- Where they are How many
- AM 1804 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
- Linguistic family
The Paumari are known as the "nomads of the Purus" due to the impressing mobility of their local groups and their traditional dwellings built upon rafts called flutuantes ("floatings"). Being fishermen of the river flood plains, the Paumari are one of the few indigenous peoples of the middle Purus River who succeeded to survive without armed conflicts the two rubber booms, which crushed other indigenous peoples of the region in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.
The proper name is Pamoari, but for communication with the whites and other indigenous ethnic groups they generally use the denomination Paumari. Pamoari has various meanings: "man", "human being", "people", but also "client", which can be explained by the relations the Paumari have with regional merchants. Other names, which appear in the literature, are Kurukurú, Palmari, Pamarí, Pammari, Purupuru, Wayai and Yja'ari.
According to "colonel" Labre, one of the rubber barons of the Purus in mid Nineteenth Century, the Paumari were called Purupuru, which means "painted" in Nheengatu (Língua Geral), due to a disease, which caused cutaneous spots, principally at the extremities most exposed to human contact. This disease was observed by various Nineteenth Century chroniclers (Gustav Wallis and Euclides da Cunha, for example) who imputed it to Paumari nutritional habits characterized by the consumption of fish, turtle and tortoise.
The Paumari call their language Pamoari. It belongs to the small Arawá family of Western Amazonia. So far there have not been discovered other languages closely related to that family. Information about it is almost exclusively based on studies realized by missionaries Shirley Chapman, Mary-Anne Odmark, Meinke Salzer and Beatrice Senn from Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). Almost all of these studies were made in the Lake Marahã area, but there seem to be some dialectical variations between the Pamoari of this region and that of the Ituxi and Tapauá rivers. Almost all Paumari also speak Portuguese and are bilingual, and in many occasions switch from one language to the other in the same phrase.
The present territory of the Paumari is situated exclusively in the middle Purus River basin with its tributaries like the Ituxi, Sepatini and Tapauá Rivers, in Amazonas State. The Paumari are notorious for their aquatic orientation, which becomes apparent by their traditionally preferred habitats: alluvial flood plains (várzeas), rivers and lakes. The predominant forms of vegetation in these habitats are dense ombrophylous alluvial forests of the plateaus and the periodically inundated floodplains. Establishing permanent settlements on the terra firme is a recent phenomenon of externally influenced culture change.
The favoured ecological zones for setting up villages are riverbanks, terra firme islands in the várzeas, and not inundated areas at the interface between the alluvial floodplains and the terra firme regionally known as "pé da terra firme" (foot of terra firme).
Historical records indicate that Paumari already occupied the middle Purus region at the time of the arrival of the first white colonizers, but the local groups have practiced considerable dislocations and migrations within this region in the last centuries.
As can be seen, the legal situation of these lands is propitious. With the exception of the Indigenous Land Caititu, all these lands are included in the demarcation project PPTAL (Projeto Integrado de Proteção às Populações e Terras Indígenas da Amazônia Legal/ Integrated Project for the Protection of Indigenous Peoples and Their Lands in the Brazilian Amazon Region), in the scope of the Pilot Programme for the Conservation of the Brazilian Rain Forests (Programa Piloto para a Proteção das Florestas Tropicais no Brasil/ PPG7).
The Paumari are the only indigenous inhabitants in the Indigenous Land Paumari do Lago Manissuã, while they share the areas of the other lands with other indigenous ethnic groups: with the Apurinã (in the Indigenous Lands Caititu, Paumari do Cuniuá, Paumari do Lago Marahã, Paumari do Lago Paricá and Paumari do Rio Ituxi), with the Jamamadi (in the Indigenous Land Caititu) and with the Katukina (in the Indigenous Lands Paumari do Cuniuá and Paumari do Lago Paricá).
We still have no data about interethnic marriages, with the exception of some few communities.
A cross-checking of data from Funai, the NGO OPAN (Operação Amazônia Nativa/ Operation Native Amazonia), the PPTAL and our field notes allows us to estimate the Paumari population at some 870 individuals (in 2000).
