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A Journey Into the Brazilian Interior

A Journey Into the Brazilian Interior

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  • Fri 2 Oct ’15, 7:00pm


Palmerston North Central Library, 4 The Square, Palmerston North


All Ages

The School of Humanities at Massey University, Palmerston North City Library and the Brazilian Embassy present Dr. Marcus Maia, Associate Professor of Linguistics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and researcher with the National Council for the Development of Science, who will be giving a talk and showing a documentary on the indigenous cultures and languages of Brazil.

Although names like ‘the Amazon’ and ‘Iguaçu Falls’ may bring to mind immense rivers and forests with a formidable number of species, this lecture focuses on the equally breath-taking array of endangered indigenous languages and cultures found in the Brazilian interior. Drawing from 30 years of experience as a linguist working with and for indigenous communities, Dr. Maia starts by defining what it means to be ‘indigenous’ in Brazil today. He then turns to the main language families found in Brazil – Tupi, Jê, Carib, Aruak – and gives us a feel for why the Brazilian interior is the most linguistically diverse region in the Americas.

One group that Dr. Maia and his partner, anthropologist Chang Whan, have been especially involved with are the Karajá, who live in and around Ilha do Bananal, the largest river island in the world. As we learn from a 30-minute documentary about initiation rites, the Karajá are an important example of linguistic and cultural resistance in Brazil. Despite frequent contacts with Brazilian society, every member of the community learns Karajá as their first language. The language shares subtle links with the biodiversity of Central Brazil. The named stages of a boy’s development into manhood, for instance, are based on the rich fauna of the region. In his commentary for the film, Dr. Maia points out that some features in the Karajá origin myths are relativistic whereas others are universal. He also demonstrates the productive vitality of the Karajá language, both in its traditional forms and in new forms resulting from increasing contact with Brazilian society.

Much like linguists, educators and elders working with the Maori language, Dr. Maia views each of Brazil’s 150 indigenous languages as a treasure (taonga) that needs to be nurtured, protected and celebrated. To this end, he closes the evening with a brief discussion of the work that is being carried out across Brazil in indigenous bilingual education and ongoing UNESCO-supported documentation projects like those involving the Karajá.

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