From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Photo: José Maurício Arruti, 1998


Where they are How many
MG, PE, SP 8184 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
Linguistic family
We have not translated this article into English yet! It is currently available in Portuguese, though.

Location and history of the Indigenous Land

The Pankararu Indigenous Land, officially approved in 1987, is located between the current municipalities of Petrolândia, Itaparica and Tacaratu, in the sertão ("hinterland") of Pernambuco, near the São Francisco River.Its shape is that of a perfect square and it corresponds to the memory that Pankararu maintain of the imperial donation of a land grant to the religious mission that settled their ancestors, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The only official note of the existence of a religious settlement at the site, for which there is no foundation record, relates to its extinction in 1878.

Since the earliest records made by the Indian Protection Service (SPI), in the 1930s, the lands claimed by Pankararu correspond to a "square league" delimited on 14,290 hectares. However, at the time of the first local intervention by the indigenist body in 1940, the limits of the claimed land are not respected. During the demarcation work, the responsible officer reduces that square in half a league in its east and north axes, turning the former 14,000 hectares into 8,100 officially recognized hectares.

The Pankararu, then, intensify land conflicts with non-indigenous settlers who inhabit the southwest portion of the recognized area. Both claim having a court decision on the recognition of their rights and the situation remains with this duality, punctuated by conflict, until 1984, when a Funai Working Group (WG) is formed to carry out a revision of the Pankararu area.

The resulting report by the 1984 WG proposes to the agency that the reduction carried out in the area, in 1940, be corrected, encompassing all of the larger square, except for a small stretch on its eastern face, in which a cut is made to leave out the city of Tacaratu, bringing the size of the indigenous land to 14,294 hectares. Regarding the disputed area, in the southwest corner, the WG carries out land possessions survey, in order to expel "invaders".

This proposal, however, is refused by the Ministry of Agriculture and, in an agreement with the indigenous leaders (chief, pajé [medicine man] and president of the community association), the northern and eastern increasings of the land are exchanged for the promise of immediately expelling invaders in the old disputed stretch. In 1987, the same area demarcated by the SPI is then officially approved, now by Funai, without fulfilling the promised expellings. Only in 1993, pursuant to a civil lawsuit filed by the Prosecutor's Office against the Union, Funai and Incra, the court decides for the removal of twelve families of squatters, identified as the main leaders, in an attempt to facilitate further expellings. These squatters, however, appeal and obtain a suspension of the decision, returning the situation to the same previous indefinition.

Complicating this picture, squatter group leaders argue there are families related to their ancestors, who married Pankararu individuals and are now considered indigenous, in the same way that there would be many families of squatters, descendants of Indians, most often indigenous women, married to non-Indians and transferred out of the current limits of the indigenous area.

In 1999, the remaining claimed area, left out of the approved extension, is submitted to a new identification process under the name of Entre Serras Indigenous Land, approved in 2007.

Environment and economy

Formação geográfica designada pelos Pankararu como
Formação geográfica designada pelos Pankararu como

A small swamp, formed by an opening amid the last foothills of the Tacaratu Sierra (better known by locals as Serra Grande), takes the form of an amphitheater, with its waterheads to the east, opening up westward toward the shores of the São Francisco river. This little "green oasis", in which the village of Brejo dos Padres was placed, stands deep in the hinterland area and contrasts with the landscape around, marked by extensive animal farming and, until the middle of twentieth century, a generally not significant subsistence agriculture.

The transformations in infrastructure resulting from the construction of the hydroelectric power plants of Paulo Afonso and Itaparica, in the 1980s - and even before that, the failed attempts to irrigate the banks of the São Francisco river by the DNOCS, in the 1930s - soften the contrast between the Brejo and its surroundings, now with growing cities and irrigation areas.

In the central section of the Indigenous Land is found a rather moist, dark earth, that is fed by four water sources that flow from the head of the foothills and that used to form, before the plumbing works carried out during the 1990s, a small river that flowed down to the narrow opening leading out of this amphitheater, running, when the dry season allowed it, to the São Francisco river. A region rich in fruit, especially mango, guava and pine nuts, which can supplement the residents’ family income in less dry seasons. Soil quality allows planting everything, from corn and different kinds of beans to sugar cane, which was introduced here in the early nineteenth century and has long supplied small mills, of Indians, non-Indians and of the SPI, in manufacturing "honey", sugar cane juice and molasses.

