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Ethnology Brazilian Style Author(s): Alcida Rita Ramos Source: Cultural Anthro p olo gy, Vol. 5,
Ethnology Brazilian Style Author(s): Alcida Rita Ramos Source: Cultural Anthro p olo gy, Vol. 5,

Ethnology Brazilian Style Author(s): Alcida Rita Ramos Source: Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Nov., 1990), pp. 452-472 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association

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Ethnology Brazilian Style

Alcida Rita Ramos

Universidadede Brasilia

To writeaboutthe workof our colleagues andourown is neveran easy task,

not only because of the close involvementwith the subjectmatter, but also be-

writings, thereis always the riskof mis- andother injustices. Whatfollows is the

personal view of someone who has been conductingindigenous studiessince the 1960s, and has, therefore, herown understanding of the field. My reading of eth- nologicalproduction in Brazilwill probably differfromthatof my Braziliancol-

leagues, and will certainly be

being totally immersedin the ethnological community of the country, I could never pretend to pose as an impartial observer. The reason I propose this exercise is twofold; one is to present to a non- Brazilianaudiencesome of the featuresof ethnographic workdone in Brazil; the otheris to addressthe question of the social responsibility of ethnographers in theiractionsand writingsregarding the peoples they study. It is not my intentionto do a survey of the literatureon Brazilian Indians, this has been competently done by several people, among them Baldus (1954, 1968), his successorHartmann (1984), andMelatti (1982, 1984). Nor is it to ex- haustthe fieldof personalstyles and biographies of specificanthropologists, even if I have to focus on one or two majorfigures in the field. WhatI wantto do is

emphasize some aspects of Brazilian ethnography that give it specificity andiden- tity. Perhaps muchof whatis saidhereis sheerwishful thinkingor, at times, also an expression of frustrationand dissatisfaction. Be that as it may, ethnology shouldbe practiced witha dose of passion and that, I feel, is not lacking in Brazil. Perhaps our northernreaderswill have to make a certainmental effort to

catchthe implied ratherthan explicit not one of the most salientfeaturesof

hope, an interestingethnographicexperience of its own, a sortof "fusion of ho- rizons" without falling into the trap of confusionof premises. Some of the local colorwill necessarily be lost in the translationintothe English mode of thinking, butthe effortof communicating with a foreign audiencewill perhaps force me to makemore explicit certain thoughts that might otherwisenever come out of the narrow space betweenthe lines.

Ethos, Style, and Involvement Ethnographic studiesof indigenous societies in Brazilhave followed differ- ent trends,dependingbasically on whetherthe ethnographer is a Brazilianor a

cause, in characterizing someone else's understandings,distortions,omissions,

differentfrom that of foreign ethnologists. But,

tone of our discourse. Being outspoken is Brazilianness.But such an effortcan be, I




foreigner. As Melatti (1982) has alreadypointedout, foreignanthropologists have mostly focused on aspects of cultureand social organization, whereasBrazilian anthropologists have tendedto concentrateon the subject of contactand its im-

plications to the indigenouspeoples. This, of course, being the main trend, has its counterexamples(see Graeve [1976] as an example of a foreignerdealing with contact, andDa Matta [1976, 1979], Melatti [1977, 1978, 1979], Viertler [1976], Viveirosde Castro [1986] as some examples of Brazilians handling "traditional" culture). Most ethnographies written by non-Brazilianslimit the informationon the contactsituationof the Indian groups in question to a brief historical description that accompaniesbackground data provided to contextualizethe analyses that constitutethe main body of the work. It does not meanthatthese ethnographers, as if unawareof the politics of contact, are in searchof the "cultural purity" of BrazilianIndians.It is rather, or so it seems to me, the theoreticalinterests they

develop in theirown academicmilieuathomethatorientthemto

andthen indigenousgroups to match. These topics may range from submerged symboliclineages, to the social role of music, to concepts of privacy, to the car- rying capacity affecting an indigenous economy. All of these things can be treated-and often are-without referenceto the inequality of interethnicrela- tionsthat nowadaysweighs on all Indian groups on the continent, not just in Bra- zil. Thereis somethinguncomfortably false in disregarding this pervasive fact, forno matterhow "neutral"the research topic maybe, it is impossible to ignore the imposing fact thatthereis no longer an "isolated tribe" anywhere. An indig- enous society can be, andshould be, studiedfroma variety of angles, butto pre- tendthatthe consequences of contactcan be conveniently bracketedout is to cre-

