The greatest patrimony of Indian people are the lands that their ancestors lived. Without them, they lose more than a piece of ground. Lose their own identity.
Anama potigûara auîeramanhe o-s-ekobé-ne o tuibaepagûama yby-pe, gûi-xóbo memé, o-pytá-ne maramonhanga saynha popyatãbara bé tym-a oré pyá nhyã abé, ambite oré poromonhangaba resé.
The Potiguara people will always live on the land of their ancestors, even if they leave; the seed of the fight and resistance planted shall endured in our minds and hearts for the future of our generations.
Author: Prof. Josafá Freire
Named Akaîutebiró by the Potiguara Indians, which means “sterile cashew tree” (akaîu, cashew tree + tebiró, sterile or sour), a reference to the native cashew trees of the region, Baía da Traição, name given by the Portuguese colonizers to the basin that, at that time, reached until the Guaju River, current border with the Rio Grande do Norte. It became the commercial epicenter of redwood, trafficked by the French, that unlike the Lusitanian, did not arouse local antipathy, due to the respectful and strictly mercantile relation with the natives.
The French, seeking to explore redwood, founded a trading post on Baía da Traição, that worked as a convergence point for all timber of the region. For its defense, they built a small fort. These buildings were destroyed by Martim Leitão, during the Portuguese conquest.
The roots of resistance, that came from the past, are still present on the population’s collective personality, proud of being the only ethnicity in the world to fight against the colonizing potencies and maintain the same place of origin. And it is not any random place.
The Potiguara reserve lies in one of the most beautiful regions of the Brazillian Northeast. There are fourteen kilometers of deserted beaches, cliffs, board woods, mangroves, rivers, and crystal waters lagoons.
Its domains are part of the restrictive and privileged list of indigenous lands demarcation located on the country’s coast. They occupy a space of 33,757 hectares, distributed in three contiguous areas, on the Baía da Traição, Rio Tinto and Marcação Counties. The 32 villages, currently, house about twenty thousand individuals, and it is increasing, although it was only 10 thousand, in 2004.
The search for survival and recognition of their possessions, what still remains, was and still is difficult. Happened to the cost of persecutions, massacres and a peculiar polarized process of evangelization where, on one side there were catholic Portuguese and, on the other, protestant Dutch.
The Potiguara (Tupi term for shrimp eaters) are part of the Tupi Guarani linguistic family and dwelt Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceára and Maranhão’s entire coast. It is estimated that their population reached the hundred thousand mark, until the Portuguese came on 1500. At the beginning, conflicts were rare, but, along the time, indigenous found their lands threated and reacted with strength.
And so it began the saga of one of the bravest autochthonous cultures of Brazil.
During the XVI and XVII centuries, natives resisted to the Lusitanian colonizing project. Allying, first, to the French, then the Dutch. When the latter were expelled from Brazil, in 1654, retaliation came fast and a big part of their population disappeared, despite the Régia Law of 1548, determining that Indians should receive good treatment.
Protections and acknowledging laws kept being written like the Charter of Novermber 23rd 1700, that established a league of land to every 100 couples’ village, corroborated, then, by the Law of Lands of 1850 and the 1860 Law, that secured land for the indigenous villagers.
On practice, the indigenous were left for their own fortune, but they kept themselves, with some tranquility, on Paraíba’s North coast, between the Camaratuba and Mamanguape rivers.
On the beginning of the XX century, when they were relatively stabilized on their lands, even without demarcation homologation, the Potiguara territory was once again usurped by invaders.
First, with the construction of Rio Tinto’s Fabric Company, of the Swedish immigrant family, the Lundgren (see section Invaders of the XX Century), located on the banks of the Mamanguape’s River, where great deforestations occurred.
During the 1970’s, the sugar cane, protagonist during the XVII century would return to scene, as a monoculture on the alcohol plants, invading and surrounding the few native lands of sugar cane plants. The Potiguara, then, used their warrior spirit and fought for their rights. The weapons, this time, would be arguments and convictions. They organized themselves and sought acknowledgment.
On 1991, finally, the first demarcation of Potiguara Indigenous Lands was concluded, delimiting a territory of 21,238 hectares. Two years later the TI Jacaré de São Domingos was homologated with 5,032 ha.
The battle for justice, however, still stands. The TI Potiguara of Monte-Mor, with 7,487, that aims to recover the areas taken by the textile industry and by some sugar plants, still need to be homologated.
Next to Guaju’s River Bar, on the Sagi Village, on Rio Grande do Norte, the Trabanda village, where 103 families live, did not even have its 75 hectares of land demarcated. The nucleus represents the last reminiscent of Potiguara Indians in the State, where, whoever is born there is called Potiguar.
SAGI POTIGUARA VILLAGE – RN
The Rio Grande do Norte State was one of the last to assume the existence of indigenous population in its territory. On the County of Baía Formosa, South Coast of the State, the Sagi-Trabanda indigenous community is located, self-declared Potiguara.
The community, with about 350 people, occupied the region for over a century, but, however, do not have their lands demarcated, despite already being requested to the Indian National Foundation (FUNAI). Due to that, they have been suffering, since 2007, threats to their territory by a real estate business company who also claims land ownership.
