Individuation Stories from the Edge of the Amazon Forest


Cynthia Lira
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sociedade Brasileira de Psicologie Analitia

Suely Engelhard
Icari – Niteroi, Brazil
Sociedade Brasileira de Psicologie Analitia

Between forest and city we travel by way of the river making a slow crossing.

We will be looking at the Indian man in his tribe, at the white man in the city, and at both mixing in the city and in the forest as each emerges out of their previous context into a new one.

In this paper we will be looking at how the process of individuation, be it of a person, a group, a nation, and in last instance, of humanity, is interwoven.

By bringing to Europe these images of distant people, in response to the explicit request of a Saterê-mauê indian that the reality and presence of this people be looked at, we are making the wheel turn, spinning the top, guided by the Self, helping to make consciousness. … And we are reminded of the Pueblo Chief who one day said to Jung:

We are a people who live on the roof of the world; we are the sons of Father sun, and with our religion we daily help the father to go across the sky. We do this not only for ourselves, but for the whole world. (Jung, MDR, p. 252)

Therefore we aim to examine ourselves for our inner realization. Like the symbol of the athanor, the alchemists; self-feeding furnace that maintained a uniform and durable heat in order for the transformation to take place, we are putting the mercurial wheel in motion.

We intend to take you on a journey, leaving your native countries and setting sail with a different attitude from that of the original colonizers who were moved by the hubris of an inflated ego, pushed by their newly gained technologies and cognitive developments to navigate theretofore impenetrable seas.

As Gambini (2000) points out they were the proud owners of a know-how that blinded them to the recognition of a local knowledge of life. This time we propose that our movement be undertaken with care, in obedience to the need for integration that the Self proposes.

There are over two hundred indian tribes in Brazil, each with its regional cultural peculiarities, but there is a common ground to all: life in the forests where the trees need the constant slow heat alternating between dryness and humidity for their growth.

One of the natives’ creation myths tell us that long ago the people were all mixed up. Nobody had a name and nobody could marry. So Yo’í, a primal character, prepared a potion from the Jacarerana tree and gave a little to each person. As each person sipped from the drink they found their native tribe and then they could marry. Here we have an important teaching of the fundamental function of the tree as giver of knowledge of the individual identity of the members and groups of forest dwellers.

We need to know where we come from in order to find a direction in which to move, we need to know who we are before we can join with other people. The Latin American Jungian community has been undertaking this reflexive exercise about its origins and identity.

The setting of a point, the emergence of a center, initiates a gravitational field from which we can expand. To the Indians the tree is a symbol for the center of the earth, it is the place of origin for all species of living beings. Mircea Eliade says that the cosmic tree is the symbolic element most commonly used for the center of the world. It is in itself generator and creator of life and its trunk establishes an axis that allows the communication between the earth and the skies.

The Ticuna Indians tell us of a primordial tree that was so big that it kept the light from the world. Yo’i and Ipí, the first brothers, were worried that the tree had to be brought down. Many animals attempted, but it was a little quatipurú that managed to climb up the tree and throw fire ants in the eyes of the slothard that held the top of the tree up to the sky. The tree fell. From the stump that was left, leaves began to sprout. The brothers were worried, they came close and heard the tree’s heart that was still beating: poc-poc-poc. They tried to take it out with an axe but the heart popped out. Several animals pursued it until finally one caught it and planted it. Yo’í searched and searched until he found it, and took it to plant in his yard. After a while another tree grew and from the leaves that fell came all the animals, and when the very last fruit fell it transformed itself into a beautiful young girl, whom Yoí took as a wife. And they gave birth to all the Indians.

In the documentary, Barreirinha is taken as a center, as a point of reference from where one leaves and to which one can return. This is where our interest lies, upon the process of departure, arrival and return – a process that fixes a place within ourselves. It is a preconfigured journey undertaken by the ego and led by the Self, such as Jung mentioned about his own existence:

From the beginning I had a sense of destiny, as if my life had been assigned to me by fate and had to be fulfilled. This gave me an inner security, and, though I could never prove it to myself, it proved itself to me. I did not have this certainty, it had me. (Jung, MDR, p. 48)

It is in this belonging and security in their destinies, in the comings and goings, and becomings in and around Barreirinha that the people in the movie are no longer historical characters but become metamorphosed into mythological heroes. We will be looking at the narrator and director who, by making the documentary, places Barreirinha on her map, and on our maps of existence, in order to move on to other still more recessed points in her life story, while she sends each one of us in search of our own points of origin.

