When is Indigenous Day?

The Brazilian Indigenous Day is celebrated annually on April 19.This important date serves to remind and reinforce the identity of the Brazilian and American Indian people in the current history and culture.

Before the arrival of the first Europeans on American soil, all the countries that form this continent were largely populated by important indigenous nations. Unfortunately, human greed, cruelty and disease caused many tribes to be totally decimated and much of the indigenous culture was forgotten.

In an attempt to preserve the traditions and identity of the natives, Indigenous Day arose to prevent the new generations from forgetting the true roots that make up the Brazilian and other Latin-American people.

What about International Day of Indigenous Peoples?

April 19 was chosen as the date to commemorate the indigenous culture in honor of the First Inter-American Indian Congress, which took place on April 19, 1940 in Mexico City. The purpose of this congress was to gather the indigenous leaders of the different regions of the American continent and watch over their rights. At the international level, the United Nations (UN) also created the International Day of Indigenous Peoples (9 August) to raise awareness among governments and the world population about the importance of preserving and recognizing indigenous rights.

Since then, the protection of indigenous people rights increased hugely. Presently, the Brazilian indigenous reserves occupy 12.5% ​​of the territory, according to the National Foundation of the Indian (Funai). The number is equivalent to 1,069,424.34 square kilometers of land distributed in 503 already recognized indigenous lands.

Almost all of Brazilian states have indigenous reservation areas. The Amazon is the state that has the most areas.

Still according to FUNAI, the population living in villages is 512,000 people, distributed in 225 ethnic groups with 180 different languages. In Brazil, according to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), 734,000 people identified themselves as indigenous in 2009.

The Xingu Indigenous Park alone covers an area of 27,000 square kilometers located in the north of the state of Mato Grosso, deep within the Amazon basin. There are 5,500 inhabitants, divided into many different tribes and ethnicities, with diverse dialects and culture. This park is considered the largest and one of the most famous reserves in the world. Created in 1961, during the government of Jânio Quadros, it was the result of several years of work and political struggle, involving the brothers Villas-Boas, alongside personalities like Marechal Rondon, Darcy Ribeiro, Noel Nutels, and many others.

More about Xingu

In more than half a century of existence, the Xingu has undergone several changes that coincide with the history of the indigenous question in the last decades. At first, the philosophy applied by the Villas-Bôas brothers was aimed at protecting the Indian from contact with the culture from the great urban centers. At the time, for example wearing slippers or riding a bicycle was not allowed, in an attempt to not change anything in the daily life of the community.

The creation of the park was one of the consequences of the Roncador-Xingu Expedition and the so-called “March to the West,” a movement planned under the government of Getúlio Vargas to conquer and break the heart of Brazil. Beginning in 1943, the clearing penetrated the central region of Brazil, uncovered the southern Amazon and made contact with several indigenous ethnicities still unknown.

The leadership of the Villas-Bôas brothers transformed the militaristic character of the March into the West. Due to Marechal Rondon’s philosophy of, “dying if needed, never killing,” for a potentially violent mission, it became a contact, pacification and respect expedition towards the various indigenous peoples of the central-western region of Brazil. A work recognized throughout the world as one of the most important for the preservation of the diversity of people.

Language and People

In the Xingu area, approximately 5,500 Indians from fourteen different ethnic groups, belonging to the four major indigenous linguistic trunks of Brazil live in the Xingu area: the Carib, Aruaque, Tupi and Macro-Jê. Centers of study, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, consider this area to be the most beautiful linguistic mosaic in the country.

The tribes that live in the region are: cuicuros, calapalos, nauquas, matipus, icpengues (all with Caribbean linguistic trunk), meinacos, uaurás, iaualapitis (aruaque linguistic trunk), auetis, camaiurás, jurunas, caiabis (trunk linguistic Tupi), trumais (isolated language), suiás (macro-jê linguistic trunk); while the panarás (kreen-akarore), the menbengokrês (caiapós) and tapaiunas (paws) were still living in the area of ​​the park.

When created in 1961, Orlando Villas-Bôas was named the general administrator of the Xingu National Park, later denominated Xingu Indigenous Park. He was able to guarantee the preservation of the flora and fauna of the region. He encouraged the study of ethnology, ethnography and linguistics, working with national and international researchers. Documentary filmmakers were also authorized, resulting in a valuable audiovisual collection.

The epic work of the Villas-Bôas brothers is one of the most important and controversial episodes of Brazilian anthropology and indigenous history.

The conception of the Xingu Indigenous Park, the costs to its implementation and its drastic consequences, the constant attack of loggers and landowners and the indigenous policies of the Brazilian State are important themes for reflection on the meaning of this whole experience.


Want to learn more about Indigenous people in Brazil? Check out some fine books here. TheFOB also has amazing Indigenous handicrafts!