From Warclubs to Words

September 25, 2007

I REMEMBER GOING TO VISIT AN ABAN- doned Kayap6 village site near Conceiqgo do Ara- guaia, in July of last year. I was guided there by Bepto- poop, a wise and respected shaman and tradition-knower from Gorotire village and one of my most beloved men- tors. The old village had been abandoned for 40 or 50 years, but Beptopoop, who had known the village as a child, was able to show us medicinal roots and edible tubers, fruits, and nuts that had been planted decades earlier by his grandparents. After all those years the forest still reflected the indigenous hands that had molded it. The forest path, however, soon took us to the other side of the old site. There we encountered, as far as the eye could see, burned vegetation and gigantic charred trees reduced to useless, bleak memorials of the rich and productive forest where Beptopoop's grandparents once planted their yams, bananas, cotton, beans, squash, corn, and pumpkin. Beptopoop exclaimed, waving his arms: "Why do the white men burn all of this, destroying it VOLUME XXIII. NO. I (MAY 1989) all, and then not even plant anything to feed their chil- dren? Do they not know that their children and their children's children must have food to eat? I am too old to understand any of this!"' When I began my work with the Kayap6 Indians of Brazil's Pard state in 1977, they were already at odds with ranchers and squatters invading their lands. 2 Dur- ing my first months in the village of Gorotire I joined 150 warclub and spear wielding warriors in a raid to expel workers from a ranch encroaching on the eastern edge of their reserve. I met Paulinho Paiakan and his cousin Kube-i during that raid. Paiakan was 22 years old-strikingly handsome, articulate, and interested in everything. Paiakan was the son of a famous chief, and, like Kube-i, destined to be a chief himself. I was amazed when he recognized that the instruction manual of the power saw he took from the raided ranch-and carried through nearly 50 miles of Amazon jungle-was in Eng- lish. He had studied some English with the missionariesAMAZON in Gorotire and knew how to read and write in his own language as well as Portuguese. As I translated the manual for the first power saw to arrive in Kayap6 land that night so long ago, I realized that, like it or not, I would be a strange, foreign force in an unknown process of adaptation to rapidly changing times. But I never imagined that twelve years later Paiakan, Kube-i and I would be the defendants in a celebrated case that galvanized Brazil's environmental and Indian rights movements, providing a focal point for uniting the two major movements to preserve the human and biological richness of the Amazon and the planet. During the past decade I have coordinated a team of more than 20 ethnobiologists researching Kayap6 knowl- edge and use of medicinal plants, agriculture, soil classi- fication and use, nutrient recycling systems, formation of enriched planting soils, reforestation methods, natural pesticides and fertilizers, animal behavior, genetic im- provement of cultivated and semi-wild plants, fish and wildlife management, and even astronomy. We were each humbled by the detail and richness of Kayap6 scientific knowledge. Native specialists who have never been in a classroom in their lives guided Ph.Ds in the development of new hypotheses to test or expand existing Western scientific knowledge. The Kayap6 Project has shown that traditional knowledge offers some of the most promising options for confront- ing the problems of sustained resource management in the tropics. In 1983, for the first time in Brazil's history, four Kayap6 specialists were invited, as scientists, to partici- pate in the congress of the Brazilian Zoological Society. Thus began a grass-roots ethnobiology movement which led to the First International Congress of Ethnobiology in Bel6m last July. Approximately 600 persons from 35 countries participated in a celebration of indigenous knowledge and its importance for world survival. T WAS IN THE FINAL DAYS OF ORGANIZING the congress that the Brazilian government decided to indict me under the Law of Foreigners, for "exercis- ing activities of a political nature or becoming involved either directly or indirectly in the public affairs of Bra- zil."' The charges were the result of a trip to Miami in January 1988 by Paulinho Paiakan, Kube-i Kayap6 and myself to participate in an international symposium on "Wise Management of Tropical Forest" at Florida In- ternational University. I delivered a scholarly paper on Chanting to keep up their spirit, Indians take their case to the Brazilian Congress Z 0 0indigenous