Integration into Modern Society
By Matthew Roozeboom
The Bororo people came to the Mato Grosso region of Brazil, located on the Western border of the country, 7,000 years ago. For 6,600 years they remained isolated and uncontacted by the outside world. In the 17th century, Spanish conquistadors came to the region and forced the Bororo to split into two halves, the Eastern and Western Bororo[i] The Eastern Bororo fled deep into the forest and once again became isolated. However, the Western Bororo did not flee and in the next hundred years, were extinct from disease, violence, and land loss.[ii] In the mid 1800s, the Eastern Bororo once again encountered Europeans whom contacted them; however, this time they decided to coexist with the invaders. Since the 17th century, the Bororo tribe has gained many rights in the field of land, customs, and value preservation. Whilst at the same time integrating into modern ways of living and profitmaking due to the external pressure to assimilate; however, they had the Brazilian government creating legislature to ensure their preservation.
The Bororo people have had to deal with invaders throughout their existence. Starting back in the 18th century, the Bororos had to split into Eastern and Western because of Portuguese expeditions from São Paulo. The purpose of these expeditions was gold exploration and to gather Indian slaves.[iii]In the 19th century, the Eastern Bororo “became the protagonists of the most violent episodes in the history of the occupation of Mato Grosso.”[iv] The cause of this 50-year war was the construction of a road through the Bororo territory. This conflict “ended with their [the Bororo’s] peaceful pacification in 1887 by the renowned explorer and founder of Brail’s Indian Protection Service, Candido (Marshall) Rondon.”[v] Rondon was originally part of the Teresa Cristina and Isabel military colony. He later took part in the military coup that ended the military colony and began the Republic of Brazil that stands today. Rondon proposed “the idea of preserving an important part of traditional Bororo territory” (while still working for the military colony).[vi] Marshall Rondon reserved the Bororo territory for them until 1930 with the use of his military and governmental influence. The Bororos suffered loss of land and loss of people due to others invading their territory for gold or for industrialization. However, the Bororo’s public resistance to the road construction gained the attention of Rondon, which led to his idea of land preservation in order to pacify the Bororos.
The Bororo people gained more rights due to the Brazilian Government’s 1973 Indian Statute and the 1988 Constitution. The Brazilian Government, which was a part of the United Nations, likely was pressured by the UN and other world powers to create legislation for indigenous peoples. This pressure is due to the height in indigenous rights activism during this time period. Article 2 of the Indian Statute ensures “the Indians and indigenous communities, under the Constitution, the permanent possession of the lands they inhabit, granting them the right to the exclusive use of natural resources and all those utilities existing land resources.”[vii] Finally, the Bororo’s worry about losing their land or other people taking their resources was slightly alleviated. Article 2 also states that the people of Brazil must “respect the integration of the Indian national fellowship process, the cohesion of indigenous communities, their cultural values, traditions and customs.”[viii] This is a huge improvement from before because they can now coexist while maintaining their ways of life.
While the 1973 Indian Statute grants the indigenous communities great rights, the 1988 Constitution states their rights a little differently. Article 231 in the Constitution is devoted to Indians, and it states “Indians shall have their social organization, customs, languages, creeds and traditions recognized, as well as their original rights to the lands they traditionally occupy, it being incumbent upon the Union to demarcate them, protect and ensure respect for all of their property.”[ix] The Constitution grants the Bororos the same land rights. However, it never speaks of integrating them into Brazilian society. Instead, it ensures them “the right for them to be different from the rest of the country.”[x] In other words, the Indian Statute believes the indigenous people of Brazil, Bororos, cannot function alone and need to be a part of Brazilian society. The Constitution, on the other hand, believes the Bororos are the original inhabitants perfectly capable of functioning away from society with their own recognized culture and land. Overall, the Bororos were granted many rights, but the two documents don’t make their place in society clear as one states that they are viable to live apart from society where the other insists on their integration into society.
The Bororo culture is unique and has not disappeared due to their change from a more traditional way of life to a more industrial way of life. The Bororos are respected because they have “shown an enormous ability to assimilate into the culture of non-Indians without losing their traditions.”[xi] This is not a common occurrence; most indigenous communities do not integrate into society as far as the Bororo’s have, and those that do tend to lose more of their culture. Very few can integrate as deeply and still maintain a traditional culture so prevalent in their lives. Only few such as the American Indians parallel this. Traditionally, the Bororo men were hunters, gatherers, and fisherman, while the women collected various foods and grew crops.[xii] Today, the Bororo people “have become involved as farmers, wage laborers, producers of items for the tourist trade, and as the consumers of commercial goods such as clothing, tools and equipment, and food.”[xiii] Therefore, while they have taken a more industrial outlook on work, they are still continuing the same line of work and contributing to society simultaneously. Slash and burn agriculture also was a big part of the traditional Bororo economy, and it is still a large part of their culture today.[xiv] Rituals are another continued practice. The most important rituals are naming, funeral, initiation, and rites of passage.[xv] The most important thing about the Bororo culture though, is the fact that important elements of it still exists today, even when they have adapted to become members of a more modern society.
The Bororo community has definitely lost a lot of land and people in their community due to their unwanted interaction with outsiders. However, over the years they were able to slowly integrate themselves into the modern ways of Brazilian society without the loss of their culture. Thanks to the Indian Statute and the 1988 Constitution, the Bororos were able to keep their land and be respected by society. Overall, the Bororo people have leaned to live within a modern society with their own rights while keeping their traditional culture.
[i] Paulo Serpa, “Bororo: History of Contact”, Povos Indigenes No Brasil, January 2001 <http://pib.socioambiental.org/en/povo/bororo/241> (11 December 2014).
[iii] “History: Indigenous Peoples”, Pantanal Escapes, <http://www.pantanalescapes.com/history/indians.html> (11 December 2014).
[iv] Paulo Serpa, “Bororo: History of Contact”, Povos Indigenes No Brasil, January 2001 <http://pib.socioambiental.org/en/povo/bororo/241> (11 December 2014).
[v] “History: Indigenous Peoples”, Pantanal Escapes, <http://www.pantanalescapes.com/history/indians.html> (11 December 2014).
[vi] Paulo Serpa, “Bororo: History of Contact”, Povos Indigenes No Brasil, January 2001 <http://pib.socioambiental.org/en/povo/bororo/241> (11 December 2014).
[vii] The Brazilian Government, The Indian Statute, 19 December 1973, <http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/leis/l6001.htm> (11 December 2014).
[ix] The Brazilian Government, Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil, 5 October 1988, <http://www.stf.jus.br/repositorio/cms/portalStfInternacional/portalStfSobreCorte_en_us/anexo/constituicao_ingles_3ed2010.pdf> (11 December 2014).
[x] “The Indian Statute: Introduction”, Povos Indigenes No Brasil, <http://pib.socioambiental.org/en/c/direitos/estatuto-do-Indio/introducao> (11 December 2014).
[xi] “Bororo Indians”, Indian Cultures by Hands Around the World, <http://www.indian-cultures.com/cultures/bororo-indians/> (11 December 2014).
[xii] “Bororo”, Countries and Their Cultures, <http://www.everyculture.com/South-America/Bororo.html> (11 December 2014).
[xiv] UICEF, “Bororo”, Sorosoro, <http://www.sorosoro.org/en/bororo> (11 December 2014).
[xv] Paulo Serpa, “Bororo: Ceremonial Life”, Povos Indigenes No Brasil, <http://pib.socioambiental.org/en/povo/bororo/244> (11 December 2014).