From Povos Indígenas no Brasil
Photo: Joshua Birchall, 2010

Oro Win

Self-denomination Where they are How many Linguistic family
Oro Win, Oro Towati' RO
88 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
Txapakura

The name Oro Win or Oro Towati’ is an autonym, the term oro meaning ‘collective’ or ‘group’ in the Txapakuran language spoken by this people. The Oro Win live in the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Land in Rondônia, located in the headwater region of the Pacaás Novos river.

Occupation of their land by other indigenous groups began at the start of the 20th century when the Uru-eu-wau-wau crossed the Serra dos Pacaás Novos uplands, coming from the upper Jamarí. In the 1940s rubber tappers arrived and established a seringal (rubber plantation) in their territory on the upper Cautário river. Subsequently the São Luís Seringal was established in 1963. The Oro Win were forced to work at the latter site under slave-like conditions for almost twenty years before being transferred to live with the Wari’.

It was only in 1991, following the expulsion of the São Luís Seringal’s owner, that the Oro Win were finally able to return to their traditional area.

Currently the site of this former rubber plantation is home to most of the Oro Win population, which in 2010 totalled more than seventy people. This slight demographic revival has been accompanied by other initiatives aimed towards political and cultural strengthening, such as the founding of their own association and the inclusion of classes taught in the Oro Win language in the schools.

Name

The Oro Win call themselves Oro Win or Oro Towati’. The origin of the term Oro Win is unclear.

Pintura de jenipapo, São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.
Pintura de jenipapo, São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.

Some people say that oro win means ‘people who paint themselves,’ since it was common for people to paint their entire body with black genipap and red annatto dyes during rituals. Various people from São Luís village also claim that the name Oro Win was invented by a young woman when she was captured by rubber tappers in 1963. Fearing for her life, she is said to have created this name in the hope that the invaders would not consider her a member of the Oro Towati’, a group that the rubber tappers held responsible for various raids on the rubber plantations located in the headwater regions of the Pacaás Novos and Cautário rivers. According to her, now the oldest woman among her people, the name Oro Win has no real meaning.

There is no word win meaning ‘to paint’ in the Oro Win language. Perhaps this etymology is related to a confusion between the word win and the word mawin, signifying ‘annatto’ in Wari’, another language from the Txapakura family spoken in the same region.

In Wari’, however, the word win does exist, signifying ‘to be equal, similar,’ which would imply that the denomination Oro Win means ‘the same’. However Vilaça (2006) mentions that as well as signifying ‘the same’ in Wari’, the word win also refers to a clay drum covered with a rubber skin, an instrument typically used by the Oro Win during traditional festivals. Since a number of Oro Nao’ (Wari’) men were involved in capturing and enslaving the Oro Win, the term may well have entered the language as a loan word.

The people called Oro Win are formed by the members of six clans: Oro Towati’, Oro Kitam, Oro Wan Am, Oro Japraji, Oro Karapakan and Oro Naro. The last three subgroups are also collectively denominated the Oro Masam, ‘the people of the waterfall,’ since these groups lived close to the foothills of the Serra dos Pacaás Novos where three large waterfalls are located. All the names of these three subgroups refer to a particular species of tree: for example, towati’ means ‘licuri palm’ (Syagrus coronata), japraji means the ‘white fig tree’ or ‘gameleira’ (Ficus doliaria) and ekarapakan means another fig tree, the ‘apuizeiro’ (Ficus fagifolia). The word oro signifies a collective or a group.

In the past the Oro Win referred to the name of their group by the name of their clan (rather than ‘Oro Win’). Despite these divisions, they recognized a cultural and linguistic affinity between the six subgroups. When they wished to refer to all the clans as a single entity in contrast to other groups from the area (like the Uru-eu-wau-wau or Oro Nao’), they used the pronoun wari’, ‘us’, in opposition to the term wajam, ‘stranger.’ Today the use of the term wari’ has been extended to all the region’s indigenous groups and the term wajam is used exclusively for non-Indians.

As the majority of the people who survived the attacks and the subsequent enslavement are from the Oro Towati’ clan, a number of people adopted this name to refer to the group as a whole. Young people seldom use this name, although some older people prefer to use Oro Towati’ as an autodenomination.

Language

The Oro Win language belongs to the Txapakura linguistic family, along with the language spoken by the Wari’, their closest neighbours, though the languages are distinct.

O último falante monolingue do Oro Win, Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.
O último falante monolingue do Oro Win, Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.

