Foto: Beto Ricardo, 2002

Xingu

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Specialized Trades and the Moitará

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Among the peoples of the upper Xingu, each group is recognized for a certain specialty in production, which allows it to participate in a system of trades with the other groups. Thus the large ceramic pots, with flat bottoms and thick borders turned outwards, are a specialty of the Wauja. The bows made of a hard black wood are produced exclusively by the Kamaiurá. The collars and belts of jaguar claws and snailshells are made by Karib-speaking peoples (Kalapalo, Kuikuro, Matipu and Nahukuá). Salt (potassium chloride, not sodium chloride) is extracted from pond lilies and stored by the Aweti, Mehinako and Trumai. Before the introduction of metal tools, stone axes were furnished by the Trumai, who had the raw material in their territory, but the control of the source was taken over by the Suyá.

In large part, the transactions which involve the trade of these and other products take place during an event that is characteristic of the Upper Xingu called the moitará, which can be of two types: one held among the houses of the same village and the other between different villages. In the first case, it is held only on the initiative of the men or only of the women of a specific house, who show up at another house bringing the objects they wish to trade. Each article is passed from hand to hand among the interested residents of the house visited, until one of them puts the object that s/he wishes to give in trade on the ground. If the trade is accepted by the visitor, s/he picks up the object offered from the ground. Once the transactions are done, the visiting men and women, who can be received with pequi nuts and manioc porridge, leave. And then they wait for a retribution of their visit, when new trades will be made.

The moitará between villages usually takes place in the dry season and involves the joint participation of both sexes. The village that takes the initiative leaves on expedition, led by its chief, to another village, carrying the objects they wish to trade. Although the objects are individual property, the transactions are mediated by the chiefs of the two villages. The exchanges involve ceramics, collars, belts, feather adornments, weapons, canoes, flutes, hammocks for sleeping and fishing nets, baskets, gourds, salt, pepper, foods and animals, especially dogs, besides goods of the White man. Before the trading takes place, the men hold huka-kuka wrestling matches.