- Where they are How many
- MT, RO 787 (Siasi/Sesai, 2020)
- Linguistic family
For centuries the Zoró, along with the other Tupi-Mondé-speaking peoples, have inhabited the area now comprising the northwest of Mato Gross and the south of Rondônia. In the 20th century this extensive indigenous territory was progressively invaded by rubber extractors and mining companies. The inauguration of the Cuiabá-Porto Velho highway in 1961 pitched colonizers, farmers and squatters into a dispute for the indigenous lands. In the fact of these increasingly bloody conflicts, various ‘pacification’ expeditions were organized. Officially contacted in 1977, the Zoró were the last of the Tupi-Mondé to encounter the regional pioneer fronts. (see "History of pacification") The Funai officers from the contact teams estimated their population at between 800 and 1000 people. A year after contact, this number had fallen by half. The invasion of their lands by squatters and loggers intensified over the following decades, leading to epidemics and depopulation. However, the removal of the invaders from the Zoró area at the start of the 1990s failed to interrupt the illegal extraction of timber. In recent years, the Pangyjej Association (APIZ) has embarked on various initiatives to protect the Zoró Indigenous Land and its natural resources, as well as supporting school education and production projects such as Brazil nut gathering.
The oldest historical records do not distinguish the Zoró from the other peoples from the Tupi-Mondé linguistic family, generally referred to as the ‘Cinta-Larga’ or ‘Cinturão-Largo,’ ‘Broad Belts,’ (which as well as themselves includes the contemporary Cinta-Larga, the Suruí and the Gavião), who until the mid 20th century inhabited dense tropical forests with patches of open savannah and cerrado, which characterize the basins of the Aripuanã and Roosevelt rivers in the northwest of Mato Grosso and southeast of Rondônia. All these groups wear some kind of belt and build very similar oblong malocas. Rubber tappers, hunters and miners, though, nicknamed them the ‘Cabeças-Secas,’ ‘Dry Heads,’ perhaps due to the Tupi-Mondé practice of shaving their heads in response to diseases or during mourning.
The Funai officers from the contact teams, for their part, obtained from the Suruí (who call themselves the Paiter), their most tenacious enemies at the time, the designation today used to identify the ‘Zoró.’ According to the journalist Cesarion Praxedes in 1977 who visited the encampment of the Attraction Front on the shores of the Rio Branco (an affluent of the left shore of the Roosevelt):
“Zoró is an abbreviation of the name monshoro, used by the Suruí to designate their neighbours and enemies (...). Monshoro is a disparaging word whose meaning the Suruí do not explain. Over time, it was shortened to shoro and finally zoró” (Praxedes 1977a).
The physician Jean Chiappino (1975), who in 1972 spent some months in the Sete de Setembro Indigenous Area (current Sete de Setembro Indigenous Land), heard the Suruí call their enemies located to the north ‘Mojur.’ According to anthropologist Inês Hargreaves (1992), the Suruí called the latter by two appellations, ngu sura (‘bad mouth or speech’) and lad up (‘red people’).
The Zoró designate themselves by the term Pangyjej. Nonetheless, they have assimilated the name ‘Zoró,’ which quickly spread in the context of their relations with national society, including use of the name as a surname in birth records and other personal documents.
The Zoró speak a language from the Tupi-Mondé family, alongside the Cinta-Larga, Gavião, Salamãi (Sanamaiká or Mondé), Suruí, Aruá and Aruaxi languages (Rodrigues, 1986), and, probably, the Kepkiriwat languages, spoken by a people who the Rondon Commission encountered in 1913 in the valley of the Pimenta Bueno river, one of the headwaters of the Ji-Paraná river (Rondon 1916; Rondon & Faria 1948; Lévi-Strauss 1994), and the Arara do Guariba (Dal Poz 1995).
The linguist Denny Moore (2005) argues that the Cinta-Larga, Gavião and Zoró languages are no more than dialects since they are mutually comprehensible.
The name for this linguistic family comes from a small group of ‘Mundé’ Indians who the anthropologist Lévi-Strauss visited in 1938 on the upper Pimenta Bueno river, in the present-day state of Rondônia (Lévi-Strauss 1955). Years later, the missionary Wanda Hanke encountered them on the upper Guaporé where three families had been relocated and compiled a list of words and basic ethnographic data (Hanke 1950).
Location and population
The Zoró live in the demarcated and ratified Zoró Indigenous Land in the municipality of Rondolândia (separated from the municipality of Aripuanã in 1998), in Mato Grosso, close to the border with Rondônia.
The region of the affluents of the right shore of the upper Madeira has been the habitat of the Tupi-Mondé-speaking peoples for a long time. Ethnolinguistic studies estimate the origin of the process of diversification of these languages at two or three centuries ago when some ‘proto-Tupi-Mondé’ groups, perhaps taking over areas already occupied by other groups from the same family, moved upriver along the Aripuanã and Roosevelt (Brunelli 1989).
Hence a state incessant warfare governed the relations between these peoples, functioning as a mechanism for the definition of their territorial boundaries. The Zoró told the anthropologist Gilio Brunelli (1987a) that their ancestors had inhabited the area surrounding the mouth of the Aripuanã river and in the first decades of the 20th century had migrated between the Arara Karo and other agriculturist peoples living upriver, gradually moving towards the territory they occupy today. During this migration, the Zoró clashed with Cinta-Larga groups situated above the confluence of the Branco river with the Roosevelt river, imposing their presence after violent skirmishes.
