On the warm rain-forest lands of this southern patch of Amazonia, Brazilian pioneers came full of the fervor of the government-encouraged jungle occupation. They cut, and they planted, and their coffee trees began yielding the first crops. "Land with no men," the colonization officials up north had cried, "for men with no land."
But this, like much of the Amazon River basin, was not a land with no men. The pioneers were homesteading on the lands of the Surui Indian people -- huge jungle lands where the Surui hunt monkey and wild pig and build round houses of pale woven thatch.
Family by family, the government began moving the pioneers off the plots they had cleared, but it was a drawn-out and difficult process, and as it dragged, the Indians' anger built. Two months ago, with two families still left inside the Sete de Setembro park, a group of 80 Surui men came upon two non-Indians walking inside the park boundaries. According to the government Indian agent in charge of the area, this is what happened next:
The Surui men surrounded the non-Indians and demanded to know what they were doing there. Had they not seen the sign warning non-Indians off the land? One of the non-Indian men had a gun, and he shoved at the men surrounding him. The Surui clubbed him. They killed his companion with bows and arrows. They shot arrows into the man they had clubbed. Then they sent for the government agent, Aoena Meirelles, and policemen came to take the bodies away.
In the territory of Roraima, 900 miles to the north, live a hunting and gathering people called the Yanomami. There are believed to be at least 10,000 Yanomami in Brazil alone -- another 7,000 live across the border in Venezuela -- which makes them the largest single unacculturated Indian group in the Americas.
The land of the Yanomami, according to miners who have either invaded it or waited hungrily at the outskirts, is rich in diamonds, uranium, gold, and other sought-after minerals. Road builders seven years ago cut a highway through the southern part of Yanomami territory, which brought the Yanomami measles, tuberculosis and venereal disease, and left at least a dozen of their villages with prostitution and alcoholism. The hunting is already very difficult in some places, and three years ago one Air Force rescue team reportedly found 150 Yanomami in an advanced state of malnutrition.
Thirteen years ago, shortly after government planners launched their sweeping assault on the Amazon basin, anthropologists proposed the creation of a Yanomami Indian park, saying that to leave the Indians unprotected was to insure their destruction as a people. Since then, the government has received 13 separate proposals for a park, many of them backed by international professional organizations and Brazil's most prestigious anthropologists, with each proposal mounting in urgency as fatal diseases and ranchers' invasions spread through Yanomami land. For most of that time, the park idea has been, in one form or another, "under study."
In the 16th century, when the Portuguese first began exploring their new South American colony, there were 2 million to 6 million native people living as hunters and gatherers in Brazil. They have been dying here for 400 years, but today there are still believed to be about 200,000 Indian people in Brazil, and most of them live in the jungles of the Amazon basin.
There are Brazilian Indians who live essentially assimilated into the modern society, with homes in the major cities and jobs in factories or hospitals or the federal legislature. There are tribes that have strengthened and increased their numbers, like the southeastern Amazonia Xavantes, who greeted the appointment of a new head of the government's Indian agency by sending two dozen delegates, with thick black hair over their foreheads and wooden plugs in their earlobes and briefcases in their hands, to meet at length with the director in his Brasilia office.
And there are scores of tribes, like the Surui and Yanomami, who lived until the 1960s much the way they had lived long before the Portuguese ever sailed to Brazil. Isolated in jungle villages visible only from the air, their sole contact with whites an occasional encounter with rubber-hunters or missionaries, it is these Indian people who had to be "pacified," as government officials use to put it, before the ambitious new development plans could get underway.
"It is a fact that hundreds of Indians, if not thousands, have died from this opening of the jungle," Patrick Menget, a French anthropologist who for many years has been coming regularly to Brazil for fieldwork, said over beers and grilled meat one warm November night in a northern Amazonia riverside town. "They were not taken into account in the big National Integration Plan -- that was the name of the general plan in the late '60s and early '70s for opening up the Amazon. They were simply forgotten."
Brazilians have never made official policy, the way North Americans did, of warring against their country's native people. At the turn of the century, when Indians and settlers were battling furiously over what was to become the rich farmland of the southeast, a young Army officer named Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon emerged as the leader of a vocal group of Brazilians who believed that the nation's duty was to protect its Indian people and allow them to live in peace.
As the first director of he Indian Protection Service (SPI), Rondon taught his men the delicate business of entering Indian lands as the first white people to make peaceful contact. Their motto was, "Die if you must, but never kill," and indeed, during the first decades of the SPI, no Indian was reported to have been killed in the course of their many contacts.
But white society, which almost invariably followed SPI into territory made less hostile, had its own devastating effects. According to a 1957 report by the famous Brazilian anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro, disease, liquor and professional Indian hunters destroyed more than 80 tribes in the first half of the 20th century. Many more were reduced to tiny clusters of syphilitics, tuberculosis victims, or beggars. The Nambiquara, numbering 10,000 at the turn of the century, now are less than 600, and the 7,000 Tembe and Timbira ended up at the time of Ribeiro's report in three villages of less than 20 people each.
