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Brazil: lndian culture, poetry and rights on the blogosphere

Brazil has one of the most impressive mosaics of indigenous peoples in the world and that cultural richness is starting to show up on the Brazilian blogosphere.


Photo by Tatiana_Reis at the digital inclusion area of Campus Party 2009.

Some 500 year ago, before European colonization, Brazil was entirely inhabited by a diversity of indigenous groups, estimated by FUNAI at around 1-10 million people. The denomination “indian” was given to the native inhabitants of the land because the colonizers thought they had reached India. Today, there are 460,000 indians in Brazil, from around 225 different ethnic groups, living in protected areas, plus some 100-190,000 Indians living in rural or urban areas. They constitute around 0.25% of Brazil’s population and speak around 200 different languages, although many of them are bilingual. Aside from them, there are still some 63 indigenous groups which have never made contact with the outside world and are considered “isolated peoples” (FUNAI, 2009).

Although most indigenous areas are located in remote rural places and do not have easy access to means of communication such as telephone or the Internet, the rise of strong regional indigenous associations such as COIAB, the Coordination of Indigenous Associations of the Brazilian Amazon, and national level networks such as Rede dos Povos das Florestas, led by indigenous leader Ailton Krenak, has encouraged indigenous groups or individuals to blog to the world. Sometimes they have a little help from friends, supporters of the indigenous cause, to narrow the technological gap.

Two of the most famous indigenous leaders in Brazil taken up blogging

Since 2008, Marcos Terena, from Mato Grosso do Sul State, who describes himself as a warrior of the Terena People, has been using his writing, thinking and communication skills as weapons to defend his people and the indigenous cause in the 21st Century. In his blog [pt], Terena comments on national events and draws our attention to events that are relevant to the indigenous cause.


Photo by Valter Campanato of Marcos Terena at the Regional Conference of the Americas: Creative Commons.

Recently, Terena posted a chronicle [pt] on the supposed eating of a white person (or a “white man”, as the tribes usually call non-indians) by indians from the North of Brazil, reported by the national media:

Nos ultimos tempos, o colonizador acostumado a trabalhar com a imagem do mito, do herói e de tantas simbologias, criou a lenda de dificil comprovação, de que um padre de nome Sardinha teria sido devorado pelos Tupinambas… E agora, com os irmãos Kulina.
Como diria o velho sábio Jeca Tatu, tem arguma coisa errada nesse causo ou essa história tá mal contada.
Como a piola sempre arrebenta do lado mais fraco, então nós daqui do sul, do centro oeste e de outras regiões acostumados com churrascos, farofa, beiju, mandioca, banana e até mesmo guaraná, ficamos pensando:qual o significado dessa história de comer o homem branco? vale a pena? Saborear com gosto ou com raiva?
Porque… engolir sapo em nome da civilização moderna, nós indigenas já fizemos isso varias vezes. E não é mole, não!!!!
Pensem nisso Canibais, reflitam e lembrem-se: contra má digestão, chá de boldo!!!!

In recent years, the colonizer, who had grown used to the images of myth, of hero and other symbolism, created a legend of difficult verification, of a priest called Sardinha who was supposedly eaten up by the Tupinamba indians… and now they have done the same with our Kulina brothers.
As the old and wise Jeca Tatu (Monteiro Lobato‘s character) would say, there is either something wrong with this story or it is not all told. As the rope always breaks at the weaker end, so we from the Southern and Centre-West and other regions, who are used to eating barbecues, manioc flour, beiju (traditional crackers made of manioc), manioc, banana and even guarana, think: what is the point of eating a white man? Is it worth it? Is it better savoured with delight or anger?
Because… eating crow in the name of modern civilization, we indians have done this time and time again. And it is not easy, not really!
Think about this, cannibals, reflect and remember: against bad digestion, drink boldo tea!!!

