Save the Rainforest

About Rainforest Foundation US


The Rainforest Foundation US was founded from the demands of one man, and the vision of two people. The demand was made by Raoni; a Chief of the Menkragnoti Kayapó who sought help to vocalize his people’s plight and in doing so protect their homelands in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest. Trudie Styler and Sting provided the vision; they took Raoni’s story to the World and in doing so made millions of people aware of the looming ecological and cultural disaster that faced not only Raoni’s people but the planet. From this initiative, the Rainforest Foundation US was born in 1989.

In 1993, the Rainforest Foundation US fulfilled the promise made to Chief Raoni. A milestone in securing Indigenous rights in Brazil, the legal demarcation of the territory was the first ever privately funded demarcation to be officially recognized in the history of the country.


The mission of the Rainforest Foundation US is to support indigenous peoples and traditional populations of the rainforest in their efforts to protect their environment and fulfill their rights by assisting them in:

Securing and controlling the natural resources necessary for their long term well being with appareil pour broyer branches et feuilles and managing these resources in ways which do not harm their environment, violate their culture or compromise their future.

Developing the means to protect their individual and collective rights and obtain shape and control basic services from the state.

Current Focus

The Rainforest Foundation US (RF-US) is a part of an international network of offices that have projects in 18 rainforest countries throughout Asia, Africa, Central and South America. In 2000, the RF-US will also begin to seek out partners and programs in North America, which support Native American communities in their struggle to protect their rights and their land.

The Organization

This year the Rainforest Foundation US celebrates its tenth anniversary. Its mission to preserve rainforests and the protection of indigenous rights. The two are intrinsically linked. Satellite data has shown that only where indigenous people have land title recognized has there been a reduction in forest destruction.

In 1996, the organization expanded its program work, with the offices in New York, London, Oslo and Vienna implementing and supporting innovative projects that effectively span the Globes rainforest countries.

It is not an exaggeration to state that many of the indigenous communities who inhabit the world’s tropical rainforests live under the threat of extinction. They are living on the frontlines of environmental degradation and have a vital role to play in the protection of one of the planet’s most precious resources. In the face of seemingly insurmountable forces, they alone cannot protect their home, as the frontier of ‘development’ threatens to sweep them away in its path. The Rainforest Foundation US is dedicated to helping these communities fulfill their most basic of rights, to secure their ancestral territories for future generations.

In recent years, numerous cultures have begun to secure their rights by forcing their governments to implement various conventions, declarations, and international laws that exist. Governments are realizing that they can no longer ignore the laws they publicly purport to endorse. The RF-US will work with local NGOs and indigenous groups as they continue to demand the rights that we are all entitled to; such as those being drafted in the Declaration of Indigenous Rights. In 1994, the United Nations issued a new declaration in order to recognize the special circumstances facing the world’s 500 million indigenous people. We will continue to support the tremendous effort underway to finalize this document. It is our hope that the articles of the declaration will one day become the standards by which Indigenous Peoples are treated.

As we enter the new Millennium, for many, the world has become a smaller place. Continents can be crossed in a day, messages exchanged instantaneously. The technological age is truly upon us. Unfortunately, the world is also shrinking in terms of biological and cultural diversity as the rainforest continues to be viewed as a warehouse of potential profit. As our organization expands its efforts to protect and preserve the world’s rainforest, the staff and volunteers of the Foundation look to the future with hope. With your help and support we will enter the millennium with a commitment to make it one of “Environmental Revolution”; a period in which the wonders of the rainforest can be preserved. It is a mission that must not end until it succeeds.

Join and Help

There are many ways that you can become involved with the Rainforest Foundation:


Online Donation

Charitable donations to the Rainforest Foundation US are what enable us to do our work. Please contact Lisa Stamm to learn how your donation will help us Save the Rest:

To discuss different methods of donating you can e-mail Lisa at:
Phone: 212 431 9098
Fax: 212 431 9197

Planned Giving

To encourage the private funding of charitable and educational organizations, the U.S. Congress provides tax incentives for giving. With this, Planned Giving was born. While a person’s intent to be charitable will always be the primary motivating factor for making a gift, Planned Giving provides a way for a donor to make a gift to the Rainforest Foundation US and at the same time receive favorable tax consideration.

Planned Giving consists of Planning and Giving. Giving is the most important component. Planning refers to a donor’s consideration of estate planning, financial planning, and tax planning as part of making a gift. For more information on planned giving please call our Development Officer, Lisa Stamm at 212 431 9098.


We are always eager to meet people who would like to volunteer their time. We have several large-scale special events each year, in addition to numerous large mailings that go out to our constituents. There are several volunteer nights per year when we rally our core group of volunteers to help with these various projects. We are also happy to work with individuals to create a unique volunteer opportunity that is rewarding for both the volunteer and the foundation. If you are interested in volunteering, please e-mail Christine Zemina at the Rainforest Foundation US.

Internship program

Whether you’re a working professional interested in donating some of your time and expertise to our organization or a college student interested in gaining environmental work experience we welcome you to read about internship opportunities at the Rainforest Foundation US.

Job Openings

None available currently, but resumés will be kept on file.

Help us Broadcast a Message of Hope

Help us Broadcast a message of hope to 170,000 indigenous and traditional peoples at the forefront of efforts to protect and preserve their environment from mining and logging operations.

