Brazilian Indian tribe welcomes information age, within limits
ANGRA DOS REIS, Brazil (AP) -- Tribal elders decreed a "day of joy" to
welcome the village's new arrival. Guarani boys in face paint and loincloths
danced to the music of a homemade fiddle played with a tree branch.
The celebration was for the long-awaited coming of the "ayu ryrurive,"
Guarani term roughly meaning "box for accumulating language" -- that is, a computer.
"We have been hearing about computers for a while," said Luiz Eusebio,
assistant chief at the Sapukai (sah-poo-kah-EE) village. "We thought we
need to learn about them because we need to have more knowledge about
Their ticket to the information age came recently from the Committee for
Democratization of Information, a private group that provides computers
and training to poor communities, mostly the hillside slums of Rio de Janeiro.
But it seemed unlikely computers would come to the 400 Guaranis of
Sapukai, a 5,200-acre community tucked among lush green mountains along
the coastal highway 100 miles west of Rio.
For one thing, the village had no electricity.
"I always dreamed of bringing computers to an Indian reservation, but I
didn't know how," Rodrigo Baggio, the group's president, said while he
pulled cables from the back of his car to install four personal computers at
the village's Federal Indian Bureau post.
Most of Brazil's 300,000 Indians live in the remote Amazon, too far for
Baggio's group to travel. But the Guarani were close enough to bring in a
gasoline-powered generator to run the computers.
With the help of the Indian Bureau and the Indigenous Missionary Council,
which has ties to the Roman Catholic Church, Baggio set out to install computers
and provide training for the village's five teachers.
The first step was having teacher Ernesto da Silva come to Rio for a week
"It's like anything else. At first it's hard, and then you get used to
it," said da Silva,
beaming proudly before a drawing of the village's school he made using a computer.
Baggio's goal is to provide job training for poor communities and help them organize.
But at Sapukai, no one expressed any interest in the idea of working outside
the reservation. The tribe plans to use the computers mainly to keep health
records, develop educational materials and build a database of Guarani
history, myths and traditions.
Besides, they can afford only enough gasoline to run the generator for
couple of hours twice a week. Baggio said he hopes to bring solar power to
Sapukai, if he can raise the money.
But despite some concessions to Western culture -- shorts, T-shirts, plastic
sandals, metal pots and even a little Portuguese -- the tribe's leaders are
wary about the impact computers might have on their lives.
"If we use the computer more than twice a week, we won't have time to
plant. And if we don't plant, we starve," said Eusebio, the assistant chief.
"We also know if we turn them off they will just sit there. It's not like they
can run around the village causing trouble."
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.