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Indigenous heritage lives on as Rio turns 458 years old

6 March 2023, 18:16
Indigenous heritage lives on as Rio turns 458 years old Photo:

RIO DE JANEIRO. KAZINFORM - On March 1, 1565, Portuguese Captain Estácio de Sá founded the city of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro at the foot of Sugarloaf mountain—at the time little more than a military base aimed at ensuring control of the territory, Kazinform cites Agencia Brasil.

The French, who had been occupying areas around Guanabara Bay since 1555, clashed with different indigenous groups who had inhabited the region for four thousand years. Conflicts came to an end in the Battle of Uruçumirim, in 1567: The alliance between the Portuguese and the Temiminós defeated the French and their allies, the Tamoios (or Tupinambás).

Today, 458 years after the foundation of Rio, the memories of the Portuguese victory and occupation are conspicuous throughout the city’s landscape. However, even though the indigenous played the main role in these events and in the development of the region, their participation is virtually invisible.

The São Sebastião Church, in the Tijuca district of northern Rio, boasts the most prominent Portuguese symbols of that period. A rectangular stone with a drawing of the country’s coat of arms is believed to be the landmark placed by Estácio de Sá’s party when the city was founded. The church also houses his tombstone, built in 1583, as well as his remains.

In addition to these testaments of the past, a memorial helps perpetuate the fame of the Portuguese at Aterro do Flamengo: A stone pyramid, designed by architect Lucio Costa, was unveiled in 1973 and dubbed the Estácio de Sá Moment. In the basement, visitors can find a replica of the headstone and informative material about the honoree.

The indigenous legacy

Most of the signs of the indigenous presence were obliterated by the Portuguese during the colonial days. No memorial can be found today crediting the participation of the original inhabitants in the construction of what we know today as Rio de Janeiro.

There is a statue of Araribóia, leader of the Temiminós and collaborator of the Portuguese, on the other side of the bay, in the city of Niterói. Coversely, in Rio, the name of Aymberê, for example, who led the resistance of the Tamoios, is barely known. The Curumim statue in Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas is the only reference to the pre-colonial presence of the Tamoios, and bears no informative plaque. Even so, «churumim» is Tupi for child, or boy. Even the name of the lagoon is an important token of erasure: while the native inhabitants called it Sacopã, Piraguá, and Sacopenapã, the name used today is that of a Portuguese army captain, Rodrigo de Freitas.

In the 16th century, when the Europeans arrived in the region, French chroniclers estimated there were 30 to 40 villages around Guanabara Bay, with a population ranging from 500 to three thousand per village. Portuguese colonizers pushed through the territories and caused the death of indigenous people through armed conflict and disease. Many of those who survived were used as compulsory labor force in the construction of roads, mills, strongholds, and other structures that are now tourist attractions in Rio de Janeiro—like the Passeio Público, the Paço Imperial, and the Arcos da Lapa. Their participation, though under coercion and violence, is mostly forgotten.

An emblematic spot for historian Ana Paula da Silva is the Outeiro da Glória, where the Nossa Senhora da Glória Church is located today. Formerly called Uruçumirim, the hill was the site of the aforementioned victory of Portugal in 1567. The building was erected on top of what was originally a Tupinambá village called Kariók, or Karióg—«house of the Carijó.» The name may have given us carioca, as people born in the city are known. The survival of the word is a symbol of indigenous resistance. Even though little is left in material terms, intangible heritage remains abundant and lives on to this day.

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