Marubo - History and Cultural Relations

The Marubo were encountered by Whites when the latter occupied the southwestern part of Amazonia during the rubber boom, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Prior to this time a people named Marubo once occupied the village of Maucallacta at the mouth of Cochiquinas Brook on the Amazon River in Peru, but there is no firm evidence that they belonged to the same culture. The Marubo kept some commercial notes written in Spanish dating from 1906 to 1912. According to these documents, there were relations with Peruvians who were coming down from the headwaters searching for rubber and felling the Castilloa ulei trees, and Brazilians who went up the rivers collecting the latex of Hevea brasiliensis. There is not much information about those times, but it seems that it was a period of suffering, disorganization, and decimation for the Indians. After the Amazonian wildrubber business collapsed in 1912 because of lower prices for Malaysian rubber, Whites began to abandon the Javari Basin. The powerful traders who previously lent merchandise to White and Indian rubber workers in exchange for latex were replaced by poor adventurers who could not maintain the commerce. Even these adventurers became rare, and from 1938 to 1950 the Marubo were almost abandoned and forgotten by the Whites, a period that they now remember as a time of living by themselves, completely isolated.

Lacking iron tools, firearms, and ammunition, the Marubo began to look for Whites, and by 1950 they contacted a trader and rubber-estate owner on the Rio Juruá. With him the Marubo exchanged rubber and furs for industrial items, carrying them by foot across the watersheds between the Javari and Juruá basins. In this period the first New Tribes Mission agents began to visit them, and in 1962 these missionaries established themselves in the Ituí headwaters, where they remain today. After the arrival of the missionaries, the Marubo were contacted by lumber workers coming from the towns of the Amazon-Javari confluence. With the riverboat traders from these towns, the Marubo began to exchange wood, rubber, furs, ceramics, chickens, and even pigs for iron tools, guns, ammunition, batteries, salt, and plastics, and the trade along the Rio Juruá became less important. After 1970 FUNAI began to operate in the region, but the demarcation of a reserve for the Marubo or a park also including the lands of their Indian neighbors has not yet been accomplished.

The extent of Marubo contact with other Indian groups before the arrival of Whites is unknown. At the beginning of the present century, some Marubo lived near the Remo Indians on the upper Javari. In 1960 a group of Mayoruna attacked a small expedition of Marubo who were looking for turtle eggs on the Rio Curuçá, abducting three women and killing at least one man and a child. Some time after this event the Marubo, armed with guns obtained from the Rio Juruá Whites, mounted an expedition on the tributaries of the left bank of the Curuçá, returning after having killed some Mayoruna. The migration of Marubo to the Indian post built by FUNAI on the middle course of the Rio Ituí put them in contact with their northern neighbors, the Matis. The move to the other Indian post, on the middle Curuçá, put the Marubo in contact with a small group of Kalina. The employment of some Marubo by FUNAI and their frequent visits to regional towns, principally to Atalaia do Norte, Benjamín Constant, Tabatinga, and Leticia to the north and Cruzeiro do Sul to the south, has increased their contact with other Indians who also frequent these towns. The discontinuance of facial tatooing probably dates from the beginning of the second period of contact.

Contemporary Marubo wear clothes and cut their hair like the regional Whites; there is no information about their previous type of haircut, although a possible translation for the name applied to them, "Marubo," might be "the bald ones." An increasing number of men speak Portuguese. The mission maintains a school on the Rio Ituí, where the Marubo are taught to write in their own language. For a time, FUNAI mounted a Portuguese literacy campaign on the Rio Curuçá.

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