These movements ceased around the 1930s when the Zoró collided with more numerous Cinta-Larga and Suruí groups to the west and south. In the middle of the last century, therefore, the Zoró occupied a continuous territory spanning from the right shore of the Roosevelt river to the streams forming the Madeirinha river, facing the Cinta-Larga to the east, the Suruí to the south, the Gavião to the southwest and west and the Arara Karo to the northwest.
In 1976, based on aerial surveillance, the Funai officers from the contact teams estimated the Zoró population at eight hundred people distributed in more than ten villages. A year later the population was less than half this number – if the information is true that only around four hundred people were vaccinated by the Funai team in 1977. Epidemics of tuberculosis, flu, diarrhoea and malaria had struck the Zoró before and after the first visit of the workers from the Castanhal Farm (Brunelli & Cloutier 1986). After contact, the Zoró moved to the Igarapé Lourdes Indigenous Land of the Gavião, stunned by the surprise attack by Suruí on an encampment – a short but decisive stay: there they met the American fundamentalists of the New Tribes of Brazil Mission (MNTB) and, in addition, caught malaria and hepatitis which killed a number of them (Brunelli 1987a; Forseth & Lovøld 1984). In May 1980 they once again sought refuge in the Igarapé Lourdes IT where the missionaries handed out medicines and provided the healthcare they needed (Brunelli 1987a; Cloutier 1988). Since the initial contacts with the workers from the Castanhal Farm in 1976 until the end of 1979 there were about 44 deaths, half of them people aged over thirty (Forseth & Lovøld 1984; Brunelli 1987a). Some Zoró married among the Gavião and settled permanently in the Igarapé Lourdes IT. A year later, though, the majority had returned to their traditional territory, clustering close to the Funai post where the small infirmary was occasionally attended by a healthcare assistant (Brunelli 1989). Hence in 1984, after a series of epidemic outbreaks, the Zoró population was a little over 200 people.
|Igarapé Lourdes||Moore, 1981|
|1981||152 36||F.A. Zoró Igarapé Lourdes||Projeto Rondon/UFMT, 1981|
|F.A. Zoró Igarapé Lourdes||Gambini, 1983|
|1984||169 34||F.A. Zoró Igarapé Lourdes||Brunelli & Vallee, 1984; Brunelli & Cloutier, 1986|
|1985||194 34||F.A. Zoró Igarapé Lourdes||Brunelli & Cloutier, 1986|
|1987||211||F.A. Zoró||Gambini, 1987|
|1988||200||F.A. Zoró||Coimbra & Santos, 1989|
|1989||218||Zoró||Funai, apud CEDI, 1981|
|1992||237 20||Zoró Igarapé Lourdes||Hargreaves, 1993|
|2000||400||T.I. Zoró||Funai, apud ISA, 2000|
|2003||464||T.I. Zoró||FUNASA, apud ISA, 2006|
|2006||540||T.I. Zoró||Pangyjej Association, 2006|
|2008||599||T.I. Zoró||FUNAI/CGDC - AER Ji-Paraná|
Associação Pangyjej, 2010
In 2008, the Zoró numbered 599 people, living in 23 villages distributed unevenly across all corners of the Zoró Indigenous Territory, according to the data from Funai/CGDC AER-Ji-Paraná-RO.
History of pacification
The process of colonizing the mid-west and south of Amazonia largely passed by the region drained by the Aripuanã, Roosevelt and Ji-Paraná rivers, affluents of the Madeira river basin. It was only from the second half of the 19th century onwards and the start of the ‘rubber boom,’ which attracted workers from Peru and Ceará to exploit the native rubber areas and thus the Madeira’s affluents (the Marmelos, Manicoré, lower Aripuanã and Ji-Paraná rivers), that this region began to be explored and economically occupied.
At the start of the 20th century the creation of the Mato Grosso-Amazonas Strategic Telegraph Lines Commission (the ‘Rondon Commission) provided an additional impulse to the systematic and permanent occupation of the northwest of the then immense state of Mato Grosso. As well as extending the telegraph line, constructing strategic roads and carrying out geographic, botanical and mineralogical studies, the Commission was also responsible for ‘pacifying’ the indigenous populations along its route.
Among other undertakings, the Commission organized the Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition, which combined the interest of former US President Theodore Roosevelt in obtaining samples of South American fauna for the American Museum of Natural History and the Brazilian government’s intention to pay him a tribute. The then Colonel Cândido Rondon planned a route through the sertões of Mato Grosso that would end with the survey of the ‘rio da Dúvida,’ ‘river of Doubt,’ soon rebaptized as the Roosevelt river, whose course and confluence were unknown at the time. The expedition, which crossed the territory occupied by the Zoró and Cinta-Larga, among others, encountered numerous signs of the Indians in the vicinity as they moved forward.
In the following years only sparse and fragmented news of the region’s indigenous groups appear, describing conflicts with the pioneer fronts.
