Canela - History and Cultural Relations

Decimated by the Cakamekra at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Canela surrendered to a regional Brazilian garrison for protection. They moved around until the 1830s, when they settled in their present area. Since then, they have maintained continual, although sometimes hostile, relations with the surrounding rural Brazilian ("backland") farmers and ranchers and with the urban political authorities in Barra do Corda, 60 kilometers to the north. The German-Brazilian anthropologist Curt Nimuendajú studied them from 1929 through 1936. The Brazilian Indian Protection Service (SPI) first sent a family to live near their village in 1938, causing accelerated acculturation.

In 1963 a full messianic movement occurred. It included cult dancing to bring about a total exchange in cultural roles—the Indians to live in cities and the Brazilians to hunt in forests. After the ranchers attacked because of extensive cattle theft, the SPI relocated the Canela to a Guajajara Indian reservation. Although they stayed for five years in the forests, they did not adapt well. In 1968 Summer Institute of Linguistics missionary-linguists Jack and Josephine Popjes began their work, which ended in 1990 with the translation of the New Testament into Canela. In the 1970s FUNAI built brick-and-tile buildings (post, school, infirmary), demarcated their lands, constructed roads into the new reservation, installed a generator for pumping water and lighting the post and village, and established two-way radio communication with Barra do Corda and the state capital, São Luís, causing substantial changes in the Canela outlook on life, their self-esteem, and their self-awareness. In 1979 ethnographer William Crocker ended his long-term field research started in 1957.

In 1990 the Canela remained tribal, still speaking their language and performing their festivals. Very few have emigrated. Located 250 kilometers east of the Belém-Brasília highway, they are in a stable, unendangered location. They have survived because of their remoteness from rivers and, later, from highways, and because little exists on their land to exploit: no rubber, gold, or Brazil nuts, and few valuable hardwoods. Their farming and grazing lands are marginal. Merchants come to Escalvado weekly from backland communities 20 to 30 kilometers away to sell goods. Canela families frequently visit backland families, especially during the economically lean months (September through December), to earn food and equipment, usually through sharecropping and household work. These economic exchanges generate cultural relationships, especially that of compadre (cogodfathers). Through such contacts the Canela have absorbed some folk Catholicism and have learned to use money and to bargain for goods. The Canela frequently go to Barra do Corda to buy goods, walking or hitching truck rides. Occasionally, children and adolescents live and serve in homes there while attending school, a practice begun in the late 1800s. Most adult males have stayed in major Brazilian cities, where they go for goods.

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