The Washington Post
Sunday, December 19, 1999; Page A01

Old Tribe, New World

                  Brazilian Indians Seek Own Way of Modern Life

                  By Stephen Buckley
                  Washington Post Foreign Service

                  ILHA DO BANANAL, Brazil—As the dance of the Spirit Who Lives in
                  the Water begins under a pale yellow sunset, 10-year-old Nahuria Karaja
                  buries her face in her mother's lap.

                  She does not want to watch another 10-year-old girl, nearly naked with
                  decorative black lines across her smooth coppery skin, dance with two
                  men in straw masks in the center of this Indian village of Santa Isabel. But
                  the dance--a ritual at the heart of the identity of Nahuria's father and his
                  ancestors--proceeds nonetheless. The men in the straw masks, shaking
                  maracas and chanting, meet the girl, all black hair and downcast eyes, in
                  the center of the path. They dance, separated by only a few inches.

                  "This is very much ours," says Idjarruri Karaja, Nahuria's father. "This goes
                  beyond 300 years of contact" with the outside world.

                  As the men dance with the girl, Adais Karaja whispers to her daughter
                  that, no, "You won't have to do it."

                  After the 20-minute dance, Nahuria walks away. She is quiet for a long
                  time. She is a modern girl who has been told that this faraway place is to
                  be her home.

                  This disconnect between a tradition-loving father and his citified, globalized
                  daughter has complicated Idjarruri Karaja's dramatic attempt to restore
                  simplicity and tradition to his modern life.

                  Five years ago, Idjarruri, 36, and his wife, Adais, 37, left Brasilia, the
                  capital, for this 180-mile-long, blade-shaped chunk of land, bounded by
                  two rivers, in the heart of Brazil. The island had 3,000 people, 12 villages
                  (known as aldeias), few phones, little electricity, no computers.

                  Idjarruri's children had grown up in big cities around Brazil. Their lives
                  were saturated with the latest in technology. Could they possibly thrive
                  where their father and his six siblings had grown up--here, in a high-roofed
                  hut in a village with a handful of cars, no shopping mall and no movie

                  In 1993, Idjarruri returned to the land of his tribe, the Karaja, to build a
                  new village he called Txuiri. His sons and daughter felt little connection to
                  the island. They knew neither the tribe's central myths nor its language.

                  But Idjarruri wanted them to know their land, the possession the Karaja
                  cherish above all else. The land where thousands of their ancestors had
                  shed blood, fighting colonists and other tribes. The land that holds
                  everything you need, Idjarruri told his children repeatedly. The patrimony,
                  he called it.

                  Idjarruri wasn't suddenly anti-globalization. He spoke of computers and
                  faxes and television as "exchanges," a return favor for what the Indians had
                  taught the Portuguese about taking regular baths and hammocks and

                  But in his gut he knew that such exchanges could be dangerous. The glare
                  and chatter of television, the easy grasp of commercial goods, the
                  ubiquitous sweep of technology could whittle away a person's sense of

                  He also had a name to uphold. His late grandfather, Uatau Karaja, had
                  been a fierce guardian of Indian rights. Idjarruri didn't want to admit it, but
                  the Karaja saw him as an extension of his grandfather, a leader of his
                  people. What kind of leader would he be if his own children rejected the
                  ways of the tribe?

                  His mantra today is "Neither isolation nor integration." Yet, as a new
                  millennium dawns, what does that mean? Does it mean his children can
                  watch "Independence Day" and "Dead Poets Society" over and over, as
                  long as they also view videotapes of tribal ceremonies? That they can
                  marry outside the tribe as long as they rear their children in the culture of
                  the Karaja? That they can reject tribal mythology and language as long as
                  they're committed to the land?

                  Ultimately, for the Karaja and other indigenous groups around the world,
                  the question is this: Having survived four centuries of neglect and
                  oppression at the hands of colonizers and their own leaders, how will they
                  negotiate a more subtle but no less critical challenge--the amorphous,
                  unrelenting force known as globalization?

                  Brazil's Indians already have waged a 500-year war against globalization.
                  So it's no wonder that they have become an international symbol of native
                  peoples' struggle to stave off change. Images of startled, isolated, naked
                  Indians with shiny black-haired bowl-cuts and primitive weapons have
                  become a late-20th century cliche.