Ailton Krenak, one of the founders of the Union of Indigenous Nations, holds that the encounter between the white man and the Indian that we are used to dating as having happened in 1500, is still happening daily today.

There are many narratives from the different tribes about this encounter, some of them dating back two or three thousand years. The white man is pictured as a brother who left and no one knows where he went. He went far and lived away for many generations. He learned another technology, developed other languages and learned how to organize differently. And inspite of his return being foretold, what he would want was not known.

There was only the prophecy, or threat, the coming of the whites, and the promise to establish a link, a re-encounter with that long lost brother. He would come back showing a difference, and along with it, the need to recognize the difference that exists, the original difference, of which each people, each tradition and each culture is a holder, an heir.

The Krenak then say that only when we are able to recognize such difference, not as a fault or an opposition but as a difference of the very nature of each culture and each people, only then we will be able to advance a little our recognition of the other and establish a more authentic cohabitation among ourselves.

Whereas modern man believes himself to be emancipated from subordination to the cyclical law of nature, for primitive man it is ritualistic repetition that brings reality to facts, allowing them not to lose contact with Being.

It becomes easy to understand why the Saterê-mauê were the first to insurge against the foreigners, appropriators of the unappropriatable forest.

The natives have their consciousness immersed in a sea of unconscious phenomena without clear distinction between an internal and an external world. It is this archaic identity between subject and object that drives them to the action of invading the caboclo camp, owners of the motor saw, a psychic modern image of the dragon of chaos. Von Franz tells us that this archaic identity is of fundamental importance, for it is there that lies “the real mystery of the intensity of life and of spiritual creation”. For Jung, modern man is free from this archaic identity only in certain areas. “For the most part his mind still lives in a mythical and primary identification with the object”. (Jung, CW Vol. 8, §516)

In the attack upon the caboclos, representatives of the Eco-Holan- Andirá saw mill, the Indians were defending their own lives, for the death of the forest is their own death.

The voracious and indiscriminate felling of trees has a bigger meaning for these natives who most likely turned to their pajés, medicine men, who in turn invoked their deities for help, learning and guidance on how to act in this situation. The natives heroically face the possibility of killing or being killed. The essential comes to the fore.

To dare penetrate into that which is threatening is the same as taking the dragon’s blood bath, assimilating creative powers latent in the hero that can fertilize the soul, enlarging consciousness, expanding wisdom. In native wisdom words we find the same fact: “If you speak to the animals they will speak to you. And you will know each other. If you do not speak to the animals, you will not know them. And what you do not know, you fear. And what you fear, you destroy”. (Chief Dan George)

Certain “civilized” heroes, with their rusted swords, unkept shields and lame horses walking around in circles associated with the foreign invader in the decimation of life. Such is the public office worker who illegally sold public land in the Amazon – as if there were an individual owner to negotiate the land. She allowed an area the size of the Netherlands to be bought by a Dutch man who resold it for deforestation.

On the contrary, the Indians, heroes of light, attacked those who threatened them, and only then other civilized people, who could identify with them, began a legal confrontation process suspending the killing of forest life.

Gambini points to the importance of recognizing the existence of this ancestral Brazilian soul:

The question of Brazilian identity is fundamental to fully understand our role in the present for the building of the future and should be contemplated from the point of view of it’s true origin, that is, acknowledging the existence of an ancestral soul of Brazil. And what does this mean? It encompasses everything that was lost during the civilizing process that, after the first contact with the Europeans, predominated in our Country. (Gambini, 2000, p. 19)

individuation_stories_from-_the_edge_of_the_amazon_forest It is from this ancestral soul that, in Barreirinha, transformation takes place. The election of the Saterê-mauê vice-mayor Mecias, is consequence of the greater awareness of a group of people that treads a creative path.1

Their creativity lies in joining ancestral soul, to the new ways and knowledge from the civilized world.