As to the birth and mortality rates, for the present we only have statistics from some communities of the Indigenous Lands Paumari do Lago Marahã and Paumari do Lago Manissuã. The author of this entry has recorded average annual birth rates of 2.6% to 3.8% for the period from 1996 to 2000, depending on the community studied. Funai anthropologist Luciene Pohl, on her part, recorded an increase in Paumari population in the Tapauá River region from 127 to 175 in the period from 1985 to 1997, corresponding to 37.8% in twelve years. She also computed that age groups from 0 to 20 years represent 62.8% of the Paumari population of those areas. In our censuses, the age groups from 0 to 19 years represent from 43.3% to 65.9% of the population in different communities.
History of contact
According to historical sources, the traditional territory of the Paumari comprised riverbanks, lakes and the rivers by themselves: on the middle Purus up to the mouth of the Jacaré River, on the mouth of the Tapauá River, and on the Ituxi River.
According to authors like Rivet & Tastevin and Métraux, they are descendants of a subgroup of the ancient Purupuru who occupied a region from the mouth of the Purus to that of the Ituxi in the Eighteenth Century, but who do not exist any more. The last remnants of the Purupuru were mentioned in mid Nineteenth Century as inhabiting the region between Lake Jary (Panará-Mirim do Jary) and the Paraná-Pixuna River (a right-hand tributary of the lower Purus), and the mouth of the Ituxi. Another ancient subgroup of the Purupuru, the Juberi (Jubirí, Yuberí), was located at the lower Tapauá River, at Abonini lakeside and at the banks of the middle Purus before the mouth of the Mamoriá-Açu River.
The Paumari have contacts with the whites for at least two centuries. They are mentioned in historical sources for the first time in 1845. At that time, various groups were already exploited for the extraction of "drugs from the backwoods" (drogas do sertão, as was the name of forest products in colonial and postcolonial Brazil) by the merchant Manoel Urbano da Encarnação who controlled the middle Purus River.
In 1847, the French naturalist Castelnau observed various Paumari groups from "Oiday" River to the Sepatini River. According to this author, they mainly lived on river beaches and did not practice agriculture. Their most common habitation were rafts, with one raft per "family", communication between them being made by canoes. They also had houses on the terra firme. The Paumari did not use clothes, but only body paint.
In 1862, the German naturalist Gustav Wallis noticed the first "maloca" of the Paumari at the mouth of the Jacaré River. On the Arimã River, he observed some 600 Paumari and Juberi assembled by Manoel Urbano da Encarnação for clearing a large field and building a chapel on the site where Father Pedro da Ceriana had planned to set up a mission.
The first more detailed scientific descriptions of the Paumari were made by the English voyager Chandless who portrayed them as peaceful and gay, spending much time with singing. He also characterized them as an aquatic people not much devoted to agriculture and only planting some manioc, sweet cassava and bananas, but producing no manioc flour, although they liked it and sought to purchase it from merchants. They were good fishermen and archers, killing fish and turtles, but bad hunters. Alimentation relied on fish and turtle. On one occasion, Chandless observed more than 60 canoes floating downstream to capture turtles being in each one a woman rowing and a man standing at the prow watching for turtles to appear.
According to the same author, the Paumari lived the greater part of the dry season on sandy riverbanks, building "straw huts" from palm leaf shafts (when they stayed for a longer time) or simple semicircular shelters from palm leaves. In the high water season, however, they withdrew to the lakes, constructing their "straw huts" upon rafts anchored in the middle of the lakes for escaping from insects.
The town of Lábrea was founded on Paumari territory. These Indians were exploited by "colonel" Labre, founder of the place, as rubber tappers and suppliers of fish, tortoise and turtle eggs. At the time of the first rubber boom, Amazon cities were illumined by lamps burning with turtle egg butter and oil, which explains the interest in exploiting the Paumari as suppliers of this product.
