From Povos Indígenas no Brasil
Photo: Carlos Fausto, 1988

Parakanã

Self-denomination Where they are How many Linguistic family
Awaeté PA
1.576 (Sesai/Programa Parakanã, 2014)
Tupi-Guarani

The Parakanã are traditional inhabitants of the interfluvial region of the Pacajá-Tocantins. They speak a Tupi-Guarani language from the same subset as Tapirapé, Avá (Canoeiro), Asurini and Tocantins-Surui, Guajajara and Tembé. Lacking canoes and being excellent hunters of large mammals, they are typical of Amerindians who live in the terra firme. They are slash-and-burn horticulturists who cultivate a small range of crops and their staple is bitter manioc. The Parakanã divided themselves into two large population blocs at the end of the 19th century, an Eastern and a Western one. The Eastern Parakanã were subjected to state administration during the construction of the Trans-Amazonian highway in 1971, while the Western Parakanã were contacted during a chain of episodes in different locations between 1976 and 1984.

Identification and location

Habitação no Igarapé Lontra. Foto: Antônio Carlos Magalhães, 1975.
Habitação no Igarapé Lontra. Foto: Antônio Carlos Magalhães, 1975.

The Eastern and the Western Parakanã number approximately 900 individuals. They live in two different Indigenous Lands, but these areas do not correspond to the distinction between the Eastern and Western blocs. The first land is called Terra Indígena Parakanã and it is situated in the Tocantins River basin, in the municipalities of Repartimento, Jacundá and Itupiranga, all of which are in the state of Pará. Its area is 351,000 hectares, and it has been demarcated and legally ratified. Since 1980 it has received the assistance of the “Programa Parakanã”, which is the result of an agreement between The National Indian Foundation (Funai) and Eletronorte. It has a population of some 600 people, living in five villages, three of which belong to the Eastern Parakanã (Paranatinga, Paranowa’ona, and Ita’yngo’a) and two to the Western bloc (Maroxewara and Inaxy’anga). In this Indigenous Land the Eastern bloc is numerically dominant, comprising roughly two-thirds of the total population.

The second Indigenous Land is called Apyterewa and it is situated in the Xingu basin, in the municipalities of Altamira and São Félix do Xingú, which are also in Pará. With an area of 981,000 hectares, it was declared to be a permanent possession of the Parakanã in 1992, but the Ministry of Justice’s decree was revoked and the land that Funai identified has been reduced to 773,000 hectares. A further decree of the Ministry of Justice was signed on the 21st of September 2004. The area, however, has since been invaded by loggers, farmers, colonists and gold-miners. It is assisted by Funai’s Regional Administration at Altamira, and in late 2003 the National Health Foundation (Funasa) estimated its population at 314 people who live in two villages (Apyterewa and Xingu). All of its inhabitants are from the Western bloc and they were contacted between 1983 and 1984.

Habitações no Igarapé Bom Jardim. Foto: Carlos Fausto, 1988.
Habitações no Igarapé Bom Jardim. Foto: Carlos Fausto, 1988.

‘Parakanã’ is not an auto-denomination. The Parakanã call themselves awaeté, ‘true people (humans)’, in opposition to akwawa, a generic category for foreigners. According to Nimuendajú (1948a), the term by which they have come to be known entered the Indigenist vocabulary via the Arara-Pariri, a Carib-speaking group that was forced to abandon its traditional territory in the upper Iriuaná River, a tributary of the left bank of the Pacajá River, after repeated attacks from a group which they called ‘Parakanã’. The name then came to designate an “unknown tribe of wild Indians” that inhabited the headwaters of the tributaries of the left bank of the Tocantins. Other names, however, have also been attributed to the Parakanã. The Xikrin of the Bacajá call them Akokakore, while the Araweté identify them as Auim, which means ‘enemy’, but also Iriwä pepa yã (Lords of the Vulture Feathers) or, pejoratively, Iriwa ã (Eaters of Vulture Feathers).

They were first spotted along the Pacajá in 1910, upriver from the town of Portel. Later, during the 1920’s, they were identified as being the Amerindians who appeared between the town of Alcobaça and the lower course of the Pucuruí River in order to ransack the colonists and workers of the Tocantins Railroad. It was thus during the early years of the twentieth century that the first sources of information for the Amerindians who would come to be known as the Parakanã began to appear. At the time, the designation ‘Parakanã’ was also applied to the Asurini, a group who spoke the same language and who also raided the inhabitants of the region. In the 1970’s the Western Parakanã went beyond the western limits of their territory, and established themselves in the headwaters of the Bacajá and Bom Jardim rivers, both of which are tributaries of the middle Xingu.

The Fracture: Western and Eastern Blocs

Parakanã no Igarapé Bom Jardim/TI Apiterewa. Foto: Carlos Fausto, 1988.
Parakanã no Igarapé Bom Jardim/TI Apiterewa. Foto: Carlos Fausto, 1988.

A conflict over a woman captured in a raid caused the Parakanã to split into two branches. The conflict occurred in the 1890’s during an expedition whose aim was to find enemies on the left bank of the Pucuruí River and which resulted in two deaths. After this event, two distinct blocs were formed: the Eastern Parakanã settled themselves in the upper reaches of the Pucuruí, Bacuri and da Direita rivers; while the Western Parakanã went northwest, probably establishing themselves between the Jacaré and Pacajazinho-Arataú rivers (headwaters of the right bank of the Pacajá). It is not easy to determine the exact location of the latter bloc since, unlike the former, none of their current villages lie within the territory that they occupied from the end of the 19th century to the 1960’s. Soon after the conflict the Western Parakanã sought to re-establish contact with their kin, at first peacefully, but later killing an adult man in the vicinity of a village. The fracture then became irreversible.

The Western Parakanã intensified their nomadic periods in the interior of the forest, progressively abandoned horticulture, increased their bellicose activity and their contacts with the regional population. The Eastern Parakanã, on the other hand, remained a cohesive group until the establishment of permanent contact in 1971, adopted a more sedentary residential pattern, remained distant from contact with the exterior, maintained a more defensive rather than offensive posture, and developed a certain degree of political centralization.

The two blocs differed not only in their subsistence strategies, but also in the sociological mechanisms for producing and reproducing the group: while the Western bloc were willing to engage in warfare, had a de-centralized political structure, an undifferentiated social morphology and practiced generalized polygamy, the Eastern Parakanã isolated themselves, centralized their politics, had a dualist morphology and practiced restricted polygamy. As the Western Parakanã widened their field of activity, repeatedly attacking their new enemies, kidnapping women and raiding for goods, the Eastern Parakanã remained isolated and defended themselves from incursions into their territory.

