Berichten weergeven met het label xingu. Alle berichten weergeven
Berichten weergeven met het label xingu. Alle berichten weergeven

dinsdag 25 september 2012

Mehinaku cartography [mapping the Xingu]

The Mehinaku are an indigenous Amazonian  people living in Xingu park. In his 1977 book 'The Mehinaku: The Drama of Daily Life in a Brazilian Indian Village' Thomas Gregor writes about them as if they were actors acting out their part. If life is a performance the village is a stage: "The Mehinaku village and its environs are a theatre for the enactment of everyday social relationships... The layout of the village and the architecture of the houses are simultaneously a spatial representation of Mehinaku social organization and a traffic pattern for the flow of information and interaction." If you say so! The images gives us something of everything: the village as a allusion to the cosmos, the mental map, the cognitive map, a cartoon and an areal picture.  We are always happy when can store up on some more ethnocartographic imagery. Click to Enlarge.  

"A Mehinaku view of everyday village life. When Amairi painted this he occasionally stopped to chuckle over his characterization of a particular villager."

vrijdag 3 juni 2011

How Colonel Fawcett was killed

A story can make space into place: despite the fact that Colonel Fawcett went missing and probably died a quite horribly death in 1927, his lingering presence humanizes one of the darkest corners of the Amazon. It may be rough and dangerous there in Xingu but explorers find solace in the idea that Fawcett went before them.
In 'The Heart of the Forest' (earlier) Adrian Cowell reports on what Indian tracker Orlando Villas-Boas learned about the murder of Colonel Fawcett from the Xingu-locals. Villas-Boas being after all the man who was told by the Kalapalo where the Fawcett skeleton (see above) could be found. The passage begins with Cowell encountering a young Kalapalo who on hearing that the visitor is English volunteers the story of three Englishman, one old / two young, walking into the village a long time ago and who now lay buried near the lake. Villas-Boas from his hammock recounts the story from Kalapalo perspective "in the language and style of the Indians." The story gives a good idea of social mores (the obligation to share food, little tolerance for unfriendliness towards children, etc) and the moral of the story is: Fawcett deserved to be killed but there is a twist.
The three Caraiba were one old and two young. They carried things on their backs, had guns and one was lame. They came from the West with Aloiqui, chief of the Nakukuas, and his son, who brought them from their own village on the Kuliseu river.

At that time, all the Kalapalos were in their fishing village to the east beyond the river Kuluene, except for Kavuquire and his son, who were in the main village. These two agreed to guide the Inglezes to the fishing settlement, so that they could pass beyond, into the country to the east. 

Next day that set out at dawn, two Nakukuas, two Kalapalos, and three Inglezes. After travelling for a day and a half the old man of the Inglezes spoke roughly to Kavuquire, blaming him for saying that the journey would only take from the rise of the sun to the sun't height. He was fifty-eight and the heat is great. 

Later the old man, whom the Indians took to be chief, shot a duck and Kavuquire ran to pick it up, fingering and looking until it was snatched from him as if he had been about to steal. Then, when they arrived at the small lagoon by the Kuluene, the chief of the Inglezes spoke harshly again, because the canoe Kavuquire had promised had been taken to the other side.

By this Kavuquire was angry. But he had heard the rattle of collar (beads) in the Inglezes packs and so kept silent, thinking in his head that he would get a reward: this is the Indian custom. When they reached the village he was given nothing, but kept silent again hoping that they would make presents at farewell on the following  day.

During the night the colonel cup up his duck with a knife, and when a boy played with the handle, he brushed his arm roughly aside. 
Next day the village gathered to say goodbye on the bank of the of the little lagoon. No presents were given.

Kavuquire demanded death . Caiabi ,the chief, agreed. He was a cautious man and he said it must be beyond the lagoon where the Nahukuas would not see.

While Kavuquire, Kuluele and one other ran round to lay ambush, the boy, Tuendi, paddled the Inglezes across. At the other side there was a cliff, small but sheer, and the chief of the Inglezes climbed to the top first, leaving the two others to bring up the baggage. 

As he got to his feet, he turned to look down on the young men below. Kavuquire came out from behind the tree with a club he had cut from a sapling. He struck his blow on the back of the neck. The old one cried, wheeled, clutched a tree and started to fall swivelling round it. Kavuquire hit again on the right shoulder, and the body collapsed, doubled up on the ground.

