Jonathan W. Warren is Assistant Professor of International and Latin American Studies at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, Seattle.
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Jonathan W. Warren is Associate Professor of International and Latin American Studies at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, Seattle.
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Racial RevolutionsAntiracism and Indigenous Resurgence in Brazil
By Jonathan W. Warren
Duke University PressCopyright © 2001 Jonathan W. Warren
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePosttraditional Indians
At mid-century, the consensus among those who worked with indigenous groups in Brazil was that native populations would soon be extinct or completely assimilated into the national society. However, more recent appraisals suggest that Brazil's indigenous population has not only survived, but has grown threefold in the last fifty years, in an "Indian demographic turnaround." -David Kennedy and Stephen Perz, "Who Are Brazil's Indigenas?"
Conceived from the miscegenation of socialist architects and developmentalist politicians, Brasilia was to have been Brazil's new beginning. This capital city was imagined as an "exemplar, enclave, beachhead, or blueprint radiating change" from which a great society was to emerge. Its planners "believed it possible not only togeneralize [Brasilia's] innovations throughout the nation, but moreover to propel [Brazil] into a planned future, causing it to skip predicted but undesired stages in its historical development." Thus the audacious creators of Brasilia, acting as if they wereendowed with the powers of Topar, built their modernist city on the conviction that it would spare Brazil from the wrath of its own history.
In the early hours of 20 April 1997, the eve of the thirty-seventh anniversary of Brasilia, the Pataxo Indian Galdino Jesus dos Santos found himself lost in this city constructed to birth a new Brazil. The forty-four-year-old man had come to Brasilia in pursuit of a different vision from the municipality of Pau Brasil, located hundreds of miles away in the southern tip of Bahia. He and five other Pataxo Ha-Ha-Hae had journeyed to the airplane-shaped capital to pressure the government to follow through with the removal of fazendeiros (ranchers or plantation owners) who were illegally occupying 788 hectares of their land. Thirteen of their colleagues had been killed over this land since 1986, and they wanted to ensure that no one else from their community of 1,723 died in the conflict.
Late at night, after a full day of meetings and demonstrations, and in an unfamiliar city that is notoriously difficult to navigate, dos Santos had trouble finding his hostel. It was well after midnight by the time he located the place where he was to have stayed. He rang the doorbell, but no one answered. No doubt exhausted, he headed for a bench at the bus stop on Avenue 3W South, between the quadrants 703 and 704, and there he went to sleep.
In the early hours of the morning, Max Rogerio Alves, Antonio Novely Cardoso da Vilanova, Eron Chaves de Oliveira, Tomas Oliveira de Almeida-all age nineteen-and a sixteen year old whose name was withheld because he was a juvenile, were driving around, as they later said, "looking for something to do." According to these young men, at approximately 4:00 a.m. they spotted dos Santos asleep on the bench. This gave these white, upper-middle-class teenagers an idea for breaking the morning's boredom, and off they sped to the nearest gas station.
The gasoline station attendant would later explain that the men "were not nervous at all. There was no music in the car and they seemed very calm. They hadn't been drinking. Given how relaxed they were, it seems like it was not the first time that they had done something like that." In fact, thirteen other such burnings of street people had taken place during the previous two years. Whether or not this was the first such "joke" they had played, the young men returned to the bus stop, where they dosed the sleeping man with two liters of gasoline and then each threw a match, "hoping to scare the man," as they claimed afterward.
Dos Santos must have awakened in shock-at first wondering what was happening. Was someone pissing on him, playing a prank? And then in that eternal instant when he became aware of the scent of gasoline, saw the matches being lit and thrown his way, smelled the stench of his burning body, and caught a glimpse of the men running away, the mixture of horror, disbelief, and terrific pain must have been overwhelming. The young men drove away as dos Santos, a human fireball, ran desperately into the street for help.
Until his death later in a hospital, dos Santos remained conscious. He suffered burns over 85 percent of his body, so severe that muscle and bones as well as skin were badly scorched. The youth were quickly found and, on arrest, exclaimed in their defense that they thought the man had been a mendigo (a homeless or street person). Forgetting or never appreciating that race and class are intimately entwined in Brazil, editorialists would seize on this statement to reassure their readers in the subsequent weeks that albeit a heinous crime, at least the "racial democracy" was still intact since dos Santos "was not burnt for being Indian or black, but because he was 'homeless.'"
Eventually, the young men were brought before Judge Sandra de Santis Mello, who ruled that the youth had not intended to kill but only frighten: "The accused were attempting to commit a savage joke, they were trying to set on fire that which they presumed to be a homeless person, but they never believed that it would result in death" (emphasis added). Murder charges were reduced to manslaughter, for which the maximum allowable sentence would have been twelve years in prison. The youth were given two years in prison with a chance of parole in only four months.
