- Where they are How many
- AP 1935 (Siasi/Sesai, 2020)
- Guiana Francesa 720 (Passes, 1994)
- Linguistic family
At the beginning of the century, after the appropriation of the territory contested by Brazil, the Palikur faced abusive treatment at the hands of the Brazilian customs-officers, who reproached them for not speaking Portuguese and accused them of smuggling. This hostility with Brazil, resulting from the commercial relations established for centuries between the Palikur and the French, earned them the name of amis de françois, and functioned as a pole of attraction for part of the indigenous population, which went to settle on the other side of the border. Presently, the Palikur have villages in both Brazil and French Guiana and constantly transit across the border. The network of intra-ethnic relations is maintained by kinship ties, marital alliances and commercial exchange, despite the political, economical, and social differences between the two countries.
In 1513, the Spanish traveller Vicente Yanez Pinzon reported in Seville that he had found a numerous indigenous population in the region north of the mouth of the Amazon River, which was called Paricura Province, referring to its inhabitants. After this first mention, the Indians who are today known as Palikur were mentioned several times in the reports and maps left by travellers in the following centuries, and were designated on the basis of corruptions of the same name, such as Paricuria, Paricura, Paricores, Palincur(s), Palicur, Palicours, Paricur, Pariucur, Parikurene, Parikur, Parincur-Iéne and, finally, Palikur.
When they refer to themselves, the Palikur use the term Parikwene, "the people of the river of the middle", alluding to the geographic position of the Urukauá river , which lies between the Uaçá and Curipi rivers. Pa’ik is derived from Aúkwa, and means in the middle (when translated to Portuguese it becomes Urukauá); (w)ené is a self-explanatory suffix, which, in this case, denotes people. Both for the Palikur who live in Brazil as well as for those of French Guiana, the Urukauá River is considered their homeland.
But, although they call themselves Parikwene, they are actually mentioned in the literature and known in the region as Palikur. The use of the term Palikur as an ethnonym arose from contact with non-Indians and other ethnic groups of the region. For the Parikwene, Palikur is a synonym for Indian, being used to refer to any other indigenous society.
The Palikur speak Parikwaki, a language affiliated to the Arawak language family. Among the ethnic groups who live in the region of the Uaçá, only they and the Galibi-Kaliña speak a language that is strictly speaking indigenous; the Karipuna and Galibi-Marworno, by different processes, adopted patois, derived from French creole, as a differentiated indigenous language.
Most Palikur men, youths and adults, and several women also speak patois, but they only use it in commercial, political, and social relations outside the villages or, occasionally, in contact with some visitor who speaks this language. When asked whether they speak patois, they usually answer no, for they are “true Indians”, thus marking their difference in relation to the speakers of this language.
On the Brazilian side, most young people who have been to school and several adult men also speak Portuguese. In Guiana, French is the second language, the school is French and there doesn’t exist any differentiated education. The influence of French is greater, for the educational process continues at least until the secondary level (high school), while in Brazil, until recently, education was interrupted at the end of the primary level due to a lack of teachers.
The Palikur population is divided between the two sides of the Brazil/French Guiana boundary. In Brazilian territory, they are located in the extreme north of the State of Amapá, on the periphery of the municipality of Oiapoque, in the region of the Uaçá basin, a tributary of the Oiapoque River. They are the most ancient inhabitants of all the populations that currently live in the region of the lower Oiapoque ( Karipuna, Galibi-Kaliña and Galibi-Marworno). The region, according to archaeological data and historical sources, was, until the European invasion, entirely occupied by Arawak-speaking populations. Today, the Palikur are the only remaining representatives of this ancient occupation.
The Palikur villages are distributed along the Urukauá river, tributary of the left bank of the Uaçá River. Descending the Urukauá River from its headwaters until near mid-river, one observes terra firme vegetation, but, from that point on, down to the mouth, the vegetation changes and is characterized by fields that are flooded in the winter or rainy season, and dry in the summer. These fields are crosscut by raised ground, on which the villages are located.
In French Guiana, the Palikur live mainly on the urban periphery of the capitol city, Caienne, and in the city that borders on Brazil, Saint Georges de L’Oyapock, in sectors of the city built by the government to house them. Outside the cities, they live in villages located on the left bank of the lower Oiapoque River.
