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From French Guiana to Brazil: Entanglements, Migrations and Demarcations of the Kaliña

De la Guyane française au Brésil: enchevêtrements, migrations et démarcations des Kaliña
Fabio Santos


Cet article met en lumière le groupe amérindien Kaliña qui habite à la frontière franco-brésilienne. En combinant des travaux anthropologiques historiques existants avec des nouvelles perspectives ethnographiques de trois femmes vivant dans le nord du Brésil, cet article montre qu’une liaison de multiples facteurs a conduit à la délocalisation de ce groupe Kaliña de la Guyane française au Brésil dans les années 1950. Les discriminations historiques - y compris l’exploitation et l’exotisation des membres des Kaliña dans les « zoos humains » à la fin du XIXe siècle - et une poussée à l’assimilation à la suite de la départementalisation de la Guyane française sont des raisons jusqu’ici inexplorées de cette migration qui a abouti à la démarcation d’un territoire autochtone sur la rive brésilienne du fleuve Oyapock en 1982. En privilégiant des perspectives féminines, ce chapitre met également en évidence la place centrale du genre dans les inégalités enchevêtrées auxquelles les Kaliñas à la frontière franco-brésilienne ont été confrontés dans le passé et dans le présent.

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1. Introduction

  • 1 The research on which this article is based received funding from the German Research Foundation (I (...)

1Political and mental maps oftentimes disguise or misrepresent French Guiana. Located between Suriname and Brazil, French Guiana is an integral, colonially entangled part of France and the European Union, “a remarkably insignificant artifact of the political landscape—rarely noticed by most of France, let alone anyone else” [Redfield 2000: xiv].1 Sociological scholarship has interpreted this blindness to be the result of a coloniality of memory structuring mainstream discourses on the EU and its self-image—especially with regard to its imagined, contradictory geographical location(s) [Boatcă 2018, 2019; Santos 2017]. While the inhabitants of these overseas departments in general are rarely present in French and EU discourses, French Guiana’s indigenous populations seem especially marginalized and have been called “the abandoned of the Republic” [Géry et. al. 2014]. Inspired by these critical perspectives, my article seeks to counter this abandonment and the coloniality of memory by tracing the entangled histories, inequalities and spaces of an indigenous group called Kaliña living in the French-Brazilian borderland today. The individuals highlighted in this article currently live in Brazil’s northernmost city of Oiapoque, located opposite of Saint-Georges. As my research suggests, their political and social abandonment on the French side was in fact part of the reason why they decided to move to Brazil in the aftermath of French Guiana’s transformation from colony to department in 1946.

  • 2 In this article, I use Guyane and French Guiana interchangeably. While the official designation is (...)

2In a first step, by borrowing from the entangled histories approach [Conrad/Randeria 2002; Randeria 1999], I offer a brief historical sketch of the Kaliña, including their historical dispersion across the Guianas; their decimation in the aftermath of colonization; and their forced, temporary migration to the metropole in the late 19th century. This historical contextualization is necessary for a nuanced understanding of the second part of the article, which focuses on a number of Kaliña families who migrated from the northwestern part of Guyane2 to the Brazilian side of the Oyapock River, the official borderline between France and Brazil since 1900. In tracing this migration, I unveil the underexplored reasons behind this migratory movement and its long-term impacts for some Kaliña members living in Oiapoque today, including the demarcation of their indigenous land in 1982. The fourth part of this article stresses the ways in which the Kaliña in northern Brazil are nowadays confronted with “entangled inequalities” [Jelin et al. 2017] resulting from the intersection of various categories such as citizenship, ethnicity and gender. Finally, I draw conclusions pointing to the Kaliña’s current and future struggles.

3Throughout the article, I employ a relational understanding of space, which entails three assumptions, according to feminist geographer Doreen Massey: first, space needs to be recognized as “the product of interrelations; as constituted through interactions; from the immensity of the global to the intimately tiny” [Massey 2005: 9]. Thinking of space without human (inter)action across multiple scales, therefore, is deficient. Second, space is described “as the sphere of the possibility of the existence of multiplicity in the sense of contemporary plurality; as the sphere in which distinct trajectories coexist; as the sphere therefore of coexisting heterogeneity” [ibid.]. Consequently, space is constantly subject to negotiations, contestations, crossings. Third, “space is always under construction” [ibid.], that is, space is intrinsically processual. There is no end-point when space is “finished”: “It is never finished; never closed. Perhaps we could imagine space as a simultaneity of stories-so-far” [ibid.]. These three premises become implicitly or explicitly relevant when tracing the spatial histories, constructions and imaginations of the Kaliña. In the tradition of Massey’s work and the notions of entangled histories and entangled inequalities, I use a notion of space that focuses on the entanglements of spaces [Santos 2019].