Índia pankararu segurando pote de barro de fabricação local destinado ao transporte de água. Foto: José Maurício Arruti, 1994.
Índia pankararu segurando pote de barro de fabricação local destinado ao transporte de água. Foto: José Maurício Arruti, 1994.

Past these foothills, the landscape changes dramatically. There is no longer the natural protection that allows for the concentration and precipitation of the few clouds that arrive from the coast, and the almost permanent dryness makes the earth white and sandy, if not hard and stony. In the southern section, the mountain slopes down at once, in broad contours that form natural pastures. Two water sources hydrate a narrow stretch of this section, dampening the small depression that then rises again, for three or four dry kilometers up to the edges of the area. In this watered part, which comprises about a third of the entire section, beans and corn are planted, leaving the remaining two thirds of slopes for planting cassava. The importance of this region for the Pankararu is its role as, not only a timber reserve, but also the place where the umbu (Spondias tuberosa), native to the region, flowers. Its fruit is almost an ethnic symbol, playing a main part in their festivals' mythology.

Outside the ratified area, north of the foothills, the mountain does not slope down at once, but forms steps and many ditches that, when reaching its lowest point, rise back forming a sort of narrow "belly" before continuing the buttress. This section's rugged surface make it very difficult to grow crops in. It is only fully usable for planting cassava, although its residents never miss the opportunity to plant the traditional beans and corn. On the other hand, it makes it rich in narrow and tall rock formations, sometimes of imposing aspect, known as "serrotes".

In this section there is no natural water source, what makes its residents rely almost exclusively on rainfall, complemented with difficulty by tanker trucks they pay, or sometimes, nearing the elections, which are provided by public authorities. In the absence of these two resources, the everyday is composed of many "carloads" of water pots between the mountains and the Brejo, on donkey's back or carried on the head by women and children, that start their morning activities at 4:00 and stop at 7:00, after two trips. Considering the legal limits, this section of the Pankararu land is largely outside the area approved in 1987 and inside the area identified in 1984.

The villages and towns

The small stream that rises in the Brejo's headwaters crosses all the villages and connects them all, up to the city of Itaparica. The road from Itaparica, the "free city" and Petrolândia runs parallel to it, ending almost in the exact center of the indigenous area. It is in this section, crossed by the largest and busiest access road to the area, that residences cluster in streets layout, with little room for regular planting and just enough for small gardens and old orchards, where a large number of fruit trees supplement family incomes, in the summer. Associated with this lack of planting land, this section houses the vast majority of indigenous individuals who work in nearby towns, or as "sharecroppers", day laborers or tenants of other indigenous individuals, settlers, or neighboring land owners.

In the southern section, the land is mostly used for grazing but there are parts, especially those near the springs (where are the villages of: Tapera, Brejinho dos Correias and Carrapateira) that have shown to be good for planting, attracting indigenous persons from the other sections. This is a region of recent occupation, which dates back to the 1940s at most, serving today as an expansion area.

The landscape of the northern section consists of chaotic contours in a narrow valley. Its area is equivalent to the other two, with almost twice as many "repartições", but with a lower density than the central section. The installation of the indigenous post in 1940 took place in the central and ecologically privileged section, the Brejo, adding to its ecological attributes that of tutelary agency headquarters, and, gradually, of political headquarters, non-existant until then. This, in turn, made it the privileged section in the emergence and concentration of public buildings, primarily schools and pharmacies, and also in assistance from the tutelary agency.

The other sections were also met with public buildings and assistance, but were always second regarding the order of deployments and the number of establishments and employees. This inequality of resources in the different sections, probably due to the differences in population density, for a long time did not hurt the relative parity between the villages distributed around the "circle". However, in the 1980s, a series of regional changes affected this local balance, emphasizing the differences.