After his visits to the region, between 1873 and 1901, the American ethnologist Steere described the Paumari as reduced by epidemics to some hundred individuals living a nomadic life along the Purus and roaming from one rubber camp to another. And finally we have the texts from German ethnologist Ehrenreich who located some groups in the rubber camps of "colonel" Luiz Gomes, describing them as ragged and alcoholics.
In the late Nineteenth Century, the Paumari had lost a major part of their traditional territories for fishing and turtle capturing, because the riverbanks were controlled and exploited by the owners of the rubber camps. They roamed in small groups and were considered the most "idle" Indians of the region. At that time, the word "Paumari" became a synonym for rogue and lazy-bones.
Notwithstanding these negative stereotypes, we know nothing about armed expeditions against the Paumari. On the contrary, it seems that they were integrated in the patronage system without offering major ostensive resistance. Maybe their mobility and their inconsistency regarding work were their specific manifestations of peaceful resistance without confrontations.
Now that we do not know much about Nineteenth Century Paumari ethnohistory, information about it becomes even scarcer in the Twentieth Century. Interethnic relations with the dominant society are marked by the above-mentioned stereotypes, which were sustained up to the present, and by dependence on material goods and assistance of the whites who are called jara. The negative stereotypes of being lazy and inconstant with regard to work complicate economic relations and employment, particularly in the urban sphere.
The relations with other indigenous peoples generally are peaceful, although there can be observed some serious tensions with the Apurinã with regard to territoriality in the cases where Paumari and Apurinã communities are neighbours in the same areas. Paumari informants from Santa Rita and Crispinho villages, in the Indigenous Land Paumari do Lago Marahã, told us that in former times the Paumari were afraid of Apurinã attacks and always were prepared to jump into the water and to hide behind the rafts.
The annual cycle is marked by the great mobility of local groups and their seasonal dislocations between different zones of resource exploitation (terra firme and várzea, riverbanks and Brazil nut camps). It is determined by regional rainfalls and by corresponding water levels.
Fishing in the rivers, streams (igarapés), seasonally flooded forests (igapós) and lakes is basis for self-supply. The Paumari fish throughout the year with diverse techniques and eat fish every day. Other aquatic animals preferred by them are turtles ("bichos de casco", that is, "shell animals"), which already became quite rare on the middle Purus. Fishing always was the most related activity and we do not know much about the exploitation of terra firme areas by the Paumari, especially since the above-mentioned authors did not tell us about what the Paumari did in the months with scarcity of fish.
Agriculture is practised both in the várzea and on the terra firme, being manioc the most cultivated plant. Agriculture played an insignificant role in older texts about the Paumari, but an expedition by North American biologists Ghillean Prance, David Campbell and Bruce Nelson to the Lake Marahã region revealed a reverse situation by discovering more than 14 manioc varieties in their gardens, which has not been expected for an ethnic group characterized as nomadic. The anthropologist Peter Schröder (author of this entry) and the ecologist Plácido Costa Júnior, however, collected information about 28 varieties planted in Paumari gardens. Besides manioc, the Paumari plant up to more than 30 different cultures like sweet cassava, yam, sweet potatoes, ariá (a tuber), taro, maize, gherkin, beans, pumpkin and several fruits and palm-trees.
Besides being farmers, contemporary Paumari also cultivate various fruit-trees, vegetables and medicinal plants in the backyards of their houses. They also collect various kinds of wild fruits for domestic consumption and raw materials (principally vines and woods) for house building, embarkations and manufacture of diverse objects. Beverages are made from palm fruits (like açaí, bacaba [Oenocarpus multicaulis] or patauá), and Brazil nuts also are appreciated as food.
The Paumari are not notorious for being good hunters, although we know that they hunt sporadically and spontaneously, especially in the cases of coming across some animal when they go fishing.
As the Paumari maintain permanent relationships with the dominant society and became dependent on their material products, various activities aim at commercialising fish, turtles and extractivist products (Brazil nuts, copaiba oil, sorva, rubber and lumber) exchanged for industry products (food, textiles, tools, motors, fuels and others).
