Moema was immortalized as the woman who ran into the sea and ended up drowning because of a man, Caramuru. The literature says that he left, crossing the ocean, and that Moema tried to meet him by swimming towards his boat, but I don’t believe that. She drowns for love and end of story? I doubt it! It seems like she never had a family, that she didn’t have children… She was placed in the position of a secondary character.
Madalena Caramuru, daughter of Moema Paraguaçu and Diogo Álvares Correia, known as Caramuru, would later appear as an advocate of the right of Indigenous people to education, to learn how to read and write. She was taught by her Portuguese husband, back in the 16th century. There were important women representatives at that time, but few people know about them. There is hardly any mention of Madalena’s fight for Indigenous education, in a time when Indigenous people were enslaved. There were important women, but they were made invisible.
Catarina Paraguaçu was Caramuru’s Tupinambá wife. She had an important place in the Queen’s Court. Despite this, she is not remembered. She remains secondary because people are fascinated by Caramuru, and this takes away the attention that should be given to her. What marks Catarina Paraguaçu are her dreams. She dreamed often, and hers were not empty dreams. She dreamt once of an image, and told people to look for that image until they found it. When they found it, she ordered a church to be built. She was guided by dreams, and a person who is guided by dreams is not just any person. No matter the religion she chose, her conversion to Catholicism; she had her dreams. People in our Tupinambá village dream of securing our territory to this day.
The invisibility of Moema, Catarina, Madalena and so many others created a shadow over the two forms of government that we have always had among us, the Tupinambá: self-government and high government. History has not yet adequately addressed these two forms of government, fundamental in territorial negotiation. Tupinambá self-government is our way of living among ourselves; high government concerns the negotiations we enter with others. In both forms of government, women are strong figures who have not been taken into account in official narratives. Their presence was frequently recorded in European paintings and engravings, but they were neither respected nor studied – and this concerns not only Tupinambá women but also women from other Indigenous peoples. We must put the spotlight on them because we need to get out of the frame in which the colonial world has placed us – a frame in which we do not fit.
In the 16th century narratives of Father João de Azpilcueta Navarro, we find descriptions of forms of self-government taking place in the okara – the central space of the village, where assemblies are held and where decisions are made. The self-government materializes in the presence of the Tupinambá mantos.(1) Navarro reports the presence of three Pajés,(2) four Caciques(3) and six or seven women in the okara. Issues such as territorial expansion, war, food and planting were established in such meetings, with great female representation, however invisible from the perspective of the foreign traveler. The priest’s gaze, dazzled by other details, ended up not seeing the totality of what was taking place, and he read and reproduced the narrative in which men prevailed in places of power and decision-making.
In Colloquium on the Entry or Arrival in the Land of Brazil, Between the Peoples of the Country called Tupinambá and Tupiniquins, in Savage Language and French,(4) written by Jean de Léry, in 1580, I found the account of a leader who talks about the existence of a powerful woman among the Tupinambá people. How did this go unnoticed? Why were women described as if they had no decision-making power among their people? Poçanga-iguara is the guardian of medicines, the one that holds the power of healing, through the spirits and plants. She knows the roots and knows how to make potions and medicines. She was painted by Jean Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin, in the 17th century, with a mantle, a bag, and a headdress. She collects seeds and puts them in her bag; she is connected with the territory, with the forest, with hunting. Where are the women like her, who disappeared from history? In everyday life among the Tupinambá, they are always present and respected by their people.
In the book The Natural History of Brazil,(5) from 1648, there are drawings made by scientists who were in the Northeast with Maurício de Nassau. Another woman appears there. The book, by Willem Piso and George Marcgrave, features the image of a Tupinambá woman wearing a green mantle. We know that in the okara each participant wore a different colored mantle. The women, with their colorful mantles, made from bird feathers of different textures, were being made invisible and erased from history. In people’s imagination, a pattern was formed in which the mantle is always one color: it is red and made of feathers from the scarlet ibis, a rare bird. This happened because the images that circulated most widely and became best known were those published in a black and white version of the book, issued by another publisher, who gave up on the colors of the drawings, as researcher Mariana Françozo analyzes. The mantle was painted green in the 15 copies of the book previously published in color. I don’t think the green in the mantle was a mere preference of the designers. They were drawing in Brazil. The images are not representations made on European soil based on reports. The green mantle was probably made of parrot feathers and testifies that mantles of different birds and their different colors existed among the Tupinambá. What could their meanings be?
When I visited the Palace of Versailles, I saw in the dome of the Apollo Room the representation of America, in which there is a woman. She wears a red mantle, like the mantle that was kept for centuries in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. It is the representation of a warrior woman, with a bow and arrow, with a club at her feet and an alligator at her side. She is there with the power to negotiate. However, in history, no one granted her this power. No one narrated and empowered any of the Tupinambá women as traders. They are always assigned a secondary and subordinate role.