New resources

In the 1980s, a series of resources and special financing started flowing into the region by government initiative, interested in minimizing opposition to the construction of the dam for the Itaparica Hydro Power Plant, in particular through the activities of EMATER. Reports on the social impact of the dam were made, which gave greater visibility to the Pankararu and other nearby indigenous groups, especially the Tuxá. In addition, the regional press turned its attention to the site, marked by strikes in the dam works, carried out by the unions. All this made the region receive attention from welfare agencies, such as the LBA and different types of non-governmental agencies, ranging from the Lions Club to Cimi (Indigenous Missionary Council).

This change in circumstances enabled Funai to propose a series of cultural and economic projects which were then channeled to the indigenous outposts. They had, at the origin of their resources, broader government programs such as the Program of National Integration (PIN), the Program Support Small Farmer (PAPP), the Polonoroeste etc. Added to these changes are the ones that hit the indigenous field in Brazil in the 1990s and gave the Northeast a new visibility, attested by the attention received from the former agencies or the creation of new ones in the region.

In all these cases, however, the reference point for the activities within the Pankararu indigenous area is always the Brejo dos Padres, place of higher population density and where is located the indigenous post. Easy transportation, piped water distributed throughout public water tanks, free electricity and varied social resources, such as day care, collective flour mill, handicraft production center, a club and a small truck, all obtained in the 1980s, today mark a big difference between the Brejo and the other two sections, particularly regarding the northern section, where the lack of these resources adds to the disadvantages of their legal and ecological geographies.

Many of the resources obtained in the 90s do not originate from Funai, neither are mediated by it, but were achieved directly by indigenous leaders in most of the variations of what we call the "seeking of rights." With the increase in the number of government and non-government agencies in the region, it was possible to further expand the notion of "rights" and the scope of action of the "pilgrim leaders" [see the chapter "History"]. The trips made from then on, although they are always linked to land conflict, no longer seek exclusively land solutions or jobs in Funai, but seek also the support from other agencies, in the form of community development projects or assistance to "small producers". A relatively large number of leaders start taking part in travels, seeking the new "rights".

Some things changed since the beginning of these transits among these new relief agencies. One, and perhaps one of the most important, was the emergence of "community associations", which became the legal interface for funds transfer transactions and realization of agreements between support agencies and indigenous groups.


Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Saúde, no centro geográfico e político do Brejo dos Padres. Foto: José Maurício Arruti, 1994.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Saúde, no centro geográfico e político do Brejo dos Padres. Foto: José Maurício Arruti, 1994.

Since the early 1920s, the Pankararu, through their relations with the Fulni-ô, had established contacts with Father Alfredo Dâmaso - who would support them in land claims since the first contacts, recommending them to military authorities of Paulo Afonso (BA), which was, at that time, the main city nearby, where the Pankararu attended the weekly market.

But it was in the city of Águas Belas, in 1935, that researcher Carlos Estevão de Oliveira met a Pankararu and then made his first trip to Brejo dos Padres. Two years later, he gave lectures making known the existence of the group. Finally, the Ministry of War, to which the Indian Protection Service (SPI) was subordinate, sent an employee to the site for an initial assessment. The work did not continue until the agency installed an indigenous outpost in Brejo dos Padres three years later, when SPI was transferred to the MAIC (Ministry of Agriculture, Industry and Trade).

At that time, there was already an exchange circuit between communities recognized today as indigenous that could be described according to two models: ritual travels and escape travels, which seem to be the unfolding of a previous mobility pattern. Ritual travels consisted of the temporary movement of people and families between communities, marked by religious events, which may or may not correspond to an annual calendar. Escape travels were migrations of family groups, due to the persecution, factionalisms, drought or shortage of lands.

For the Pankararu, the city of Rodelas, and the "rodelas" people, currently known as Tuxá, were a permanent reference in their travels, before the construction of hydroelectric dams that blocked this flow of people. The Pankararu also maintained contacts with other groups from other parts of the São Francisco River, such as the Fulni-ô and, less frequently, the Kambiwá. Their relationship with the Pankararé and the Jeripancó was even closer. In the first case, due to their memory of a common origin, in the latter, because the Jeripancó are considered a lost part of the Brejo dos Padres, one that has gone away as a result of these escape travels, precisely at the moment of greatest expropriation of lands of the ancient settlement of Brejo dos Padres.

