The Amerindian Perspective

While reading a short paper on Amerindians in Brazil, I came across this interesting concept and thought I’d share it.

“According to Viveiros de Castro (2005), the Amerindians believe that each animal species sees itself as human. Being as such, the leopards would see humans as prey (as if they were, for example, wild pigs) and, because of this, they attack them. This is what is called an “Amerindian perspective”. In accordance with observations, Amerindians perceive animal groups as if they were societies, with social organization, chiefs, shamans, etc. In other words, they understand that these animals are organized and think just like them, the humans. Viveiros de Castro explains that, while we, Westerners, perceive that we share nature with the animals – due to being animals ourselves – that we also differentiate ourselves from them by possessing culture. The Amerindian understands that they share a common culture with the animals but that they differentiate themselves from them via nature, by being a different species.”

“Segundo Viveiros de Castro (2005), os ameríndios acreditam que cada espécie animal se vê a si mesma como humana. Assim sendo, as onças veriam os humanos como caça (como se fossem, por exemplo, porcos selvagens) e, por isso, os atacariam. A isso ele chama de “perspectivismo ameríndio”. De acordo com suas observações, os ameríndios percebem os grupos de animais como se fossem sociedades, com organização social, chefes, pajés, etc. Ou seja, eles entendem que esses animais estão organizados e pensam da mesma forma que eles, humanos. Viveiros de Castro explica que, enquanto nós, ocidentais, percebemos que temos uma natureza comum com os animais – por sermos também animais – mas que nos diferenciamos deles por possuirmos cultura, os ameríndios entendem que compartilham com os outros animais a cultura e que se diferenciam deles pela natureza, por serem de espécies diferentes.”

A New Letter from Pero Vaz de Caminha

Brazilian publicist Paulo D’Angelo rewrote the Carta de Caminha (Letter from Caminha) and won a contest called “Listener’s Chronicles”, put on by Radio Bandeirantes. His version is modern and with added humor and I decided to translate it into English below. When researching the original letter, I came across some interesting finds which include D’Angelo’s interpretation in the form of a Brazilian PodClass, the actual 27 page translation into English of Pero Vaz de Caminha’s letter to the King, an analysis of the letter (which has an interesting section called Body Details), the text in its original archaic Portuguese along with images of the actual letter, and the text in modern Portuguese.

New Letter from Pero Vaz de Caminha

“Hello my beloved King, it’s Pero Vaz on the line. Can you hear me well? I borrowed a cell phone from a native of this new land. Everything is good, Capitan Pedro is sending hugs. We got here on Tuesday, the 21st of April, but I thought it would be better to call you on Sunday because it’s cheaper to make a call. Yeah, I know, these kinds of things exist here too.

The natives were surprised by our arrival by sea but they didn’t think we were Gods, Majesty. They thought we were crazy to step foot in the polluted ocean. Is the connection good? Well, this place is kind of funny. They’ve got cell phones, imported cars, free access to the internet and even with all these things, people are still dying of malaria and malnutrition. It’s not so easy to understand.

If we already found who is in charge?

Look, King, it’s complicated. Here, there’s more indian chiefs than there are indians. As soon as we got to Porto Seguro there was a chief who said he could make it rain and that we could jail or set free anyone he wanted. Yep, he’s one crazy chief…More towards the South, we found another tribe, a marvelous village with lots of parties and pretty nearly nude natives. Going southwards from there, we went more inland and found ourselves in the planalto.

There we found a huge tribe of Sampa indians. We met their chief who had power but didn’t know how to use it, poor thing. They say that even his wife beats him. Are you laughing, Majesty? I swear what I’m saying is true. As your Majesty can see, its a simple place to colonize, especially because the natives don’t even all speak the same language.

Yes, they are pacified. If they see a coconut on the ground, they start to kick it and forget about their troubles. They know some things, like how to read…but not all of them. The majority read pretty badly and believe everything they see in print. It’ll be a cinch! It seems there’s a head honcho but he’s almost never seen because he travels a lot. They say if you are trying to find him, all you got to do is sit on his throne.

What’s really funny is that the indians work in exchange for bananas. Yeah, bananas!!! Every month they receive a minimim of 151 bananas. It’s no joke, Majesty! I’m serious!! Just come here and you’ll see. Look, I got to get off the phone. The guy who lent me it needs to make a few calls. He’s a businessman. He said he has to tell his guys theres a new arrival of farinha. Funny…they are so happy to be working…Each time new merchandise arrives, they run up the hill and let off some bottle rockets.

It’s a very rich land, Majesty. I think this time we hit the nail on the head. This here is going to be the country of the future…”