1On October 12, 2004 the fact that Mecias became the first Indian elected as Mayor in the Amazon state was front page news in a major news paper.

According to Evandro Ouriques, Ph.D. in Culture and Communication from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro,

We live a decisive moment in the issue of native culture in all the world. … the contribution of their cultures to humanity now takes a most important place. … connection with the origin allows us to overcome conflict, be they in the psyche, in interpersonal relations; in economy; politics; sexuality; in intra and inter-religious dialog … … there is only one way out: to remind ourselves, in action, of our common origin, that defines us as part of a whole, this can ethically qualify each of our decisions in a way that they can produce the cohesion that is lacking today, when indigenous voices look for ways of being heard.

In Barreirinha we have examples of this interweaving of man in his humanity with nature that has as a consequence the production of ten tons per year of guaraná in powder; the women’s association for garbage recycling; the abandonment of the Timbó plant in predatory fishing; the creative use of new technology to preserve Pau-Rosa, main source of Channel No. 5 perfume. This possibility of exploring without destroying is the main idea of sustainable development.

According to Mecias: “We need to work and defend”. He is like the Bereré fish who takes the Timbó and swims away – a fish that does not succumb to the poison, but, on the contrary, challenges and overcomes it. In his tribe the Guaraná ritual is used as a means of taking the individual on a mythical experience, a sacred ritualization where the perpetuation of life is made present in the transformations and renovations that become concretized through death and rebirth of a God or divine hero.

In the documentary he tells us a short version of his people’s myth: In the beginning there were two bothers and their sister, Anhâ-Muasawê, a beautiful girl knowledgeable in the secrets of plants and the healing arts. One day a little male snake, who wanted the girl, spreads in her way a bright, happy, seductive smell and touches the girl’s foot with it’s tail. Her brothers, infuriated, cut the snake up – for they did not want their sister to be pregnant, nor a snake as their relative. The girl got angry at them and was exiled. With the help of the forest animals her son is born. He grows and wants to eat from his uncle’s favorite fruit tree: the Brazil nut. His uncles had forbidden them from going there. One day the boy went alone to eat the fruit. The animals saw him climbing one of the trees and cut his head off. The mother arrived too late found her son dead. She said: “Your uncles will see your death become a blessing”. With this she took the boy’s left eye and planted it in yellow earth. From that eye the false Guaraná sprouts. The right eye she plants in black earth and from that the true guaraná sprouts. She was happy with her creation. From the eyes of her son, Hope was born. And from his body came Saterê-Mauê people.

The fruit of the guaraná is like an eye. Through this ritual is becomes possible for the initiate to penetrate into “another world”, to another level of consciousness, another view of the relation of self to other.

It is from the Self – interior wholeness – that the psyche is rebalanced. The Self is that inner object that transmits to the ego a different vision from the one he is used to seeing himself in, “opening his eyes” to other aspects until now unconscious.

individuation_stories_from-_the_edge_of_the_amazon_forest The symbol of the eye is linked not only to the supreme deity, but also to isolated gods and demons. In the Guaraná ritual, the false guaraná is representative of this – it is an evil eye that charms and deceives. This is similar to the effects of the autonomous complexes over the complex of the ego, promoting distorted thoughts on self consciousness.

True reflection comes from the inner center, the eye of the self, through which we can truly know ourselves. Like a mirror that reflects our essence, we contemplate the self through its reflection on archetypal images.

Jung’s major contribution to psychology is the process of individuation, the mystical union that integrates good and evil, in Etienne Perrot’s words, the water of imagination restoring the feminine soul, humid connection of earth, body, with the fire of the spirit.

The numerous arrivals and departures in Barreirinha function as a metaphor for the analytical process, where the analyst, much like Ariadne, extends the guiding line – his consciousness realized – to the analysand, so that he may initiate his process of profound exploration, and in a heroic manner be able to live, die, and, transformed, be reborn.

