Foto: Geraldo Silva, 2000

Yudjá

  • Autodenominação
    Yudja
  • Where they are How many

    MT348 (Unifesp, 2010)
  • Linguistic family
    Juruna

Leaders and groups

Yudjá society is made up of groups of bilateral kindreds that are dispersed along a river and are constituted around a leader who is called an “owner, master” or, in Portuguese, capitão (“captain”).  This is someone who combines the features of being the elder (se'uraha) and the in-law (saha) of the majority of mature men who are “masters” of their own domestic group.  These groups are predominantly founded on the relations between the mother and daughters and between the father-in-law and sons-in-law.  Juruna vocabulary distinguishes various types of relations and/or positions concerning the figure of the “master” (iwa, ijifa, iju'a, iui'a, iu'a, i'uraha, awai).

The production of social life is primarily ordered by a sociological principle incarnated in the figure of a “master,” who is the means through which a set of people linked by kinship relations is transformed into a fully political group.  Such a group may be as wide as a set of villages comprising the original village and smaller ones derived from it, or as narrow as a domestic group occupying a section of the village or even a single house.  At an intermediate level is the village, a unit that is spatially expressed in a Manioc Beer House, which is ideally constructed by the village master (although an old house might be used for such purposes) and which functions as a collective cookhouse for women to use when processing garden products and as a public hall for holding manioc beer festivals.

The sociological figure of the “master” or “owner” may be expressed in another equally important manner.  This concerns the position that is temporarily occupied by any married man and/or garden owner who takes the initiative of promoting a collective activity, such as a hunting party, a fish-poisoning expedition, a festival, or even a task such as pulling a new canoe from the forest to the port.  Hosting a manioc beer party is the indispensable procedure incumbent upon any man who wants to be recognized as the master of a collective activity, who thereby also becomes recognized as the master of the group.  Every man has the right to assume this position, although, in practice, many are too reluctant to do so until they become fathers-in-law and thus enter into maturity.

Based on my observations from 1984 to 1994, I would argue that these different social units should be viewed as units of consumption rather than units of production.  A culinary code articulates the different categories of foods with the three basic social units—the family, the domestic group, and the village—and allows a Yudjá village to hold collective meals on a daily basis.  However, in the village of Tubatuba in 1999 and 2001, such meals were not held as often and did not carry the same value, due to a relative dearth of canoes (indicating a change in fishing practices) and to the fact that some families acquired a gas stove, individual plates, rice, and macaroni.

Within the set of kinship relations, affinity (the in-law relationship) stands out as bearing a fundamentally political coloring.  The method of classifying affinal relations adopted by the Yudjá is perhaps the most widespread one among Amazonian indigenous societies.  It gives rise to a bipartite system of relations that distinguishes consanguinity from affinity.  Father and father's brother are classified as consanguines, as are mother and mother's sister; in contrast, mother's brother and father's sister are classified as affines.  It is thus consistent that father's brothers children and mother's sister's children (that is, parallel cousins) are considered kin of the same category as siblings, while the children of the maternal uncle and those of the paternal aunt (that is, cross-cousins) belong to the opposite category.  The form of marriage considered ideal is one between cross-cousins.  Given this pattern, Yudjá women, for example, use the term umãbia to classify together their own children, sister's children, father's brother's daughter's children, mother's sister's daughter's children, as well as their cross-cousins' children.

Systems of this type are nowadays labeled “Dravidian.”  Nevertheless, it should be noted that the Yudjá system displays certain distinctive characteristics.  The children of certain cross-cousins, those of the same sex who do not actually become brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law, are not classified as affines (“nephew” and “niece,” that is, potential son-in-law and daughter-in-law), but, rather, as “sons” and “daughters.”  Similarly, from the male perspective, but not the female, the children of a nephew or  niece who does not actually become a son-in-law or daughter-in-law are classified as “cross-cousins.”  From the female perspective, the following applies:  as a function of the marriage possibilities not actualized by her mother, a woman can consider her mother's maternal uncle to be a “cross-cousin” (a potential spouse), but the children of her own nephews or nieces are nonetheless considered to be “grandchildren.”