4In terms of methods, this chapter is based on a thorough analysis of secondary literature in combination with a reflexive analysis of six months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the border towns of Saint-Georges and Oiapoque between 2016 and 2018. By way of long-term and recurrent participant observation, I have tried to “become responsive to what others are concerned about in their own terms” [Emerson et al. 2011: 16]. This requires a dialogic form of research in which people are able to communicate beyond the confines of formal interviews. Even though all quotations cited in this article stem from qualitative interviews I conducted with Renata, Kássia and Dona Cristina in 2016, several additional insights were gained in informal conversations or, in the words of Clifford Geertz, in the process of “deep hanging out” [Geertz 1998], which seeks to foreground the perspectives of research participants while acknowledging the impossibility of full immersion. In practice, this entailed me spending time with the three women and other family members at Dona Cristina’s home, a wooden house in the center of Oiapoque. Many of our meaningful conversations took place on her planted veranda facing the street. At the same time, however, “ethnography goes beyond pure description in its desire to interpret and explain” [Gay y Blasco/Wardle 2007: 49], which is done in this article by embedding the experiences of the three women into wider patterns of inequality, including historical ones. Finally, as recent inequality research pointed out, “both the entangled inequalities and the ethnographic approach insist on the historical constitution and the intersectional character of social inequalities. Accordingly, both perspectives extend the scope of inequality research far beyond economic indicators in order to capture the impact of structural inequalities on lifeworlds” [Costa 2018: 65]. Therefore, ethnography is uniquely equipped to make sense of the scattered details that make up our social and spatial realities.

2. Entangled Histories between the Guianas and Europe

5Historiography bound to allegedly confined and homogeneous ‘cultures’ or nation-states has come under scrutiny over the past decades. Instead of comparing seemingly pre-given and cemented regions, historians and area studies scholars should look for the oft-disguised connections between and beyond the regions under study, as Subrahmanyam [1997] argued in his pioneering work. From an interdisciplinary perspective blurring the lines between sociology, anthropology and history, Randeria drew upon this understanding when developing a “perspective which foregrounds the relationality of interwoven patterns instead of binary oppositions” [Randeria 1999: 92] within the social sciences. By focusing on the “inextricable entanglement of the European and the non-European world” [Randeria/Conrad 2013: 33], she placed emphasis on the longevity of experiences and interactions from colonial contexts. Today, such relational, historically informed conceptions have increasingly gained ground across disciplines, including geography [Lossau 2012; Sharp 2009]. The following historical accounts of the Kaliña illustrate some of the ways in which histories across borders and continents are inextricably interwoven and how they are actively dealt with by the Kaliña themselves.

6When asked about the history of his indigenous forebears, an eleven-year-old boy said the following words to anthropologist Gérard Collomb and activist-scholar Félix Tiouka [2000: 13]: “The history of the Kaliña? That’s easy: Christopher Columbus arrived; then it was over …!” Like most other indigenous people in the Americas, the Kaliña were not immune to the diseases and epidemics brought by European colonizers. It is estimated that in the early 17th century, the Kaliña consisted of approximately 5,500 persons in the coastal region of France’s former colony; “two centuries later, the census in the same region would not even count more than 200 people” [ibid.: 53]. Although historically dispersed across the Guianas, a focal point of the Kaliña was in the region of the Maroni, Mana and Iracoubo Rivers, running through today’s French-Surinamese borderland [Collomb/Renault-Lescure 2015: 101]. Those who survived the deadly arrival of colonizers and diseases were in contact with European settlers and missionaries, (freed or fugitive) slaves and convicts of the penal colony (bagne), with Créoles as well as with other indigenous and non-indigenous groups. In a way, it was “a way of living together” [Collomb/Tiouka 2000: 93] which was nonetheless asymmetric and—considering the “terrible demographic decline” [Collomb 1992: 44]—even deadly.

  • 3 This hierarchy has persisted until today, as shown by Price [2018: 18): “From the perspective of Gu (...)

7According to the colonial hierarchy, indigenous groups such as the Kaliña as well as the Maroons were perceived as so-called ‘primitives’, whereas white Europeans (except for convicts) were on top of the hierarchy, followed by Créoles [Jolivet 1990].3 Nothing could illustrate the image of the alleged ‘primitives’ more hauntingly than the violent episodes of the late 19th century: at the height of the population decimation, dozens of Kaliña members were forcibly brought from French Guiana and Suriname to colonial and ethnographic exhibitions—also called ‘human zoos’—in Paris (1882 and 1892) and Amsterdam (1883). Kept in a demarcated space which was comparable with a “kennel for wild animals at the zoo” [Collomb 1992: 34], they “had to play the role one expected from them, they had to play the ‘savages’” [Tiouka 1992: 5]. During their captivity in Paris and Amsterdam, a number of Kaliña passed away. Those who survived were forced not only to be photographed and observed, but also to perform dances, to sing, and to produce artisanal products. As shown by Collomb and Tiouka, these tragic memories are still present in the minds of many Kaliña living in the French-Surinamese borderland today. My research into the French-Brazilian borderland builds on these findings and suggests that these memories are also kept alive by the Kaliña in Brazil, as evidenced by the following ethnographic vignette.

8During my research stays in Oiapoque, I often met with Renata, a Kaliña woman. In her late twenties at the time of fieldwork, she was a mother of two children whom she cared for affectionately. While primarily taking care of her children, she was also engaged in volunteer work, being an active, long-standing member of a local organization fighting for indigenous women’s rights, Associação das Mulheres Indígenas em Mutirão. Some years ago, she worked at the local indigenous museum, Museu Kuahí, where she was later replaced by one of her sisters, Kássia, with whom I also collaborated extensively. The two sisters obtained a degree in Indigenous Studies (Licenciatura Intercultural Indígena) at UNIFAP’s binational campus in Oiapoque and were eager to learn more about their family’s entangled history, sharing valuable insights with me.