At the cry, the young Inglezes dropped their baggage and started to climb the cliff. Immediatly the two Kalapalos hidden in the bushes at the bottom leapt out and struck up at their necks and heads. The bodies toppled back into the water.

When Kavuquire, Kuluele and the others returned to the village Caiabi said they must burn the bodies. He was a cautious man and was frightened that the Nahukuas would tell Indians who were friends with the civilizados.
Caiabi talked to Kavuquire on the first day, and he did nothing; he talked to him the second day and he did nothing; he talked with him the third day and he went with some others. Putting leaves in their nostrils, they scraped a shallow hole by the old man. Then they lifted his feet, and then his head so that he lay nearly as he fell. They took everything from the body except for the machete clutched in his hand.

The young ones were still below, swollen in the water. So they were towed by canoe and left in the centre of the lake. Then from fear, their equipment and clothing were thrown into the Kuluene.
It is a good story! The caveat is that the bones are too short to be Fawcett's so what is going on? Villas-Boas suggests that the real location of the grave was kept a secret (the given one a decoy). A more reasonable suggestion to my mind is that so many people kept coming into the area looking for a trace of Fawcett that the locals invented a story, perhaps with some connection to reality, perhaps misidentifying Fawcett with another group (or groups) of Civilizados who came later. The Kalapalo volunteered his story to Cowell because everybody in the village knows that those silly white people love to hear it. Call it hospitality.

This story is not mentioned in David Grann's 'The Lost City of Z', the recent best selling book on the case. Ellen Basso is usually credited for learning the truth about Fawcett's fate when she published her Kalapalo testimonial in 'The Last Cannibal' (1995). This is a fantastic resource on Amazonian narrative and myth, not at all easy to read but totally inspirational. An earlier version of Basso's Fawcett chapter is online and you can see for yourself that the story has recognizable features with the story above but that the end is completely different. In Villas-Boas version the murder is explained as justified, in Basso's version Fawcett party passed trough the village before entering the lands of 'the fierce people' against the good advice of the Kalapalo and to their own detriment. Who to believe?       

woensdag 1 juni 2011

The High Forest and the impression of power that could not be seen

From a Michael Heckenberger powerpoint

The first pages of Adrian Cowell's account of the expedition to the geographical centre of Brazil in Xingu, 'The Heart of the Forest' (1960) contain a number of paragraphs that deserve to be added to the slowly building compendium of quotes dealing with the jungle as a psychological agent (earlier quotes include: Huxley, Descola, Duguid and Bates, Conrad, Carpentier and Villas Boas). Pics from Cowell's later book on first contact with the Kreen-Akrore are here. Looking at the forest in the wrong way gives a terrible headache...
As we passed, the trees were actually pressing in on either side of our path were mere stunted growths on a patch of open ground. They gave an impression not unlike an abandoned English orchard. But over their spindly shapes it was possible to see where the 'high forest' grew behind, in great masts of wood that soured up from the ground and burst into arrogant superstructures of branches, lianas and leaves. These trees were beyond all European imagination. The dominated the land. They encircled and loomed above us. Like high voltage pylons near an industrial town, they conveyed the impression of power that could not be seen. And each of us was very conscious that beyond those trees there were millions of others which, together, formed a force that was inimical to man. It was a waste of limitless jungle broken only by patches of barren bushland.


If a city man is required to describe a tapir or panther, he tries to portray it from what he has seen in the zoo. But not so to the Indian of Xingu. When asked he would invariably imitate the animal's call. "That mummmm, muuuummmm," he would say for a puma. And soon I realized that in the forest where the range of vision could be limited to five yards, a hunt of an hour would proceed without sight of the prey till that final moment when, camouflaged by branches and undergrowth, a bullet would be fired into something that was barely distinguishable as part of an animal. The jungle is a world of ears. 