Self-government and high government are connected to the issue of territory and territorial demarcation.(6) The image of the Tupinambá woman in the Apollo Room at the Palace of Versailles seems very important to me. The artist could have painted a man, but he painted a woman – albeit represented under the classical aesthetic standards. One thing is fundamental: he recorded a woman wearing a mantle made of feathers. The figure of a woman in a place like that, a place of decision-making, hospitality, and of the king’s vanity, shows the importance that women had.
In Versailles, we had a wonderful tour: everyone told us about how France was proud to have established a partnership with the Tupinambás, a diplomatic relationship. Everywhere there were records of the presence of the Tupinambás, of their historical importance. It was pleasant to see this, the French alliance that was made a long time ago and which, apparently, is still kept.
Afterward, during a visit to the exhibition La Haine des Clans: Guerres de Religion 1559-1610, at the Army Museum, we heard a reading by Frank Lestringant, professor of French literature at Paris IV-Sorbonne University and a specialist in travel narratives from the 16th century. He talked about a historical image of the Tupinambá Warrior. He analysed the image, and when he was done, I said: “Can I read it too?” I did my reading. How could he talk about my people? He took my hand and said, “Really!” He was impressed.
Still at the Army Museum, I found another Tupinambá woman, drawn on the map of Antarctic France. We asked Lestringant, who at that moment was guiding us on the tour, “What about that woman, lost in the scene, wearing a mantle? She has a maracá(7) in one hand and a cross in the other. Who is she?” He knew how to explain everything about that map, except that woman’s role. He said it was random, that the designer simply wanted to put a woman in the illustration. I replied: “No, no one would draw something random on such a significant map, made by several hands!” On the map, there is a woman, and she is wearing a mantle.
I had already dreamed of this woman before arriving in France. She told me that I knew her and that I knew of her abilities. In the dream, something levitated me off the ground and dragged me, throwing me against the walls. I was desperate and could not control myself, until a force, a great energy, was generated within me. I suddenly had the feeling that I owned myself, that I could make my own decisions, and choose my own direction; that thing couldn’t keep throwing me from one side to the other anymore. At that moment, a scream came from me, and the thing disappeared. Soon two women arrived. One of them asked me to look at her. When I looked, she said she was a spirit and that people could call her whatever they wanted, but they didn’t know her strength, they didn’t know who she was. However, she said, I knew. “You know me,” she said. People pleased her and cared for her, but they didn’t really know anything about her. Who was that woman? I woke up and asked myself. I traveled to France and came across her on the map of Antarctic France. A very strong woman, with the maracá and the cross, wearing the mantle.
The French, Germans, Dutch, and Swiss recorded these women in historical images that, to me, appear like pieces of a puzzle. They are loose fragments, left there, pieces that went unnoticed. The images appear as disconnected elements, but they tell me about the conduct of women, since then, to uphold the existence of their people. I think that in many ways these women also camouflage themselves, in order to protect themselves. I’m getting to know them.
Still in Europe, we also visited the rare books section of the Oxford Library. There was a drawing of a group of women around a borduna. One of them, as if holding a pen or pencil, signs the borduna.(8) Even though the borduna is a strong device, cut by men, it passes through the hands of women when they decorate and paint it. Afterward, the borduna is taken to an oca,(9) or a tejupá, and the women dance around it, giving the instrument agency. From then on, the borduna is no longer an object – it becomes an instrument. It acquires its own spirituality, which is fed according to what people feel and think the spirit of the borduna will like. People give it harvested fruits, cooked foods, drinks, maracas, ybyrapema… Women, who seemed to have a secondary role, therefore have a much greater agency, a fundamental role. It is around them that Tupinambá society exists and revolves. They are the ones who make things move and grow, and who give things directions. I can’t think of life without their agency.
The fragments of the images in which women appear complement each other and tell us about the high government of the Tupinambá. Most people were not interested in seeing us – they just wanted to understand colonization, the way we were enslaved and dispossessed. They made it seem like we had sold the land… Nonetheless, it had been stipulated, in this “just war”, that every Tupinambá village settlement must be destroyed. The Tupinambá, faced with such rules, tried to resist and secure their territory.
Since then, we are a highly organized people, with hierarchies. The Cacique will speak for three hours and his interlocutor has to listen; but he also has the right to speak and then, based on all possibilities, they reach a coherent decision together. And yet, to this day, the Tupinambás do not have demarcated land! We are fighting for demarcation, but our lands have not yet been demarcated.
Nowadays I am seen as an artist, but the only thing I really know how to do is fight for my territory. We are a people who dream in the territory, and the territory dreams together with us. If it feels threatened, if it feels attacked, it will talk to us, and everyone in the village will have the same dream. Like bees in a hive. If something happens to one of us, everyone will be in tune and aware. Even when I’m not my territory, if something is happening back there, I will dream. I’ll then ask my relatives: “What’s happening? Did this or that happen?” Dreams connect us.
