From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Photo: Camila Gauditano, 2001


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The Aweti, speakers of a Tupian language, live in the centre of the Upper Xingu region, between the Aruak groups to the west and south and the Carib groups to the east. Traditionally they played an important role among the Upper Xingu peoples as intermediaries in the circulation of news and wealth items and as hosts for travellers, but the catastrophic population loss experienced in the first decades of the 20th century, which almost led to their disappearance as a group, meant that their presence in the area became less visible. Undoubtedly, the Aweti comprise the least known of the Upper Xingu peoples and the same applies to their language. Following their demographic recovery, however, the Aweti are resuming much of their traditional cultural life and have looked to mark their presence in contemporary Upper Xingu society.

(**) Some data and information for this entry were collected in 2003


The name "Aweti" originally applied to one of the Tupi-speaking groups whose fusion gave rise to the contemporary Aweti. One of these groups, speaking a similar language, from whom almost all the current Aweti descend, according to their oral tradition, was called the Enumaniá. In their language, Aweti call themselves Awytyza. This name may be related to the word ayté, "man", where  -za indicates a plural number. The neighbouring groups also use similar names, such as Auyty or Ahyty.

This name contains two examples of the phoneme ‘y,’ a vowel similar to "i",  pronounced with the mouth almost closed and the lips unrounded, but with the tongue further back, as though pronouncing a "u". Karl von den Steinen – the German scholar who first documented habits and customs of indigenous peoples in Central Brazil, including in the Upper Xingu – on hearing this sound may have represented it by an atonic ‘e’ and, on the tonic syllable, by "ö", vowels that in German are close to "y".

As a result, the Aweti became known in the literature for decades as "Auetö". In Portuguese, "w" was adopted instead of "u" and "ö", which does not exist in this language, was replaced by "i" — producing the form now commonly used: Aweti. The group’s members use this as an individual surname when they acquire their formal "identity" (card) from the Brazilian state authorities.


The Aweti still inhabit today the place where Von den Steinen encountered them at the end of the 19th century: the region bordering the backwaters, brooks and pools forming the Tuatuari stream in a stretch of tall forest separating the latter from the lower Kurisevo, around 20km south of the Leonardo Post (Apakwat, "river otter den", in Aweti). They therefore occupy the heart of the Upper Xingu area, which favoured their position as intermediaries within the network of exchanges that they seem to have held in the past.

They usually relocate their village(s) every 15 to 30 years, always remaining within the same area in a diameter of a few kilometres (although they at least once occupied the left shore of the Tuatuarí river, where they recall in particular a village called Ajkulula). However, the main fluvial route to the villages was always the Tsuepelu port on the Kurisevo river, mentioned by von den Steinen and still in use today. Most of the former villages still recalled or visible today are located on the straight path linking Tsuepelu to the current small bathing port on the Tuatuari.

The current main village, Tazu’jytetam ("village of the small fire ant"), is located around 200 meters from the Tuatuari and approximately 7 km from Tsuepelu. Paths through the forest connect the village to the Leonardo Post to the north and the Mehináku village to the south. Since 2002, a new village has been created, inhabited by an extended family and their associates, also situated on the right shore of the Tuatuari, about 16 km to the north of the main village, close to the Leonardo Post.

Maps frequently locate the Aweti village erroneously, close to the southern border of the Xingu Park, more or less where the current Mehinaku village is found. This mistake may have arisen during the period when the Mehinaku lived close to the Leonardo Post to the north of the Aweti.


The Aweti speak a language belonging to the large Tupian linguistic group, well known to the Europeans since the 16th century when the latter encountered the Tupinambá along the Brazilian coast and the Guarani in the region now comprising Paraguay. Consequently, the first researcher to penetrate the Upper Xingu, Karl von den Steinen, had little difficulty in recognizing the linguistic affiliation of the Aweti language.

As the first information relating to this language was limited to brief word lists, collected by the first German explorers, it was initially thought that Aweti belonged to the Tupi-Guarani family (the main family in the Tupi trunk), along with Kamayurá, spoken by their neighbours. At the end of the 1960s, however, the scientific study of Aweti began and although interrupted the following decade, enough was learned to be able to review its classification.

