The Great Web of Percy Harrison Fawcett

Celebrating the Dear Dead

Brazil September 1998 Indians

For Orlando Villas-Boas, Brazil's most renowned indianist alive, it was a time of high emotion. "My father, my father", repeated cacique Kanato, an old Indian who was still a young man when Orlando first met him at the end of the '40s. Orlando and Kanato embraced each other and cried.

The spirits of brothers Claudio and Alvaro Villas-Boas—the best friends the Brazilian Indians ever had among the white man—were finally freed from their earthly chains to rivers and forests and were able to get to the "stars village" high up in the skies. Their lives were celebrated in a Quarup, the highest homage paid by the Indians to their dead heroes. Orlando, 84, was there to see it all. He is the last survivor of the four Villas-Boas brothers, who in the '40s started contacting tribes on the border of the Xingu river—an Amazon tributary—in Central Brazil. For 32 years Orlando and Claudio lived with the Indians. The fourth Villas-Boas—Leonardo—died in 1961.

At the Kamayura aldeia (village) in the Amazon High Xingu, Tacumu is the cacique (chief) and the host for the Quarup, the ritual party for the dead. Everybody else is guest: more than 1100 Indians from several tribes. The guests started to arrive on Friday, on the eve of the celebration. The Yawalapitis were the first to get there followed by the Wauras and then the Awetis. The Meynako, Kuikuro, Kalapalo, Matipu, Nafukuo and Trumay tribes came in Saturday, July 25. The Quarup dances, which started Saturday morning, would last until the breaking of the next day.

Tacumu leads over a community of 300 Indians living in 15 malocas (collective huts). For 400 years his people have lived on the banks of the Ipavu lagoon. "Clαudio died in the city," he said, "but his spirit moved here, so we decided to do the Quarup, so he can rest in peace in the village of the stars."

Ulisses Capozoli, one of the reporters invited for the Quarup, mocked in his long piece published by daily O Estado de S. Paulo the government involvement in the ceremonies. "Justice Minister, Renan Calheiros, makes an empty speech, and heeding a request from Iris Rezende, his predecessor on the post, "warns" the Indians not to burn the forest. There is a refined irony here. The former minister owns a huge farm with large deforested areas just beside the park. In the lands of his brother, Orlando, the spectacle is even sadder. Black and smoldering tree trunks show the effects of a recent fire although there is a vague economic justification for all of this."

The mainstream media, which was drawn to the spectacle, seemed mesmerized by the bonfires, the mystery of the jungle, and the solemnity of the dances and chants. And at times the Indians seemed puzzled by the shoves, screams and lack of sportsmanship exhibited by photographers jockeying for a better shooting position.

Hugs and Tears

Other white men like anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro and indianist marshal Candido Rondon were celebrated in a Quarup, but nothing that compared to the show put on for brothers Claudio, who died March 1998 and Alvaro Villas-Boas dead in 1996, plus the Indian warrior Mariki. Experts believe this was the largest Quarup ever staged for white men.

Maynapu, an Yawalapiti warrior, described the role of Quarup as an integrator factor: "The dead must be remembered and grieved with respect, but after the pain it is time for the huka-huka (wrestling) joy. "

The tree trunks were placed in the center of the village. "For us they are all the same," explained Tacumu, even though Mariki's trunk is thinner in deference to the white men, and the one representing Claudio was placed in the center because he was the one of the two brothers who lived more among the Indians.

It was a time of high emotion and tears for Orlando, the sole survivor of the Villas-Boas. He reencountered Indians he hadn't seen for 30 years. Since 1984 the indianist had not visited the Xingu Park Indian Reservation, one of the better-known Villas-Boas accomplishments. "My father, my father", repeated cacique Kanato, an Indian who is in his '60s, but who was still a young man when Orlando first met him at the end of the '40s. Both men embraced each other and cried.

Not all participants came simply to mourn and celebrate the lives of dead heroes, though. Pegrati, 15, for example, was excited about the possibility of finding a wife. Said the Meynako warrior incapable of hiding a broad smile: "After one year in reclusion the virgins are being released and I didn't want to miss this opportunity. The Kamayurα girls are very pretty. I might get lucky and marry one."

Amid all the emotion, Orlando Villas-Boas talked about his concern for the future of the area. In an interview with Rio's daily Jornal do Brasil  he declared: "The High Xingu is a world reference for the preservation of indigenous culture. You need to have more resources to maintain this status. The biggest danger to the rivers that form the Xingu river basin is the pollution at the headwater of the tributaries. If the aggression to the springs is not prevented the Xingu will be jeopardized in the next millenium." And Orlando, who has already spelled out his wish to be buried in the Xingu reservation, continued talking about his brother: "Claudio was my other half. With his death I lost a piece of my heart. But tomorrow I will also die. The people from Xingu are the ones who cannot die. My brothers died believing that Brazil would not do to their Indians what the United States did. Some say that our names—mine and Claudio's—might be nominated for a Nobel Prize. If this happens the merit belongs to the Indians who taught us more than learned from us."

The Villas-Boas brothers' dreams might inspire a new generation of Villas-Boas. Chief Tacumu made an invitation to Noel, the youngest son of Orlando to live in the reservation and to continue his father work. The 23-year-old Philosophy (at PUC, the Sao Paulo catholic university) and Linguistics (at USP, Universidade de Sao Paulo) student is not against the idea but says that is too early for such a serious commitment and responsibility."

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