Our dreams tell us that wherever we are, we are still in the village. The territory where I am right now is also a village, beyond the imaginary borders that have been created for it – beyond the invisible walls created to separate us, to divide us, or to limit us. Many walls have been created to place us inside zoos, paintings, or squares, while in truth, for the Tupinambá people, the land is plural and collective. If the Tupinambá captured an enemy from another ethnic group, they brought that enemy to live with them. He would find a woman to marry, with whom he would have children, and only after seven years a death ritual was carried out. After the ritual, the children who remained were considered Tupinambá. The Tupinambá already worked with the idea of mixing and diversity. When the captured enemy, after seven years, was sent to the ritual, he had the right to cry. The family had the right to mourn his wake.
I am myself the result of an anthropophagic ritual. My Tupinambá grandfather married my father’s mother, who had African descent. Then the woman left him with his son. And what is he? A Tupinambá. He was raised within our culture. He knows nothing about his mother’s Afro culture, but he knows everything about his father’s culture. Then my father married my mother. It was the reverse ritual. At the end of the day, children will someday also get married, grow up, and build families. They become warriors.
People don’t observe the details of the anthropophagic ritual, they just see it as a catastrophe. But anthropophagy is not a catastrophe, it is the possibility of a new beginning, a condition so that a people does not reach its end. It is a way for a people to expand, to shape themselves, without anything uniform or solid being imposed. I am the result of an anthropophagic ritual that did not require violence: I am the daughter of a marriage between members of two nations in which one of them leaves and the other stays. How are these children raised? How are they guided? They belong to one people and do not belong to the other. They incorporate their culture.
At the same time, there existed the European strategy: to arrange marriages in order to make hybrids, to create hybrid bodies. These people and bodies could then be classified as mamelucos,(10) cafuzos,(11) etc. They created categories to be used as weapons, and people did not belong anywhere. This is completely different from what the Tupinambá did. It is necessary to understand this difference when thinking about territorial issues. It is the children who will fight for the territory.
From 2004 onwards, with the retakes,(12) we looked for maps to prepare demarcation dossiers. When we look at maps from the 1980s, we see our region very green and dense, but that’s when our elderly died. During our mourning, people of bad faith arrived and took possession of our territory. They deforested everything and transformed the vegetation. The 2004 map shows the advance of farmers. They knew that the territory is Indigenous, and that demarcation was in process. Nonetheless, they began to attack the territory, tearing down everything they hadn’t yet knocked down. Deforestation increased, but that same year we managed to stop it.
The 2019 and 2020 maps are great to see. Several areas are green and covered. We no longer see yellow spots on the map, as the vegetation has covered everything. This influences the climate, the seasons, and the return of animals. The animals are coming back. If the territory is being recovered, with less predatory actions, the animals return. The territory can now rest and regenerate. The territory suffered from a lot of violence. We can transform places; we have this technology. We took out the farmers, we took out the loggers. And within such a short space of time, we can already see the result: the forest is standing.
The earth dreams. Rivers sleep. Many people don’t know that rivers sleep, that the water sleeps. She sleeps at twelve o’clock sharp, day and night. Whoever is at the edge of a river or a waterfall can throw a stick and see: she sleeps for five minutes. The stick does not go up or down in the water. It stays there! The Una River, in our territory, snores. From a distance, we know that the river is sleeping due to the sound of snoring. But people don’t want to let the earth rest. When the land is well, when it is not attacked, we can feel the wind passing over our faces, we see that animals feel good. The wind sings, and the trees greet us. It’s different from seeing a place that has been attacked. The atmosphere is different in a place that is cared for, where there is respect for all the encantados,(13) the guardians. We can feel that the earth dreams.
When we enter the forest, she tells us “good night” or “good morning”. The trees creak. My mother always taught us that they are talking to us, they are welcoming us, so we must greet them, too. Some people think they can come and go without knowing if they are welcome.
Along with the fight for our territory associated with the protection of our elders, it is also interesting to observe the territory from the perspective of children. Children do not understand territorial struggle as grown-ups do. They do not understand the need for demarcation; children don’t know what that is, but if something takes them out of their place, they begin to understand how the territory affects them, and how important it is. I know this because, as a child, I was allowed to live freely. There were no fences in the territory. There was a forest and the forest belonged to everyone.
