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Indios em Pernambuco (Indians in Pernambuco)

Indians had a great influence on the ethnic background, culture, customs and Portuguese spoken in Brazil.

Indios em Pernambuco (Indians in Pernambuco)

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Last update: 27/09/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

When the first Europeans arrived in Brazil in the early 16th Century, several indigenous groups occupied the Northeast. On the coast dominated the tribes of the Tupi linguistic branch, such as the Tupinambás, Tabajaras and Caetés – the most fearsome. The countryside was inhabited by groups fromthe Jê linguistic groups, generically called Tapuias.

As in other Brazilian regions, land occupation in Pernambuco began along the coast, on lands suitable for the sugar agroindustry, where the Indians were used by the Portuguese as slave labour in the sugarcane mills and on farms, especially by those who lacked sufficient capital to buy African slaves.

After a period of apparent peace, the Indians responded to this working regime through hostilities, assaults and the destruction of sugarcane plantations and estates, carried out mainly by theCaetés, who occupied the coast of Pernambuco.

War and the persecution from the Portuguese became systematic, making the surviving Indians emigrate away from the coast. However, cattle-raising led settlers to occupy lands within the State, and therefore the conflicts continued.

Relations between the cattle farmers and the Indians, however, were far less hostile than the one with plantation owners, but the survival of the tribes, who did not take refuge in remote locations, was only possible when they served the interests of farmers, and owner ship of their lands was not guaranteed.

During the first two centuries of colonial Brazil, the Jesuit religious missions were the only form of protection on which the Indians could count. With the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1759, villages remained under the guidance of other religious orders, and were later delivered to special government organs, although the exploitation and injustices against indigenous people continued to happen.

It’s known through some sources thatduring 18th and 19th Centuries, an undetermined number of Indians weresettled in the territory of Pernambuco, but apparently there are no records of their origin.

There were the villages of the Garanhuns, near the town of same name; the Carapatós, Carnijós or Fulni-ô, in Águas Belas; the Xucurus in Cimbres; of the Argus, spread from the AraripeRange to the São Francisco river; the Caraíbas, in Boa Vista;of the Limoeiro in the present town of the same name, the villages of Arataqui, Barreirosor Umã, Escada, of the tribe Arapoá-Assu, on the banks of Jaboatão and Gurjaú Rivers; the village of Brejo dos Padres of the Pankararu or Pankaru Indians; settlements in Taquaritinga, Brejo da Madre de Deus, Caruaru and Gravatá.

In the nineteenth century, the regionwhere today is the city of Floresta and several islands in the São Francisco River were known for the large number of villages where the Pipiães, Avis, Xocós, Carateus, Vouvês, Tuxás, Aracapás, Caripós, Brancararus and Tamaqueús Indians lived.

The disappearance of most tribes is due to various forms of alienation from indigenous lands in the Northeast or the resolution of the Government to eliminate the existing settlements.

Of the groups that populated Pernambuco, except a few surviving, little is known. The fact that Indians did not have a written language made it very difficult to transmit information.

There are legally seven indigenous groups in Pernambuco: the Fulni-ô, in Águas Belas, the Pankararu in the municipalities of Petrolândia and Tacaratu; the Xucuru in Pesqueira; the Kambiwá in Ibimirim, Inajá and Floresta; the Kapinawá, in Buíque;the Atikum in Carnaubeirada Penha and the Truká in Cabrobó. These last three groups have been identified more recently.

After having gone through a series of environmental and cultural changes, the Indians managed to survive and, despite having established contact with non-Indians, some still maintain, however precariously, traces of their tradition.

All groups self-identify as indigenous and slightly differ from each other racially or culturally. Due to strong miscegenation with whites and blacks, their physical appearance has lost its identity.

They are acculturated Indians, but maintain their society separate. The traditional figures of the cacique (chief) and the pajé (shaman) still survive in all groups, and the toré is also danced in all communities, not just for entertainment but in the transmission of cultural traits as well. With the exception of Fulni-ô, none of the groups retained their tribal language.

Indians had a great influence on the ethnic background, culture, customs and Portuguese spoken in Brazil. In Pernambuco, words such as Gravatá, Caruaru, Garanhuns and neighbourhoods of Recife likeParnamirim and Capunga are associated with ancient sites of indigenous housing.

Currently, the main problems faced by indigenous people of Pernambuco are the conflicts between rival factions of the Xucuru tribe, the influence of drug trafficking among the Truká, and the invasion of land belonging to the Fulni-ô.

Pernambuco is the fourth-largest state in Brazil in terms of Indian population.

Recife, 19 august 2003.
(Updated on 28 august 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.

sources consulted

CAVALCANTE, Simone. Ouricuri: o mistério Fulni-ô. Brasil Indígena, Brasília, D.F., ano 2, n. 11, p. 18-19, jul./ago. 2002.

AS COMUNIDADES indígenas de Pernambuco. Recife: Instituto de Desenvolvimento de Pernambuco-Condepe, 1981.

SÁ, Marilena Araújo de. "Yaathe" é a resistência dos Fulni-ô.  Revista do Conselho Estadual de Cultura, Recife, Ed. especial, p. 48-54, 2002.

SOUZA, Vânia Rocha Fialho de Paiva e. As fronteiras do ser Xukuru. Recife: Fundaj. Ed. Massangana, 1998.

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Índios em Pernambuco (Indians in Pernambuco). Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009