Arts & Entertainment

Centuries after conquest, indigenous languages survive in Brazil

By Alba Santandreu

Sao Paulo, Oct 12 (EFE).- More de 175 indigenous languages have endured in Brazil despite centuries of colonization and that legacy is celebrated in a new exhibit that opened here Wednesday.

“Nhe’e Pora: Memory and Transformation” signals the start of the 2022-2032 International Decade of Indigenous Languages of Brazil, promoted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Hosted by the Museum of the Portuguese Language in Sao Paulo, Nhe’e Pora (“sacred words” in Guarani) is intended to rescue the history and identity of Brazil’s 300 indigenous peoples.

“During the invasion, the European languages of the colonizers were imposed through practices of physical violence, death threats, torture and prohibition,” exhibit curator Daiara Tukano told EFE.

In the early phase of the conquest, she said, the Portuguese identified Tupi-Guarani as the most widely spoken language in the coastal region and made that tongue the instrument for administering their indigenous subjects and introducing them to Christianity.

Over time, Tupi-Guarani evolved into Nheegatu, which served as a lingua franca for the first three centuries of the colonial era.

But the colonizers eventually abandoned Nheegatu in favor of a policy of forcing the indigenous people to learn Portuguese.

“Each language is a universe, it’s a system of thought,” Tukano said. “We cannot allow our cosmovision and sciences to be diminished and erased for that single Western (system of) thought that is imposed.”

The exhibit includes indigenous artifacts, some from the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at the University of Sao Paulo and from the private collection of French-born Lux Boelitz Vidal, one of Brazil’s pre-eminent anthropologists.

Vidal, 94, spent extended periods living with the Xikrin people in the southwestern part of Para state, who now find their way of life threatened by illegal loggers.

Shortly before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vidal, at the urging of the Xikrin, began work on a virtual library comprising all of the knowledge she accumulated over decades.

With the help of a small team, she digitized her files, including more than 100 hours of recordings of music, first-person histories and myths passed down through the generations.

“It’s a library that serves the youth. When they listened for the first time, they said: ‘it’s pure Xikrin,'” Isabelle Giannini, Vidal’s daughter and the coordinator of the project, recounted to EFE.


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