The lands occupied by the Palikur in Brazil are part of the Uaçá Indigenous Lands I and II (homologated in 1991, decree n º 298 of 10/29/91, DOU 10/30/91, with 470,164 hectares). Contiguous with this area are the Indigenous Lands of Juminã (homologated in 1992, decree s/n º of 05/21/92, DOU 05/22/92, with 41,601 hectares), inhabited by Karipuna and Galibi-Marworno families; and, the Galibi Indigenous Land (homologated in 1982, decree n º 87844, DOU 11/22/82), land of the Galibi-Kaliña. Together, these indigenous areas represent the Indigenous Lands of the Oiapoque.
As the navigator Vicente Y. Pinzon recorded, the Palikur were sufficiently numerous at the beginning of the XVIth Century as to lend their name to the territory that they occupied. They entered the XXth Century, however, with their population greatly reduced due to various epidemics, slave-hunters and, since they were considered allies of the French, the persecutions of the Portuguese “Coast Guard Troops" .
Their population only began to recover during the XXth Century. Comparing the census figures recorded for the Palikur of the Urukauá in 1925 (Nimuendajú, 1926), in which the total population was 186 people and the Census of 2002, which showed a total of 1011 people (Funai – ADR/Oiapoque), one notes a population increase of 443%. Since the delimitation of the boundary markers between Brazil and French Guiana, the Palikur have been divided between the two sides of the border. But, instead of establishing fixed population centers on both sides, they have never stopped making boat trips to visit their kin on the other side of the border. Whether it is to conduct commerce, visit kin, pass holidays, or work for awhile to get some money, there is always some motive for going to Guiana and vice-versa.
Despite their living together with other ethnic groups of the region, among the Palikur there is a tendency to endogamy. Nevertheless, they don’t entirely exclude the possibility of exogamic marriages, which is attested by the nine marriages with Galibi-Marworno women, out of a total of ninety-seven marriages in Kumenê village.
Population of Urukauá in the 20th Century
Sources: 1925 – Nimuendaju (1926:15-16); 1931 & 1943 – E. Fernandes (1943); 1965 – E. Arnaud (1984:22); 1973 – M. Mattioni (1975:12); 1978, 1988 e 2002 FUNAI - ADR/Oiapoque.
In 2000, the Palikur population living in Guiana was around 700 people (F. Ouhoud-Renoux, 2000: 97). For the same period, the FUNAI counted 780 Palikur in Urukauá.
History of relations with the Whites
The history of contacts with the Palikur since the XVIth Century includes a variety of actors – European merchants and travellers, French and Portuguese administrative employees, French Jesuits, Portuguese military troops, fugitive Black slaves from the Guianas, Brazilian customs-officers, Catholic and evangelical missionaries, among others –, with whom the nature of their relations has varied: commercial, religious, political, or all of these at the same time.
In the first historical records (at the beginning of the XVIth Century), the Palikur were located on the southern coast of the then captaincy of Cabo do Norte (present state of Amapá), a bit above the mouth of the Amazon River. In the mid-XVIIth Century, they were forced to migrate to the north of the captaincy, going inland, settling between the coast and the region of flooded fields of the Uaçá River basin. Persecutions by the Portuguese, who feared the commercial relations between the Indians and other Europeans who frequented the region (French, English, and Dutch), intensified during this period, resulting in the extermination of various Arawak-speaking groups, such as the Aruã, considered allies of the French and thus, enemies of the Portuguese.
In the context of the dispute over passage to the mouth of the Amazon River and contiguous territories, commerce established between the Palikur and other Europeans could not, in the eyes of Portuguese authorities, go unpunished, and hence they were treated as enemies. In 1728, the abusive treatment inflicted by the Portuguese “Coast-Guard Troops” on the Palikur served as the grounds for a complaint from the Governor of Caienne, Monsieur de Charanville, to the agent of the General Captain of the state of Grão Pará, declaring that “luso-brazilian troops have practiced violence against people who are subjects to the sovereignty of France, that is, the Palincurt", who, according to the historian Arthur Cézar F. Reis (1993:143), were considered “longtime enemies of the paraense colonists".
The hostilities of the luso-brazilians against the indigenous populations also occured in the projects of the Catholic missionaries who travelled throughout the region between the middle of the XVIIth Century and the middle of the XVIIIth(Lombard,1928). Following the strategy of attracting Indians who were more exposed to the aggressions of the Portuguese, French Jesuit missionaries attempted several times to set up missions among the Palikur. However, according to Nimuendajú (1926:10), there are only records of a single mission that was founded in 1738 by Father Fourré and which did not last very long.