There is also another Txapakuran language spoken by the Moré (Itene) people who live on the left bank of the Guaporé river, on the Bolivian side. A dialect of the Moré language called Cojubim (Kuyubí) is spoken in Brazil by just a single old woman who lives in the Guaporé Indigenous Land.

Historical records exist of various other members of this linguistic family, such as the languages of the Miguelenho Wanham, Torá, Urupá and Jarú peoples, all once encountered in Brazil, as well as the languages of the Kitemoka, Napeka, Rokorona and Tapakura, all located in Bolivia in the past. All these languages are probably now extinct.

In 2010 the Oro Win language was spoken by just six people, all of them over fifty years of age. The day-to-day language used in the villages is mainly Portuguese, which almost all the inhabitants speak. Aside from the six principal speakers, some adults also have some degree of fluency in Oro Win with varying capacities for understanding and speaking the language. Except for those born in malocas a short while before permanent contact with the rubber tappers, most of these semi-speakers were born in the rubber plantations. There is little transmission of the language to younger generations. Considering the small population of speakers and the fact that no children are learning the language, we can consider Oro Win in danger of disappearing.

Some people belonging to the Oro Win group married spouses from other indigenous groups such as the Makuráp, Wajuru, Kanoê and Wari’. Among these people who live in the Oro Win villages, only the Wari’ – mainly members of the Oro Nao’ and Oro At subgroups – still use their traditional language. Consequently some of the children of these couples have learnt the Wari’ language at home. Many Oro Win adults also speak the Wari’ language due to the fact that they lived at the Rio Negro-Ocaia Indigenous Post during the 1980s and had frequent contacts with the Wari’ living downriver.

The fact that the majority of Oro Win speakers also speak Wari’ has also had various impacts on the traditional language: loan words, markers of possession (-xi’ rather than -si) and idiomatic expressions have already been copied from Wari’ to Oro Win. But despite the process of sociolinguistic convergence between these languages, comparison of the basic vocabularies of the Txapakuran family languages – looking at the percentage of cognates (words with the same root) and the innovation and retention of phonological features – shows that the Oro Win still has more affinity to the language of the Migueleno Wanham than to Wari’.

Localization

Casas contemporâneas, Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Joshua Birchall, 2009.
Casas contemporâneas, Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Joshua Birchall, 2009.

The Oro Win lived in the headwater region of the Pacaás Novos river, close to the Água Branca river and the Serra dos Pacaás Novos uplands. Their traditional territory includes the Pacaás Novos river and its affluents from the confluence with the São João river to the headwaters, and ending in the Serra dos Pacaás Novos.

Each subgroup lived in a separate village but the groups maintained strong links with each other. The malocas of the Oro Masam were situated close to the second waterfall. On the middle course of the Água Branca there was a maloca of the Oro Wan Am, who used the region upriver as far as the Cautário river for gathering and fishing. The malocas of the Oro Towati’ and the Oro Kitam were situated near to the confluence of the Pacaás Novos with Água Branca, adjacent to the site where the São Luís Indigenous Post now stands. These locations are where the groups were encountered during the mid-20th century.

The Oro Win lived in São Luís village where the base of the Manoel Lucindo Seringal (rubber plantation) was located, also known as the São Luís Seringal. This is situated within the present-day Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Land (IL), in Rondônia, the closest city being Guajará-Mirim, located on the shores of the Mamoré river.

Fifty per cent of the area of the Uru-eu-wau-wau IL is rocky and mountainous, a landscape composed of small streams and steep slopes. The area also contains two macro-regions of plateaus and mountainous uplands forming a transition between forests (with rich plant cover) and the cerrado. This IL includes sections of the three main hydrographic basins of Rondônia, the Guaporé, Madeira and Mamoré, observing that the Jaci-Paraná, Cautário, Candeias, Urupá, Jarú, Muqui, São Miguel, Pacaás Novos, Ouro Preto and other rivers, 17 in total, all rise on the upland slopes located in the demarcated area. In the sources of the Pacaás Novos river, at the foot of the mountains, there are numerous caverns with pre-Colombian engravings, making it an important archaeological site.

There is also a village called Pedreira situated downriver of São Luís, close to the confluence of the São João with the Pacaás Novos river. This village belongs to the family of an indigenous man from the Guaporé river whose wife is now the second oldest woman among the Oro Win. This group calls itself Cabixí or Oro Win-Cabixí. At the start of 2010 an Oro Win family reoccupied the former site of the Cristo Reis Seringal, located between the two main villages, and built a new house there.