Contact History

The Parakanã were first spotted along the Pacajá in 1910, upriver from the town of Portel. Later, during the 1920’s, they were identified as being the Amerindians who appeared between the town of Alcobaça and the lower course of the Pucuruí River in order to ransack the colonists and workers of the Tocantins Railroad. In 1928, the Serviço de Proteção aos Índios (Indian Protection Service) established a Pacification Post on the 67th kilometre of the railroad, on the Pucuruí River’s left bank, in order to guarantee the safety of the workers through the pacification of the Amerindians.

The Western Parakanã were regular visitors to the post, from its foundation until 1938. The group was mobilized by the acquisition of western goods and relationships with the Toria [the Whites], both of which dominated collective activity and determining a period of relative peace. Although my chronology lacks precision, I estimate that the restart of violent conflicts with other Amerindian groups coincides with the moment in which they stopped visiting the Post. To an extent, then, the ‘disappearance of the Parakanã’ is linked to the re-emergence of warfare. It is as if, tired of western goods, they once again turned to the acquisition of goods that the Whites could not offer them. The first bellicose encounter between the Western and Eastern blocs in this period dates from the mid-1930’s, in the vicinity of a new village of the Eastern Parakanã.

Although they lived close to the Pacification Post, the Eastern Parakanã never knew that it existed. Occupying the middle and upper courses of the Bacuri, da Direita and Pucuruí rivers, they maintained sporadic relationships with the Brazil nut gatherers, rubber tappers and jaguar pelt hunters that penetrated into their territory. The 1940’s were characterized by new inter-tribal conflicts, pitting both Parakanã blocs against each other and the Western Parakanã against the Asurini, and also by the continuing isolation of the Eastern bloc from national society.

Following the ‘pacification’ of the Asurini in 1953, the Western Parakanã once again monopolized the Pucuruí Post until the mid-1960’s, as they had done during the 1930’s. They returned to the Post seeking western merchandise, but preferred to remain autonomous and therefore merely continued to visit it. At the turn of the 1960’s, however, the economic front began to reach the territory of the Western Parakanã, which had hitherto been preserved. The main impetus came from the lumber trade, which at this time reached the upper courses of the region’s rivers. It is also possible that mineral extraction and the jaguar pelt trade contributed towards the invasion Parakanã lands.

Alongside these transformations in relationships with the Whites, a more long-term economic process was about to reach its climax. The group’s mobility had been growing steadily, accompanied by the abandonment of the traditional form of villages and by a decrease in the variety of cultigens planted in their gardens. This movement pre-dates the invasion of the Western Parakanã territory, but pressure from national society cause the process to accelerate to such an extent that, prior to leaving the Pacajá basin, they had already ceased to cultivate manioc. Simultaneously, internal tensions were also intensifying, partly due to the pressures from the extraction frontier and partly as a result of a lack of enemies. For some time warfare had both directed tension towards the exterior and attenuated it internally through the capture of foreign women. Between 1910 and 1955 the Western Parakanã had captured more than twenty foreign women, seventeen of whom later bore children. The population accretion proved fundamental to the maintenance of internal peace. The generation that reached adult age in the 1960’s, however, could not rely on the benefits of this resource, and they had to vie with their kin for wives. It was within this context that, in the second half of the decade, an internal conflict emerged which led to a three-way split in the group, and determined a general migration towards the west. It was only in 1972 that they all gathered once again near the gardens of certain colonists, regrouping, in their words, “around the manioc of the Whites”. They found themselves on the banks of the Meio River, a tributary of the Cajazeiras, at the southernmost limit of the territory of the Eastern Parakanã. Just to their north, their ex-kin were being ‘pacified’. Let us then leave the Western Parakanã at the Meio River in 1972, and turn our attention to what was occurring a few kilometres to the north.

The “Pacification” of the Eastern Parakanã

In the 1950’s, the Eastern Parakanã remained in the da Direita River basin and, in the early 1960’s, they once again moved northwards and established themselves in the upper course of the Andorinha River, where they were to be ‘pacified’ in the 1970’s.

For decades the Eastern Parakanã persisted in opting for autonomy, much as their ancestors had done. They held out during the rubber boom, the Brazil nut boom and the railway project to connect the cities of Tucuruí and Marabá. They were unable, however, to resist the Brazilian ‘miracle’. In 1970 the Federal Government began to build roads in Amazonia, a strategy that had a definitive impact on the colonization of the region and on indigenous lands. In the same year, Funai and the Sudam (Superintendence for the Development of Amazonia) signed a contract to ‘pacify’ the native populations along the Cuiabá-Santarém and Transamazonian roads. It was feared that the Amerindians would be obstacles to the construction of the road network, just as in the past they had hindered the construction of the railroads. Things were to get even worse for the native populations, since the government had both haste and money, a result of massive international loans. The newly created Funai, composed of military men in their higher echelons, therefore abandoned the static posture that the SPI had adopted in the Tocantins and set out on a ‘war of pacification’, creating four “Penetration Fronts” to contact the Parakanã in their own territory.

Their first encounter with the Eastern Parakanã occurred on the 12 of November 1970, on the Lontra River, a tributary of the Bacuri, in a place known as Espírito Santo, which had served as a campsite for loggers. It seems as if the Amerindians behaved aggressively on this occasion. Col. Bloise, the attendant to the president of Funai responsible for the operation, contrasted their behaviour with that of the “Indians who five years ago showed up at the Pucuruí looking for gifts and food” (Funai 1971a: 3). He was referring to the visits of the Western Parakanã. But the situation was different now, for Col. Bloise’s teams were instructed to march into the villages rather than to wait patiently at the base. The Eastern Parakanã initially tried to drive the invaders away, but they ultimately succumbed to the fatal attraction of the gifts that were copiously distributed. With time, the relationships became more intimate and peaceful until, in October of 1971, they abandoned their villages and established themselves at the Front’s campsite.

The contact proved disastrous for the Eastern Parakanã, resulting in severe depopulation. Despite all of the financial resources that the Brazilian government ministered for the construction of the Transamazonian road, they lacked an adequate plan for the ‘pacification’ of the group. The newly created Funai had inherited not only many of the employees of the extinct SPI, but also its methods. These were based on the experience gained through the historical interaction between missionaries and colonists with Amerindians ever since the Conquest. Post-contact mortality rates were hence seen to be an unavoidable pitfall. At the time, no one thought to use the money for technical consultancies, medical accompaniment or preventive actions. The tragedy was seen to be part and parcel of the normal procedures for contact, as it had been since the 16th century. To make matters worse, the road itself made it difficult to restrict the interactions between the newly contacted population and Funai’s team: the Eastern Parakanã pillaged the campsites of the contractors on the edges of the road and, on some occasions, they even took merchandise from the small village of Repartimento, situated at a fork in the road. This promiscuity exposed them not only to the diseases that were typical during the early period of contact, but also to blepharitis, polio and hepatitis (Magalhães 1982: 56-58; Soares et al 1994: 129).