9When the conversation between Renata and myself once shifted toward the topic of the ‘exhibitions’ in Paris and Amsterdam, she asked me to stay on the veranda, saying that she would come back in a few minutes. Upon returning, she held Collomb’s and Tiouka’s aforementioned book in her hand: “Look, we have this book, Félix [Tiouka] is my uncle. There are many photos in the book, showing the Kaliña in Europe. They are beautiful. But they also make me sad. You can take it with you.” Renata lent the book to me, explaining that she cannot read it, since it is written in French. Even though she was not able to read the book, she was well informed about the Kaliña’s histories. While not offering a coherent account, she mentioned the painful memories that were kept alive by the Kaliña in Brazil, too: “I don’t know all the details about this history. But I know that some of our ancestors were there, in Europe, in Paris […]. It’s horrible, you know, they had to do things, they had to dance and sing. But it’s very cold there, right? Some died, they did not return. It’s so sad, our history with the whites.”

10In 2010, together with her sister Kássia and other relatives, Renata organized an exhibition on the initiative not only of the Kaliña in the region, but also of anthropologist and curator Lux Vidal [Vidal 2013]. In this collaborative process, it was decided to divide the exhibition into two parts. The first—Eles partiram para o País dos Brancos—was a modified version of an exhibition taking place in Paris in the early 1990s: it showed and historically contextualized reproductions of photographs taken by Prince Roland Bonaparte at the aforementioned ‘human zoos’ [Collomb 1992]. The second part was centered around the specific experiences of the Kaliña in the French-Brazilian borderland and was entitled Os Galibi Kali’na Tïlewuyu no Brasil (1950-2010). It presented family portraits and pictures showing them cooking or producing artisanal objects at the village São José that is part of the Brazilian terra indígena called Galibi. In this way, they displayed the respective elements according to their own interpretation and including autoethnographic texts. The planning of a self-designed, polyvocal exhibition of the Kaliña’s entangled histories was able to counter standard depictions of the region and of its indigenous groups that are often “deprived of histories […] [and] without their own trajectories”, as it was put by Massey [2005: 4]. Intricately tied to the aforementioned histories of exploitation and exoticization, the underlying histories of this part of the exhibition—their migration toward Brazil and the demarcation of a terra indígena—are detailed in the following section.

3. Migrations and Demarcations

  • 4 The surface area of daily use (houses, school, orchards, FUNAI post) is approximately 250 x 400 met (...)
  • 5 Geraldo Lod was born as Gérard Lod and preferred to use the Brazilian version of his name after set (...)

11In comparison to the other indigenous groups—Palikur, Galibi Marworno and Karipuna –, the presence of the Kaliña in the French-Brazilian borderland is quite recent. They migrated there from northeastern French Guiana in 1950, opposing the reverse migration pattern of indigenous groups such as the Wayãpi or Palikur from Amapá to Guyane [Gallois 1986; Capiberibe 2009]. Despite their recent history, the Kaliña were the first group in the region whose territory was demarcated as terra indígena in 1982. This migration, then, leading to a demarcated land of 6.690 ha, marked an important spatial re-organization for the members of this group.4 On the basis of long hours of conversations with the former cacique of the Kaliña—Geraldo Lod5—, anthropologist Lux Vidal explained that “the family nucleus of the Galibi who arrived from Guiana was composed of two brothers, Julien and Geraldo Lod, married to two sisters (Mathilde and Caroline), and of a sister (Marie) of the two Lod brothers, married to Joseph Jean-Jacque. In French Guiana, Jean-Jacque lived in Grand Village and the Lods in Couachi, two nearby localities” [Vidal 2000: 47]. Julien and Mathilde, who like all other family members remain mute on Vidal’s pages, are Renata’s and Kássia’s grandparents. Many of the histories, I was told, were transmitted to them by way of Julien and Mathilde. This is also true for the way in which the above-mentioned migratory movement is remembered. This is how Kássia recounted the migration to Brazil to me:

The initiative was taken by them (Julien and Geraldo Lod). My grandfather always told me that they lived in Guiana, in Mana, on the coast, close to the oceans and beaches. So, they lived there, and they cultivated a lot. They were farmers, they supplied back then, there were still big local markets … The thing is that they were very influential in that region. They were a big group, and their families exercised a lot of influence within the community, and that sometimes caused quite a fierce rivalry among them. Occasionally, they did not get along with other families, and all of this became more and more complicated, they did not feel well. They had disagreements, and the peak of all of it was that there were even deaths, you know. They knew a lot about poison, you know, and they ended up poisoning one another! So, in the end, they decided that they did not want to live there any longer.