In these kinds of relations, they often do not receive any money and are exploited in a scandalous manner by merchants in exchange for their products. In the vicious circles of these patronage systems, the Paumari contract a lot of debts and the families do not manage to quit them over the years, even paying with their entire production. By reason of indebtedness, some Paumari are forced to yield access to a lake to some whites interested in exploiting it or to permit lumbering in their forests.
In the last years, however, diverse restrictions were introduced to selling or exchanging products the Paumari were accustomed to commercialise with ease, both through more efficient controls by various government agencies and by overexploitation of some natural resources. Besides this, rubber and sorva extraction got into a deep crisis in the 1980s, forcing many Paumari to look for alternative products to be commercialised. Thus, many started to devote themselves more to agriculture.
Social and political organization
Voyagers and other observers of the Nineteenth Century characterized the lacustrine dwellings of the rainy season as typical Paumari habitations, because they attracted more attention. These rafts with houses floated in the middle of the lakes with the aim to somehow protect oneself from insects like the "piuns" (very small, stinging and disagreeable insects). For this reason, these rafts were also called "floatings".
Every village was composed by 8 to 15 houses with one or two families in each one. The fireplace was on land, but near the lakeside. Other smaller dry season dwellings many times were not perceived, as was the case of the simple semicircular shelters made of palm leaves on the sandy riverbanks.
Contrary to the image of fluvial nomadism, Steere also spoke about permanent villages occupied in the rainy season where there were kept living turtles in pens made of stakes.
Nowadays, the "floatings" represent a minority kind of Paumari habitation. It is still possible to find "floatings" on the Lake Marahã and the Tapauá River. The major part of the Paumari, however, lives at least some part of the year in regional type houses, which means more exposure to everyday "plagues" as the "piuns" and gadflies.
The size of local groups can vary from isolated houses to villages with more than 20 houses. Although some sources, as the site of the SIL, inform that there are only four Paumari villages, we located ten in only one of the Indigenous Lands (Paumari do Lago Marahã). The major village known as yet has more than 170 inhabitants.
The social and political organization of the Paumari has been little studied so far. Steere is the only author who mentions the subdivision of the Paumari in several clans. The residential groups are either nuclear families or extended family groups (married couples, children, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and grandchildren), sometimes also including the children one part of the parents had from a former marriage.
After marriage, consanguine brothers generally do not live together in the same residential group, although they aim at building their house near those of their brothers. This rule, however, is not valid for sisters. Unmarried adults normally live with the family of one of the brothers. Young persons with only one parent alive generally live with him or her.
There were traditional marriage preferences with cross-cousins (father's sister's children and mother's brother's children). Unlike other indigenous societies of the Amazon region, sons-in-law render services to their fathers-in-law even before marriage. Post-nuptial residence rules are complicated: in the first month, with the wife's family (uxorilocal), then with the man's family (virilocal) for another month and later on constant alternations between the two families of parents-in-law in intervals which can last up till two years until the birth of the first child. These residential changes can continue until the birth of the second or third child, when the couple generally decides to build a residence of its own (neolocality). In these years, the couple is not obliged to live in the house of its fathers-in-law, but can build its own next to it. If one part of the married couple is orphan from the father's side, the mother's side or both sides, post-nuptial residence rules are still more complicated.
As to the culturally marked phases of the life cycle, nowadays it is worth principally pointing out the change in the girls' status from child to adult. With their first menstruation, they are obliged to retire to a small seclusion hut built beside their family's house or inside it. In the latter case, the hut is only made by a large straw mat rolled up to form a conical tent. In this small seclusion hut the girl has to stay for seven to twelve months, being attended by her mother and other members of the family. Unlike other indigenous peoples of the region, the Paumari nowadays allow that these girls are seen by men and even that they can be photographed. The seclusion phase ends with a great feast for the entire village lasting some days. For the boys, there does no longer exist any rite of passage, being the puberty vocal change the only indicator for change of status from child to adult.
