Indigenous letters in colonial Brazil : a Tupi-correspondence during the Dutch Wars in 1645/1646

Documents in indigenous languages in colonial Brazil and the La Plata-Region written by the Tupi or Guarani themselves are a rather new field of research. Most of these documents are not yet published or were unknown until recently. The article stresses that the early documents have been written (or indirectly transmitted as for instance in travel books) by the so called "Go-between", Europeans or Indians living in two civilizations, their own and the Spanish/Portuguese one of the colony. In the La Plata-region the texts in Guarani were mainly written by or for the indigenous élite in the reducciones, the Jesuit mission settlements, some of the remaining texts as the newly rediscovered Gülich-manuscript here presented were also written for use of the new missionaries to improve their use of the Guarani-language in special pragmatic situations. Other texts such as a Guarani Memoria about the Guarani participation in the Spanish conquest of Colonia del Sacramento (now Colonia, Uruguay) in 1704/1705 are very complex and should not be seen mainly as part of an Indigenous historical memory as they were certainly written in the version we have nowadays by Jesuits, probably hermanos (lay brothers). In the case of Brazil we only have a military correspondence in Tupi written by Potiguara-Indians allied to the rival parties during the Brazilian-Dutch war in 1645/1646 (Diogo Pinheiro Camarão and Antônio Filipe Camarão to Poti and Antônio Paraupaba, we have also translations of the answering letter by Poti). The biographies of these indigenous military leaders are here presented. A comparison between the Brazilian and the La Plata-based indigenous literacy and the historical and sociolinguistic background is tried. These texts show us that the common idea about an illiterate or semi-illiterate indigenous population in colonial South-America has to be thoroughly revised.


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