Population

Refeição em família, Posto Indígena São Luís. Joshua Birchall, 2009
Refeição em família, Posto Indígena São Luís. Joshua Birchall, 2009

The official statistics of FUNASA (Siasi), referring to July 2010, indicate a total population of 73 people belonging to the Oro Win indigenous group. Another 26 people were registered who called themselves Cabixí. As the FUNASA data refer to Cabixí people who live in the municipality of Guajará-Mirim, we can presume that the figures refer to the Oro Win/Cabixí population of Pedreira village, and not to the other group also called Cabixí, as in the case of some Nambikwara or Paresí subgroups [on the confusion between the various uses of this term, see Price (1983)]. A survey of the population carried out by Joshua Birchall in November 2009 recorded 103 inhabitants in the three Oro Win villages. This survey included only those people with fixed residence in the villages and did not distinguish the ethnic affiliation of the inhabitants. This total also excludes Oro Win families or individuals living in other Indigenous Lands or in the city.

 

History of contact

According to the schema of Txapakura migrations proposed by Meirelles (1989), the Oro Win are presumed to have come from the region of the upper Mamoré (Bolivia), crossing the border in the post-Colombian period to flee from Spanish Jesuits. As late as the end of the 19th century, many indigenous groups who lived close to or on the shores of the Guaporé and Mamoré rivers appear to have relocated to the headwaters of the major affluents, protected by the slopes of mountain upland regions such as the Pacaás Novos and Uopianes. Until this moment they were temporarily protected from the first rubber cycle, which would really initiate the process of occupying the valley of the Guaporé river.

The Oro Win people suffered numerous massacres, leaving few survivors. The genocide against the Oro Win was conducted with real acts of cruelty, such as the massacre on the Teteripe creek when indigenous children were thrown in the air to be impaled on the blades of machetes, while pregnant women, tied to tree trunks, were slowly killed with their bellies ripped open with knives. This massacre was carried out at the orders of the rubber boss Miranda da Cunha.

Coleta de caucho, igarapé Água Branca. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.
Coleta de caucho, igarapé Água Branca. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.

The last massacre against the Oro Win occurred in August 1963, organized by the rubber tapper Manoel Lucindo da Silva, who was accused of the crime in 1978 and condemned in 1994 by Popular Jury Trial to 15 years for his crime of genocide. However, Lucindo, due to his advanced age, carried out his sentence under house arrest. In the court records for Criminal Proceedings no. 6.362/78, two testimonies relating to the genocide stand out:

1) Maria Pi’ Nowa (Mixem Toc) Oro Win “relates that she was in the forest harvesting maize when she heard the gunshots. Startled, she returned to the village and when she arrived there found various wounded Indians. At this moment, Mr Manoel pointed a gun at her. Then Mr Manoel ordered the wounded Indians to sit on the ground. When she heard the series of gunshots she knew that they had killed four children and two old women. After the shootings, she was taken to the rubber plantation of Mr Manoel Lucindo where she was kept for some days but fled after being heavily beaten. Her tribe’s settlement contained just one large maloca, which was burnt to the ground by Mr Manoel. She recounts that her mother had died in a gun fight with rubber bosses on the Cautário sometime earlier. She also said that she knew that Mr Manoel took her father’s mother and had sexual relations with her until she became pregnant and subsequently died, the cause of her death unknown. Afterwards Mr Manoel asked her, Mixem Toc Oro Win, to live with him and the witness refused, saying that she already had a husband.”

2) Maria Piwan (Piunã) Oro Win: “Piunã recounts that she was among the tribe along with her father when they heard various shots. They ran into the forest. This happened early morning. When she and her father returned to the village in the late afternoon, they found dead children, a young woman and another three adult women. Her father dug a hole and buried the seven bodies. Afterwards she and her father fled.”

Based on the reports of the survivors, 31 Oro Win are estimated to have been killed from a group of 52. The mother of Pi’ Nowa and Piwan, called Saji, was the wife of Ti’omi. Saji was killed while pregnant, tied to a tree with her womb cut open with a knife in the massacre on the Cautário river. Ti’omi’s second wife was kidnapped by the rubber boss Manoel Lucindo and later poisoned. After the massacre of 1963, Ti’omi, the only adult male survivor, led his group into the forest. However without time to tend swiddens and build malocas, they lived on the move, fleeing alternately from the rubber tappers and the Uru-eu-wau-wau.

