Araweté - History and Cultural Relations

The Araweté belong to the large Tupí-Guaraní block of tribes established in the hinterland between the Tocantins and Xingu rivers. These groups (some of them now extinct) may be the remnants of the large Pacajá tribe, many villagers of which resisted the intense missionary activity during the seventeenth century and dispersed in the jungle. Until 1950 the Araweté occupied the headwaters of the Rio Bacajá, a large tributary of the middle Xingu. The arrival of the bellicose Kayapó-Xikrin pushed them to the small Xingu tributaries that flow westward from the Bacajá-Xingu watershed. There they fought and displaced the Asurini, establishing two main village agglomerations along the Ipixuna and the Bom Jardim rivers. In the late 1960s both subgroups had sporadic encounters with White hunters. The arrival of the Parakanã in 1975 forced the tribe to reunite and flee to the margins of the Xingu.

The opening of the Trans-Amazonian Highway in the early 1970s transformed the economy and demography of the middle Xingu region, leading the Brazilian government to start a program of "attraction and pacification" of the Indian groups living there. Based in the boom town of Altamira (180 kilometers north of the Ipixuna), FUNAI contacted the Araweté in 1976, on the banks of the Xingu. Although weak and hungry (they had been fleeing the Parakanã for months) and already showing the first symptoms of diseases contracted from Whites, they were removed by FUNAI officers to the upper Ipixuna, in a march through the jungle that caused thirty deaths. In 1978 they settled in a more downstream location, where they have been living ever since. Their lands began to be invaded by timber companies and gold diggers. The Altamira Hydroelectric Complex, the construction of which was planned to begin in 1991, may flood at least 15 percent of the Araweté territory.

Although they have the general characteristics of the Tupí-Guaraní of eastern Amazonia, the Araweté show some distinctive features. Their language is fairly different from those of the neighboring groups; their main cultigen is not manioc, but the faster-maturing maize (which may be explained by a long history of flight from enemy groups); their material culture is simple, but they have some unexpectedly complex and unique items, such as a four-piece female garment and the shaman's rattle. The importance of the dead in Araweté cosmology, finally, evokes that of the Juruna and Shipaya (riverine Tupían tribes of the Xingu) rather than those of the Tupí-Guaraní proper.

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