Brazilian indigenous peoples have been here for millennia before the Portuguese arrived and colonized Brazil, around the 16th century. Before that, the territory that today is Brazil was just home to different ethnic groups. If anyone is entitled to these lands, it is the Indians . But still, these peoples are constantly fighting for the right to inhabit the land that was once their own.
Although teaching the history and culture of indigenous peoples in Brazil is compulsory in both public and private schools, the knowledge that most people have about these peoples is still very limited, in some cases even generic. For example, did you know that in Brazil there are about 305 different indigenous peoples ? And that they represent approximately 0.4% of the entire population of the country?
The theme of indigenous peoples is often cited only when speaking of Brazil’s pre-discovery period and Indian Day celebrations. After that, there is hardly any talk about it, which creates a mistaken image about them, loaded with stereotypes that do not match their reality at all. Check out some of the biggest misconceptions about Brazilian Indians.
1 – Endangered Indians?
Quite the contrary, the indigenous population has only been growing in recent years. This idea of extinction of the Indians is a conventional representation that prevailed in history until the 1980s. In fact, from the 16th century to the present, the number of indigenous peoples has declined dramatically, but this does not put them at risk of extinction. The 2012 IBGE census showed a significant increase in self-declared Indian people. It is estimated that today there are at least 305 different ethnicities and speakers of 274 languages. This census further revealed that in all Brazilian states, including the Federal District, there are indigenous populations.
2 – Indian is all the same
The term “Indian” is used only by people outside this culture, even though the Indians do not name themselves so generically. There are different names to call yourself and other peoples. For example, Tupi means “the ancestor”, Tupinambás, “the ancestor antecedents”, Tupiniquins, “the ancestor branches” and so on. In fact, we are talking about people who share some cultural and historical traits but still carry great cultural differences. Each people or tribe has its own language, religion, art, science and particular historical dynamic.
3 – Indian who lives in the city, wears clothes and technology is no longer Indian
This is one of the biggest misconceptions related to indigenous peoples. There is still a misconception that there is “pure Indian” and “acculturated Indian” and even “former Indian”, which definitely makes no sense. Culture is not something static, unchanging and stationary in time. Culture is constantly changing, interacting with the environment, circumstances and other cultures. It is not because an Indian wears clothes, uses a cellphone, or has a car that he is no longer an Indian. It’s not like he loses his identity or culture for it.
4 – Indigenous culture is archaic
This idea is directly linked with our custom of comparing different cultures with ours. Comparing indigenous people from our technological world and social values doesn’t really fit. But that does not mean that your culture is obsolete or delayed. Indigenous peoples also produce knowledge, science, refined art, literature, poetry, music, religion, dance, etc. Different from ours? Yes, but that does not mean it is less valid or evolved.
5 – Indian only lives in the forest
In fact, most indigenous peoples live in rural areas or in the Amazon rainforest, where their largest population is concentrated. But there are also a significant number of indigenous people living in urban areas, and the number is likely to increase. About 38.5% of Brazilian Indians already live in urban areas.
6 – The Indians did not build any memorable work
To ignore indigenous cultural heritage is to condemn these peoples to oblivion. There is no denying the great and diverse legacy left by these people. And that includes practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and techniques, which the indigenous community recognizes as a fundamental part of their cultural identity.
7 – Indians don’t need much land
The 1988 Constitution gave the Indians the “original rights to the lands they traditionally occupy, and it is for the Union to demarcate, protect and enforce all their property” (Art. 231). Indigenous lands are those occupied by these peoples in Brazilian territory, and indigenous peoples have exclusive use of the riches of the soil, rivers and lakes in them. This is not a matter of necessity or quantity, it is a matter of rights and justice.