With the administrative definition of the contested Franco-Brazilian territory settled in 1900, establishing the line of the lowest part of the Oiapoque River valley as the natural boundary between the two countries, the relations between the Palikur and French took on a new connotation although the fear of Brazilian authorities persisted, as French sovereignty over the Palikur became more vulnerable.
This fear was borne out by the lack of diplomacy and abuses committed by the Brazilian customs employees, who yelled at the Indians because they didn’t speak Portuguese and accused them of being smugglers" (Nimuendajú, 1926:12). This treatment provoked the migration of almost the entire Palikur population to the French side in 1900. With the justification of protecting the Indians, the colonial government of Caienne invited the Palikur to move to the left bank of the Oiapoque river, setting aside for them the region of the Crique Marouan as exclusive territory. But, due to flu, measles, and malaria epidemics, many families returned to the Urukauá a few years later (C.Nimuendajú, 1926:12;E.Arnaud, 1969:05).
During the XXth Century, the relations between the indigenous populations of the region and the Whites were marked principally by Brazilian administrative policies. The visit of the Border Inspection Commission, led by General Rondon em 1927, concluded that it was necessary to put an SPI (Indian Protection Service) post in the region and schools in the villages. Since this is a border region with few inhabitants, it was proposed that the indigenous populations who lived there should serve as “living boundaries”; nevertheless, in order for this to become possible, it would be necessary to “instil in them the Brazilian civic spirit".
In 1930, The first SPI post was founded, located on a strategic geographical point called Encruzo because it is located at the crossing of the Curipi and Uaçá rivers, a place that allows access and mandatory passage for those who come from the Oiapoque or from the Karipuna villages of the Curipi on their way to the villages of the Galibi-Marworno and Palikur. Four years later, two teachers were sent to the villages of Espírito Santo on the Curipi River and Santa Maria dos Galibis (presently, Kumarumã) on the Uaçá River (A.Tassinari,1998:86). At that time, the Palikur were the only ones to refuse to put a school in their villages, as they associated this with slavery. They only allowed a school to be built after their conversion to evangelical Pentecostalism, almost forty years after.
Then began the task of turning the Indians into Brazilian citizens. The active presence of these agencies (the school and the SPI), which in practice functioned through the individual action of the people who headed them, was governed by the positivist ideology of “order and progress". The SPI promoted certain caciques [chiefs] as leaders; interfered in economic production, principally through the introduction of other species of cultivated plants; and, together with the regimen established by the teachers, put into effect various forms of punishment, which included work for the “community”, or physical abuses, which were applied to those who deviated from the norms instituted by the protection service itself.
Nevertheless, depite the common directives in relation to the indigenous populations, the action of the SPI varied in relation to each of the societies of the region. While their intervention in the lives of the Karipuna and Galibi-Marworno was more direct, including the installation of a post in the village of Kumarumã among the Palikur, control was exercised more sporadically – but always with the same severity, a fact which is still present in the memories of the elders. In their constant journeys to the Oiapoque and French Guiana, the Palikur were obliged to pass through Encruzo, where they were submitted to searches, mainly for alcoholic beverages which were strictly forbidden.
In 1968, the SPI was substituted by the National Indian Foundation (Funai). In contrast with its predecessor, FUNAI adopted an indigenist policy, and, together with the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), played an important role in the process of demarcation of indigenous lands and their maintenance.
At the end of the 70s, Funai, headed by Frederico Oliveira, and CIMI, coordinated by the Italian priest Nello Rufaldi, joined with the indigenous populations of the region to demand that state highway BR-156, which would connect the capitol of the state, Macapá, to the city of Oiapoque, not cut through the Indigenous Lands which had already been demarcated; principally because the tracing of the highway would separate the headwaters of the rivers from the rest of the indigenous area. Yet, the will of the government of the Federal Territory of Amapá at that time, the governor of which had been appointed during the height of the military dictatorship, prevailed. The attempts to block the passage of the road did not succeed, and both institutions suffered the consequences of failure. FUNAI had its employee Cezar Oda removed and transferred from the Territory under false accusations, and CIMI nearly paid dearly with the extradition of Father Nello Ruffaldi.