The Rainforest Foundation US is embarking on an ambitious project that will supply the communities of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana with radio units.

Why? The three countries contain one of the last relatively intact rainforests in the world, and one of the highest populations of endemic species. It is under threat from unauthorized invasions by mining and logging companies that are operating in all three countries.

One community in Guyana, the community of 300 Wai Wai located in the South of the country highlights the need for communications. It currently takes them two weeks to walk to the nearest village with a radio to alert outsiders of land invasions or medical emergencies. A two-way radio system will enable communities to organize themselves to defend their territories.

Your donation will help them Save the Rest. Help us reach our goal of 94 solar powered two way radios. Call or email Christine Halvorson to find out more information concerning this project.

Calendar of Events

For full details, please read below.

April 30 - May 7 2001 - Rainforest Awareness Week, New York City
May 7, 2001 - Blue Eyed Soul, New York City
October 27, 2001 - Don’t Bungle the Jungle, Houston

Sixth Annual Rainforest Awareness Week

April 30th through May 7th 2001

(Make sure to check back on the website to find out about new and exciting events and promotions that will be happening during Rainforest Awareness Week 2001.)

For the sixth year running the Rainforest Foundation US is proud to announce “Rainforest Awareness Week” which consists of a series of events and promotional activities that raise funds and awareness for the Rainforest Foundation.

Previous events during the week have included:

Blue Eyed Soul - May 7, 2001

What- An evening of Blue Eyed Soul music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s
Where - The Supper Club, New York City
When - May 7, 2001
For more information and ticket availability contact Event Associates at 212 245 6570

Don’t Bungle the Jungle - October 27th 2001

Houston, Texas…One of the most glamourous, high energy, high fashion fundraisers is celebrating its 11th Anniversary this year. The Rainforest Foundation Gala 2001 “Don’t Bungle the Jungle” benefiting the Rainforest Foundation US will takeplace on October 27st, 2001
For more information contact Lisa Stamm.

Press Releases


Rainforest Foundation USA
270 Lafayette Street
Suite 1107
New York, NY 10012

fax 212.431.9197



Laurie Parise - Executive Director
Stephanie Rae - Administrative Assistant
Christine Halvorson - Program Coordinator
Myra Scheer - Public Relations Consultant
Lisa Stamm - Chief Development Officer
Christine Zemina - Development Assistant

Board of Directors:

Ana Araújo - Indigenous Rights Lawyer
Larry Cox - Ford Foundation - Prog.Officer, Human Rights & Int’l Cooperation Unit
Michael Mitnick - David Berdon & Co. LLP - Partner
Nigel Sizer - World Resources Institute, Team Leader & Senior Associate


Rainforest Foundation US Austria

Weyrgasse 5/2
A-1030 Vienna
Tel & Fax:431 712 4690

Rainforest Foundation US Norway

Pb 2113 GrünerlŘkka
0505 Oslo
Tel: 47 22 04 4700
Fax: 47 22 04 4701

Rainforest Foundation UK

Suite A5
City Cloisters
188-196 Old Street
London EC1V 9FR
Tel: 44 171 251 6345
Fax: 44 171 251 4969


Center for Amerindian Rights and Environmental Law Opens

The ceremonial opening held on March 24th 2000, was attended by some 25 Captains (Amerindian leaders) the former President of Guyana, Janet Jagan, Prime Minister Sam Hinds, the Canadian and British High Commissioners, and the American Ambassador. Representatives from mining interests also attended the opening.

The ceremonial opening held on March 24th 2000, was attended by some 25 Captains (Amerindian leaders) the former President of Guyana, Janet Jagan, Prime Minister Sam Hinds, the Canadian and British High Commissioners, and the American Ambassador. Representatives from mining interests also attended the opening.

60,000 Amerindians (Guyana’s Indigenous peoples) will have access to legal representation provided by the first facility of its kind in Guyana, as of April 1st 2000. The Center for Amerindian Rights and Environmental Law based in Georgetown has the goal of protecting Amerindian communities’ basic rights and environment currently threatened by mining and logging activity.

This collaborative venture between the Rainforest Foundation and our Guyanese partner, the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) is being spearheaded by one of Guyana’s leading lawyers, Melinda Janki, who will use her experience to continue work initiated by the Amerindian communities, while training Amerindians to ultimately run the Center themselves.

The opening of the Center comes at a critical juncture in the history of Guyana’s Amerindians. While the government undertakes its review of the country’s constitution it is essential that Amerindian rights be clearly articulated. Of primary concern to the communities will be revisions that may effect their right to ancestral lands. As an independent, non-governmental, non-political organization, the Center will work to ensure that the rights of Guyana’s first peoples are respected. In doing so, protecting Amerindian homelands that are being given away to foreign interests in the form of logging and mining concessions.

An essential function of the Center will be the training of all communities to better understand their rights. The Center will include a scholarship component allowing Amerindians to be formally trained in the law, in order to represent their interests. David James, Treasurer of the APA (and a founding member) will be the first Amerindian to participate in this program, and the first Amerindian to attend law school in the country’s history.

Transcript of Toshao Tony James’ Speech at the Opening

"It is indeed a pleasure and an honor to stand here in front of all of you tonight on behalf of my Amerindian brothers and sisters. It is good that you are here as part and parcel of this gathering to listen to something which is very important to us and which has an historic meaning for us.

