In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were still large areas of Brazil that were unexplored. At that time, a tribe of “Indians giants” more than 2 meters tall was discovered living in northern Mato Grosso. They were feared by neighboring tribes. A true legend in the region, which began to be reported by some media outlets.
This 1973 photo of a Panará named Sôkriti who was among the first of giants to made contact with white men.
Credit: Pedro Martinelli
Map showing Mata Grosso.
The discovery was an international sensation. The first expeditions to find the “Giant Indians” were in the late 1960s, but were unsuccessful.
Cover the newspaper O Globo with the first photo of a Panará
The story of “Giant Indians” yielded books, theses , films , photo essays and poem inspired by Carlos Drummond de Andrade and music by the former Beatle Paul McCartney on his first solo album. Feared by their enemies, the Panará were seen as ruthless warriors as they took no prisoners in battle.
Currently, we know that this tribe Panará had previously inhabited also the state of Goiás to the east, however, little was known in 1970, when construction began on the highway Cuiabá -Santarém, which is in the basin of the Rio Peixoto de Azevedo where they live.
Contact with the white man
Upon completion of the work and the opening of the road, the Panará began to suffer from diseases transmitted by the white man. The population dropped from 400 Indians at the time of first contact, to only 79 in mid-1975, when the National Indian Foundation (Funai) transported to the tribe of the Xingu Park .
Credit: Pedro Martinelli
In 1970, with the start of construction of the highway, the indigenous brothers Orlando and Claudio Villas Boas decided to form a team to locate the tribe. Although a worker involved in the construction have been hit by an arrow (possibly the Panará), in 1972, the first contact occurred only in 1973.
After an initial approach, which included overflights in the village and sending gifts such as machetes, axes, beads, dolls and mirrors, dispatch of Villas-Boas finally met the Panará.
Orlando Villas-Bôas tells that at the time of contact there were at least eight giants among the Panará. However, they died from white men’s diseases. Panará’s adults who lived in the Peixoto de Azevedo River area prior to 1973 are absolutely emphatic about the existence of “veeerry tall” kinfolk in the past.
Photo: Panara with Orlando Villas Boas
Orlando Villas Boas said that in 1950, at the tribe of the Kayabys the Panará were known as men of great height. Their huge bows and axes could be have 1.80 meters in length. They terrorized their opponents. The giants were “spooky” to other tribes.
In 1971, in a reportage, published in the magazine O Cruzeiro, Fernando Pinto journalist wrote on these legendary natives by calling them whites giants! In his text, Fernando Pinto states that these giant Indians belong to a tribe called Parakanã, and not Panara.
In February 1973, Veja magazine published reportage on the first official contact between the giant Indians and the white men. This happened during a expedition of the researchers of indigenous peoples Orlando Villas Boas (1914-2002) and Claudio Villas Boas (1916-1998), held that year (1973). This adventure turned an historic fact.
Magazine Cover of the Cruise in the 70s
The Indians were located on the river Peixoto de Azevedo, in Xingu basin river. Here is an excerpt from the story: They were there. They were athletic men painted black from head to toe. They were completely naked, their hair trimmed up to the ear. They belonged to the kranhacãrore tribe or the giant Indians. Eight of them, guys very young had between 15 and 18 years and none had less than 1.80 m of height … (VEJA, 1973)
However, after the Cuiabá-Santarém highway was opened, little was said about the fate of the tribe.
After many ups and downs, and several changes of village life with old enemies (the Kayapó), the Panará returned to their original territory in 1994. Currently, they still live in Mato Grosso , in an area near the Rio Iriri recognized by Funai as Indian territory.
The descendants of the giants shave their their heads using a plant: the razor grass. The name Kreen-Akrore comes from the Kayapó name “kran iakarare”, meaning “roundlike cuthead”, a reference to their traditional hair style which invariably identifies them.
Photo: René Fuerst, 1972.
The Panará are the last descendants of the Southern Cayapó, a large group that dwelled over a vast area in central Brazil in the 18th century.
