August 19, 2014

Forget Colonial Myths: Xatanawa contact puts an end to a century of resistance

They are young and healthy, with strong bodies and carefully trimmed hair, some bearing delicate designs painted on their faces. They carry fine (and sharp) arrows with impeccably trimmed feather fletching. They wear penis-straps made of tree bark which double as belts to carry machetes, recently acquired. They sing beautiful melodies characteristic of the shared Panoan musical repertoire that is found throughout this region along the Brazil-Peru border, and that has been studied by anthropologists and even recorded on CDs. 

Behind this striking appearance of youthful Xatanawa warriors on the Envira river in Acre, emerging from isolation to seek assistance from indigenous neighbors, lies a terrible history of massacres at the hands of 21st century drug traffickers and loggers and 19th century rubber tappers

The "contact" of the Txapanawa[1] is an extraordinary story of resistance. 

Video still of dramatic footage released by FUNAI showing Xatanawa contact.

And yet mainstream reporting has emphasized sensational and exotic details, colonial ideas about a primitive people "emerging from the forest" and entering into "first contact" with civilization. Public comments express surprise at these "Stone Age" people carrying machetes, or even a shotgun. These ethnocentric perspectives ignore the deep and tragic history of this people, and others like them, while also overlooking the negligence of the Peruvian and Brazilian authorities in failing to guarantee their territorial and human rights.

CONTINUE READING the full article (in Portuguese) by Felipe Milanez and Glenn Shepard at Carta Capital

Also read the three-part series (in English) at Indian Country Today:

Part 1: Drug traffickers force isolated group into contact
Part 2: Banana diplomacy
Part 3: Quiet war in the Amazon

Read more from this blog on the history and origins of isolated indigenous peoples and the dilemmas of isolation and contact

[1]. Note: original reports suggested these people were known as the Xatanawa, close relatives of the Chitonahua of Peru. However more conversations with the group carried out by FUNAI through translators suggest they belong to a distinctive group speaking a language with important dialect variations, and that their name should be rendered as Txapanawa (J.C. Meirelles, personal communication).

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