Some declared that justice had been served because the law remained above popular sentiment. But such sanctimonious claims rang hollow for others who knew all too well the truth of dos Santos's mother's assertion that had the roles been reversed, a very different verdict would have been reached. In Minervina Santos's words, "If it had been my son that had burnt one of those children..., I would like to have seen my son not go to prison." In a world where the police routinely moonlight as child assassins, in a society warped by conquest, slavery, and some of the most extreme inequities of wealth in the world, it was a victory of sorts that anyone believed or at least dared to hope that justice could be served at all.
Immediately following the murder of dos Santos, journalists were quick to argue that these "monsters," "animals," "trash," "rats of Brazil," and so forth were the product of a moral breakdown in thenation. How else to explain how these "educated and calm [boys who] had never caused any problems" could define and experience the burning of a human being as a joke? In these reporters' view, Brazil had become too materialistic, too fixated on consumption, too hedonistic, too far removed from the church. Television, computers, automobiles, and capitalism, as well as neoliberal economic policies, were to blame for this moral decay. As one retired professor, Maria Jose Campos, put it in an editorial that echoed other social analysts at this time: "The youth of today only want the 'shopping center.' They only want pleasure. They're the monsters fabricated by television."
But such contentions are based on short memories. With the church's blessing, countless monsters terrorized Brazil in an era that predated computers, neoliberalism, television, automobiles, and shopping centers. The problem, then, is not that certain morals have been destroyed in the quixotic quest for modernity. To the contrary, one of the most disturbing aspects of dos Santos's horrific death was how it indicates that certain values-forged in the time of conquest, slavery, and colonialism -have yet to be undone.
The torture and killing of dos Santos with impunity suggests that the architects of Brasilia failed in their efforts to break with tradition and create a new nation unencumbered by history. Yet it would be a mistake to interpret this "savage joke" as evidence of an unchanged Brazil. In fact, there is one aspect of this story, one subtle facet of the dos Santos biography, that hints at an altered Brazil: he was from southern Bahia, a region, as I will explain below, where Indian populations were presumed to be extinct.
Southern Bahia is where the Portuguese first landed, by pure chance, in Brazil in 1500. Thirteen Portuguese ships en route to India via Cape Horn were driven hundreds of miles off course by the winds of fate. For the Portuguese, this proved to be an extremely fortuitous mishap because the newly "discovered" land fell within an area allotted to Portugal -to the east of a line drawn by Pope Alexander VI, and negotiated between Spain and Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas on 7 June 1494.
This was, of course, a less fortuitous moment for the peoples of the lands that were about to become known as Brazil. For soon after this discovery, King Joao III began setting in motion the colonization of those vast stretches of the Atlantic littoral that the pope had determined fell under the sovereign of the Portuguese Crown. The basis of the fledgling colonial economy-as well as the origin of the colony's name-was pau brasil (brazilwood).
Ever since the twelfth century trees that yielded a red dye were known as brasile, from the Latin for red. And hardwood found in the new continent produced a powerful dye that ranged from maroon to ochre exports. ... The dye [from this "redwood"] was not particularly stable, but reds were fashionable, especially at the French court, and the profits from the brazilwood trade were attractive enough to justify the risks involved in the ocean crossing.
The brazilwood trade combined with sugar production, which began flourishing in the 1540s, spawned an ever growing demand for labor. Not surprisingly, the colonists' appetite for Indian workers steadily increased. So the white settlers, given their conception of the indigenous people as heathens and their acceptance of slavery as merely "one of the conditions of man," resorted to Indian slavery as a "natural" solution to their labor "needs."
Slaves had been sent back to Portugal since the first ships visited Brazil, but by the mid-sixteenth century, Indian slavery was rapidly becoming institutionalized as part of the Brazilian way of life. For example, in the captaincy of Itamaraca to the north of Pernambuco, one of the original fourteen captaincies established by King Joao III, "there was no white man, however poor, who did not have twenty or thirty of those darkies [Indians] to use as slaves, and the rich had whole villages." The population of San Vicente in 1548, which included 600 free persons and 3,000 Indian slaves, offers yet another illustration of how quickly Indian slavery had become embedded in Brazilian society.
By the mid-1550s, the trade in "red gold" had become a robust business that was to flourish for generations to come.
[The Jesuit missionary] Jose de Anchieta reckoned that slaving expeditions out of Bahia brought down an average of two or three thousand Indians a year. [The chronicler] Vincente do Salvador told how Antonio Dias Adorno was sent inland to search for minerals but returned with 7,000 Tupinguen and how Luis Alvares Espinha, who marched out of Ilheus on a punitive raid, "was not content with capturing all those villages: he went on inland and brought down infinite heathen." The Indians of the coast north of Sergipe became so terrified by Portuguese victories that "they allowed themselves to be tied up by the whites like sheep or ewes. These therefore went along those rivers in boats which they sailed back loaded with Indians to sell for 2 cruzados or 1 milreis each, which is the price of sheep."
