Xavante Archive Documents Vital Culture

When Pia Maybury-Lewis and I witnessed, more than 30 years ago, the struggles the Xavante in Central Brazil faced to protect their lands and culture, we were inspired to found Cultural Survival. Today, the Xavante have developed a number of projects to promote their own cultural survival. The Wara Collection Project, which we visited in fall 2001, is Cultural Survival's newest Special Project.

In Xavante, "Wara" means "the council" and its meeting place, where adult men gather to discuss the affairs of the community. Xavante leader Hiparidi Top'tiro developed the project in collaboration with others in his community of Abelinha (Idzo'uhu), located in the indigenous reserve Sangradouro in the state of Mato Grosso. Over the last six years the project has gathered and catalogued a large amount of information concerning the Xavante. The collection now contains books, articles, and newspaper clippings concerning the Xavante; many hours of taped interviews with Xavante about their current circumstances; and maps and satellite photographs of the region where Xavante live. It also contains drawings and texts by Xavante of all ages, from elders to children. An extensive collection of Xavante artifacts includes notes about the manufacture and use of its items. Also included are extensive recordings of Xavante songs, speeches, and rituals, as well as discussions and supporting materials relating to Xavante views of how they might continue to live in their present environment.

The Wara Collection-now recognized as one of the major Xavante archives, if not the major archive-is constantly growing. Project organizers intend it to be a living and expanding archive that can be used by anyone interested in the Xavante, but most of all by the Xavante themselves as a resource to maintain the fundamental features of their culture and to protect the essential elements of their environment. Xavante working with the archive use it to teach classes-particularly to young Xavante so that they may study a vital past and envision how it can connect with an emerging future. The project needs funds to bring the archive together under a single roof, to pay for its maintenance, and to help it mount its classes.
David Maybury-Lewis is president of Cultural Survival. For more information about the Wara Collection Project contact Laura Graham at laura-graham@uiowa.edu.

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