This coming and going in a rhythmic motion, is a movement that exists as a consequence of the one that erupts when there is a state of disequilibrium and of crises, that generates new energy re-founding Being, re-founding society.

Barreirinha reveals a dynamic equilibrium where relationship is established from charisma, movement and not from instituted power. Movement and charisma strengthen life, propitiate a new emergence.

That is why a musician says of Barreinha “music is my ground, my Barreirinha”. Music sung comes out through the voice, as do the teachings of native wisdom. One character says, “Words have force on peoples soul”. In the same manner Kaká Werá says, “Beautiful words, that is how the Guarani call the words used to address their God” (Jecupé, 2002)

Word is constantly revivified by the community around fires, recalling always the essential, different from the written culture that accumulates so many facts that eventually cover up the vital essence. The danger of this orality is that if it is not exercised, it becomes lost, as did the history of the Saterê-mauê with the death of D. Mariqinha, who held the memory of the tribe. Like Mecias said: “Our chip, the virus ate”.

Now-a-days there are several groups who are working at recovering the traditions and habits of forest dwellers, reaffirming the indigenous identity.

There is an old North American story about a grandmother who tells her grandson that we all have inside us two wolves: one good and one bad, and they are in constant conflict. The boy then asks which one wins. She responds, “The one that we feed better”. Taking this teaching up today, we are looking for stories, written and told, that will feed the good wolf. This daily practice is necessary for the maintenance of the capacity for discrimination and differentiation.

In some indigenous tribes this exercise happens when, in the construction of their house, there is consciousness of a humanly created space before and within infinite sacred space.

This shows itself in the central pillar that unites heaven to earth, and in the “maruana” ceiling wheel designs. These designs make a panel that allow visualization of the constitutive elements of the consciousness of alterity, of the other, by the Wayanas. On it the supernatural spirits of protection, their enemies and the white men are pictured, making visible the invisible.

In the documentary we have the house that is for sale – a moment of dissolution of the building on its way to renovation; we have the doctor’s house under construction, a repetition of creation, and we have the narrator’s house that, after having been brought to life and lived in, becomes public patrimony, in the same way when we plant a tree and it grows to its fullness, we have a representation of the eternal cycle of birth-death-rebirth.

In myth, the beginning of consciousness is often symbolized by the separation of the cosmic parents, and the emergence of light that springs from darkness – symbol of illumination. In analysis, it is the myth of the hero that fosters the development of consciousness, of the ego. This archetype opens the way for the departure from the parental house, for facing and overcoming fear and for the establishment of a personal and autonomous way to be in the world.

In childhood it is this archetype that takes the child on an exploration of his environment as soon as it begins to crawl and becomes curious about the world. It is the first expression of the dialogue and interaction, I-other, basic movement of the process of individuation.

To individuate is to go from the periphery to the center, a movement of return to the point where unconscious existence was made, but now oriented and conscious. To be oriented and conscious is to deal with the life path, guided by the hero archetype, not always treading the common way, but having to take strange detours, without knowing if there is a way out. It is running the risk and feeling the fear, sometimes evasive, but knowing that it is the Self who guides and that it is the ego’s task to establish a dialogue and respond.

It is a cyclical process, in spiral form, guided by an inner center that allows the psyche to slowly develop along the way a weight of belongingness. No longer gravitating or fluctuating around external objects, but beginning to develop a consciousness of grounding. The narrator tells us: “In its appearance Barreirinha has changed, but not in its essence”.

Jung said the primacy of thinking with the mind had permitted the European to dominate the world through science, technology and the force of arms, but that in this process they had lost the capacity to think with the heart and to live through the soul

In order for this rebalancing to take place it is not necessary for us to become “Waldecys” in life, immersed in the forest with the natives. What is needed is for us to be willing to take responsibility for our participation in the context of the universe, so that what is important is not lost. To emerge is the primordial intuition of our species.

Even if our attitudes are not compatible with collective consciousness, it is important that the individual can, with freedom, realize what the voice of the Self points to for him to follow. He must remain conscious in the present moment of the fact that, although there may be a conflict with collective values and laws, these cannot be ignored. This causes a conflict of duties, and it is exactly because of this that it becomes an opportunity to make a passage to a more embracing, larger level of consciousness.

