Foto: Pedro Martinelli, 1973.

Panará

  • Other names
    Kreen-Akarore, Krenhakore, Krenakore, Índios Gigantes
  • Where they are How many

    MT, PA542 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family

Who are the Panará?

panara_2

The Panará are the last descendants of the Southern Cayapó, a large group that dwelled over a vast area in central Brazil in the 18th century.  Their territory stretched from the northern part of São Paulo state, Triângulo Mineiro and the southern portion of Goiás state to eastern part of Mato Grosso state and eastern and southeastern Mato Grosso do Sul state.  The Southern Cayapó were known for their “ferocity” because they took no prisoners in battle.

The intensification of mineral exploration during the 18th century increased the trade flows between the states of São Paulo and Goiás, right in the middle of their land.  Realizing the potential problems this would cause, the administrations of both provinces hired frontiersmen to drive the Indians away from the travelers’ and miners’ routes.  Likewise, when Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva discovered gold in the Vermelho river region in Goiás in 1772, the Southern Cayapó began to encounter non-stop conflicts along this ever-expanding frontier.

The conflicts between the Southern Cayapó and the Portuguese settlers in the Goiás region were numerous and bloody.  In the first skirmishes, according to a chronicler of the time, one thousand Cayapó were captured during a three-month campaign.  A different investigator calculates that another 8,000 were enslaved in these first wars.  Following the second half of the 18th century, the bandeiras (early exploratory expeditions) that had organized raids against the Cayapó veered from their initial purpose of enslaving the Indians to killing all men who could take up arms.  By the end, the war against the Cayapó consisted of slaughter and compulsory living under the white man’s rule.

In the 19th century the occupation of the lands southwest of Goiás compounded the conflicts with the Indians and drove the Cayapó population to near extinction, with only a few groups remaining in the Triângulo Mineiro.  The Southern Cayapó were considered extinct by the first few decades of the 20th century.  The Panará who did not submit to the white man’s rule and assimilation in the 18th and 19th centuries fled west and north, deep into the woods of northern Mato Grosso.  What is known from ethno-history is that by the beginning of the 20th century, the present Panará came to the Peixoto de Azevedo watershed, a right-bank tributary to the Teles Pires River that is one of the feeders of the Tapajós River.  The natural wealth of the region contributed towards their settling down in this location.

The Panará’s oral tradition has it that they came from the East, from a savanna region, inhabited by extremely wild and ferocious white men who had fire weapons and who fought tirelessly to kill off many Panará ancestors.  According to chieftain Akè Panará, "The elders told us that, long ago, the whites killed many Panará with their rifles.  They came to our villages and killed many.  ‘If they ever come here,’ they said, ‘kill them dead with your war clubs, for they are vicious.’"

Why are they called "giant indians"?

The Panará stepped back into Brazilian history in the 1970’s.  Nobody knew what they called themselves.  It was “giant Indians,” or Krenacore, Kreen-Akore, Kreen-akarore, Krenhakarore, or Krenacarore – variations of the Kayapó name kran iakarare, which means “round-cut head,” a reference to the traditional haircut that is typical of the Panará.  In extensive reports from the time of contact, there is an underlying concern with explaining their unknown origin.  Calling them giants, or white Indians or black Indians, was a way of identifying them while removing them from the disturbing state of absolute otherness.

There were various reasons for this reputation, which, after contact with the Villas-Boas brothers, proved to be unfounded.  Of course there were some who were very tall, but most Panará were more or less the same height as other indigenous groups such as the Kayapó or the Xavante.  On the other hand, their enormous bows and war clubs, which stood 6 feet on end, impressed the whites and led them to suppose that they could be handled only by enormous men.  The Kayapó, traditional enemies of the Panará, also spun tales of the giant Indians to increase the value of their own battles against their foe.

There was one documented case.  Mengrire stood 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m) tall.  He was a Panará Indian who had been abducted from his village while still a child and raised by the Kayapó Metuktire (the Txukarramãe).  He was later taken to the Xingu Indigenous Park where he died or was killed in the 1960’s at the age of 38.  Mengrire, a real giant, was the only such Panará measured and recognized as such by medical doctors and researchers.

Besides this sole proof, Orlando Villas-Bôas tells that at the time of contact there were at least eight giants among the Panará.  However, they died from white men’s diseases.  Panará’s adults who lived in the Peixoto de Azevedo River area prior to 1973 are absolutely emphatic about the existence of “veeerry tall” kinfolk in the past.

When the Panará relocated to the Xingu Park on January 12, 1975, a team from the Paulista Medical School examined 27 of the 29 newcomers who were 20 years or older.  The average height was 5 feet 7 inches (1.67 m), in line with the Jê group standards, a bit taller than the Upper Xingu Indians.  But there was no phenomenon there.

 

[Extracted from Panará: a volta dos índios gigantes, book by  Ricardo Arnt, Lúcio Flávio Pinto, Raimundo Pinto and Pedro Martinelli. São Paulo: ISA, 1998]