Thus, the travels connected groups, of different origins or not, by ties of affinity and kinship in the production of a wider, expanding ritual community, leading to the creation of open circuits for the exchange of men, information and culture. These circuits between the indigenous peoples of the Brazilian Northeast also formed a community for sharing common issues (cattle affecting the crops appears in all accounts and the expropriation of the lands of ancient settlements, in almost all) and common memories.

Such ritual and escape circuits find correspondence with previous travels that marked the historical situation of the indigenous settlements along the São Francisco. This region's groups have always strongly resisted fixed settlement in a single location, one that would restrain their free wandering between neighboring groups and villages, and the colonization enterprise took a very long time to reduce this mobility. The fact that they were put together in common settlements, adapted to agriculture and introduced into a fixed power structure did not mean the immediate breakdown of this form of travel.

Unlike the settlements constructed by the region's land grantees - usually occupation of large stretches of land, meant to protect their cattle from harassment by "wild" indigenous groups - the Missions tended to be arranged in a more controlled manner. The mobility pattern of those ethnic populations can be found in the nomadic cultural forms preceding the settlements, but also corresponds to one of the specific effects of the villages' territorial dynamics where, in order to maximize its administration, Missionaries joined and split groups from different origins, thereby creating ties and connections between what the missionaries and other administrators conceived as separate administrative units.

Pilgrim leaderships

Another characteristic kind of travel in the history of the Pankararu are the travels undertaken by leaderships of these communities to the capital of Pernambuco and even to Rio de Janeiro, seeking their rights, travels which arise in response to the last moment of territorial expropriation policies, which also led to the official extension of the villages. These trips become a mark of the indigenous struggles in the period ranging between the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth century. They were also taken as a model, shaping the changes in the arrangements of internal authorities of these groups after the advent of SPI in the region.

The nineteenth century seems to watch the passing from missionaries making requests in favor of the Indians, to indigenous peoples making requests in their own name, through petitions to the Emperor or travels undertook in order to see him in person. Indigenous communities start seeing the trips to centers of authority, able to connect them to the extra-local powers, as their only recourse for obtaining or guaranteeing their territorial domains.

Thus, the many travels, in the twentieth century, of representatives from the community of Brejo dos Padres to nearby towns, seeking protection against the farmers' cattle invading their crops, did not appear out of nowhere. The 1930s, apparently under the impact of DNOCS (National Department of Works Against Drought) programs, expand the presence of extra-local powers in the region, producing new centers of authority. But it is in the town of Bom Conselho that, although not specially relevant in the region, the presence of Fr. Alfredo Dâmaso and his support of the remaining groups' demands have set up a center of authority which then replaces the other possible centers, until then inefficient. In this circuit, the town of Bom Conselho's importance derives from its role as a focal point of two ritual circuits, as the town’s priest routine of spiritual services also took him to the nearby town of Aguas Belas, where are located the Fulni-ô, another node in the ritual exchanges circuit of the Pankararu, Xukuru Xukuru-Kariri, Tuxá, Kambiwá and others.

The demands sent by the caboclos of the Brejo to Fr. Damaso initially did not mention the creation of any exclusive area that distinguished between those who were or were not indigenous persons. The memory of an indigenous ancestry served as the guarantor for the land rights they knew they had, but did not involve, at the start, a formal definition, subject to an identitary and political unity. The model was not that of a territory, but that of possessions of family use. There was not a perimeter surrounding an abstract, collective use territory (even if they knew the landmarks of the ancient settlement): there was the land on which they invested social, family-based work, and over which there was no legal domain, but a hereditary one. It was this ownership they knew was being expropriated. It is only after the beginning of SPI activities in Águas Belas and the recognition of the Fulni-ô as an indigenous people, with the rights to a territory, that this view of land ownership changes in nature, fostering the memory of an ancient, collective ownership. Those that travelled seeking support in the defense of their possessions now start to travel seeking their right to the land as "remnants". This has an impact on all aspects of community life, from its relation to memory to its internal arrangement of authorities. Precisely those responsible for seeking their rights start occupying a differential position.

