Foto: Geraldo Silva, 2000

Yudjá/Juruna

  • Autodenominação
    Yudja
  • Where they are How many

    MT880 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family
    Juruna

History and population

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Imagine a people whose population numbered 2,000 in 1842; 200 in 1884; 150 in 1896; and 52 in 1916 (data found in Adalberto, Steinen, Coudreau, and Nimuendajú, respectively).  In the midst of this terrible experience, part of the Yudjá fled to the upper reaches of the river.  In 1920, Nimuendajú wrote a letter to the director of the Indian Protection Service, noting the following:

The Juruna, once the most important tribe of the Xingu, suffered the entire onslaught of the advance of rubber tappers. Especially the people from Coronel Tancredo Martins Jorge, at the mouth of the Rio Fresco, committed every sort of crime, from murder on down, against the poor Indians, until they revolted and fled, headed by their Chief Máma, to the other side of the border of Mato Grosso, where they settled down on an island above the Martius Falls. That was where Fontoura found them when he traveled down the Xingu from Mato Grosso as part of the Rubber Defense Commission in 1913 (?). Later, the Yudjá made peace with the rubber tapper Major Constantino Viana, of Pedra Seca, for whom they worked as crew members on his boats in 1916, going downriver to Altamira, when 22 of the Yudjá died within a few days. When the survivors returned with this news, the elderly Máma once again fled with the others upriver, and today no one knows the whereabouts of the band, which consists of some 40 souls. Another small band, the family of Chief Muratú, of about 12 people, managed to endure, protected by the terrible rapids of the Xingu Bend, at Jurucuá Falls, just below the mouth of the Pacajá River.

Other riverine peoples on the middle Xingu, who were neighbors of the Yudjá  and related to them by language or culture, met worse fates:  groups such as the Peapaia, Arupaia, and Takunyapé (the latter of the Tupi-Guarani family) were entirely decimated in the wave of genocide triggered by the invasion of the middle Xingu by rubber barons during the second half of the nineteenth century.

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This was not the first time the lands of the Yudjá and their neighbors were invaded; as stated earlier, their history has been linked to ours ever since the founding of Belém.  In the mid-1700s, after the first century of their contact history, marked by imprisonment, enslavement, warfare, and mission resettlements, the most striking result was the “abandonment” of the entire lower Xingu by indigenous peoples.  As Nimuendajú stated, the Yudjá presumably fled upstream, while the Waiãpi, their neighbors on the banks of the Xingu, crossed the Amazon and headed for the Rio Oiapoque.

Despite the consistency of the hypothesis of these successive dislocations due to invasions, indicated in the Ethnohistorical Map of Curt Nimuendajú (IBGE, 1981), we should not underestimate the probable wave of genocide that affected the peoples of the lower Xingu in the seventeenth century.  An important difference between the events of that period and the experiences of the turn of the twentieth century is that, in the latter case, these peoples no longer had to means to rally thirty canoes to commemorate a victory over foreign “expeditions,” such as the one celebrated by the Yudjá and their Takunyapé allies after they defeated Gonçalo Pais de Araújo and his pawns, the Kuruáya, in 1686.

In the early 1950s, the last member of the Takunyapé people died among the Yudjá of the upper Xingu.  People remember how, before he died, he became overwhelmed with emotion when he first heard the speech of some of the recently arrived Kayabi.  But what a disappointment!  He could remember hearing their language, but it was not his; they were not really Takunyapé.

Yudjá oral history apparently does not make room for their former occupation of the lower Xingu nor for their last demographic tragedy.  They explain the extinction of the Takunyapé, Arupaia, and Peapaia as the result of warfare among themselves and with their long-time enemies, the Txukahamãe.  The Yudjá assert that their original territory extended across the entire region of the Xingu's Great Bend (that is, the large curve of the river where Altamira is located) as far as the mouth of the Rio Fresco.  They say that their ancestors abandoned this region before white people arrived, fleeing upstream after having taken the life of the chief who was in charge of the three Yudjá villages existing at the time.  Supposedly they met the Karai (white people) at the mouth of the Rio Fresco, and later developed relations with Constantino Viana, the owner of the rubber groves well upstream at Pedra Seca.  When one of his cows died after drinking some raw manioc juice made by Yudjá women, the group feared a reprisal and fled further upriver to the “last waterfalls on the Xingu” (the Von Martius Falls).