The jackfruit trees had names; they had the names of our uncles, the names of relatives. That’s why we couldn’t cut them down. We were raised like this, respecting, playing, and caring. But suddenly we started hitting fences. Before, we walked freely through the territory. We went to the river to fish carrying jererê nets on our heads, capanga bags, flour, a match box, and a machete. The journey used to last almost an hour because we stopped to eat bananas, climb jackfruit trees, to pick tangerines. There used to be all kinds of fruits. Only then did we bathe and fish. We would make a fire and eat what we had caught. On the way back, it was the same thing. But the fences started to prevent us from reaching the river. The fences, the gates, the padlocks, the chains. That was when we understood that we were involved with a territory. If they take away our territory, they take away our freedom. For us, the forest belongs to everyone. The jackfruit tree is public, the river is public. Water belongs to everyone.
We didn’t understand people who bought water. How so? We went into the river, drank water, swam, bathed. And the next day, the water was still there, in the same place, wonderful, full of little blue cockroaches. But when the notion of land ownership arrives, when those who come to take the land and build fences arrive, the children’s place, a place of freedom, is affected. When we started to carry out the retakes,(14) the children were traumatized by the police attacks, because they found themselves without refuge and protection.
Today we can give our children back the freedom to fish, go to the woods, and run, knowing this is what matters. We see that our self-government allows children to be, and that the territory responds. We see that what we are doing is correct because we have a response. The animals that live here do not feel threatened. The collared peccary comes to the back of our houses to eat pupunha palms. For us, this is a joy! Seeing the gold lion tamarin, the Callithrix, the great kiskadee; we have time to see and hear them as they pass by the back of the houses. Before, this was impossible, as the forest was on the ground and the springs were drying up. We could no longer hear the river sleeping and snoring.
Self-government is governing within our territory, based on our knowledge. Cacique Babau(15) clearly does this in the Serra do Padeiro territory. We have autonomy within the territory. We dream. Women and young people have the freedom to organize, older people can express themselves, criticize, and call on younger people. Everything is possible within the territory.
The high government, on the other hand, demands us to be together with others, to discuss with the country’s government bodies the demarcation of our territory. We have this type of autonomy; we can make demands. We discuss with the government as equals. We have always sat at the table, talked, and understood diplomacy. Ours is a diplomacy that was established centuries ago by people who traveled, who crossed the ocean. Today our leaders leave the villages and go to places of debate to build policies that meet the demands of their people.
The Tupinambá mantle that is returning to Brazil from Denmark, returned by the Copenhagen Museum, is an ancestor, not an object. It has its own agency; it talks and wants. We know that it is customary, as part of royal diplomacy, that a king is shown what is best and most precious
when he visits another king. We were not just slaves; we had our own diplomacy. When Catarina Paraguaçu went to Europe, she took with her the most beautiful and best things to present the royalty over there.
When treaties were established between North American Indigenous people and colonizers, women wove large blankets. When the Whites signed the treaties, they handed the paper to the Indigenous people and the Indigenous women gave them back a piece of fabric woven by their hands. Today, at the National Museum of the American Indian, in the United States, we can see both the treaty and the fabric, displayed side by side, making up the diplomacy. The Tupinambá mantle was not stolen; an exchange took place. There was and there still is a lot of terror, but there are also exchanges. History contains a lot of information that needs to be questioned.
1 Mantos: mantles. The Tupinambá mantle is a sacred attire made with bird feathers.
2 A Pajé is an important figure among Indigenous groups. Pajés are healers who communicate with the spiritual realm.
3 Cacique refers to a political leader for Indigenous peoples in Brazil.
4 In Portuguese: Colóquio da entrada ou chegada na terra do Brasil, entre as pessoas do país chamadas Tupinambá e Tupiniquins em língua selvagem e Francês.
5 In Portuguese: História Natural do Brasil.
6 In the context of Indigenous groups in Brazil, demarcação de terra or “land demarcation” specifically refers to the process of demarcating or delineating the boundaries of land that belongs to Indigenous communities. This process is essential for recognizing and protecting the land rights of Indigenous people and ensuring that they have legal ownership and control over their ancestral territories. The demarcation of Indigenous lands is a critical issue in Brazil, as it plays a crucial role in safeguarding the rights, culture, and way of life of Indigenous communities and helps protect these areas from encroachment and illegal activities.
7 Maracá is a kind of rattle.
8 A borduna is kind of weapon, made of wood.
9 Oca is the name given to typical Brazilian Indigenous housing.
10 A way to call someone that has Indigenous and White ancestry during the colonial period in Brazil.
11 A way to call someone that has Indigenous and Black ancestry during the colonial period in Brazil.
12 In the context of Indigenous populations in Brazil, the word retomada, or retake, refers to efforts made by communities to reclaim lands that have historically been taken from them, preserve their native languages and cultural traditions, as well as advocate for self-determination and Indigenous rights.
13 Spiritual beings in many Indigenous cosmologies in Brazil. Also, part of Afro-Brazilian religion.
14 See note 12.
15 Tupinambá political leader, activist and intellectual.