Palikur - History and Cultural Relations

The first explorations in the area of Guiana were made by the English, Dutch, and French, especially following the expedition by Lawrence de Keymes in 1596, who reported the presence of a dozen indigenous nations. The area to the north of the Oiapoque was then occupied by the Carib (Caribbana) Indians, and that to the south by the Arawak (Arowachi, Arowacas). In 1604 the Frenchmen Sieur de Ravardière and Guy de Mocquet made a reconnaissance of the Guianan littoral. They found that the Yayo and Karipúna-Palikur Indians had formed a confederation to attack the Galibí. In the 1680s the Palikur and the Galibí were still enemies, until a certain M. Ferolles made an attempt to reconcile them. He arranged a ceremony in which the chiefs of both groups had fistfights, embraced, and then said their good-byes. As of the beginning of the eighteenth century, there are no more recorded conflicts between the Palikur and the Galibí. D'Anville's map of 1729 shows the Palikur living between the Calçoene and Curipi rivers, with the notation that they were friends of the French. In 1783 a Jesuit priest, Father Fauque, established a short-lived mission among the Uaçá Palikur, but was not able to evangelize even the small group with whom he had strong ties. At the end of the eighteenth century, when Portugal and France were at war with each other, a Portuguese expedition occupied the contested territory, burned all Indian villages—including those of the Palikur—and carried off the inhabitants into the interior of Brazil. Because of this, the Palikur remained isolated during the nineteenth century, and there are few reports about them. As soon as the disputed territory was conceded definitively to Brazil in 1900, the Brazilian authorities began to oust the immigrants and merchants from French Guiana (Creoles, Malayans, etc.) who had settled in the Oiapoque-Uaçá area. As late as the 1920s the Urucauá Palikur still continued to sympathize more with the Creoles than with the Brazilians. This was because they had not forgotten the enslavement of their ancestors by the Portuguese, and because the majority of the Brazilians despised the Indians and faulted them for speaking patois and not Portuguese. Baptisms of the Palikur continued to take place in the city of Saint Georges (French Guiana), and the indigenous captain of Urucauá went on wearing a French-style uniform even though more than twenty years had passed since the end of the Dispute. In 1936 the War Ministry of Brazil sent an emissary, Major Tomaz Reis, to Uaçá to study the possibility of gathering the Indians in a single village and using them as border guards. The emissary did not think this possible, however, because of intertribal differences. In 1942 the Serviço de Proteçâo aos Índios (SPI, the Indian Protection Service) installed a Nationalization Service at the confluence of the Uaçá and Curipi rivers, intending to integrate the natives of the area into the larger Brazilian society. The plans that were put into practice did not fully reach their objectives, however, owing to the lack of good environmental and ethnological studies, especially on the Palikur. They were not given school instruction at that time because of the reaction of the Palikur elders, who believed school to be a form of slavery. But as of 1967, when they began adopting Pentecostalism, and when contacts with Brazilians improved, the Palikur became amenable to formal schooling and to the various programs the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI), created in 1967, introduced in the region. Historically, the Palikur were divided into two regional groups of several villages, each of which was occupied by only one clan. Apart from family dwellings, they built larger houses away from the single-family units, spacious enough to accommodate between 30 and 40 people. Territorial separation no longer prevails, and clan groups are distributed indistinctly between several villages. On the Rio Urucauá, until 1970, population figures varied between 15 and 70 persons. In the village of Ukumenê, however, where a Pentecostal church was built in 1980, there were 350 people, that is to say, more than one-half the Palikur population on the Urucauá. The rectangular houses, usually occupied by only a nuclear family, are without walls and have two-sided straw roofs and eaves; the floors are of planks or paxiuba -palm stems, averaging 4 meters in length by 3 meters in width. Houses are built with no fixed plan, with the exception of the village of Ukumenê, where they line a street. The Palikur traditionally slept on woven cotton hammocks. In the twentieth century, however, they have begun sleeping on rush mats, which they learned to make from the Blacks of the Rio Cunani. As of 1942, when SPI's Nationalization Service was installed in the area, the Palikur began using mosquito nets.

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