What does this sculpture make you think and feel? Does it makes you think about tragedy?
Have you ever walked down the street and wondered what a specific statue or monument meant and why it was placed precisely in that spot? Do you know what that sculpture in the main square of your city means? Is it an important character from local history? Or is it just for decorative purposes? As it happens with some types of art, the meanings aren’t as obvious as we might think, and that’s the case of the Curumim standing in the middle of the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon in Rio de Janeiro. As you know already thanks to the title, this gorgeous sculpture of a boy with an arrow has a sad and tragic story behind it.
First, let’s get a bit of context. Before the arrival of the Portuguese in this territory, it’s estimated that there was a population of 7 million indigenous people living there. Most of these groups were semi-nomadic communities that lived from hunting, fishing, and agriculture. Now, one of the biggest groups were the Tupi people who are believed to be the first group to settle in the Amazon rainforest. The Tupi were spread all over the Brazilian coast by the time the Portuguese arrived in 1500, but by this time, the group was divided into different tribes, and one of them was the Tamoios, who settled in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro.
Now, let’s get to the tragic part of the story. Once the Portuguese were settled, as it was the custom for many colonizer countries, they decided that they had to get rid of the indigenous population because they outnumbered them and didn’t want to lose control over the territory. A settlement of colonizers surrounding the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon were looking forward to building a sugar mill in the skirts of the lagoon, but the Tamoios were settled right in the place they wanted their new mill to stand. Enter the scene a Portuguese man named Dr. António Salema. He was named Governor and Captain General of the Captaincy of Rio de Janeiro, and as you can imagine, he wasn’t going to allow the natives to stop him from doing whatever he wanted.
So, what could he do? Well, get rid of them, so in a cowardly move, he decided to take all the clothes used by patients who were being treated for smallpox at a hospital (a disease that the Europeans brought to the continent) and spread them all along the banks of the lagoon. Thousands were killed once the virus spread, and in this way, this terrible massacre allowed the colonizers to build their sugar mill. The story lived only in the memories of those who survived and was discreetly passed from generation to generation, but without any recognition of the event until 1979, when artist Pedro Correia Araújo decided to create a sculpture to honor the killed Tamoios and remember the atrocities that occurred throughout the territory.
He named the sculpture of this “indiozinho” (little Indian) "Curumim." It's a slender little boy with a bow pointing at the water. Sadly, instead of touching the hearts of the local residents, many have actually vandalized it since its creation. As the artist claimed once “when the Indiozinho was installed here in the Lagoon, the stone was underneath the water line which impeded people from reaching and vandalize it. With the passing of time, the water level has decreased, allowing anyone to reach the stone and the Curumim.” Of course, a lot has been done to prevent more vandalizing and to preserve this sculpture, but it would seem that its fate does resemble the tragic story it represents.
Almost everything we see in cities and towns tells an important story that in our daily rush we ignore. Like the Curumim, there are so many monuments and sculptures that help us remember our past and the many untold parts of our history. Not only are they beautiful works of art, but they also teach us about past mistakes and prevent us from making the same ones again in the future.
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