12Even though some details remain untold, it becomes clear that one of the main reasons for Julien, Geraldo and their families to leave Mana was “a dispute between families”, as Renata summarized it. Earlier anthropological research presented such conflicts to be the main reason for their migration [Vidal 2000: 43], dismissing other possible motives. Only the assimilationist educational system in French Guiana, it was mentioned, could be understood as a secondary reason to leave the country. This story, however, is told in different nuances by Renata:

In that period [in the first half of the 20th century], many missionaries began to enter the villages to work with the indigenous peoples. […] And this was interfering with the culture, and the girls who ended up being educated by these missionaries, they put the culture aside. And this in turn resulted in a certain prejudice within the family, within this group, among the women … above all from the elderly women toward those younger girls who were educated by the missionaries. I believe this was one of the reasons why they escaped from there. I remember all of this because I was raised by my grandparents, I often heard these stories from them. So, many aspects of our culture stopped being passed on, they stopped being practiced by virtue of the missionaries who had a different vision of indigenous culture. And there is another reason: from what I have heard, they were looking for a better life. Here in Brazil, at that time, there was a bigger recognition of indigenous peoples, so I think it was also this what they were looking for: a better life, the recognition of indigenous rights.

13The picture drawn by Renata in this sequence is multifaceted and offers additional explanations for the migration that took place in the 1950s. The decision to move from French Guiana to Brazil, it seems, grew out of the interaction of various forces: internal community disputes mingled with a disenchantment with at least two more aspects. First, with “missionary utopias” [see Curtis 2008] which, for some, turned into dystopias given the disjuncture with what are described as traditional practices still carried out by the elderly, who in turn became estranged from the younger generations.

14Second, Renata and Kássia expressed a disenchantment with the metropolitan demand for assimilation in return for departmentalization and its supposed benefits [see also Murdoch 2008]. This aspect, again, is related to the former one, as the missionaries were in charge of education which was only later taken over by the laical French state. Thus, it is especially telling that the migration took place only four years after Guyane’s départementalisation which envisaged an ever-increasing adaptation of metropolitan norms or, as Collomb and Tiouka [2000: 111] put it, a “brutal integration”, especially by means of education. While the Creole population—traditionally the administrative elite in French Guiana—was quick to internalize and take advantage of the new political landscape at the expense of other groups within Guyane’s stratified society, the Kaliña and other indigenous groups were more resistant yet also voiceless in the aftermath of 1946: as put by Price [2018: 23], they are still nowadays among those who “live in the shadows of the representatives of the French state and the local Creole politicians and civil servants.”

  • 6 The notion that France as “one and indivisible” stems from the Constitution of 1791 and represents (...)
  • 7 Nonetheless, indigenous associations and critical scholars pointed out the lasting lack of indigeno (...)

15The third reason mentioned by Renata and Kássia is connected to the second, suggesting that their elder relatives were looking for, at least partly, “the recognition of indigenous rights” which stood in contrast with the republican ideal of a country that conceived itself not only as a coherent, “imagined community” [Anderson 1991] amid (de-)colonial struggles, but especially as one that is “one and indivisible” [Hayward 1973] across its (post-)colonial topography.6 While France has still not ratified the ILO 169 convention of 1989—the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention—, the relation between indigenous groups in Guyane and the French state is marked by contradictions and a “judicial bricolage” [Filoche 2011] evolving since the 1980s: accordingly, the Kaliña and others have gained more political power in French Guiana, first and foremost thanks to the creation of the Kaliña commune called Awala-Yalimapo and the recognition of Areas of Collective Land Use Rights (Zones de Droits d’Usage Collectifs, ZDUC), concessions and transfers [ibid.; Filoche et al. 2017].7 However, these measures were far from being put in place in the 1950s, that is, the period in question. At that time, Brazil appeared to the Lod family as “le pays des vrais Indiens” [Vidal 2000: 43; italics in original]. Here, they hoped for less state interference with indigenous groups. Albeit oversimplified and certainly no longer valid in the past years when indigenous rights have experienced a severe backlash [Capiberibe/Bonilla 2015], this pro-indigenous image of Brazil was by and large confirmed in the years prior to and immediately after the Lods’ migration to the shores of the Oyapock River.

16As Renata and Kássia recounted—and in accordance with Vidal [2000: 43-44]—, Geraldo Lod first went to Saint-Georges and then to Oiapoque in 1948, accompanied by a cousin. In the borderland, they managed to get in contact with an employee of the Serviço de Proteção aos Índios (SPI), who agreed to fly with them to Belém and meet the director of the SPI who “welcomed them in French and to whom they explained the reason for their voyage, that is, their will to migrate to Brazil” [ibid., 43]. After some minutes, the decision was made in favor of their plans, but they had to stay in Belém for two weeks in order to receive the formal authorization. During that period, the SPI also asserted that it would take care of the relocation free of charge. This, however, never occurred due to the fact that the governor of Cayenne prevented the family from leaving on the very day of departure. Determined to leave French Guiana for good, the Kaliña group postponed their departure for about a year, as Kássia told me:

They stayed there for a year, building canoes, storing supplies such as beiju which we use for food, a lot of pepper, salted fish—they salted fish and meat to carry with them. And so they finally accomplished everything. They made four big canoes. Each canoe was twelve meters long. […] Out of these four canoes, only three took off. The police over there, the prefect, they did not authorize their departure, they caused lots of difficulties, they did not want them to leave. As I told you, they were great farmers, they practically provided for the whole city, you know. Therefore, the local government had no interest in losing them. […] But they were already determined, they did not want to live there. They decided to come. Back then, many men came, their wives stayed. As they had to navigate on the open sea, they did not want to put their children and wives at risk. […] My grandfather came with his one-year-old son, but my grandmother stayed because she had just had a baby girl of nine days, so she stayed there.

