an Indian woman, Dutra also witnessed her house being set fire along with all her belongings.
One of the Ofaié myths refers to the peopling of the world. Long ago the Sun was always plotting with his twin sister, the Moon. All things were people during this time. The Sun knew everything. He was the chief of men but he was bad. The Moon, on the contrary, was allied with the men against the Sun.
During this time there was no game. The men trekked through the forest but found nothing. Everything was really bad for them. For this reason they wanted to kill the Sun. They arrived in the dry forest, surrounded the Sun and set fire to the trees. But the Sun made a lake appear next to him and he dived into the water. He emerged quickly and entered the village before the men, who were enraged when they returned and saw him.
He wanted humans to turn into animals but the Moon would not let him. One day, the Sun called over the men and told them that the forest was full of delicious fruits. They were hungry and they headed off there. They found a jaboticaba tree and climbed it to pick the fruits. The Sun, who was on the ground, picked up a piece of wood and began to shake the tree, stirring up a gale. The men grabbed a rope and tied themselves to the tree branches so they would not fall. The Sun then made each man turn into an animal.
The one who turned into a tapir was very heavy; he fell and ran off. Others that fell turned into coati, agouti... Those that held on turned into monkeys and jumped into other trees so they would not fall. The last one turned into a howler monkey. He began to pull the forest trees and make them grow taller. This gave rise to the peroba trees and the tall cedars. With the sticks, the howler monkey wove together the tree canopies, sealing the forest.
After some time had passed, the Sun called the men to hunt again and said: “my sons, know you can hunt.” The men were frightened since the forest had grown enormously. But there was lots of game, bands of monkeys... The Sun attracted the monkey who came close and then shot him with an arrow to teach the men to hunt.
The origin of honey
At the beginning of the world the maned wolf was the owner of honey. Everyday his offspring woke up with their chests smeared with honey. Only he and his children knew of honey and nobody else could taste it.
All the animals would go to ask the wolf for honey, but he would give none. When children asked for honey, he gave the fruit of the araticum-do-campo tree (Annona sp.), telling them it was honey.
One day the tortoise said that he was going to fetch honey for everyone. He went to the wolf’s lair and said: “I came to fetch the honey you have.” The maned wolf replied: “I’ve no honey. Who gave you that idea?” But the tortoise insisted and the wolf told him: “Okay. So lie down underneath this ‘poruga’ and suck the honey from it. When the wolf saw the tortoise lying down, he asked his offspring to fetch firewood. “Let’s eat this little animal roasted.” They lit the fire and the tortoise carried on slurping honey, indifferent to the fire. Afterwards the tortoise said: “Now I’ve tasted the honey, you have to give it to my companions.” The wolf ran off and the tortoise went after him along with other animals who wanted to get him. The wolf eventually came to a halt in a thicket of grass. The guinea pig set fire to the grass and the fire began to draw close. One of the animals then said: “Look, there is no wolf here, what flew out was a partridge.” But the tortoise knew it was the wolf that had turned into a partridge and observed where he was going to land. He called the other animals to go to the tree where he had landed, but they had to walk for a long time to reach the spot. The tree was right in front of the bees house where there was a wasp who would not allow anyone to get close. The birds who wanted to try the honey were attacked by the wasps. But then the humming-bird said: “Now the forest is full of honey. You can all take as much as you want.”
The armadillo kin
Finally it is interesting to hear the report of what happened to the ethnographer Curt Nimuendajú: “The case took place among the Ofaié Chavante. Walking to their camp, I encountered an armadillo, which I felled with a blow from the blunt side of a machete to the animal’s snout, taking it for a good roasting on the camp fire. After the initial euphoria of the Indians, one of them suddenly noticed that the armadillo had a perforated ear. General commotion! The animal was a tribal companion, since the Ofaié also have perforated ears. Meanwhile, the armadillo, who had merely been stunned by the blow, began to move again; and it was truly moving to see how these hunters, who never see any need to give the coup de grâce to game, place the animal on its feet and try to make it flee. They had to literally help it to enter the protection of the surrounding bushes.”
Sources of information
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