Despite many similarities, Aweti differs in several crucial aspects from the Tupi-Guarani languages, meaning that today it is considered to comprise a separate family – small, with just one (living) language – within the Tupi trunk. Like the Sateré-Mawé language, it is clear that Aweti is much closer to the Tupi-Guarani languages than the other families of the same trunk, but the exact relations within this "Mawetí-Guarani" group have yet to be established.

An interesting aspect of Aweti is the variation between the speech of men and women. For example, different words are used to say "I" – the men say atít, while the women say itó. This is reminiscent of the Kokama case, which is suspected to be a Tupi language adopted by a people who originally spoke another language. In the case of the Aweti, something similar may be hypothesized – it is worth remembering that various narratives of the Aweti themselves and of neighbouring groups describe them as resulting from a fusion of different peoples, including peoples speaking a language similar to that of the Kamayurá, which is Tupi-Guarani.

Would this imply a language with a Tupi (but not Tupi-Guarani) base that absorbed features from Tupi-Guarani languages — which would in part explain its proximity to this family? Recent research points in another direction, but these questions, as well as the influence of the Arawak and Carib languages, which may result from the close interaction between the Aweti people with other Upper Xinguanos, require further study.

Today in the main village Aweti is clearly the dominant language, learnt as the main language by almost all the children. This shows that the mere number of speakers may be less significant than other factors that may diminish a language’s vitality. In this case, despite the traumatic demographic collapse, especially in the first half of the 20th century, a series of favourable circumstances can be identified, including the capacity to maintain their own village and internal unity of the group (which prevented further fissions) and the possibility of maintaining a reduced number of intermarriages with members of other groups. Even the relative isolation in which they have remained until recently, both in relation to the surrounding society and to the rest of the Upper Xingu complex, may have had a positive role in this sense.

Since 1998 a project has been under way to document the Aweti language and aspects of their culture, which aims to construct a digital collection that includes audio and video recordings, along with detailed linguistic transcriptions, translations and annotations. This work is being conducted in collaboration with similar projects in progress among the Kuikuro and Trumai.




The Aweti today (2006) number around 140 individuals who live in two villages of 85 and 55 people respectively. This number represents a sizeable recovery following the profound demographic crisis faced by this people in the 20th century.

We do not know the size of the population when they arrived in the region, nor precisely how many different groups contributed to the formation of the present-day Aweti. We can only speculate that the Aweti village was similar in composition to the other Upper Xingu villages, which had between 150 and 300 inhabitants when visited by the first explorers at the end of the 19th century.

Like the other Xinguanos, the Aweti experienced a sharp demographic fall in the first decades of the 20th century. Captain Vicente de Paulo Vasconcelos, who visited their village in 1924, found them reduced to around 80 people. The anthropologists who worked in the Upper Xingu at the end of the 1940s recorded a population of less than 30 people; the measles epidemic of 1954 cost them another eight lives, reducing their number to 23.

From then on they began to recover: there were around 45 when George Zarur conducted research among them between 1971 and 1972; in the 1990s the population reached the figure of 90, finally surpassing the number alive in 1924 (PIB 1996:7).

Arrival in the Upper Xingu

The Aweti very probably arrived in the Upper Xingu after the Upper Xingu Carib peoples (the ancestors of the present-day Kuikuro, Kalapalo, Matipu and Nahukwá) settled alongside the Arawak groups already established in the area (ancestors of the Waurá, Mehináku and the extinct Kustenau), but perhaps slightly before the arrival of the ancestors of the contemporary Yawalapíti and Kamayurá. This suggests that the entry of the Aweti into the region and their own settling in their current territory occurred some time between the 17th and 18th centuries.

Recent ethno-archaeological research reinforces the hypothesis that an older accommodation of groups speaking Arawak-Carib languages had formed the basis of the Upper Xingu intertribal system. The penetration of the Tupian peoples, among others, into the region – probably an effect of the continent-wide transformations and movements unleashed by the Conquest and colonization, which became more pronounced in the 18th century – could not have taken place without conflicts. These conflicts frequently resulted in the accommodation rather than expulsion of the new arrivals, but an "accommodation" that implied the disappearance of various groups, made extinct or absorbed by others, allies and enemies alike. The Tupian peoples in the Upper Xingu still retain the memory of this period of warfare.