It is in the moment of sin that a gash is opened in the ego and the unconscious energy can pass through, fertilizing and fecundating.

In the Barreirinha community, Gilvandro has lived this transforming impact:he left and cut down many trees, then returned ten years later and now has as his main objective the preservation of the forest. This change in attitude is a consequence of having realized that before he was attracted by the false gold, and, as he says: “what I conquered was proportionate to my death”.

Thiago de Melo, the poet who was born in Barreirinha, left, went around the world, and returned, saying, “The place where there is the least consciousness of the value and power of the Amazon forest is in the Amazon itself”. The Xavantes recognize this when they say, “Nobody respects that which they do not know. We need to show who we are, the power, the beauty and the richness of our cultures. … only then will they understand and admire what we have”.

Thus the importance of emphasizing the consciousness of those who are there, the natives who remain and those who left and returned, the foreigners who came and stayed, of conjugating the verb “to preserve” in all its tenses, with profound respect to its ethymology, pre-observare, which means to look before, i.e. to look before acting.

Thiago de Mello emphasizes, “The forest is not a museum, but is to be explored and used in a conscious way”. The forest wants to be known. Progress, technology, if well used, in right measure, in equilibrium, is united with a natural know-how and does not substitute it. It is added as in the ordered use of television in the Araticum village. As they said themselves: “to each his own”.

Messia’s village is organized in a way that fosters learning in congruence with the reality of the forest. Paulo Freire, an important Brazilian pedaguogue, developed a teaching method that adapts learning to the reality in which one lives. Intuitively the Saterê-mauê use this in teaching the little curumins notions of math with the local fauna and flora.

In Barreirinha, Francisca waits for the son that left and has not returned. Her other son also left, but returned and is today one of the leaders of the Bumba-meu-boi festival that was initiated by his grandfather who was the first boi. This event organizes his life and the community’s life around the myth of rebirth. In many ancient religions animals are divinities. Even in Christianity, prevalent in Brazil, which repudiates animals, we find their representation in the dove, the lamb and the lion. Of the saints, São Francisco de Assis is close to the animals, walks barefoot and praises them and nature in passionate poetry.

Fransisca, like Francisco, is integrated with nature. She knows the plants and herbs of the region, and has looked everywhere for news of her departed son. She knows, and her continued search confirms, that he is alive – where and how is a mystery.

According to Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian theologist, “Mystery is not the limit of reason, but the illimitedness of reason. Concretely it is the mystery of the other. The more we want to know it, to put it in a box, the more it withdraws to a beyond … making us get out of ourselves and be placed in front of it. When the other erupts in front of us ethics is born. Because the other requires a practical attitude a reply with responsibility.” (JB, 18/072003)

Francisca is a modern representative of Anhâ-Muasawê, the ancestral mother in the Guaraná myth. She awaits and trusts. Her son, the other, “brings the emergence of the ethos that loves … To love the other is to give him reason for existence”. When we love, we care. Caring liberates and heals, opens the space for the future and creates hope.

In 1700 B.C. Higino gave us the myth of Care who molded a piece of earth in the shape of a human being and asked Jupiter to insufflate spirit into it. Care then wanted to name it but Jupiter did not let him. This became a polemic between them. At this point Earth shows up and says she has the right to name him, since she has given of her body to make him. As they could not come to an agreement, they called upon Saturn, the ancestral God, to be judge. Saturn decreed that as Jupiter had given him spirit, he would have that back upon the new being’s death, while Earth would have his body back. And Care, who molded him, would accompany the being all his life. Finally he decided he would name him himself as Human, for he came from Humus, fertile earth.

It is this caring attitude, ontologically, a priori, that allows the human being to emerge. However, what we see today is the dissociation from this caring, loving, sacralizing attitude that causes so much damage to the unique habitat of our species, the planet Earth, Gaia, who molded us from her own substance and essence.

