Craho - History and Cultural Relations

In the early nineteenth century the Craho lived near the lower Rio Balsas, a tributary of the Parnaíba, in an area that is now part of the state of Maranhão. They were in conflict with cattle ranchers who were conquering tribal lands with the help of soldiers of the Portuguese army. After a crushing defeat in 1809, the Craho accepted peace and migrated to the banks of the Rio Tocantins, where the town of Carolina was being settled. At that time the Craho became allies of the Carolina founders in the fighting and enslaving of the neighboring Indian societies, until they themselves came to be seen by farmers as cattle thieves and obstacles to colonization. For these reasons, and also to make a barrier against the Shavante and Sherente Indians (then in the process of forming two different societies), the Craho were transferred upriver by Fra Rafael de Taggia, a Capuchin missionary, who settled them at the junction of the Tocantins and Sono rivers, where he founded the town of Pedro Afonso. There the Craho lived near the Sherente until they migrated to the area where they live now.

The Craho established friendly relationships with the farmers, especially with one, Agostinho Soares. But, in 1940, accusing the Craho of stealing cattle, the farmers attacked. Lack of coordination frustrated their intention to wipe out the Indians completely, but about 26 Craho were killed. Prompt intervention by the Brazilian government led to the trial of the attackers, the delimitation of a reservation, and the installation of an outpost of the Indian Protection Service. Although the penalty for the three farmers who led the attack was very mild, it generated more respect for the Craho on the part of the regional population. The greed of cattle ranchers and peasants for tribal lands, however, has not been sated. Memories of that attack and prejudices resulting from this greed have created the right climate for the rise of a Craho messianic movement. If, in about 1951, the Craho would have liked to transform themselves into Whites by messianic action, in 1986, on the contrary, they launched a campaign to retrieve a stone ax kept in a warehouse at the Museu Paulista; they succeeded in taking it back with them and have turned this artifact into the main symbol of their culture. In 1985 the Craho and Sherente were of great help to the Apinayé against White invaders of the latter1 s land and in the campaign for its demarcation.

Because cattle ranchers have no jobs for the Craho and the Indians have no buyers for their agricultural produce, the Craho remain marginal to the regional economy and, as a consequence, are able to maintain their own way of life, a situation that in the past was interpreted as Timbira cultural conservatism. Compensating for their minimal economic interchange with regional Whites, the Craho have, since around 1900, developed the habit of visiting big cities. By exploiting exotica (e.g., long hair, big holes in their ear lobes, unintelligible language) and the favorable romantic stereotypes urban people have about Indians, they acquire a large number of gifts. Craho contact with regional and urban Whites and with the Sherente (who speak the Akw language) contributes to culture change, especially with regard to technology and folk Catholicism, whereas their contact with other Timbira societies, particularly , reinforces their own culture.

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