quinta-feira, 3 de janeiro de 2008

Darcy Ribeiro, the anthropologist for all seasons

I would like to begin the New Year 2008 recollecting in brief notes the lives and deeds of a few very good friends who were anthropologists and/or indigenists, people who worked side-by-side with indigenous peoples of Brazil and other countries, who felt the joy and the hardship that their office demanded, and that had the grit to live interesting and peripatetic lives to the full. They are Darcy Ribeiro, Carlos Moreira, Xará, Apoena Meirelles, and Florindo Diniz.

Let me begin with Darcy Ribeiro, older friend and senior colleague, with whom I worked in several occasions. I made friends with him after I came back from my education sojourn in the United States. In 1979, I was asked to chair a seminar on the Indian issue by the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, in the city of Fortaleza, and invited Darcy to be the key speaker. From then on we began to exchange correspondence and mutual visits.

When he was elected senator and Special Secretary of the second Brizola administration he invited me to be his Planning secretary in the Secretariat of Special Projects for the second administration of governor Brizola (1991-1994), in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

I helped him reconstruct the CIEP education project and the full-time education schools created during the first Brizola administration and which were left to ravage by his immediate successor governor Moreira Franco and his secretary of education, Carlos Alberto Direito, who now happens to be minister at the Supreme Court.

I helped him in conceiving and organizing the State University of Norte Fluminense (Uenf), located in several towns in upstate Rio de Janeiro, such as Campos, Macaé e Itaocara. I organized with him the Third Barbados Meeting, in Rio de Janeiro, with the very same anthropologists and new invitees to discuss the indigenous issue in Latin America.

We wrote together the article “Ethnicity and Civilization”, published in English, Spanish, and Italian, but not in Portuguese, funny, isn´t it? I helped him intellectually in the making of his last works since his autobiographical “Testimony” (1990), to his “Indian Diaries” (1993), up to his greatest oeuvre “The Brazilian People” (1995).

Darcy began to work with indigenous peoples in 1948 when he travelled to the Pantanal to study the Kadiweu people, and visited along the Guarani and the Terena. He grew a great fondness and respect for the Kadiweu and left dear friends whom he would meet again when he was a senator, in 1991. During this and the following trip he met Marçal de Souza, a great Guarani leader with whom he corresponded for many years until Marçal was murdered by farmers´ henchmen at his village. He published several articles and books on the Kadiweu, most specially one on their graphic art with many of the drawings and graphisms that the Kadiweu tatoo on their faces and paint on cattle hide. Darcy considered that this book would stand through time because of the value of the extraordinary artistic work of the Kadiweu.

In 1949 and 1950 Darcy studied the Urubu-Ka´apor on the Gurupi river valley, between the states of Maranhão and Pará. On the Ka´apor he wrote several seminal articles, one book on featherwork art (with his wife Berta Ribeiro), produced a film on their everyday living, and witnessed a terrible bout of measles and flu that in three months´ time decimated more than 100 hundred Ka´apor lives across their villages. Much later Darcy would publish his Ka´apor field diary, a book that deserves to be read as a testimony of the times.

In 1953, Darcy created the Museum of the Indian whose purpose was to advice the Indian Protection Service, the government agency in charge of Indian issues, substituted by the National Foundation for the Indian (Funai) in 1967, with anthropological data and ideas and to help the Brazilian people understand better indigenous peoples and cultures. Today the Museum of the Indian remains attached to Funai, albeit the disgraceful political attempts to remove it and place it at the Ministry of Culture, and despite the dreadful management it has suffered for the past 12 years.

In that same year, Darcy was taken by Marshall Rondon, the venerable founder of the Indian Protection Service (1910), together with anthropologist Eduardo Galvão, author of seminal articles on the Xingu Indians and the Alto Rio Negro indigenous area, and indigenist Orlando Villas-Boas, to present to president Getulio Vargas the idea and the program of the National Xingu Park, projected to be an example of a new kind of indigenism to be emulated by other Indian areas of Brazil. Darcy Ribeiro, Villas-Boas used to say to friends afterwards, so impressed president Vargas that he nicknamed him a “pocket-book Potemkim destroyer” for his shortness, his quickness of spirit, and his undaunted bravery.

Darcy Ribeiro´s oeuvre and deeds are overly vast to be summarized here. Besides being a notable anthropologist, he was an educator, a writer, a politician, and a man of action, a loyal and amusing friend to the Indians. He never failed to recognize that he gained his early notoriety due to his work with indigenous peoples. I wrote a book about him called “Darcy Ribeiro, Thoughts and Works”, published by Icone Press, and I invite all of you to read it and consult it for more details of this fascinating character.

Darcy died of cancer in February 1997, two months after the new Law of Education for which he fought so hard was promulgated.

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