As Ti’omi related, after the massacre they were captured by the rubber boss Manoel Lucindo and forced to work under slavery conditions at the São Luís Seringal. As well as working for food, the women were continually raped by the rubber boss and his sons. During this period they were struck by an intense outbreak of flu and measles, causing serious illness and deaths. At the start of the 1980s, FUNAI transferred the Oro Win still living at the São Luís Seringal to the Rio Negro-Ocaia Indigenist Post. They remained there until 1991 when the rubber boss Manoel Lucindo was expelled and the Oro Win were able to return to their lands. The São Luís Indigenous Post was created at this time.

Social and political organization

O mais velho casal oro win com seu filho, o cacique. Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.
O mais velho casal oro win com seu filho, o cacique. Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.

Exogamic marriages were common between the subgroups, very often arranged on festival days. In endogamic marriages, preference was usually given to marrying cross-cousins. This latter practice is present in the traditional mythology, as in the history of the flood and the Myrym Men otter. The protagonists in this myth, two cross cousins, were stranded on the top of the mountain uplands during a great flood. At night a tinamou visited them and told them to marry as they were the only survivors from their people. The cousins then married and the flood receded, allowing the new couple to return to their land and repopulate it. All the Oro Win are said to be descendants of this couple. Today there are various married couples who comprise cross-cousins, both among those couples who married prior to contact and those formed post-contact.

Cosmology and mythology

Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.
Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.

Two narratives are fundamental to the Oro Win cosmology. The first concerns the origin of life and the relation between the Oro Win and the Wari’. The myths tell that in the beginning there was just one large leafy tree. This gigantic tree had a hole at its centre. So, one time, a man inserted his penis in the tree hole. The tree became pregnant and started to swell. One day the man heard voices coming from inside the tree. With his stone axe, the man split open the tree trunk, allowing his ‘children’ to climb out. Among these descendants there were those who ate human meat, while others refused. Those who ate human meat were expelled, giving rise to the Wari’. Those who stayed and did not practice anthropophagy formed the subgroups of the Oro Win.

Another myth concerns the wonder boy, Oko’ Jimi, and the origin of fire. The Oro Win say that the toad was the first owner of fire. The animal would show the fire but always swallowed it. One time an Oro Win boy, who was very clever, saw that the toad was sleeping and stole the fire. This is recounted as a remarkable feat, a motive for laughter and pride. This boy hero was also responsible for the origin of fish, the first bow, the formation of the mountains, and the harvesting of the first Brazil nuts.

Many other traditional histories involve the transformation of ancestral human beings into forest animals. The most well-known histories from this tradition tell of the origins of tapir, spider monkey, macaw parrot, white-lipped peccary, anteater and harpy eagle. Other common stories involve the origins of important foods like maize, blue taro and Brazil nuts.

Rituals

Festa. Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.
Festa. Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.

The information available on the spiritual life and rituals of the Oro Win is scarce. However we can extract some general observations from the traditional narratives and interviews collected in 2009 and 2010:

- In contrast to some other Txapakura groups from the region, such as the Wari’ or Cojubim, the Oro Win did not practice funerary cannibalism. When someone died the custom was to leave the corpse to rot for a few days and later burn the mortal remains. The ashes were stored in ceramic urns with lids woven from tucumã straw. These urns were typically buried but in some cases they might be deposited at the bottom of a river.

- Many other rituals among the Oro Win apparently centred on combatting illnesses and promoting fertility. At present we only have one account of the rituals prior to contact. According to the oldest Oro Win woman, when she was pregnant for the first time, the village shaman performed a ritual that included collective dancing and singing, accompanied by the ingestion of remedies derived from plant and animal sources to help her conceive children. Two of the central animals in this fertility ritual were the capuchin monkey and the tapir. According to this woman, the shamans normally related with the spirit of a powerful animal like the jaguar, harpy eagle and spider monkey.

Houses and productive activities

Menina com queixada, Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.
Menina com queixada, Posto Indígena São Luís. Foto: Andy Richter, 2010.

The Oro Win used to build large malocas with a gable roof. The family group was formed by the entire kin network, who lived in the same residential environment. They wove hammocks and baskets and made bows and arrows with smooth triangular tips.

The source of their diet was basically fishing and hunting, principally peccaries, monkeys, tapirs and forest birds. Sometimes the fledglings of birds found in the forest were raised or, on occasion, chickens from the rubber tapper camps were stolen.