I crept quietly, looking no further than my footsteps, and aware that strange things seemed to be peering at me from the darkness. I forced myself not to think about them. If the monsters of imagination stalk by one's side, it is hard not to look left and right, and I had already learnt that peering about in the forest made my eyes slow to see and react. The constant effort of focusing and refocusing between lianas a few inches from my nose, through a maze of tangled branches at varying distances to an object some hundred yards away, brought nothing else than a stabbing headache. It was better to walk 'carelessly', like the Indian, with eyes specifically on the ground and generally everywhere, watching not for colour or shape, but registering in split-second attention any movement within an arc of 250 degrees. By not 'looking' in front, the Indian seems to catch movement behind. And though at first I had attributed this to sixth sense, I later realized it was an instant reaction to something to which every part of his senses were turned. Movement. It is betrayal in the forest.   

woensdag 20 april 2011

Viti-Viti, Fitsi-Fitsi and Xingu Reinhabitation

An artist impression of a Pre-Columbian Xingu city.
The story of Viti-Viti (given in full earlier) is the prime example of an Amazonian reinhabitation myth, a narrative that recognizes that the land was used and cultivated before, by persons unknown. Michael Heckenberger's (earlier) 'The ecology of Power' (2005, now on Scribd) is a 1000 year history of the Xingu and its inhabitants. In it he deals with Viti-Viti, (or in his translation: Fitsi-Fitsi). It is a long passage but included for the sake of future reference:
I have never heard of Fitsi-fitsi’s footsteps, as the Villas-Boas brothers describe, nor of his people, who settled in his footprints. I have no doubt that Fitsi-fitsi lives on today in the “mirror world” of dawn times where all the Kuikuru culture heroes and ancestors, and other “dawnpersons,” have come to reside over the ages.

The Kuikuru travel in this mirror world in their dreams. Some shamans (hïatâo), trained in specialtechniques of the body and esoteric knowledge and able to enter a trance by smoking tobacco (Nicotina sp.), actually traffic with its inhabitants. But I had not heard that Fitsi-fitsi resides today at Ipa Kuhikugu, at theend of the ditch there, where it descends into the lake. I know the placewell, having spent many hours walking back and forth over the ditches and causeways, mapping and collecting across the ancient site with my Kuikuru collaborators, my field crew. I vividly remember, for instance, the day a rattlesnake struck (and missed) one Kuikuru assistant as we mapped the ancient great plaza—a big, scooped-out bowl with imposing peripheral mounds rising on all sides. Nobody mentioned that Fitsi-fitsi might live here, although they did say he had passed this way and left his signature marks, Fitsi-fitsi gepügü (“excavated hole”), as they call the ditches. Ipa Kuhikugu (actually two lakes, Kuhikugu and Lamakuka) is singular in Kuikuru cultural memory. It is their origin place. After splitting from the ancestral village of Óti, where the Kuikuru ancestors (ngiholo) had lived with the Matipu (Uagihïtï otomo) until the mid- to late 1800s, the great chiefs, Hikutaha, Nïtsïmï and Amatuagu had founded the old village site (etepe) of Kuhikugu. They were at Kuhikugu when Kalusi (Steinen) came in 1884. It was also here that Robert Carneiro and Gertrude Dole came to live in 1953–1954 as the Kuikuru’s first live-in “whites.”

Today,some forty years after they left this place, the Kuikuru are still known as Lahatua otomo, “the people of Lahatua.” Carneiro and Dole lived in a tentjust beside the northern terminus of ditch when the Kuikuru lived intheir penultimate village of this place (Lamakuka): a Kuikuru man found “Bobbie’s coffee pot” one day as we mapped the ancient Fitsi-fitsi
gepügü. Our campsite—that of me and my Kuikuru field assistants—was very near the southern terminus, precisely where it descends into Lake Kuhikugu, near where the Villas-Boas brothers had heard that Fitsi-fitsi lived.

