The Indians and Brazil

The Indians and Brazil

The Indians and Brazil

The Indians and Brazil


First published with great success in Portuguese in 1992 and widely praised in Brazil, this work is an "insider's view" of Indian-Portuguese relations in Brazil. The author, a respected Brazilian anthropologist who spent years doing field research on his country's indigenous populations, emphasizes the perspective of the surviving Indians, provoking debate about the role of the anthropologist today and the need for the discipline of anthropology to take into account the survival of those who once were known as primitive people.

The Brazilian Indian population is increasing and, Gomes reveals, in many areas an ethnic renaissance is taking place. He introduces the idea of an Indian mode of production, in contrast to the capitalist mode of production, and convincingly argues that everyone has something to gain from the Indian way of thinking and living. Stressing the quality of resistance that characterizes the way many groups maintain their identities, he calls on his fellow Brazilians to build anew paradigm -- one of cultural multiplicity -- which he hopes will allow Brazil's Indians to survive into the coming millennium.


The Indians and Brazil is an anthropological study of the history of the relations between the aboriginal populations of Brazil and the Brazilian society and polity that were formed upon the Indians' territory and over their lives and livelihood. When it was first written and published in 1988, this book also had a cultural and political purpose, which seems to me to be just as valid for an English-reading public today: it carried the message, still unrecognized by most people, that the living Brazilian Indian "ethnie" (ethnic groups), against all odds and all predictions to the contrary, are not on the verge of extinction. On the contrary, they have been growing in numbers since the mid-1950s and have increased their odds for success in their struggle for a lasting permanence in the world. Three decades ago, most anthropologists did not think of that as a serious possibility, not because they did not see in their research signs of population increase and the rise of ethnic affirmation, but because the set of theories they used to interpret their data--which I have called here the paradigm of acculturation-- did not concede the possibility of survival for the Indians of the Americas and, for that matter, for nonstate-level, egalitarian, "primitive," societies over the world.

The general public--in this case, the Brazilian public--realized something was going on from the uproar raised around and by the Indians from the mid-1970s on. People certainly kept thinking that the Indians' defiant protests and the appearance of charismatic Indian leaders on the national political scene could only represent a kind of swan song, the last desperate outcry of a despairing people. in response, the public was divided. They either felt sorry for and lent their sympathy to the Indian cause--one more lost cause to uphold--or shrugged their shoulders in dismissal, indifferent to the consummation of a long-expected outcome.

I myself took ten years, from the time I did my first fieldwork with a Brazilian Indian ethnie in 1975, before I fully realized that it was not only that ethnie, the Tenetehara (also known as Guajajara), that had survived . . .

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