Ailton Krenak, another important leader of the Krenak people of Minas Gerais State, counts on the support of a colleague called Hanny to post on his blog [pt] all media articles that have been published on him since 2007. The topics are mainly about political and cultural events. The blog has recently brought images of Ailton’s participation in the indigenous ritual devoted to water, which took place at the FestiVelhas festival, where he spoke about environmental preservation in indigenous culture:

Ainda reunidos em círculos ou em duas filas, os presentes cantavam, dançavam e ouviam as explicações de Ailton. “É preciso entrar em sintonia com a natureza e ouvir o que as águas tem as nos dizer”, diz ele sobre a relação que os homens devem manter com ambiente.

Here united in circles or two lines, the participants chanted, danced and heard explanations from Ailton, “We need to be in touch with nature and listen to what the waters have to say to us”, he said about the relationship that mankind should establish with the environment.


Photo: Two Indian Boys Swimming in the River by Deborah Icamiaba

Interesting collective initiatives take place on the blogsphere among young indians

The AJI association, Ação de Jovens Indígenas [Young Indians Action, pt], assembles indians from the Kaiowá, Terena and Nandeva ethnicities located in Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul State. They run a series of activities geared towards integrating their communities, including a local newspaper informing locally and externally about the day to day life and challenges faced by indigenous peoples – since 2006 they are also blogging. Although they sometimes refer to news agencies, many of their articles are written by local indian youths.

An interesting example, is how they collected opinions from local indians on the accusations made by local white people that “indians receive various benefits, but do not pay tax or services”, such as in this post [pt]:

O índio kaiowá Euzébio Garcia, morador da aldeia Bororó, fazia economia há algum tempo para comprar uma moto. Com o acerto do pagamento da usina, ele conseguiu completar e fez a compra em dezembro de 2008. Euzébio investiu R$ 3 mil à vista. Esse é apenas um exemplo de como os indígenas da Reserva de Dourados têm aplicado seu dinheiro. Os salários dos trabalhadores das usinas e da Funasa (Fundação Nacional de Saúde), os benefícios e os programas sociais geram renda para os índios e se convertem em lucro para o comércio de Dourados. A população indígena contribui e muito com a economia da cidade de Dourados.

The Kariowá indian Euzébio Garcia, who lives in the Bororó indian village, had been saving up for some time to buy a motorbike. With the payment from the sugar-cane mill, he managed to gather up the money and made the purchase in December 2008. Euzébio invested R$3,000 upfront. This is just one example of how indians from the Dourados Reserve have been investing their money. The salaries of the workers in the sugar-cane mill and FUNASA (National Health Foundation), the benefits and social programs generate income for the indians which then convert into profits for Dourados commerce. The indian population contributes and contributes a lot to the local Dourados economy.

The Pataxó Indians who live in the South of Bahia State created a blog [pt] dedicated to their Social Eco Tourism Project called Jaqueira Reserve:


Photo: Pataxó Indian Taking Tourists Around the Jaqueira Reserve by Deborah Icamiaba.

Since 2008, the blog has been run by Aricema Pataxó, a young Pataxó Indian who is studying journalism at the Federal University of Bahia. Although the blog is primarily aimed at disseminating the project for visitors, it brings interesting images and explanations of Pataxó culture, for instance this post [pt] on the significance of their body paint:


Photo: Pataxó Indian Painting Himself, at Jaqueira Reserve, by Deborah Icamiaba.

A pintura corporal é um bem cultural de grande valor para nós Pataxó. Ela representa parte de nossa história, sentimentos do cotidiano e os bens sagrados. Usamos a pintura corporal em festas tradicionais na Aldeia como em ritos de casamento, nascimento, comemorações, dança, luta, sedução, luto, proteção, etc. Temos pintura para o rosto, braço, costas e até mesmo para as pernas. Usamos pinturas específicas para homens e mulheres casados e solteiros. As pinturas têm diversidade de tamanho e significados.

Body paint is a cultural heritage of great value to us Pataxó indians. It represents part of our history, feelings of the day to day and sacred heritage. We use body paint at traditional parties at the indian village, such as in marriage rites, births, celebrations, dances, battles, seduction, mourning, for protection etc. We have paintings for our faces, arms, backs and even for the legs. We have specific paintings for married and single men and women. The paintings have a diversity of sizes and meanings.

