The Native Indian with an (im)proper name

Giovanna Fluminhan.

The participation of native peoples in the cultural repertoire of Brazilian romanticism since the 19th century is undeniable. The first sculpture of an indigenous figure in the city of São Paulo, and the only one with a proper name, portrays the hero Ubirajara from the homonymous book, from 1874, by the writer José de Alencar, who also wrote Iracema and O Guarani. Francisco Leopoldo e Silva’s sculpture brings with it the cultural, social and political ambiguities presented in the fictional character: a pure native, not yet corrupted by European culture, but who fights with other peoples in order to form a unified indigenous nation. The scene portrays the victory of Araguaia Jaguarê – who becomes known as Ubirajara – over Tocantin Pojucã, described in the novel.

The sculptor brother of Dom Duarte Leopoldo e Silva, the first archbishop of São Paulo, made two monuments for Paulista in the 1920s – an avenue that already constituted an important and noble corridor in the city, of civic and cultural events and spaces. Both were representations of Native Indians, although the artist is more recognized for his specialization in female artistic nudes and for his classical training, influenced by the works of Auguste Rodin.

The Ubirajara sculpture was first placed on the corner of Paulista and Rua Brigadeiro Luís Antônio, in 1926. Two years later, the artist’s second work, Índio Pescador (Native Indian Fisherman), was also installed on the avenue. In 1935, in front of Tenente Siqueira Campos Park, or Trianon, the monument to Anhanguera, known as one of the first pioneers in Brazil, was raised. The space and path destined for these sculptures would make evident the city’s narrative preference. The avenue, which was renamed in 1927, was renamed Paulista three years later, since ‘it should never have been changed […] [because] it recalls, in a single word, all the defenseless work and honor of the people of São Paulo.’

Carved in bronze and with a granite plinth, Ubirajara remained in this location until the 1970s, when the avenue underwent expansion and modernization works. The sculpture was then transferred to the square with the same name as the monument, in the Belém neighborhood. Perhaps because its image does not portray the people of São Paulo; or because two different representations of ‘Native Indians’ no longer serve Avenida Paulista; or maybe because Largo Ubirajara, which was named in 1930, needs a reminder of its origin. The fact is that, since then, the monument has been facing oblivion and lack of appropriation by the population.

At the end of 2018, the City of São Paulo published a public notice for the financing of a new restoration of the sculpture, with no interested parties, leaving the Municipal Department of Culture itself to bear the costs of the work.


  1. Paulo Knauss (2014). Índios no salão de arte: representação étnica na escultura do século XIX. Conexões: ensaios em história da arte.
  2. Instituto Pólis. Quais histórias as cidades nos contam? A presença negra nos espaços públicos de São Paulo. São Paulo, 2020.
  3. Daniel Salles. Quem vai salvar Ubirajara? São Paulo: Elástica, Abril (2020).


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