ate an anthropological illusion. The privileged focus of Brazilian ethnology on interethnicrelations is, like most things, linked to a specific social interestandhistoricalcontext. It is asso- ciatedwith an attitudeof political commitmentto the defense of the rights of the peoples studied.Naturalas this interest may seem to us, it has, nevertheless,pro-


either because they prefer not to be sucked into the professionally dangerous meandersof politicalhassles, or because they feel thatone cannotdo bothwell at

the same time. For instance, in a paperpresented at the Work Group on Indige- nous Policy during the FifthAnnual Meeting of ANPOCS (Associacao Nacional de P6s-Graduacaoe Pesquisa em Ciencias Sociais), AnthonySeeger (1981) ex-

pressed his perplexity at the apparentlyimpossible task of combining academic researchwith political involvement, and his doubtsas to whetherboth could be done equally well. Such impossibility is more apparent than real. On the one hand, research

topics suchas mythology orritual might be examinedas if

as if the Indianswere in a pure state of social isolation. But even here it would require a great effort of abstractionto pretend that contact has not affected the

symbolic realmsof indigenous life. The

ing on ethnographicmystification. Even when Brazilian anthropologists dedicate

firstselect topics

certain puzzlement, if not discomfort, on the part of foreigncolleagues,

thewhitesdidnot exist,

resultwould amountto somethingverg-



monthsor years of theirlives collecting and analyzing data on kinship, myths, spiritualworlds, or other supposedly "cold" issues, the treatmentdone to these topics is underlinedwith the moreor less visible influenceof interethniccontact. On the other hand, these same anthropologists are repeatedly called upon to par- ticipate, in a variety of ways, in the defense of indigenousrights.' They are not allowed (even though sometimes they have so wished) to be left in the peace and quiet of theiracademicoffices. Some of the working time that might be spent in

theoretical thinking or in sharpeningmethodological tools is put into political ac- tion. This loss, however, can be compensated for by an increasein sensitivity, maturity, andcommitmentto profoundly serioushumanissues. Some themes are more directly relatedto a political stancethan others, In- dian-whitecontact being one of them. In such cases, part and parcel of the eth- nographicinvestigation is the position the researchertakes andthe Indianshave come to expect and increasingly demand.The BlackPanther adage of the '60s in the UnitedStatescan now be applied to many a case in indigenous Brazil: you're either part of the solution, or you're part of the problem. Scientific neutrality, eitherin the name of rigor in researchor of impotence in politics, is being less andless tolerated by boththe ethnographer'speers andhis Indianhosts.2

Moreover,intensivefieldwork among an ter,anyotherhuman group, is neverdevoidof

with preferredinformants,answeringquestions aboutour own society andother bits of constantinteraction put the ethnographer in the middleof an unavoidable politicalscene, subtleas it may seem, whetherhe wantsit or not. To takethis fact intoconsiderationfor purposes of the researchis thecrucial pointhere;it depends

on theoretical interests, professional style, personal sensitivity, a greater or smaller degreeof political naivete.3Even the superbethnography of Evans-Prit- chardsuffersfrom the insufficientattentionthe author paid to the natureof his involvementwith the Nuer as an Englishman,and to the political strainunder which those people were living at the time of his fieldwork.Some puzzling as- pects of TheNuer, suchas therole of prophets, aretheresultof his silence on this matter. Thereis no purely academicresearch;what thereis is the rhetorical possi- bility and personal inclinationto excludefromone's writtenworkstheinteractive, political, moral,or ethical aspects of fieldwork. By the same token, engagement in politicalissues regardingIndian policy, time-consuming as it can be at times (writingup documents,accompanying Indiansto Congress, to governmental of- fices or elsewhere, excruciatinglylong and convoluteddiscussionswell into the night),is not exactly a digressionfroma scientifically oriented program of work. No scienceexists in a social vacuum,muchless so in the case of ethnology. Fur- thermore,if we take this kind of engagement as being itself a subject of anthro- pologicalthinking,thenthe apparent"schizophrenia"pointed out by Seeger be- comes a perfectlyvalid course of professionalaction, in thatobserversand ob- servedarebothseen as actorsand agents in thesamescenario.Afterall, in writing

an ethnography, it

tone, and shapes it to his own image, whetherhe admitsit ornot. He is an integral

part of it.