The Oro Win still cultivate swiddens, though the crops have changes since the pre-contact era.  Traditionally they planted mainly maize, as well as various kinds of edible tubers like manioc, blue taro, yam and sweet potato. The maize to make corn cake and beer was crushed with a round stone, since they did not use a pestle and mortar. The most common crop today is manioc, used to make flour, a practice introduced after contact. The Oro Win still gather forest produce as part of their diet, including assai fruits, Brazil nuts, tucumã and ingá palm fruits and honey. In addition they plant small yard gardens with condiments, fruit trees and peanuts.

A trait peculiar to the Oro Win was their haircut, since they did not cut their fringe: both men and women let their hair grow. Traditionally they did not use clothing, preferring to adorn themselves with paint. During the coldest part of the year, which arrives in the region in the middle of the year, they used animal pelts to keep warm.

Note on the sources

The main source of information for this encyclopaedia entry are the interviews and recordings made by the linguist Joshua Birchall during his research project ‘Documentation of the Txapakura Languages in Rondônia.” This project is primarily aimed at studying the Oro Win language, culture and ethnohistory. The researcher recorded everything that he encountered during two visits to the São Luís Indigenous Post in 2009 and 2010.

A second source of information are the works of Antonio Brito, who interviewed the survivors of the massacres, as well as conducting an extensive review of the legal literature on the genocide and the consequent trial of Manuel Lucindo.

Mauro Leonel’s work is concentrated on the formation of the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Land, including a lot of information on the history of extractivism in the region and the massacres that resulted from this invasion, including those perpetrated against the Oro Win.

The anthropologist Aparecida Vilaça worked at the Rio Negro-Ocaia Indigenist Post during the 1980s when the Oro Win were living at this village. Her dissertation and subsequent publications include some information on the people’s history.

Sources of information

  • ANGENOT, Geralda de Lima V. “Documentação da língua Oro Win: Arquivos acústicos”. Working Papers in Amerindian Linguistics. Série 'Documentos de Trabalho'.Guajará-Mirim, UNIR, 1997.

 

  • BIRCHALL, Joshua (ed.) “Arquivo de documentação do povo indígena Oro Win”. Arquivo multimídia http://arqling.museu-goeldi.br/ [16 horas de áudio e 10 horas de vídeo]. Belém: Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, 2010. 

 

  • BIRCHALL, Joshua; ORO WIN, Salomão. Woraw Fet Ti’: Uma cartilha básica da língua Oro Win. 2010, 1ª edição, manuscrito.

 

  • BRITO, Antonio José Guimarães. “Genocídio do povo oro-win”.  In: Lemos, Maria Teresa Toríbio Brittes & Bahia, Luiz Henrique Nunes (eds.). Percursos da Memória: construções do imaginário nacional. Rio de Janeiro: UERJ, 2000, pp. 61-66.  
  • CIMI. Panewa Especial. N. 02, Porto Velho, Março, 1998.  
  • FRANÇA, Maria Cristina V. de. Aspectos da fonologia lexical da língua Oro Towati’ (Oro Win). Tese de doutorado. Guajará-Mirim: Universidade Federal de Rondônia, 2002.  
  • ______________. Descrição de Aspectos Morfossintáticos da Língua Oro Win. Anexo III. Léxico Alfanumérico. Campus de Guajará-Mirim, UNIR, 2001.
  • LEONEL, Mauro. Etnodicéia Uru-eu-wau-wau.  São Paulo: USP, 1995.

 

  • MEIRELLES, Denise Maldi. Guardiães da Fronteira: Rio Guaporé, século XVIII. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1989.

 

  • POPKY, Donna. Oro Win: A Descriptive and Comparative Look at an Endangered Language. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 1999. Dissertação de mestrado.  
  • PRADO, Rafael; BRITO, Antônio José Guimarães; AMARAL, José Januário de Oliveira. “Além do Genocídio: o etnocídio do povo oro-win e a fricção interétnica nas cabeceiras do rio Pacaás-novas: em caso de violação de direitos humanos”.  Revista Jurídica da Universidade de Cuiabá. Cuiabá: Edunic, 2007.  
  • PRICE, David. “Pareci, Cabixi, Nambiquara: a case study in western classification of native peoples”. In: Journal de la Société des Américanistes. Paris: Musée de L’Homme, 1983, 69, pp. 129-148.  
  • RONDÔNIA. Tribunal de Justiça. Processo 015.97.00467-7, Comarca de Guajará-Mirim. Porto Velho, 1978.

 

  • VILAÇA, Aparecida. Quem Somos Nós: Os Wari’ encontram os Brancos. Rio de Janeiro: Editora UFRJ, 2006.