Narratives addressing the presence of European domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) in the encounters between Indians and non-Indians in the conquest of the Central and South American lowlands often portray those animals as terrible and bloodthirsty weapons. From the settlers’ perspective, dogs were formidable instruments in the subjugation of the native peoples they came across at various times over more than 500 years of American colonialization. But the indigenous narratives of these first contacts with dogs may exhibit distinct perspectives that view dogs not only as weapons, instruments, or tools of conquest but rather as agents or actors smoothing contact and establishing peaceful relations between Indians and non-Indians. This article explores the narratives of the first dogs encountered by two native populations in southwestern Brazilian Amazonia—the Puruborá and the Karitiana in the state of Rondônia—to demonstrate the canine agency behind the interethnic meetings in this region, where dogs were largely absent until the arrival of the Europeans and their descendants beginning in the sixteenth century. First contacts between Indians and non-Indians are complex inter-specific events, and may extend beyond only two participants (a group of non-Indians and a native people) to include at least three parties, since the actions and dispositions of dogs play a crucial role in the development of human interactions. Recollections of the first dogs encountered by the Puruborá and Karitiana point precisely toward recognizing the importance of the animal's presence as an actor, far beyond a mere instrument.
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