indigenoussocietyor, forthatmat- involvement. Gift-giving, working

is the ethnographer himselfwho constructsit, who chooses the



Seeger raisedan interestingpoint, but it shouldbe examinedmore closely, as thereare some specific aspects of ethnographic researchin Brazil that come

into the picture and may not have counterparts in other anthropology-producing countries.This would make an interesting research topic of its own. But before thatis done, it may be a bit premature to judge whetheror not it is possible to suc,,ed in bothacademicandactivistendeavors.One thing is certain. Practically everyethnologist in Brazil, in one way or another, has some sortof involvement

withthe destiny of the country'sindigenouspeoples,4 which

acterof his research, his choice of topics, of theoretical approaches, fieldwork

strategies, and ethnographicwritings. There are, of course, manyforeignanthropologistsdeeply involved withthe defenseof indigenousrights. Theirconcernis no less strong or effective thanthat of theirBrazilian colleagues. The point I am trying to make, in response to See- ger'schallenge, is that, unlikeBrazilian ethnologists, NorthAmericanandBritish anthropologists have a tendency to makethe option:they either stay in academia

intersticesof their professionaltime, if at all, or dedicatethemselvesfull-timeto advocacy work.

In Brazil,puttingtogether academicdutiesandthe practice of is not only frequent, but highly desirableand expected by

community as a whole. It is possible thatthe natureof academicwork in Brazil

is suchthatit permitsgreater freedomof actionthanin the anthropological envi- ronmentsof the Anglo-Saxon world. This, however, would not be enough to makethe difference.5 How has this Brazilian ethnological ethos come about?Whatarethe histor-

ical andsocial ingredients thatcombinedto produce this style of

more specifically, of indigenousethnology? Inhercharacterizationof the brandof anthropology thatis practiced in Bra- zil, MarizaPeirano (1981) traces the birthof the discipline to the roots of the modernistmovementof the 1920s andthe effort to builda Braziliannation. The responsibility of the intellectualswas to constructa national identity based on whatwas "native." Artists,writers,sociologists, andotherthinkersdid not sim- ply produce workfor theirown individualsatisfactionor for the advancementof science as such. Their production was motivatedand orientedarounda civil re- sponsibility vis-a-vis the consolidationof a well-defined nationality. Each one workedas a citizen, contributingsomething to the new nation. Anthropologyap- peared andblossomedin this context. But, while participating in the broaderna-

tion-buildingeffort, early anthropologists also took pains to differentiatethem-

selves fromtheirfellow humanists by creating a discipline of

that privileged source of nativeness, the Indians. For nearly seventy years, the anthropologist as citizen (Peirano1985) has been a national figure.6

and practice human rights in the theygive up academiccareersto

reflectson the char-

social responsibility the anthropological


theirown basedon

At the root of the humanistic flavoring of Brazilian

anthropology is the in-

spiration of its founding fathersin early 20th century. Whereasin Britainand

elsewherethe first anthropologists were mostly physicists, medical doctors, ex-


perimentalpsychologists andother representatives of the hard sciences,

with them a baggage of scientistic assumptions and expectations, in Brazil, cul-



tural anthropologysprang froma traditioncommonto philosophers,writers, and

other humanists, as Peirano points out. It is truethatother professionals, such as