These institutions helped organize the Indians of the region politically, stimulating annual political assemblies and supporting the decision of the Indians to participate more directly in local politics, through the election of Indian councilmen. The results of this first effort at political organization would come to be felt in the 1990s, when the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the Oiapoque (APIO) was created and, in 1996, João Neves, a Galibi-Marworno Indian, was elected mayor of Oiapoque.
Some time before the political movement stimulated by Funai and CIMI began, the Palikur had experience with another kind of contact, religious. In 1965, a couple of missionary linguists of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), Harold and Diana Green, came to settle in the village of Kumenê on the Urukauá and began learning the Palikur language. They stayed in Urukauá for approximately 11 years. During this time, besides studying the language, the missionaries encouraged the entrance of the school in the village and helped out whenever there were health problems.
Two years after the arrival of the Greens, the Palikur received the first visits of a missionary pastor of the New Tribes Mission. The action of this pastor is considered by the Palikur to be a decisive step in their evangelization. It was his religious preachings that exhorted the Palikur to "accept Jesus, by being baptized in the waters". After this moment, pastors of the Assembly of God Evangelical Church of Macapá, capitol of the state, initiated the installation of a headquarters of the church in the village of Kumenê, which was consolidated by the consagration of an indigenous pastor who became responsible for its direction.
Contact with other ethnic groups
In the Uaçá region, four ethnic groups live together: besides the Palikur, there are the Karipuna groups, who live mostly on the banks of the Curipi River; the Galibi-Marworno, located in a single village on the left bank of the Uaçá River; and the Galibi-Kaliña, a group that consists of but one family, who migrated to Brazil in the 1950s, from Mana, in French Guiana, to the right bank of the Oiapoque River.
Trade relations maintained with several of the indigenous societies of the region date from ancient times, but actually communication among them has become ever more restricted to the General Assemblies of the Indigenous Peoples of the Uaçá or to the celebrations on “Indian Day". The participation of the Palikur in these assemblies can be described as timid, for, despite the fact that they speak patois, it seems like they don’t feel at ease in speaking in public in this language. One thus observes a big difference in comparison with the internal meetings of the Palikur in which orators (men) are used to speaking at length.
It is worth noting that the Palikur invariably complain of not being heard and not having their demands met. And they refuse on purpose to participate in the network of sociability engendered by the assemblies. The clearest instance of this refusal occurs on the last day of the assembly, on the night of the closing festival, when only those who have “deviated from the faith" get together with the Karipuna, Galibi-Marworno and Galibi-Kaliña to dance and drink the whole night.
Yet, if a situation requires the joint action of all the indigenous peoples of the region, the Palikur actively participate together with the others. Thus, at the end of April, 1998, the Indians united to prevent a new administrator of Funai – ADR/Oiapoque from taking office. For nearly 15 days, the headquarters of the administration was seized and surrounded, and it was left to the Palikur to keep watch, armed with bows and arrows, until the signal was given to leave. The same thing happens at the times of cleaning the demarcation line of the Indigenous Land, when groups of men go to the middle of the woods for three to four days to clean the demarcation strip.
Over the past three years, the Palikur have intensified another type of intercommunity and interethnic communication: the evangelization of other indigenous peoples. The Palikur missionaries began evangelizing in the mid-1980s, when they introduced Pentecostalism among the Palikur of French Guiana. More recently, at the turn of the century, the evangelical missionary and his following of about twenty people, announcing the imminent “end of time" reactivated their visits to the villages of their people which had still not been evangelized, and also their action among the Catholic Karipuna of the village of Santa Isabel.
As in the entire Amazon region, on the Uaçá there are only two seasons: the rainy season, between December and June, called winter, and the dry season, between July and November, also known as summer. These two seasons define the economic activities realized during the year.
Season change provokes a transformation in the environment of the Urukauá which directly interferes in indigenous economy. At the height of summer, between July and September, water is concentrated in the rivers, which become quite dry, thus facilitating fishing with hook and line, spear, or bow and arrow. In this period, almost all kinds of fish are eaten, especially the most prized fish, such as tucunaré, tamuatá and pirarucu. According to internal legislation, elaborated in an Assembly of the Indigenous Peoples of the Oiapoque, the pirarucu cannot be fished at any time of the year. The time of spawning, March, must be respected in order to guarantee their preservation. Given the abundance of fish, a part of the fish is salted for internal consumption in the period of scarcity.