Everything suggests that those known as the Kamayurá and Aweti are in fact descendents of a variety of Tupi groups who penetrated the region and settled there in successive waves. The anthropologist Rafael de Menezes Bastos suggests that the name "Kamayurá" was originally applied to all the recently arrived Tupian groups: Apyap, Karayaya, Arupaci, Ka'atyp, Anumaniá and Wyrapat. These groups developed political alliances that varied between themselves and with the non-Tupi groups, both the Upper Xinguanos and their neighbours/enemies. Today these different origins are still expressed in the speech of their descendents and the latter still oppose one another in the political disputes within the villages.

In their narratives, the present-day Aweti identify themselves as descendents of a combination of the ancient Aweti and Enumaniá. References to the Enumaniá in the literature are scant but they can be found. The Villas Bôas brothers speak of the "Anumaniá" as a disappeared "tribe", allied to the Aweti. Both the groups apparently invaded the region via the Kurisevo river, together with the Bakairi (with whom the Aweti maintained close ties until their departure from the region at the start of the 20th century), indiscriminately attacking all the "tribes", until finally settling close to the mouth of the river in question. A short while later, the Anumaniá broke away and moved to the region of Tafununu lake. During a visit to the Trumai, then located at Kranhãnhã (a site on the right shore of the Kuluene, below its confluence with the Kuliseu, a territory occupied by various Trumai villages), “a place relatively close to the lake where they lived”, all the men were supposedly massacred; the women and older men who had not taken part in the visit sought refuge among the Aweti (Villas Bôas 1970:31-2).

According to Bastos, the Enumaniá comprise one of the diverse Tupian groups who entered the region in the 18th and 19th centuries, later incorporated by the Aweti. The author mentions in particular an account referring to a war between the Kamayurá and an Anumania-Wyrawat alliance. The Anumania, according to the Kamayurá narrator, are the ancestors of the Aweti, and the Wyrawat a group speaking a language similar to Kamayurá, but very similar to the Aweti, who also absorbed their surviving members.

If so, the Aweti would therefore have comprised a second agglomeration of Tupian peoples. Their entry into the nucleus of the Upper Xingu basin may have been prior to the arrival of Kamayurá, whose settling at Ipavu, an ancient Waurá territory, may date back to the first half of the 19th century. In the Kuikuro oral tradition, the arrival of the Aweti dates from the time when their ancestors still had villages at Tafununu — that is, probably before 1750. According to an Aweti narrative, it was in the region of Tafununu lake that the Enumaniá, along with their allies (Wyrapat [in Aweti: Wyra’wara] and Bakairi [Makayryza]), left Parua to first make war and then settle at Tsuepelu, their present-day territory. Although the narrator refers only to the Enumaniá, the translator explains: “along with the Aweti…”, indicating that the association between the two peoples preceded their settling at Tsuepelu.

Whatever the case, this settling represents the moment when the recently arrived Enumaniá and Aweti were accommodated into the web of "peaceful" relations connecting the region’s traditional occupants. This accommodation demanded a transformation clearly enunciated by the narrator: it was necessary “to turn into people”, ceasing to be waraju, "Indian", that is to say, non-Xinguano: abandoning ferocity and warfare. It also involved the adoption of an entire way of life, a cosmology, a complex of ritual practices, which constitute the common heritage of the area’s tribes and which the ancestral groups forming the Aweti also helped form.

Recent history

The first historical record of the existence of the Aweti derives from the researcher Karl von den Steinen. A map drawn from him by the Suyá chief in 1884 located them among the inhabitants of the Kuliseu river, below the Mehinaku and above the Kamayurá and Trumai, side-by-side with the "Arauiti". This information was confirmed in the second expedition, undertaken in 1887, when the explorer visited the Aweti village, situated about an hour and a half’s walk from a port on the Kuliseu, the same port, called Tsuepelu, that they use today.

