Marajó Island

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Marajó Island

Marajó Island, an island located at the mouth of the Amazon River on the Atlantic coast of Brazil. Approximately 45,000 square miles in area, Marajó is the world's largest river island. The climate of the island is tropical savanna, and rain falls seasonally from January to July (80-100 inches per year). During the rainy season most (70 percent) of the island floods. Evidence of human habitation on Marajó dates back to the early Holocene period (3,000 to 8,000 b.p.). The island was home to the Pre-Colombian Marajoara culture, which, according to evidence, developed elsewhere and then moved to the island. At the time of European arrival, the population of Marajó may have stood at 36,000.

The people on Marajó Island resisted European encroachment for over 150 years, until Padre Vieira persuaded the Nheengaiba and other tribes to accept Portuguese rule in 1659. After the Portuguese took control, the island was entrusted to the Jesuits, who began raising cattle with Indian cowboys to manage the herds. Around 1900, Indian water buffalo were introduced into the Marajó ecology. According to local tradition water buffalo that were originally intended for British Guiana arrived via a shipwreck. Today, cattle and water buffalo are raised commercially for meat and transportation needs.

See alsoAmazon Basin, Archaeology; Amazon Region; Marajoara.


Betty J. Meggers, Amazonia: Man and Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise (1971).

John Hemming, Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 1500–1760 (1978).

Anna C. Roosevelt, Moundbuilders of the Amazon: Geophysical Archeology on Marajó Island, Brazil (1991).

Additional Bibliography

De Assis, Célia, Bauer, Renate, and Tomaz, Kika. Ilha de Marajó: Paisajem, cultura e natureza. São Paulo, SP.: Banco Sudameris Brasil, 1996.

Meggers, Betty Jane. The Archeological Sequence on Marajo Island, Brazil: With Special Reference to the Marajoara Culture. New York: Columbia University, 2002.

                                    Michael J. Broyles