Indian slavery, as I detail in chapter 3, did not come to an end in eastern or northeastern Brazil until the mid-twentieth century. Thus, for almost five centuries, Indian slavery and colonization, the accoutrements of European civilization, have been key features of the cultural landscape of the Brazilian littoral. Given the duration, degree, and horrific brutality of European discoveries in this region, it is understandable why many believed that the Indian had vanished from the original colonies of Brazil. For instance, Charles Wagley wrote in the early 1950s that "unlike the situation in the plantation and mountain regions, where the Indian disappeared very early as an active element in the population, in the Amazon region the Indian and the mestizo are important elements of the modern social and racial scene." Twenty years later, the Brazilian anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro made a similar assessment of this region's racial geography when he noted, "They are living their last days, those remnants of the Indians from the interior of the northeast who have somehow managed to extend themselves into the twentieth century."
Dos Santos, then, was from an area where Indians were thought to be on the verge of extinction, irrelevant, or even nonexistent. So was this slain man a "remnant" of an Indian community that once existed in southern Bahia? Was he a sort of Ishi figure, the last surviving member of his people, who in another context would have spent the remaining years of his life as a janitor in a university museum? Surprisingly, given the demographic predictions cited above, the answer to these questions is "no." Rather than declining into nonexistence, the indigenous population in "the plantation and mountain regions" of Brazil has rapidly increased over the past three decades.
Indeed, one of the primary goals of this book is to put forth an explanation as to why there has been an indigenous resurgence in recent times. Why has the centuries-long trend of de-Indianization been brought to a halt and even reversed in a region presumed free of Indians? In the late 1960s, for example, in the states of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo, there were probably at most a few hundred individuals who self-identified as Indian-and even fewer who were recognized by the government as Indian. Yet in a period of some twenty-five years, the Indian population has increased from a couple of aldeias (villages or communities) and two Indian penal colonies to ten officially acknowledged indigenous territories and at least two communities, those of the Kaxixo and Arana, that are struggling to be recognized. Moreover, peoples thought to be on the verge of extinction have experienced rapid upsurges in populations (for instance, the Pataxo). Several "new" Indian peoples (e.g., Xacriaba, Tupinikim, Kaxixo, and Arana) have also emerged since the 1970s, and the population in eastern Brazil on the aldeias alone is now estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000.
A similar increase has taken place in northeastern Brazil. As Jose Augusto Laraneiras Sampaio noted in the mid-1980s, in a little over ten years, a number of "groups" have surfaced "that until recently had been considered extinct-the Pataxo, the Karapoto"-or were previously "unknown in the literature, such as the Kapinawa, Tingui-Boto, Pankarare, Wasu.... From eleven groups with around 13,000 individuals aided by postos indigenas in 1975, there are today in the area from northern Bahia extending to Piaui approximately seventeen ethnic groups with a population of about 17,000."
The following comments made by the secretary of the 1995 Assembleia dos Indios de Leste/Nordeste (Assembly of the Indians from the East and Northeast) underscores the impact of this trend over the next decade.
At the first assembly in 1987, only twelve peoples were represented. At every subsequent assembly, five or six new peoples have attended, whom nobody believed existed anymore. This year it's to the point where we have thirty-five peoples represented.
Thus, in eastern and northeastern Brazil, there are now approximately forty different peoples or tribes, and the total population is estimated to be between 60,000 to 70,000.
Excerpted from Racial Revolutions by Jonathan W. Warren Copyright © 2001 by Jonathan W. Warren. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Maxakali Creation Story
1. Posttraditional Indians
2. Methodological Reflections
3. The State of Indian Exorcism
4. Racial Stocks and Brazilian Bonds
5. Prophetic Christianity, Indigenous Mobilization
6. The Common Sense of Racial Formation
7. Indian Judges
8. Contesting White Supremacy
Appendix A: Questionnaire, 1995-1997
Appendix B: Questionnaire, 1992-1994
Appendix C: Biographical Data of Indian Interviewees
Appendix D: Biographical Data of Non-Indian Interviewees
What People are Saying About This
Racial Revolutions is a deeply thoughtful and highly accessible analysis of contemporary racism. Jonathan Warren combines a highly developed research design, a powerful synthesis of crucial modern and postmodern theoretical frameworks, and a strong commitment to racial justice. This book will have important influence, not only on anthropology and studies of race, but on our understandings of indigenous cultures and movements, on our view of Brazil, and on our understanding of ourselves.
author of The World is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy since World War II
This is an original work that will be welcomed by all those interested in Brazil and in the Indian question in Latin America. Very well written, engaging, and successful in conveying the world and the voices of the actors, Racial Revolutions is indeed a pleasurable read.
University of California, San Diego