They were already living, therefore, close to an intricate network of channels and lakes through which they could reach the Yawalapiti and the Trumai, as well as (completing part of the trajectory over land) the Mehinaku, Kamayurá and Waurá. At the time of von den Steinen’s visit, a few meters from the Aweti village two "Arauiti" houses had been built. This denomination “possessed the full value of a tribal designation”, despite comprising just two families, formed by Aweti men married to Yawalapiti women – which suggests that these two groups had especially close relations; even recently, marriages between the two peoples were important in the web of Aweti kinship. The Aweti still live today in the same region: the anthropologist George Zarur, who conducted research among them in the 1970s, counted six former village sites in the area.

The village visited by von den Steinen contained a "festival hut" or a "flute house", next to which was a grave. The expedition members were duly welcomed by the chief "Auayato" (Awajatu), decorated with a jaguar claw necklace and a diadem made from the pelt of the same animal, with a long discourse given in the centre of the village. The German was impressed with the masks and the painted designs on the utensils, posts and beams of one of the houses (the "artists' hut") and with the quantity of spears, which, used in dances by the other peoples, were, according to von den Steinen, employed by the Aweti and Trumai as weapons of war. His attention was also drawn to the presence of numerous individuals from other groups: Waurá, Yawalapiti, Kamayurá, Mehinaku, Bakairi and Trumai. Ehrenreich, who accompanied him, wrote:

"the most liked [of the region’s peoples] seem to be the Auetö, perhaps because of the personal qualities of their chief, who was, in fact, an excellent and respectable elder. Their villages were constantly frequented by Indians from all the other tribes and served somewhat like post offices; since news and messages arrived there from every direction to be transmitted in the opposite directions” (1929:255).

The expeditions of H. Meyer (in 1895/96 and 1898/99) and M. Schmidt (in 1900/01) re-encountered the Aweti in the same region. Schmidt was able to visit the festival house, observe the masks and flutes and “compile a small ethnographic collection”. He mentions the coexistence of "various chiefs" in the community and also records a "yauari" (jawari) song and the stone or wooden-tipped spear, which appeared to be “the main war weapon of the Auetö Indians”. The following phase of exploration of the Xingu headwaters began with the Rondon Commission expeditions. Captain Ramiro Noronha, who penetrated the region in 1920, did not visit the Aweti village, but some of these Indians, including a chief, Tanacú, joined the expedition members. Four years later, Captain Vicente de Paulo Vasconcelos travelled up the Kuliseu river as far as the Aweti village, where he met a chief called Avaiatú (Awajatu) — perhaps a ‘grandson’ of the man encountered by von den Steinen, given the norm of transmitting names from grandparents to grandchildren prevailing in the area (See Life-cycle). Depicted by the photographer, Captain Tomaz Reis, Vasconcelos describes a circle 50 metres in radius within which were located six well-built elliptical houses, but he makes no mention of a flute house and estimates the population at 80 people.

The researchers over the following decades did not add much to our knowledge of the Aweti, with few mentions of the group in the ethnological works on the Xingu. Oberg describes them as skilled traders, acting as intermediaries between the indigenous post and other tribes. The intermediary position of the Aweti in the exchange networks, already noted earlier by Ehrenreich, is also mentioned by Galvão, though it may be that at the end of the 1940s this position was under severe threat. One of the groups most reduced by contact diseases - Galvão speaks of them and the Trumai as “on the way to becoming extinct” - these Tupi were perhaps already facing the relative isolation that would mark their position in the region’s intertribal politics in the second half of the 20th century.

The Aweti today

It is notable that the Aweti have managed to maintain their unity as a distinct group and, in particular, their linguistic identity, despite the demographic catastrophe that they experienced.

The demographic collapse nonetheless marked the group, especially in cultural terms. Various traditions, passed from one generation of trained specialists to the next, were interrupted; notably, there are no longer any fully trained singers in the village. The same applies to other areas, including to cultural practices essential to executing the role of chief. For decades there was also a lack of the "critical mass" needed to perform large intra and inter-tribal festivals and rituals. It was only in 1998 that the Aweti once again celebrated a Kwar’yp festival and in 2002 a Jawari. Even so, the young people of the village grew up without close-at-hand knowledge of a series of rituals, various of which are still alive in neighbouring villages.

