This 1973 photo of a Panará named Sôkriti who was among the first of giants to made contact with white men.
Credit: Pedro Martinelli
The Panará stepped back into Brazilian history in the 1970’s. Nobody knew what they called themselves. They were “giant Indians,” or Krenacore, Kreen-Akore, Kreen-akarore, Krenhakarore, or Krenacarore – variations of the Kayapó name kran iakarare, which means “round-cut head,” a reference to the traditional haircut that is typical of the Panará. In extensive reports from the time of contact, there is an underlying concern with explaining their unknown origin. Calling them giants, or white Indians or black Indians, was a way of identifying them while removing them from the disturbing state of absolute otherness.
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