Fitsi-fitsi was “a person … [and] had everything that people have,” as the Villas-Boas brothers note, but that changed one day when he went out of the village to collect honey with his wife and brother-in-lawand transformed himself into an itseke (a “monster,” spirit, or superbeing). Climbing a tree, presumably to collect honey, he honed his lower legs into sharp points and attacked his kinsmen with his spear-point legs. In fear of retaliation he fled and wandered aimlessly across the landscape, dragging his sharpened legs and incising the ground behind. Afukaká, the village chief and my adoptive brother, one of the most powerful persons in contemporary Xinguano political history and a singular figure in the Kuikuru village, told me the story of Fitsi-fitsi, again, one day on a visit to Nokugu. As Afukaká and I stood beside the ancient Fitsi-fitsigepügü, not far from my first excavation trench, he asked me to tell “my story,” because, after months of almost daily work at Nokugu, I must surely have one to tell. I told him that I thought this place and others like it (Kuhikugu and Heulugihïtï) were ngiholó-ìtupe (place of the ancestors) and the ditches and linear mounds were the intentional constructions of ancient Xinguanos. The chief was in mourning for much of 1993, having lost his primary heir and another younger son early that year, and rarely had an opportunity to see what I was doing at Nokugu. He had heard my ideas before on historical places and personages, and the dark earths (egepe), pottery sherds (egeho), and, of course, the Fitsi-fitsi gepügü, that occur in the old village sites (etepe) and ancestor places. I had talked many times to him and other Kuikuru of archaeology, in both public and private settings, with my maps and other paper props. A month or so earlier the most powerful shaman of eight in the village, contracted to protect the chief’s magic pot (kun), the traditional method to reveal and perhaps kill the witch, had entered a trance and in his out-of-body travels had encountered Nokugu. “The shaman explained, as best he could, having also heard some of my archaeology stories: Who is this cagaiha (whiteman)” he asked, “who is working at my home, what is he doing there?” That day at the site, I showed Afukaká my story. We walked the full length of ditch 2, nearly two kilometres, and then we diverged along the ancient causeway (“road 4,” the Nokugu-Heulugihïtï road) at the “bridge” where it is bisected by ditch 2, near excavation trench 1. The features we see on the ground today, I explained, were likely coupled with palisades or other, perhaps natural, barricades to defend the ancient villages from nikogo (“fierce Indians”). We followed the causeway and entered the ancient great plaza, infested today with tall palms, a common colonizer of etepe and ngiholó ìtupe. Along the way, we looked at bits of patches of “terra preta do índio,” dark earth, filled with pottery, ancient refuse of the ngiholo. We noted how it was heaped in great linear mounds along roads or the plaza, where they were one to two meters high all around. We also dug up chunks of the hard pan terra roxa, or “red earth,” where the ancient houses, plazas, and roadways had been. Later I also showed him my excavation trench, the layered dark earths of ancient occupation surfaces and charcoal lenses within them (later C14 dated to between c. 950 and 1250) and the reddish (natural-colored) overburden thrown up over them on the inside berm. Beneath the thick stratum of in-fill that built up within the ditch, dated to circa1500–1800, I pointed out the bright red natural soils. We “popped out” a big rim sherd (weighing about a pound) from the west wall, just above the base of the trough, which perfectly preserved the blood red exterior slip, the slightly grooved marks of quartz pebble burnishing, and the black interior paint (made of charcoal and the sap of a tree they call tiha), which in addition to form and construction are identical to present-day pots, particularly, the contemporary manioc cooking pot—ahukugu. 

Afukaká considered my arguments as we walked, and after some reflection he told me that he had another akiña (a legend or story) to tell me, one he had not thought of before with respect to Fitsi-fitsi’s gepügü. It was not a story of plazas or roads, parts of my story he understood quite well, like ancient trash middens and pot-sherds, as these are also primary features of contemporary villages, but of something altogether different: palisades. I paraphrase him here. 

Some time in the distant past, several Kuikuru were out hunting faraway from their village. They were taken hostage by hostile ngikogo who brought them to their village, bound them, and chided the prisoners with threats of their imminent deaths. One of the Kuikuru was befriended by the chief’s daughter who he convinced to untie him and, after telling his companions he would return to avenge their murders, escaped. He leaped a great palisade wall and ditch (maybe two walls) to flee the village. On his return, to avenge his kinsmen, he again leapt the village fortifications to open the village for attack, which was a decisive surprise attack on the enemy village. (see Basso 1995: 105–141 for a more detailed Kalapalo variant of this akiña).

maandag 24 januari 2011

Exploration Fawcett

About 9 months ago I ordered Exploration Fawcett for the sake of completeness: after 19 years of mapping uncharted areas of the Amazon rainforest Colonel Percy Fawcett had picked up enough lore concerning the lost cities of the Amazon, El Dorado and others, that he believed that he knew where to find one. In 1925 he went on a well publicized search for the City of Z in the Xingu area and was never seen again. We now know of the overgrown moats, ditches and roads collectively known as the Garden Cities of Xingu and with hindsight Fawcett seems to have been a visionary force in the rediscovery of the existence of pre-Columbian urbanity in the Amazon. 