Demographic loss in the early years was very high. It is nonetheless difficult to obtain a precise estimate for the dimensions of this process, since many of the deaths preceded sustained contact. It is my understanding that depopulation was in the order of 35%. In early 1972, the Eastern Parakanã reached their demographic low-point, being reduced to 82 individuals after many bouts of the flu and respiratory disease. From then onwards, they began to recover.

I first met them in 1992 when they numbered some 220 people. I was among them again in 1995 and 1999, when they numbered more than 300 individuals. Demographic recovery began timidly in mid-1972 and accelerated gradually after an agreement between Funai and the Vale do Rio Doce Company in 1983, and, later, with Eletronorte in 1987. In the period in which I lived with them they were well assisted and their lands were demarcated and free of intruders, even if its area was smaller than their traditional territory. In the thirty years that followed first contact they faced numerous challenges from the national society. Among the most significant was the forced migration caused by the flooding of a part of their territory after the construction of the Tucuruí Hydroelectric Dam and the struggle for the demarcation of the Parakanã Indigenous Land. They lost many battles and won many others: they multiplied, established a modus vivendi with the national society and were guided wisely by their chief, Arakytá. This process has been described by Magalhães (1983; 1985; 1991; 1994) and I refer the reader interested in following its details to his works.

The Eastern Parakanã’s early experience of contact with national society had a profound impact on their bodies, their lives and their conception of the Whites. They did not attribute their deaths to a fatality of inter-ethnic contact, but rather to the sorcery of the ‘pacifiers’ who killed them, if not through warfare, through shamanism. Medicine which was given to them came to be seen as a palliative for the diseases that the whites continued to send their way, as if they were a fair compensation for the aggressiveness that endures to this day, even if in an attenuated form. This disposition of the Eastern Parakanã in relation to the whites is not limited to matters of health, but instead involves a more general distrust that follows from years of broken promises. They therefore tend to keep a reserved and watchful attitude in relation to these foreigners, which contrasts with the effusiveness of the Western Parakanã. Let us now return to the final years of autonomy of the latter, whom we had left in the vicinity of a garden in 1972.

The “Pacification” of the Western Parakanã

Seven years after their last visit to the Pucuruí Post, the Western Parakanã were spotted once again, this time well to the south, near a tributary of the Cajazeiras River, itself a tributary of the Tocantins. They were then in the process of ransacking the gardens of colonists. Warned of the presence of Indigenous people, Funai sent a Front to the locale, which established a preliminary contact with 70 people in May of 1972 (Magalhães 1985: 29). The team, led by the frontiersman João Carvalho, interacted with these Amerindians for two months. Lacking the support of the Pucuruí Base and gifts to redistribute, however, they were forced to withdraw. When they returned the following year, they met with a small group preparing to leave for elsewhere.

The Western Parakanã had gone to the southeast, reaching the upper course of the Cajazeiras River, where a man was killed by the locals. They therefore decided to head west again, in search of land that the Whites had not yet reached. Along the way, a dispute over women determined the separation of a group that I will henceforth call “Akaria’s group’, which fled northwest towards the headwaters of the Anapu River, a river that runs parallel to the Bacajá and feeds into the Caxiuana bay. They arrived at their destination in the end of 1975 and in January of 1976, after showing up at the campsite of a contractor company on the 377th kilometre of the Transamazonian road, the group was contacted by Funai and transferred to the Pucuruí Post (then called Pucuruí Base). According to Magalhães (1982: 87), they numbered forty people at the time of contact, eleven of which were to die soon afterwards.

The majority of the Western Parakanã, however, headed west, reaching the watershed of the Xingu-Bacajá. There they met with new (or perhaps old) enemies: the Araweté, whom they called Yrywijara (‘Lords of the Carnaúba Palm’) or Arajara (‘Lords of the Macaws’). Between 1975 and 1976, the carried out three attacks on the Araweté, thereby resuming large-scale warfare. After showing up in 1977 in the Ipixuna Post, where Funai later settled the Araweté, they migrated to the vicinity of the Xikrin village on the banks of the Bacajá.

A conflict with the Xikrin halted the northward expansion of the Western Parakanã, making them take refuge further south in the basin of the São José Stream. The national frontier, however, had finally begun to close in on them after decades of sporadic contacts. The colonization project for the region to the south of the headwaters of the Bacajá River was transforming the small hamlet of Tucumã into an important pole of economic expansion, fuelled by the lumber industry and by agriculture and animal husbandry. In the early 1980’s, some farms reached the left bank of the São José Stream, while the activities of gold-miners went even further, towards the headwaters of the Bacajá and Bom Jardim.

Between 1980 and 1982 the Parakanã ransacked several farms in the region. Funai then sent a team to try and establish contact, which finally took place in January of 1983, between the São José stream and a tributary of its left bank, the Cedro Stream. “Namikwarawa’s group”, as they came to be known, was composed of 44 people and had split from the others a few months previously due to a dispute over women. It is conceivable that, had they not been transferred to the Parakanã Indigenous Land in the Tocantins region after contact, they would have reunited themselves with their kin. As it turned out, they joined “Akaria’s group” in the village of Maroxewara. In the first six months, eleven people died, most of them from an intestinal infection (Vieira Filho 1983: 22-23; Magalhães 1985: 42).

The remaining Western Parakanã drifted northwards, fleeing from contact and the farms. In February and April of 1983 they fired arrows at the Ipixuna Post, injuring a few people. During the retreat, a warrior and influential leader was shot down and fell dead. The impact that resulted form this event was decisive in the “pacification” that occurred a few months afterwards. The Parakanã realized that they were the only ones still using bows and arrows and that they could no longer hide from shotguns. In May of 1983 they showed up in two gold prospecting camps situated between the headwaters of the Bom Jardim and the Bacajá, taking weapons, metal tools, hammocks and manioc flour. Their mood was uncertain. They planned another attack on the Araweté, while another Front followed their traces and a dispute over women led to the separation of “Ajowyhá’s group”.

The larger group, composed of 106 people, was found in December of 1983. A small team, accompanied by Joraroa, who had been contacted in January of that year, reached a campsite between the headwaters of the Bacajá and the Bom Jardim. Due to its difficult access and to the presence of gold prospectors in the region, the Front transferred them to the lower course of the Bon Jardim Stream. In March of 1984, “Ajowyhá’s group” of 31 people joined them.