The toré as a symbol of Indianness

The ideological and strategic framework of the SPI was formulated thinking of the work with not-yet-integrated indigenous groups, often aloof and belligerent, which was necessary to find and seduce through translators and gifts in "heroic" operations represented by Rondon's quote: "die if necessary, but never kill." These procedures did not conform to contact with the indigenous peoples of the Northeast. Instead of seeking, the SPI was being sought, instead of convincing it had to be convinced, instead of using mediators it was reached by mediators, which served as "spokespersons" of the "remnants". The regional SPI inspector, Raimundo Dantas Carneiro, facing the indigenous advance and following the suggestion in Carlos Stephen de Oliveira texts, establishes the performance of Toré as a basic criterion of recognition of indigenous remnants, which then becomes a mandatory expression of Indianness in the Northeast .

The institution of Toré as a binding expression of Indianness creates a new nexus between the two travel circuits that we have already addressed. From now on one circuit will lead to the other, not accidentally but necessarily, since the ritual exchange is now transformed into a step in the conquest of rights. It is also the connection between these circuits that will allow the pilgrims leaders to take an even wider political role than the one they played as representatives of their community. In addition to bringing information about rights between the centers of authority and his group, they start to act as the agents that will disseminate the rules of the mandatory expression of Indianness. They add to the previous ritual community a community for the search for rights, which will be linked to the isolation, decontextualization and standardization of one of their rituals.

The squatters and the "lines"

The Pankararu describe the allocation of the best land, ie the land of the "Brejo", in lines of lots distributed among non-Indians as a blow by the local authorities. These non-indians became known as "linheiros". Part of the indigenous population would have immediately fled to other places and some would have taken refuge in the mountains. In this second group, a portion would have started to descend from the mountains and get their expropriated land back, through alliances with the invaders in the form of marriages, work relationships or pure submission, while a second, irreducible half swapped the ease of the Brejo's ecological features for an ethnical and moral irreducibility. Thus, for many Pankararu, the families evicted from the center would be the most "pure" and the one in the Brejo, the most "mixed".

When, in 1987, Funai is to review the dimensions of the area, based on the identification work carried out in 1984 [see item Location and history of the IL], it is with this group of leaders of the Brejo that negotiations are held. The work of the 1984 Inter-Ministerial Group had demonstrated the error in the 1940 demarcation and proposed the correction of the area to the 14,290 ha historically claimed by the group. But, in order to negotiate a solution for the rapid ratification of the area, as demanded by the BID (Banco American Development Bank), Funai proposes, in a meeting in which there were only the leaders of Brejo, to keep the original area in exchange for the promise of accelerating the removal of squatters from the western border of the central section. Only later the leaders of the northern section of the Indigenous Land learned of this agreement, through a newspaper article with a photo picturing leaderships next to the Funai employees. It was the closing of this agreement that gave a seismic nature to the already existing ritual and mythical factionalism between Pankararu groups.

The Pankararu in the Funai

In the 1990s, a new phase of the relationship between the region's indigenous people and Funai starts, as management positions are now occupied by "sons of the village." If at first these "sons of the village" chiefs could mean political gain, for the indigenous groups, in achieving full management of their own businesses, what we observe is that the discourse and practice of these young leaders is tied to dualities, on one hand, the tutelary relationship and, on the other, internal factionalism.

A head of an indigenous post is partly tutor and partly tutored, without one of these positions eliminating the other, as the most basic meaning of the term might imply. In a head's speech, the "Indian" appears alternately in third and first person. The head's relation to the job is both of power, when exercising an authority over people and a government of outside origin, and of dependence, since one in this position is expected to maximize the actions of the body in favour of the group, even if this is not within one's reach, most of the times. On the other hand, being the person able to provide greater representation to the group, the head is definitely bound to the relations of family authority, to which one owes obedience. In fact, the head is, above all and partly against his will, an instrument in factional struggles.