17In the context of the latter part of the sequence, Kássia repeated her lament that a female perspective was strikingly missing in the few accounts about her enlarged family and their migration. In this vein, she said: “When we asked our grandmothers, our history was totally different: for them, it wasn’t that good. They suffered a lot, you know. Some of them stayed one or two years in Mana, without their husbands.” Pleading for multiple and gender-sensitive perspectives on their history, Kássia and Renata discard the dominant male narrative about the Kaliña who migrated.

18Kássia also remarked that on their journey, her grandfather Julien and the other migrants made stops in some villages whose inhabitants knew about their voyage since it was announced on the radio. In these villages, they were well-received, but according to Kássia they were also pressed by the police to stay in Guyane. Nevertheless, Julien, Geraldo and the others managed to leave, finally reaching Oiapoque where “the mayor helped them to select the territory.” That very same territory is today part of the terra indígena Galibi, a demarcated land a few kilometers northeast of Oiapoque. Within a few months, the newcomers managed to build several houses with the help of the SPI, and they established clearings on which they began to plant. Albeit thankful for the help from the Brazilian side and glad to have attained a new territory without any bureaucratic hassle, Kássia said that

they became very sad, my grandfather told me. They were homesick, and they encountered some difficulties because they were people from the coast, with beaches, and here they were in the middle of the jungle, you know, they had no idea how to live here. Soon after their arrival, many indígenas fell ill. Some children died, it wasn’t a big number of deaths, but for them, it was a shock.

19She added that while escaping from family disputes in French Guiana, new conflicts arose with other indigenous groups in their new surroundings. One of the men who came to Oiapoque, she said, was killed in a fight with a Palikur in Saint-Georges. After this tragic event, “his whole family left us and returned to French Guiana. […] When this happened, it was a shock for them and they couldn’t stay here.” Consequently, for reasons such as deaths, diseases, and a difficult acclimatization, a number of people who were part of the original migration group decided to return within the immediate years after settlement.

20Moreover, Renata assumed that there might be another reason: “In the end, many returned to French Guiana, perhaps primarily because of financial reasons.” She reckoned that, with French Guiana having become a full-fledged part of the evolving French welfare state, many might have left with the outlook of being entitled to social benefits in Guyane. In fact, there has been a recurring attempt from the part of French officials to allure the remaining Kaliña in Oiapoque to come back to Mana, reiterating the supposed benefits derived from French Guiana’s status as département et région d’outre-mer: Renata remembered that

when I was a child, several times some French authorities would come to the aldeia, and they would talk to them [Geraldo and Julien], asking them to come back. They offered schooling, they offered health care. In Guiana, it’s very different, there is no such recognition: the indigenous people in Guiana don’t have the same constitution that they have in Brazil. But with respect to many other things perhaps it’s much better than in Brazil.

  • 8 The other terras indígenas within the municipality of Oiapoque are TI Juminã and TI Uaçá.

21Eventually, only the Lod family stayed in the borderland, resisting any French allurements to resettle in Mana. As Renata put it, “they adopted Brazil as their country … and so it became their country.” It became their country, I assume, not least because of the amicable relations they soon established with the local population despite the early disputes. As I was told by various family members and other inhabitants in Saint-Georges and Oiapoque, the Kaliña enjoyed and still enjoy a good reputation both among the other indigenous groups—Palikur, Galibi Marworno and Karipuna—and among the palanã güïlï (non-indigenous population). The Lod family was very engaged in the indigenous movement, fighting for the demarcation of indigenous lands, which they obtained as the first group in Amapá in 1982.8 The Kaliña’s insistence on this territory mirrors the idea that access to land is of particular relevance when understanding and fighting against inequalities in Latin America: “A legacy of inequality, established through conquest, colonialism, slavery and forced labour, racism, gender discrimination, authoritarian regimes and neoliberal policies, is inscribed in Latin American social landscapes through unequal access to, ownership over, life conditions in and the right to exist in, particular places” [Strønen/Ystanes 2018: 28].

22Even if less than ten members of the Kaliña continue to live permanently in the aldeia of São José, Kássia and Renata often return there to visit their relatives, spending several days in the secluded tranquility of the territory. The obtainment of this land in the 1980s and the Kaliña’s role in the fight for indigenous rights in the region is still today a source of pride for my interlocutors:

Although we are a small group, we are influential with respect to the politics of the indigenous issue here. We are few, but the biggest political leader of the 70s and 80s was Geraldo Lod. So being his grandchildren, we are respected just like him. It’s a kind of heredity, you know. We have a voice, we are heard … We are few, but we have strength and political influence. (Kássia)

23Despite their plea to integrate more (and especially female) perspectives, Kássia and Renata described Geraldo Lod as the most important political leader for indigenous rights in the region of the 1970s and 80s. However, Renata clarified that the fight was a collective endeavor: “His right-hand man was our grandfather, Julien. All the decisions that were taken, everything that he did—he did it with the help of Julien and the larger family.” Most of the older pioneering generation that originally moved to Brazil had passed away over the past years. Of this generation, only Geraldo Lod was still alive at the beginning of my research. At the age of 94, he passed away on February 14, 2018. The indigenous territory he and others have fought for after migrating to Brazil, however, is there to stay.