management systems and chaired a sympo- sium session on the practical application of scientific research. I also translated for the Kayap6 chiefs as they spoke to the general assembly. The two Kayap6 leaders explained how indigenous peoples preserve biological and ecological diversity while utilizing the renewable resources available to them in their Amazon homes. They also emphasized the threats from outside forces that they face daily: mining and mercury pollution, erosion, massive burning of the rainforest, logging roads that penetrate deep into their forests, and mega-projects such as the construction of huge hydroelectric dams. Specifically, they voiced concern about the Altamira- Xingli dam complex which, if approved, would inundate 7.6 million hectares (nearly 16 million acres) of rich river bottom land-almost all of which belongs to vari- ous Indian groups. The $10.6 billion project, the world's largest, would displace eleven Indian nations, all of them already reduced to a dangerously low number of indi- viduals. Worse still would be the loss of environmental knowledge that each group preserves. Since equivalent ecosystems outside the Xingli river basin do not exist, there would be no place for the Indians to go and no reason to continue the rich oral lore about useful plants and animals of that region. Thousands of years of accu- mulated knowledge, from eleven very different folk sci- entific systems, would be lost forever. Members of the assembly urged Paiakan and Kube-i to take their protests to the World Bank, a major funder of the proposed dams. Representatives of the National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund offered to pay their expenses and organize the visit; the Kayap6 accepted the invitation. T HE CHIEFS' EXHAUSTING BLITZ OF WASH- ington during the first week of February 1988 took them to four executive directors of the World Bank and the Bank's technical staff for Brazil. Although met with defensive hostility by the technical staff, the directors for the United States, Great Britain, Holland and West Germany seemed genuinely shocked that the Bank's liberal policy on native peoples was not being respected. That policy stipulates that native peoples to be affected must be consulted and their decisions heeded for a proj- ect to receive World Bank funding. Paiakan and Kube-i assured the directors that neither they nor any indige- nous leaders of the Xingdi had ever been consulted or in- formed about the proposed dams. The U.S. director as- sured the chiefs that he would continue to vote against the "power sector loan" to Brazil destined for Xingli dam construction. Other directors were less committal, but all said they would investigate infringements of Bank rules protecting native peoples and the natural diversity upon which they depend. Paiakan and Kube-i also met with State Department and Treasury representatives, as well as members of Palakan about to film proceedings at Brazil's Congress Congress. Congressman John Porter, chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, listened carefully as the two spoke of personal acquaintances from other indigenous groups, such as the Parakand, Gavido and Atrori-Waiami, who had all been expelled from their lands without due compensation or guaranteed land rights elsewhere. Everywhere the chiefs went they asked which countries were financing disaster in the Amazon. There were many red faces, but few straight answers. E XHAUSTED AFTER THE HECTIC WEEK, we went to relax in the small Kentucky town where I was born and reared, and where my parents still live in the family's traditional farmhouse. Our short weekend rest turned out to be some of the last tranquil moments any of us would have for a long time. Upon arriving in Brazil, we all faced repeated police interrogation. We learned that while we were in Wash- ington, a special Brazilian delegation was there to rene- gotiate the very loans that Kube-i and Paiakan were trying to stop. The government delegation claimed that the loans were paralyzed because of our visit, which "jeopardized Brazil's economic relations," thereby "provoking an economic crisis in Brazil." According to the federal police, our actions "denigrated Brazil's im- age abroad." I was specifically charged with having "illegally taken Indians out of the country." Not only this, but it seems I did so with premeditated malice to use the Indians to denigrate and jeopardize Brazil. The Indians had been granted permission to leave the country by the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), which is respon- sible for its "wards." Furthermore, since the Federal Police control the nation's