The Pankararu in Sao Paulo

The Pankararu of the Real Parque, in the southern zone of São Paulo, form a group estimated around 1,500 people, which occupies part of the slum of the same name in the Morumbi neighborhood, in São Paulo. This group has its origins in the intensification of the flow of Northeastern workers to the big cities of the Southeast that started in the 1940s. Most of the jobs were in deforestation teams for the Cia. de Luz do Estado (State Power Company), and the hiring was set up by "gatos" ("cats", a term describing the middleperson in the recruiting of rural workers by large companies), that would go fetch them in the village to deliver them, in batches, to the "contractors" in the constructions. The successive promotions of one these workers to the role of "gato" and later "empreiteiro" in the deforestation works for the Cia. de Luz led to a direct, constant flux between the Brejo dos Padres and São Paulo in the 1950s and 1960s. In a short time São Paulo became a reference for the entire group, their children and siblings living there.

At first, it was a flow of men only, who left the indigenous area to work short periods in São Paulo, as a way of balancing the household budget in years of drought or in emergency situations. Without actually integrating in the city, they returned whenever the immediate needs had already been covered or when times announced a good winter.

However, from the second generation of Pankararu workers in Sao Paulo, which coincided approximately with the adulthood of the first generations of children taught by the Indian post, women intensified their travels and apparently came to be the basis for more stable stays. Each household installed there made it easier and more likely that new young people followed the same path, making these trips systematic and familiar. The fact of building a relatively homogeneous spatial basis, being able to reproduce a political and ritual organization, decreased the material and emotional costs of these migrations, allowing an effective reterritorialization.

On July 26, 1994, the newspaper Notícias Populares of São Paulo opened the first page of the "Plantão NP" section with the headline "Indian eliminated in the favela - fled the tribe to die in São Paulo." Next to the headline was printed the photo of the bloodied body of a 20-year-old indigenous person. The text explained that, although they were there because the big farmers had invaded their land in Pernambuco, the indigenous community was still conducting their rituals and talking "in their native language, the 'Iatê'". Two weeks later, the newspaper Folha de São Paulo devoted a whole page to comment on the unusual presence of an indigenous tribe in Morumbi, which had created a "solidarity network" in the slum and met every week, under the lead of a shaman of the slum, for Toré rituals, which were compared to candomblé (an afro-brazilian religion, widely known in the country). A week later, the subject would have an entire page of the newspaper Diario de Pernambuco under the heading "Pankararus working in São Paulo are being decimated by urban violence", which also recorded that the murder would have been the subject of television news in the Aqui Agora police television program, on the SBT channel.

With the visibility that the indigenous presence in the Real Parque slum acquires, its leaders begin to emancipate themselves from the discourse of the Brejo's leaders and to demand the creation of their own village in São Paulo. The idea, however, was not well received either by the group leaders in Pernambuco, or Funai. At stake was, among other things, the cannon of trips to São Paulo. The land claims and the Brejo's development projects often counted the population in São Paulo as part of the beneficiaries, characterizing their leaving as a diaspora. That new attitude, however, converted the diaspora into another swarm and the economic exile into ethnic reterritorialization, continuing the movement of fragmentation and expansion of the Pankararu identity, in this case, contrary to the Brejo's political strategy.

Cosmological aspects

Chapéu de palha ritual (
Chapéu de palha ritual (

Just as the Toré is the center of the Pankararu ritual complex, the Encantados ("Charmed /enchanted ones") are the central figures of their cosmology. "Semente" ("seed") is the material form in which the Encantados first manifest to the Pankararu. The Encantados are "living Indians who were enchanted", willingly or unwillingly, and that's why, the Pankararu insist, their worship can not be confused with a cult of the dead. The form of this "enchantment" can only be partially narrated, either because it is a mystery to Pankararu themselves, or a secret that can not be revealed to outsiders.

According to the Pankararu, the secret of enchantment is the core of the very identity of the village. Each indigenous people has their pantheon of Encantados, but as each trunk is marked by a particular form of "enchantment", these Encantados can be shared for a given time by groups linked together as "branch tips" of the same trunk. Currently the Pankararu Encantados inhabit only the mountains and hills surrounding Brejo dos Padres. Virtually each of these formations or rock masses, very aesthetically impressive, corresponds to an Encantado. The contact between them and the Pankararu is currently restricted to "dreams", during which some Pankararu can travel to the castles that are within those mountains and hills.