Exploration Fawcett begins with him journeying to South-America for the first time and ends with his overview of the evidence for lost cities. It took me a long time to start reading it. I thought it would be tedious reading with undertones of obsessiveness and dullness and the cover didn't help either (and it is a trash book, it does not mention year of publication). It turns out that Fawcett was a headstrong but friendly humanitarian with a Victorian mind over matter and an acute observer. If Indiana Jones was not a film by Steven Spielberg but a book by Jane Austen this would be like it. Amidst the atrocities of the rubber boom Fawcett combines a firm grasp of the situation as a social wrong with a never wavering sympathy for human frailty. His stance on the Indians, believing their belligerence overstated, is incredibly modern and suits him well in his explorations. He is more Ray Mears than Bruce Parry.

The jungle is a place where stories are currency and hear-say is exchange money. Fawcett, ever the military man, tells quite a few stories of garrison humour, but there is even more strange ethnographic material that sometimes seems post-modern (like this earlier quote about cannibalism) but also sometimes seems incredibly pulpy. 
Every year the natives here celebrate a kind of sabbath in the forest. They gather round an altar of stones and brew the native beer, chicha, which they drink in huge quantities over mouthfuls of strong tobacco. The mixture maddens them, and man and woman give themselves up to a wild orgy. This often continues for a fortnight.
Fawcett feels modern in some aspects because he observed things with his own eyes and saw through dogma when he needed to. He made his own choices and this is why he survived. There are other parts of Fawcett that are resolutely distant in time from us: his firm believe in spiritualism that seems so at odds with his deep practicality. But (and I have made this point earlier) superstitions, the belief in active magic, might well be an adaptation of the human mind to cope with the conditions and challenges of life as part of the forest.   

vrijdag 19 november 2010

The Origin of the Ditches

Viti-Vití (or the Origin of the Ditches)
Viti-Vití was just like a person, he had a nose, he had a mouth, he had ears and he had two eyes. He had everything we people have.

Viti-Vití was married to a woman of his own tribe. He had a brother-in-law, a mother-in-law, and a father-in-law.

Viti-Vití decided  to get honey out of the hive. He went as it was getting dark, because the bees were very fierce.

Viti-Vití took his wife and brother-in-law. They went into the forest. When they got there, Viti-Vití said, “Brother-in-law, who going to climb the tree, you or I?”

“I’d rather that you went.” Answered the brother.

The wife had brought a large clay pot for the honey.

Viti-Vití climbed up in the tree, carrying a shell to bore holes in the hive, to pull out the honeycombs. From up in the tree, Viti-Vití told them bring the pot close to the tree to catch the honey in, but he was doing nothing of the kind.

Viti-Vití was using the shell to turn is right leg into an animal’s leg. With the shell he was cutting the leg, or rather, scraping it to make it thin and end in a point. On the ground, his wife and brother-in-law kept asking him to throw down honey.

Viti-Vití threw down honey to them. But what was falling into the pot was blood from Viti-Vití’s leg.

As it was dark, they could not see that it was blood. The two of them, wife and brother-in-law, ate up all the blood Viti-Vití had thrown down to them. Suddenly Viti-Vití’s brother-in-law began smelling blood. He became suspicious and went to check the pot. Discovering it was actually blood, he said to his sister, “This is blood. What can he be doing up there? He must be going crazy. We’d better get out of here and leave him alone. You go ahead and I’ll be along shortly.”

Viti-Vití’s wife went off.

Up there in the tree-top Viti-Vití continued to work on his foot. He asked his brother-in-law, “Well, have we got enough honey yet?” “We have half a pot.” The brother-in-law knew that the half a pot was Viti-Vití’s blood and said, “I’m moving just a few steps away. The bees are getting ferocious and biting us. We can’t take any more.” He was talking and waving his hand in front of his face at the same time. Saying that, he began to move away slowly. When he was a little way off, he started to run.

That left Viti-Vití all by himself, but he thought his wife and his brother-in-law were down there.

Waiting for him.

Viti-Vití had meanwhile given his leg the shape he wanted.

From up there, Viti-Vití shouted, “Brother-in-law, oh, brother-in-law!”

Since he got no answer, he said to himself, “Where could they have gone?” As no one answered he climbed out of the tree and on the ground continued calling to the two of them.

Before she left, Viti-Vití’s wife had dumped all the blood out of the pot.

Viti-Vití kept calling, but no one answered. He decided to go home to get the two of them.

When he reached home, he found everything shut up. Out of fear, his brother-in-law had closed the entire house.

