BY ANNE MERRIE-PESSIS
Five hundred years ago, when European sailors reached the coast of what would later be known as Brazil, they met indigenous peoples who had lived there for at least five hundred centuries. Thousands of years of adaptation had allowed these peoples to accumulate the knowledge and survival techniques that formed the basis of the culture of population density and wide cultural diversity throughout the whole coastal region, which was the first to be colonised. Records left by missionaries, soldiers, civil servants, and travelers in the early sixteenth century bear witness to the way of life of these aboriginal groups, whose technology and customs were so different from those familiar to the Eupeans.
The meeting of these two groups resulted in a devastating clash of cultures. The original contexts and value systems in which the two cultures had been created were completely different. The indigenous peoples had concentrated primarily on perfecting processes that used natural resources to create a quality of life whose survival potential would be conserved. At the same time, they also developed myths in their search for answers to questions that have constantly been, from the outset, the contra concerns of and about human nature. Records of the themes that preoccupied those most were marked on the rock walls or archaeological sites, in the form of narrative paintings, and of figures of unrecognizable morphology. Their knowledge was transmitted by oral tradition and shared throughout the whole community, extending to all the small groups into which they were divided. Their common knowledge allowed them to maintain a lifestyle oriented towards sustaining equilibrium with other human groups, and which the environment. They were classless and casteless societies.
The people who came from Europe had an entirely different way of organizing themselves, based on different ways of accumulating wealth, which they derived from commercializing the resources extracted from nature, and the goods produced by human labor. Wealth was the guarantee of their survival potential. They had created a religious institution that was repressive, powerful, and had an immense, constant an uninterrupted temporal influence. Knowledge, transmitted in written form, was distributed according to a rigid social stratification, which supported a hierarchical power system through the accumulation of capital and the control of technological knowledge.