Alcida Rita Ramos on the image of the Indian as child

When I think I’m done reading everything I need for my mémoire, I found some book or some text that I forgot to check… When I came back from France to Brazil last time, on April, I found the Alcida Rita Ramos’ Ethnic Politics in Brazil just sitting in my room waiting for me to open it. Lucky me I did. This is a very well written book that is helping me to clearly understand some concepts that weren’t quite lucid in my head.

I thought it would be interesting to share with you what she says about the image of the Indian as child in Brazil:

“Not surprisingly, the image of the Indian as child was duly carried to Brazil in 1500. Pero Vaz de Caminha, the scribe of Pedro Alvarez de Cabral, “discoverer” of Brazil, was enthralled by what he called the Indians’ innocence of both body and soul. (…) Like children, they needed to be initiated in the arts of true humanity. (…) The supposed simplicity in the native’s way of life was quickly translated as intellectual inferiority.”

“With the arrival of the Jesuits in the midsixteenth century, the Portuguese drew up special legislation for the Indians because of their “mental undevelopment” that made them unequal to the rest of the population. According to this legislation, the Indians were the immature children of the colonial powers. The authorities “must take the position of parents, charged with correcting and protecting their social offspring. After all, (Indians) were in the ‘infancy of humanity’, in a ‘new’ world, and had proved… that they were not the same age (=maturity) as the Christians” (Baêta Neves 1978, 121).”

“In the mideighteenth century the colonial Portuguese Law of Liberties converted Indians slaves into indentured servants. In the province of Grão-Para, then a separate colony from the rest of Brazil, the government required Indians to remain for six years with their former master or wherever they happened to be working. The idea was that, because indigenous ex-slaves had no experience other than total freedom and slavery, they needed time to become accustomed to the new order, according to which they were paid for their labor. Moreover, to prevent the now-free Indians form simply abandoning the work, the colonial government placed them under the Regulation of Orphans. This rule was to be applied to the “‘rustics’, the ‘ignorant’, and the ‘vagrands’ who do not want to do any sort of work” (…) Although the measure was pragmatically designed to ensure the continuity of the labor force after slavery was banned, not to declare Indians as debilitated children (p. 111), it is revealing, to say the least, that the rule associated the official termination if the master-slave relationship with orphanage, the rupture by death of the parent-child link. The orphanage metaphor was a potent forerunner of legislation that would declare all Indians, labored or not, isolated or not, known and yet to be know, as relatively incapable and hence wards of the state.”

“As indigenous labor lost its importance for the national economy as whole, the image of the Indian as childlike became sharper.”
“Always treated in Brazilian legislation as a residual category, Indians were inserted in the 1916 Civil Code as objects of guardianship to last until they became adapted to the national society. They remained as orphans until 1928 when the Indian Protection Service, created in 1910, took over their guardianship from the judge of orphans. (…) Article 6 of the Civil Code, still current, establishes who is relatively incapable to exercise certain acts:
I – Minors between sixteen and twenty-one years of age;
II – Prodigals;
III – Indians (silvícolas).
The Indians (silvícolas) are subjected to the guardianship regime as established by special laws and regulations, which will cease as they become adapted to the civilization of the country. (Farage and Carneiro da Cunha)”

“Although they are unqualified to exercise full citizenship, they have the right to the exclusive use of their lands. Thus protection of indigenous territories is a result of the Indians’ infantile condition rather then a historical right for having occupied them before any Brazilians (Carneiro da Cunha 1987, 28-32). If an Indian person or group chooses to become “emancipated” from the condition of relative incapability, the person or group can gain full citizenship, but this will be accompanied by the loss of the right to exclusive land use, for only as civil minors are Indians entitled to the possession of their territories. Once people are declared non-Indians, their lands lose their feature of inalienability. Perceiving this as a Catch-22, no Indian person or group has ever seriously requested emancipation. Indians would rather continue to bear the humiliation of being labeled as incompetent children than lose the right to their communal lands.”

Brazil’s 1988 Constitution: “According to the new constitution, the Indian is no longer a child to be promoted into ethnic adulthood. Article 231 specifies that Indians have the right to their own social organization, customs, languages, beliefs, and traditions, as well as usufruct of the lands they traditionally occupy; the union is obliged to demarcate and protect these lands and ensure that the indigenous ways of life are respected. This constitutional change was in large part the result of a strong pro-Indian lobby active during the Constitutional Assembly held in Brasilia. Large numbers of Indians, nongovernmental organization, and professional associations, such as the Brazilian Anthropological Association and the Association of Geologists, successfully influenced members of Congress to legally recognize indigenous ethnic differences and an attendant set of rights to natural resources, subsoil excluded.”

“But although the Constitution grants Indians the right to remain Indians, the Civil Code, in specifying their special status, declares that such status will eventually be suspended. The expectation is that the Indians will “adapt” to Brazilian civilization and hence stop being Indians. Adaptation would mean a change in ethnic identity. While Indians are not adapted, they will remain under the wardship of the state. The constitution is mute about guardianship, so in practice the 1916 Civil Code and the 1973 Indian Statute, both of which are under revision, continue to regulate the legal status of indigenous peoples. (…) From orphans to slavery to wards of the state, Indians in Brazil continue to endure the stigma of being eternally immature in the name of a protection that often exacerbates that stigma.”

“In some quarters of the Brazilian state, most explicitly – but not exclusively – among the military, the Indian-as-child is in fact taken to be a liability to the nation. Regarded both as ignorant and gullible, with no commitment to patriotism, the Indians who live in frontier areas, especially in the Amazon, are considered a potential hazard to national sovereignty because they can easily fall prey to the greed of foreign groups or individuals interested in Amazonian natural resources. Researches and missionaries are the most common target for accusations of manipulating indigenous innocence in order to take over the region. In a 1990 document the Superior School of War (Escola Superior de Guerra, ESG) proposed that “anthropological cysts” that grow among indigenous groups be crushed by warfare, for they operate as beachheads for the takeover of the Amazonia. (…) The specter of the internationalization of the Amazon has become a major topos in the discourse of national security, persisting well beyond the military regime that lasted from 1954 to 1985.”

I only disagree with Alcida when she says that the 1988 Constitution is mute about guardianship. As you can see in the post “Você sabia que os índios brasileiros não são mais tutelados da FUNAI?”, article 232 states that “Os índios, suas comunidades e organizações, são partes legítimas para ingressar em juízo em defesa de seus direitos e interesses, intervindo o Ministério Público em todos os atos do processo.”, which means that Indians, their communities and organizations, don’t need to go through Funai to take legal actions to defend their rights and interests. In theory… In practice we all know that FUNAI does all it can to safeguard its omnipotent status among the Indians and in regard to Indian matters pertaining the national population.


Sobre isisvalle

New media journalist, digital inclusion researcher and nutritionist to be.
Esse post foi publicado em English e marcado , , , . Guardar link permanente.

3 respostas para Alcida Rita Ramos on the image of the Indian as child

  1. Edu Élleres disse:

    That clarifies a lot of the political power plays taking place in all sorts of matters Indian related, specially FUNAI related…

  2. Franklin disse:

    Trés bien. Dans la forêt avec les indiens.

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