Villas Bôas Brothers

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Villas Bôas Brothers

Villas Bôas brothers, rights activists who became internationally known during the 1960s and 1970s for their defense of Brazilian Indians. Orlando (1914–2002), Cláudio (1916–1998), and Leonardo (1918–1961) Villas Bôas opposed the policy of the Brazilian government, which at that time favored rapid integration of Indians into the national society and economy. They argued strongly that reservations should be protected from outside influences for an indefinite period to protect Indian cultures and ways of life.

The brothers were members of the Roncador-Xingu expedition of 1943 sent to survey unexplored regions of central Brazil. Their experience with unacculturated Indians of the Upper Xingu River Basin convinced them to remain there and devote their lives to the welfare and protection of Indians. In 1954, when a devastating measles epidemic struck the Upper Xingu tribes, the Villas Bôas brothers mobilized the support of the Medical School of São Paulo, which set up a model program of medical assistance for the Indians.

In 1961 the Villas Bôas brothers were instrumental in persuading the Brazilian government to set aside most of the Upper Xingu region (8,800 square miles) as a national park for protection of the Indians and wildlife preservation. The two surviving brothers, Orlando and Cláudio, became the administrators of the Xingu National Park. Anthropologists, journalists, and other visitors were impressed with the well-being and peace in which the Indians of the park lived. In 1967 the Villas Bôas brothers received the Founders' Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and in 1971 they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some supporters of Indian self-determination have criticized the Villas Bôases' administration of the Xingu Park as overly protective and paternalistic. It has also been pointed out that idyllic images of the park disseminated in Brazil and abroad tend to mask the much less favorable conditions under which many Indians in other parts of the country live. Nevertheless, by 1994, six thousand Indians lived within the park in eighteen different tribal groups. Claudio Villas Boas died at eighty-one years of age on 1 March 1998. When Orlando died in 2002, the Xingu Indians celebrated a traditional funeral festival called a Kaurup in his honor, even though this ceremony was not usually held for outsiders.

See alsoIndian Policy, Brazil; Xingu Reserve.


Robin Hanbury-Tenison, A Question of Survival for the Indians of Brazil (1973).

Orlando Villas Bôas, Xingu: The Indians, Their Myths (1973).

Shelton H. Davis, Victims of the Miracle: Development and the Indians of Brazil (1977).

Adrian Cowell, The Decade of Destruction: The Crusade to Save the Amazon Rain Forest (1990).

Orlando Villas Bôas and Cláudio Villas Bôas, A marcha paro o oeste (1994).

Additional Bibliography

Garfield, Seth. Indigenous Struggle at the Heart of Brazil: State Policy, Frontier Expansion, and the Xavante Indians, 1937–1988. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

Hemming, John. Amazon Frontier: The Defeat of the Brazilian Indians. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Ramos, Alcida Rita. The Predicament of Brazil's Pluralism. Brasília: Universidade de Brasília, 2001.

Rocha, Leandro Mendes. A política indigenista no Brasil, 1930–1967. Goiânia, Brazil: Editora UFG, 2003.

                                      Nancy M. Flowers

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Villas Bôas Brothers

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