The blog Criança do Futuro: Wakopunska Karipuna [pt] has been mantained since 2007, by a person with a very interesting profile, to help understand what some Brazilian indians are like today:

Sou um mestiço brasileiro. Pareço branco, mas não sou caucasiano. Tenho sangue karipuna, dos karipunas do Rio Jamary, hoje quase extintos nos sertões do Guaporé. O resto de minha origem (portugueses do Ceará, holandeses do Sergipe, espanhóis do Pantanal, alemães do Paraná e italianos do Rio Grande do Sul) pouco me explica. Sou brasileiro dos quatro costados e, mais que isso, um hominídeo do continente Amarakka. Estrangeiro em minha própria terra, quero poder falar a língua universal da Paz, e ter como repousar minha cabeça: por isso escrevo nessa areia e nessa arena virtual.

I am a miscigenated Brazilian. I seem to be white, but I am not a caucasion. I have Karipuna indian blood, of the today almost extinct Rio Jamary Karipunas from the Guaporé drylands. The rest of my origin (Portuguese from Ceará State, Dutch from Sergipe State, Spanish from Pantanal area, German from Paraná State and Italian from Rio Grande do Sul State) does not help to clarify things. I am a Brazilian from Brazil's four coasts and, more than that, a man from the Amarakka continent. A foreigner in my own land, I want to be able to speak the universal language of peace and have a place to rest my head: that is why I write in this virtual sand and this virtual arena.

His blog offers some fascinating accounts by someone who lives on the frontier of Brazil (Acre State) and Peru (Cusco) and really knows the reality of indigenous life in the Amazon. In a recent post [pt], he deals with the challenges of alcoholism amongst indians in his region:

Quando estive certa ocasião por ser nomeado chefe de posto indígena da Fundação Nacional do Índio, em 1993, um dos antigos funcionários da Funai em Rio Branco já me advertia que para uma boa convivência com os índios eu devia fazer vista grossa para o problema do alcoolismo, ou estaria me expondo a criar inimizades entre os lideranças ou até mesmo a ser vitimado por algum deles. Essa incapacidade da Funai em lidar com o assunto se extende também às organizações que se dedicam a apoiar as populações indígenas, as quais se engajaram a partir dos anos 70 na luta pela demarcação de terras e na formação de lideranças e entretanto jamais se esforçaram por tratar essa espinhosa questão que representa um grave problema de saúde…Alcoolismo e aculturação andam de mãos dadas na Amazônia, e tanto é a aculturação que leva ao alcoolismo quanto o alcoolismo que conduz à aculturação, isso deve ser deixado bem claro.

When I was, once upon a time, about to be nominated as chief of a FUNAI (National Foundation of Indians) indigenous post, an old time staff member of FUNAI in Rio Branco would tell me that to get on well with the indians I'd have to pretend not to see the alcoholism problem in the region or I'd be exposing myself to great animosity from the leaders or even become a victm of one of them. The inability of FUNAI to deal with this extends to other organizations supporting indigenous peoples, which have since the 1970's engaged in the battle for the demarcation of their lands, capacity building of their leaders but never made an effort to treat this controversial issue which constitutes a serious health problem… Alcoholism and aculturation walk hand in hand in the Amazon, and it is as much aculturation that leads to alcoholism as it is alcoholism that leads to aculturaion, that must be made clear.”

Finally, we also find on the web the interesting blogging initiatives of linguists and anthropologists who write about the tribes where they have worked on.

In the Maxacali blog, linguistics student Charles Bicalho kept a registry between 2006 and 2007 of images and interesting aspects of Maxacali culture, for instance their historical trajectory:

Os Maxakali surpreendem por ainda preservarem língua, religião, costumes e outros aspectos tradicionais de sua cultura como nenhum outro grupo. Pouco mais de mil pessoas, sendo a maioria da população de crianças, falam a língua maxakali, do tronco lingüístico macro-gê, família maxakali. Vivem em reserva no Vale do Mucuri, Nordeste do Estado. Povo tradicionalmente seminômade, caçador e coletor, é comum alguns grupos de poucos indivíduos abandonarem a reserva para longas peregrinações, muitas vezes chegando até Governador Valadares, distante mais de 300 km. Seus ancestrais costumavam vagar por uma extensa área que abrange, além do Nordeste de Minas, o Sul da Bahia e o Norte do Espírito Santo. Após o contato com o colonizador europeu e a conseqüente diminuição de seu território, acabaram, enfim, confinados em reserva.

