Quarup: Celebrating the Dear Dead

    the Dear Dead

For Orlando Villas-Boas, Brazil’s most renowned indianist alive, it
was a time of high emotion. "My father, my father", repeated cacique
Kanato, an old Indian who was still a young man when Orlando first met him at the end of
the ’40s. Orlando and Kanato embraced each other and cried.
By Émerson Luís

The spirits of brothers Cláudio and Álvaro Villas-Boas—the best friends the
Brazilian Indians ever had among the white man—were finally freed from their earthly
chains to rivers and forests and were able to get to the "stars village" high up
in the skies. Their lives were celebrated in a Quarup, the highest homage paid by the
Indians to their dead heroes. Orlando, 84, was there to see it all. He is the last
survivor of the four Villas-Boas brothers, who in the ’40s started contacting tribes on
the border of the Xingu river—an Amazon tributary—in Central Brazil. For 32
years Orlando and Cláudio lived with the Indians. The fourth
Villas-Boas—Leonardo—died in 1961.

At the Kamayurá aldeia (village) in the Amazon High Xingu, Tacumã is the cacique
(chief) and the host for the Quarup, the ritual party for the dead. Everybody else is
guest: more than 1100 Indians from several tribes. The guests started to arrive on Friday,
on the eve of the celebration. The Yawalapitis were the first to get there followed by the
Waurás and then the Awetis. The Meynako, Kuikuro, Kalapalo, Matipu, Nafukuá and Trumay
tribes came in Saturday, July 25. The Quarup dances, which started Saturday morning, would
last until the breaking of the next day.

Tacumã leads over a community of 300 Indians living in 15 malocas (collective
huts). For 400 years his people have lived on the banks of the Ipavu lagoon.
"Cláudio died in the city," he said, "but his spirit moved here, so we
decided to do the Quarup, so he can rest in peace in the village of the stars."

Ulisses Capozoli, one of the reporters invited for the Quarup, mocked in his long piece
published by daily O Estado de S. Paulo the government involvement in the
ceremonies. "Justice Minister, Renan Calheiros, makes an empty speech, and heeding a
request from Iris Rezende, his predecessor on the post, "warns" the Indians not
to burn the forest. There is a refined irony here. The former minister owns a huge farm
with large deforested areas just beside the park. In the lands of his brother, Orlando,
the spectacle is even sadder. Black and smoldering tree trunks show the effects of a
recent fire although there is a vague economic justification for all of this."

The mainstream media, which was drawn to the spectacle, seemed mesmerized by the
bonfires, the mystery of the jungle, and the solemnity of the dances and chants. And at
times the Indians seemed puzzled by the shoves, screams and lack of sportsmanship
exhibited by photographers jockeying for a better shooting position.

Hugs and Tears

Other white men like anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro and indianist marshal Cândido Rondon
were celebrated in a Quarup, but nothing that compared to the show put on for brothers
Cláudio, who died March 1998 and Álvaro Villas-Boas dead in 1996, plus the Indian
warrior Mariká. Experts believe this was the largest Quarup ever staged for white men.

Maynapu, an Yawalapiti warrior, described the role of Quarup as an integrator factor:
"The dead must be remembered and grieved with respect, but after the pain it is time
for the huka-huka (wrestling) joy. "

The tree trunks were placed in the center of the village. "For us they are all the
same," explained Tacumã, even though Mariká’s trunk is thinner in deference to the
white men, and the one representing Cláudio was placed in the center because he was the
one of the two brothers who lived more among the Indians.

It was a time of high emotion and tears for Orlando, the sole survivor of the
Villas-Boas. He reencountered Indians he hadn’t seen for 30 years. Since 1984 the
indianist had not visited the Xingu Park Indian Reservation, one of the better-known
Villas-Boas accomplishments. "My father, my father", repeated cacique
Kanato, an Indian who is in his ’60s, but who was still a young man when Orlando first met
him at the end of the ’40s. Both men embraced each other and cried.

Not all participants came simply to mourn and celebrate the lives of dead heroes,
though. Pegrati, 15, for example, was excited about the possibility of finding a wife.
Said the Meynako warrior incapable of hiding a broad smile: "After one year in
reclusion the virgins are being released and I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. The
Kamayurá girls are very pretty. I might get lucky and marry one."

Amid all the emotion, Orlando Villas-Boas talked about his concern for the future of
the area. In an interview with Rio’s daily Jornal do Brasil he declared: "The
High Xingu is a world reference for the preservation of indigenous culture. You need to
have more resources to maintain this status. The biggest danger to the rivers that form
the Xingu river basin is the pollution at the headwater of the tributaries. If the
aggression to the springs is not prevented the Xingu will be jeopardized in the next
millenium." And Orlando, who has already spelled out his wish to be buried in the
Xingu reservation, continued talking about his brother: "Cláudio was my other half.
With his death I lost a piece of my heart. But tomorrow I will also die. The peoples from
Xingu are the ones who cannot die. My brothers died believing that Brazil would not do to
their Indians what the United States did. Some say that our names—mine and
Cláudio’s—might be nominated for a Nobel Prize. If this happens the merit belongs to
the Indians who taught us more than learned from us."

The Villas-Boas brothers’ dreams might inspire a new generation of Villas-Boas. Chief
Tacumã made an invitation to Noel, the youngest son of Orlando to live in the reservation
and to continue his father work. The 23-year-old Philosophy (at PUC, the São Paulo
catholic university) and Linguistics (at USP, Universidade de São Paulo) student is not
against the idea but says that is too early for such a serious commitment and


An Indian ceremony to honor the illustrious dead. The honoree is represented by a cut
trunk of a tree, which is painted and decorated with feathers, ribbons, bracelets, collars
and all kinds of colorful ornaments. The trunk or trunks are buried in the center of the
village and the celebrations that include laments, dances, and bonfires are held around
the totem-like symbol. The all-night celebration ends when the first rays of sun appear.
The trunks then are taken and thrown into the river for their final liberating trip.

According to the Xingu Indian Genesis, Mavutsinin, the supreme being and creator, made
man from six mavunhã tree trunks that he buried in an empty village. He then spent
the night singing to the cut trees until sunrise when the lifeless wood gave sign of live.
Mavutsinin made a bonfire close to every trunk to help them but they never became people.
Sad, the god kept singing through another night and another sunrise after which the
exterior white side of the tree became women and the darker wood inside gave origin to

The fish then jumped from the river and the jaguar left the jungle and engaged in a
wrestling match to celebrate the first humans. Quarup, a Tupi word meaning "sun on
the wood", is a reenactment of the Mavutsinin’s ceremonial. After a Quarup there
should be no more tears since the dead are again alive although in another dimension,
Umañoretá, the celestial village where everything is the same as it was on earth.


The Xingu

The Parque Nacional Indígena do Xingu, created in 1961 with the help of the
Villas-Boas, today has an estimated population of 6000, spread throughout 30 villages from
17 indigenous nations. The reservation occupies 2.3 million hectares in the northern area
of Mato Grosso state, an area 30% larger than that of the state of Israel. The area is
administered by Funai (Fundação Nacional do Índio—Indian National Foundation) and
is under direct supervision of the Brazilian Justice Ministry.

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