Vista of Panará village area before the first contact with the white man
Photo: Peter Martinelli
During many years observing the indigenous villages from an airplane, authorities and scholars preferred to avoid contact. In 1961 the British geographer Richard Mason was killed upon entering in the territory of the Panará tribe.
Panará shoot arrows at the Villas-Boas brothers’ plane
Photo: Peter Martinell
Panará children in the village where they live today, in the headwaters of the river Iriri near the location where they were taken in 1973
Photo: Peter Martinelli
Although the legend of “Giant Indians” has become widespread, few members of the tribe were really giants Most averaged around 1.70 meters in heigth.
Some say that they belonged to the tribe Mura. Professor Shirley Gomes, descendant of Muras, recalls: They were very tall. Academic sources, however, say that the giant indigenous were of the tribe of Panará.
The Panará were even known as the giants among other indigenous tribes in Brazil. One of the first to be captured, a man named Mengrire, who was 2 meters tall well above the average height of Brazilian indigenous peoples.
The ferocity of these Indians was legendary. Their rivals, like the Tchucarramães, made the fame of the giants telling the histories their exploits.
They stood hidden for two hundred years in the heart of the forest in northern Mato Grosso. Only in 1973, when the tribe was shaken by the high mortality caused by diseases of whites, they made the contact with civilization as a last hope to survive as a people. Too late. In 1975, the population of the Panara tribe was only 79 individuals. But this situation has changed through the decades. In 2008, there were 374 of them.
Photo: Ailton Costa, 1994
For the Panará, the stars represent the Panará of the past – the small ones being men, and the larger, more brilliant ones, being women.
The mystery of these Amazonian giants remains even to today. Even the name of the tribe is a puzzle. While some call these natives Panará, others prefer identify them as Parakanãs.
Three tribes, one myth
The comparative study of giant Indians of Brazil shows that there is some confusion about the which tribe they belonged, the . There are at least three tribes, speaking different languages, that have traditionally inhabited areas very close to each other that researchers think to be the origin of the giants.
The Panara were on the border between the states of Mato Grosso and Para. The Parakanã, were found only at Para state. However, The Panarás are speakers of Jê language group while the Parakanãs are speakers of the tupi-guarani language group.
Adding to the confusion, there is a third tribe, the Asurini, who are speakers of the Tupi-Guarani language, that they also lived at Pará state. Since the nineteenth century, the Indians that ruled the area between the Xingu and Bacajá rivers. These people are today known as Araweté, Arara, Parakanã, were named Asurini (or Asonéri) – a word that for the other tribes means “red”, according to ethnographer Curt Nimuendajú*(1843-1945. German-Brazilian ethnologist, anthropologist and writer 1963c:225 – IN POVOS INDÍGENAS DO BRASIL) . The three tribes are also called by the natives of others peoples Kranhacãcore or Krenacore. The word means “big man with round head”.
Many scholars have vehemently denied the existence of the indigenous giants in Brazil. They say this based on the current complexion of the descendants of those warriors. However, testimonies of the indigenous themselves and reports of researchers of indigenous peoples of the mid-twentieth century confirm that they existed.
Other narratives confirm the existence of this mysterious tribe: Caciques (chiefs of the tribe) of Juruna tribe (or tribe of Yurun or Yudjá) say that their grandparents had contacts with the giants. They had over 2 meters and a half of height. Today, they disappeared and became “Mamaés” or nature spirits.
During the sixteenth century, many Jesuit priests participated in the colonization process of South America. They wrote about these giants in their chronical. In “Discovery of the Amazon River”, three priests – Alonso de Rojas, Christoval de Acuña, Gaspar de Carvaja – they described: they are giants and have between two to three meters tall. The braves, they live naked and they wear big hoops of gold in their ears and nose (STURARI, 2006).
This mysterious nation always avoided the connect with white men. There are indications that at the time of the arrival of European peoples, portugueses, french, holaneses, the giant Indians lived more to the east. Then, they occupied a long strip of land between the states of Mato Grosso, Minas Gerais, north of Sao Paulo, Goias and Para. Today’s Tribes, like Assurinis, Panarás, Parakanãs, in past times they were a single culture, a great nãção. The nation of the Kayapos.