"You will realize that since 500 years ago a lot of things have happened since people came across the great water. At the break of the new millennium we have seen the strides forward that Amerindians have made to address our struggles. It is good to note that people are beginning to realize the importance of our participation and the importance of consulting with us, the first peoples of Guyana.

"As you will agree that from the time the other people came here we were the first peoples of Guyana and protectors of this land. We were always here and we will continue to be here. Our ancestors entrusted the land to us for us to continue to protect it and now we will have to pass on these same lands to the generations that are coming up. The land belongs to us and we belong to the land. Our cultures are linked to the land. Our opinion of the land is different to other peoples’ opinions. The land is very sacred because of our cultures, because of our activities like hunting, fishing, gathering nuts and just for walking in the forest for the quiet enjoyment of our Amerindian brothers and sisters.

"Some people may not be in favor of the kind of struggles or the kind of activities that we sometimes get ourselves into, but we will and must be heard, we will no longer be silent. You will agree that over the last few years we have been gaining some recognition through hard work, through the support of interested people who have been able to help us. Some of you standing in this room have been able to give us assistance in one way or another.

"I assure you that we are not anti-development. I want to assure you that we will work with any authority, but we have to do so with our full participation, we have to do so with our full, free and informed consent for all activities that are going to take place in and around our areas. We have to think about our children that are coming up. We have to think about the future of Amerindians in Guyana. Like any other ethnic group, we can contribute to the development of Guyana as long as we are given the chance, as long as you are willing to listen to us.

"You will agree that we take time in making decisions, our decisions are not made at one time. We have to consult, we have to speak with people, we have to speak with the spirits so that they can give us advice, so that they can give us the right direction. It is important and I feel honored right here that this is a history making event. The spirits are turning and will continue to turn, they are turning in all directions. I want to assure you that the direction we are going to take is to assist in the development of our country and the development of the Amerindian nations of Guyana.

“I see a bright future for our people once were are consulted and respected. I see something on the horizon for our people as long as we can work together. We are willing to work. A lot of people have shown that they are willing to listen to us. The Prime Minister who I have had several meetings with is a man that I admire for being very patient, for listening to us, giving us not only one side of his ears, but both of his ears. I feel real honored and I want to thank the spirits for giving me the strength and courage to stand here in front of you. I leave tomorrow to go back to my people and I have good news for them. Thank you.”

The Panara

“The tribe that hides from man” as they were known, were a feared community among neighboring Indian groups. However, they almost became extinct when the Cuibá-Santerem highway, (the BR-163) cut through the very heart of their territory in the early 1970’s. With little or no resistance to the diseases that the road carried into the area, the Panará’s numbers fell from an estimated 800 to just 80 in three years. The survivors remember this period in their history as “the time everyone died”. In February 1975, the remaining members of the community were relocated to the Xingu National Park, some 250 miles away. After moving nine times within the Park in an effort to find an environment similar to their native forest, the Panará sought assistance in their efforts to reclaim the land from which they were removed in an attempt to secure their cultural heritage.

“The tribe that hides from man, comes back from the verge of cultural extinction”

When they saw an airplane for the first time, over flying the Sonsênasan village in 1967, the Panará called it the pakyã’akriti, or “the phony falling star.” They rushed to their bows and shot the intruder, but no hits were scored. Inside the plane, frontiersman Cláudio Villas Bôas ducked instinctively when he saw the arrows flying by. He was looking for the “giant Indians” to pacify them before contact was made with the whites in the Peixoto de Azevedo river. He found them at last. But he was anguished. The arrows crisscrossed the sky and fell to the ground. Despite all his heart in avoiding the worst, he knew he was the herald of a fate impregnable to the warriors’ aim. Just as a falling star, the airplane came into the Panará lives as an omen - to change it.

It was another five years before the Villas Bôas brother finally could approach the aloof Panará, on February 4, 1973, because the Indians set up and broke camp and always fled from contact. However, before this historical contact, before the Cuiabá-Santarém road was bulldozed over them, sporadic contacts with the highway white worker’s viruses struck the Panará. In two years, so many died from the flu and diarrhea that the group almost disappeared: “We were in our village - chieftain Akè Panará recalls - and everybody began to die. Others went deep into the woods, and more died. We were sick and weak, and couldn’t bury our dead. They rotted on the ground. The buzzards ate them all.”

Because of the tragedy, one great big phony falling star flown by Brazilian Air Force officers airlifted the survivors from the Peixoto de Azevedo river to the Xingu Indigenous Park, 250 km westward. Within two years, the Panará were decimated, de-structured and evicted. Within one hour, they were flown into another world. In Xingu, they lived as ghosts, roaming the country. They shifted village sites seven times, seeking a place similar to their original territory. It was much worse than an exile.

Photo: Pedro Martinelli/Agência Globo (1973)
Twenty years after that memorable trip, they returned. They traveled to the Peixoto de Azevedo river, they flew in the star and they found a good omen from the skies: a pristine chunk of their land, still covered with forests, preserved from prospectors, squatters, loggers and cattle. A pretty good chunk. They moved back, set up camp and built a new village. They filed suits in court, and convinced the National Foundation for the Indian to support them. And finally they got their land back. The “miracle victims” became “subjects of history.” This is the true story of the giant Indians - the story of a giant heart.