In the 1960s migration to southern Amazonia and economic occupation of the region increased in pace: at the outset, the construction of the BR-364 highway linking the state capitals of Cuiabá and Porto Velho; next, the harassment of freelance miners and mining companies exploring the reserves of cassiterite, diamonds and gold; and finally the convergence of government and private interests, unleashing the process of colonization and the expansion of farmland. The state of Mato Grosso in particular promoted the sale of lands in the municipality of Aripuanã, without taking into account the presence of Indians, rubber tappers and smallholders, or even overlapping land titles. The pressure on indigenous territories led the government body responsible for protecting the Indians, the debilitated SPI (Indian Protection Service), soon replaced by Funai, to organize ‘pacification’ expeditions with the aim of neutralizing indigenous resistance to the invaders and thus confine the Suruí, Cinta-Larga and Zoró to reduced areas.
The local Zoró groups, however, remained in the triangle formed by the Roosevelt and Branco rivers, although incursions by rubber tappers, caucho extractors and miners completely decimated some of their villages. From a Zoró camp attacked in 1963 only a girl survived, captured by the rubber tappers.
In the eastern sector, along the Roosevelt river, the Zoró were soon forced to surrender large portions of their lands to the cattle ranchers who were then beginning to clear the area for pastures. To the east they came face-to-face with the Muiraquitã Farm, to the west farm labourers from the Castanhal Farm and to the southeast the Suruí, themselves pushed northwards by the smallholders invading their lands.
Aerial surveillance conducted in 1967 by Horst Stute of the New Tribes of Brazil Mission located the largest groupings of the Suruí, Cinta-Larga and Zoró. However the ‘pacification’ operations begun in 1966 proved to be uncoordinated and inadequate given the size of the invasion of the indigenous territory by miners and settlers. The mistakes, omissions and connivance of the indigenist agency were disastrous. The Zoró came into contact with the regional pioneer fronts in 1976, encountering ‘peões’ (farm labourers) from the Castanhal Farm on the shores of the Branco river, an affluent of the Roosevelt. It was only in October the next year that a Funai expedition under the command of the officers Apoena Meirelles and José do Carmo Santana (‘Zé Bell’) encountered them at the main farmhouse.
The first attempts at contact with who were then presumed to be ‘Suruí Indians’ of the upper Rio Branco (in actual fact, the Zoró) were made by the head of the SPI’s Igarapé Lourdes Post, Constantino Marques de Almeida, with the cooperation of the Gavião – in February 1967 the group had visited the Gavião village.
In 1973 Zoró warriors attached a Suruí family who were fishing eight kilometres from the Sete de Setembro Post (Puttkamer, Diários de Campo II, 1972-1976). Some of their villages were glimpsed by the Funai field officer Apoena Meirelles at the end of 1974, seventy kilometres from the Sete de Setembro Post. Meirelles estimated their population at between five hundred and eight hundred people distributed in at least eight villages.
When he returned to the post of director of the Aripuanã Park in 1976, Meirelles made a new surveillance flight over the villages of the Indians known as the ‘Dry Heads’ and still considered to be ‘isolated,’ situated between the headwaters of the Tiroteio river and the right bank of the Rio Branco. This resulted in the first proposal to interdict the lands occupied by the Zoró and a plan to ‘attract’ the population.
In August the same year, the Funai officer José do Carmo Santana (‘Zé Bell’) accompanied the photographer Jesco von Puttkamer, working for National Geographic magazine, on another flight across the Zoró territory. Following the Tiroteio river, they glimpsed the first villages:
“There were two clearings of two new villages with two or three malocas in the middle of a recently deforested area. However the people ran to hide from the airplane. These Indians are hostile, responsible for killed various white men only recently. A few minutes later we saw another two villages with older malocas – already in the headwaters of the Rio Branco. The Indians here are hostile too and tried to hide from the plane [in their houses]. Only the dogs remained outside.
Next to one of the houses we were able to spot hundreds of lengths of bamboo for arrows, drying in the sun. Why are they making so many arrows? For warfare, obviously. But are they going to fight invading whites or once again turn to attacking their kin at the Sete de Setembro Post?
We knew that further north we would find other villages, however it was too misty and full of smoke [from lands being burnt in farms to the south and west of the Zoró territory].” (Puttkamer, Field Diaries II, 1972-1976).
The Attraction Front
On the shores of the Rio Branco, an affluent of the Roosevelt, the Zoró fraternized with some of the labourers from the Castanhal Farm, in January 1977. But it was only in June that a new ‘attraction plan’ was formulated by Apoena Meirelles, proposing the interdiction of the area inhabited by the Zoró, the allocation of resources to organize the Attraction Front and the installation of a post in the region of the Quatorze de Abril river.
Funai prepared an expedition for March the same year under the command of Funai officer José do Carmo Santana, ex-director of the Aripuanã Park, with the objective of contacting around 800 Zoró Indians or ‘Dry Heads’ and prevent them from clashing with the farmers and rubber extractors who were every day moving closer to their lands on the headwaters of the Branco and 14 de Abril rivers. However, the expedition’s departure, delayed various times, only took place in October 1977 following a new reconnaissance flight over the area. The activities of the Funai expedition and the first friendly contacts with the Zoró were described by the journalist Cesarion Praxedes in two lengthy new reports in the magazines Manchete and Geográfica Universal. See Praxedes’s account which recorded the first contact with the Zoró.