Viti-Vití from outside ordered them to open up. His brother-in-law did not want to open, because he knew if he did, Viti-Vití would kill him with his pointed foot.

Viti-Vití’s leg had become very long and pointed. It was his weapon. Viti-Vití peered in from outside, but he could not see his brother-in-law, who was hidden.

“Where are you, brother-in-law?” he asked.

The brother-in-law did not answer and would not let his sister, Viti-Vití’s wife, answer.

Viti-Vití got tired of calling to his brother-in-law and his wife. As nobody had answered him he decided to leave that very hour for the forest, taking with him all his people.

 Everywhere he went that seemed a nice place to live, Viti-Vití would make long deep ditches and leave part of his people there, and he himself would continue travelling.

He advised all of them to build their villages outside the ditch, within the semi-circle described by it. The ditches were almost always arc-shaped, and one end always let to or away from the water. The ditches, Viti-Vití  recommended, should be used when it became necessary to protect themselves against cold winds.

In almost every habitable place he found, Viti-Vití left a few of his people and a deep ditch for shelter. Viti-Vití still lives today with some of his people on the shore of the great kuikúru-Ípa lagoon, at one end of a ditch, where it meets the water.

At night Viti-Vití’s footsteps can be heard. They make a dry sound when he steps on the ground with his pointed leg: toc, tim, toc, tim.

That is the sound.

The above Kuikuro myth was collected by the Villas Boas brothers and first published in English in 1973. That would have been the end of it, if not for Michael Heckenberger archaeological work in the area. Working with Kuikuro informers, he uncovered a vast network of pre-Columbian settlements, the so-called Garden Cities of Xingu. The Kuikuro of today do not recognize these remnants as part of their cultural heritage. Heckenberger notes that many cultural traits (pottery and village lay-our for instance) suggest some form of cultural transmission between the Kuikuro and those people constructing the ditches. The Villas-Boas brothers in their book hinted at the existence of old settlements and it is no coincidence that Colonel Fawcett got killed in the same area while searching for the 'cities of Z'. In fact Ellen Basso, an American linguist, by surprise, was told the story of Fawcett's arrival and departure from a Kuikuro village. The story of Viti-Viti is a prime example of fiction as part of the process of reinhabition, a way to make a home from an alien landscape. 

woensdag 15 september 2010

The Garden Cities of Xingu

Kuhikugu, the forest city of the Xingu is the Transition Town of the future, here are some sources.

Listen to Michael Heckenberger et al (Amazonia 1492: Pristine Forest or Cultural Parkland?) :
Was the Amazon a natural forest in 1492, sparsely populated and essentially pristine, as has been traditionally thought? Or, instead, were parts of it densely settled and better viewed as cultural forests, including large agricultural areas, open parklands, and working forests associated with large, regional polities. Despite growing popularity for the latter view, entrenched debates regarding pre-Columbian cultural and ecological variation in the region remain unresolved due to a lack of well-documented case studies. Here, we present clear evidence of large, regional social formations [circa (c.) 1250 to 1600 A.D.] and their substantial influence on the landscape, where they have altered much of the local forest cover.  

We use a definition of early urbanism that is not limited to cities, meaning megacenters (5000 or more persons) distinctive in form and function from rural or suburban communities, but that also includes multicentric networked settlement patterns, including smaller centers or towns.

Rather than ancient cities, complex settlement patterns in the Upper Xingu were characterized by a network of permanent plaza communities integrated in territorial polities (~250 km2). This dispersed, multicentric pattern of plaza towns (~20 to 50 ha) and villages (<10 ha) was organized in a nested hierarchy, which gravitated toward an exemplary political ritual center. We refer to these hierarchical supralocal communities as galactic clusters, inspired by Tambiah’s “galactic polity” model, which draws attention to the basic similarities between small-to-large centers and the “radial mapping” of satellites in relation to an exemplary center. The galactic clusters existed within a regional peer polity composed of geographically and socially articulated but independent polities that shared basic features of techno-economy, sociopolitical organization, and ideology.

