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Roraima, Brazilian state that shares its foreign borders with Venezuela and Guyana and its domestic borders with Pará and Amazonas. Roraima was part of the vast state of Amazonas until 1943, when the Brazilian government created the Federal Territory of Rio Branco out of this 88,000-square-mile region. To avoid confusing it with Rio Branco, the capital of Acre, Brazilian officials renamed it "Territorio de Roraima" in honor of Mount Roraima in Venezuela in 1964. Roraima became a state in 1988. By 2000 the population was 324,397 inhabitants.

Roraima contains distinct topographical divisions. The bottom third of the state, part of the Amazon basin, is a tropical rain forest; the middle portion is a savannah; and the northern portion is a hilly, rocky terrain that leads into the Guiana Highlands. The whitish-watered Rio Branco, tributary of the Río Negro, has always dominated Roraima, even though it can only be used for transportation during the rainy season.

Indigeneous peoples, such as the Yanomami, Makuxi, and the Wapixana, were the only inhabitants of Roraima until 1773, when Europeans permanently settled on the Rio Branco. The settlers eventually introduced cattle, which became part of Roraima's economy. Diamonds, uranium, and cassiterite (tin ore) are twentieth-century discoveries in the area. In the 1980s gold prospectors (garimpeiros) flooded the area, extracting what may have been $1 billion worth of gold between 1987 and 1990. These soldiers of fortune, however, encroached on the indigenous lands of the surviving 10,000 Yanomami people, so that by 1990, environmentalists were pressuring the Brazilian government to protect them. President Collor de Mello appointed the "sheriff of the emergency," Romeu Tuma, to head Operation Yanomami and remove illegal gold prospectors from Yanomami lands.

See alsoBrazil, Geography; Indigenous Peoples; Mining: Colonial Brazil; Yanomami.


Peter Riviere, The Forgotten Frontier: Ranchers of North Brazil (1972).

David Cleary, Anatomy of the Amazon Gold Rush (1990).

John Hemming, "How Brazil Acquired Roraima," in Hispanic American Historic Review 70, no. 2 (1990): 295-325.

Andrew Hurrell, "The Politics of Amazonian Deforestation," in Journal of Latin American Studies 23, no. 1 (1991): 197-215.

Additional Bibliography

Cortez Crocia de Barros, Nilson. Roraima: Paisagens e tempo na Amazônia setentrional: Estudo de ocupação pioneira na América do Sul. Recife, Brasil: Editora Universitária, 1994.

Furley, Peter A. The Forest Frontier: Settlement and Change in Brazilian Roraima. London; New York: Routledge, 1994.

Hemming, John. Roraima: Brazil's Northernmost Frontier. London: Institute of Latin American Studies, 1990.

Koch-Grünberg, Theodor, and Alberts-Franco, Cristina. Do Roraima ao Orinoco. São Paulo: Editora UNESP, 2005.

Menezes Braga, Ramayana. Cavalo lavradeiro em Roraima: Aspectos históricos, ecológicos e de conservação. Brasília, DF: Embrapa, 2000.

                                        Carolyn Jostock