Further readingsRead more about the history of pacification, by João Dal Poz
Society, culture and natural resources
Zoró social organization takes the form of local groups (or villages) of various sizes (between a few dozen and, perhaps, a little over a hundred people), which occupy different points of the traditional territory and are politically and economically autonomous (Brunelli 1989). In the absence of a centralized authority or political power, splits, disputes and fights were once fairly frequent; nonetheless, kinship ties, along with ritual and festive obligations, encouraged the maintenance of relations of alliance and cooperation. the same applied to shamanic functions, for which people usually turned to the foremost leaders, widely recognized and sought after.
Each local group was composed of one or several extended families – a unit of consanguines and affines –centred on a prestigious man (zapijaj, the ‘house-owner’). The village normally contained one to three large oblong malocas with the swiddens located at a short distance from where the hunting trails radiated outwards. Affiliation to these local groups, even today, is recognized through the paternal line. In turn, for young couples uxorilocal residence (when the young man went to live in his parents-in-law’s house), at least temporary, was founded on the services owed by the husband to his father-in-law – a demand entailing little spatial dislocation, in reality, given the predilection for endogamic marriages: that is, marriages between members of the same local group.
The preference of marrying relatively close kin largely results from the regime of alliances characterizing the kinship system. The Zoró consider marriage to parallel cousins (children of same-sex-siblings) incestuous, whether these are real or classificatory. However they privilege two other ‘consanguine’ modalities: according to Brunelli (1989), in the mid 1980s a third of the cases studied corresponded to avuncular marriages (between maternal uncle and niece) and a third to marriages to real or classificatory cross-cousins (the children of opposite-sex siblings), while the remainder did not seem to involve significant relations.
The general features of the Zoró kinship system display close similarities with the systems of other Tupi-Mondé peoples, known for their tendency towards avuncular marriage and oblique kin terminology. However, there is evidence of recent alterations that suggest a trend towards generational equalization (in particular, the use of a single term for maternal uncle and paternal aunt, kutkut) and a heightened preference for cross-cousin marriage. For men, the other terms of address are: grandparents on both sides, kutkut; father and father’s brother, papa; mother and mother’s sister, ngaj; sister and parallel female cousins, mbat, and brother and parallel male cousins, zano; own children and brother’s children, netup (for a man) and wajit (for a woman); nephews and nieces (sister’s children) and patrilateral cross-cousins (father’s sister’s children), opep (for a man) and õzaj (for a woman); matrilateral cross-cousins (mother’s brother’s children), ma-kaman (‘children of others,’ or in other words, almost non-kin); and grandchildren, nzerat.
Around the 1960s the Zoró comprised nine or ten local groups, distributed in fifteen or sixteen malocas, and a population of almost a thousand people: the Zabeap Wej with three malocas, the Pangyjej Tere with five malocas, and the Joiki Wej, Jej Wej, Pama-Kangyn Ej, Maxin Ej, Ii-Andarej, Pewej, Angojej and probably the Kirej, each with just one maloca (Brunelli 1987a; 1989). In her survey carried out in 1992 with the help of older informants, the anthropologist Denise Maldi (1992) identified 47 old villages belonging to various local groups and located throughout the Zoró territory.
For the Tupi-Mondé in general, old or abandoned villages constitute a kind of cemetery owing to their funerary customs – which include the restriction on uttering the names of the dead. They were buried inside their house, rolled up in a hammock, at a depth of just over a metre; their belongings were destroyed and their pets killed. As a result it is possible to unearth numerous pottery shards and stone tools at sites inhabited in the past. Likewise the second growth forest in and around old villages, testifying to ancestral indigenous occupation, appears to the Zoró as a substrate that actualizes the historical memory and traditions they received from the ancestors who lived there.
Identity marks, artefacts and festivals
As a distinctive identity mark, the Zoró display the zoli tattoo, a simple bluish mark circling the face. Adults also pierce the nasal septum to decorate it with a macaw feather. The lower lip is also pierced to be decorated with the tembetá, metiga. On more formal occasions men use headdresses with eagle and macaw feathers, andarap, attached to a double ring of bamboo fitted around the head.
These and other artefacts were made by men in the bekã (an encampment close to the village that served as a workshop), where they also taught their skills to younger men. This work space was also where guests assembled when they arrived for the festivals: there they would paint their bodies, tune their instruments and repair their decorations.
Traditionally the Zoró held their festivals during the rainy season at the time of the maize harvest. For the main festivals (Gojanej, Zaga Puj, Gat Pi and Bebej) the shamans answered requests made by the corresponding spirits. In general each village held just one of these festivals per year, lasting for up to three months. The most important festival was Gojanej, which celebrated the visit of the water spirits: the shaman incorporated the malula spirit (‘giant armadillo’) who the participants had to placate with presents (arrows etc.) and serve chicha and maize flatbread. Each family also presented a live cayman on the village clearing, which was then served to the guest after being killed inside the house. In the Zaga Puj festival the shamans invoked the spirits who protect the hunt, the extraction of honey and fruit gathering – in repayment of the spirits, the families expose the cultivated produce – such as manioc, yams and cotton – on lines strung up around the village. In the Bebej (‘white-lipped peccary’) festival, meanwhile, the shaman communicated with the owner-of-the-peccaries in search of valuable information for the hunters on the location of the peccary bands. Finally there was the Gat Pi (‘sun path’) festival, which was directed towards the spirits inhabiting the celestial world (Lisboa 2008).
