Since their arrival the Augustinian Recollects had contact with the indigenous and followed a long Catholic Church tradition of defending their rights against the abuses of the conquistadores in the Amazon.

The missions, social projects and solidarity actions are a constant in the action of the Augustinian Recollect Family. The Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine has always lived in mission, since its very birth was motivated by the opening of the first evangelization missions in the Philippines in the 17th century. Since then, he has carried out his evangelizing activity following the mandate of Jesus in the places today called “frontiers”: there where it is necessary to defend the dignity of human life, social justice, equal opportunities, the defense of the most vulnerable.

Indigenous peoples

On the banks of the Purus the peoples of Apurinã, Banawã, Dení, Hi Merimã, Jamamadi, Jarawara, Juma, Kanamari, Kanamati, Kaxarari, Miranha, Paumari, Zuruahã and others have had their natural territories, including those without contact who therefore are without a name. There are about 5,000 people, with a progressive recuperation of the population in the last fifteen years.

The villages of zuruahá, hi-merimã and those who are completely isolated maintain their social and cultural system. In all the other peoples the colonization dismantled the indigenous religious and cultural values.


In 1988 the Federal Constitution was passed which recognized the Indians’ organization, customs, languages, beliefs, traditions and demarcation of their lands. Half-way throughout 2011 there were a total of 46,000 km2 of indigenous demarcated lands in the Prelature and new processes continue to take place.

The Catholic Church has been a pioneer in the defence of the Indians rights through the CIMI (the Missionary Council for the Indigenous). Their anthropological studies and their respectful manner of making contact has been the first step towards a more promising present in the legal defence of the rights of the indigenous peoples.

The majority have been absorbed by Western culture. They have lost their languages, habits and customs, and their national identity. The legislation has only permitted in the last few years that schools could be fully indigenous, to have as a base the indigenous culture and its demands, to teach them their rights and how to defend these rights, and to appreciate their language, customs and folk wisdom.

Social Migrations

The human reality of the mission in Labrea cannot be understood with reference to the North-east of Brazil, especially the states of Ceará and Río Grande del Norte, where the roots of the greater part of the population are to be found. In boats full of people, malnourished and with few resources, they reached the Purus with the idea of going back rich. Abandoned on the river bank, they had to overcome an unknown and hostile environment. Without schools, without education, exploited, and without possible progress, their life was a continuous fight.

In time, the hostile environment has become their companion. They mixed with the Indians and the cabocla race was born. The majority keep in mind their north-eastern ancestors.

Political and Social Organization

With the municipals established, there began the slow and tenuous development based on the presupposed dependence of the Federal Government in poor lands, without industry, places of work and far away from everywhere. The classist social system continues as the old bosses of the rubber exploitation are now politicians, with high levels of corruption in their management and a people which depends of them for almost everything.

The “industry” which offers the most places of work are the local governments: the functionaries. Every municipal can spend almost 60% of its budget on workers. To create jobs is a form of control, a source of future votes.

The lack of knowledge and political formation helps to perpetuate the injustice. There are few organized civil groups and the Church has been behind those that exist and still is. There are problems over health, justice, education, security, and the public services with a deficient and increasingly obscure and corrupt management system. Violence by the police and other institutions is commonplace.

The few families and companies than hold properties possess huge estates and are outside, in Manaos or Sao Paulo. They neither step on nor know where the property is or what its limits are. In a study from the 1990´s there came out that in the lands officially registered in Canutama the name of the few landowners, if they were real, would mean that everyone in the municipality would have two apartments

The large traders set outrageous prices, without controls. Basic foods are expensive: everything is imported, with the logical result of hunger, innutrition and misery.

The municipals

The Prelature is divided into four municipals that coincide with the parishes. These are the social-geographical statistics (IBGE, 2010):

Municipio Área
Altitud sobre nivel del mar (m.) A Manaos
en línea recta (km.)
A Manaos
en barco (km.)
Población Urbana Población Rural Población Total
Tapauá 95.394 30 400 900 10.618 8.459 19.077
Canutama 24.027 30 650 1.600 6.682 6.045 12.727
Lábrea 66.993 60 820 1.800 24.207 13.494 37.701
Pauiní 42.651 100 1.400 3.000 9.264 8.889 18.153
TOTAL 229.065 50.771 36.887 87.658


The great challenges

Loneliness, distances, history, and social-economic, psychological, and religious factors have marked the family in the Purus. Adolescents without responsibility have started to live together with knowing each other. Infidelity, abandonment, drunkenness, exploitation, and domestic violence are all common. Women go from being girls to mothers very quickly; and masculine dominance is oppressive. Nonetheless the family in the Purus arouses admiration for its spirit of sacrifice, patience, community responsibility, the welcoming of family members and strangers and its hospitality.

Young people look for more promising opportunities in Manaos (the Amazon) Porto Velho (Rondônia) or Río Branco (Acre), the nearest state capitals. The emigration is also interior, from rural zones to the headwaters, which have doubled their population in the last twenty years. In the 2010 census it was reflected, for the first time, that in the four municipalities it is greater the urban population than the rural one. But in the headwaters is the misery of underdevelopment – hunger, illnesses, death tolls, injustices, – and the vices of development – drugs trafficking, consumerism, and unemployment.

The typical illnesses, by type or incidence, are leprosy, malaria, hepatitis, intestinal parasites, leishmaniasis, pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis or measles. Infant deaths are commonplace.

A mixed and varied culture

The local culture is a blend of traditions, customs, mentalities, and indigenous behaviours. Also the cultural heritage brought by the north-eastern Brazilians, missionaries and explorers.

The indigenous culture is provisional. Nothing is consistent, unless it relates to fertility: there are no temples, barns, architecture, sculptures, paintings, or places for burials. They are cultures of wood, water and feathers. The indigenous peoples of the Purus do not reach the complexity of the Incas, Mayans or Aztecs. They are groups of a hundred people who satisfy their needs in a self-sufficient way. After three years the earth is used up and everything has to be abandoned and left to go elsewhere which will also be provisional.

As far as northeastern culture is concerned, it is especially visible through popular festivals (carnivals, June festivals, honor of patron saints), the popular manifestation of faith and traditions.

— Education

They have made great efforts in the education of children and adults, and in the training of teachers. The State as well as the Municipals have networks for teaching with infrastructures in place. But still, there is overcrowding in the classes, a lack of interest by the students, little continuation towards higher education and low salaries together with the need for better formation for the teachers.

The first missionaries saw and felt the need for education. Already in 1936 they had opened a parish school in Labrea with ninety students. The Augustinian Recollect Missionary Nuns, who arrived in 1937, opened the college “Our Lady of Consolation”. The Church built the first schools: “Saint Rita” and “Saint Augustine” in Labrea; “Eduardo Riberio” in Canutama; “Dom José Álvaraez” in Tapaua.

At one point the Augustinian Recollect family assumed all the educational responsibility, including the municipal school en Tapaua and the teaching in Pauini even before the foundation of the municipality. The task was so absorbing that it needed more people dedicated totally towards it. The Marist Brothers of Sao Paulo arrived in 1967, firstly to Labrea and later to Canutama a Tapaua. They still continue in Labrea.

The Church of Lábrea also stimulated training for work, with workshops and courses for housewives to learn to sew and embroider, cook, alternative food, hygiene, etc. It also promoted adult literacy experiences. Currently, the “Hope Centre” care centers for minors offer semi-professional training to adolescents in Labrea, Tapaua and Pauini.

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