The Canela (Eastern Timbira), I: An Ethnographic Introduction.
By William H.Crocker
Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology,
Number 33, 487 pages, 11 tables, 51 figures, 78 plates, 1990.

<<back  table of contents  next>>

<<return to literature

Preface

[Pr.1]  Research 

Some ethnologists carry out their fieldwork in a number of different tribes. Others spend a lifetime in one tribe or a set of villages. I am devoting my professional life to studying only two closely related tribes: the Canela and the Apanyekra. Goals of my early field research (1957–1960) were to study acculturation, change and conservatism through time, and the processes of innovation. The major orientation toward long term research became evident only in 1964. This diachronic orientation was appropriate because my position at the Smithsonian Institution emphasized field research and facilitated such a long term point of view. It was also appropriate because of my early training in acculturation studies and my education in holistic sociology, psychology, and cultural systems. Consequently, my particular interests evolved into a focus on how one sociocultural system operates in relation to a larger one—synchronically and diachronically―rather than on kinship, South American national or tribal studies, or the cross-cultural comparison of the origins of various cultural traits. (For perspectives on long term studies, see Foster et al., 1979.)

My fieldwork in Brazil started in 1956 when Professor David A. Baerreis at the Department of Anthropology of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, sent me as a doctoral candidate to Charles Wagley for introductions to Brazil. After meeting with Professor Wagley in New York City on several occasions, he gave me two letters, in early 1957, to friends in Brazil. One was to his junior colleague, the late Dr. Eduardo Galvăo, and the other was to his co-godparent, the late Dona Heloisa Alberto Torres. All the necessary official permissions were obtained in this way through these two individuals. (See Appendix 1 for details about the 10 field trips from 1957 through 1979.)

The field research among the Canela began in August 1957. By August 1960, after 24 months with the two tribes, four months back in Wisconsin, and additional months in Brazilian towns and cities, the predoctoral period of field research was completed. The postdoctoral fieldwork continued through the 1960s and 1970s and ended in October 1979. The total time spent with the two tribes was 64 months over a span of 22 years.

Work on related articles (Crocker, 1982, 1983, 1984a, 1984b) continued through 1983. In April and May of 1984, I carried out a detailed, written study for the development and eventual publication of most of the materials collected in the field. It became evident, then, that there were sufficient materials with relatively isolable subjects to justify their inclusion in at least eight and possibly more than 17 separate book-length publications.

The following are the topics planned for the entire series, beginning with the eight monographs. While there might be significant variations from this plan, monographs will consider (1) the broad ethnographic coverage of the sociocultural systems (this monograph) for the general ethnologist, stressing social organization and furnishing most of the background materials for subsequent books in the series; (2) the relationship systems (kinship and others) in full detail and analysis, including Northern Gę comparisons [III.E] (see p. 6 for explanation of cross-reference notation); (3) the patterns of dualism [V.A] and other cognitive orientations [V.B]; (4) the messianic movement of 1963 and world comparisons [II.B.2.f]; (5) the festival system described and analyzed in detail, including Northern Gę comparisons [II.C.4], [IV.A]; (6) the religious system (shamanism, pollutions, medicine) [IV.D] and individual life cycle rites [IV.B]; (7) the re-study of “The Eastern Timbira” (Nimuendajú, 1946), including previously unpresented general ethnographic materials; and (8) the analysis of the acculturation, conservatism, and long term trends over 100 years, as well as other still unpresented ethnographic data [II.B].

Three books oriented to the general public are also planned: (9) a general college reader, which could be translated into Portuguese; (10) an annotated photographic album [I.D.1.c], [I.D.2.c], [Ap.2.b], [Ap.3.f]; and (11) an ecologically oriented college reader contrasting the Canela and Apanyekra tribes [II.A.3.d], their 19th century and present adaptations, and the closed savanna (cerrado) versus the dry forest adaptations of the Canela during the 1960s [II.B.2.g].