Who are the Panará?

The Panará are the last descendants of the Southern Cayapó, a large group which dwelled in a vast area in central Brazil in the 18th century, from Northern São Paulo, Triângulo Mineiro and Southern Goiás to Eastern Mato Grosso and Eastern and Southeastern Mato Grosso do Sul. The Southern Cayapó were a symbol of “ferocity,” because they took no prisoners in battle. The intensification of mineral exploration, which increased the trade flows between São Paulo and Goiás, smack in their land, prompted the administrations of both provinces to hire frontiersmen to drive the Indians away from the travelers’ and miners’ routes. When Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva found gold in the Vermelho river region in Goiás by 1772, the Southern Cayapó began to find constant conflicts at the expanding frontier.

Photo: Pedro Martinelli/Agência Globo (1973)
The conflicts between the Southern Cayapó and the Portuguese settlers in the Goiás trails were plenty and bloody. In the first engagements, according to a chronicler of the time, one thousand Cayapó were captured in a three-month campaign. Another investigator calculates another 8,000 were enslaved in the first wars. Following the second half of the 18th century, the bandeiras (early exploratory expeditions) organized against the Cayapó veered off from the purpose of enslaving the Indians, and were limited to killing all men who could take arms. The war against the Cayapó entailed slaughter and compulsory living under white man rule.

In the 19th century the occupation of the lands Southwest of Goiás compounded the conflicts with the Indians and drove the Cayapó population to near extinction, and only a few Indians remained in the Triângulo Mineiro. The Southern Cayapó were considered extinct in the first few decades of the 20th century. The Panará who did not submit the white man’s rule and assimilation in the 18th and 19 century fled West and North, to the deeper woods of Northern Mato Grosso. What is known from ethno-history is that the present Panará came to the Peixoto de Azevedo watershed, a right-bank tributary to the Teles Pires river, one of the feeders of the Tapajós river, by the beginning of this century. The natural wealth of the region contributed towards their settling down in the region.

Photo: Pedro Martinelli/Agência Globo (1973)
The Panará’s oral tradition has it that they came from the East, from a savanna region, inhabited by extremely wild and ferocious white men, who had fire weapons, who fought tirelessly and killed off many of the Panará ancestors. According to chieftain Akè Panará, “the elders told us that, earlier, the whites killed many Panará with their long guns. They came to our villages and killed many. If they ever come here - they said - kill them dead with your war clubs, for they are vicious.”

The Panará speak a tongue from the Jê linguistic family, from the Southern Jê sub-family, which includes the Kayapó, the Suyá, the Apinayé and the Timbira languages. Recent investigations demonstrate that the Southern Cayapó and the Panará are, in fact, but a single language.

Return to Traditional Territory

This willingness and the limitations imposed by the Xingu Park borders prompted the Panará to undertake a process of returning to their ancient homeland. In October 1991, six Panará and six whites boarded a bus for the historical trip back to the Peixoto de Azevedo. That was the first time the Panará decided to return to their region since their relocation, in 1975. The group arrived in the city of Matupá, on BR-163, in the extreme North of Mato Grosso and began to reconnoiter the territory.

The Peixoto de Azevedo river valley was a scenario of desolation. Prospectors and farmers had cut down the forest, polluted and silted the rivers, specially the Braço Norte. Many troughs had become mud ditches. Vast stretches of paradise-like Peixoto de Azevedo had turned to slime. The Indians were aghast at the effects of random cutting, cattle-raising and twenty years of prospection activity. Then and there, they reported they desire to meet immediately with the authorities responsible for the construction of the highway which entailed the occupation of the region. They were indignant and demanded a response.

In the same trip, the Panará flew over the area and observed that out of the eight villages existing in 1968, six had been destroyed by prospectors and settlement and cattle-raising projects. Thus the idea of claiming indemnity for the occupation and destruction of their lands. In the same flight, they identified a stretch of territory, near the Cachimbo range, near the Iriri river springheads, still covered with pristine forests and small-flow rivers. A part of the land which had not been occupied.

Thus, the Panará discussed among themselves in their village what they had seen, identifying the traditional area which had not been occupied and coming to a consensus regarding the intended area. The Panará decided to forego a major part of their traditional territory, to which they were entitled by law, in order to avoid conflicts with the whites, and claimed the area without effective occupation: 448,000 hectares in the Iriri and Ipiranga springheads, in the border between Pará and Mato Grosso, including the plot belonging to INCRA, in Mato Grosso. In March 1993, the Panará formally requested the demarcation of their lands.

In Brasília, the Panará , represented by the Indigenous Rights Nucleous, filed action against the Federal Union, FUNAI and INCRA. They demanded the permanent possession of the traditional Panará area and exclusive fruition of its wealth

The Return

By November 1994, the Panará convened the Xingu Park leaders for a meeting in the Arraias river village, to present and discuss the plan to return to the original territory. It was a historical meeting, lasting three days. Many co-players of the giant Indian’s saga were present: Kayapó Txukarramãe chieftain Raoni; his nephew and then-director of the Park, Megaron; Kayabi leader Mairawe, chief of FUNAI’s Diauarum Station; and kayabi chieftains Prepuri and Cuiabano. Cláudio and Orlando Villas Bôas were invited but could not be present. For the first time ever, all Xingu leaders met in the Panará village.