In this sense, the recent division of the village also provokes concern. It increases the probability of inter-marriages with members of other groups, which means either demographic stagnation (if the couple goes to live in the village of the non-Aweti partner, which, for various reasons, is the most probably scenario, independent of the sex of the Aweti spouse) or an increase in the presence of other languages in the Aweti villages.

In the main village, in 2003, there were just six people speaking other languages (especially Kamayurá, which almost all the Aweti can at least understand). In the new village, which was comprised of people from both the main village and other places, there was a strong presence of speakers from other languages: nine adults preferred to speak Kamayurá (some of them did not understand Aweti very well), 12 were bilingual in various degrees, while 17 adults spoke Aweti as their principal language. More than half of the 13 children were being raised, therefore, in families where both the parents are speakers of other languages. It will depend on day-to-day behaviour, particularly that of the bilingual population, to determine whether Aweti maintains its strength in this village or whether its future will be similar to that of Yawalapiti.

At the same time, it is necessary to recall the ever stronger presence of non-indigenous cultural elements in the Aweti villages (as in all the Upper Xingu villages). Easier access to the towns and the arrival of the mass media, as well as the more regular presence of non-Indians in the village, have a marked effect, at least at an ideological level and in terms of the interests of the young generation especially. Gradually, blankets are beginning to coexist with fires, television with oral narratives, and football with training for huka-huka.

Beyond the two villages, there are a few Aweti living in other places in the Xingu Indigenous Park, namely among the Kamayurá and the Trumai and at the Leonardo Post. In none of these places is the Aweti language being passed on to the next generation. Some of these people may return to the main village, taking their families with them. This undoubtedly means a strengthening of the Aweti in demographic and cultural terms, depending on the knowledge and abilities of the people in question. But at the same time it may mean a weakening of the language with a significant increase in speakers of other languages in the village.

The village and everyday life

The Aweti village, like the other Upper Xingu villages, is composed of a set of collective houses arranged in a circle around a central clearing. In July 2003 there were a dozen houses in the main village, while the new village, still under construction, had just two completed houses. A men’s house was located in the middle of the clearing of the original village, used as a place for men to meet.

Traditionally this building, the typical "hunt" of the Xinguano villages, also serves as a place to store the sacred flutes, denominated "karytu" in Aweti. In this case, the men’s house becomes strictly forbidden to women, who are not allowed to see the flutes and much less identify who is playing them. The ritual flute complex requires the presence in the village of at least one "owner" of flutes, who acquires them and allows or solicits their use, and flute players. The performance  of both these functions involves the circulation of considerable wealth and presumes the ritualized cooperation of the entire community. The payment made to the specialists is onerous, especially since there is nobody today in the Aweti village who knows how to produce the instruments. Perhaps for this reason the flutes have not been manufactured, nor their rituals performed, for more than twenty years, though it is a tradition that the Aweti may now recuperate.

The central clearing is primarily a male space where the men gather to smoke and talk. In addition it comprises a "public" space where the activities concerning the village as a whole are undertaken, especially those involving the contact and collective interaction of the Aweti with all types of outsiders, human and otherwise: this is the space where the messengers and visitors from other tribes and non-Indians are welcomed, where the main scenes of the large rituals unfold (including contact with a number of different beings and spirits) and where dead adults are buried. At night, the clearing is said to belong to Karytu, the spirit related to the ceremonial ritual flutes.

New activities and new interests – some introduced through contact with the world of the "whites", others not – create new symbolic and physical spaces, which also polarize life in the community. For example, a large part of the communication with neighbouring villages and with people and institutions from the non-Indian world today occurs via radio. Frequent subjects include healthcare, schooling, the purchase and maintenance of non-indigenous equipment. Located since 1999 in the chief’s house, the radio is a resource whose control now comprises one of the symbols and sources of prestige of the designated chief of a Xinguano village, essential to carrying out his task of intermediating between the interests of the village and those of outside institutions and individuals. Consequently, when this kind of issue needs to be tackled, people turn to the "house of the chief", the mo’atap (differentiated from a normal house).