The Panará are the last descendants of the Kayapo of south nomadic group who spoke a language of the family Ge, of Central Brazil. In the eighteenth century, these indienous had lived at the north of Sao Paulo and at Mato Grosso. They fought hard against the Portugueses. But, with the discovery of gold in Goiás, in their, territory in 1722, the natives were expelled of these regions. With no option, they moved to northern forests.
About this historic period, according the chief cacique Akè Panará, the elders say that in the past, the white men had killed many of the Panarás. They had shotguns, fire-guns. They arrived in our villages and simply killed the persons. The elders told: If the white men reached here, we have to kill them with bordunas (big maces). They are wild (Povos Indígenas do Brasil).
Who were the giants of Brazilian jungle?
Into a labyrinth of narratives made of fantasy and reality two hypotheses stand out: 1. The giants were masters and founders of interplanetary civilizations that had finished their mission in this orb. Then, they gone away nobody knows to where. 2. The ancient giants were survivors of the Atlantis tragedy, when the last lands and kingdoms of the mythic continent were swallowed by the waters of the Oceans.
Atlanteans or Extraterrestrials
Extraterrestrials or Atlanteans, in a point the legends agree: not all of them left the jungle or this planet. Also there were descendants. The interbreeding surely happened between the more developed people and individuals of the South American. primitive tribes. The giants begun to disappear after that the European explorers had arrived at the epoch of Great Navigations, in the XVI century.
Although have fought with the invaders that came of the sea, the giants had no intention to expose to themselves. They understood the power of the war of the foreign. The guns of fire. The blood of peoples shed in vain. They chose to disappear!But … how to do this? How to make to disappear?
The legend has its answers. If they were extraterrestrials, they could have returned to their own planet or simply they went ahead with their travel trough the cosmos. But if the giants were earthlings remnants of the Atlantean race, perhaps, as some indigenous say they mingled with forest peoples of Brazil’s central wetland, and perhaps, the giants could taken to have refuge in the mythical cities and underground tunnels built by their Atlanteans ancestors.
The Panará are the last descendants of the Southern Cayapó, a large group that dwelled over a vast area in central Brazil in the 18th century. Their territory stretched from the northern part of São Paulo state, Triângulo Mineiro and the southern portion of Goiás state to eastern part of Mato Grosso state and eastern and southeastern Mato Grosso do Sul state. The Southern Cayapó were known for their “ferocity” because they took no prisoners in battle.
The intensification of mineral exploration during the 18th century increased the trade flows between the states of São Paulo and Goiás, right in the middle of their land. Realizing the potential problems this would cause, the administrations of both provinces hired frontiersmen to drive the Indians away from the travelers’ and miners’ routes. Likewise, when Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva discovered gold in the Vermelho river region in Goiás in 1772, the Southern Cayapó began to encounter non-stop conflicts along this ever-expanding frontier.
In the 19th century the occupation of the lands southwest of Goiás compounded the conflicts with the Indians and drove the Cayapó population to near extinction, with only a few groups remaining in the Triângulo Mineiro. The Southern Cayapó were considered extinct by the first few decades of the 20th century. The Panará who did not submit to the white man’s rule and assimilation in the 18th and 19th centuries fled west and north, deep into the woods of northern Mato Grosso. What is known from ethno-history is that by the beginning of the 20th century, the present Panará came to the Peixoto de Azevedo watershed, a right-bank tributary to the Teles Pires River that is one of the feeders of the Tapajós River. The natural wealth of the region contributed towards their settling down in this location.
The Panará’s oral tradition has it that they came from the East, from a savanna region, inhabited by extremely wild and ferocious white men who had fire weapons and who fought tirelessly to kill off many Panará ancestors. According to chieftain Akè Panará, “The elders told us that, long ago, the whites killed many Panará with their rifles. They came to our villages and killed many. ‘If they ever come here,’ they said, ‘kill them dead with your war clubs, for they are vicious.’”