The Upper Xingu is rich in history. However, Xinguano history has been hard for anthropologists to visualize, because inquiry has focused upon the present (i.e., the rhythms and movements of village life as experienced in an ethnographic context) and not the past. Harder still to grasp is “structural history,” in Braudel’s sense of the deep, recalcitrant undercurrents of the longue durée, revealed over generations or centuries, and regions. The reification of the present is, in part, the result of an analytical gap, because of a lack of adequate archaeology or documentary history. It also results from a general sentiment. For Western observers, generally speaking, the Xinguano way of life exudes an almost subliminal feeling of timelessness and ecological adjustedness, that apparent immobility and immutability often considered characteristic of “cold” societies. Inside a Xinguano house,
lying in a hammock looking up at the carefully placed rafters, an intricate latticework of posts, beams and crossbars, or at the wisps of smoke rising up from the central hearth, the kitchen, it is hard to imagine that things were ever any different: there are no obvious monuments of the past in contemporary villages (Figure 2.1). In other words, it has been easy to transform a state of mind and body, the anthropologist’s in an ethnographic present, into a state of affairs, a timeless Xinguano society.