The Maxacali are surprising because of how much they still preserve their language, religion, customs and other traditional aspects of their culture, like no other group. A few more than a thousand people, the majority being children, speak the Maxakali language, of the linguistic origin macro-gê, Maxakali familiy. They live in the Vale do Mucuri reserve, in the Northeast of the [Minas Gerais] State. Traditionally semi-nomads, hunters and gatherers, it is common to see some groups of a few individulas abandoning the reserve for long pilgrimages, many times going all the way to Governador Valadares city, some 300 km away. Their ancestors used to wander around an extensive area with encompassed the Northeast of Minas Gerais State, South of Bahia State and North of Espirto Santo State. It was after the contact with the European colonizers and the consequent diminishing of their territory that they ended up confined in a reserve.

Also, Bicalho posts some incredible translations into Portuguese of traditional chants from Maxakali ritual and explores issues around the topic of indigenous poetry, which will be the theme of another article in this trilogy. Just an example below:

O texto a seguir é um yãmîy maxakali, canto ritual do tatu. O autor é Damazinho Maxakali, aluno do Curso de Formação de Professores Indígenas de MG.

Koxut hãmkox hu kopa moyõn
Koxut yã hãmkox kopa tokpep
Koxut ãpnîy yîta yãy hi hu xit hã yãy hi
Koxut tute komîy mahã xi kohot xi puxõõy
Koxut yã hãmtup tu yãy hi xi ãpnîy hã
Puxi. Ûkux.
Ûgãxet ax Namãyiy Maxakani.

O tatu dorme dentro do buraco
O tatu dá cria dentro do buraco
O tatu sai à noite pra andar e pra comer
O tatu come batata, mandioca e minhoca
O tatu anda de dia e de noite
Chega. Acabou.
Meu nome é Damazinho Maxakali.

The following text is a yãmîy Maxakali, ritual chant of the armadillo. The author is Damazinho Maxakali, student of the Formation of Indigenous Teachers Course of Minas Gerais State.

The Armadillo
The armadillo sleeps inside the hole
The armadillo gives birth inside the hole
The armadillo goes out at night to walk and eat
The armadillo eats potato, manioc and worms
The armadillo walks at day and at night
Enough. Finished.
My name is Damazinho Maxakali.


Photo: An Indian Woman Working by Deborah Icamiaba

For a thorough listing of all Indian blogs and websites in Brazil, visit the blog [pt] created by Glaucia Paschoal with the specific intention of disseminating these sources for the purpose of research sources or simply acquiring knowledge on indigenous peoples. Her aim is to strengthen the means through which indigenous communities express their culture and their political movements on the Internet.

In the next article of this series, you will meet indian writers and poets who use blogs to express themselves and, on the last one, you will see how Brazilian indians are blogging for their rights.


  • Thanks for this informative post Deborah. Other than the Maxakali excerpts posted by Charles Bicalho, are you aware of any Brazilian blogs written in a language other than Portuguese?

    • Dear David, thanks for the inquiry. I don’t know of blogs written in languages other than Portuguese, sometimes they will have bits of other languages. Most brazilian indians, particularly those who are blogging, will be bilingual by now. Or have the support of the younger ones to engage in the net. If I do find out, I will let you know.

  • Carlos Salinas

    Hello Ms. Deborah,

    Very interesting article.

    Was wondering whether or not tribes in the Xingu are blogging. I am most interested in the Ikpeng and the Kamayura people.


  • Thanks for this wonderful post Deborah. PARABÉNS!

    I blogged about it here

  • Thanks for the wonderful pics.
    Inspiration and knowledge in the same time.
    From Manthissa,roadwoman of sardinian traditions

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