                  The Karaja are among the poorest of Brazil's tribes; their island is among
                  the least developed of the nation's 187 indigenous territories. The Karaja,
                  who lived across north-central Brazil, saw their numbers tumble from
                  45,000 earlier this century to roughly 3,000 today.

                  "The Karaja were absolutely devastated by contact," said John Hemming,
                  an expert on Brazil's Indians. From campaigns of enslavement to the
                  stripping of their land, the Indians saw their culture shredded by colonizing
                  Portuguese and Brazilian adventurers.

                  There are an estimated 6,000 indigenous groups around the world. Their
                  histories are tragically similar: Outside group discovers land awash in
                  natural resources. Outsiders decide that indigenous people stand in their
                  way. Indigenous group gamely fights back, but is overwhelmed and pushed
                  to society's margins.

                  The Brazilian Indians became so despised that some academics blamed the
                  country's chronic social and economic underachievement on the high
                  percentage of Brazilians--perhaps one-third--who are at least part Indian.

                  Over the years--through Brazil's rubber boom, the discovery of gold and
                  diamonds, and the construction of a road network through the
                  Amazon--the Indians' yearning to retain their land and values has
                  repeatedly collided with the development blueprints of multinational
                  corporations and Brazilian regimes. "In every confrontation between
                  'progress' and the interests of the Indians," notes Joseph Page in his book,
                  "The Brazilians," "the latter have had to yield."

                  Numerous groups remain isolated or semi-isolated, and Sydney Possuelo,
                  the famed discoverer of Indian tribes, keeps finding new ones. Yet far
                  more Indians have meshed into Brazilian society. Today many Indians
                  speak Portuguese, sometimes at the expense of their tribal tongue. More
                  wear oxfords and khakis than grass skirts and loincloths.

                  What is new at the end of the 20th century is that Brazilian Indians want
                  change--on their terms. They're grappling with how to use globalization to
                  affirm their values, rather than be enslaved all over again.

                  Defying the Stereotype

                  Idjarruri Karaja embodies that struggle. By the time he returned to the Ilha
                  do Bananal, his serious demeanor, his blazing dark brown eyes, his
                  glistening black hair, had become well known among Indians. In the early
                  1980s, they chose him to present to the government a report on the pitiful
                  state of Indian education. He toiled for Indian rights to education, land and
                  work. In the early 1990s, he helped organize a meeting in Rio de Janeiro
                  of indigenous peoples from around the world.

                  When he came to Txuiri, he wanted the village to defy the stereotype of the
                  backward Indian. It took more than two years of cajoling and negotiating,
                  but he got both electricity and telephone lines in February 1997.

                  Today in Idjarruri's house, a computer with a 200-megahertz Pentium
                  processor sits on a tablecloth decorated with renderings of Christmas
                  elves. A printer, phone and old gray telephone-fax machine also rest on the

                  Nearby, in front of a dingy, cracking vinyl couch, sits a color television with
                  a 15-inch screen. On a shelf above, movies: "Anastasia," "Mad Max 2,"
                  "Final Judgment."

                  Seventeen-year-old Idjarrina, whose bedroom door sports the typical
                  teenager's "Don't Enter" sign under a skull and crossbones, has a stereo
                  system. His brother Idjawala, 15, has one too.

                  One Sunday morning, Nahuria, all bright eyes, giggles and flowing brown
                  hair, stretches out on the couch, watching TV. She loves cartoons. She
                  loves TV. She is embarrassed to admit that she watches it a good three
                  hours a day. This morning, she watches "Ghostbusters" while she
                  absent-mindedly cradles a video game on her lap.

                  Her father always tells his children that they as individuals and the Karaja
                  as a people must become economically viable. Computers, TV and fax
                  machines must be just a beginning.

                  "The people in the world who get respect are those who are economically
                  strong," he says. "I've tried to prepare my children for this. It's hard to tell
                  someone that their culture is important if they don't know if they're going to
                  eat tomorrow."