According to Rollo May, “cyincism and apathy are psychological diseases of our time” (JB 25/07/2003) that predispose the individual to become an individualist, reinforcing the I-other dichotomy, and not individuated – a complete being in himself, in a systemic dialog with himself and the Cosmos.

“The supreme value of the new ethic of ecological responsibility is precondition to all other values and human activities”, says Boff. (1999, p112) And according to Gambini:

. … what is now called an ecological problem has to be seen first of all in its psychological aspect, as its root is basically an attitude towards nature that can only bee understood if we look at the psyche. As we see, it did not start now, nor is it just a product of Capitalism. Certain exploitative economic principles definitely give it a peculiar shape, but I would say that an Anti-nature standpoint was present from the beginning, we only notice it more now because we are now approaching the critical point … (Gambini, 2000, p. 107)

What we see through the story of Barreirinha and its people are the constant battles of today’s pathologies and a struggle for a caring ethos that is similar to the ones in our psyche between the aspects we call inferior, evil and destructive that are cynically and apathically denied, and our ontological condition of uniting, in a caring and loving ethos, our opposites in equilibrium.

Barreirinha emerges from an act of love and care. Tiago de Melo tells of a love story in the town’s founding. Father Seixas, who is not made of steel, in one of his outings to hold Sunday service, fell in love with a sensual cabocla. A while later he took the image of our Lady, put it under his robes and crossed over to Barreirinha. Once there, he produced the miracle of the apparition of the saint who, according to him, blessed his relationship with the cabocla. With this he moved the center of his parish to Barreirinha, put the Saint on the Church altar and the cabocla on the altar of his heart.

The arrival of Rios the Peruvian doctor brought to awareness the dream of many of the youth to become healers.

This dream is syntonic with the Saterê-mauês defense of the forest, who in their fight long to allow the forest to be cured of the damage inflicted by the civilizating white man.

Progress and globalizitation is present in Barreirinha creatively in the parabolic antennae, television, the motor saw, the motor boat, the exportation of Guaraná and other regional products, and poetry. It is also present in its negative aspects in the industrial waste (plastic, batteries etc), drugs, sexual violence, and the compliance of authorities with the destruction of the forest.

One side and another are present in the human being, for such is it’s nature. According to Murilo Mendes, “God and the devil meet in man”. Wisdom is having consciousness of this dual nature – we are microcosm and macrocosm, temporal and eternal, restricted to our personal existence and at the same time transcendent by virtue of our humanity. We are habitat of the symbolical and diabolical, our best and our worst, angels and demons, of energies and ancestral visions, abyssal, archetypal. In order for the principle of of individuation to be realized consciously, we need to turn inside, dialogue and channel our most primeval energies and integrate them from a center located not in the ego but in the Self, harmonizing in a coherent form the symbolic and diabolic, revitalizing and reintegrating what was wounded and fragmented.

If our civilization of scientific technology brought innumerable merits to our development, it has also brought disease and wounds to our planet. It is up to us to bring therapeutical solutions that can restore the health of the planet. Let us use the traditions of both primitive and contemporary peoples. For, though our civilization is responsible for the main traumas of the planet, it also has the resources to avoid a biological hecatomb. Our civilization is the symptom – the distorted symbol that brings healing from inside.

There are many examples of the profanation of mother earth in the world. Deforestation is one. Fear of the heavens, this return to origins, is wisdom, for there resides the possibility of our species really showing its evolution.

If on the one hand external expectations no longer suffice to quench the thirst of humans for development, at the same time internal needs become magnified, revealed by the growing interest today in man’s search for contact with the gods and with his own soul. It is as if he wants to redeem his magical and divine unity so long forgotten, sometimes resorting to the use of drugs and hallucinogenics.

But this redeeming can only happen with respect and real knowledge of archetypal and universal laws. We could summarize this dynamic and contrasting process in the wonderful medieval alchemical maxim that says: For the branches of a tree to reach the skies, its roots must go down into hell.

Barreirinha makes us recognize the search for harmonizing the opposites, a basic process in the individuation path. Barreirinha pushes us in search of a sacred unity, of the embracing of totality that we feel when we embrace the ones we love.


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