Celebrating the Dear Dead
Brazil September 1998 Indians
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
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
with the Indians. The fourth Villas-Boas—Leonardo—died
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.
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.
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
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
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