The initially 137-people strong Apyterewa-Parakanã Indigenous Post was formed from these events, bringing an end to the drawn out contact process that had begun in the distant year of 1928 with the establishment of the Tocantins Post. Although the Parakanã had tried to avoid contact, they realized that they were definitively surrounded and decided to accept ‘pacification’. However, their efforts in trying to maintain autonomy for so many years was rewarded: during the first year of contact only three deaths occurred, one of them resulting from snakebite. If we exclude the latter, demographic decline was only in the order of 1.5% - a figure which reveals the tragedy of all of the preceding ‘pacifications’ and which should set the standard for future ones. The event benefited from adequate financial resources, planned actions, immediate medical care, dedicated employees and the Parakanã’s willingness to accept western medication.

Contact was not an end to the Western Parakanã’s land problems, but merely the beginning of a new phase. In their long trek towards the Xingu they found an area that was less occupied and devastated than the Tocantins. It would not be long, however, before the economic frontier would arrive. Ravenous and voracious, chainsaws were getting ready to roar.

The Expansion of the Economic Frontier in Apyterewa

The Western Parakanã had been reduced to state administration for four years when I first travelled to the Apyterewa Indigenous Land. They had rapidly adopted a series of non-native instruments and techniques. They had resumed agriculture and were adapting to canoe navigation and hook and line fishing. Shotguns were still rare, but they would become frequent when the raids on the invaders increased. Clothes, which had been despised when they visited the Tocantins Pacification Post, had become a coveted item. Some few words of Portuguese could be heard from younger people, mostly the names of objects and animals or the occasional verb, but they remained mostly monolingual. The diseases that were introduced may not have resulted in demographic collapse, but they had a profound impact in these first years of contact. Drugs and health care were the principle indices of this new dependency, proving more efficient than the objects they had sought when they accepted ‘pacification’. This dependency did not only manifest itself during epidemics or more serious illnesses. The distribution of medication was a daily ritual occurring every day at dusk, announced by the ringing of a bell, and followed by a flurry of activity towards the infirmary, where the Parakanã were given spoonfuls of cough syrup, analgesics, decongestion medication, and other drugs.

By 1988, however, the flow of goods had decreased and the Western Parakanã were already showing concerns over how to guarantee their access to them. Funai unsuccessfully sought to implant one of its many economical projects, the popular one at the time being the cultivation and sale of cocoa. It was during this time that the Parakanã became aware of the extent to which vegetable and mineral extraction had advanced into the headwaters of the Bom Jardim Stream and the Bacajá River. In April of 1988 they surrounded a lumbering campsite and returned with two hostages, thus initiating a decade of conflicts and raids on the invaders.

If ‘pacification’ was a result of the expansion of the economic frontier, it ultimately favoured the intensification of this very process. The transferral of ‘Namikwarawa’s group’ and the migration of the remaining people to the lower Bom Jardim freed the Xingu-Bacajá watershed to the advancing frontier. The timber industry was the most active component of this front, reaching the region in the mid-1980’s and advancing both north and south. Rising mahogany prices in the international market made the exploration of previously inaccessible areas viable and dictated its characteristics. The industry based itself on extremely profitable large-scale investments carried out by companies with significant political and economic resources, capable of acting efficiently at the local, regional and national levels, and making use of a range of resources in order to preserve their trade: violence and legitimate political action, negotiations and barter, disregard for rules and legal suits, exploration and social actions.

In this particular case, the process was spearheaded by two large companies, Exportadora Perachi and the Madereira Araguaia (Maginco). These companies built a road, currently known as the ‘Morada do Sol’, which cut through some 100 kilometres of forest from Tucumã until the Xingu-Bacajá headwaters, where loggers began to invade the region’s indigenous lands. A preliminary study from 1992 suggests that nearly 1000 kilometres of secondary roads were created within the Apyterewa, Araweté and Trincheira Bacajá Indigenous Lands, resulting in the deforestation of roughly 9,000 hectares of primary forest and the yearly removal of sixty thousand cubic metres of mahogany (Funai & Cedi 1993: 15-17).

During the 1990’s, the main road, which had been built in order to transport the mahogany removed from Indigenous Lands, served as a route for the colonization of the region. Up until 1992, when the Apyterewa Indigenous Land was declared to be a permanent possession of the Amerindians (PP 267/MJ dated 28/05/1992), most of the invaders were gold-miners and people who worked for the timber companies. After the official recognition of the area and the first consistent efforts by the responsible organs in overseeing it, colonists gradually moved into it as well. On the one hand, the timber companies began to relax their control over the road that gave access to the region while, on the other, the increasing population density of Tucumã and its environs led some landless workers to advance into the new area.

The colonists were initially concentrated south of the Cedro Stream, where contact with “Namikwarawa’s group” occurred. Cattle pastures were also established in this region. In 1994, the invasion became more pronounced after the INCRA (National Institute for Colonization and Land Reform) began to settle colonists north of the Cedro Stream, thereby multiplying the number of people in the Apyterewa Indigenous Land. This ultimately established the seeds for social conflict, and served to consolidate the strategy of local politicians and businessmen who sought to prevent the demarcation of the land.

When the Ministry of Justice, through the decree 1,775 dated January 1996, made it possible to contest the demarcation of Indigenous lands that were not yet registered, the government of the state of Pará, the mayor of Tucumã, the Exportadora Perachi, an association of farmers, and various individuals solicited a revision of the limits of the Apyterewa Indigenous Land. These contestations were approved, even though they lacked a legal basis, as the Minister himself recognized in his determination of the revision of the area.

In the end of 1993, the Parakanã of the Apyterewa Indigenous Land divided themselves into two villages: “Ajowyhá’s group”, whose population grew, abandoned the Apyterewa Post on the right bank of the Bom Jardim Stream and established themselves on the bank of the Xingu. In 1995, those who had remained in the interior also moved to the banks of the river, where fishing is easier and the chances of establishing contact with the Whites is greater. From then on, Funai lost control of this interaction, beginning a new phase in the relationships between the Parakanã and the local population. In 1996, some of the Parakanã began to negotiate directly with gold-miners in the São José Stream, at the southern limit of the Apyterewa Indigenous Land. In exchange for allowing extraction activities in their land, they received a few grams of gold, some money and ‘meals’ (rice, beans, manioc flour, cooking oil etc.). At the end of that year, they began to reach an agreement with loggers from São Félix do Xingu to grant them access to the part of the land which had not yet been exploited, thus bringing to an end a decade of resistance.

Village Life

Pacificação no Igarapé Lontra. Foto: Yves Billon, 1971.
Pacificação no Igarapé Lontra. Foto: Yves Billon, 1971.

The Parakanã term that comes closer to our concept of ‘village’ is tawa, a Tupi word that has passed into Portuguese with that exact same meaning. Traditionally, tawa was a place of more-or-less permanent residence, constituted by a communal house covered in babaçu palm thatch, manioc gardens and an open space at some distance from the area of residence reserved for meetings between men. The village was a synthesis of these three dimensions: house, gardens and ‘plaza’. This configuration was common to both Parakanã blocs during a part of the twentieth century, even if immediately after the split each of the spaces acquired a different emphasis and content. By the 1950’s, the Western Parakanã abandoned this pattern: first, they multiplied their houses, then they abandoned their gardens and, soon afterwards, stopped making the ‘plaza’.