borders, no one, especially a foreigner, could have "illegally taken" anyone without their consent and knowledge. Paiakan assumed respon- VOLUME XXIII, NO. I (MAY 1989) 15AMAZON sibility for all he had said in Washington and provided news articles from Brazil that quoted him extensively. Such explanations were to no avail. As the federal police agent told me during my second interrogation: "Someone had to be behind those Indians. They would have never gone to Washington and said those things by themselves." That logic may well stand up in court, since before the law Indians are considered "relatively incapable" persons in the same category as minors and the mentally deficient. At the preliminary hearings on August 3, Paiakan and I were amazed to learn that the only evidence against us were clippings from Brazilian newspapers reporting the Indians' visit to Washington. Nevertheless, on Au- gust 8, the district attorney for Bel6m, Paulo Meira, formally charged me with having taken Paiakan and Kube-i to Washington, where, through my translations, I manipulated their testimonies with the "intention of frustrating the execution of Brazil's Energy Plan." Much to everyone's surprise, the two Kayap6 chiefs were charged as accomplices to my "crimes," also under the Law of Foreigners. In nearly 500 years of white-Indian relations in Brazil, never before had Indians been prose- cuted as foreigners in their native land. Shocking as well was the allegation that "crimes" committed outside Brazilian national territory could be prosecuted by Brazilian courts. The Brazilian Legal Society (OAB), the equivalent of the Bar Association, lodged a formal protest. 4 Jos6 Carlos Castro, president of the OAB's influential Human Rights Commission and our legal representative, declared the trial to be "a politically motivated maneuver to silence the scientific community and native leaders so as not to speak out against mega-projects supported by the authoritarian government." Authoritarianism and secrecy, he said, are the life-lines of such mega-projects as the Altamira- Xingli Hydroelectric Complex. The Human Rights Commission's call for protest was taken up by the Brazilian Anthropological Associa- tion, the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Sci- ence, the International Society of Ethnobiology, Cul- tural Survival, Survival International, Amnesty Interna- tional and literally hundreds of non-governmental groups concerned with conservation, Indian rights and human rights. Thousands of irate letters were sent to President Jos6 Sarney and petitions of support have been circu- lated around the world. E VEN WITH SCANT EVIDENCE AND SIGNIFI- cant public opposition, the case continued on Oc- tober 14 when Kube-i was summoned to give testimony. Kube-i arrived at the federal courthouse in Bel6m ac- companied by over 400 Kayap6 warriors. I watched from the curtained French windows of the courthouse as the warriors, painted black and red for war, bedecked with colorful headdresses and armed with clubs and spears, arrived in four buses. A group of non-Indian Darrell Posey with the most famous Indian in Brazil: Chief Rob-ni of the Kayap6 supporters surrounded them and together they stopped traffic on one of Bel6m's major avenues. Chiefs from all sub-groups of the Kayap6 nation were present, including those nearly 1,000 miles distant from each other and, until then, at odds. One of the banners carried by the non-Indian protesters read: "Kuben Axwere"'--Kayap6 for "White Men Without Shame." Court employees were genuinely frightened and some planned an emergency retreat. I saw several judges hide in consternation behind curtains in the magistrates' par- lor. The special shock force of 35 riot-control police lined up in front of the iron courthouse fence were soon joined by 45 civil police scattered along the street and 15 federal police armed with automatic weapons within the building and its grounds. The Kayap6, however, as Paiakan would later say, "used to defend themselves with warclubs and spears, but today we defend ourselves with words, our heads, and the press." The Brazilian and foreign press were out in force as the chiefs, over 30 of them in all, lined up to shake the hands of each member of the shock squad police. Then they moved to the center of the gathered mass to begin their orations in the traditional Kayap6 manner with forceful gestures and strong, loud voices so that anyone-even those who had never heard a word of any Indian language-would know this was a protest. The warriors surrounded the chiefs and began to dance in a revolving circle as they sang songs of war and victory. Warriors selected to defend the group