The Guarani – searching for a home

“In Brazil, there are today around 46,000 Guarani living in seven states, making them the country’s most numerous tribe. Many others live in neighbouring Paraguay, Bolivia and 
Argentina. The Guarani people in Brazil are divided into three groups: Kaiowá, Ñandeva and M’byá, of which the largest is the Kaiowá which means ‘forest people’. They are a deeply spiritual people. Most communities have a prayer house, and a religious leader, whose authority is based on prestige rather than formal power.

For the Guarani, land is the origin of all life. But violent invasions by ranchers have devastated their territory and nearly all of their land has been stolen. Guarani children starve and their leaders have been assassinated. Hundreds of Guarani men, women and children have committed suicide.” – Source (news, photos and a few videos here)

For an idea of how the Guarani live these days, see the Brazilian/Italian film “BirdWatchers – La terra degli uomini rossi” (Terra Vermelha in Portuguese) or check out the documentary on sugarcane workers (which doesn’t feature Guarani people but it is a job they end up having to do). I’ll post a short review (in PT) below for Birdwatchers.

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Rich man’s trash, Indigenous man’s treasure

Not too long after a landmark win for indigenous peoples in Raposa – Serra do Sol, it seems the fight for rights is a continuous process, even though the land they live on has been afforded to them by Brazilian law and the fact that they were there first. In a video from 2007, Journeyman Pictures reported on a Guarani tribe fighting the company Aracruz, a cellulose manufacturer, who has been turning their land into eucalyptus plantations. What is then produced from the eucalyptus is toilet paper for Europeans…which means the produce from the Guarani land is disposable while shedding light on how the word like value can take on different meanings to different people.

Anyways, here is a short video recap on the Raposa – Serra do Sol issue, plus my own reporting on it. Now, here is the video on the Guarani struggle.

Tupi-Guarani – Tribes & Tongues

The Sound of Conquerers

There’s a book in Portuguese called “Triste Fim de Policarpo Quaresma” by Lima Barreto in which the main character (Policarpo Quaresma) is a nationalist who revolts against the Portuguese language, dismissing it as the language of the colonizers. His answer is for all Brazilians to return to their native linguistic roots, in this case, Tupi-Guarani.

A possible flaw in Policarpo’s reasoning can be found in the fact that the Portuguese, the Tupis and the Guaranis were all conquerers of “lesser” peoples and tribes. For all intesive purposes, Tupi-Guarani wasn’t the only native language of Brazil, but due to both the Tupi and the Guarani violent way of life, it was the dominant language of the time.

With the release of Barreto’s novel in 1911, there have been pushes by select groups of nationalists and linguists alike over the years to bring Tupi-Guarani back as the official language of Brazil. The issue has however only been taken as far as the educational system, where attempts have been made to get it accepted into the school systems as an elective class. The general marginalization of the tribes have taken their tongues with them making Tupi-Guarani virtually non-spoken among modern Brazilians.

The meaning of Tupi is “the great father” or “leader” and likewise, Guarani means “warrior”. Their language still can be seen in an extremely large number of geographic locations throughout Brazil. A few of these names were mentioned in the post on State Etymologies on this site. Tupi-Guarani is actually a sub-group of the Tupi langauges, which encompasses 53 langauges in 11 groups, of which Tupi and Guarani are the most widely used.

A Little History

When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, they found that wherever they went along the vast coast of this newly discovered land, most natives spoke similar languages. Jesuit missionaries took advantage of these similarities, systematizing common standards then named línguas gerais (general languages), which were spoken in that region until the 19th century. The best known and most widely spoken of these languages was Old Tupi, a modern descendent of which is still used today by Indians around the Rio Negro region, where it is known as Nheengatu, or the “fine language”.

In the neighbouring Spanish colonies, Guarani, another Tupian language closely related to Old Tupi, had a similar history, but managed to resist the spread of Spanish more successfully than Tupi resisted Portuguese. Today, Guarani has 7 million speakers, and is one of the official languages of Paraguay and Bolivia.

The Tupis, Guaranis and other tribes had many advantages over the Portuguese and could have put up quite a fight if they so desired, instead they aided in the founding and building of São Paulo (Portuguese for Saint Paul), or as it was known by the Indians, Piritininga (Tupi-Guarani for Dried Fish).

Some Tupi-Guarani Words

English speakers know…

– Jaguar

– Tapioca

Other examples include…

Capoeira – Old Forest

Carioca – White Man’s Hut

Tijuca – Mud

Guanabara – Bottom of the Sea

Ipanema – Bad Waters

State Etymologies

In conjunction with learning about Brazil’s different regions and states, I am going to add something that is rarely talked about, state etymologies. What I find interesting is the division between states named upon Spanish or Portuguese “discovery” versus the states named in the native languages of the time (mainly Tupí and Guaraní).

