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In São Paulo, the unknown life of the Guarani Indians, “surrounded by the city”


– From São Paulo

Priscila Poty makes an observation that saddens her: non-Amerindians have a false image of the Guarani Mbya (a fraction of the Guarani people) who, like her, live in the south of the São Paulo metropolitan area.

“Sometimes, in the village, we have visitors, and we hear a lot ‘But where are the Indians?’, says the teacher. Many people still have an image of the Native American that dates back of the Portuguese invasionas if we could not wear clothes, as if we lived naked. The only solution is to try to make people understand that this is false.”

“Just because today’s Indian wears clothes, sneakers and uses a mobile phone, it doesn’t mean he is no longer an Indian.”

Priscila Poty lives on the indigenous lands of the Parelheiros district, which includes 2,400 inhabitants in four officially demarcated territories in the south of Brazil’s largest city. These four indigenous lands (“indigenous lands”, TI), Tenondé Porã, Krukutu, Barragem and Rio Branco, together cover 19,052 hectares.

The conquest is recent. It was not until 2016 that Tenondé Porã was declared indigenous land, covering nearly 16,000 hectares. “Being indigenous today, continues Priscila, It is above all a fight for our lands, a growing concern: we never know how long we will keep a space for the Nhandereco, the Guarani way of life.”

Create new hamlets

Like other villagers, She teaches in Guarani at the public school. Tenondé Porã, the most populated municipality, is a bit like the capital of the indigenous lands: here are the school, two houses of prayer, a dispensary, 110 houses built by the Public Housing Authority of the State of São Paulo (Companhia de Desenvolvimento Habitacional e Urbano, CDHU), as well as the Center for Education and Indigenous Culture (Ceci), created in 2004 to teach the Guarani language and culture to children under 5 years old.

Pedro Werá, the school’s director and community leader, says that after expanding their territories, one of the first steps was to create new hamlets, scattered across the area, in order to combat land grabbing (a scourge that has a name in Brazil, the grillagem). With the urban expansion of São Paulo and its neighbor São Bernardo do Campo (further south), which are encroaching on indigenous territory, the grills resort to violence to occupy land and sell it to farmers or small peasants. Pedro Werá insists: “Once they are installed, it becomes complicated, and dangerous.”

In Tekoa Porã, one of the hamlets created, Vicente Kuary and his family came to find refuge. “Now that the city is closer, there are often farm workers around the village, and a whole bunch of things happen to us, bad things, drugs for example. That convinced me to leave.”

On the indigenous lands of the agglomeration, there is almost no private sector work or commerce. Without a stable income or plots of land to cultivate, the population depends on social assistance such as the program Family Bagdistributions of food aid packages, or the return to work assistance program (Programa Operação Trabalho), recently set up by the São Paulo city hall.

A shrunken area

Forty-five kilometers from the indigenous lands of Parelheiros, in the far north of São Paulo, villages at the foot of Pico do Jaraguá, the highest point in the megacity, have taken up various traditional crops, including corn. In total, seven villages are spread out over a territory of 532 hectares officially declared “indigenous land” in 2015, but reduced in 2017 to the 1.7 hectares that had been originally demarcated in 1987.

The only village located in this last area of ​​shagreen has as its chief Araju Apolinário, granddaughter of the first female chief among the Guarani. In Ytu, the only food production comes from a small vegetable garden recently created – the village chief acknowledges that there is a problem there: “Many people ask us why we created a village in the middle of the city. But the truth is that it is the city that has expanded to surround us, to the point that we can no longer use the water of the Ribeirão das Lavras, as my grandparents still did.”

“Today, continues Araju Apolinário, We have fallen into a very conventional routine: even those of us who live in the village have jobs outside our traditions. We get up, go to work, and come home, like everyone else. There is one thing we do not give up, and that is going to the prayer house every evening.”

Jaci lives in Ytu, where she teaches about indigenous culture, and she too talks about the difficulty of living “10 meters from the city” : “In Guarani culture, it is important to live far from each other, to have a space of one’s own. Here, the reality is completely different, it is like a favelawith houses, huts, stuck together.”

The Paulista “bandeirantes”

The Ribeirão das Lavras (“stream of veins”), which flows through these villages, owes its name to the exploitation of gold that occurred very early in the region. Already in the 16th centurye century, the Portuguese Afonso Sardinha proceeded here to gold mining. Less than a century later, the discovery of the Minas Gerais deposits by the bandeirantes Paulistas, these adventurers and pioneers, leading actors of the “conquest” from the interior of Brazil, who enslaved thousands of indigenous people, most often Guarani.

A wound that remains open, even today, for the inhabitants of Pico do Jaraguá, and that the names given to the surrounding highways, which suffocate their lands, do not help to heal. Bandeirantes Rodeo and the Anhanguera Rodovia (anhanguera, “old devil” in Tupi-Guarani, was the nickname of two famous bandeirantes) still pay tribute to those whom indigenous peoples consider to be murderers.

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