The Zoró swiddens were usually located close to the villages. The men felled the forest and prepared the land, while the women were responsible for planting and harvesting. They primarily grew species of sweet manioc, beans, various root crops, banana, cotton, tobacco and peppers. Bitter manioc and maize were planted in the largest quantities as a basis for both solid food and drinks.
A distinctly male activity, the Zoró hunted only during the day either alone or in groups. Armed with finely-made bows and arrows, they would trek along well-used trails radiating out from the village, exploring a circular zone between five and fifteen kilometres in radius. From a very early age, boys play with small versions of bows and arrows, gradually training for adult life. Adolescents already show considerable skill in using and making these weapons, as well as knowledge of animal habits and the forest in general. Various prohibitions used to apply to the consumption of killed game and only the oldest could eat all the animal species, except for felines, deer and vultures.
During the dry season, especially, the Zoró organized large collective fishing trips, using timbó (vine) fish poison in small stretches of water, dredging almost dry lakes or using arrows to fish in the larger rivers.
Villages were located at several hours or even several days walking distance from each other. This form of spatial distribution ensured a balanced use of the available natural resources, as well as political autonomy. Every four or five years, as game became scarce and the soils too depleted for cultivation, the villages were transferred to new ecological niches not yet exhausted by intensive exploration. They also moved in pursuit of indispensable gathered resources: the reeds used to make arrows, which grew in just a few parts of the territory, wild fruits, honey, clay for pot making, medicinal plants and vines, resins and so on.
Indigenism and changes
However when they returned to the Igarapé Lourdes Area, the Zoró were concentrated at the Funai Attraction Post, built in 1978 close to the former village of Bobyrej, fifteen kilometres from the right shore of the Rio Branco; they remained there until 1992 when all the invaders were removed from the demarcated area. For more than six years the head of the post, Natalício Maia, acted as their effective leader, deliberately preventing them from trekking across their territory, while simultaneously Evangelical religious services became more frequent (Hargreaves 1992).
During this period – and this period only – they used to visit nearby farms, especially Muiraquitã and Castanhal, where they would eat, sleep and buy a few supplies with the money earned from craftwork sales. The anthropologist Roberto Gambini, from the Polonoroeste Program evaluation team, which visited the area in 1983, observed that the head of the post had assumed responsibility for organizing the main day-to-day activities. Men and young people (numbering 45 in all) were subjected to an exhausting weekly regime to learn how to “work like whites:” at 7 a.m. they were assembled for breakfast in the post’s kitchen; at the post head’s signal, they went out in a file, wearing rubber boots and straw hats, carrying machetes; at 11.30 a.m. they came back for lunch. They worked for another four hours in the afternoon (Gambini 1983).
The aim of the discipline imposed on the Zoró was to vastly expand the cultivated areas around the post and clear a road as far as the Castanhal Farm. In 1984 the deforested area was already around 200 hectares in size and the surpluses of maize, rice and other products were wasted since they was no way to transport the produce. The work compulsion, a ‘protestant ethic,’ was above all a means of entrenching Funai’s authority on a daily basis, an effective example of its civilizing mission.
Hunting and gathering activities were restricted to Saturdays; Sundays were reserved for Evangelical church services. On Fridays the post head oversaw the distribution of the weekly presents solely to the most hard-working in the ‘collective enterprise:’ a few batteries, soap, four fuses, about 50 grams of gunpowder, lead, kerosene and salt. As a direct effect of this work regime, the diet of women and children was reduced to manioc and maize since the lunch in the post kitchen was served only to those men who worked.
In the same direction, there was a tendency towards the ‘urbanization’ of the village, dismembering the population into nuclear families in box-shaped houses with square-sided walls, a raised floor and an annexed kitchen, which reflected the changes occurring at the level of social organization.
In September 1984 there were 35 residential units at the Attraction Post, comprising 4 malocas and 31 square houses with between 2 and 11 people per unit and an average of 4.9 (Brunelli & Valle 1984). In 1992, the village was composed of 2 malocas and 71 small rustic houses with annexed kitchens, arranged in the form of a street (Hargreaves 1992).
New productive activities
Around 1985, some of the Zoró became employed in rubber extraction with the aim of earning money to purchase consumer items. The results, though, were never very significant. Likewise, a few craftwork items were occasionally sold to Funai staff or the regional population for little return. More significant and with long-lasting effects was the involvement of the Zoró in commercial logging, associated with timber firms operating outside the forestry and inspection laws.
As soon as the invaders were removed at the start of the 1990s, the Zoró took over abandoned houses and farmsteads along the Condomínio Lunardelli road. Concomitantly, they resumed timber exploration, this time with the consent of the indigenous leaders themselves – immediately the loggers forced the removal of the inspection barrier and obtained the connivance of the Funai and Ibama officers. Initially almost half the population moved to live in Barreira towards the southern border (the current village of Zawã Kej Alakit). Shortly after other intermediary villages sprang up, making use of the other roads crossing the area (Hargreaves 1993).
Throughout almost all the 90s the timber trade held the status of the main economic activity, through which the Zoró bought food, succeeded in purchasing vehicles and fuel, constructed roads and built houses and facilities in the villages. The fleet of vehicles grew considerably: in 1993, after one year of the ‘timber economy’ they already owned a small truck, three vans and two cars. They also invested some of the income in cattle to occupy the almost 50,000 hectares of pre-existing pasture.