Another non-indigenous technology has a similar potential: the television. The Aweti village was undoubtedly one of the last in the Upper Xingu to acquire a TV set (in 1998 or thereabouts), along with a diesel generator and a satellite dish. Other sets have since been installed. During the day, when the noise of the generator announces that the TV is working, the children can soon be seen running in the direction of the mo’atap. At night the adults gather to watch the news program and perhaps a film. In some cases, the TV may play a significant role in learning Portuguese. However, first place in the preferences of the Aweti audience without doubt goes to football (which can also be understood without words).

Football is, in fact, an increasingly important element in quotidian life and is certainly the sport most practiced in the village, surpassing even the traditional huka-huka. The central clearing also functions as a pitch and football matches increasingly provide the motive for inter-tribal meetings (including the chance to meet future spouses). Girls and women also practice the support with notable success.

Other new community spaces include the school building and the places where healthcare is provided. The house used as a health post, the "pharmacy" (motang upap), used to be located inside the main circle of houses surrounding the large central clearing, indicating the successful integration of the social role of its "owner", the (indigenous) health agent. However, he has now moved away from the main village, joining his family in the new community.

In contrast to the "pharmacy", the school is located in the background, further away from the centre of the village, behind the house of one of the teachers. The teachers are still being trained, and though the school already runs fairly regularly during most of the year, the curriculum and its general organization are still hotly debated subjects in the village (as in neighbouring villages).

The houses generally contain a set of nuclear families linked by kinship and affinity. The family of the "house owner" (ogitat) is therefore supplemented by those formed by his children, sons-in-law or brothers-in-law, as well as dependent individuals (widows and widowers, or separated adults), following an ideal of patrilocal residence (the man lives in the father’s house), though this may be rendered more flexible by a number of other factors (such as the period of bride-service that the young man owes to his father-in-law, or the exemption from the latter enjoyed by sons of chiefs). Each domestic unit therefore forms, to some extent, a consumption unit: located in the centre of the house, between the central posts, is the fire, the platters and the pans to produce the cassava bread consumed by all the house's residents.

Daily food productive is, however, pursued on a more individual basis. The swiddens (ko) are planted by a man, who is thereby defined as their owner, with the help of his nuclear family and its produce is collected by his wife. Hunting (of birds and small animals, such as monkeys, since Upper Xinguanos do not consume the meat of most terrestrial animals) and fishing (which constitutes the largest source of protein, principally in the dry season) are activities generally pursued individually or in collaboration with family members, a friend or near kin.

Some productive activities are, however, pursued collectively, sometimes with the participation of all the men from the village: the construction of houses, clearing of forest in order to open swiddens, and collective fishing with vine poison. This cooperation involves ritual relations and obligations between humans and spirits, especially Karytu, a spirit associated with men as a collectivity. Thus when someone wishes to undertake an activity that requires the cooperation of all the men, that is, that requires the "work of Karytu", the person promotes it by providing the ‘owner’ of this ritual with the necessary food (cassava bread and fish), which will be given to all the participants and consumed by them collectively in front of the men’s house.

The production of vegetable salt is one of the traditional specialities of the Aweti within the Upper Xingu exchange system, meaning that as well as being a food product it also functions as a means of acquiring indigenous products such as the pottery made by the Arawak-speaking groups (especially the Waurá) or the freshwater snail necklaces of the Carib groups. Salt production requires the cooperation of entire families, though some of the processing activities are restricted to one sex or the other.

The food staple is manioc in the form of different types of bread, each of which is used for different purposes and had a distinct symbolic value. The production and use of "noble" manico flour and generosity are important sources of prestige. They are also needed in order to perform a significant role in the organization of the ritual cycle of "festivals", an important space in the continual reproduction of the village’s social and political structure, always in competitive redefinition.

Most of the activities linked to cultivating and especially processing manioc are the privilege and duty of women. As a result, the number of adult productive women is an important factor in the economic and hence social position of houses and families. This helps explain why polygamy predominates among Aweti leaders, although theoretically there is no prohibition on others doing the same. As well as manioc, the Aweti plant pepper and sweet potato (consumed mixed with mani’oky, a hot, sweet drink made from manioc, called "perereba" by non-Indians) as well as papaya, banana and other fruits introduced by non-Indians. Diverse kinds of semi-cultivated fruits are also collected, such as pequi (especially important in Xinguano culture with a prominent place in the region’s rituals and mythologies) and mangaba. The Aweti lost the use of maize some decades ago, though it seems likely to be recovered soon.

