Situated in the Javari river basin of Brazil, the Marubo Indian tribe have found a home along the flowing rivers of the Curuca and Itui for years. Historically categorized as a part of the Amazon, this region is as diverse as its people. It would not be surprising to cross foothills in one part of the area and then find tropical rain forests in another. These conditions combine to make a unique atmosphere where the Marubo have many resources at their disposal to live off of the land. With a population of just 1,043, the Marubo are proud to say that they have tended to these lands – and remained standing – since the turn of the century.
Many Marubo became directly involved in the rubber trade, locked into debt by the rubber traders. The trade had the effect of breaking up the traditional communities. Every family lived alone to collect their rubber. Economy took precedence over the social and religious ties of the community. The rubber economy collapsed in 1938. By this time, the rubber industry had reduced the Marubo to near extinction. Today, they are one of the guiding forces of the indigenous movement in Brazil.
Ceramics are now the major force behind any economy that the Marubo has. By collecting brown clay along the edge of the various streams, various ceramic artifacts can then be created – typically for use as commercial kitchen items or decoration. This brown clay is first crushed to give it a smooth consistency and then typically one potter will work on the floor to begin making the foundation of the product. Heat is then eventually applied to start carving the texture. Traditions run high among the Marubo and married women of all ages are typically the ones who do most of the carving of domestic clay. Popular finished products range from authentic vases to pots and pans.
Marubo men live a primitive life where their main focus involves agriculture and finding means of living off of the land. Because of this, many Marubo men acquire defacto “occupations” in jobs such as hunting and fishing. While it serves its purpose as a job, it is important to note that this also is a means of feeding their families. Of late, the men of the tribe have been also fighting local politicians who wish to build a new highway that would create an easier pathway for outsiders to begin exploring for oil and gas resources.
Today, the Marubo tribe are largely seen as the most powerful among the Javari River Valley and continue to be one of the few who have made a connection to the outside world. Though these advances have made them powerful, they have also made them dangerous in the eyes of other local tribes. Because the Marubo were among the first to get their hands on weapons and shotguns, they are rarely challenged by the other tribes around them with lesser means of protection