Finally, six types of primary data could constitute the basis for each of six more publications. The first (item 12) is a collection of 78,420 pages (written) and 708 hours (taped) of native diaries from which biographical, acculturative, and psychological accounts could be developed [I.F], [Ap.2.e], [Ap.3.a]. The second accumulation of primary data (item 13) is 120 myths and war stories (taped and translated into backland Portuguese) from which pan-Gę comparisons could be made [Ap.2.d.(2), Ap.3.b]. Then there are (item 14) 88 hours of taped political sessions (plaza meetings [II.E.8]) and judicial hearings (interfamily trials [III.D.3.a, b]) from which value-laden and decision-making materials could be abstracted and interpreted [Ap.2.d.(3)], [Ap.3.c]. There are also (item 15) 72 taped hours, made from 16 mm film sound tracks, from which children’s verbal materials could be analyzed and interpreted for a better understanding of the socialization process [Ap.2.d.(5)], [Ap.3.d]. Additionally, there are (item 16) 140 hours of taped musical recordings from which analyses of singing could be structured and compared cross-culturally [II.F.1], [Ap.2.d.(1)], [Ap.3.e]. Finally, there are (item 17) the 120,000 feet of 16 mm film from which the socialization process could be analyzed and clarified [Ap.3.h].

Besides the materials already mentioned, there are also extensive collections of photographic field data: still records (prints, Polaroids, and slides) [I.D.1.c, 2.c], [Ap.2.b], [Ap.3.f]; films (16mm and Super-8) [I.D.1.c.2.c], [Ap.2.c], [Ap.3.f]; and material artifacts [II.G], [Ap.2.a], [Ap.3.g]. Almost all the primary materials collected in the field are available to qualified colleagues for research. These are listed in Appendix 2 on a quantitative basis and in Appendix 3 on a descriptive basis. However, the listing of the planned monographs is included here more to emphasize that this monograph is an introduction, not a complete treatment of the subject at hand.

[2002: Major exceptions to an exact reproduction of this book were largely concerned with ease of electronic use; thus dual column formatting, original page numbering, and some diacritics in the orthography were abandoned.  During proofreading, some phrases and words were changed in order to improve comprehension, however, significant changes, corrections or updates are provided in brackets with the year 2002 preceding.]

In the 1990 Preface, I wrote that materials were available to publish eight monographs in a Canela series for the profession and three books for the general public, as well as six types of primary materials from which publications could result. This is still potentially possible, but priorities have changed due to publication opportunities. Moreover, interests of the profession have changed as well. However, after having stated the publication plans in 1990, it behooves me to report what has happened since then.

Referring to the numbers in the 1990 Preface, a monograph on the relationship systems (item 2) may not be timely, since less professional interest exists in this subject. However, I plan to place on this Canela website extensive details, lists, and analyses to furnish the additional data that colleagues may want. Some of these data are furnished in my publication on Canela marriage (1984) on this website.

Similarly, the monograph suggested for patterns of dualism and other cognitive orientations (item 3) would be about a topic of little interest today, but extensive materials exist and some should come out in the proposed monograph on festivals (item 5).

Work on a book on the Canela messianic movement of 1963 (item 4) has been progressing for several years. I am the second author and anthropologist Priscilla Linn is doing the writing and analysis. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Canela had three large-scale messianic movements and four minor ones, so a principal question becomes why the Canela are so prone to messianic solutions to their problems.

That I complete a monograph on the Canela festival system (item 5) constitutes a significant duty to the profession. The data are extensive and interpretable. These festivals’ best rendition is still found in Nimuendajú (1946:163–230). A forecast of the nature of these materials came out in my article on the Canela internment festivals (1982) on this website.

A volume on the religious system (item 6) would be of special interest for teaching students and members of the public, since the Canela system is so different from ours. My article on ghosts (1993) on this website furnishes some insights into this material.

The data collected during the late 1950s for a restudy of The Eastern Timbira (Nimuendajú 1946) (item 7) are extensive. I plan, during the next few years, to put much of this material on this Canela website, linked to Nimuendajú’s volume and to mine, so colleagues can make fair comparisons.

Canela culture change over 100 years (item 8) is the other volume, besides the one on the festivals, that I must publish, though some materials on this subject have been coming out in articles and in my book with Jean Crocker (Harcourt 1994). Comparative materials for this volume have been collected during the Canela censuses of 1970, 1975, 1979, 1993, and 2001 and from the Canela diaries (item 12).

Only one semi-popular book (item 9) of the three ones proposed has come out, namely, the book written with my wife Jean Crocker in the Spindler case study series (Harcourt 1994). My son, Myles Crocker, has collected extensive materials for a photographic album (item 10). I feel that someone else should write the ecological book (item 11), contrasting the Canela with the Apanyekra, and carry out current field work to supplement the collected materials. 