With the fields dry, the Palikur easily discover nests of tracajá, alligator and chameleon eggs, highly prized animals that are caught in their flight from the burning of the dry rush of the fields, a technique which seeks not only to get game animals, but also make possible the transit of canoes pushed by long poles (takar) when the fields are flooded during the winter.
It is also in the summer that they begin to look for the best places to make gardens. The procedures followed are felling, burning, burning of the brush, and finally planting. They plant bananas, abacaxi, cherry pepper, yams, among other species, but the principal product is wild manioc for the production of manioc cereal and its derivatives – beiju, tapioca, manioc residue for porridge, etc. Manioc cereal is the basis of the food diet in the whole region of the Oiapoque, and it is the Palikur, Karipuna and Galibi-Marworno Indians who supply close to 80% of the cereal that is sold in the market of the city of Oiapoque.
The place chosen for the garden could be, in the summer, the equivalent of an hour on foot over buriti trunks, which are absolutely necessary for people to avoid stepping in the thick, dark mud of the dry fields, or more or less the same time that canoes pushed by poles take to cross the flooded fields in the winter.
In the winter, fishing becomes very difficult because the fish disperse in the flooded field. In this period, hunting is the principal activity. The Palikur go upriver in the direction to the terra firme forest, where they spend the night waiting for animals such as tapir, deer, pig, cutia, monkey (they don’t specifiy which species, but they do insist that they do not eat coamba) and howler monkey. The use of shotguns produces better results in hunting. At times, one night is enough to get the food necessary to feed a domestic group for a week. If they don’t want to go very far, they go downriver in the direction of the Tipoca, Soussouri and Ucupi “islands”, which also shelter the same species of animals. Birds are another source of food. Species such as the heron, the maguari, the loon, the jaburu are mainly found on the banks of the rivers or in open fields, while the doves, tucanos and other species of small birds are hunted in the forest.
In the winter, taking care of the manioc gardens basically involves cleaning and maintenance. In December, they begin producing manioc cereal which is partly consumed and partly stored in large barrels with screwed-on tops, which are bought in French Guiana and used to keep the cereal always toasty, a feature which makes it very much appreciated in the region. This production supplies internal demand for a year and commercialization in the cities of Oiapoque and Saint Georges.
Morphology and placement of the villages
Presently, there are thirteen Palikur villages on the banks of the Urukauá, but the number of villages is always fluctuating, because the decision to leave a village and create a new one is established by the chief of a domestic group which is composed of an elderly couple, with their single sons and daughters, their married children, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Of all the villages, Kumenê is the most populous.
Before contact with the evangelical religion, the Palikur were distributed in small villages which were distant from each other. The population growth of the village of Kumenê began in the mid-1960s with the process of evangelization and later with the building of an Assembly of God church. Nevertheless, for nearly twenty years, several families have gone back to living spread out, alledging the need for distribution in land occupation for the protection of the territory. At the end of 1998, the first village was founded on the side of highway BR-156, on kilometer 80, near the headwaters of the Urukauá river and quite isolated from the population nuclei that inhabit the banks of this river.
Traditionally, the villages are built facing the river. The morphology of the villages is varied. In the smaller ones, the reference point is the house of the founding member of the village, with the other houses arranged around it. Several middle-sized villages, with around eight houses, are built around a soccer field, or are organized into streets. The largest village, Kumenê, is long, with its houses ligned up in two parallel streets and occupies the whole extent of the island. The public buildings, like the school, health post and Funai post, are located on the most isolated point of the village.
Kumenê brings together various domestic groups that, in the “more traditional”, spatially fragmented, pattern, would be more separated in different territories. Nevertheless, the spatial distribution of this village follows the traditional model, which displays a division marked by the rule of uxorilocal residence, in which the newly-weds go to live together with the wife’s family, and the influence of the subgroup of the men who are able to bring together more sons-in-law around them.
In the domestic group, well-defined ties of cooperation and obligation can be seen, especially in the relation between father-in-law and son-in-law. The authority of the father-in-law over his sons-in-law is reinforced by the rule of uxorilocal residence. This being so, a son-in-law only changes status when he gets his daughters married, thus becoming a father-in-law.