Rondon died in 1958, and a new group of Army officers began working a profound change in SPI. The government's massive development plans for the Amazon basin began unfolding in the mid-1960s, and in 1968, an extraordinary press conference made public for the first time the role SPI had come to play in this jungle "occupation."
In a government report over 5,000 pages long, Rondon's protection service was found to have massacred Indians with dynamite, attacked them with machine guns, given them sugar laced with arsenic, and taken an 11-year-old Indian girl out of school to serve as an SPI official's servant. A long London Sunday Times Magazine article presented details of SPI officials' embezzlement, robbery and illegal sales of Indian lands.
SPI, its credibility shattered, was disbanded. Its replacement was FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation, the Brasilia-based organization that today is supposed to supervise Indian lands, protect Indian affairs, and lead the contacts -- the "pacification" expeditions -- so that road builders or settlers will not clash violently wth Indians in their path.
No one has ever accused FUNAI of corruption as lethal and widespread as that documented in the SPI report, but there are few anthropologists who speak with much enthusiasm about its efforts on behalf of the Brazilian Indian.
Some of FUNAI's own agents have quit or lashed out in despair over their inability to stop disease or invasions of Indian lands. It has repeatedly been said that FUNAI has made a practice of clearing the way for ranchers and large landowners by officially declaring lands "empty" of Indians, even when anthropologists and Indian leaders know they are not. And FUNAI has been unwilling or unable to stop highways from cutting through dozens of Amazonian Indian tribal areas.
When the first plans were announced for the Trans-Amazon highway, an undertaking whose sheer bravado stirred international excitement, not much was made of the fact that 29 different Indian tribes lived in the region of the two main highways that were to form the base of the jungle network. FUNAI agents made the contacts, persuading once-isolated Indian people to accept the white men's presence peacefully, and by the time the road crews had moved on, tribes like the Parakanan were left with influenza deaths, raped women, venereal disease, and a social structure so profoundly mangled that Parakanan people were found begging from highway workers and selling off their belongings for guns.
Two months ago, FUNAI gained a new president, Paulo Moreira Leal, a 55-year-old reserve Air Force flight officer who for the last four years has served on the National Security Council. His official biography says he specializes in the council's "Indian problems."
In an interview shortly after he moved into his seventh-floor office among the sleek government buildings of Brasilia, Leal was asked about the Yanomami park. He is small, dark-haired, and extremely correct in his manner. He had various responses.
He said, "We don't even know for sure how many there are. This needs some very deep studies."
He said, "I don't agree with the idea of an Indian park if we need to help them."
He said, "I assure you that I'll give, what do you say, the most serious consideration. That miners are invading -- this is valuable information. That Indians are dying of diseases -- this is also valuable information."
A second FUNAI man, who sat with a camera on the other end of the couch for the interview, said quickly, "But he is not affirming that Indians are dying, you understand."
Leal was asked about larger conflicts between mineral exploration and Indian rights. His eyes widened slightly. "There is no conflict," he said. "Our laws of protection are complete. Maybe the most complete and generous that exist. There is no conflict. You can see the Indian statute in the constitution. It's all resolved."
The voices that have risen loudest in this fight -- the local politicians, the men with stakes in mining and jungle development, the Brazilian anthropologists with clay bowls and wood spears on the walls of their city apartments, the international anthropologists and indigenous organizations -- can perhaps be heard most clearly now in the debate over the Yanomami Indian park. As proposed by its backers, this park would set aside 16 to 25 million acres solely for the Yanomami people. Mining, ranching, or any other use by non-Indians would be prohibited.
"In Brazil there's only one nation -- the Brazilian nation," said Julio Martins, the slender and balding deputy from Roraima, as he lit a cigarette in his legislative office in Brasilia. "To have another nation sovereign within ours?" He smiled, as though the question answered itself.
Martins, like most Roraima politicians, is ardently opposed to the idea of a Yanomami Indian park. "There's tin there," he said. "There are mineral riches. I think things should be more -- more realistic, no? The wealth they now have, the tin and the other minerals, is not being used for anything, because these Indians are in a very primitive state. Indians in the United States are different. They are more advanced, and can explore the mineral wealth they have.
"Let's say FUNAI sells the tin and gives the money to he Indians. What are they going to do with the money?"
Brazilian officials have countered the park proposal with a plan to set aside 21 small Yanomami reserves, which would be surrounded by open corridors for colonization and mining. Park supporters have derided this idea as "the Yanomami archipelago." "With the penetration comes disease." Andujar said. "And eventually, if it should be occupied, or the forest should be cut down, obviously the Indians would have no way of surviving . . . . They also need the space to maintain their social relationships, and their marriage bonds, which are extremely important. They have to have the possibility of reaching villages which are farther away."
In the long run, said Carmen Junqueira, a Sao Paulo anthropologist with short brown hair and a steady supply of hand-rolled cigarettes, the tribal people will lose. "We send papers to FUNAI and the government, but it means nothing," she said. "It's a question of two years, five years, eight years. But there is no chance at all -- especially because those Indians are hunters, and they need a big area to live in. Even the government thinks they have too much land now."