Despite of that, the construction of a bridge, project between the State and the County, destroyed the mangrove and ended crab fishing, fundamental to the food and income generation of the community, that does not have medical aid or indigenous differentiated education, being this an important claim to the competent organs, besides demarcation and land regulation inside their territory.
A história oficial acerca da presença indígena no Nordeste brasileiro, como um todo, e no Rio Grande do Norte, especificamente, tem graves lacunas de estudos acadêmicos. No entanto, de acordo com pesquisa desenvolvida pela Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), por meio do Programa Motyrum de Educação Popular em Direitos Humanos, na publicação de Macedo et al, há indícios de forte presença indígena no Estado, que pode, inclusive, ser percebida pelos dados censitários. Nos censos de 1940 e 1980, segundo os autores, os “pardos” representavam 43% e 46% da população total, respectivamente. Ao longo dos anos, boa parte da cultura indígena desses povos foi sendo omitida e sua identidade substituída.
Despite of that, authors assert that these groups, whose identities were suppressed, have been reorganizing themselves, recently, rightfully claiming their indigenous identity. Rio Grande do Norte was one of the last Brazillian states to have indigenous populations officially registered by the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) having, currently, five communities: “Sagi-Trabanda; Eleotérios do Katu; Mendonças do Amarelão; Tapará; and Caboclos do Açú”.
However, even recognized by the official organ, these communities “suffer many violations to their basics rights and are not ensured of their specific rights […] and seek to gather strength articulating themselves with one another, in order to pursue reorganization, cultural, social and political restructuration”.
On this scenery, are immersed the self-proclaimed indigenous of the Potiguara ethnicity from the Sagi-Trabanda community, on the Baía Formosa County, Rio Grande do Norte South Coast, about 100 kilometers apart from the capital, Natal. The community is located on the banks of the Cavaçu River and the Sagi and Trabanda beaches, an area of Atlantic Woods and mangroves, with many rivers, lagoons and trails. On this place, according to the II Indigenous Assembly of Rio Grande do Norte Report’s, live about 350 people that compose the community and are descendants of Potiguara Indians. They live, mainly, from the potato, manioc and corn cultivation and from artisanal fishing, in the mangrove area.
Segundo o cacique da aldeia, Manoel Leôncio, que falou à reportagem de O Jornal Hoje, em Sagi-Trabanda “todo mundo é descendente de índio. Pelo menos uns 90%. Mas muitos não assumem isso, por puro preconceito”.
The area currently known as Sagi Farm has been occupied by indigenous for over 100 years. Fact proven by the existence of a cemetery of their ancestors, with burial entries of 1908, as the community’s attorney Representation Petition, presented to the Rio Grande do Norte’s Republic Prosecutor, shows.
On the cemetery, Mr. José Amaro, indigenous resident of the community, showed on an article for the G1, that was on site, where his brothers are buried, one of them being born in 1911. For the descendant, “this is the proof that they dwell in the region for over a century”.
As for the occupation, the chief affirms that his family’s past proves the community’s longevity. “My great grandmother, for instance, died with 105 years and always lived here. And, before her, Indians were already here”.
The Potiguara ethnicity is acknowledged by the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). However, this group, resident in Baía Formosa, has not yet, officially, possessed an indigenous land (TI). Due to this fact, the community keeps receiving threats to the territory, traditionally, by them occupied.
Despite FUNAI has not yet acknowledged, officially, Potiguara lands, in Baía Formosa, its website, where the Northeast Regional Coordination II (CR) structure is presented and its functions, one can find the information that this CR was created in 2011, with the intention of attend different ethnies, being 14 peoples in Ceará, one in Piauí, two in Paraíba, one of them the Potiguara (in Baía da Traição) and, at last, “one people in Rio Grande do Norte: Potiguara (in Assú, João Câmara, Baía Formosa and Goianinha)”.
Located on Rio Grande do Norte South coast, the Sagi-Trabanda village is target of real estate speculation interested in building an Ecoresort in the region. Conflicts with local entrepreneurs began in 2007.
Along the process, indigenous mobilization in the State kept increasing and earning recognition of official organs. Between December 11 and 14, 2009, FUNAI carried, in Natal, the I Indigenous Assembly of Rio Grande do Norte. The Sagi-Trabanda community participated with eight delegates: Osmar Jerônimo, the chief Manoel Leôncio do Nascimento, Antônio Nascimento Filho, Gilvan dos Santos, Cacilda Maria Pessoa Jerônimo, Temistóclis Inacio da Silva, José Carlos Leôncio do Nascimento and Ulton do Nascimento.
As consequence of the assembly, FUNAI and other institutions formulated reports that contain, according to the Representation, “the urgency on the plea of territorial demarcation”. With that, it is notable that, since 2009, the community claimed their recognition and demarcation of their lands.
Still during the assembly, State representatives were elected to compose the Northeast, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo Articulation of Indigenous People Coordination (APOINME): Tayse Michelle Campos da Silva (holder), Potiguara dos Mendonças do Amarelão, located at the João de Câmara County; and the Sagi-Trabanda Potiguara, Osmar Jerônimo, as surrogate.