Descent, in turn, is determined by the paternal line, and it is this rule which defines with whom one can and cannot marry. The Palikur are divided into six patrilineal subgroups, all of which derive from a single origin in which they are divided into different “races" or “nations" (following their own explantation), and which are translated both into Portuguese and French in the form of surnames. These are: Wayvuene or the “race of the big lizard" (in Portuguese, this is the family with the surname Ioiô); Wakavuyene, "race of the prop" (surname Batista); Kawakyene, "race of the Ananás" (surname Labonté); Paymiune, "race of the piramutaba" (surname Guiome); Wadahyene, "race of the little lizard" (surname Iaparrá); and Waxyene, "race of the mountain" (surname Antônio Felício). The naming of the subgroups is transmitted through the father and is unchangeable. Thus, the woman, even after marriage, is still connected to the subgroup of her father, while her children belong to the subgroup of her husband. It is expressly forbidden to marry a member of the same subgroup.
Both on the Brazilian and on the French Guiana sides of the border, the name of the subgroup has translations in Portuguese and French. This happened, first, because of the actions of the Catholics priests who visited the region administering baptism and applying Christian surnames, and, later, through the birth records which were necessary to prove Brazilian or French nationality. Despite adopting exogenous names and surnames, the Palikur keep their first names in their language and all surnames are related to one of the six subgroups. Because of misunderstandings and, often, ill will of the officials of civil records, there are several subgroups that have more than one surname. This is the case of the Wayvuene, who, in Portuguese could be Ioiô, Orlando, Hipólito, Leon Paulo or Martiniano. Since 1998, the Portuguese name of the mother’s subgroup has come to be included in the birth registry as a middle name, in Brazilian style.
Chiefs, councils, leadership
Until the present day, one observes the system of chiefs established by the SPI in the region and always reinforced by public assistance agencies. The villages choose a chief to represent them who, in general, is the chief of the founding domestic group of the village. In the larger villages, the population indicates a vice-chief and a council formed by men in the age range of fifty years. It is these “leaders” who are presented as representatives of the “Palikur community" in the regional indigenous assemblies or in any event outside the circuit of the villages.
Nevertheless, more recently, with the founding of new villages by domestic group chiefs – a process that had been interrupted by the territorial centralization resulting from Protestant evangelization –, the number of chiefs has increased considerably, which has had the effect of pulverizing power. Today, one does not see only one leader as spokesman for the whole “Palikur community”, but rather, various chiefs representing their little villages.
Any decisions that affect the village are discussed in meetings that bring together the whole community in question, whether this is represented by a village or by a group of villages. These meetings generally last a long time, providing an opportunity to whoever wishes to speak (in general the elder men). Women and young men rarely speak out.
When there is an internal transgression of the norm of good sociability, typically characterized by fights between affines, thefts and fights resulting from marital infidelity, those involved are judged by a commission formed by the chief, vice-chief and councilmen. There is only one type of sentence: to clean spaces of common use, which varies in degree according to the gravity of the offense. The more serious the transgression, the larger the area that the accused will have to clean.
In case of death by murder, the killer is exiled from the community. The most famous case was the killing of a "pajé", in the 1950s, which was undertaken by fifteen men. It is worth noting that this death marked the disappearance of shamanism on the Urukauá. According to the Palikur, "the men that killed the ‘pajé’ were expelled, far away, to Brazil".
Along with the political leadership of the chief and the counsel, there is religious leadership, exercised by the pastor and his “obreiros” [workers], over their congregation. It is up to the pastor to maintain the good conduct of his followers, so that they don’t go “astray”, to gain new converts and reintegrate into the church those who by chance have left it. Different from the political leaders, the pastor cannot judge the members of his community. Judgment is individual and internal, between man and his God.
Art and material culture
Material culture is very diversified. The Palikur know how to make different types of plaitwork, basketry, ceramic pots, bamboo and bone flutes, facial stamps made on small wooden blocks, clubs, shields, bow and arrow, headdresses of various types of feathers, cerimonial benches, canoes, etc.. They are the only Indians in the region who know how to make the great pots for wohska (fermented drink made from manioc, indispensible for the festivals of Turé, for the payment of collective work parties, and in the political assemblies) which are used mainly by the Karipuna, who are among the few people of the region who hold the ritual of Turé.
If a new meaning is not attributed to the objects of material culture, such as the production for commercialization or exposition in a museum, it is not known for how long the Palikur will be able to retain the knowledge of the techniques for production of these materials. With the exception of the plaitwork, canoes, and bow and arrow, all of which are objects of use, a great part of this material culture is related to the ancient rituals, which were abolished many years ago. Today, only some elder men and women still remember certain techniques of production.