The "enchanting" of "living Indians" that brought the current Encantados into being, however, involved the extinct waterfalls of Paulo Afonso and Itaparica. Some stories tell that the emergence of the Encantados and of the Pankararu themselves is due to the enchanting of an entire population of Indians, a "troop," which would have tossed themselves in the Paulo Afonso waterfall. These Encantados, which started inhabiting the waterfall and have their origins in all "nations" of old, were the ones that communicated through the roar of the water, predicting misfortunes, deaths or even new enchantments. This collective enchantment gives rise to the village itself, thought of as a spiritual unity. After this enchantment, other Indians, being announced and going through the proper preparation, could still be enchanted. The "seeds" are the Encantados' transport means. Once they choose a particular person who shall guard them, the Enchanted come in dream for that person and announce that he/she will receive his seed. This person soon stumbles across the announced "seed", which has, indeed, the form of a plant seed, but in it one can see the image of the Enchanted. This seed should be stored in a pot, which should be buried under the ground of the chosen guardian's house, in a place only he/she knows. This is another secret, in this case, a domestic one.

These seeds, however, do not represent just one Enchanted. Through them, up to 25 Enchanted may manifest themselves to the same guardian. Once manifested, the Enchanted become the object of "private" worship, domestic ceremonies, which involve smoking, drinking cane juice and singing the Enchanted's "toante", but no dancing. Each toante is the music of an Enchanted and it is only gradually revealed, through the private ritual practice. It is only after the Enchanted asks to be "raised" that he can also be worshiped in the Toré, which is the public, collective version of the "privates", in which the various Enchanted of the village can meet in party. After this request, the guardian must weave the Praiá, which is the "uniform" of the Encantado, meaning the skirt and the mask (made with the fibers of the croá or the ouricuri) that correspond to him only.

The guardians of Praiás have a great religious responsibility in the village, accumulating also political authority. Not everyone is recognized as eligible to receive a "seed," this place being marked by a certain collective assessment about the person's reputation. On the other hand, as soon as a person receives a "seed", a more or less extensive/intense ritual orbit forms around the person and the person's house. First, the person starts to attract the "privates" of his own household or his extended family, depending on the existence of other guardians in the same family or between other relatives. Then, after having "raised" one or more Praiás for his Enchanted, the person opens a terreiro [yard] for his Praiás to dance, which then concentrates part of the festive events in village.

Each guardian's yard is a place for performing Torés, either on the guardian's own initiative or because of the visits the Praiás make on every yard, after a festival. In addition, every Praiá must be dressed by a man, usually one affiliated with the particular Enchanted connected to the uniform, a role that must be performed in secret. Not everyone can wear the Praiá and the guardian must choose this person, inside or outside of the guardian's family, also taking the person's moral reputation into account. This extends the guardian's authority, as someone who is also an appraiser of the moral behavior of other men.

The most dramatic dilemma, concerning the Pankararu view on ethnic identity, is the fact that the reproduction of this whole system is threatened. After watching the construction of dams destroy their home in the waterfalls of Paulo Afonso, the Enchanted moved to the waterfall of Itaparica, but recently witnessed the destruction of their homes and construction of dams all over again. With the waterfalls gone, the Pankararu are limited to the existing pantheon of Enchanted. This, however, is considered insufficient, when taking their demographic expansion into account. Pankararu today are working to discover a new "secret".