medical doctors,


their influence, apart from sparse contributionsto the ethnography of a limited

numberof Indianorrural peoples. The principal modeof



in the country has no affinity with the exact sciences. We might tracea

it is fair to say, contemporary Brazilian anthropology retains very few signs

adoptedanthropology, both physical and cultural. But, I think

with the development of ethnology in Francein the 1920s thatwas deeply influ-

enced by the surrealistmovement (Clifford 1981). Perhaps Pascal's famousdis-


de geometrie versus esprit de finesse-might

well be an apt im-

pressionisticimage to portray the respective

anthropological worlds in


Americanandin Latintraditions. This humanisticslantof anthropology in Brazil, andthe recurrentsocial in- volvementof its professionals,may be due to yet another factor, that is, the fact thatBrazilhas been a colonized country for fourcenturiesboth before and after politicalindependence from Portugal. Suchcolonizationis not simply a matterof economic dependence. It also-and perhaps most importantly-involves the he- gemony of Euro-American ideas, attitudes, and fashions that, directly or indi- rectly, invadethe minds of the population of countriessuch as Brazil which, in this respect, is no differentfromotherLatinAmericannations. Along with such imposition comes the reactionto it in the formof a posture criticalof thingshegemonic. It is not surprising thatthis conditionof colonized has shaped a style of social thinkingproper to Brazilian intelligentsia. Much of the intellectualeffort of social scientists has been devoted to dissect and under- standthe historicalcharacter,the political twists and turns, andthe social impli- cationsof sucha predicament. Thiscritical posture, oftenbutnot always of Marx- ist inspiration, has had the effect of departing from the positivist style of North Americanor Britishsocial sciences. Brazilian anthropology,havinggrownup in very close contactwith the other social sciences thathave a strong traditionof being highly politicized, has been influenced by the same spirit. Thatdoes not meanthat positivism is foreign to Braziliansocial sciences, but when it is there, it is heavily shadedwith othercolors andotherinfluences (Velho 1982). The engagement of Brazilian anthropologists in things political does not jeopardize theirconcernfor rigorous academicwork. The quality of this work, as anywhere else in the world, varieswith individualsandwith institutions, but the overall picture is that anthropology in Brazilmeetsinternationalstandardsof qual- ity while maintaining its own flavor.We courtvariousinfluencesand inspirations, butarefaithfulto none. We speak the lingua francaof anthropologicaltheory, but retainourown thickand recognizable accent. In contemporary Brazilian anthropology, it is theIndianissue thatis themain focus of political attention, even though ethnologists dedicated to indigenous studiesarebuta minority in the profession.Why shouldthis be? Of all theconcrete objects of Brazilian anthropologicalresearch,indigenous societies are the best representatives of "Otherness." In studying an Indian group, the ethnologist does not have to create a methodologically desired dis-



tance, as is thecase withwork amongpeasants, urbandwellers,orother segments of thenational society. This distance,guaranteedby differenthistorical processes and traditions, facilitatesthe ethnologist's work by reducing the interferencethat too much familiarity with the objectmay produce.Thus, political involvementin the Indiancause is not so completely woven into one's own personal life (as is, for instance, the case of a feminist studying feminismor a homosexual studying the gay movement) as to impair the criticalsense thatis necessary for analysis. Yet, BrazilianIndiansareour Others,they are part of our country,they con- stitutean importantingredient in the process of building our nation,theyrepresent one of our ideological mirrors reflecting our frustrations,vanities, ambitions, and power fantasies. We do not regard them as so completely exotic, remote, or ar- cane, as to maketheminto literal "objects." Their humanity is neverlost on us,

their predicament is ourhistorical guilt, their destiny is as muchtheirsas it is ours.

I amnot saying that ethnologists who study Indiansarethe onlyprofessionals

thatIndiansarethe only sector

of the country'spopulation to deservethatsortof attention.WhatI am arguing is thatthe Indian question is a particularlyprivileged field for the exercise of the twofold project of academicworkand political action.For indigenouspeoples are themostdramatic example of beingoppressed for being different and, as we never miss a chanceto emphasize, culturaldifferencesand social diversity arethe soul

stuffor vital principle of anthropology. In the field of Indian studies, anthropologists finda political cause thatis all the more worthy of fighting for the deeper one goes intothe understanding of the indigenous worlds. Of course, the understanding one gains is proportional to one's dedicationto systematicethnographicinvestigation, an investigation that shouldcover as muchcultural ground as it is possible to cover, including the not

so explicitly political spheres of theirlives. The experience of severalof us has shownthatthereis a correlationbetween solid ethnographic work and effectual politicalaction, not only becauseof accumulated knowledge, but also due to the authority thatsuch knowledge confers.

I shall now try to identify some featuresof ethnographic researchin Brazil

and show the role they play in the shaping of indigenous studies. I must again


engaged in human rights activitiesin Brazil, nor

is not an exhaustive survey of the field, butrather my own view of

it, focusing on some contributionsBrazilian anthropologists have made to both anthropologicaltheory andto a better understanding of Indian problems. In Brazil as anywhere else where anthropology has been establishedas an ongoing academic interest, fieldworkis a fundamental part of the discipline. The specificities of an academiccareerin Brazil have createda pattern of fieldwork

thathashad consequences to the style of ethnology to whichI havebeen referring. On the one hand, the critical posture describedabove is part of our university

trajectory and predisposes us to pay attentionto politically relevantissues in the


field. Ontheother hand, the careful preservation of academic

in some important and original ways of approaching certain problems of wide interestto the profession at large. Inorderto bettercontextualizethis point, I think




it is worth discussing theconditionsunderwhichfieldworkis usually donein Bra- zil andsome of the most relevantadvancesin indigenous studies.