Virtual Exhibit: The presence of the invisible - Daily and Ritual Life amidst Indigenous Peoples of Oiapoque - http://oiapoque.museudoindio.gov.br/exposicao/
Cosmology and mythology
On the cosmological plane, the Palikur assert that the creation and structuring of the universe and all that is part of it is the work of God. They usually look down upon the beliefs of their ancestors, asserting that they were nothing more than superstitions, and cite as an example the belief in the constitution of the universe in layers. Today, they affirm that that they “know that the world is round". Nevertheless, they possess a vast repertoire of myths that reveal a good part of the cosmovision that is currently renounced.
The myths can be divided into two categories: cosmogonic myths (that tell of the emergence of the Palikur and their relations with the environment or with other ethnic groups of the region), and those that speak of the relation with the “beings of the other world" (supernatural world).
The myths are classified into two types: they are, at the same time, "stories of the old times, of the past, a long time ago" and "false stories". They always refer to a past times, in which the “true” belief, the Christian religion, was not known. The Palikur say that the myths belong to a system of beliefs that have been surpassed.
However, at times, a narrator can reflect and point out that the fact in question is real and still occurs today, thus revealing the ambiguous position held by the myths in the Palikur cosmovision. It is exactly this ambiguity that has allowed for the co-existence of indigenous mythology with Christian religion, which has not occured with the rituals, for which reason they are no longer held. Myth is consciously relegated to an inferior position in relation to the Christian religious system, which means that it does not represent a threat and thus has a certain “freedom".
The mythical universe appears to be divided into three layers: the world below, the terrestrial plane, and the celestial plane. The first is the mythical space par excelence, for in it dwell the supernatural spirits. As its name indicates, the world below is located just below the surface of the earth. Its parallel position in relation to the terrestrial level facilitates contact between the two worlds, a necessary condition for the existence of the mythical world, since this plane only makes sense in connection with the world of humans. The representation of the passage between the two worlds is physical: there is a “hole” on the terrestrial level, which allows for the displacement of the myth and its characters from one sphere to another during the narration. The switch from one plane to another is marked by the transformation of supernatural beings, which, in their world, have human form, but, in order to come up to the terrestrial level, they need to “clothe themselves” with a “cloak”that gives them animal form.
On the terrestrial level live human beings, plants, animals, and, occasionally, supernatural beings. This level has a topography which is analogous to this earth. However, the geographical locations are fluid and vary from one narrative to another. It is also a notable space for mythical narratives.
Finally, there is the celestial plane . At first glance, it seems to be a space that is dominated exclusively by the Christian cosmological universe – represented as Eden, inhabited by the Trinity and reserved for the chosen, those who have “accepted Jesus” before the “end of time". In contrast with the other worlds, at first glance, heaven appears to be, mythically speaking, empty (as Lux Vidal has observed). But, even being fragmentary, several aspects of indigenous cosmology still occupy space in this domain.
About the sky, they say that it is formed by six unnamed levels. Among these, only two have notable inhabitants: on the second level lives the two-headed king vulture, and, on the sixth level, there is Jesus Christ, awaiting the chosen "in the celestial Eden made of gold". The other levels are described as “display windows” of Purgatory, in which one sees the souls of those who do not get to eternal life. These souls are anthropomorphic, with a human body up to the neck, dressed in a white cloak, and the head of an animal (monkey, alligator, etc.).
In 1926, Nimuendajú mentioned the existence of three heavens: Inoliku, the lowest of the three, Mikene and Ena. Just above the first, there was a special heaven, Yinoklin, inhabited by the Yumawali, spirits (or demons, as Nimuendajú calls them) of the mountains (1926:46-47). The existence of this division of the sky by named levels does not exist at present, but, with small alterations, the names given to the heavens are confirmed.
Perhaps because it is so important in the Christian worldview, the heavens have been so thoroughly appropriated, producing the actual configuration: a vacillating hybrid of Christian and indigenous cosmologies. At first sight, the description of heaven is given without much explanation. The stories that take place in it generally have Christian characters. And they do not say what the role of the two-headed king vulture located on the second level is, they just mention that he lives in that space. One might suppose that the vulture is one of the few post-evangelical survivals on this level.
Notes on sources
From the XVIth Century on, the Palikur are cited in different types of documents. They appear in travellers’ reports, Catholic missionary reports, Portuguese and French employee reports, and scientific expedition reports.