"The waterfall was a sacred place in which we heard the cries of Indians, their singing, shouting, yelling. The enchantment ended because that is how the government wants it, right ... [...] Look, this waterfall, when agitated, it meant rain, or a travel. And the waterfall has not been agitated anymore, rain is random ... It's enchantment is gone. So this was all the sacred place that we asked to be preserved, but ... It's the stronger force fighting the weaker... It was a great waterfall, in a large river, we heard the singing of indigenous tribes, many chantings of tribes all singing along like a party. But nowadays you don't see anything ... That enchantment is over " (João de Páscoa)



The ritual system of Toré

Apresentação do Toré em frente ao grupo escolar do Brejo dos Padres, no dia do encerramento do curso de qualificação de professoras indígenas, organizado pelo Centro de Cultura Luis Freire. Foto: José Maurício Arruti, 2000.
Apresentação do Toré em frente ao grupo escolar do Brejo dos Padres, no dia do encerramento do curso de qualificação de professoras indígenas, organizado pelo Centro de Cultura Luis Freire. Foto: José Maurício Arruti, 2000.

Details of the ritual system of pankararu Toré are divided into: A) characters: the Enchanted, the Praiá, the fathers of Praiá and the dancers; B) ritual situations: the "privates" and the public Toré, which may assume a simple theatrical character, like folk form of expression, or be devoted to the worship of the Enchanted, linked or not to the fulfilling of promises; and C) locations: the waterfalls, hills, houses and yards.

As noted in the previous section [Cosmological aspects] once the seed is received, the chosen one must either raise the Praiá, in an unspecified period of time, which must also not be too long, under penalty of reprisals, or transfer this responsibility to an already respected guardian, to whose yard he must then owe loyalty.

"Raise and weave". That is, to raise a Praiá, the guardian of the enchanted, who will also be a "father of Praiá", must fabricate the ouricuri straw mask and clothes, or hire their making by one of the few specialized craftsmen in the village. The mask and clothes serve to hide the dancer's personality and, when worn under certain requirements, are the materialization of the Enchanted himself. The Praiá is the conjunction, in action, of the Enchanted, the dancer and the clothing and mask, duly consecrated by the guardian, made of ouricuri or croá. The guardians are not the same people who take the place of dancers. The first fit a more religious role, of guidance and keeping of tradition through taking care of the seeds that were sent to them, of the Praiá's clothes and of permanent contact with the Enchanted Ones, functions normally associated to the qualities of the rezador and the family head. The latter are usually young men, married or not, able to "keep up the fun" of the Toré, since it usually involves long hours of dancing in heavy clothes made of ouricuri straw, or croá fibers, and also, in the rituals of the Menino do Rancho and the Umbú festival, bodily disputes that require great physical vitality.

The dancers are chosen by the guardian of the Enchanted's seed, within his family or affinity circle. Though it's common for local people to know and recognize the identity of the dancers, through their bodily characteristics or their performance, it cannot be revealed. This secret, among the many secrets that make the ritual, is always respected. Saying the dancer's identity aloud can lead to illness or death.

The choosing and summoning of the dancers by the guardian, for the realization of a Toré, involves an advance that can vary from fifteen to two or three days, depending on the guardian's rigor, the importance of the situation or even the frequency of Toré rituals. This advance is related to the physical and spiritual cleansing the ritual requires, both for the dancers and the guardians: during those days they are prohibited from any sexual contact, any drink and any "bad feeling in the heart."

Geografia ritual.
Geografia ritual.

In the ideal model of the pankararu Toré system, the whole ritual life is concentrated in one, or a small number, of major yards that also serve for the dancing of the smaller guardians' Praiás. Similarly, it is not easily acceptable to carry out two Torés simultaneously at different places or to not invite nearby Praiás and those of major yards to each Toré held. Thus, the smaller the number of yards the better, because the ritual concentration represents, in a symbolic level, the social and political union of the group. The moral and religious authority, therefore, is closely related to the ability to create loyalties, not only through a large battalion of Praiás, but also the ability to congregate a large numbers of dancers and other "fathers of Praiás" around the same yard.

The Toré dance is governed by a tightly paced music, the Toante, sung by a single "cantador" or "cantadora" ["singer"] who's periodically answered by the unison, rhythmic cries of the group of dancers. It is possible that what came to be known as Toré originally did not constitute an autonomous ritual, being just a recurring part in other rituals and, sure enough, it was not identical in all groups who held it. But it was this more immediately identifiable, isolatable and labelable reality that became the identifying mark, first to the indigenist officials, then to the indigenous groups themselves, thus becoming a symbol of indianness.