Their mythology, nonetheless, is not silent about genocide.  Of the three heavens, which, along with the earth, form a cosmos comprised of four levels, two of them have already collapsed and the other is at risk, knocked down by Selã'ã in revenge for the extermination of the indigenous peoples of the Xingu.  According to the myth, “Selã'ã became furious and knocked down the sky, wanting to exterminate the white people.  The river had disappeared.  This was during the time when the Yudjá were becoming extinct, they were on the brink of extinction.  When Selã'ã tried to find the river, it didn't exist any more, so he became enraged and knocked down the sky...The sun was extinguished, everything was dark.  The Juruna were worried, the few surviving Juruna... Those who took shelter at the foot of a huge cliff were the only ones who were saved; those who went somewhere else died;  the white people died, all the white people died, the Indians died, the Juruna died.  Those who took shelter under the cliff dug up the thick pieces of sky with a piece of wood...The survivors eventually procreated.  Selã'ã said [to a Juruna in the recent past], 'This is what must be done:  when the Indians disappear, when the Indians disappear from the islands, I will make the sky collapse, the very last sky.'”

In order to remain in the Upper Xinger, the Yudjá had to fight some bloody battles with other peoples in the region, especially the Kamayurá and Suyá, which culminated in two memorable episodes.  The first was the period when the Yudjá completely lost their political autonomy after the Suyá massacred the Yudjá warriors and took the rest prisoners (some of whom were later captured by the Kamayurá).  Finally, an old man escaped and fled to Pedra Seco to get help from Constantino Viana and his men, who went and massacred the Suyá.  The Yudjá were thus able to recuperate their independence and establish their own village, with only four men, around ten women, and almost no children.  A few years later, in 1950, the Yudjá population was reduced to 37 people, soon after the Roncador-Xingu Expedition had entered the region and enforced peaceful relations.

The Yudjá then lived in two separate villages, but they reunited in a single one in 1967.  In the late '70s and early '80s, when the village had 18 adult men, a conflict took place that split up the group again.  In 1984, the two villages, Saúva and Tubatuba, had 7 and 13 families, respectively, totaling a population of 80 people.  A conflict with the Txukahamãe led the Yudjá to reunite in Tubatuba in October, 1988.  In August, 1990, the 27 families of this village totaled 121 people.  The last split took place in 1990, but the two sets of families that left Tubatuba called their villages “ranches.”

The graph below presents census data on the Yudjá as of June, 2001.  It includes resident spouses who are identified as Kayabi, Txukahamãe, and Ikpeng, but it does not include members (or descendents) of the Yudjá who have been incorporated into their spouses' group (specifically, the Suyá).  Single youths currently living at the Diauarum Indigenous Post are included in the data for Tubatuba, where they consider themselves linked through family ties.

Yudjá population in June, 2001

Location Families Population
Tubatuba 27 162
Fazenda Boa Vista 2 9
Fazenda Novo Parque Samba 6 34
Pequizal 6 35
Piaraçu 3 17
PI Diauarum 4 19
Total 48 278

(Observations:  Piaraçu, located on Highway BR-80, was formerly a Security Post.  The current leader is a Txukahamãe man married to a Yudjá woman, and he is also considered the leader of the Boa Vista ranch.  The Novo Parque Samba ranch is also known as the village of Paquiçamba.  The village of Pequizal is the site of a former Yudjá village from the 1950s and '60s, which dissolved in 1967.  Later, the chief's daughter came back to live there with just her husband, a Kayabi man.  In 1984, the only inhabitants were this couple and their four young children; by the '90s, the children began to form their own families, and some of their in-laws moved into the village.  Ten of the current families are made up of Yudjá women who married members of other peoples:  eight Kayabi, one Txukahamãe, and one Ikpeng).