In the past, the whole group lived in a single communal house called aga-eté (‘true house’), covered in palm thatch that reached the ground and, occasionally, closed in by walls of paxiúba bark as a defensive measure (the Eastern Parakanã called it tawokoa, ‘long village’). It is not easy to estimate its dimensions. All we have are the impressions of the Funai employees who participated in the “pacification” in 1971, since this type of village was abandoned soon after contact. According to their estimates, the area of the communal house was some 250 m2, which I believe to be a conservative estimate, considering that it was then occupied by a population of approximately 145 people. There was little differentiation in the internal space of the house, as the chief of the Pucuruí Base, Col. Bloise, notes in his description of a house that he visited in June of 1971:

“It is an enormous area covered by babaçu palm thatch with 10 distinct and independent entrances. At its highest it measures some 8 metres and its form is similar to a hangar, when seen from the outside. On the inside, it is a free and ample area, whose only division is for the locality where each family’s hammocks are set” (Funai 1971d: 5).

When building a house, the place chosen, the availability of raw material and the building itself are activities that are exclusive to the male leader of a domestic group. His wife, or wives, prepared the palm and handed them over to him. Sons and other kinsmen who lived in the same place also participated, particularly if they were married (Magalhães 1982: 82).

During the day, the house was a space of generalized conviviality, shared by men, women and children. For part of the evening, however, it became a feminine space, as adult and adolescent men met in the ‘plaza’, the tekatawa (‘place of being’). Food was cooked in its interior and meals were also taken in it. These were not collective affairs, even if game meat circulated between each family’s hearth. The house was also a place of rest, a sheltered space where hammocks were set, where parents and children could be intimate, but from which sexual activity was excluded due to it being a public area.

The gardens (ka) were, in turn, the place where women laboured daily. Men partook of agricultural activity – particularly in cutting the undergrowth, in clearing the plot and in harvesting, which went from July to October – but most of the daily work in the garden and the processing of manioc fell to women. As a space of activity, the garden cannot be qualified as ‘feminine’ in opposition to the ‘male’ forest, since subsistence production demands a complementarity between the sexes. Men and women do not collectively oppose each other in house, garden and forest. These spaces are, instead, cut through the relationships between families.

The important opposition is that between the house and garden as spaces of production and of daily life and the tekatawa as the exclusively male space of politics. For the Eastern Parakanã the village is defined by the presence of three areas of sociability: relatively permanent house(s), manioc gardens and the plaza. Any place that is inhabited but does not contain these elements is not a village, but a campsite, which is distinguished from the village for being incomplete.

Village and campsite respectively represent moments of agglutination and dispersal, and are complementary in the production of Parakanã social life in the same way that horticulture is complementary to incursions into the forest. Nonetheless, while the among the Eastern Parakanã the former tended to be predominant, among the Western Parakanã the village itself was progressively transformed into a semi-permanent campsite.

Tekatawa and chieftaincy among the Eastern Parakanã

The Eastern Parakanã represent themselves as a totality in a specific space: the tekatawa, ‘place of being’, the Parakanã agora. It is the place of chieftaincy; the political centre of the group even though it is spatially situated outside the centre. The tekatawa is a clearing, often lacking any construction, which must necessarily be distant from the residence(s). It is not circumscribed by houses, but rather remains diametrically opposed to them.

The physical separation between house and tekatawa is seen to be a function of the opposition between a collectivity of men and a collectivity of women. The distance is necessary so that the latter, who remain in the house, cannot listen in on the men’s conversation and singing. The Eastern Parakanã are critical of the Western bloc for carrying out the preparation of the opetymo ritual in the area between the houses, thus allowing the women to listen to the songs before the ritual. However, they do make an exception for those women who are dreamers: these are allowed to attend the meetings in the tekatawa and to teach their songs.

Since meetings are nocturnal and carried out in complete darkness – occasionally broken by lit cigarettes – there is no need to fear curious gazes. Furthermore, there is almost nothing to see: it is not the movement of bodies that sustains the tekatawa, but voices. It is the place of talk, of the speech of the chiefs. Or, to be more precise, it is the place of speech enabled by chiefs, who do not monopolize talk but rather make it possible and necessary. Chiefs are those who ‘make the talk’ (-apo morogeta) for others.

Meetings take place every evening and all adult men participate. Each occupies a pre-determined space, according to the section to which they belong and their age. Men distribute themselves in a circle divided in the middle by a north-south axis: to the east are the Tapipy’a, to the west the Apyterewa and the Wyrapina. The dualism is also represented in chieftaincy: the older man of each half is a chief, and each occupies a central position in the tekatawa, facing north and with their backs to the remaining elders (moro’yroa). Immediately in front of them, the younger, childless men – those who recently became adults (awaramekwera) – agglomerate. This distribution is fixed and each person tends to always occupy the same place, which favours the identification of whoever is speaking.

All matters are discussed in the tekatawa, except women. At first glance, discussion seems to be chaotic, with voices superimposing each other in a discourse that is constructed collectively, under the conduction of the chiefs. Events that happened during the day are reported, hunting information is exchanged, the sale of products are discussed and the need for collective work is proposed. The tone of the proceedings fluctuates between playfulness and circumspect speech, depending on the occasion. At times, people keep silent so as to hear a myth or an old story narrated by one of the chiefs, a narrative that is invariably punctuated by interjections and amendments by the other elders.

The tekatawa has an instructive function: it is the place where the historical, mythological and ritual knowledge of the group is transmitted. The chief’s role is to personify a collective memory and to re-transmit it. Hierarchy is based on the differential capacity to accumulate memory and to present it through speech. This dual capacity to conserve and transmit is distinguished by the age and personal characteristics of each individual. It is not, therefore, sufficient to be a moro’yroa (elder) to be a moro’yroa (chief). To be a ‘container of people’ (moro-‘yroa) it is necessary to contain knowledge and to animate it through the flow of words.

Social Organization

Parakanã no Igarapé Lontra. Foto: René Fuerst, 1972.
Parakanã no Igarapé Lontra. Foto: René Fuerst, 1972.

The Eastern Parakanã divide themselves into three exogamous patri-groups (that is, three groups traced through the paternal line which do not marry within their boundaries): Apyterewa, Wyrapina and Tapi’pya. Every person, when asked ‘what is your mark/type/class’ (ma’-é-kwera pa ene), replies, almost unthinkingly, with the name of the group they belong to.