were sent to stand directly in front of the shock squad: 35 police and 35 warriors formed an open corridor six feet wide. Paiakan's uncle, a respected war chief and orator, then began to pace up and down the corridor, stopping in front of each policeman to protest against the treatment of Kube-i and Paiakan and the government's disrespect for Indian rights, lands and natural resources. It soon REPORT ON THE AMERICAS f 16became clear why the chiefs had first peacefully greeted each of the police: The gestures and words of the bow- and-arrow-armed orator were very emphatic and could have been interpreted as signs of intended violence. As this was occurring, Paiakan unveiled a large map he had acquired in Washington that detailed the nine dams planned for the Xingli river basin. Such a map, he explained, was considered a secret document in Brazil and had never been seen by the Brazilian people. Paiakan repeated the charges he and Kube-i had made in Wash- ington. This time, their outrages were being reported by journalists and filmed for broadcast around the world. Inside the courthouse, Judge Ivan Velasco Nasci- mento announced that he would not hear Kube-i's testi- mony if the Indian leader did not appear in "proper dress." Kube-i was wearing a brilliant red, green, and yellow parrot feather headdress that symbolized his family and his birthrights. His body and face were painted in magnificent geometric designs made with black paint from the genipap tree, prepared with hours of loving care by his sister. His red and blue beaded armbands and pearly mussel shell ornaments sparkled against the black body paint. To the Kayap6, Kube-i was dressed for the most solemn of occasions. Judge Nascimento disagreed. He reiterated his demand that Kube-i appear "in a respect- able manner," not "semi-nude and in costume." Kube- i refused. The judge gave Kube-i twenty minutes to reconsider, warning that if he did not change his mind, his actions would be interpreted as contempt. Kube-i refused once and for all, and announced it to the as- sembled press. Our lawyer protested that the newly approved Brazil- ian constitution prohibits racism and considers the de- nial of minority rights a crime. The judge, echoed by the district attorney, replied that "Indians must become ac- culturated," and ordered psychological, psychiatric and anthropological tests to determine the extent to which the Indians were aware of their complicity in the "crimes" committed. The Indian warriors, still dancing and singing in the hot Amazonian sun outside, did not take the judge and prosecutor's decisions lightly. After a meeting of lead- ers, a war chief was selected to go with his bow and arrows to a point squarely in the front of the heavily guarded courthouse gate. With careful aim and absolute confidence he shot three arrows into the ancient mango tree that shaded the entrance. "That," explained Chief Rob-ni, "is the sign of our certainty of victory."' T HE FOLLOWING DAY, THE PROTEST WAS headline news in Brazil and around the world. Bra- To the Kayap6, Kube-i was dressed for the most solemn of occasions. The judge demanded "proper dress." Er a: U- IL w I- WAMAZON zilian television carried the story for days. If in Wash- ington the Kayap6 had "denigrated the image of Bra- zil," the government's insistence on prosecuting their "crimes" did so much more effectively. A few days later, our lawyer, Jos6 Carlos Castro, filed formal charges against Judge Nascimento under Article 5 of the Brazilian constitution that prohibits ra- cial discrimination. 6 Claiming that officials in Beldm were "suspected of incompetence to judge the case," Castro requested that it be transferred to Brasilia. The judge responded by formally charging Castro with defa- mation, thereby provoking yet another legal case. Despite building pressure, in December the Supreme Court refused to suspend the case. Two requests for habeas corpus were filed, one arguing that the Indians should be removed from the case, the second calling for its total closure. On February 12, the Court finally dis- missed the charges against Paiakan, Kube-i and myself, citing "incompetence" in the application of the Law of Foreigners to Indians. Our suit against the judge and prosecutor is still pending and, along with most anthro- pologists, I am prohibited from travelling to Indian a- reas. International encounter at Altamira: led by Indians Most local observers continue to feel that the case was intended to keep scientists from opposing mega- projects and to weaken indigenous leadership. It back- fired horrendously on both counts. The scientific com- munity rallied firmly, and important alliances between