The Field in Our Backyard

Rarely has a Brazilian ethnographerspent a whole continuous year in the field. The reasonsfor this are various, but we can mentionthree:limited funds, restrictions regarding absencefrom jobs, andthe field-in-our-backyardsyndrome. Fundingagencies tend to provide amountsof money far too small for long stays in the field. Although this fundrestrictionwas muchmoreacutein the '50s

and '60s, it is by no means a thing of the past. The great majority of research

fundscome from governmentagencies, be they

suchtheir budgets oscillate with the changes in publicspendingpolicies. Anotherfactor limiting the time spent in the field is the difficulty of getting prolonged leaves of absence. Universityjobs, especially, tie the researcherto a workschedulethat gives him a maximumof 45 days' vacation and, in some of them, a one-semestersabbatical. Being away in any other capacity involves a rather long bureaucratic process of request to leave, with or without pay, starting at the department level and going all the way to the centraladministrationof the

university. A trip abroadtakes the process even further, to the Ministerof Edu- cation,requiring his signature andthatof the Presidentof the Republic.Shortage of faculty in many anthropologydepartments also discourages absences of six months. We might say thatdoctoralcandidatesare nowadays the only ones withthe time, disposition, and possibility (even the obligation) to spend abouta year doing fieldwork. But this is of recent date, since the creationof doctoral programs in anthropology,especially at the NationalMuseumin Rio de Janeiro, andat the University of Brasilia.

Full-fledgedethnographers takeshort trips to Indianareas mainlyduring the summermonths (DecemberthroughMarch). This pattern, of course, is closely linkedto the notionthatthe Indiansare relativelynear, at easy reach, illusive as this impressionmay be in some cases. For example, a trip to the Upper Rio Negro area, to Amapa, Acre, or Roraimais almost as costly, if not more, in time, money, and effort for a Brazilianas it is for a foreign researcher coming from abroad.Added to these difficultiesare the ups and downs of the official Indian policy withits erraticdecisionson whetherornotto allow "strangers" intoIndian


Partly as a consequence of these short-term visits, Brazilian ethnographers rarely have a good commandof the language of the indigenousgroupthey study.

They either rely on interpreters or on the knowledge the Indianshave

guese. Givingpriority to thethemeof interethnic relations,important as it is, may

very well workas an alibi to dispense with the need to learnthe Indian language, as it presumes a long-standingexperience of theIndianswithnationalsanda fairly good commandof Portuguese on their part. How does all this affect the quality of ethnological studiesin Brazil? Naturally, a style of fieldwork done, as it were, in spurts, most often con-

ductedin the language of

federalor state supported, andas


of Portu-

the investigator, will produce resultsthatare very dif-



ferentfromthe traditionalbrandof ethnography a la Malinowski, involving one long, continuous stay in the field, followed by a permanent absence or a short returnmuch later. In contrast, Brazilian ethnographers maintainan ongoing in-

teractionwith the people they study, amassingethnographic material through the years and never, really, cutting off theirties with them. We can drawsome important lessons fromthis contrastof fieldwork styles. Inthe first place, the Brazilian way of doing researchcalls into question the mys-

tique of prolonged fieldworkas the

a successful entry intothe temple of academicexcellence. For, in their piecemeal research, Brazilian anthropologistspreserve the quality of their writingsby a cu- mulative,long-term involvementwith the people studied, a tight theoreticalfo- cus, a cleardelimitationof the problems under investigation, andan acutesensi-

tivity for sociologically critical issues. Second, it raises the question of the ad- vantages and disadvantages of a concentratedbut synchronic fieldresearchversus field trips thatareintermittentbut recurrentand lasting for decades. In one case,

we havea

of a society or part of people's profile thatis

outlooksat each visit to the field. The first style would

and heavily texturedstill photograph; the second could be compared to a motion picture, as it is less focusedon permanence andmoreon movement.As the prod- uctof two differenttraditionsand vocations, these stylesdemonstrate, once again,

thatin anthropology a one-way roadis out of place andout of time. Brazilian anthropological studiesaresaid to have a fairlyhigh dose of crea- tivity and innovativeverve.8 Self-indulgenceaside, it shouldbe recognized that some of the most influential analyticalviewpoints in SouthAmerican ethnology havecome fromtheworksof Brazilian ethnographers, sometimesin collaboration with foreigncolleagues. I shall now discuss two of these perspectives.

