Brazilian indigenes

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at
Thu May 24 17:03:45 MDT 2001

I have a lecture coming up on how to break with Eurocentric readings of
text (and the world!).  I will post more on this when I get to work and can
get the check list I use out of my computer there.  But I intend doing a
commentary ont he following passage.  the book itself is full of deep fears
and prejudices against the native Brazilians.  One can onextend one
sympathy to the suffers of this Christian charity.  A couple of
queries:  Is it at all likely that the Native Brazilians would not have had
a word peace and love? Secondly the book makes much of wars between the
tribes and paints them as very dangerous savages.  Could someone (LOU?)
please repost the stuff about Casement's investigations where he detailed
the murderous treatment of the indigenous people, by the Brazilians.



The argument behind the last lecture is that those of us born in Western
Countries  read texts from a Eurocentric point of view. The aim of the
check list and the lecture is to help you to break with Eurocentric ways of
approaching texts.

Consider the following text.  It is an excerpt from Rosemary Cunningham's
Under a Thatched Roof in a Brazilian Jungle: A missionary Story, Toronto:
Evangelical Publishers, 1947: 86-7.

Cunnigham describes how a group of indigenous women came to her house for a
women's meeting and to sing hymns


One of the old men said, "I am going along to see what they [the women] do
and to hear what is said."  He sat on a bench by the door and punctuated
the lesson with his ejaculations and comments.  Much to my disappointment
one of the warriors sprawled himself out on the meeting-room table to
listen, insolent to our remonstrations.  His latest girl-wife, about nine
years of age, was younger than his own small daughter who sat next to her
on the floor.

Two of the women brought dresses, which had been given to them.  We
suggested that they put them on before the singing of the first song.

"You've got the dress on backside foremost," commented the old man, "hurry
up and put it on right."

When the change had been effected ons showed great concern: "How can I sit
down with this dress on?"  The other proceeded to demonstrate the correct
method, lifting the skirt up to the waist before sitting reluctantly on one
of the benches…

They listened with interest to the Creation story, even though half-way
through the lesson baked potatoes were produced out of their gourds which
they ate blissfully, throwing the skins on the floor. The undesired meeting
concluded after all the hymns had been sung, some of them over and over
again.  The old man declared that the meeting had been good and the
audience all requested that they be given some grated manioc root as
payment for having come and listened!.

"Is it all right to take our dress off now?" asked the two clothed women.
"What don't you keep them on and wear them all the time like I do?" I

They hung their heads. "We Indian women don't decorate ourselves with
clothes like you do.  We decorate ourselves with paint.  We are ashamed to
have other see us in these strange clothes.  Well take them off now and
keep them safely and bring them with us the next time we come to
sing."  They struggled out of their "strange decoration" (as they termed
the frocks), and carried them away in their arms.

That they enjoyed the meetings one could not doubt, but what new thing had
penetrated hear or even head we could only wonder, and trust that something
might have done so.  The spirit world was real to them; but it was the
world of evil spirits who came to terrify them at night with strange
noises, to chase them when someone died, even to kill them by strange
diseases and maladies.  They have no word for peace, pardon, love or
salvation, and no comprehension of their need of a Saviour.  Brazilians
call these creatures animals.  Can it be that Christ's salvation is for
such a people.

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