                  By culture, Idjarruri does not mean the ballet. He means land. Language
                  and myth may be critical parts of any culture, but it is land, including the
                  rivers that ripple through it, that has always bound indigenous people
                  together. Language disconnected from land loses much of its unifying
                  power, and eventually dies. Myths that explain who the Karaja are would
                  lose their meaning without a sense of place.

                  In Brazil, the land brought them food--through hunting, gathering and
                  fishing. The land was their source of healing--through its plants and herbs.
                  That land, on the eastern edge of the Amazon rain forest, is a place
                  bursting with mango trees and palms. Thousands of cattle wander about.
                  Stretches of forest are full of wildcats. Rivers teem with fish--from the tiny,
                  fierce piranha to the gargantuan pirarucu, one of which can feed a whole

                  Txuiri is a little less than an hour's drive from the nearest town (drive--or
                  canoe--across a river, then head straight on a long red-clay road). But
                  most of the villages are at least two or three hours from towns.

                  Someday soon, Idjarruri's sons will leave this land. Idjarrina plans to earn a
                  law degree. Idjawala plans to become a veterinarian. The question is
                  whether they will return.

                  It is hard to overstate how badly Idjarruri wants his children to stay on the
                  island. He says he might even prevent them from marrying the women they
                  love--if they are not of the Karaja.

                  But many years ago, the father did just that. When Idjarruri asked his
                  parents for permission to wed Adais, who has both European and Indian
                  blood, he explained that so few Karaja women had a secondary
                  education, he would never meet a woman who could match his intellectual
                  curiosity. They said yes.

                  Today, Idjarruri says that since anyone who marries his children would
                  thus have a claim to tribal land--and since the land must remain in the
                  hands of the Karaja--he expects his sons to honor his wishes. "It's not
                  racism," he says. "It's protecting our patrimony."

                  His sons say they're open to marrying outside the tribe. "I'm going to marry
                  whomever I fall in love with," Idjawala says.

                  A few seconds later, Idjarrina says: "I'm going to marry whomever God
                  has chosen for me."

                  Idjarruri's determination to maintain his tribal land is far from unusual.
                  Whether it is the Melanesian in West Papua, the Innu in eastern Canada or
                  the Masai in Kenya, the struggle for sovereignty over territory remains

                  Activists and indigenous peoples often protest against companies that are
                  mining or building dams. Yet more and more, they fear not bulldozers, but
                  a small box with wires that has the potential to do as much damage as
                  colonizers and adventurers ever did.

                  "TV imposes on people a perspective," says Rudolph Ryser, chairman of
                  the Center for World Indigenous Studies in Olympia, Wash. "It sells
                  products that to the kids are new, modern, mysterious. So the kid looks
                  around and says, 'Why don't we have these things? Is something wrong
                  with us?' So they don't want to stay in the village."

                  Television has so dazzled some tribal communities in Brazil that leaders
                  have had to set limits. In one tribe, "people would just sit around and
                  watch it all day," says Saulo Feitosa, vice president of the Indigenous
                  Missionary Council, a Roman Catholic organization. "Now they can only
                  watch at night--and only the news or soap operas."

                  Idjarruri's boys seem firm in their commitment to the land, which heartens
                  their father. After earning his law degree, Idjarrina plans to raise
                  cattle--"money that's alive," he calls the animals--on the island, a place that
                  he says "is big enough for my dreams."

                  Idjawala says he would never flee the island. In fact, last July, during a
                  six-week computer course in Brasilia, Idjawala grew ill. His gorgeous
                  black hair fell out. He lost 19 1/2 pounds. He survived the course only by
                  coming home on weekends. "He missed home so much," Adais Karaja

                  Nahuria is aghast at her brothers' expressions of kinship with the land.

                  "Can you imagine that?" she says. "When I grow up, I'm going to travel
                  around the world."

                  Encounters With Globalization

                  By the time Nahuria grows up, perhaps more of Brazil's indigenous
                  communities will have connected to the global economy. Her father dreams
                  that by then the Ilha do Bananal will have fashioned prosperous agricultural
                  and fishing export projects. He foresees the remote island, with its
                  astonishing array of birds and 38 species of mammals, emerging as a
                  magnet for eco-tourism.