  • Acre – from a misspelling of Aquiri, a local river (documented); not from acre (a unit for territorial measurement).
  • Alagoas – plural of alagoa, a flooded field or swamp.
  • Amapá – from Aruak amapá, “the land in the end” (documented in Sir Walter Raleigh’s account of Guyana as Land of Amapaia).
  • Amazonas – after the Amazon river, which by its turn was baptized such by Spanish explorers who heard rumors that Amazons (female breastless mounted warriors; from Greek a- mastos, with no breasts) guarded the legendary city of Eldorado in the middle of the forest.
  • Bahia – from bahia, the ancient Portuguese spelling of baía, that is, bay or harbor. The actual name of the colonial province was Bahia de Todos os Santos (All Saints Bay), for it was discovered in November 1, All Saints Day.
  • Ceará – from Tupi sy ara (mother of the day) because it is a sunny land with sparse vegetation (therefore, few shadows).
  • Espírito Santo – literally, Portuguese for “Holy Spirit”. The Iberian colonists were used to dedicate their colonies to Catholic entities.
  • Goiás – from the name of a long-extinct but once famous native people.
  • Maranhão – from the Spanish spelling of Marañón, another name for the Amazon River; from 1621 to 1709, the north of Brazil was styled the State of Maranhão, with its capital in São Luís.
  • Mato Grosso – literally, Portuguese for “thick grass”, or else “dense woods”, “dense jungle”.
  • Mato Grosso do Sul – seceded from the former in 1975, as its Southern (and wealthiest) portion.
  • Minas Gerais – literally “General Mines” (meaning of “state-owned mines” in early modern Portuguese). The province was originally part of São Paulo, but from the early 18th century on, colonists found out gold, diamond, and gems on its territory. Therefore, in 1709 the Portuguese Crown strategically separated the mining territory and placed it under its direct control (Captaincy of São Paulo and the Mines), as an immense mining district of several products (then, “general mines”).
  • Pará – from Tupi-Guarani pará (river). Probably called such because of the estuary of the Amazon river.
  • Paraíba – from Tupi pará (river) + aíba (rough, bad), probably meaning “rough river”.
  • Paraná – from Guarani paraná, “wide river” (the words for “river”, “large river”, “lagoon”, “sea” and “lake” have different meanings in Tupi, thus leading to the confusion that Paraná meant sea).
  • Pernambuco – from Tupi paranã (sea) mbuka (hollow), referring to the reefs that lie off the coast (hence also the state capital name, Recife, Portuguese for reef).
  • Piauí – from the Tupi word piau (a type of river fish) and y (river), so Piau/Fish River.
  • Rio de Janeiro – literally, Portuguese for “River of January”. The harbor where the city was founded was discovered in January 1, 1502, and taken for the mouth of a river (such as the Tagus estuary which forms a bay in Lisbon). The state was named after the city, now its capital and formerly capital of the nation.
  • Rio Grande do Norte – literally, Portuguese for “Great River of the North”.
  • Rio Grande do Sul – literally, Portuguese for “Great River of the South”. The first important settlement there, the town of Rio Grande, was probably called such because of the Patos Lagoon, mistaken for a river for its long and narrow shape.
  • Rondônia – after Marshal Cândido Rondon, explorer of the region. The old name for the state was Guaporé, Tupi for “pathway to the lake”.
  • Roraima – from Yanomami roro imã, which means, according to some sources, “thundering mountain”. The old name for the state was Rio Branco, Portuguese for “white river”.
  • Santa Catarina – after St. Catherine, a saint praised by both Portuguese and Spanish, who held the land for nearly 200 years.
  • São Paulo – after the Jesuit monastery called São Paulo de Piratininga (St. Paul of Piratininga), built to Christianize native peoples. The state was named after the city, its capital.
  • Sergipe – after the name of an Indian chief, Serijipe. Another possible origin comes from Tupi siri jibe, a “brook with crabs”.
  • Tocantins – from Tupi tukan (toucan, a South American bird) tin (nose), or nose of toucan. This is due to the confluence of Araguaia and Tocantins rivers, shaped in a curve which resembles a bird’s beak; the region is also named “Bico do Papagaio” (Parrot Beak). However, the river had this name long before maps revealed the shape of the confluence.
  • Distrito Federal – literally, “Federal District”. Until 1934, the municipal territory of the national capital was called either Município Neutro (Neutral Municipality, from 1834 to 1889), Corte Imperial (Imperial Court, from 1822 to 1834) or Capital Federal (Federal Capital, from 1889 to 1934).