4. Entangled Inequalities in the Borderland

24While various types of inequalities have already been mentioned in the previous sections, this section explicitly addresses the entangled inequalities experienced by the Kaliña after the migration and territorial demarcation outlined above. Drawing on the entangled histories approach, the notion of entangled inequalities shifts attention to the interplay not only between different geographical contexts but also between various social categorizations such as gender, ethnicity, and class [Braig et al. 2013; Costa 2018; Jelin et al. 2017]. With its focus on intersections and historical depth, it overcomes narrow analyses by grasping the ways in which inequalities persist and take new shape through interdependent conditions derived from a person’s or a group’s ascribed characteristics (e.g., as a woman and/or an indigenous person) in a given socio-political and geographical context which, in turn, is globally embedded. Hence, space is of particular relevance, for “interdependent inequalities require the inclusion of spatial entanglements of movements between spaces which transcend the nation state frame” [Braig et al. 2015: 212].

25What are the entangled inequalities some of the Kaliña were facing in the French-Brazilian borderland over the past decade? Continuing with my ethnographic approach, I now shift attention to the life story of Dona Cristina, Renata and Kássia’s mother, whose perspective is missing in existing scholarship about the Kaliña. Dona Cristina’s account contradicts the more positive impression evoked in Vidal’s article which largely rests on Geraldo Lod’s words. According to these words, his sons and daughters received a good education and now live all over Brazil, holding prestigious positions in fields such as aviation and the military. Some, however, stayed near Oiapoque or returned.

26During Dona Cristina’s complicated life, many twists and turns brought her to other parts of Brazil and back to Oiapoque. Already as an adolescent, in the late 1970s, she worked as a domestic worker for a family in Clevelândia do Norte, a military base near Oiapoque. When the family she had worked for was relocated to São Paulo, Dona Cristina—barely of legal age—joined them, hoping to be able to study during her free time. However, she told me that “I always had to cook, to look after the children, to keep the house clean, so I never had time to study.” Dona Cristina also stressed that she could not cope with the climate in São Paulo where she grew lonely:

I was crying to come back, this was in 1979, and then in March 1980 they let me leave. They let me go back to Oiapoque. Here, my father told me: ‘My daughter, you have to study, you’re still young.’ And this is what happened again: I started to work for a family in Clevelândia because back then, the high school, elementary school was only in Clevelândia. […] But after a while, in the beginning of 1981, the family was relocated to Manaus and I went with this family. It was like this … always trying to study, but never accomplishing it. This time, I stayed five years in Manaus.

27In this period, Dona Cristina gave birth to her first daughter. In the end, she decided to return to Oiapoque where she later gave birth to three more daughters—among them Renata and Kássia—and a son. “They are my everything”, she repeatedly told me. Moreover, Dona Cristina often mentioned her parents Julien and Mathilde who passed away some years ago as well as her relatives in Guiana whom she was dearly missing. During one of our meetings, she told me:

So many things happened to my family in the past years, I became depressive, you know. Now I’m getting better already … but I lost so much family: in 2009 I lost my mother, in 2011 I lost my father and my brother, one after the other. Ultimately, I also lost my grandson [Renata’s firstborn]. […] Things were so difficult for me, you know, really difficult. I know there was … I got sick, really sick. Very badly. But thanks to God … God was so good to me that today I can tell my story. […] Nowadays I feel so alone, you know, sometimes I feel so sad, I want to talk to someone older than me, someone wise, but I don’t have anyone … They are all there, on the other side. You see, my mother’s sisters all live in Guiana, they are five. One is in Saint-Georges, three are in Cayenne, one is in Saint-Laurent. And my cousins, they also live there. […] Here I have my children, but it’s different.

  • 9 On the importance of citizenship within global stratification, Korzeniewicz and Moran have stated t (...)

28As was mentioned in the previous section, many family members returned to Guiana after the initial migration to Oiapoque in the 1950s. In this cited passage, Dona Cristina referred to some of these relatives whom she cannot visit due to strict visa legislation: French and EU citizens get their visa stamps quite easily at the Polícia Federal in Oiapoque, whereas the majority of Brazilian citizens need to undergo the complicated and costly endeavor of visa application. Like her siblings and children, she holds Brazilian citizenship, which makes it difficult—if not impossible—for her to visit her relatives in French Guiana.9 Therefore, family reunions usually take place unidirectionally, with the French Kaliña coming to visit Dona Cristina and others in Oiapoque from time to time. However, Dona Cristina also wishes to visit her relatives in French Guiana and to see where her forebears had lived. “My parents told me about it”, she said, “they told us about the beaches and the rivers, but I only have some pictures. I want to see it with my own eyes.” In order to achieve this goal, she thought of applying for French citizenship or residence permit. While French citizenship is generally based on the principle of birthplace (jus soli), it can also be acquired by filiation (jus sanguinis) if born abroad to French parents, which is the case with Dona Cristina:

That’s why I want to get the document. I spoke with the young woman in the consulate [in Saint-Georges] and she told me that in my case it is not so difficult since my family lives there, and my parents were born and raised there. She said: ‘Prepare a dossier about your family history.’ She said they’ll see what my history is like, but it doesn’t seem to be very complicated. The thing is that I still haven’t delivered it …

  • 10 On the classification as “indigenous” or “Brazilian” in French Guiana, see also Collomb [2013].

