Poyanawa Rapé – Pixuri
The Poyanawa live close to the border with Peru, in the municipality of Mancio Lima, the most western town of Brasil.
This Rapé was blended with a herb called Pixuri and Murici ashes. Pixuri is a traditional medicine of the Poyanawa people and they use it a lot in their Rapé. It has a delicious scent giving a special flavor to the medicine. For Rapé they use the leaves of the tree but the seeds are used in cooking because of their particular flavor. Apart from its particular flavor it is a medicinal plant used to combat headaches and in herbal baths for spiritual cleansing.
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Like many peoples of Acre, the Puyanawa suffered heavily from the boom in rubber and caucho extraction in the region at the start of the 20th century. Since the first contacts with non-Indians, many have died in direct confrontations or from diseases contracted during the colonization process. The survivors were forced to work in the rubber extraction areas – the seringais – and quickly found their way of life decimated due to the methods used by the ‘rubber barons’ to keep the Indians working under their yoke. The Puyanawa were expelled from the lands, missionized and education in schools that banned any expression of any trace of their culture.
It was only with the beginning of the process of demarcating their territory that Puyanawa culture was once again valued by the Indians themselves, who have worked hard to recuperate their native language, a difficulty task given the small number of speakers left.
The information available on the Puyanawa population indicates that there were between 200 and 300 Indians in the region in 1908. Data from 1920 to 1927 indicate a population of 125 people at the Barão rubber extraction area too.
Other information also recorded in the 1980s relates that during this period only the old people knew how to make baskets, bows and arrows, body adornments, sleeping hammocks and clay pots. The latter objects were manufactured for domestic and religious purposes. In the past there was a container designed to “cook the dead.”
The first attempt to contact the Puyanawa was in 1901, after the Indians had taken items belonging to rubber tappers in the region. Colonel Mâncio Lima therefore organized an expedition that included three indigenous guides. For eleven days, they trekked through the forest searching for the Indians. They were unable to locate them, although they discovered recent signs of occupation every day. They found thirteen large swiddens and five huts where they left presents.
In 1904, the Indians once again entered the houses of the rubber tappers and took tools, clothing and so on. This time some were located on a path and were unable to flee. They showed the way to the village, but when they arrived, it was already empty. Ten days later, in a new attempt, they arrived to find the village burnt to the ground.
They therefore decided to journey up the Juruá River with the aim of bringing back some Yaminawa to help them attract the Indians, but the trip was unsuccessful. At the end of the same year a new expedition was organized, this time successful, during which they spent a night among the Puyanawa. Afterwards Colonel Mâncio Lima requested government support to catechize the Indians who had been living at the centre of his rubber extraction area for ten years.
According to the elders, shortly before being contacted the Puyanawa had divided because the number of people had increased. Those who stayed on the Preto creek were located by the attraction team led by Antonio Bastos. The Indians recall that they were inside the maloca when they were surprised by shouts in their own language telling them not to run. The two doors of the maloca were surrounded, but the women, frightened, managed to escape with almost all the children. The next day the men went to fetch them in the forest. Sometime later, they were all led to the Bom Jardim creek, an affluent of the Moa, where they cleared two swiddens. They stayed at this site for just a year before being transferred to the Maloca creek on the Barão do Rio Branco farm estate.
In 1913, Colonel Mâncio Lima was informed of the presence of Indians in the region by a rubber extraction area owner from the Riozinho. An expedition was sent, this time including the participation of the Puyanawa. They managed to attract Napoleão’s group, which was also taken to Maloca group.
Describing the ‘pacification’ of the Indians in the Department of Juruá, the mayor Rego Barros stated in his 1914 report that Antonio Bastos “[…] had persuaded more than eight hundred forest natives to establish friendly relations with the rubber tappers, allowing the expansion in the area being explored by the extraction industry. Meanwhile the manager [Mâncio Lima] – whose rubber production was disrupted by indigenous neighbours – after another 12 years of effort and a large expenditure of money, managed to approach them with the help of Antonio Bastos and afterwards locate more than 150 individuals from the Poyanawa tribe on his Barão do Rio Branco farm on the Moa river. Some had a beautiful physique with a number of them much taller than usual among indigenous peoples.”
The Indians remained on the Barão do Rio Branco farm for a short time since they did not adapt to the new location for various reasons, one of which was the forced work, which led to the group fleeing. Just one man was unable to escape since he was on the Bom Jardim creek. He was made to follow the trail left by the group, which had divided into three. Even so, they were located again. During the capture, the tuxaua Napoleão was shot in cold blood by Mâncio Lima’s henchman. After the death of the leader, the group dispersed, crossing the Azul River.
The other two groups were found and taken back to the rubber extraction area. Finally, the dispersed group was located by chance since the Puyanawa had used various tricks to mislead the tracker. After being captured, the men were flogged and led to the Maloca creek. As soon as they arrived, a measles epidemic decimated a large number of Indians. Those who survived were transferred to the Ipiranga rubber settlement.
[José Carlos Levinho, 1984]
The ‘captivity’ period
The period from 1915 to 1950 is named by the Indians as ‘captivity.’ The men were separated from their women and sent to the rubber settlements where they worked during the entire year: in the summer, they tapped rubber on the shores of the Moa River and in the winter, in the rubber extraction ‘centres.’ The women and the older people were responsible for agricultural activities. They planted large swiddens of maize, manioc, rice, sugar cane and beans. They were also forced to undertake long treks through the forest to transport panniers of flour and sugar, and the balls of rubber.
It was only at the end of the 1930s that the women were released from work in the swiddens and allowed to live with the men in the work settlements scattered across the rub rubber extraction area.
This period is still very much alive in the memory of the elder Puyanawa. They lived as the effective slaves of Colonel Mâncio Lima, the owner of the Barão do Rio Branco rubber extraction area. They had no right to anything, not even use of a tiny part of their ancient territory. All their lands had been taken from them. They began to do all the heavy manual work on the Barão seringal and in exchange received food and a few changes of clothing.
Following the death of Colonel Mâncio Lima in 1950 and the subsequent decline of the Barão do Rio Branco rubber extraction area, the Puyanawa were finally freed from slavery.
It was only after this change that the Puyanawa made the swiddens for their families, something that until then they had been prevented from doing. They continued to produce rubber, despite the crisis in the rubber economy in the region, but they were still forced to pay for the use of the rubber roads to the heirs of the old seringal owner. The payment of the ‘rubber road toll’ meant that the Puyanawa had no right to any part of their ancient territories and thus continued to live on their lands as intruders.
FUNAI only undertook its first studies to identify the Poyanawa Indigenous Land in 1977, which was homologated in 2001.
[Terri Valle de Aquino, 1985]
Facial tattoos are common to various Pano-speaking peoples. The priest Tastevin reported at the start of the 20th century that the tattoos among the Puyanawa comprised a line extending from the mouth to the ear lobe with small vertical lines over the main line. There was a blue colour over the tattoo and around the laps. The tattoos were applied to children aged between eight and ten years, generally by elders. In the 1980s, there were still three Puyanawa Indians with facial tattoos.
According to Tastevin, the Puyanawa cooked the corpses of the dead for ten to twelve hours, dancing and crying. The leader divided the pieces of flesh of the deceased between the kin and other Indians taking part in the ritual. These recipients incinerated the pieces of flesh and mixed the ashes with caiçuma (a maize drink with peanuts), which were then ingested with the objective of incorporating the qualities of the deceased.