The Paumari are an indigenous people with ties to the Rio Purus in the southwestern quadrant of Amazonas state in Brazil. Formally known as the Pamoari, the “Paumari” name is derived from a denomination used for communication with whites and other indigenous peoples. “Pamoari” can be translated into several meanings, including “man,” “human being” and “client,” reflecting the Paumari penchant for trading with regional merchants. The Paumari have also been known as the Purupuru, or “painted” people. This is largely due to a common disease among the Paumari that causes cutaneous spots to develop along the extremities.
The Paumari indigenous people are descended from a subgroup of ancient Purupuru, once occupying a region spanning from the mouth of the Rio Purus to the Rio Ituxi. Prior to contact with explorers starting in 1845, not much is known about the Paumari. Early observations made by various scientists of the era described a society that was highly reliant on fishing for sustenance, with only occasional agriculture as a supplemental measure. While the Paumari resided in straw huts during the dry season, the indigenous people took to rafts anchored in the middle of various lakes created during the rainy season. These rafts carry their huts, in which one to two families reside. At the time, the Paumari did not wear clothes, choosing to wear body paint instead.
In contrast to other indigenous peoples who were grievously affected by the conflicts surrounding the rubber booms of Brazil, the Paumari survived relatively unscathed. It is thought that their mobility as fishermen helped the indigenous Paumari survive without experiencing any armed conflicts during these periods. Other indigenous peoples suffered enslavement, death, displacement and loss of their settlements and lands during this tumultuous period. Today, the Paumari face challenges in the form of deforestation, disease and the intrusion of outside elements onto their lands and culture. The Urucu and Jurua gas fields pose a considerable threat to the Paumari way of life.
Like the majority of ethnic groups within Brazil, the Paumari commonly use Portuguese in their communications. However, they also use an indigenous language that is also known as “Pamoari.” A member of the ArawÁ family of indigenous languages, Pamoari is often used interchangeably with Portuguese among the indigenous group, resulting in a unique sort of linguistic “Creole” that excludes the syntax of both languages while retaining common vocabulary. Due to the development of this Creole variant, there are legitimate concerns that language may be on its way to becoming endangered.
Today, the Paumari number over 870 according to statistics gathered in 2000. The majority of this number are scattered throughout the Rio Purus region, quietly practicing their roles as fishermen along the vast river network. The sustainability of the indigenous group remains a concern with many non-profit organizations devoted to the preservation of indigenous tribes throughout Brazil and Latin America. As the push for modernization across the Amazon continues, much work has to be done to prevent the encroachment of outside cultures from negatively impacting the Paumari and other groups throughout the Rio Purus and beyond