29For Dona Cristina, then, acquiring French citizenship would be a pragmatic step facilitating family reunions and perhaps other travels. In fact, migration was proven to be the most effective means to improve one’s position within a globally entangled inequality system [Korzeniewicz/Moran 2009]. While not feeling particularly attached to France, Dona Cristina said that she feels connected to her family, and therefore she feels connected with French Guiana. Just like her daughters, Dona Cristina repeatedly said that she considers herself primarily as indígena, but also as Brazilian.10 With French citizenship, she does not intend to permanently move to French Guiana, but rather aims to enjoy the mobility privileges derived from this nationality. In the course of our conversations, additional motives surfaced which are deeply connected to entangled inequalities. Shaking her head and closing her eyes, she began to recount her experiences with the malfunctioning Brazilian health system:

I see it like this: here in Brazil, if you’re very sick, you can only get rescued if you have a lot of money. I saw it when my sister fell ill, you know, even though we spent all the money we had, we lost her, she was younger than me, and she got sick with cancer. What happened? She sold everything she had in order to pay for a special treatment. We first went to Macapá, but there they did not have radio therapy, so we went to Belém. I accompanied her, I saw it! We had never experienced anything like that. When we were in Belém, she had to see three different doctors, our appointments were postponed, she was getting worse and worse, so she was already in a very bad state when she could finally start with the therapy after several weeks. […] We went there in the beginning of February, but it was only at the end of March that she received the therapy. My sister was already bad at that time. So, she did radio therapy every day … until the machine broke one day. It was broken! It’s sad! […] We called there every day to see if the machine was fixed, sometimes my nephew who lived in Belém went there personally to see if it was working yet. Two months passed until she could go on with the therapy. My sister was only getting worse. That was it, I saw her deteriorating every day. When her treatment was over, I asked the doctor how she was, and he said she’s fine, but I think he lied to us, because I saw my sister, she was very sick. But the therapy was over and we had to return to Macapá and to Oiapoque. Here, it was over … I find it so sad, you know, the situation in Brazil, so sad.

30It is important to stress that though the exact experiences recounted by Dona Cristina are unique, they mirror a larger pattern of how indigenous people are confronted with forms of systematic violence when attempting to access health care services in Brazil [Teixeira/Silva 2019]. “Who knows what would have happened in Guiana”, Dona Cristina later said. She knew that on the one hand, health care was considerably better on the French side of the Oyapock River. On the other hand, it also had its deficits when compared to the metropole, especially as regards foreign-born patients with an unresolved residence permit status [Jolivet et al. 2012; Leneuve-Dorilas et al. 2019; Roué et al. 2016].

31Dona Cristina also told me about her grandson—Renata’s firstborn son—who died unexpectedly and undiagnosed. “Until today I don’t understand what happened to that boy”, she whispered. At first, he began to run a high fever and was interned for two weeks in the hospital in Macapá—at least ten hours away from Oiapoque, even more during the rainy season—where he eventually recovered. Shortly afterwards, however, he slipped and stumbled in Dona Cristina’s house while playing with other children. Fearing that he broke his foot, Dona Cristina and Renata brought him to the hospital in Oiapoque where they were told that nothing was wrong. But, according to Dona Cristina,

He could not walk properly, something was wrong. So we went to Macapá to see if they could help us. They couldn’t. Everything happened so fast, you know, the boy was already bad. It didn’t take long, and he died. They did not even tell us what he actually had. Some kind of rheumatism maybe […]. I saw so many things here at the hospital: people thrown on the floor … things like that. This is why I wish that—if God wills—everything will be fine with my paper [French document].

32Very clearly, thus, the negative experiences Dona Cristina had had with the Brazilian public health system encouraged her to reconsider her legal nationality. The loss of family members went hand in hand with a mistrust of health care in Oiapoque particularly and in Brazil more generally. Her reconsideration of political membership, then, is first of all a pragmatic step illustrating that “global inequalities in opportunity go far beyond income and expenditure” [Shachar 2009: 25]; they also touch upon the large disparities in the fields of educational attainment and, as strikingly shown in this case, health care provision. Reconsidering nationality, though, does not necessarily imply shifting national belonging: “I’m Brazilian, I was born and raised here, we have this beautiful land in the Galibi [terra indígena Galibi] to which I feel deeply connected, but we have to think about our wellbeing, about our children, our health.”

33At the crossroads of various axes of stratification—including gender, ethnicity and citizenship—Dona Cristina, Kássia and Renata are subject to entangled inequalities. As shown by the statements of Kássia and Renata with regard to their family history and their embedment in the relevant anthropological literature, these inequalities are historically rooted. As shown by Anzaldúa, borderlands are home to a number of intersecting inequalities, usually to the detriment of border women [Anzaldúa 1987]. In her words, they are subject to a “life on the borders, life in the shadows” [ibid.: 19]. Yet, it is important to note that Dona Cristina, Renata and Kássia have begun to step out of these shadows, fighting for their rights and becoming active members of the Associação das Mulheres Indígenas em Mutirão (AMIM). During an event organized for and by indigenous women in the wider Oiapoque area, Renata said: “In the indigenous movement, women are gaining more and more rights and benefits, spaces and recognition in terms of leadership, opening new paths for new conquests, fighting for the affirmation of their people, their culture, in order to construct a better future.”

