Jurunas and Kayapos 22nd June 2007

UPDATED: Click here: www.ipcst.org/Pukararankre to go to a slideshow of images relevant to this post. To return, simply close the slideshow window. The slideshow may take some time to load, especially if you have a slow internet connection.This is the last of three posts all published on the same day, though written over the last four weeks. Please scroll down to see the other two posts.

After I wrote my last article, we travelled a further day without seeing another human being.

A tyre from a logging machine at the end of an abandoned logging road.We did, however, encounter the detritus of a lamentable piece of local history. We saw on the banks of the river the terminal ports of a number of roads which previously threaded their way through the forest, bringing logs of mahogany illegally felled in the Indian reserve to the river.

They can be identified by the mess they leave behind; a huge discarded tyre from one of the machines used to drag the trunks through the forest, a corroded diesel engine piston, a makeshift barbecue grill of perforated metal, a length of yellow hose, and the untidy shreds of the black plastic used for the crude shelters thrown together by the workers.

Mercifully, the roads we saw were all overgrown with several years of undergrowth. Clearly the loggers are long gone, at least from this area. Whether this is the result of effective government enforcement action or simply because all of the most valuable trees have been removed is open to question.

Cacique Yaiya Juruna of Tuba Tuba village.As we moved down the river, Paulo, our Juruna boatman, pointed out the locations of old Juruna villages, including the place where he was born and spent his childhood.

Two centuries ago, this part of the river was the domain only of the Juruna, a peaceful ethnic group who built their villages mainly on the many islands. But they were constantly attacked and harassed by the belligerent Kayapo, who hounded them upriver.

When German ethnologist Karl von den Steinen navigated the river in the 1880s, the Juruna still held out. He traded with them for replacement canoes for his expedition, and Juruna boatmen helped him with their incomparable knowledge of the river.

By the 1940s, when the government-sponsored Roncador-Xingu expedition began to build contact with the Indians in the area, the Juruna had been driven far upriver into Mato Grosso State. Today, many Juruna live in the towns of Pará State, but there still remain several traditional villages inside the Xingu Indigenous Park, the largest of which is Tuba Tuba. We found the Juruna to be very sympathetic and supportive, and they have a great sense of fun; in Tuba Tuba, Sue danced with the women well into the night.

Ireroko Kayapo, a teacher at the Pukarankre village school.The Juruna want to return to their old areas, in what is today the Kayapo reserve of Mekragnoti. Nowadays the ethnic groups have a more peaceful relationship, and the Kayapo support the proposal. This would reunite the diaspora of Juruna spread out over two states back in their original home in Pará, removing them from the misery of life on the fringes of the frontier towns and reinforcing and rebuilding the strong traditional culture we witnessed in Tuba Tuba. With their colourful festivals and clearly identifiable body paint and decoration, the Juruna could become a symbol of Pará’s integrity and culture.

After our two days of isolation we reached the Kayapo village of Pukararankre. Sited at the foot of a steep hill above a side channel of the Xingu, hidden behind a densely forested island, this is a traditional village of small thatch, timber and adobe houses. We joined with the village as they danced, enjoying the entrancing rhythmic chanting and the intricate designs of their face and body painting. Sue was briefly abducted by two smiling women, retuning with her arms adorned in the artistic linear pattern typical of the Kayapo.

In the evening it was the turn of the unmarried warriors and girls. They sang, they danced. It was obvious that the outward appearance of a well-established ritual included plenty of opportunity for social interaction as boys and girls flirted and laughed. I thought again about how much our society has lost with the dismantling of this kind of structured social occasion. In the age of the television and computer, there are lamentably few opportunities for our teenagers to meet in a controlled yet exciting atmosphere of fun. Watching these young people really letting go and enjoying themselves was sheer joy. In the end, we felt that they needed the field to themselves so we retired to our hammocks; but we could hear the party going on for hours!

On our last day in the village, we decided to climb the hill to get an overview. Close to the top, I lost The view of Pukarankre from the top; almost worth the pain!my balance and slipped, badly bruising my ribs, to the point where I thought they may be broken. I am now taking regular doses of painkillers, but it still hurts when I twist and I am unable to lift anything heavy. We have arrived in the town of São Felix do Xingu, so I am able to rest for a few days while catching up with internet-related work. The local hospital has an X-ray machine but the doctor informed us that they had been waiting for weeks for supplies of the chemicals necessary to develop the X-rays. In a town of uneven roads and motor bikes this omission must be making life difficult for the only orthopaedic specialist in town.

© Patrick Cunningham

⇒Next: Frontier Towns

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