sábado, 5 de janeiro de 2008

Carlos Moreira, the great Brazilian ethnohistorian

My second friend to remember is Carlos de Araujo Moreira Neto, a native of Viçosa, in Minas Gerais state, a journalist as a young man, an unwilling bachelor in law, and the greatest ethnohistorian in Brazil. Carlos had friends in many different intellectual areas, he was a dedicated archivist, and was responsible for gathering together the remaining documents of the Indian Protection Service, the majority of which was consummated by a fire that broke out in the office it had just been moved into in Brasília, from Rio de Janeiro, in 1966. He pulled it all together from many cities where the SPI had had offices and placed it in the Museum of the Indian, where he began working as a student, then as a collaborator, and later as its director. This variegated collection of documents has since been very helpful in the reclaiming of several indigenous people´s land rights.

Carlos had a great analytical mind, a reader of almost everything that was ever written on indigenous peoples in Brazil. His personal library reflected his wide interests and knowledge, from history, maps, and literature (he had a first 1572 edition of Camões´ “Os Lusíadas”) to anthropology and WW II books. He had a classic Marxist notion of the colonization process and of the origins and developments of political and cultural attitudes towards indigenous peoples. He was a man of strong political convictions, a member of the Communist Party for many years, and wouldn´t budge an inch from a staunch defense of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Carlos became Darcy´s loyalest friend since they first met in 1955 when Darcy created the first graduate course in anthropology in Brazil at the Museum of the Indian and attracted a group of smart young Brazilians to it, among whom were Roberto Las Casas and Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira. The latter developed a highly reputable career as anthropologist, having been trained in the field by Charles Wagley, a great american anthropologist who studied Brazilian Indians since 1939, and took Oliveira on one of his field trips to the Tapirapé in 1957 or 1958. Oliveira would substitute Eduardo Galvão as head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Brasilia, when Galvão was fired and later persecuted by the dictatorship. When Galvão tried to get his original position back in the National Museum, in Rio de Janeiro, where he had started as trainee and researcher, he was rejected by the anthropologists who had taken control of it, foremost of them Luis de Castro Faria, who later became the mentor of the anti-rondonian attitude that pervades that academic insitution. That disgusted Darcy Ribeiro and Carlos Moreira so much that they entertained no esteem for those anthropologists to the end of their lives.

I became friends with Carlos Moreira in 1975 when I came back to Brazil from the University of Florida, where I was a student of Charles Wagley´s, to do my doctoral research with the Tenetehara Indians. Carlos had recently defended his Ph.D. thesis on the nineteenth-century indigenous policy, two thick volumes of cutting analyses and documents that expounded the destructive process against indigenous peoples at that time. That thesis was to become famous and widely read and used for years on end by dozens of researchers, many of whom hardly giving due credit to it. When I was president of Funai I had it published under the title “The Indians and the Imperial Order”. In our Blog there is a post with an interview of Carlos Moreira in the day of the publication of that book.

Besides this great book Carlos wrote “Indians of the Amazon: from majority to minority”, published by Vozes Press. This is Carlos´ great book that demonstrates his view of how the indigenous destructive process took place in the Amazon. He analyzes how, after the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Amazon, the former missions were transformed in Luso-Brazilian villages with the forced assimilation of the Indians who kept living there. He describes the violence used against Indians and Indian-descendants who supported the Cabanagem, the great popular rebellion that swept across the Lower Amazon region between 1836 and 1841. An essential book for whomever wants to know Amazon history.

Carlos did his major field research with the Kayapó Indians in Pará state between 1955 and 1957. He made and remained friends with many of the young Kayapó who survived the first years of contact and would lead their people in mature age. Among them is Kanhok, whose pictures can be seen in the section “Visitas a Terras Indígenas” of our Blog. Carlos wrote a seminal paper called “Os Kayapó do Pau d´Arco” about how the Kayapó band Iram-iraire came to extinction after the years of missionization by Dominican Friars in the township of Conceição do Araguaia, between 1890 and 1950. By the way, one of the last Iram-iraire survivors, a very old, but still energetic lady, lives on the Las Casas Indian Land, near an old SPI Indian Post that had been abandoned. I had the pleasure of meeting with her in early February 2007, as we were proceeding to demarcate that Indian Land.

When the Kayapó attacked Espadilha Ranch, located near their land, at that time not yet demarcated, in 1983, killing 23 people, Carlos was invited by Funai to go there and stay with the Indians so as to appease their fury as well as protect them from the possible imminent revenge attack from the part of neighboring Brazilians.

Carlos was an acerbic critic of the role of the Catholic Church and jesuit and other missionaries during the colonization process and up until the late 1960s. However, in the seventies he related with the leftist branch of the Catholics, including the Indian Missionary Council. He believed they were of help to the Indians in those times when the Brazilian government was taken by anti-indigenist attitudes, as in the harsh years of military rule (1969-84). He also thought the Church might be able to help fend off the growing influence of the indigenist NGOs with their neoliberal and anti-rondonian attitudes upon the Brazilian government, especially during the Cardoso presidency (1995-2002). Notwithstanding its faults and grave shortcomings, Carlos recognized the importance of Marshall Rondon and the Indian Protection Service (later Funai) in the making of a generous vision of indigenous peoples by the dominant Brazilian society. He got to know most of the great anthropologists who studied Brazilian Indians since 1950 and was friends with many of the official indigenists of the country, the old as well as the new generations.

Carlos was an extremely generous person with his knowledge of Indians and the world. Whoever got close to him could drink from his inexhaustible fount of wisdom. Most indigenists of the 1970s generation owe him his support and unflinching friendship in times of hardship, including persecution and job firing, during the military regime. He loved talking to people and would receive anyone in his house who looked him up to listen to his stories and his deep knowledge of Brazilian history and its application to the present. Carlos was a fun and extroverted guy, a witty man full of jokes and irony.

As president of Funai I invited Carlos to be a councilor in the Indigenist Council, a duty he carried out with joy and dedication for two years. Carlos died in June 2007.

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