6. Concluding Remarks

34This article has emphasized the perspectives of Kaliña women in the borderland—a perspective which was hitherto insufficiently studied. I highlighted these perspectives by drawing far-reaching connections, both temporally and geographically. While the concepts of entangled histories and entangled inequalities have aided in pointing to the legacies of colonial hierarchies and the complex inequalities beyond absolutist conceptions of space, a relational understanding of space has aided in grasping the historically charged, yet constantly changing constitutions and perceptions of space.

35Originally from the French-Surinamese borderland from which groups of Kaliña members were forcibly ‘exhibited’ in the ‘human zoos’ of Paris and Amsterdam in the late 19th century, a part of the Kaliña community moved from Mana to the Brazilian side of the Oyapock River in the 1950s. While this decision can be traced back to intersecting reasons and inequalities, a hitherto neglected motive for this migratory movement was the lack of indigenous rights within the self-proclaimed ‘indivisible’ French Republic which strengthened its push for assimilation in the aftermath of départementalisation (1946). My close cooperation with three Kaliña women as well as the critical perspective shared by my informants and myself have enabled me to add this reason behind the Kaliña’s migration to existing scholarly works. My dialogues with Kássia, Renata and Dona Cristina have also emphasized that these histories are remembered and re-appropriated (thereby also resignified) through autoethnographic exhibitions and ongoing fights at the intersection of indigenous’ and women’s rights. While ambitions for a better life and better prospects for the recognition of indigenous rights had led them to Oiapoque and the nearby terra indígena Galibi (demarcated in 1982) in the first place, the current entangled inequalities—especially in terms of unequal mobilities and the lack of health care provision—have recently sparked current reconsiderations of citizenship in order to gain access to what they regard as a mutually shared space in which all índios should have the right to move freely.

36The final phase of writing this article was overshadowed by news of the tragic assassination of Emyra Wajãpi, an indigenous leader defending his indigenous lands against illegal gold miners in Amapá near French Guiana. If “the Michel Temer government has already passed legislation that will deepen and reinforce inequalities, rather than working to undo them” [Strønen/Ystanes 2018: 26], the recent change of government in Brazil has shattered most hopes for further upward mobility of structurally disadvantaged groups. Currently, indigenous communities are at a high risk of being confronted with violence and the dispossession of rights, especially land rights. From their own experiences, Kássia, Renata and Dona Cristina know that space is constructed relationally, heterogeneously and processually, as Massey pointed out. Space, in a word, is contested. My interlocutors have reassured me they will continue to fight for their space in increasingly tumultuous times.

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1 The research on which this article is based received funding from the German Research Foundation (IRTG Between Spaces) and the OHM Oyapock – USR mixte LEEISA (USR mixte 3456), in the frame of the LABEX DRIIHM (Investissement d’avenir).

2 In this article, I use Guyane and French Guiana interchangeably. While the official designation is French Guiana, locals and many academics prefer Guyane as a shorthand.

3 This hierarchy has persisted until today, as shown by Price [2018: 18): “From the perspective of Guyane’s non-Creole populations, who make up the majority of its residents, the country is doubly colonized, by the French and by the Creoles who look on them with a steeply downward gaze.”

4 The surface area of daily use (houses, school, orchards, FUNAI post) is approximately 250 x 400 meters. Besides the Kaliña, the TI Galibi is also inhabited by a Karipuna community. A description of the TI Galibi is given on [accessed April 1, 2020].

5 Geraldo Lod was born as Gérard Lod and preferred to use the Brazilian version of his name after settling in Brazil.

6 The notion that France as “one and indivisible” stems from the Constitution of 1791 and represents “a model that protects the rights of citizens but that does not address ethnicity or race” [Bancel et al. 2017: 12], which becomes all the more apparent in the case of the Kaliña.

7 Nonetheless, indigenous associations and critical scholars pointed out the lasting lack of indigenous rights despite the implementation of these measures [Tiouka 2002].

8 The other terras indígenas within the municipality of Oiapoque are TI Juminã and TI Uaçá.

9 On the importance of citizenship within global stratification, Korzeniewicz and Moran have stated that “just as we might decide that race or sex should not be a criterion limiting access to opportunity, we must also decide whether the life chances of people should be restricted by the blind luck of their place of birth” [Korzeniewicz/Moran 2009, 121]. A similar argument on the arbitrary ways in which citizenship is acquired in the overwhelming majority—either by bloodline or by territory—was put forth by Shachar [2009].

10 On the classification as “indigenous” or “Brazilian” in French Guiana, see also Collomb [2013].

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Fabio Santos, « From French Guiana to Brazil: Entanglements, Migrations and Demarcations of the Kaliña », Espace populations sociétés [En ligne], 2020/1-2 | 2020, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2020, consulté le 15 août 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Fabio Santos

Postdoctoral Researcher, Institute for Latin American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Rüdesheimer Str. 54-56, 14197 Berlin,

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