There is a clear division of labour and functions between men and women in the production of craftwork objects, whether for practical use (stools, hammocks, various kinds of containers, weapons and tools, etc.) or symbolic use (masks, flutes, adornments, etc.). For example, the manufacture of hammocks is a specifically female task. Men produce weapons, stools and most of the symbolic objects used in the rituals. Some adornments, especially non-traditional items that can be sold, are produced by individuals of both sexes. In general women can possess and trade wealth items in the same form as men and both take part in the ritual exchanges (joro’jyt, in Aweti, generally known by the Kamayurá name of mojtarã). A few plants are grown for non-alimentary consumption: these include annatto, genipap (in Aweti jukwãngyt and te-typap, used to paint objects and the human body) and cotton (amatitu, today gradually being replaced by industrialized cotton). Some plants have a number of different uses, especially moriche palm (tapaj’yp), used, among other things, to produce hammocks and ropes in general, as well as thatch for the houses. A traditional adornment of the Xinguano peoples, sometimes still worn by the elderly Aweti, were the thick anklets made from embira bark.

The Aweti increasingly consume a series of goods purchased in the towns – metal utensils (knives and other tools, needles, hooks, etc.), clothing, guns and non-indigenous technologies (torches, bicycles, watches and tape decks, etc.). To obtain these goods, they depend less today than before on Funai’s assistance. Generally a group of men, most of them fathers, jointly organize and sponsor trips made by some of them to the town to sell craftwork (stools, basketry, weapons, hammocks, feather decorations, etc.) to specialized purchasers and to buy various commercial products – sweets and batteries, bicycle parts, flip-flops, clothing and, in some cases, sewing machines and televisions. The boat leaves and returns loaded to the brim. Among the Aweti, unlike some other groups, industrialized food is still seldom imported. On the other hand, there is a considerable quantity of children’s toys and electronic products. If possible, all the family members receive part of the purchases, especially those who helped make the traded craft goods. As a result, women, though indirectly and sometimes without knowing how to speak Portuguese, take part in the processes of production and consumption of the globalized world.

The life-cycle

Making people

The collective houses are where Xinguano peoples are formed as such, although conception itself probably very often occurs in the forest surrounding the village, especially in the swiddens or close to the paths to the rivers and streams, where official couples, but particularly clandestine lovers, prefer to experience their moments of intimacy.

During pregnancy (and later during breastfeeding) the mother and father have to obey certain dietary restrictions to protect the baby from the pathogenic influences of the kat, wild animals or "spirits". After the birth of the first child, the father observes a period of rest immediately following the birth and until the child’s umbilical cord falls off, followed by a period of reclusion similar to that held at puberty.

Delivery occurs outside but close to the house. The mother gives birth squatting with the support of her mother or a sister or aunt, but no men are present, with the possible exception of a shaman (mopat) in the case of a high-risk delivery. Newborns with obvious physical defects, as well as twins, are buried and abandoned, which may also take place in the case of unwanted children, especially when a single mother is involved. In the case of a "high-risk" pregnancy, the birth may today take place at the Leonardo Post or in the town of Canarana.

Children receive their names (which are a hereditary individual property) from their grandparents. As the pronunciation of the names of parents-in-law is absolutely prohibited, each Aweti man and woman has two names, one used by the father and his consanguine kin, the other used by the mother. Names are changed on various occasions during a person’s lifetime. Grandparents, in particular, have to frequently pass on their name to a new grandchild, meaning that they themselves have to assume other names coming once again from their own grandparents.

From the moment when a child begins to walk and talk, he or she becomes part of the Aweti community; if the child dies, he or she will be the object of mourning ceremonies and will receive a grave in the middle of the village, like an adult. Normally babies and small children spend almost the entire day with their mother, who carries them even when fetching water or when working the swidden in the morning. When the child grows, he or she may also stay with an aunt, an older sister or a grandmother. Children soon spend most of the day playing with siblings, cousins and other children in the central clearing, close to the houses or in the bathing port.