Four Panará chieftains, Akè, Teseya, Kôkriti e Krekõ, the four oldest men, declared publicly and strongly their intention to return to the land of their forefathers, in the Peixoto de Azevedo river. They emphasized that the Xingu is not the Panará land and that their land is fertile and teeming with game. Nine Panará, men and women, delivered speeches defending the return to their land. One young Panará spoke against. Most leaders invited to the occasion spoke in support of the initiative and many others, such as the leaders of the Txikão, Suyá and Kayabi, spoke with longing of the land they left behind, when they came to live in the Park. Olympio Serra, to succeeded the Villas Bôas brothers as the Park manager, recalled that the original idea of creating the Park encompassed a much greater territory which, were it created, the original lands of the Panará, Txikão and Kayabi would have been protected, making it unnecessary to attract and transfer these groups to inside the Park’s present borders. The conference of the Xingu leaders in the Arraias village crystallized the Panará’s decision to return to the Peixoto de Azevedo.

In December 1994, FUNAI completed the identification and delimitation process of the Panará Indigenous Land. In the same month, the Panará filed a suit for indemnity of material and moral damages in the 7th Federal Court, in the Federal District, instituted by lawyers from the Indigenous Rights Nucleous against the Federal Union and FUNAI, demanding payment for damages and indemnity “to be computed at sentence.”

Along 1995 and 1996 gradually the Panará moved to a new village, built little by little, which they called Nacypotire, the Panará name for the Iriri river. In September 1996 this new village already hosted 75 individuals, eleven lodges, one FUNAI station and a passable landing strip. Those who remained in the Xingu only thought about the move, but they had to wait until the fields planted in the Iriri river prospered, to ensure the sustenance of 174 individuals. At the Iriri, back again in their territory, the pride of the Panará was absolute.

On November 1, 1996 the Justice minister declared the Panará Indigenous Land “permanent indigenous possession,” comprising 495,000 hectares in the municipalities of Guarantã (MT) and Altamira (PA). The same ruling chartered FUNAI to provide the physical demarcation of the territory, driving stakes in the area. The government politically recognized the Panará rights and their land limits. But the story is not over yet. The president of the republic must homologate, by decree, the demarcation of the Panará Indigenous land. It must be registered with the real estate notary offices in Guarantã and Altamira. And it also must be registered with the Federal Union Property Secretariat, in Brasília. Only then will the rights of the Indians be consolidated.

At any rate, the exodus was turned around. The return to Iriri is a long-term process. There will be obstacles and risks and the Panará know this. They traded the security of the Xingu Park for the instability of an area open to predatory, random economic expansion. But they are willing to pay the ante. Even facing difficulties and risks, they will not forego their conquered land. It is the power which provides the gravity to the identity of a people of 174 individuals which has passed over many ordeals. At the end, the true story of the giant Indians proves the truth of the myth. Not the one of the stature, but one of the heart. The heart of the Panará giants.

Giant Indians: Why?

The Panará stepped back into the Brazilian history in the 70s. Nobody knew how they called themselves. They were “giant Indians,” or Krenacore, Kreen-Akrore, Kreen-akarore, Krenhakarore, or Krenacarore - variations of the Kayapó name kran iakarare, which means “round-cut head,” a reference to the traditional haircut that is typical of the Panará. In the copious reports from the contact times there is an underlying concern with explaining their unknown origin. Calling them giants, white Indians or black Indians was a way of identifying them and remove them from their disturbing state of absolute otherness. Many were the causes of the reputation which contact with the Villas Bôas brothers proved untrue. Most Panará were as tall as other indigenous groups as the Kayapó and the Xavante. And some were really very tall. Their enormous bows and war clubs, which stood 6 feet on end, impressed the whites and led them to suppose that they could be handled by enormous men only. The Kayapó, traditional foes of the Panará, spun the tale of the giant Indians to increase the value their battles against them.

An evident, notorious reason was called Mengrire who stood 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m) tall. He was a Panará Indian who was abducted from his village while still a child and raised by the Kayapó Metuktire (the Txukarramãe). He was later taken to the Xingu Indigenous Park, where he died or was killed in the sixties, at the age of 38. Mengrire, a real giant, was the only such giant measured and recognized as such by medical doctors and researchers - he was the sole proven evidence.

Besides this single case, Orlando Villas-Bôas tells that by the time of contact there were at least eight very tall Panará. However, they died from the white men’s diseases. Today’s Panará adults, who lived in the Peixoto de Azevedo river prior to 1973, are absolutely emphatic about the existence of “veeeery tall” kinfolk in the past. When the Panará came to the Xingu Park on January 12 1975, a team from the Escola Paulista de Medicina, a medical school, examined 27 of the 29 newcomers; all adults older than 20. The average height was 5 feet 7 inches (1.67 m), in line with Jê group standards, a bit taller than the Upper Xingu Indians. No phenomenon there.

Way of Life

Upon being transferred from the Peixoto de Azevedo river to the Xingu Indigenous Park, the Panará remained hunters, fishermen, farmers and collectors. Jê nomads driven into sedentary life, the Panará have always made it clear that their society, as structured in the Xingu Park, was a makeshift version of what it was in their traditional land.