The ban on logging activities in the Zoró Indigenous Territory, imposed in the second half of 1993, came about after the seizure of timber by the Federal Police, Funai and the Zoró themselves with the decisive support of the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office. Thereafter the reconnection of the local groups intensified with the founding of various new villages and the return to or adaptation of a traditional pattern of social organization based on more autonomous small units scattered across their territory.
Cosmology and religion
The mass conversion to fundamentalist evangelism, under the influence of the New Tribes of Brazil Mission (MNTB) and the Baptist churches of Rondônia, led the Zoró to abandon abruptly almost all their shamanic practices, cosmological conceptions and rich mythological corpus making up their traditional way of life. Just a few years after the initial contacts, even the investigation of these and other aspects of their traditions came up against the evangelical religion.
Church services, prayers and spiritual healing are today given almost daily by indigenous pastors, trained and guided by the MNTB missionaries now based in Ji-Paraná (RO). Biblical narratives, translated and memorized in the maternal language, are evoked in sermons and public ceremonies, as well as serving the new moral judgments and forming the subject matter of household conversations. As the apex of the process of transfiguration experienced by Zoró culture, the collective baptisms – involving the immersion of initiates in lakes or rivers – signals the substitution of the demiurge Gorá, the inventor of the world, people and cultural goods for the Tupi-Mondé peoples, by the Christian God preached by Baptist evangelicals.
The older Zoró said that in mythical times Gorá caused the appearance of the different peoples making up humanity as we know it today: the Suruí, Cinta-Larga, Arara, Gavião, Zoró and ‘whites,’ in order, escaped through the opening excavated by macaws, parrots and parakeets in the ‘stone maloca,’ a rock formation located between the headwaters of the Roosevelt and Aripuanã rivers where the demiurge himself had imprisoned them after becoming annoyed (Løvold 1987).
In addition to our terrestrial plane, whose current forms were shaped by Gorá’s whims and desire, the Zoró also conceive of a dangerous subterranean aquatic world, and a celestial paradise, Gat Pi (‘sun path’), similar to our world in every way but more beautiful and bountiful.
Spirits, diseases and shamans
The Gojanej aquatic spirits (gojan designates thunder as well as the electric eel), which inhabit both the subterranean and terrestrial worlds, are belligerent, especially when drunk on maize chicha. Along with their spiritual and animal helpers, the Gojanej pose a constant threat to the well-being of the Panderej, ‘the humans,’ since they are capable of stealing their ‘image’ – the vital force ixo is an intrinsic and immortal part of the person, formed along with the foetus and reflecting its bearer’s personality. The loss of consciousness and breathing difficulties associated with avi illnesses are symptoms indicating loss of the ixo (Brunelli 1989).
The Gere Baj meanwhile, invisible malefic spirits, are manifested through animals such as the curassow, tinamou and giant otter, or even through shamans. Their treacherous attacks provoke sudden and acute migraines, high fevers and uncontrollable diarrhoea, or any other persistent symptoms that strike down the victim in a few days. There also other entities that live in the mountain ranges, the Doka, who attack specific organs, causing discomfort and acute pain. In fact, the Zoró state that all natural elements, such as stones, trees and animals, are inhabited by invisible beings and these beings sometimes cause localized physical pain, the atika diseases.
Other afflictions may result from an infraction of food rules, an act of sorcery or a variety of accidents. However, diseases and their cures, alongside their more immediate causes, were usually connected to much deeper forces. These generally require the intervention of the wãwã, the shaman, whose therapeutic activities were indispensable to the full recovery of the patients.
In some cases, the wãwã’s powers involved him periodically visiting the village of the demiurge Gorá, who held great feasts in his honour. But the shaman function also involved the interaction and ‘negotiation’ with dangerous beings that inhabit the various regions of the cosmos, the ultimate cause of human diseases. For this they counted on the help of auxiliary spirits, the friendly Gere Bai. Treatment took different forms but centred on a collective festival to which residents of neighbouring villages were invited along with their shamans, naturally. Women offered large amounts of chicha during the dances, songs and clarinet music. The shamans at a certain point would extract the patient’s disease or embark on an expedition to recover his or her ixo.
Along with the wãwã’s specialized functions, both men and women also possessed detailed knowledge of an invaluable set of medicinal plants, called pawat, manipulated for both prophylaxis and healing (Brunelli 1989).
Conversion to evangelism
As soon as the first 40 Zoró arrived at the Gavião village in 1978, they were immediately dressed – as a ‘rite of passage,’ a way of signalling their entry into the ‘world of the whites,’ in terms of the Puritan view expressed by the missionaries of the New Tribes of Brazil (MNTB). The MNTB missionaries, led by the German couple Horst and Annette Stute, who moved to the Igarapé Lourdes in 1966, are closely linked to the Baptist Church of Ji-Paraná (RO). They have devoted themselves since then to study of the indigenous language, teaching literacy, medical care and, above all, translation of the Bible and religious proselytism.
Among the Gavião, however, conversion to evangelism did not last long with most people abandoning the new religion a few years later and returning to celebrate their festivals and shamanic ceremonies (Cloutier 1988). But when the Zoró arrived there, the Stute were able to count immediately on the invaluable help of two Gavião pastors to transmit the ‘Word of God’ to the new arrivals. Along with these ‘mediators’ between religious ideology and Amerindian conceptions, other factors favoured the Zoro’s enthusiastic conversion: a whooping cough epidemic and an outbreak of hepatitis, which caused five deaths. The missionaries helped to deal with the epidemics alongside the Funai workers: the Zoró therefore simultaneously discovered the effectiveness of western medicine and Christian healing prayers taught to them by the missionaries.