In the primary sources, the information is almost always fragmentary, and often the Indians of the region are mixed up with each other. But, even so, it’s possible to get data that clarify certain aspects, principally on the political and economic relations maintained with the Europeans. On a few occasions cultural aspects are mentioned, emphasizing the exoticism “of these Indians".
In the XXth Century, the writings are more elaborate, based on field research and ethnographic references. In 1926, Curt Nimuendajú, after a stay of four months among the Palikur, published one of the most complete monographs on them in German, called Die Palikur-Indianer und Ihre Nachbarn. In this work, the system of social organization, economy, and internal and external politics appear, for the first time, in a specialized way. Besides the description resulting from fieldwork, Nimuendajú also undertook extensive research in the historical sources, in which he situates the Palikur in the context of the region of the Uaçá. A version of the manuscript translated to Portuguese, which Nimuendú himself did, is being prepared for publication by the NHII (Center for Indigenous History and Indigenism) of the University of São Paulo, revised by Professor Thekla Hartmann and with an introduction by Luís Donisete B. Grupioni.
At the end of the 1960s, the researcher Expedito Arnaud, of the Goeldi Museum, began producong a series of articles based on three periods of fieldwork undertaken in the Uaçá region between 1964 and 1967. The articles that he wrote on the Palikur are organized around the dichotomy of tradition, understood as ancestral beliefs, habits and customs, and change, related to the action of the SPI, and, principally, to the beginning of the process of protestant evangelization. These texts were published in the bulletins of the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, where one can find all of the documentary collection left by Expedito Arnaud, who died in 1992, including a manuscript translation in Portuguese of the ethnography by Curt Nimuendajú on the Palikur by Mark Münzel.
Several French anthropologists have also researched among the Palikur. Among these, we may cite Pierre and Françoise Grenand, Simone Dreyfus and M. Mattioni. Seeking to understand how the depopulation of the ethnic groups of the region to the north of the mouth of the Amazon, the Grenands have reconstructed the history of the Palikur through historical documents, comparing the written sources with oral history. Besides ethnohistorical works, they have also produced individual texts focusing on different aspects of culture and social organization, such as language and kinship.
Simone Dreyfus has also developed ethnohistoric studies, focusing on the peoples of the coastal region in which the Palikur appear, in a peripheral way, through the relations which they maintained with the Galibi-Kaliña. But, it was the publication of two small ethnographic articles – based on field research among the Palikur of French Guiana, and published at the beginning of the 1980s – which have made her work a basic reference. The book by M. Mattioni is also situated in the field of ethnographies; in it, there is a detailed exposition of Palikur socio-cultural characteristics.
In 1998, Alan Passes defended his doctoral thesis in the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of St. Andrews, which, in his words, is an anthropological exploration of aspects of intercommunication, in which the research focuses on the concepts and practices of Pa’ikwené speaking and hearing, as the author prefers. Passes’ research was undertaken among the Palikur who live in Saint Georges, in the village of Deuxième Village Espérance, but the author also worked with informants from other villages from this city, from Caienne and Urukauá. This is the first academic thesis defended on the Palikur. It is a well-organized thesis constructed on a consistent ethnography.
In terms of production on the Palikur language, the texts of Harold and Diana Grren, linguists of the Summer Institute of linguistics (SIL), are noteworthy. In all, there are 52 lay books written in Pa’ikwaki, including primers, a dictionary, books of stories, and 14 titles which are more directed to the church, among which is the complete New Testament. Besides the texts produced for the community, Diana Green has published in the Bulletin of the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, a linguistic article on the Palikur numerical system.
Since 1996, Artionka Capiberibe has undertaken research among the Palikur of Urukauá for her Master’s thesis which was defended in the Graduate Program in Social Anthropology (PPGAS) of UNICAMP advised by Prof. Dr. Robin Wright. The central theme of the thesis is the process of Pentecostal evangelization and its present configuration. This Master’s thesis is part of the research group of the region of Uaçá, which has been developing Master’s and Doctoral theses on the indigenous societies of this region, and is coordinated by Prof. Dr. Lux Vidal. All of the researchers of the Uaçá Group also participate in the thematic project on “Indigenous Societies and their Boundaries in the Southeast of the Guianas", developed by the NHII/ USP, coordinated by Professors L. Vidal and Dominique T. Gallois and financed by the FAPESP.
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