necessary rite de passage boundto guarantee

plethora of finedetailand in-depthanalysis that produce a dense picture

it. In the other case, we have a gradual constructionof a transformedas the researcher acquires freshdataandnew

be like a sharp,detailed,

Persons Are Good to Think

Since the days of monographicworks, such as Wagley andGalvao's on the Tenetehara (1961), Baldus's on the Tapirape(1970), or even Nimuendaji's on the Sherente (1942), Timbira (1946), andTikuna (1952), Brazilian ethnography has changed its style of writing about indigenous societies. Selection of theoret- ical problems becamethe mainthrustin choosing a specificsociety for fieldwork. Withthe Harvard-CentralBrazil Project of the '60s, directed by David Maybury- Lewis of Harvard University and RobertoCardosode Oliveira of the National Museumin Rio de Janeiro, a seriesof studiesof Ge-speakingpeoples was carried

out underthe inspiration of

zilian anthropologists were directly involved in the project: RobertoDa Matta

with his

withthe Krah6Indians.

Outof Melatti'swork (1971) cametheideathatwas to be thebasisforfurther

elaboration among "Ge-ologists" andother ethnologists,

the then emergent structuralist approach. Two Bra-

study of Apinaye social structure, andJulio CezarMelattiwho worked

that is, the notionof a



dualkindof transmissionof humanattributes: physical substance by the genitors, social ingredientsby the name-givers. Da Matta expanded on this theme among the Apinaye(1976) to characterizetheirwhole relationshipsystem and its ideo- logicalunderpinnings. Ina joint article,Seeger, Da Matta, andViveirosde Castro (1979) tookthis ideastill further,sketching a theory of corporeality thatwouldbe the SouthAmerican counterpart to the descent theory outof Africaor the alliance theory out of Australia. The interestin the notionof personhoodamong BrazilianIndians developed fromthis seminalidea of substanceversus persona, and as a consequence"per-

son" has come of age in the country'sethnographicthinking. A whole book was writtenon theKrah6 concepts of personhood(Careiro da Cunha 1978); the topic has crossedthe boundary of indigenous studiesandenteredthe realm of, among other things, kinship in national society (Abreu Filho 1982). I am not, of course, implying that Brazilian anthropologists "invented" personhood as a research

topic, a ludicrousidea given the long list of cel Mauss, who have writtenaboutit. My

zilian or, at most, SouthAmerican ethnology and shouldnot be readas a claim

to anything more grandiose than just that.

The emphasis on corporeality,person, substance, and related concepts has workedas a theoretical catalyst for the recurrentstatements by ethnologists about

the alleged diffuse characterof indigenous social organization in the continent. The often repeated claims of structural fluidity(Kaplan1977; Riviere 1984) are no morethanthe expression of anthropologistswho, in spite of theirdissatisfac- tion with the models generatedby ethnographies from other parts of the world, have notfoundan appropriate alternative approach to SouthAmericanmaterials.

A social structureis moreor less fluidin referenceto what?If the frameworkon

whichthe structureis spun takeson the appearance not of anelaborate genealogy with clearly definedsets of rules but of a networkof ideas aboutattributesand

components of human beings in life and in death, of relationships with the cos- mos, withthe naturalas well as the supernaturalworld, thenone shouldnot sup- pose thatsuch relationships areless basicandconstitutivethan sociojuralarrange-

ments.Structuresof thatkindareno simply different.9 The repercussions of this way

great and being felt in the production of new ethnographic materials (Albert1985;

Montagner Melatti 1985; Viveiros de Castro1986. See also Kaplan1986). Even

if the modeldrawn by Seeger, Da Matta, andViveiros de Castrofits Ge societies

betterthansome others, since thesewerethe empiricalinspiration for it, the open- ing up of new ways of perceiving structureis an importantstep for the advance- mentof theoreticalissues in Brazilian ethnography.Closely relatedto the idea of person, andthe articulationof naturaland supernaturalrealms, other aspects of indigenous life have been explored which addto this general interest:art (Vidal 1981), naming(Ramos 1974), andcannibalism (Viveiros de CastroandCareiro da Cunha 1986). We can perceive one clear directionin which these efforts are pointing,intentionally or not:to let the Indianmodeof being, in all its fascinating

scholars,beginning atleastwithMar- commentsare strictly limitedto Bra-

morenorless fluidthan any others. They are

of looking at BrazilianIndiansocieties are



diversity, unveil itself to the ethnographer who is open to the unexpected. In fact, the moreunfamiliarand intellectuallyunsettling an ethnographicdiscovery, the

ethnographer andhis audience.

