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- Linguistic family
The Zuruahã say – and for this we have other historical evidence (Barros 1930) – that they are remnants of various named territorial subgroups whose populations, succumbing to infectious and contagious diseases and the cruelty of the rubber economy – declined drastically in the first decades of the 20th century during the boom in extractivist activities throughout Amazonia. The most cited subgroups in the Zuruahã historical narratives are: the Jokihidawa on the Pretão creek, the Tabosorodawa on the Watanaha creek (and affluent of the Pretão), the Adamidawa on the Pretinho creek, the Nakydanidawa on the Índio creek, the Sarakoadawa on the Coxodoá creek, the Yjanamymady on the headwaters of the São Luiz creek, the Zuruahã on the Cuniuá river, the Korobidawa on an affluent of the left shore of the Cuniuá, the Masanidawa at the mouth of the Riozinho, the Ydahidawa on the Arigó creek (an affluent of the Riozinho) and the Zamadawa on the upper Riozinho.
Some subgroups, including the Masanidawa and the ancient Zuruahã, formed friendly relations with the rubber tappers (the Jara, as the ‘civilizados,’ or ‘civilized people,’ are called) and were therefore able to obtain clothing and tools – axes, machetes, hooks and ropes that soon became exchange objects with the other subgroups. However, decimated by flu viruses (the SPI worker José Sant'Anna de Barros recorded epidemics in the Tapauá basin between 1922 and 1924, with a high death rate among the indigenous population, cf. Barros 1930:11) and withdrawing from the new attacks launched by the Abamady (probably the Paumari of the lower Tapauá, armed with shotguns supplied by the rubber bosses), a few survivors from different subgroups sought refuge on the banks of the Jokihi creek (called the Pretão by the regional population), the furthest distance possible from the fluvial routes and the ‘colocações’ (dwellings) of the new arrivals. Here they joined the Jokihidawa (literally, ‘the people of the Jokihi’), the subgroup that had originally resided there.
Funai had already been aware of the existence of the group since the mid 1970s. In December 1983 they were officially contacted by an agency expedition dubbed ‘Operation Coxodoá,’ composed of 12 people, including Waiwai and Waimiri-Atroari Indians. The expedition located eight malocas on the Índio and Preto creeks, both affluents of the Cuniuá river.
Before this, in 1978, they had already entered into contact with members of CIMI (Indigenist Missionary Council) based in the Prelacy of Lábrea, who had visited them fairly regularly over subsequent years.
They also began to have contact with members of the JOCUM mission (Jovens com uma Missão, an organization apparently linked to the Summer Institute of Linguistics) from July 1984 onwards, who exploited the channel opened by the FUNAI expedition to approach the group.
Also in 1984, the workgroup for identification of the area was set up (Directive No. 1764/E of 14/09/84) which included member of FUNAI and the Prelacy of Lábrea. In 1985 an area of 233,900 ha was proposed in the recently created municipality of Camaruã. The report indicated that the malocas were located between the Pretão and Riozinho creeks, suggesting a desire to be as far as possible from the Cuniá river where the presence of whites was more frequent. The workgroup noted that the delimited territory was being invaded by a wave of extractivists, formed mainly of sorveiros and rubber tappers.
The Zuruaha Project, still active today, began to be developed in 1984 precisely to combat the adverse effects of these waves of non-indigenous occupation. The program focuses on welfare initiatives, defence of the Indigenous Territory, and disease treatment and prevention, run by a team formed by members of OPAN (Operação Amazônia Nativa), CIMI and the Prelacy of Lábrea. The Zuruahã also receive the help of psychologist Mário Lúcio da Silva, who has been living among them for a number of years.