Long ago, Howard proposed a model for lower-density urban development, a “garden city,” designed to promote sustainable urban growth .The model proposed networks of small and wellplanned towns, a “green belt” of agricultural and forest land, and a subtle gradient between urban and rural areas. The pre-Columbian polities of the Upper Xingu developed such a system, uniquely adapted to the forested environments of the southern Amazon.
The Upper Xingu is one of the largest contiguous tracts of transitional forest in the southern Amazon [the so-called “arc of deforestation”], our findings emphasize that understanding long-term change in human-natural systems has critical implications for questions of biodiversity, ecological resilience, and sustainability. Local semi-intensive land use provides “homegrown” strategies of resource management that merit consideration in current models and applications of imported technologies, including restoration of tropical forest areas. This is particularly important in indigenous areas, which constitute over 20% of the Brazilian Amazon and “are currently the most important barrier to deforestation”.
Finally, the recognition of complex social formations, such as those of the Upper Xingu, emphasizes the need to recognize the histories, cultural rights, and concerns of indigenous peoples—the original architects and contemporary stewards of these anthropogenic landscapes—in discussions of Amazonian futures. proposed a model for lower-density urban development, a “garden city,” designed to promote sustainable urban growth. The model proposed networks of small and wellplanned towns, a “green belt” of agricultural and forest land, and a subtle gradient between urban and rural areas. The pre-Columbian polities of the Upper Xingu developed such a system, uniquely adapted to the forested environments of the southern Amazon.

In pre-Columbian villages, we can expect that the landscape was much more densely occupied and used more intensively and according to more rigidly defined divisions and schedules. Where today (2006) there are three villages of about 500 people (with only one of 350 a decade earlier), there were over 20 settlements in at least two clusters, with the larger first-order settlements ranging over 10 times the residential area of the modern Kuikuro village. These multi-centric settlement hierarchies encompass a small territory of about 400 km2. It is hard to say what the exact scale of communities or regional populations was, but the size and configuration of the settlements themselves is quite clear. Plaza villages, like today, were critical social nodes and tied into elaborate socio-political networks. Primary roads and bridges are oriented to plazas, or more accurately, are ordered by the same spatial principles, which also order domestic and public space, creating a cartography and landscape that was highly partitioned and rigidly organized according to the layouts of settlements and roads.

These areas of heightened alteration and management (saturated anthropogenic landscapes) can be readily seen in altered forest signatures on the landscape, as seen on the ground or in satellite images. The anthropogenic footprint of late prehistoric occupations is still clear today, even in the areas little used by contemporary Kuikuro communities. Rather than some delicate balance forged from millennia of almost changeless human use of the landscape, with almost imperceptible impacts on the forest, indigenous groups in the southern Amazon have a remarkable and indelible footprint. The scars of previous occupations, clear on satellite images, provide graphic testimony to what was lost, and underscore the need to consider human factors in the constitution of biodiversity and ecological zones.

Diagram of Ebenezer Howard's Victoriana Urbanism.

“Anthropologists made the mistake of coming into the Amazon in the twentieth century and seeing only small tribes and saying, ‘Well, that’s all there is.’ The problem is that, by then, many Indian populations had already been wiped out by what was essentially a holocaust from European contact. That’s why the first Europeans in the Amazon described such massive settlements that, later, no one could ever find.” 
As we walked back into the Kuikuro village, Heckenberger stopped at the edge of the plaza and told me to examine it closely. He said that the civilization that had built the giant settlements had been nearly annihilated. Yet a small number of descendants had survived, and we were no doubt among them. For a thousand years, he said, the Xinguanos had maintained artistic and cultural traditions from this highly advanced, highly structured civilization. He said, for instance, that the present-day Kuikuro village was still organized along east and west cardinal points and its paths were aligned at right angles, though its residents no longer knew why this was the preferred pattern. Heckenberger added that he had taken a piece of pottery from the ruins and shown it to a local maker of ceramics. It was so similar to present-day pottery, with its painted exterior and reddish clay, that the potter insisted that it had been made recently. 
As Pinage and I headed toward the chief’s house, Heckenberger picked up a contemporary ceramic pot and ran his hand along the edge, where there were grooves. “They’re from boiling the toxins out of manioc,” he said. He had detected the same feature in the ancient pots. “That means that a thousand years ago people in this civilization had the same staple of diet,” he said. He began to go through the house, finding parallels between the ancient civilization and its remnants today: the clay statues, the thatched walls and roofs, the cotton hammocks. “To tell you the honest-to-God truth, I don’t think there is anywhere in the world where there isn’t written history where the continuity is so clear as right here,” Heckenberger said.
Some of the musicians and dancers were circling through the plaza, and Heckenberger said that everywhere you looked in the Kuikuro village “you can see the past in the present.”