During my fieldwork, political leadership was also structured in accordance with segmentation. Chieftaincy fell to two men, each from one of the halves. The arrangement at the time enabled a degree of equilibrium and complementarity in the exercise of power, but it did not establish a perfect symmetry, since Arakytá (of the Tapi’pya half) possessed greater prestige than his son-in-law Ywyrapytá (Apyterewa half). Despite this arrangement, there is no categorical component that determines the structure of chieftaincy, nor is the system of dual chieftaincy a necessary prerequisite. Instead, it results from personal qualities and particular historical circumstances that may or may not be consonant with dualism. The Eastern Parakanã explicitly recognize the foreign origin of one of the halves, while the other represents the continuity of the true awaeté. As Arakytá told me: “we [the Tapi’pya] are enemies (akwawa)”. This somewhat ironic declaration does not, however, give rise to a symbolism that associates one of the patri-halves with the exterior and the other with interior.

The patri-groups also receive expression in the layout of the houses in a village and in the composition of the “Production Groups”. Most of the houses were inhabited by a nuclear family, but some of them housed two or more couples. In these cases, houses were most commonly composed of one father with his married son(s), but other arrangements were also possible: siblings, patrilateral parallel cousins and father-in-law/son-in-law.

This pattern contrasts with the post-contact villages of the Western Parakanã. These were simultaneously organized through a virilocal and patrilineal logic (residential aggregates made up of male siblings and patrilateral parallel cousins), and another that emphasized repeated ties of affinity (residential aggregates made up of a group of brothers who exchanged sisters).

Social Forms of Scarcity

The Western Parakanã system for obtaining wives is much less regulated than it is among the Eastern Parakanã. There are four ways of obtaining a wife among the former: through a matrimonial arrangement; through succession after the death of a husband; stealing her from a relative; or kidnapping her from an enemy. The workings of the matrimonial arrangement are seen to be an affair of women, with an agreement between women who exchange their sons (this is particularly true for a man’s first matrimony). Women therefore have a dual role in fixing alliances: they circulate among men, but they also plan a part of this circulation in order to benefit their sons and brothers.

A good deal of the arrangements occur before the birth of a child, as a result of the equation between an avuncular preference, the strategies of the kindred involved and past cycles of exchange. If the baby is a girl, the mother of her future husband raises her from the ground and hands her to the mother: she ‘gets’ (-pyhygy) the child for her son. Even though not all women have their marriages arranged in this way, it is probable that, a few years after birth, she already have a husband. In 1993, in the village of Apyterewa, there were only 9 single women out of a total of 91: eight of them were less than five years old and one was pre-pubescent. Because of the avuncular-patrilateral marriage regime, husbands tend to be much older than their wives. The Parakanã prescribe as potential spouses to a man the daughters of his ‘sisters’ and of his paternal aunts, according a secondary status to marriages with the patrilateral cross-cousin.

Warfare

The Parakanã do not possess a generic category for ‘warfare’. The most specific term denoting bellicose activity is warinio or warinia, which designates only the act of seeking out enemies, an active movement in search of foes. Armed combat itself is not called by a specific term. To make war is to attack (-pakag) the enemy and the events are described through a myriad of verbs that specify the type of violent action, such as ‘to confer a blow to the head’     (-akameg), ‘to confer a blow to the leg’ (-akopeka), ‘to shoot with an arrow’ (-‘ywo), ‘to shoot (with a shotgun)’ (-mopog), ‘to cut’ (mowai), and so forth.

Narratives of conflicts do not give a dimension of its scale, the number of deaths, and the number of killers. Scale is not a central element in descriptions of warfare, which tend to focus on a logic of quality over quantity. What matters is not only to kill, but also to appropriate an individual history, even if this is only inscribed in corporal forms during a fleeting moment. To go to war is not only to kill any type of other, nor is it a mechanism of annihilation: the other must exist as a subject so that there is productivity in the act of killing, and in order for consumption to be productive.

Warriors need to “anger themselves towards the enemy” (-jemamai akwawa-rehe) for there to be action. A powerful passion underlies the desire to kill enemies: rage (mirahya). This feeling is key to Parakanã ethno-psychology, for they confer upon it greater potency than that which we attribute to it. To say that a man is angry or irate (-pirahy) implies that potentially lethal aggression may follow.

It is not always possible to control rage. Critical episodes produce violent reactions. When a kinsperson dies, for example, men are overtaken by great rage. If it is impossible to avenge themselves of the death, they kill domestic animals, shoot arrows at the thatch of their houses, and fire shotguns into the air. These are ways of “wearing out” the rage.

The Conflict

In times of war, shamanic practices are used as a complement to bellicose activities. While in conflict, some men had the ability to produce the necessary disposition in others and to move their will in order to favour battle, while others serve the collectivity as shamanic telescopes, capable of seeing into the distance and locating the enemy. This undertaking was no less noble than the fighting itself, since it was often difficult to trace the paths of one’s foes, and even when this was a possibility, it was not always feasible to follow them all the way. They thus took frequent recourse to a shamanic practice known as wari’imogetawa, a sort of public, ritualized dreaming. He who sees into the distance and narrates what he sees to his kin is said to be a wari’ijara (Lord of the Wari’ia’) or wari’imogetara (‘He who –wari’imoge’). This shamanic process in which dreams preview clairvoyantly what will happen, situates the warriors before the enemies that they will face and is a primordial element in Parakanã warfare.

The second movement is the attack itself: once forces have been mobilized, and the objective has been located, people move towards their enemies. The war band, whose composition varied, could congregate up to 40 armed men, as well as women who often accompanied their enemies to the vicinity of the enemy target. The latter would remain camped at one or two days walk from the place of the battle, where they kept a fire lit and guarded the warriors’ hammocks. From that point onwards, the band, made up of adult men and boys who could handle a bow, went on, carefully tracking the enemy territory.

After killing an enemy or shooting an arrow into a corpse, the moropiarera should circle a stone and sit down: “so that I remain” (tajetekane), says the killer. Human perishability opposes itself to the permanence of the stone: “people are like that, only the stone truly remains”, told me Mojiapewa in 1992. One can also sit on the trunk of a jatobá tree, a hard and resistant wood: “so that I do not grow weak” (tajetawaeme), he proceeded. These are merely the first steps in a series of precautions and prescriptions that should be followed after a homicide, and which seek to control and direct the transformations through which the killer is undergoing. These restrictions are conceived of as a seclusion that is linked to two situations: the couvade and the post-homicidal restrictions. In both, there are a set of negative prescriptions concerning the consumption of food, sexual intercourse and the carrying out of certain activities. In the former instance, however, most of the restrictions are observed by parents for the sake of the newborn, whereas in the latter the killer abstains in his own benefit.

