Xingu River

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The Xingu River (pronounced shing GOO) is a 1,230-mile long, (1979 km) [1] river in northeast Brazil; it is a southeast tributary of the Amazon River.

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Description and history

There was little known about the Xingu River, until it was explored in 1887 by Karl von den Steinen from Cuiabá. Travelling east, 240 miles (390 km), he found the river Tamitatoaba, 180 feet (55 m) wide, flowing from a lake 25 miles (40 km) in diameter. He descended this torrential stream to the river Romero, 1,300 feet (400 m) wide, entering from the west, which receives the river Colisu. These three streams form the Xingu, or Parana-xingu, which, from 73 miles (117 km) lower down, bounds along a succession of rapids for 400 miles (640 km). A little above the head of navigation, 105 miles (169 km) from its mouth, the river makes a bend to the east to find its way across a rocky barrier. Here is the great cataract of Itamaraca, which rushes down an inclined plane for 3 miles (4.8 km) and then gives a final leap, called the Fall of Itamaraca. Near its mouth, the Xingu expands into an immense lake, and its waters then mingle with those of the Amazon through a labyrinth of eanos (natural canals), winding in countless directions through a wooded archipelago. In the borders of this river, the Brazilian government created in the late 1950's the first Indian Park in Brazil. This park marks the first Indian territory recognized by the Brazilian government. Nowadays fourteen tribes live there, like their ancestors, surviving using natural resources, extracting from the river most of what they need for food and water. These people are in great danger, because these lands and the river are menaced by uncontrolled forest exploration, the cattle and the farming growing around the park, and the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in the Kuluene River, the most important ascendant of the Xingu River, despite the fight of these people against this.

The Brazilian government is also planning Belo Monte Dam, what would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric dam, on the Lower Xingu. The dam would displace over 20,000 people, yet produce only 10% of its 11,233 MW capacity during the summer season. The people of the Xingu have organized in opposition to this massive hydroelectric project. In addition the diversion of water from the main channel will mean that a 60 kilometer stretch of the river known as the Big Bend will periodically dry out. The Big Bend has a number of endemic fish species, e.g. the iconic Hypancistrus zebra, which if this happens are likely to go extinct.

On 14 April 2010 a court ordered a halt to the building of the dam, citing a need to investigate irregularities and inadequate environmental impact studies. This decision was however overturned just one day later by a federal judge.[1]

In the Upper Xingu region was a highly self-organized pre-Columbian anthropogenic landscape, including deposits of agricultural terra preta, with a network of polities each of which covered about 250 square kilometers.[2]

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