Paumari political organization is passing through major transformations. Since in the past they did not have any distinguished leadership function for the local groups, there existed a kind of informal leadership assumed by the eldest of the married men. Many communities nowadays do not yet have any real chiefs (caciques) and can be characterized as acephalous. The high degree of family mobility and the fast and easy disintegration and rearrangement of the communities raise considerable difficulties for the establishment of local power. But increasing sedentariness on the one hand and external demands both from indigenist politics and from modern indigenous associations on the other hand are changing this situation.
Paumari houses are like those of the riverine population: built on stilts. For going up and entering, they place a wooden ladder or a trunk with small incisions offering some foothold. The dwellings can have one or two compartments. If there are two, one is used as dormitory and living-room and the other one as kitchen. This kind of house is more used in the high water season when there is need to take care of the gardens, while it is possible to find a lot of these houses unoccupied in the dry season.
Current "floatings" are rafts with the same regional type houses, nevertheless without stilts. Because of the thick trunks, which support them, they cannot be dislocated with ease and stay moored at the lakesides for a long time, only going along with the changes in water levels. They can de removed, depending on the desire of its inhabitants, but it is a quite arduous undertaking. This kind of permanent dwelling does hinder its inhabitants to realize their activities on terra firme.
Temporary dwellings are small shelters (or tapiris) principally built from palm materials for short time dislocations both to the riverbanks and for collecting Brazil nuts and other forest products.
Among the objects of domestic use made by the Paumari are baskets, bag-shaped sieves and simple mats. The latter ones are also called "the Indian's bed" by the Paumari themselves, since they did not produce hammocks in the past. Their pottery is described as being clumsy and without painting, which various authors explain as a result of "nomadic life".
Contemporary clothing consists of the same kind of clothes used by the regional population. In the past, the men only used a waistband to fix their penis, completed by some threads for hiding it, while the women used cotton tangas.
The principal body ornaments formerly were red lines painted with urucum. Nowadays, they use necklaces and bracelets, which are produced for commercialisation, too.
Traditional embarkations were canoes carved out of a single piece of wood, about 3,5 to 4,5 meters long, smoothly cut on the prow and with vertical flanks. The oar blades were oval-shaped and pointed. Contemporary canoes and oars conserve these forms.
The Paumari produce objects of domestic use and some adornments for selling them as artwork in urban centres, to merchants or to missionaries. The latter ones are intermediaries who offer higher prices than the regional merchants. Among the artwork sold in the towns and cities and sometimes commercialised by Funai's Artíndia shops, basketry stands out as being considered of good quality.
Religion and shamanism
The ethnic religion is one of the least known aspects of Paumari culture. Under current missionary influence, it is retreating and in some villages it is in danger of disappearing. We know very few things about mythology, shamanism and feasts, although many legends and other histories have been collected by SIL missionaries and transcribed for educational purposes.
Shamanism continues to be practiced in many villages, generally disguised, but people do not talk much about it. In the past, however, shamans were highly respected in their communities and used to heal maladies by sucking some part of the patient's body. After this, they entered the forest, provoked vomits and then returned to the village with some small animals or objects, alleging they had pulled these out of the patient's body by the healing act.
In the moments preceding the healing ritual, the shaman uses snuff. This stimulant is prepared from the leaves of the Bignomiaceae vine (Tanaeciuma nocturnum), which has some almond-like taste when chewed. For preparing snuff, they take green leaves, which are toasted until becoming dry, being the base for a fine powder, which is kept in Brazil nut burs. After that, the powder is sifted and blended with snuff prepared by the same way. This mixture is called koribo-nafoni and is only used by shamans in special occasions like, for example, before treating patients, in rituals to protect children or in girls' puberty rites.
Notwithstanding shamanism in disappearance, snuff continues to enjoy great popularity among the Paumari. There are two kinds of common use. One is made from tobacco, mixed with ashes from tree barks. The other one, called kavabo, is made from the bark of virola elongata. The outer part of the bark is scraped, then toasted and dried over fire. After that, it is pulverized in a mortar made of a Brazil nut bur.