                  On many fronts, the lives of Brazil's Indians, while still impoverished, have
                  improved. Health workers reach even the most isolated villagers to provide
                  regular vaccinations. More Indians go to school, although as a group they
                  remain far behind the rest of the population. Young, sophisticated Indian
                  politicians have started to find their voices. Indian population numbers are
                  easing upward again.

                  Still, few native groups have wholly embraced globalization. An exception
                  is the Kayapo tribe, believed to be the country's wealthiest indigenous
                  group, which has used profits from lumber and gold extracted from its
                  territories to purchase fancy cars and fine homes.

                  For now, however, Indian encounters with globalization tend to occur at
                  the shallowest levels. The village of Wari-Wari, about 60 miles south of
                  Txuiri, is typical. Its 180 residents--members of the Javae, a tribe with
                  close ties to the Karaja--have a generator that, when they can gather the
                  money to buy diesel fuel for it, runs three hours a day.

                  When the generator isn't working, a suffocating darkness falls on the
                  village. The only light comes from the steady, tiny flashing of fireflies and
                  distant bolts of lighting knifing through the sky.

                  Wari-Wari has no running water, no telephones, three radios and, of
                  course, a 12-inch television. The TV, cloaked in a dusty, cracking brown
                  tarp, sits atop an old wooden table in Nilton Javae's hut. On the same table
                  lie a machete and small calculator. The room also contains a hammock, a
                  small transformer and a second TV that does not work.

                  The people of Wari-Wari take enormous pride in these connections to a
                  faster world. Their thirst to be a part of the outside is almost palpable.
                  During several days of interviews, Walter Wassure, the village spokesman,
                  smiled only twice. Once, when he sees a U.S. dollar bill--a 20--for the first
                  time. And again when he is asked if he has heard of Mike Tyson.

                  "He's brutal," Wassure says. "We saw him bite the ear," meaning he
                  watched Tyson chomp Evander Holyfield's ears during their last
                  championship fight.

                  They have heard of the Internet--and would like to use it. But they have
                  never heard of Bill Gates.

                  They know who Bill Clinton is. And Monica Lewinsky. "We heard about
                  her when Mr. Clinton was having those troubles with Iraq," Wassure says.

                  They adore American-made films. Asked to name their favorite actors and
                  movies, they spit out a list.

                  "Rambo One," Wassure says.

                  "Arnold Schwartz," says Wilson Hariana, referring to Schwarzenegger.

                  "Van Damme," says Nilton Javae.

                  "Movies that show American Indians killing the whites," Hariana says.

                  Anything else?

                  "Rambo Two and Three."

                  Back in Txuiri, one evening just before 9, Adais stands in front of her home
                  and lets out a whoop, something like a rooster's cock-a-doodle-doo.
                  Within moments, dozens of villagers--mothers with suckling babies, young
                  men on their bicycles, old women--gather in front of Idjarruri's home.

                  For more than an hour, they sigh, laugh and gape at the videotaped images
                  of their tribesmen chanting deep-throated chants and dancing in circles,
                  wearing headdresses of gold and red and purple feathers, their legs, arms,
                  chests and backs marked with lines of jenipapo fruit blended with

                  "We could show it 10,000 times," Idjarruri says, "and they would watch it
                  10,000 times."

                  When the videotape whines to its end, the contented viewers spill out into
                  the village, their shadows spreading under the lights along the main dirt path
                  as they shuffle home.

                  History of the Brazilian Indians

                  After the Europeans arrived in 1500, the number of Brazilian Indians
                  nosedived from between 2 million and 6 million to roughly 300,000. From
                  1900 to the end of the 1960s, an estimated 90 indigenous tribes became
                  extinct in Brazil alone.

                  More than 1,000 indigenous groups once lived all over the country; today,
                  that number has slid to 210.

                  The Indians' numbers were reduced by enslavement, removal from their
                  lands, the sometimes-intentional planting of deadly disease in their midst,
                  and the stoking of inter-tribal warfare. In 1967, a government report found
                  that Brazil's Society for the Protection of Indians -- aided by groups that
                  wanted to scoop up indigenous lands -- had been giving the Indians clothes
                  exposed to diseases such as smallpox and measles.

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