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SMITHSONIAN RESEARCH WITH THE CANELA OF BRAZIL
[image]

Bill Crocker and Carol Pareschi with Canela research assistants to their left, sit in front of a Canela house, 2001. Photo by Myles Crocker.

Bill Crocker began field research with the Canela in 1957 and has continued intermittently right up to the present [1994]. He has lived with the Canela for an accumulated total of more than five years during eleven field trips. There are few anthropological field studies that surpass his in duration and intensity.

This long-term approach to the study of a culture enables Crocker not only to mount a time-stretched interpretation of culture change and adaptation, but also permits him to achieve an intimacy of interpersonal relationships with the Canela people that is often voiced as an objective of anthropological fieldwork—but rarely achieved. Bill Crocker is amongst kin, locked into an intricate pattern of terminology and reciprocal behaviors, when he is with the Canela. Though "one of the family," he must retain perspective as an anthropologist, a viewer and interpreter of behavior into which he has been socialized. He does this, in part, by acquiring "research assistants" rather than "informants." They share knowledge and their interpretations of behavior with him. They also share responsibility for culturally correct reporting and analysis: Crocker acknowledges their input but still retains his obligation to produce alternative perspectives and interpretations flowing from his anthropological training and his position as a cultural "other" to the Canela. The result of his special, long-term relationship with the Canela is a complex, detailed description and analysis of a spectacular way of life.

Canela culture is radically divergent from European-based cultural expectations, values, and perspective, even though their common humanity is apparent. They live a joyous life of festival, ceremony and ritual that is inconceivable from the perspective of a work- and time-oriented Westerner. The Canela spend hours and days engaged in symbolic re-enactments of their cultural meanings, and parts of each day engaged in what seems like plain everyday fun—such as racing around the village perimeter carrying heavy logs on their shoulders (a great way to keep in shape, it seems).

—From the forward, page viii by George Spindler, to The Canela: Bonding Through Ritual, Kinship and Sex, by William and Jean Crocker, published by Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1994.

Developing a Canela video was the most important part of my research during the late 1990s along with the continuation of the Canela Diary Program. During 1964 I persuaded three Canelas to write diaries for me. By 1970 there were five and by 1979, twelve. Some wrote in Canela, some in Portuguese, and others wrote in both languages, translating their own Canela into Portuguese. Two spoke on tape in Canela. After a gap during the 1980s, the program continued in 1991. Currently [2002], six Canelas are speaking Portuguese to me on tapes two hours a month. [image]
Major Francisquinho Tep-hot Canela, 2001.
Photo by Myles Crocker
(Click on photo to enlarge.)
My diarists are my principal research assistants among the Canela when I am there. We have known each other very well over a long period of time. I believe that translating materials for years has developed the mental abilities of these particular individuals. I also hope that my working closely with them in their village is helping them develop ideas about how to solve some of their people's problems. They may also pick up ideas from me about how to help their people get along better in the Brazilian world.

Last fall I lived among the Canela for three months to carry out a census with the help of two Brazilian ethnologists and an American photographer. This census-taking was more than just counting names, ages, sexes, births, deaths, and relationships. It included many questions about how the society was changing. The following are a few of my questions to men: Do you hunt the larger game animals (deer, ostriches, wild boar, etc.)? How large is the field you planted this year and with what staples (manioc, rice, beans, etc.)? Which ones of the ancient taboos against certain foods and sex are you practicing? Are you a Protestant or a Catholic? Does your family sell produce in the open markets, and if so, where, to whom, and how many kilos? Do you believe that Awkhêê (their culture hero) is going to come back to earth to save your people? Or, do you believe that relying on your own hard work in the farms will save your family from the hunger that appears during the lean months of the year? I had asked similar questions, and others, during the censuses of 1993, 1979, 1975 and 1970. Thus, I can say, after reviewing the earlier censuses, that young Canela are losing their ability to kill large game, that young men are planting larger farms, that the taboos are disappearing, that fewer Canela are Protestants these days, that slightly more produce is being sold in the markets, and that the reliance on Awkhêê is increasing.

The book I still hope to write will be about Canela sociocultural change over a one-hundred-year period. When I first arrived among the Canela in 1957, Nimuendajú's book on the Canela helped me update the years since his time there in the 1930s. The memories of old men and women helped me learn about their life styles from the 1890s to the 1930s. For instance, one day in 1960, the old Antônio Diogo (about 80) took me to a village site occupied during the 1890s to tell me about what he had done at some of the house sites, in the plaza, and down by the swimming hole, when he was an adolescent there. His stories are precious.

Another book that should be written is on the Canela festival-pageant system, which is vast, dramatic, and full of symbolism. However, I was born in 1924, so my years are numbered. Thus, my highest priority should be working on my archives—field notes, photographs, videos, tape recordings, Canela diaries, censuses, as well as my own "head notes" (memories). I must do this to process them into a form that others can use. Our responsibility as professionals is to pass on to posterity as much of our research as we can. I have been blessed with excellent field conditions among the Canela, as well as funding and support from the Smithsonian staff. If health permits, I hope to continue adding to the record of this admirable people.


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