By KEN WIWA
Saturday, May 18, 2002
This is a new village. The Arawete moved into this part of their reserve last September. The reason was that an outbreak of chicken pox killed 12 Indians and left the rest of the tribe terribly ill.
The Arawete are very mystic and they believe that when a person dies the spirit has to be prepared and if this does not happen, the dead will stay in the sky on top of them and they will fall. In my interpretation, this tradition shows their instinct for survival. When many people die, the best thing is to move away as there may be something in the environment that is causing it. They deal very well with the normal deaths. When the outbreak killed so many, as soon as the rest of the tribe regained their strength, they started to say they were going to move.
They are very afraid of the dead and claim to communicate with them. They build houses that are completely enclosed – with no windows – to prevent spirits from entering their homes.
The Arawete are the most traditional group in the co-op and the most fragile.
They have a rare disease: blastiomycosis – a disease that causes the inflammation of the membrane involving their lungs. This makes them extremely fragile in cases of flu and colds. They tend to develop serious upper respiratory problems. The blastiomycosis was possibly the reason that made the Arawete succumb to chickenpox. Chickenpox affects the lungs. All died of pneumonia.
According to doctors, Blastiomycosis is caused by inter-breeding. The Arawete have never mixed. Inter-breeding is probably the reason for their unique traces – they all have a natural mascara and many have green eyes.
They have very light skin too and their traces are so very different from all the other tribes.
The Arawete remain very traditional. They plant the cotton they weave to make their clothes. They are extremely affectionate.
The group has been growing fast and the Arawete have the highest number of children per adult population in the co-op. Over 70% are under the age of 16. They marry very early and it is not uncommon to have 13-year-old mothers.
When the tribe decided to move, the co-op mobilized its network of advisers to raise funds to assist them. With such a large young population the undertaking of building a village with their own hands was daunting. Two of the people who have made the move possible are with you in this group: Gordon and Quig.
The village is not ready yet and still needs to raise funds to put a good water system in place. But most of the initial work has been done.
Over 65% of the Arawete have never left their reservation. They cannot navigate in the Xingu and this points to the fact that they have always stayed away from the main river, hidden in the forest.