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Marajó Island

Júlia Morim
FUNDAJ/UNESCO Consultant
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Marajó Island (Ilha de Marajó) is located in the north of Pará, approximately 90km from the state capital, Belém. With about three thousand islands and islets, Marajó is the largest fluvial-marine archipelago in the world and an Environmental Protection Area (EPA). The main island occupies an area of 50,000m². The archipelago has 16 municipalities: Afuá, Anajás, Bagre, Breves, Cachoeira do Arari, Chaves, Curralinho, Gurupá, Melgaço, Muaná, Ponta de Pedras, Portel, Salvaterra, Santa Cruz do Arari, São Sebastião da Boa Vista and Soure.

The island’s name, according to the most accepted theory, comes from the word “Mibaraió” which in Tupi means “shield of the sea” or “seawall”. The climate is hot and humid, with an average temperature of 30 degrees. Between January and May, two thirds of the area often becomes flooded by heavy rains. It is bounded to the north and east by the Atlantic Ocean and the Amazon River, and to the south by the Pará and Tocantins Rivers. The island’s population is 250,000.

It is believed that Marajó Island was explored by the Portuguese navigator Duarte Pacheco Pereira in 1498, even before the discovery of Brazil. During the colonization period, Marajó Island was densely inhabited by indigenous peoples, who traded commodities and valuable assets, which soon caught the attention of Dutch, British and French trading companies, who came to the new world seeking raw materials and spices. There was great interest in dominating the region, due to its easy access to the riches of the Amazon region.

Near the end of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese, who thought of themselves as masters of the territory, began to be bothered with the presence of the Dutch, English and French traders on the Island. In cooperation with the Indians, especially the Tupinambá, the Portuguese mounted an offensive to expel them. In 1616, they founded the city of Belém, consolidating the Portuguese dominance in the region.

However, good relations with the natives began to decline because of Portuguese expeditions that enslaved Indians to work in fields and cities. It is believed that about 29 different indigenous nations inhabited the island. These people, generically called Nheengaíbas (meaning “people of incomprehensible speech” in Tupi), spoke several languages, were located in the central part of the island and had a head chief in each village. In the late eighteenth century, the Portuguese had already removed almost the entire indigenous population from the area, either through conflict, or by transferring them to other locations.

Only in the mid-nineteenth century did the archaeological wealth coming from the indigenous peoples of the region begin to be discovered. It is estimated that the first inhabitants of the island lived 5,000 years ago, but most of their housing remains were destroyed. The vases and pottery found in the area, so beautiful and highly-valued, are considered symbols of Pará state, because they represent the native culture of the region. Some of these objects date from 400 to 1350CE. Unfortunately many of the precious marajoara ceramics are today in private collections and museums in Europe, the US and Brazil. The largest Brazilian collection of marajoara ceramics is today at the Emílio Goeldi Museum and the Marajó Museum in Cachoeira do Arari.

The two most popular cities in the archipelago are Soure and Salvaterra, with traditional attractions like the ‘quadrilha’ and ‘boi-bumbá’ festivals. The Feast of Our Lady of Nazareth, held in Soure, in November, involves the entire population of the city.

Marajó Island stands out for, among other things, having the largest herd of water buffalo in the country and one of the largest in the world, with about 700 thousand head. The large number of rivers, streams and flooded fields was fundamental to the success of raising this kind of cattle that came from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The meat and milk of these animals are part of local delicacies. In addition to the water buffalo, the island’s economy is also made up of fishing, logging, açaí and rubber, and a little ecotourism.

To reach the island today, visitors can choose to travel by small and medium-sized plane, ferry, car ferry or ship. In order to provide faster access to the island, the government of Pará plans to set up a fast service with a catamaran that can hold 150 people.

Recife, 26 May 2014.
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2015.

SOURCES CONSULTED:

AGÊNCIA Pará de Notícias. Nova lancha vai agilizar o transporte de passageiros para o Marajó. 22 maio 2014. Available at:
<
http://www.agenciapara.com.br/noticia.asp?id_ver=101688>. Accessed: 26 maio 2014.

ARTE Marajoara/Cerâmica Marajoara. In: ENCICLOPÉDIA Itaú Cultural Arte Visuais. 2006. Available at:
<
http://www.itaucultural.org.br/aplicexternas/enciclopedia_ic/index.cfm?fuseaction=termos_texto&cd_verbete=5353>. 
Accessed: 24 maio 2014.

ILHA de Marajó. In: PORTAL da Amazônia. Available at:
<
http://www.portalamazonia.com.br/secao/amazoniadeaz/interna.php?id=137>. Accessed: 26 maio 2014.

MARAJÓ: ilha de muitos encantos. Diário do Pará, Belém, 3 maio 2010. Available at:
<
http://diariodopara.diarioonline.com.br/N-88492-MARAJO++ILHA+DE+MUITOS+ENCANTOS.html>.
Accessed: 26 maio 2014.

SANTIAGO, Emerson. Ilha de Marajó. In: INFO Escola. Available at:
<
http://www.infoescola.com/geografia/ilha-de-marajo >. Accessed: 26 maio 2014.

SCHAAN, Denise Pahl. De tesos e Igaçabas, de índios e portugueses: Arqueologia e história da Ilha de Marajó. Available at:
<
http://www.marajoara.com/Arqueologia_Historia_da_Ilha_Marajo>. Accessed: 26 maio 2014.

UNIDADES de conservação do Brasil. APA Arquipélago do Marajó. Available at: <
http://uc.socioambiental.org/uc/951>.
Accessed: 26 maio 2014.

HOW TO CITE THIS TEXT:

Source: MORIM, Júlia. Marajó Island. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <
http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.

 

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