In the initial and more restricted period of post-homicide seclusion, the killer remains secluded in his house, lying in his hammock, from which he should only get up to use the bathroom. For four to five days he barely drinks water, drinking instead an extremely bitter infusion made from the inner barks of the carapanaúba tree (marawa) or of quina (inajarona). The properties of these infusions stem from their bitterness (-ram) and work to neutralize the blood of the victim that his contaminated the executioner. Some say that the killer is full of the ex-blood of the enemy (akwawa-rowykwera). In general, though, the idea of contamination does not require the presence of an exogenous substance, only of the distinctive attribute of blood, which, for the Parakanã, is its odour.

The body of the killer is undergoing transformation during seclusion, suffering a process of maturation which results in its hardening. One kills “to dry up-harden completely, it is said” (tajeporogeté-té-ne oja). Before becoming resistant and rigid, like the wood of the jatobá, the killer goes through a stage in which the boundaries of his body are fragile. For this reason, it is necessary to control the food that he eats. In the first days, when he is still secluded, he may only eat a small part of the meat of the white tortoise, which is considered to be completely benign. No other meat should be consumed by the killer in seclusion. He may eat some bits of the babaçu coconut and a type of manioc flour that is roasted with the peel known as manimé.

Failure to observe the rules of abstinence leads to the acquisition of the characteristics of the food that is eaten, particularly in the case of mammals: eating a tapir makes one move sluggishly, white-lipped peccary leads to snoring, collared peccary makes one’s testicles grow, agouti makes one’s teeth grind, paca makes the eyes shine, deer gives coryza. Some vegetables are also prejudicial: manioc flour made without manioc peels makes the killer dry up, the green nut of the babaçu coconut (which is soft and white) makes one’s beard grow white and taro makes the buttocks straighten. Other food may not put the bodily forms and dispositions that define the humanity of the killer at risk, but they produce internal disturbances that can be fatal. Certain types of honey and fish are in this category, but the emphasis lies on other products from which the moropiarera should abstain for the rest of his life, since they “make one have a spleen”: banana and tortoise eggs, but also curassows and armadillos which were traditionally only eaten by non-killers, women, children and the elderly (i.e. the oporo’ywo-wa’é-kwera, ‘ex-archers of people’). Many Parakanã claim that it is because of the ingestion of these foods in the period after contact that, today, they do not have the same disposition that they once did: “we become tired living with the Whites”.

Shamanism without shamans

Parakanã no Igarapé Lontra. Foto: Alfredo Cabral, 1972.
Parakanã no Igarapé Lontra. Foto: Alfredo Cabral, 1972.

A discussion of shamanism among the Parakanã requires that we first understand that, strictly speaking, there are no shamans. There are no specialists who take on the public function of shamans, nor people to whom one attributes a stable and definitive power to cure.

In almost all Amazonian groups, there are two general categories of disease: there are infirmities caused by the introduction of a pathogenic object into a body, and those that result from the exteriorization, loss or capture of an immaterial component, normally conceived as a vital principle. In the first case, therapy consists in removing the foreign object from the body of the patient; in the second, in recuperating the ‘soul’ and fixing it once again to its material substrate.

Among the Parakanã, there exists a third category of illness, related to the notion of contagion, which includes diseases caught after the contact with non-Amerindians. There is, finally, a fourth category which is that of problems that derive from the failure to observe restrictions, from not abiding by a taboo linked to critical transitions in a person’s life.

The type of disease that receives the most attention are those caused by the introduction of foreign objects into the body of the patient, and which is invariably considered to be the act of a sorcerer, a moropyteara. Pathogenic objects receive two designations: karowara and topiwara. The first is a category of cannibal spirits, linked to the production of disease and loosely associated to the anhanga, an anthropophagic being of Tupi cosmologies. The second refers to the auxiliary spirits of shamans, which are frequently associated to animals.

Among the Parakanã, topiwara and karowara are not, properly speaking, spirits, as among other Tupi groups, but rather pathogenic agents controlled by sorcerers. For this reason, no one publicly admits to having seen them in their dreams: those who see karowara are considered potential sorcerers, since by seeing them, they can control and use them.

Sorcery is learnt in dreams. The most common notion is that the experience of sorcery is learnt in dreams from the ‘lord of the karowara’ (karowarijara) or with the ‘plucker of karowara’ (karowamaapara), who transmits pathogenic agents to the dreamer. Transmission occurs through the sucking of karowara from the body of the entity. The Parakanã do not seem to have a precise representation of this entity, sometimes associating it to the capybara, sometimes to the bat, sometimes to an anthropomorphic entity characterized by its thinness. The acquisition of power, at any rate, occurs through the learning of suction (-pyten), which is considered to be an inhaling of blood: those who get karowara in dreams have the taste-odour of blood in their mouths, just as killers do.

In dreams, one can also learn to prepare exceptionally potent poisons, which are to be ingested by the victim, or rubbed on his mouth. These poisons are also associated with blood: one of them is produced from the placenta of a newborn; another with the sap of the Brazil nut tree, which is said to “like blood”. They provoke intense bloody diarrhoea, quickly followed by death. Those who know how to handle karowara can also place these in a cigar and offer it to the victim, who ingurgitates it after inhaling the smoke. His mouth will be devoured by the pathogenic agent, which can appear in the form of a white lizard known as tahaga.

Everyone who dreams has a little bit of –pajé and some ability to cure. However, one never becomes a shaman, since this role can only be occupied temporarily; no one risks becoming one, nor claims to be one. It is better to remain among equals, to not attribute powers to oneself, and to thereby avoid being the target of accusations.

Songs are obtained in dreams, and these are the main gift from dream enemies. They guarantee the legitimacy of the dream and its social productivity: to dream is equivalent to obtaining songs. If someone claims to have dreamed but is unable to produce the songs he heard, then he did not really dream, and is said to be lying.

Rituals

Festa das tabocas no Igarapé Bom Jardim. Foto: Carlos Fausto, 1988.
Festa das tabocas no Igarapé Bom Jardim. Foto: Carlos Fausto, 1988.

I call ‘feasts’ all activities that are distinct from quotidian life for involving greater coordination of activities, for demanding the carrying out of predetermined functions and routines, for mobilizing the collectivity and for being associated, in specific ways, with music and dance.

Music and dance are associated in numerous ways. Three of them, however, stand out because of their greater degree of elaboration, preparation and duration. They are the ‘clarinet feast’ (takwara-rero’awa), the ‘cigar feast’ (opetymo) and the ‘feast of the rhythmic baton’ (waratoa). To these we might add the ‘beer feast’ (inata’ywawa), in which, however, music and dance seem to be less relevant. These four modalities occur alongside a series of small feasts associated with the hunt of specific animals, or with the gathering of wild honey. There is no ceremony linked to agriculture and the use of its products in the preparation of ritual drinks is considered improper: beer should be made from the babaçu nut, and sweet porridge from the heart of the same palm. The only crop used in the feasts is tobacco, placed in the interior of a cigar made from the inner bark of the tauari (patyma’ywa, ‘tree of the smoke’).