Snuff was traditionally inhaled with a pair of hollow bones fixed side by side with a cotton thread. Their ends were equally smoothened with wax to facilitate adapting it to the nostrils. Nowadays, there are also used tubes from ballpoint pens after removing the ink.
Women generally do not inhale snuff, but use it in another way, making a tea from the root bark, which is fermented in water. This tea has a numbing effect.
Notes on the sources
We still have no ethnographic monograph, which informs about the Paumari in a comprehensive way. Various authors, like William Chandless, Paul Ehrenreich, Gunter Kroemer, Mary Ann Odmark, Luciene Pohl, Ghillian Prance, Peter Schröder and Gustav Wallis, offer partial information.
The Paumari language, however, was very well studied and there are numerous publications and detailed analyses completed by diversified educational materials. Among these, the publications of Shirley Chapman, Desmond Derbyshire, Meinke Salzer and Beatrice Senn stand out.
Sources of information
- CHANDLES, William. Ascent of the river Purús. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Londres : Royal Geographical Society, v.36, p. 86-118, 1866.
- --------. Notas sobre o rio Purus, lidas perante a Real Sociedade Geográfica de Londres, em 26 de novembro de 1868. Separatas dos Arquivos da Associação do Comércio do Amazonas, s.l. : Associação do Comércio do Amazonas, v.9, n.3, p. 21-9 ; v.10, n.3, p.29-40, 1949 .
- --------. Notes on the river Aquiry, the principal affluent of the river Purús. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Londres : Royal Geographical Society, v.36, p. 119-28, 1866
- CHAPMAN, Shirley. Gramática pedagógica Paumari. Porto Velho : SIL, 1983.
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- --------. Paumari interrogatives. Notes on Linguistics, s.l. : s.ed., v.2, 1977.
- --------. Paumari interrogatives. In: GRIMES, Joseph E. (Ed.). Sentence initial devices. Dallas : SIL ; Arlington : Univ. of Texas, 1986. p.215-33. (SIL Publications in Linguistics, 75)
- --------. Problems in Paumari acculturation. In: MERRIFIELD, William R. (Ed.). Five amazonian studies : on world view and cultural change. Dallas : International Museum of Cultures, 1985. p. 71-8. (International Museum of Cultures Publication, 19)
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- --------. Ergativity and transitivity in Paumari. Work Papers of the SIL, s.l. : Univ. of North Dakota, v.27, p. 11-28, 1983.
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- EHRENREICH, Paul. Beiträge zur Völkerkunde Bresiliens. Veröffentlichungen aus dem Königlichen Museum für Völkerkunde, s.l., v.2, p. 1-80, 1891.
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- FÉLIX, Rita de Cássia. Relatório de identificação e delimitação da Área Indígena Paumari do Rio Ituxi. Brasília : Funai, 1987. 82 p.
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- IGITHA varani hini kapapirani hida : as estórias de vários animais. 4a. ed. Porto Velho : SIL, 1996.
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- NICOLAI, Renato. Vocabulário Paumari. s.l. : s.ed., s.d. Site línguas indígenas brasileiras; reprodução parcial de informações de Mary Ann Odmark e Shirley Chapman.
- ODMARK, Mary Ann. Dois conetivos contrastantes da língua Paumari. Lingüística, s.l. : s.ed., v.7, p. 111-5, 1977.
- --------. A sobreposição e outras técnicas de repetição em Paumari. Lingüística, s.l. : s.ed., v.9, n.1, p. 105-27, 1987.
- --------; LANDIN, Rachel. On Paumari social organization. In: MERRIFIELD, William R. (Ed.). South American kinship : eight kinship systems from Brazil and Colombia. Dallas : The International Museum of Cultures, 1985. p. 93-112.
- OPERAÇÃO AMAZÔNIA NATIVA. Projeto Tapauá. s.l. : Opan, s.d.
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