Foto: André Ricardo, 2007

Kaiabi

  • Other names
    Kawaiwete, Kayabi, Caiabi, Kaiaby, Kajabi, Cajabi
  • Where they are How many

    MT2.202 (Siasi/Sesai, 2012)
  • Linguistic family
    Tupi-Guarani

Cosmology

The Kaiabi conceive the cosmos to be divided into various overlapping layers, inhabited by an infinite number of beings which we conventionally call supernatural. There are many types of such beings. There are the various 'animal chiefs,' the dangerous anyang and mama'e which steal human souls, the cultural heroes (demiurges) who taught the Kaiabi everything that they know today, and the Ma'it gods, the great shamans of the sky. All these beings people the myths and narratives through which the Kaiabi comprehend the universe and act within it.

Every human, as well as many animals, possesses an ai'an, a concept which we can roughly translate as 'soul.' Humans are not automatically endowed with an ai'an at birth. They receive it along with their name, which incorporates them into the society in which they live. Those who fail to receive this soul do not become humans, they are only empty beings, an envelope without life (Grünberg 1970: 155).

The Kaiabi always had many shamans. Shamanism fulfils a fundamental role in their conception of a model society. Ideally, this society is led by an old chief with war experience, whose action is complemented by the activity of a number of shamans. Shamans are the intermediaries between the natural and supernatural world. In a general fashion, they can be seen as the restorers of social situations taken to be out of tune with the normal course of existence (Travassos 1984: 183). Shamanic initiation is comprehended as a voyage undertaken as a result of a serious illness or accident, a liminal moment between the quotidian level of reality and the supernatural level.

The Kaiabi are traditionally a warrior people, a fact that can be perceived from their mythic narratives, their stories of past wars, their ritual life and the testimonies of Whites who had contact with them. The most important moment in their ritual life was celebration of Yawaci, a period in which various villages gathered together to hear warriors' songs. This ritual was associated with the death of an enemy, taking place after the smashing of his skull, which was the pretext for initiation of young warriors. Although there are no longer any wars, nor enemy heads, the Kaiabi have returned to performing the Yawaci ritual. As Elisabeth Travassos observed, in a context of ethnic revival, they chose this ritual as the most appropriate for representing the image they most valued of themselves and with which they most identified - that of warriors.