Como começar pelo início, se as coisas acontecem antes de acontecer?
(How to start at the very beginning if things happen before they happen?)
—Clarice Lispector
First Encounters
About fifty years ago, in 1956, in the state of Rondônia near the border with
Bolivia, a group of Wari’ (speakers of a Txapakura language) experienced
their first peaceful contact with whites—Protestant missionaries from the
New Tribes Mission (ntm) and agents from the Brazilian government’s
Indian Protection Service (spi).1 For decades the latter had been attempt-
ing to pacify these renowned warriors, who were much feared by the local
population. On this occasion a group of Wari’ men had ventured as far as the
cleared area of forest surrounding the attraction post. Here the men shouted
out that they wanted metal tools, which the whites duly handed over. On
returning to their villages, the warriors reported: “We touched their bodies!”
The message from the whites to their own people was somewhat different:
“The region’s most warlike tribe has entered the pacification phase!”
This was not actually their first contact, though. Written documents sug-
gest that the Wari’ were first sighted at the start of the nineteenth century
on the Pacaás Novos, an affluent of the Mamoré River (and the source of
the name Pakaa-Nova by which the people became known in the literature),
although at that moment no kind of contact was established. The first real
contacts between the Wari’ and whites2 date from the beginning of the twen-
tieth century. Initially these encounters took the form of warfare—violent
confrontations that stemmed either from the Wari’ desire to pursue this type
of relationship, when “the whites liked us, but we didn’t like them,” or from
their wish to revenge and repel the violent incursions into their territory
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