The collective conversion to evangelism after a few months surprised even the missionaries. Some years later, already living close to the Attraction Post, located in the old village of Bobyrej, the enthusiasm of the Zoró for the new religion was such that they were holding five church services per week. In 1985 they already had five Zoró pastors, four men and a woman, who were responsible for performing the sacraments (baptism, communion) and organizing the services.
At the start of the 1980s, the anthropologist Gambini (1983) was struck by the impoverishment of the culture in general. A single ritual had replaced all the others: the Protestant service, monotonous and repetitive – passages from Genesis, praise to Jesus Christ, hymns in the Zoró language. Four years later, the same anthropologist encountered them worshipping even more feverishly with services being held daily – one in the morning, just for women, and another at night, for the whole community. Led by a Zoró pastor, the ‘believers’ shared Biblical readings, public confessions, testimonies of faith, hymns, laying on of hands and care for the sick.
Hence, heavily affected by the new religion and living alongside the Christianized Gavião, the Zoró have experienced numerous direct intrusions into their social order and their culture: the shamans have been removed from their functions, polygamy has been banned, and day-to-day practices are now submitted to the scrutiny of a strict notion of sin, which forces the use of clothing and imposes bans on rituals, festivals, musical instruments, decorations and above all the consumption of fermented drinks.
A rapid process of social, cultural and economic change has erupted over the last few decades amid a turbulent regional and national context, affecting all the Tupi-Mondé peoples indiscriminately. Among other significant changes, the role of the zapijaj (‘owner-o-the-house’ or leader) has been widened politically and economically, and now holds new powers as well as fulfilling the responsibilities previously exercised by Funai. All the local indigenous leaders are involved to a greater or lesser extent in deals with loggers to trade mahogany, cedar and cherry tree in order to buy vehicles, make new roads, deforest and plant mechanized plantations, install energy sources and satellite dishes in the posts and villages, buy houses in the neighbouring towns, and so on.
Since 1987 when a number of illegal contracts were signed by Funai itself, the indigenous areas located in the northwest region of Mato Grosso and south of Rondônia have been exposed to illegal logging, involving staff and undermining the resistance of indigenous leaders. Although the contracts were soon blocked by the Federal Courts and the Federal Court of Auditors, the illicit activities continued, increasing year by year in volume and drawing in more indigenous groups and new areas of exploration. The local offices of Funai and other government bodies remained negligent and most of the time co-opted and corrupted. The routine practices of extortion, assuming a variety of forms, subjected public managers and workers to the predatory interests of logging forms and, more recently, miners and smugglers.
It is estimated that over the last few years most of the timber extracted in the municipalities of Juína, Aripuanã and Rondolândia has come from indigenous lands. The logging firms operated there with complete freedom for almost twenty years – with management plans or environmental control measures, yet always possessing the indispensable permits and inspection documents for the transportation, inter-state trading and exportation of planks and logs of mahogany, cherry tree, angelim, ipê and other hardwoods extracted in the region.
The results are tragic in every sense. The constant, long-term enticement of Cinta-Larga, Suruí and Zoró leaders and communities undoubtedly increased their dependency and consumerism. Alcoholism, drug abuse, prostitution, malnutrition, social disintegration and rises in mortality rates, including vehicle accidents, undermine community life and cultural traditions, as has been widely reported in the press.
The Pangyjej Association
In response to this situation, Zoró leaders developed new forms of organization, headed by the Association of the Zoró Indigenous People (APIZ), better known as the Pangyjej Association, founded in 1995 and registered in 1997. Along with other indigenous organizations, APIZ was involved in the execution of the Indigenous Component of the Planafloro Program – the Farming and Forestry Plan – financed by the World Bank and intended to promote the sustainable development of Rondônia state. Working in a participative form, the association drafted the “Socioeconomic and Cultural Project of the Zoró People,” with an emphasis on agroforestry partnerships producing fruit and forest species and the filming of a documentary depicting the Zoró people and their arts, as well as association training activities.
As its main line of action, however, the Pangyjej Association has worked to confront the loggers and other agents interested in the wealth contained on the indigenous lands. Only very recently have the responsible public authorities taken more effective measures to curb enticement, as well as the arising environmental damage and the invasion of public assets. The operation carried out in August 2003, involving Funai, the Federal and Environmental Police, Ibama and the Army, led to the seizure of machinery, equipment and vehicles, as well as around seven thousand cubic metres of logs. APIZ and Funai-AER Ji-Paraná appealed to the Public Attorney’s Office for the seized timber to be auctioned and the proceeds passed on to the indigenous community.
Since then the Zoró, through the Pangyjej Association, have been maintaining barriers and a permanent inspection team to prevent the removal and theft of timber from their lands. At the same time, they signed a deal with the Condôminos da Aprovale (the current name of the Condomínio Lunardelli) and with the Peralta Farm on the use of the roads crossing the indigenous area. In exchange for the concession of use and control of traffic by the Zoró inspectors, the Pangyjej Association has already received various items, such as cattle, vehicles and fuel.