human and Indian rights groups, on the one hand, and environmentalists, on the other, have emerged. The collaboration of these two movements around our case led to "The First Encounter of Native Peoples in the Xingd," which took place February 20-25 in the tiny Amazon town of Altamira, the center of the pro- posed dam project. About 600 indigenous leaders from throughout the Americas participated. Non-Indian lead- ers met in parallel sessions to consolidate their network and to give solidarity to the Indians. Together, they drew up "A Unified Strategy for the Preservation of the Amazon and its Peoples" to guide the new alliance of native peoples and conservationists. Brazil, despite the efforts of its government and justice department, is sud- denly the center of an indigenous-led movement to pre- serve the rapidly disappearing bio-, eco-, and ethno- diversity of the Amazon-and of the planet. A S A SCIENTIST, OBSERVER AND FRIEND, I watched the Kayap6 buy their first airplane to bring elders together from distant villages to re-establish nearly lost rituals; the arrival of the road and the first trucks; the installment of a satellite antenna in the vil- lage plaza; the arrival of the first baby buggy to wheel about toddlers painted head-to-toe in black and red. I also watched thousands of gold miners invade In- dian lands, and I followed the sharp rise in malaria and other exotic diseases that resulted. I have seen the burn- ing of the Amazon forest by encroaching ranches and farms obscure the sun throughout the entire day. I have seen the traditional diet of natural fruits, nuts, vegetables and game give way to the much less nutritious beans, rice, manioc and coffee. I watched truckload after truck- load of huge mahogany logs shipped out in clouds of Amazon dust. And I have seen village chiefs opening their bank accounts-in Pierre Cardin suits no less-in the nearest frontier town. Anthropologists tend to be cultural conserva- tives-purists perhaps: We flinch when we see "our people" lose those distinctive features that made us want to go to the Amazon in the first place. With most of the changes, I had to swallow hard and bite my lip. But I tried to not be a paternalistic white man who knows what is best for Indians. I tried to listen more than talk, and to help create the scientific, social and political space for Indians themselves to speak and be heard. As we await the final outcome of the various legal cases generated by this process, people constantly ask, "Was it all worth it?" On this one, I am a fatalist: It had to happen. I simply happened to be in the right place at the right time to have the privilege of playing a role in this deadly serious struggle. REFERENCES From Warclubs to Words 1. Marlise Simons of The New York Times was with us and Beptopoop's observation was subsequently quoted in the Times' Oct. 8, 1988 editorial, whose impact on world opinion against destruction of the Amazon shook Brazil. 2. The Kayap6, numbering about 8,500, are one of the larger tribes of the Amazon. 3. These ambiguous laws are considered to be relics of the twenty-year military rule that theoretically ended in 1984, even though they have not been struck down under the newly approved Brazilian Constitution. Under the Penal Code, they call for one to three years imprisonment and expulsion from the country. 4. Reported in O Globo (Rio de Janeiro), Aug. 16, 1988. 5. Rob-ni, known in Brazil as Raoni, was one of the founders of the national Indian movement. He gained fame in the early 1980s for pulling the ears of the interior minister on national television. 6. Anthropological and legal experts consulted agreed that the judge's statements were not only racist but constituted a call for cultural genocide. Interestingly, under the constitution, racism is considered a crime for which the accused can be jailed without bond if sufficient evidence is presented. Given that the witnesses were official representatives of OAB and the foreign press, it will be interesting to see the outcome of this case when it is eventually heard. It is a precedent case under the new constitution and is attracting great attention. Our lawyer also filed a formal protest against the administration of psychological, psychiatric and anthro- pological tests to the Indians. From a procedural standpoint, if such tests were to be considered necessary, they should be requested by the defense, not the prosecution. Furthermore, he stated, such tests are simply not feasible since "acculturation" has never been le- gally defined.

Tags: Brazil, Kayapo, indigenous politics, environmentalism, development

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