Of the six types of primary data mentioned that could furnish materials for publications, two types have been used already. First, six of the 120 myths (item 13) have been published (Wilbert and Simoneau 1984) and others have been utilized to furnish materials on early warfare for a paper delivered in 2000 which should be published in 2003. Second, footage from the 120,000 feet of 16mm film (item 17) was used to make a video bought and shown by the National Geographic and the Discovery Chanel (Schecter and Crocker 1999).

The Canela Bonding Through Kinship, Ritual, and Sex, by William and Jean Crocker, Case Studies in Cutlural Anthropolgy, George and Louise Spindler, Series Editors, Harcourt, Brace College Publishers, Forth Work, 1994.

“Mending Ways: The Canela Indians of Brazil” 53 min. Co-produced by Steven Schecter of Schecter films and the Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. 1999.

[Pr.2] Fieldwork

A frequent question asked me is “How did you happen to choose the Canela as a people to study?” Obviously, many factors led to this choice. The first factor was that Latin American culture came to have a special place in my feelings. This occurred first just after World War II in the Philippines, where as a soldier I experienced the Hispanic tradition and liked it, and again in Mexico, directly after returning from the war in 1946. While studying Spanish, I lived in a Mexican family the members of which did not speak English. There was something about the personal warmth and freedom to express oneself in emotional ways that was appealing. Later in college, I took courses in Spanish grammar and literature, and from these studies, my feelings and interests developed, leading me to greater interest in the Hispanic world.

Thus, as a graduate student in anthropology in the early 1950s, I never had any doubt about what part of the world would be my area of specialty. The theoretical focus came later. The research possibilities inherent in the restudies by Robert Redfield (1941), Robert Redfield and Alfonso Villa Rojas (1934), and Oscar Lewis (1951) were optimal. Through the introductions of Alfonso Villa Rojas, I actually visited in the summer of 1951 for several weeks the communities of Dzitas and Chan Kom, studied by Redfield and Villa Rojas.

Although I had initially been preparing myself for work in applied anthropology and urban settings, I decided in 1956 that tribal life would be best for my particular set of abilities and interests. I wanted a tribe, moreover, that was little influenced by Christianity in order to experience a quite different set of values. South America was better for fieldwork than Mexico or Central America because North American influence there was less. Thinking along these lines, I studied the references in the “Handbook of South American Indians” (Steward, 1946–1959), and found that “The Eastern Timbira” (Nimuendajú, 1946) seemed to be the best monograph on which to carry out my ideas for a restudy. Learning Portuguese in order to do the research was an added attraction. I like languages, and any Latin Americanist should know Portuguese as well as Spanish. Even after these preparations, I was fortunate that it was possible to carry out the research of my first choice: a restudy of “The Eastern Timbira,” and the Canela.

Some field researchers write very little about how they carried out their ethnological fieldwork. Colleagues today, however, want to know about field experiences in order to facilitate their assessment of a publication. In tribal ethnology, because communication is almost always uncertain, we often do not use random sampling, questionnaires, and other sociological and statistical techniques. Length of time in the field, close familiarity with the ecological setting, close rapport with the people (especially with certain key informants), and a consistent focus on improving communication are the ethnolo­gist’s techniques for enhancing relative objectivity, reliability, and the validity of field data.

A principal source of information after the first 18 months, besides extensive census-time questioning, was working with the “research assistant council” of Canela informants, which I established. While visual observations and the results of limited questioning were continually recorded (written or taped) as daily notes, the principal daily work consisted of meeting with the research council group for about seven hours (8:00 AM to 12:00 and 2:00 to 5:00 PM). This group consisted of an interpreter/translator (the younger Kaapęltůk [Frontispiece]) and two to six relatively old and trained research assistants. Although I could usually follow their debates in Canela, the presence of the younger Kaapęltůk ensured reliable and precise communication in Portuguese and Canela [I.E.2]. The ages, number, and sex of these research assistants brought a variety of responses from which to cull cultural patterns and their variations. Council membership [I.G.2,4,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14] varied with the year and the topic under consideration and was composed of women and men chosen for their verbal ability (in Canela) and their special knowledge. They had also been selected for their age, because a major objective of the study was to reconstruct earlier beliefs and behavior patterns of their ancestors. (For more detail on the research assistant council, see [I.E]; on the research assistants themselves, see [I.G]; on the field equipment used, see [I.D].)

<<back  table of contents  next>>

[top of page]