Foto: Beto Ricardo, 2002

Xingu

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  • Linguistic family

Village and society

On the Upper Xingu, the villages are formed by communal houses arranged on an oval-shaped perimeter, around a central plaza of beaten ground. In the center of this plaza, there is the so-called mens’ house. Besides serving as a place for the men’s meetings, the building also hides the sacred flutes, which are prohibited for the women to see, and which for that reason are played inside the house or at night on the plaza, when the women have gone to sleep.

The center of the Plaza is also the place where the dead are buried, where the rituals are held, where the ceremonial payments are made, where the chief receives messengers from other groups and makes his speeches to the local group; it is also there that the men hold the wrestling matches (huka huka, described in the section The long ritual of the Kwarup) among members of different villages during all formal meetings.

The houses are covered with sapé thatch. The domestic group of each dwelling is generally comprised of a nucleus of brothers and their respective families, to which are added parallel cousins and occasional ascending generation kin. The leader of this domestic group is the so-called “owner of the house", who is responsible for coordinating productive activities and other daily tasks that involve the participation of the residents.

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Ideally, the residence rules prescribe that, in the first years of marriage, the husband must reside in the house of his wife’s parents, paying through his services for the concession of their daughter. Once this period has been fulfilled, in general the married couple goes to live in the husband’s house of origin. Exceptions to this rule include the “owners of the house", the leader of the village or those already married with another woman. In these situations, from the beginning the woman goes to live in her husband’s house, and payment is made in goods. Preferential marriage is, ideally, between cross-cousins. The connection between the houses is established through the alliances solidified by marriages and the common support to the leader of the village.

The internal space of the house has no divisions, except for the compartments where adolescents in puberty seclusion stay, or married couples with newborn children or widow/-ers in mourning. The formation of the person on the Upper Xingu implies such periods of seclusion. In the case of the men, they then systematically receive teachings on the techniques of male labor and huka-huka wrestling during their puberty seclusion. The more prolonged the seclusion, the greater the social responsibilities and leadership which must be assumed in the community.  In this period, sex should be avoided so that the young man can become a good wrestler.

At her first menstruation, the young girl is put in seclusion, during which time she learns how to perform female tasks in the preparation of food and the manufacture of artwork. During her seclusion, which customarily does not last more than a year, she does not cut her hair and her bangs grow over her eyes. At the end, she receives a new name and is considered an adult, ready for marriage.

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The political unit par excelence on the Upper Xingu is the village, the leader of which acts as a mediator and regulator of conflicts, who must demonstrate generosity and capacity in maintaining the internal harmony of the group. The power of the chief, which is of a markedly peaceful nature, depends on the approval of the group, above all the support of the leaders of domestic groups. The chief’s political skill is expressed through his words, his speeches and counsel presented on the plaza. The rules of succession to the status of leader of the village are flexible and customarily generate much competition over the post.

The “owner of the house” is, in the final analysis, the one who takes the initiative to build the house. Ideally, his firstborn son should succeed him. The main attributes of the owner of the house involve the transmission of requests from the leader of the village to his domestic group in relation to daily tasks, which he also coordinates.

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Inside the house, the minimum unit, in spatial terms, is a married couple with unmarried children; the hammocks of this unit define distinct virtual territories, centered around the hearth (which is opposed to the communal fire used for the making of manioc bread, in the center), and each family generally uses the same housepost to tie up the inside ends of their hammocks. The central space is set aside for circulation. There are two doors, which open onto the major axis of the house, one facing the plaza, the other facing the outside of the village. It is near these doors that those who need light to perform some activity sit, because the inside of the houses is very dark.

Each house forms a unit of economic cooperation which is relatively independent of the others, especially in the case of female activities (in this regard, see the item "productive activities.”) At nightfall, after all activities have ceased, families customarily stay at the doors of their houses, conversing, mutually handling each other’s bodies (removing hair, combing hair, removing lice etc.). The young men generally paint and decorate themselves. The older men smoke and chat in the men’s house. Early in the night, everyone begins to retire and the nuclear families get together around their respective hearths, where they eat the last meal and after, go to sleep.

Due to their cultural specificities, life in the village and the social organization of the other peoples of the Park are presented on their respective pages: Ikpeng, Kaiabi, Kisêdjê e Yudjá.