Evidence of twenty years of Xingu life and in the white man’s world is visible. Aluminum pans, salt, sometimes sugar, matches and kerosene are found in their lodges. Changes in feeding habits and contact with microorganisms and bacteria promoted the decay of their teeth. Women wear dresses and men wear shorts. All have knives, axes and machetes, and a few have rifles or shotguns.

Photo: Pedro Martinelli/Agência Globo (1973)
Adult women no longer wear the traditional cropped haircut, with two parallel lines running atop their heads, which was replaced by long hair with fringes, in the Suyá female style. Body painting, feather artistry and music assimilated elements from the Xingu culture, mainly from the Kayapó, their nearest neighbors.

As evident as the signals of coexistence is the explicit cultivation of the Panará rationale for organizing space, time, production and the reproduction of life in their village. This talk is in Panará language. Many speak Kayapó or Suyá or both; nearly all understand some Portuguese, but only a few men speak this language with some fluency. Sophisticated speeches may resort to Portuguese words in their sentences, but important things are said in the Panará language.

Social Space

The Panará live in a large round village, with lodges positioned along the periphery of the circle. In the center is the Men’s Lodge, in the classic style of the villages of the Jê linguistic family. The village’s circle comprises the sites of the four existing clans and all lodges belong to these clans. The Panará cardinal points indicate the sites of the clans in the village circle, guided by the sun’s trajectory.

The names of the clans suggest spatial mapping of time processes or growth and maturation. The clans are called: kwakyati pe, kwasôti pe, kukre nô pe and kwôsi pe, all these names alluding to these processes. Kwa means “buriti palm tree”; kyati means “root” or "the place where the trunk plunges into the ground "; sôti means “leaf”, “point” or “end”; kukre means “lodge”; and kwôsi means “rib”. East, were the sun rises, is kwakyati pe; West, where the sun sets, is kwasôti pe. That is, East is the root, the beginning, and West is the leaf, the end. The two polarized clans inscribe inside the spatial organization of the village the sign of time, following the trajectory of the sun from sunrise to sunset, and they map in this spatial representation the root’s growth process till the leaf.

Photo: Pedro Martinelli/Agência Globo (1973)

The clan names can also refer to clan members or to the place, depending on pitch. For example: kwatyati pe stands for “the place of the buriti palm tree root”; or kwkyatanterà for “the people of the buriti root”; kwasôti pe for “the place of the buriti leaf”, or kwasôtantera for “people of the buriti leaf”. It is well to remember the shape of the buriti palm tree: a straight trunk without branches, with leaves at the top only. In order words, it is the ideal tree to incorporate the root/leaves contrast. The buriti log is used for log racing, a ceremony bearing enormous significance to the Jê groups in general and the Panará as well.

The design of the village is a representation of the group’s total social universe. In the center of the village circle there were traditionally two Men’s Lodges, where adolescent boys lived. The Eastern one belonged to the kyatantera, “the people of the root, or the beginning”, the Western one belonged to the sôtantera, “the people of the leaf, or the end.” Those are the ceremonial halves, the societies of men, which split the village (East/West, Root/Leaf) and plunge into log-racing, in key moments of the great ritual cycle.

The two other clans are not North/South. The kukrenô pe clan is on the Southeast, and the kwasôti pe is on the Southwest, as though interposed amidst the two polar clans. The first, kukrenôwantera, means “the homeless people” and relates to the origin of the Panará society, at a time when social order did not exist, when their ancestors were homeless. They relate to a time prior to the world of Panará villages, agriculture, music and rites. The kwôsitantera, the “people of the rib”, refer to death (when only bones remain) or a latter time, when the social conviviality is gone. That is, between “beginning” and “end” in the Panará social space architecture time is included in full, since before the world existed until after its existence, when it has already been. The village is the representation of totality, of space and time.

The clans have strong links with women, since everybody, without exception, belongs to the clan of their mothers. The entire Panará kinship system is ruled by spatial relations. Names are given basing on the house the mother was born, where in the village circle the father was married and so forth.

Social Relations

Male kinship, however, plays an important role. Panará names are conveyed by men. The father names the sons and the father’s sister, or some female kin to the father, names the daughters. Men give their own names to their sons, or the names of their brothers or other kin. Everybody has at least two names, and a few have a baker’s dozen. Everybody carries the same of some ancestor, and their mythical ancestors named the Panará, as well as the animals, the birds and the fishes.

Although there are mechanisms for the invention of names, as a rule the system admits no such thing: the true name is the name of the ancestors, the suankyara, those “from before.” The array of Panará names suggests nothing less than a list of all things in the world. Thus, Tekyã means “short shin”; Kokoti means “bloated”; Kyùti means “tapir”; Pè’su means “Brazilian nut”; Nansô means “rat”; Sampuyaka means “Matrinchã” (a fish, and, literally, “white tail”); Sôkriti, “fake leaf” or “something that resembles a leaf”. Just as the clans permanently set the cardinal points of the Panará cosmology within the village circle, the naming system is the statement of the adequacy of their ancestors’ knowledge to everything that exists, setting into perpetual circulation the names from the mythical times of the early elders for generations.

These are the basic relations that organize events in village life. Traditionally, boys until 12 or 13 years of age live with their parents, in the mother’s lodge. Upon reaching this age, they sleep at the Men’s Lodge, as per their ceremonial half. Following a few years of residence at the Men’s Lodge, the boys start stable relations with girls and gradually incorporate themselves to the lodges of their future wives. That is, the relations between the boys and their families are severed by residing at the Men’s Lodge and thence they begin to create their own procreation family incorporated to the lodges of their wives, who will bear their children. Marriage is consolidated upon the birth of children.