The Clarinet Feast

Takwara-rero’awa, ‘bringing in the clarinets’ is a nocturnal feast, the theme of which is primarily the relationship between men and women. It lasts for only one night, but the preparations begin some fifteen days before when the instruments are made from a dark-green bamboo. A small reed is inserted into the clarinets, which vary in size between 50 cm and one metre, and the passage of air through the duct is obstructed by a piece of envieira vine. The reed then vibrates (technically, these instruments are clarinets, not flutes). They must be confectioned in the same day that they are brought in, since if they have not been touched by daybreak children become feverish.

After the instruments are made, nightly rehearsals begin. The players are divided into three categories, depending on the type of clarinet that they carry. After a few nights of rehearsal, those who will dance in the feast (the takwara-pyhykara, ‘bringers of the clarinet’) begin to gather and store honey. In the night before the ritual they must abstain from sexual intercourse, lest they vomit the sweet porridge. In the morning, they go after babaçu heart of palm and hand these ingredients over to their mother, sister or wife. Before noon, they head towards the patio between the houses and begin to prepare the heart of palm mush, which is sometimes thickened with smoked manioc. While it cooks, the takwara-pyhykara should stay away, for they cannot see the process of transforming the food.

During early afternoon the women paint the dancers with genipap and, before dusk, they go to an area behind the houses. Once there they finish ornamenting themselves by fixing the white feathers of the king vulture or the harpy eagle on their legs, placing red bands and maracas on their ankles. Thus ornamented, they enter the patio where the women guard the pots of porridge. They march noisily towards them, sounding their clarinets, and the dancers take to the patio and execute the first complete cycle of songs. The songs are then interrupted for the elders to mix honey into the reheated porridge.

When the food is over, the feats restarts and lasts until dawn, with the uninterrupted repetition of various cycles of songs. During the night, some women are required to dance with the men in the circle they have formed.

The ritual, when carried out for the benefit of foreign women, serves to introduce women into the circle so that they may have a long life as sexual partners: this is why pubescent women are the most sought after in the dance. Nonetheless, everyone seeks to participate in the ritual in some capacity. When first light begins to appear, mothers give their babies to the women who were embraced during the night so that they may dance with them. The aim is, once again, to ensure that they have a long life: “so that they remain, it is said” (taiteka oja). At the same time, young boys, less than eight years old, are also encouraged to participate as musicians: “so that they grow, it is said” (tojemotowi oja). It is important, at this stage, to note a difference between the Western and the Eastern Parakanã, since, for the former, the feast could be carried out from a female perspective, with the sexual roles symmetrically reversed. All that is needed is that there be a woman available who knows how to play the father-clarinet (a knowledge that is currently restricted to two women who live in the Parakanã Indigenous Land). For the Eastern Parakanã, this possibility is out of the question.

When morning is immanent, the compass of the songs is accelerated so that the last one coincides with the dawn. The musicians leave along the same path that brought them to the patio, heading towards the forest. From the forest, they forcefully sound the clarinets and throw them into the middle of the forest. They can never be played again, and if anyone were to do so, he would develop throat problems. It is then time to bathe and rest.

The cigar feast

In contrast to the clarinet feast, this is a feast of vocal music, with individual dances which occur mostly by day, associated with tobacco, where sisters sing for their brothers, pajé relations are established between same-sex people and which is linked to predatory warfare.

The ‘cigar feast’ lasts three to four days and five to ten people take part in it. Preparations begin some fifteen days before the start, when someone with experience decides to “get up” (-po’om). The reasons for doing so are varied: incentive from younger men, an abundance of game meat, commemoration of a war victory, to ease internal tensions. Whosoever gets up will be the owner of the feast, the first to dance and the person responsible for sponsoring the nightly rehearsals. Among the Eastern Parakanã, this rehearsal takes place in the tekatawa, far from the ears of the women, who stay at home. This also seems to have been the case among the Western Parakanã, but for some time now the rehearsals have taken place in the patio between the houses, within range of female ears and eyes.

Productive activities

Interior de uma casa na TI Parakanã. Foto: Antônio Carlos Magalhães, 1975.
Interior de uma casa na TI Parakanã. Foto: Antônio Carlos Magalhães, 1975.

In the early 1960’s, the Western Parakanã had completely abandoned horticulture and lived exclusively from hunting and gathering, eventually raiding garden products from others. After ‘pacification’, Funai employees reintroduced horticulture and this had important consequences on their mobility and diet. Funai reintroduced large collective gardens, started by the Parakanã under the direction of the Post chief, with the use of chainsaws and metal axes. In gardens, they began to collectively grow manioc, maize, banana, rice and beans (taro, sweet manioc and sweet potato are planted separately by nuclear families). All collective work was left to the men: cutting undergrowth, cutting trees, sowing, burning, planting and harvesting.

In contrast to what occurred in the past, women did not participate in planting nor in some of the harvests. The restart of agricultural activity led to redefinition of the sexual division of labour. It has been noted that the adoption of new cultigens, and particularly of bitter manioc with its long maturation period, has important repercussions on female labour (Beckerman n/d: 82). Among the Western Parakanã, however, the men felt the greatest impact. They not only took on most of the agricultural tasks, but also began to take an active part in the processing of manioc.

Among the Eastern Parakanã, garden work is divided between groups along family lines. It is the principle of partifiliation that determines the composition of the ‘Production Groups’, meaning that they are formed by consanguineal ties along the paternal line. Patrifiliation as an economic tie does not link individuals, but rather nuclear families, which are the smallest unit of production. This means that once a woman become sexually mature, she no longer produces for her original family, but rather for the husband’s family. Agricultural work is constituted by the coordination of female labour through marriage, and by male cooperation through patrifilial ties.

If we compare this structure with that of the Western Parakanã, we note that what these lack is the coordination of male work through ties of patrifiliation. The familial nucleus, once constituted, becomes completely autonomous. The independence of the couple derives precisely from the absence of any economic obligation of the husband in relation to his father or father-in-law. Before he marries, a man offers anticipated services to his future wife, to whom he must give a part of the game meat that he hunts. This is a means to guarantee the good grace of the parents-in-law, and to make public a relationship that will only actualize years later. Similarly, male children do not work for their fathers, not even before their marriage. Among the Western Parakanã, one only works to sustain a wife and children. The nuclear family is therefore the sole ‘economic agent’: it is the cooperation between husband and wife that moves subsistence activities. This does not mean that there is no articulation of the productive effort between familial hearths, but rather that these conform to flexible networks of relationships and not to groups. Brothers-in-law, particularly those who exchange sisters, like to go and hunt together, as do formal friends.  

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