Associatedwiththe concept of personhood andits refinementsis thatof iden- tity. Whatmakesan individualfeel differentfrom everybody else and yet, Louis

Dumont notwithstanding, be part of a variousof the worksmentioned above,

Viveirosde Castro 1975) outsidethe contextof interethnicrelations. Theconstantfactorin consideringidentity has been the level of contrastand its contextualvariations.The identity of a Bororo personbelonging to the Macaw clanis quite differentfromthe identity of thatsame person in contrastto a regional Brazilian.And yet, it is the same person in both contexts; what changes is the relationship of contrast.We mightsay that identity is to differenceas the same is

more appreciatedby the

collectivity? This issue, touched upon in has received relatively little attention (see

to the other. But these concepts of identity and sameness are yet to be properly explored in anthropology.

Thinking and Rethinking Contact

One of the first problems to be investigated in Brazilian ethnology was the contactsituation involving interethnicrelationsbetween Indiansand whites. In contrastto the history of NorthAmericanIndianstudieswhereone of the principal responses of anthropologists to the demise of indigenouspopulations was to pre- servewhatwas takento be their originalculture, the tapping of informants'mem- ories to extractthe "pure culture" from the good old days, did not flourishin Brazil.Here ethnographic attentionwas drawnto the violent processes of destruc- tion of indigenouspopulations in the face of white expansionism. Themethodsandtheoriesto capture these processes varied along thedecades and according to the researchers' background, but the basic preoccupation with understanding the mechanismsof white domination, Indiansurvival strategies,

andthe transformationof indigenous societies from self-sufficientunits to

less appendages of the

This was done side by side with researchon aspects of traditional cultures, but

not in the spirit of salvage anthropology. We have, for instance,Egon Schaden's workson the heroic mythology of BrazilianIndians (1959), on Guaraniculture

(1962), but also on Indianacculturation (1965); Galvao's analyses of

the UpperXingu (1953), butalso of acculturative processes in the Upper Rio Ne-

gro (1959, 1979); Baldus's articles on death, chieftaincy, and other topics

(1979[1937]), but also writings on

social change andthe role of anthropologists

in the contactinteraction (1960, 1962). The model of acculturation,brought down

by ethnographers such as Charles Wagley and

Columbia University) was

in crossing the equator, it underwentsome changes. In the handsof Galvao and,

especially, of DarcyRibeiro, it became politicized; froman essentially

exercise in permutationsof possible outcomes when two or more cultures meet,


national powers was a constantfeatureof Indianstudies.



fromthe United Statesto Brazil EduardoGalvao (a Ph.D. from

the maintheoreticalresourcein the '40s and'50s. But,




acculturationstudies in Brazil, while still holding the focus of culture traits, gained a criticaldimension in the attempt to explain why Indiancultureswere beingdepletedby contactwith whites. The intellectualmilieuof Sao Pauloin the '40s and '50s, consideredto have beenthemost politically activeand academicallysophisticated centerin thecoun- try (Peirano 1981), produced two of the main figures of Brazilian ethnology whoseinfluencein the studiesof interethnicrelationscannotbe overlooked.What follows is a briefdiscussionof thecontributionsof these scholars-Darcy Ribeiro andRobertoCardosode Oliveira-to the understanding of Indian-whitecontact. Eachin his own way, they have imprinted a style of engagement thattranscends

theirindividual trajectories and careers. They are part of scientistswho maturedin a markedly nationalist phase of

whosesense of social justice andhumanisticconcernswerea sourceof muchanx-

iety, stress, and frustrationin the following decades, afterthe militarycoup in

a generation of social Brazilian history, and


Darcy Ribeiro, one of several ethnologists who were employed by the na- tionalIndianProtectionService (SPI) in the '50s, combineda neo-evolutionist approach with a Marxistinclination.The resultwas an outstanding series of es- says (1970) analyzing the severalfaces of contactin various regions of the coun-

try, withdifferent degrees of impact on

thedeathand misery of thousands upon thousandsof Indians.The sharp,poignant tone of Ribeiro's style has been highly praised both in Brazil and in otherLatin