Photo: Pedro Martinelli (1995)

Women not only signal their belonging to the clans; they effectively are the masters of the lodges where they live with their husbands, their daughters and their daughters’ husbands and children all the way to adult age. If a monogamist marriage ends - and it may end several times in adulthood - men leave the lodge. Marriages are commonly dissolved and people remarry four or five times over. The traumatic history of the group, rife with widowhood, prompted this.

As well as with the other Jê groups, with the age group systems, being a full adult among the Panará is conveyed by the words taputun, old man, and twatun, old woman, which means having married children and being a grandfather or grandmother. The sons-in-law must works for their in-laws tilling the fields for their wives and their wives’ families, hunting and fishing to feed their lodges and their mothers’ lodges and show respect, by way of a formal attitude of deference vis-à-vis the elders’ age bracket.

The youngsters (piàntui, young woman and piôntui, young man) handle productive work: tilling the fields, hunting, fishing and food-making. The elders handle organization and productive work by way of speeches delivered in the village yard or in the Men’s Lodge, besides the organization of rites. Along these things, men play a major role, having a best-favored space in ritual activities and ritual speeches. This is partly due to the mediation of men in the relations with the world outside the Panará community, which traditionally happened by way of war. The influence of elder women, by turn, is effective in any decision that affects the village as a whole.

Ceremonial Life

Log racing is the most important ceremonial activity. Done at several times, during the female puberty feast, following warring expeditions or by itself, it is the major public demonstration of male power and energy. Resuming log racing in the Xingu Park had a crucial significance in the social reconstruction process. For many years, the Panará did not build a Men’s Lodge in the Park, under the allegation that there were no boys. In fact, only after their last move inside the Park, when they installed their village in the Arraias river, did they build one. It was not by chance that at the same time they felt capable of building their Men’s Lodge they also began the process of retaking their lands.

The issue of natural resources is crucial to understand why living in the Xingu was a problem. Under their viewpoint, not only were they in foreign land but also in poor land. In the Indigenous Park there is less game than in the Peixoto de Azevedo, several fruits which were important components of the gathering process - including Brazilian nuts - do not exist there, the land is less fertile and the fields yield less and deplete faster.

All this, given the Panará social and cosmological order, implies a loss beyond materiality. The forest, the rivers, the igarapés and the lakes are sources not only of material resources, but the basis of social order. The mythical ancestors, who named the Panará and the world, were “combined” beings - animals, but also Panará people. The dead, in the village of the dead, underneath the ground, bred many animals they offered to the living to breed and slaughter, in sacrifice rites designed to ordinate the exchange relations among the clans. One interpretation of the scarcity of game in the Xingu is that “the dead give us no more.” Material want risks the relations between the living and the dead and between kinship and friends. At night, the stars are the dead Panará of the past; the small ones being men, and the larger, more brilliant ones are the women. A white man seeking a semblance of religion among the Panará would find nothing. Social life, natural world and cosmological life are ruled by the same categories.


The Panará grow maize, potatoes, yam, several banana species, cassava, squash and peanuts. In the fertile Peixoto and Iriri lands, the same banana trees yielded fruit for years on end, while the Xingu land requires new trees every year. The difficulty of working without steel tools was overcome by the purchase of knives, machetes and axes. Fascination with these tools prompted the Panará to attack the Englishman Richard Mason in 1961; to come to the Cachimbo Air Force Base in 1967 and to accept contact with Cláudio Villas Bôas in 1973. Knives and beads were the only booty taken from dead enemies in the wars against the Kayapó. In contacts with the whites, as soon as they were given many steel axes, they dumped their own stone axes into the river.

Fishing is done both in the rainy and in the dry season, since the techniques to capture fish vary according to the water level: timbó (a toxic weed) in low-water season and bow and arrows during the flood. Hunting is the most prestigious male activity. Tapir, monkeys of several kinds, paca (a rodent), jacu, mutum and other hen-like fowl are shot down with bows and arrows or slammed dead with the war club. The knowledge of the animals and the ecosystem, rather than force or technology, ensures bringing the venison home. As gatherers, the Panará value the several species of honey they harvest, and they eat it pure, blended with açaí, or diluted in water. They also much appreciate wild papaya, cupuaçu, wild cocoa, cashew, buriti, tucum, macaúba, inajá, mangaba, pequi and the all-important Brazilian nut, gathered between November and February, exactly in the period when the fields have already been planted but haven’t yet yielded.

For the Panará, the entire subsistence production process is organized by social relations. The daily chores of each family core - women harvesting cassava or other produce, men going hunting or fishing - provides content to a transcendental ritual cycle, whereby the entire collective work force is mobilized by complex service requests and provisions among clans, culminating in the collective preparation of a great quantity of cassava or maize, whose complement is the yield of a collective hunt that takes weeks, sometimes. In the anticlimax of the ceremony, everybody prepares an immense paparuto (a cassava or corn pasta filled with meat, wrapped in banana leaves and baked in a ground oven), that which is eaten every day, to split among the clans and subsequently be consumed. The absence of game means, in the long pull, that there is no way of maintaining the social architecture.

