Rape charge shocks the Amerindian camp

  • 14/07/1992

NOT EVERYTHING was smooth sailing for the indigenous community in Rio. Shock and outrage gripped the community when Paulinho Paiacan, one of the chiefs of the Caiapo nation in the Brazilian Amazon region, was accused of having raped a white woman. Paiacan, incidentally, was the winner of the UN Environment Programme's Global 500 award in 1989 for his fight to save his people's land and culture.

"The accusation hurt us and we are very worried," said chief David Kopenawa Ianomami, who had received the UN award along with Paiacan.

The report, published in the Brazilian magazine, Veja, said that the incident occurred in Redencao, in the state of Para, in the Amazon. Paiacan had allegedly raped and tried to kill 18-year-old Silvia Leticia Luz Ferreira a few days before UNCED. Many Indian groups spoke in his defence, saying that the report was meant to destroy the credibility of the Indians at the Earth Summit.

Paiacan's friend, anthropologist Darrell Posey, was the most outspoken, "I think this was aimed at hurting the image of Indians during the UN conference.... the (Veja) story is sensationalist and we know it was written in 24 hours which shows that there already was an intention of speaking badly about the Indians so it will have an impact on the conference. The magazine reported, judged and sentenced Paiacan without even talking to him. "

Later, Paiacan gave his side of the story. He said the girl was a consenting partner. According to him, he and his wife took Silvia to a party. He said, "We drank a lot and, as we drove home, my wife and daughter fell asleep. I parked the car and we made love. That was when Irecra (his wife) woke up and scratched Silvia with her fingernails." They had apparently drunk some 48 bottles of beer.

Senator Darcy Ribeiro, a former deputy governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, who has spent a lot of time with Indians, says, "They might kill another person, even cannibalism is imaginable. But a sexual crime is unimaginable." He says that since sexual relations are not subject to any kind of repression among the Indians, rape is unimaginable.

But not everyone was sympathetic. An editorial in Jornal do Brazil points out that there is a tendency to put the blame on white society for having taught Paiacan his evil ways. This, the editorial goes on to say, is an attempt to preserve the mythical image of the Indian in his habitat. Indians, like whites, are not necessarily good or bad.