Wednesday, December 2, 2015

An unpublished English translation of Ploetz & Métraux (1930)

The material civilization and social and religious life ofthe Žè Indians of Southern and Eastern Brazil is an English translation of an article originally published in French in the Revista del Instituto de Etnología de la Universidad Nacional de Tucumán (1930), an Argentinian journal then under the editorship of Alfred Métraux.1 So far unpublished, the carbon-copied typewritten manuscript was located among the collection of bibliographical materials on Jê and Macro-Jê groups compiled by anthropologist William Crocker (Curator Emeritus, NMNH/Smithsonian Institution) throughout his long and productive career. Digitized by Barbara Watanabe (Museum Specialist, NMNH/Smithsonian Institution), the document is here made publicly available for the first time.2

The manuscript contains a number of handwritten corrections, and was obviously based on the published version, since the corresponding page numbers are indicated in the margins. The precise date of the translation, as well as the translator's identity, remain unknown. It is rather likely, however, that the translation was not made by Métraux himself, since it contains mistakes which he would have avoided. The handwritten corrections, on the other hand, are probably in Métraux's own hand.3

Although largely outdated nowadays, the article is of great historical significance, representing the state-of-the-art scholarship on the Jê and Macro-Jê at the time of its publication.4 As archaeologist Jonas Gregorio de Souza points out, in a review written especially to accompany the present online publication of the English version, Ploetz & Métraux contributed to the characterization of Macro-Jê material culture as rather simple, lacking agriculture and pottery, for instance — a view that has been strongly challenged by recent scholarship. However, as an early attempt to summarize comparatively the available information on several Macro-Jê groups, the article had the merit of shedding light on cultures which were then largely seen as "marginal." In that sense, The material civilization and social and religious life of the Žè Indians of Southern and Eastern Brazil can be seen as a fitting ethnographic companion to Čestmir Loukotka's linguistic contributions.

Eduardo R. Ribeiro
Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow
National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
December, 2015

  • William Crocker (Curator Emeritus, NMNH/Smithsonian Institution), for making his collections widely available to fellow researchers
  • Barbara Watanabe (Museum Specialist, NMNH/Smithsonian Institution), not only for managing Crocker's collections and facilitating access to them, but for carefully digitizing the document 
  • Daniel Métraux (Professor Emeritus and Adjunct Professor of Asian Studies, Baldwin College), Alfred Métraux's son, for granting full permission for the use of the manuscript for any scholarly venture (personal communication, May 2015)


1. Ploetz, Hermann & Métraux, A. 1930. La civilisation matérielle et la vie sociale et religieuse des indiens Žè du Brésil méridional et oriental. Revista del Instituto de Etnología de la Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, tomo I, entrega 2.ª, Tucumán 1930, pp.107-238.
2. Bookmarks were added to the PDF in order to facilitate navigation throughout the document.
3. Edgar Krebs (Research Associate, NMNH/Smithsonian Institution), who is familiar with Alfred Métraux's handwriting, corroborates this hypothesis (personal communication, May 2015).
4. All the groups discussed in the article are still considered as being linguistically related, but at varying levels. Only the "Southern Žè" (Kaingáng and Xokléng) are currently included in the Jê linguistic family proper (in addition to the Northern Jê (Apinajé, Kaiapó, Suyá etc.) and Central Jê (Xavánte, Xerente), which are not discussed by Ploetz & Métraux). The remaining, "Eastern Žè" groups belong to separate small families (Borum (Botocudo), Purí, Kamakã and Maxakalí), related to the Jê family at a more or less remote level, as part of the Macro-Jê stock (Mason 1950).

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