In the same vein, the field is not only a highly socialized space as well as a space for fundamental material and social work. Thus the explanation of the geometric shape of the fields which puzzled the attraction workers. The circular design of the field, with certain plants in the periphery, and its lines, sometimes crossed, of banana trees or maize crisscrossing the center of the field is a partial reproduction of the village space, with the opposition between the center and the periphery, using the selfsame space concepts which orientate body painting and haircuts, always in tune with the social system. The growth of maize and peanuts are time frameworks for piercing rites of ears and men’s lower lips and the etching of thighs, which, on their turn, articulate with the exchange cycle among the clans. Having weak fields, which do not yield, is a problem which shakes the entire social fabric of the Panará.

While they lived in the Xingu, the Panará tirelessly repeated that their society was a makeshift, a cut-back, impoverished and inferior version of their society as it once was in the Peixoto de Azevedo river. On the other hand, there is evidence that this crestfallen condition before the old ancestors is not merely a sign of disaster entailed by contact. Every formal speech delivered by the elders in the village yard, especially by chieftains, starts from the explicit assumption that those who are speaking (the elder, the chieftain) know everything, and those who listen (the youngsters) know nothing. The formal speech is always delivered by those who heard the old ancestors down to those who did not see or heard them. There is always a tone of exhortation to encourage “those of now” (kômakyara), who live today, to follow the model of the ancestors, “those of before” (suankyara), who were more generous, harder-working, happier, stronger, more beautiful, less egotistical, less gossiping and less slothful.

The comparison between and living today and their ancestors is recurrent in the Panará discourse. The impression is one that the Panará live under the contingency of being a feeble reflection of their past, a characteristic of the relation between elders and youngsters, ancestors and descendants in general. This present-day inferiority assumption helps understand the willingness to rebuild society following the catastrophe.

Project Highlights of the Rainforest Foundation US

The Rainforest Foundation US (RF-US) is a part of an international network of offices that have projects in 18 rainforest countries throughout Asia, Africa, Central and South America. In 2000, the RF-US will also begin to seek out partners and programs in North America, which support Native American communities in their struggle to protect their rights and their land.

Our work supports advocacy initiatives and precedent setting legal cases that enable indigenous peoples to demand that their governments uphold the laws that exist, but are often ignored, that support indigenous rights to their lands. In these cases, the governments have been made to recognize the constitutional rights of indigenous peoples while prosecuting transgressors of international and national law. It is our hope that other indigenous peoples will be inspired by these legal victories and secure their entitlement to the lands which they have occupied for generations.

In our literature, you will read “Protect the people, so that they can protect their home”. Increasingly these simple words are proving to be a practical strategy in rainforest protection as satellite imagery in recent years has shown that there is a reduction of rainforest destruction only in areas where indigenous people have their land rights protected. Through this simple message, we hope to convey the plight facing indigenous communities of the forest. It is their right, as it is ours, to feel secure in their home without the fear of eviction.

The Future

In the coming year, mecacraft will continue to support the work of our partners in rainforest countries throughout the Americas. Our newly appointed program staff will build on the work of the past year to develop and implement new projects such as a regional radio network (covering Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname) empowering and informing communities of threats to their environment. In 2000, we will investigate the possibility of creating a model indigenous law center that can be replicated throughout Latin America that provides communities with access to laws that directly affect them.

Rainforests can save your life

The rainforest is the earth’s natural laboratory, from where one quarter of today’s pharmaceuticals are derived. One seemingly insignificant plant, the rosy periwinkle, gave us medicines which revolutionized the treatment of leukemia in children. According to the National Cancer Institute, 70% of the plants used in fighting cancer can only be found in the rainforest. But less than 1% of tropical forest species have been thoroughly examined for their medicinal properties. As rainforests are being destroyed, at least three species are extinguished every day. The treatment for presently incurable diseases may vanish with these species.

Rainforests stabilize the climate

With its incredible capacity to store humidity and heat, the tropical rainforest around the equator functions as a giant pressure pump, forcing a steady stream of hot and humid air towards the colder temperate zones, thus stabilizing the climate. It is believed that large scale deforestation will break this natural mechanism. Also, when rainforests are burned, massive amounts of carbon dioxide are released, significantly contributing to global warming. Together, deforestation and burning contribute to increased storm activity and climatic chaos.

Rainforests are precious

Beneath its ancient, ever-green appearance, the rainforest hides an astounding variety of plants and animals. Although it presently covers only 3.5% of the planet’s land surface, the rainforest contains more than half of all life forms. It is also home to more than a thousand indigenous tribes. Their culture and wisdom reflect an intricate and intimate knowledge of the complexity of the rainforest. When we destroy the rainforest, not only do we destroy priceless ecosystems, it also means the death of hundreds of unique cultures.

An Economic Perspective

An evaluation of one typical hectare in the Peruvian Amazon yields the following economic reality:

One hectare can be clear-cut (deforested) once for $1,000 in timber. Once the trees are gone, they’re gone.
The clear-cut land is worth about $148 if used as cattle pasture
However, the same hectare can be worth $6,820 per year if the forest is left intact and sustainably harvested for fruits, latex, and timber
Satellite data has shown that only where indigenous people have recognized land title has there been a reduction in forest destruction.


Global Rates of Destruction

In Brazil

Species Extinction

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