At the same time, several villages are using the pastures cleared by the smallholders to keep small herds, constructing pens and fences close to the residences. However, due to their lack of experience in cattle breeding, some villages signed contracts with local ranchers allowing the latter to use the pastures to breed and fatten cattle; in return the ranchers agreed to make the necessary infrastructural investments and an annual payment in calves, as well as train Zoró cowhands. In 2003, there were five contracts in force involving villages close to the pastures.
In the other direction, the Pangyjej Association initiated a partnership with the Funai/Artindia Indigenous Craftwork Program for the regular sale of items of their material culture. In this case, the production and sale of craftwork helped increase women’s autonomy in obtaining and using family income.
More recently the Pangyjej Association, supported by a team from Gera/UFMT and the Mato Grosso State Environment Office (Sema) with technical assistance from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), developed a system for gathering and selling Brazil nuts with the participation of almost all the villages. Through the Integrated Brazil Nut Program (PIC), the Zoró sold around 40 tons of unshelled Brazil nuts in the 2002-03 harvest at a price between R$ 0.60 to R$ 0.80 per kilo; in the following harvest, the volume reached 60 tons sold at R$ 1.00 per kilo. It is estimated that the amount of Brazil nuts gathered and sold by the Zoró represents the “largest enterprise in the area” in the state of Mato Grosso (Mendes dos Santos 2004).
School education began in 1989 in the Bobyrej (‘Central’) village with indigenous teachers. At the time, the teachers used text books in the Gavião language; between 1991 and 1994 the Lutheran pastor Ismael Tressmann, the linguist Ruth Montserrat and teacher Waratã Zoró formulated a new orthography and a text book with histories of the Zoró people (Tressmann 1994). That year there were just two schools in the largest villages; by 2005 there were already ten, as well as the Zawã Karej main school.
Inaugurated in the second half of 2002, the Zawã Karej School Village has a complex of facilities built in Tupi-Mondé style, including classrooms, canteen, accommodation and bathrooms, which cater for eighty students from the first level of primary education in an alternating program, studying full-time for part of the month and returning to their villages during the rest. Other schools have been set up since then, including a new main school, the Zarup Wej School Village catering for fifty students, also in an alternating program.
Notes on the sources
Official information on the Zoró is found in the Service Archives of the Indian Museum in Rio de Janeiro (especially the microfilms from the archive of the SPI (Indian Protection Service), which ran from 1910 to 1967) and at the Funai Documentation Department in Brasilia (which stores the identification processes for indigenous territories and the activities reports of the federal indigenist agency). The diaries, photographs and films made by the photographer Jesco von Puttkamer, who accompanied Funai’s work in the region and recorded the main events during the 1970s and 80s, are available at the Archive of the Goiás Institute of Prehistory and Anthropology of the Catholic university of Goiás, in Goiânia (Puttkamer 1969-1979).
The Norwegian anthropologists Lars Løvold and Elizabeth Forseth of the Oslo Institute of Social Anthropology carried out research on cosmology and social organization among the Gavião between 1980 and 1981 (Løvold & Forseth 1984, Løvold 1983, 1984a and 1984b); during this time they had the privilege of being able to observe the recently contacted Zoró who had sought refuge among the former. The day-to-day life at the Attraction Front Post and especially the work of Funai’s employees were described by Roberto Gambini (1983, 1984a and 1987), when he visited the Zoró as a member of the FIPE/USP team sent to asses the Polonoroeste Program. He was also responsible for the official report identifying the Zoró area (Gambini 1984b).
More extensive ethnographic research was conducted by the anthropologists Gilio Brunelli and Sophie Cloutier in 1984 and 1985. In his MA dissertation, Des esprits aux microbes: santé et sociéte en transformation chez les Zoró de l’Amazonie brésilienne, presented to the University of Montreal (Canada) in 1987, the anthropologist Gilio Brunelli focuses on Zoró ethnomedicine and the system’s transformations following contact with national society, as well as examining notions of personhood and cosmology, food restrictions, therapeutic practices and pharmacopeia. The dissertation was translated into Spanish and published (Brunelli 1989). The same author produced an essay on ethnohistory in which the narratives on warfare and migrations throw into question the identity of the local groups (Brunelli 1986); an analysis of relations between the cosmological system and food habits (Brunelli 1988a); and some notes on the shamanic complex (Brunelli 1988b). His colleague Sophie Cloutier presented interesting data on Zoró musicology (Cloutier 1987) and the symbolic function of blood and dietary restrictions (Cloutier 1988a). In her MA dissertation she examines the Zoró conversion to evangelism (Cloutier 1988b).
From the 1980s onwards various official historical-anthropological reports were produced, examining the land ownership of the Zoró territory at the request of the Federal Courts (including Maldi 1993 and 1994, and Dal Poz 2006).
A more up-to-date survey of Zoró usage of natural resources was produced in 2003 and 2004 (Mendes dos Santos 2004) by a technical team from Gera, a research group based at the Federal University of Mato Grosso, with the aim of providing information for regional programs to be supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Up-to-date demographic data is being compiled by various sources, namely: the Siasi system of the National Health Foundation (Funasa), the Ministry of Health, responsible for providing primary healthcare to indigenous populations, Funai’s Ji-Paraná (RO) Regional Executive Administration, and the Pangyjej Association (APIZ).
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Outras leiturasDocumento com outras fontes de informação sobre os Zoró