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Remapping Writing: Indigenous Writing and Cultural Conflict in Brazil Lynn Mario Trinidade Menezes de Souza University of Sao Paulo I n the form ulation of its present C on stitu tio n in 1988, the Brazil­ ian nation chose to put an end to centuries of disrespect and marginaliza­ tion of its indigenous populations by officially recognizing the existence of indigenous languages and cultures within the boundaries of the nation and by recognizing the rights of its indigenous peoples to full citizenship and political representation. This historic recognition was followed up later, in 1996, by one of the potentially most critical instruments for implementing this new found respect for the indigenous in Brazil, namely the creation of a new indigenous education policy and the establishment of the indigenous school. The official buzz-words used to describe the new policy and the new school system were “bilingual” and “intercultural”; as such, their primary objectives were the “recuperation of their historical memories, the reaffir­ mation of their ethnic identities and the valorization of their languages and sciences" all this besides “guaranteeing to the Indians, their communities and their peoples, access to information, technical and scientific knowledge of the national society and other indigenous and non-indigenous societies.” 1 The new policy allowed each indigenous community to have its own “bilin1 National Education Law (ldb) 1996, Article 78, paragraph vii. ESC 30.3 (September 2004): 4-16 gual and intercultural” school and to make its own decisions as to medium of instruction, content, pedagogy and curriculum, with the interference of the state in a merely advisory capacity. Previous constitutions had denied full citizenship to the indigenous populations, attributing to them the status of wards of the State. Schooling had existed in indigenous areas, but with no specific legislation, it followed the norms of non-indigenous rural schools and was generally run by local authorities or by missionaries. Far from being “bilingual and intercultural,” these older schools implemented policies of varying degrees of outright cultural and linguistic assimilation. In spite of the obvious radical differences between the policies of today and those of yesteryear, a common element to both is literacy. In other words, in both cases the school is seen as the place for the dissemination and production of written knowledge, be it in the indigenous language of the community concerned or the national language, Portuguese. In spite of the well meaning official “indigenous turn” and the newlyestablished physical, institutional and discursive space of the indigenous school, conflicts persist on both sides; perhaps forseeably, these conflicts appear to stem from what constitutes indigenous knowledge. Given the amplitude of this problematic, I shall concentrate my discussion here on some of the conflicts related specifically to writing as emblematic of the problematic aspects of this recent official commitment to indigenous knowl­ edge in Brazil, and its purported claims to valorize indigenous2languages and cultures. If this commitment and its policies are taken as indicative of the need to remap the history and place of contact between the nation and its indig­ enous communities, then I propose to read writing as a map of the conflicts involved in this re-mapping process. One of the most palpable results of the new policies has been the recent surge in the publication of written narratives and other school-related mate­ rials, mainly in Portuguese, in general collectively authored by members of the various indigenous communities.3 Significantly, a large proportion (if Lynn Mario Trinidade Menezes de Souza, of the University of Sao Paulo, is a specialist on indigenous writing in Amazonian Brazil. His numerous publications on this topic include “Voices on Paper: Multimodal Texts and Indigenous Literacy in Brazil,” Social Semiotics 13.1 (2003). He was a Visiting Professor at the University of Western Ontario in 2004. 2 The indigenous population of Brazil is estimated at around 400,000 (part of a total population of 160 million), distributed into 210 indigenous “peoples” or “nations,” speaking an estimated 180 indigenous languages (Lopes da Silva, A. 2003). For the purposes of this paper, where my aim is to discuss issues related to conflicts in the concept of indigenous knowledge between indigenous communities on one hand and the non-indigenous Nation, on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1913-4835
Print ISSN
0317-0802
Pages
pp. 4-16
Launched on MUSE
2019-04-03
Open Access
No
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