American countries,especially wherehe lived during his political exile. His de- nunciationsof ethnocideand criminal disruption of Indianlives are greatly en- hanced by his ability to move audiencesbothin speech andin writing. Led by the overwhelming evidence of the destructionof Indian peoples, he predicted their disappearance within fifty years, afterthe devastationcaused by infectious dis- eases, loss of land andof ethnic dignity had reducedthemto "generic Indians" withno tribal identity left. History has proved Ribeiro's prophecywrong. 0 In organizing themselves aroundcommon grievances, BrazilianIndians have, at the same time, strength- ened theirsense of ethnic identity. The "generic Indian"has nevermaterialized in Ribeiro's sense; in fact, the term "Indian" has become a political resource

appropriatedby the Indiansthemselves who convertedit into an active

the contextof interethnic antagonism. To be an Indianin Brazilis now to be an

importantagent in the national political scenario (Ramos 1988b). Thatdoes not, however, diminishthe value of Ribeiro's work. One of the

most touchingpieces in the ethnography of contactis his report on a

Uira, in searchof the deity Mairaandthe promisedland, aftermost of his family hadbeen killed by repeatedepidemics. Frustratedin his search,having suffered all sortsof humiliatingexperiences on the way to the sea, he is sent back home by agents of the SPI. Utterly demoralized, he commitssuicide by throwing him- self intoa piranha-infested river (Ribeiro1957). The promised landwas no longer in this worldas it used to be beforethe whites invaded (Clastres1978).

indigenouspopulations, butall leading to

figure in




Ribeiro's other studies of the Kadiweu (1948, 1950), and Urubu-Kaapor (1955, and with BertaRibeiro 1957) have a fragmentary characterand lack the forceof "Uira sai ao encontrode Maira" (see also 1974), andhis 1970 book, Os Indiose a Civilizaqio. Inthat book, he discussesthe many frontsof national expansion:agricultural

colonization,cattle ranching, rubber tapping, Brazilnut gathering,missionizing. He assigns different degrees of virulenceto each of them, the leastharmful being

the gathering of rawmaterials.In the '50s,

'70s and '80s, it was no longer so. Following the constructionof roadsin Ama-

zonia, camethe interestin lumbering and mining. The scale of miningoperations

has no resemblanceto Ribeiro's descriptions of small

of scatteredrubber tappers.Mining is now eitherdone by hundredsof thousands


by the heavy machinery of large-scale industrial companies (CEDI-CONAGE 1988; Ramos 1984). But, in the present as in the past, the spread of contagious diseases is one of the greatest killersof indigenouspeoples, especially those with littletime of con- tact. Of an estimated5 million in 1500, the Indian population of Brazil reached its lowest point in the late 1950s, with less than 100,000, recovering a little in the last decades, to the present estimateof about 200,000, less than0.2% of thecoun- try's total population. This process of contaminationand decimationis master-

fully presentedby Ribeiro.

that might have been the case. In the

bandsof nut collectors or

placer miners (garimpeiros),many times the local indigenouspopulations, or

His model of ethnic transfiguration, innovative as it was, still showed a

strong influenceof the

cused to take into accountthe many-faceted,


somewhatobfuscated by his extraordinaryability to transmitto the readerthe senseof despair,injustice,helplessness, andthe irreversibility of everything con-

tact bringsalong to the Indians.His 1970 book is a tributeto that sufferingpart of humanityby an extremely sensitive ethnographer who had in this sensitivity andcriticaloutlookhis best anthropological asset. Inthe '60s, the acculturationmodel began to crumbleandbe replacedby an


Cardosode Oliveira, a formerstudentof philosophy, workedat the SPI with Ri-

beiro. His fieldwork among the Terenaandthe TikunaIndianswas motivated by

his strong interestin the

with whites, yet differentkindsof experience: the Terenasurrounded by farming

andcattle raisingwhites, the Tikuna by rubber tapping

the worksthatcame out of those field tripsare, especially, O Processo de Assim-

ilaqdo dos Terena (1960), and O Indio e o Mundodos Brancos (1964) (see also 1968, 1983). Cardosode Oliveirashifted the emphasis from the culturalfocus of accul-

turationstudies to the field of social relations.

Balandieron Black Africa,particularlyregarding the

of colonialsituation

andits postulate of a "syncretictotality," Cardosode Oliveiratook as his main

acculturation approach; it was not sufficientlysharply fo-

multidimensional consequences of