Aweti children are gradually introduced to their social responsibilities through play. The girls look after younger siblings playing "dolls" with them, but also begin to grate manioc when puberty approaches. The boys begin to accompany their father, uncles, older brothers or grandfathers to fish or hunt. Their favourite toys are boys and arrows. Children take part in dances during festival periods without being reprimanded when they make mistakes or play.

An adult is rarely seen scolding or striking a child. The wishes of children are respected whenever possible and it is striking how children (and adults) know their abilities and limitations, taking the initiative from an early age and assuming responsibility for their acts. One of the most common sounds of the village is the laughter of children playing, and even imitating the parrots perched on nearby houses and trees.

Around nine years of age, a new stage in the initiation of the young Aweti boy begins. The child is submitted to rituals designed to strengthen the body and spirit, such as ritual vomiting after the consumption of toxic drinks, or scarification. In the latter, the child’s back, legs and arms are scratched with a sharp 'scarifier' made from catfish teeth; the blood is then wiped away with crushed leaves and other leaves rubbed on the body to strengthen it. Some boys also undergo the ear piercing ceremony at this age.

The new adult member of the group emerges from a bodily and spiritual transformation which all Aweti youngsters have to undergo. This transformation is achieved through reclusion, a period in which the young person remains in a separate compartment inside the house and avoids contact with other members of the family and the village. The person will leave this space to enter public life with a new social identity and new names.

During reclusion, the "captive" young man receives food only from the hands of selected people who are not engaging in sexual relations – otherwise, the former may be struck down by an illness, since their transformative state makes them more vulnerable to the malign influence of the kat or the sorcery used by enemies. During the day, the recluse stays within the house, leaving only at night to relieve himself and bathe. The young person "works" through his transformation by ingesting (and vomiting) powerful infusions, scraping his skin and performing other exercises.

The longer the period of reclusion, the more effective the transformation will be. Especially in the case of future chiefs, there are recollections of reclusions that lasted several years. A lengthy period of reclusion enables the young man to become a good huka-huka wrestler, which enhances his prestige and potentially increases his social position. Consequently, parents frequently insist on training and practicing huka-huka wrestling.

Women commonly undergo reclusions of half a year or more. The young women try hard to match the aesthetic ideal that prescribes, among other things, very thick thighs. They also refrain from cutting their hair during this period so that when they leave reclusion, very often timed to coincide with an intertribal festival, they are easily recognizable due to the length of their hair and the paleness of their skin. During these festivals, the young women ritually offer pequi nuts to the chiefs of visiting tribes, symbolizing their sexual maturity and readiness to have sex and marry.

Forming families

Young people often have a number of partners before marrying. There are undeclared affairs (including those not tolerated by parents for political reasons, for example) and official relationships, which may be considered a kind of engagement. The future husband spends his free time with the girl, the two converse frequently and gradually get to know each other. There are also cases in which the marriage is arranged by the parents long before the couple reaches the age to marry, especially in the case of cross-cousins: that is, father’s sisters children or mother’s brother’s children. At least in the first marriage, the man should be older than the woman.

If the future husband is from another village, he usually stays at the house of a consanguine relative – even distant or merely classificatory kin. In principle, a Xinguano person can always trace a kinship relation with someone else from the region. Indeed, this is necessary in order to know how to address any given person.

If the relationship is accepted by the relatives, especially the parents of the couple, someone takes responsibility for its approval and “makes the marriage,” that is, takes the husband’s hammock to the house of the wife, tying it above her own hammock. This may occur in the absence of the couple, who very often are surprised to find themselves married. The surprise is even greater if the relationship was unofficial – but someone who has seen the two together has the right to “make the marriage” of this seems right to them.

In most cases the new husband lives for a time at the house of his parents-in-law before the marriage. The length of this bride-service depends on various factors, including the prestige of the respective families. The sons of chiefs may be exempted from this service, but in this case the wife’s father should receive another form of recompense.

After a time, the couple are free to choose where they want to live. They may remain in the house of the parents of one of them, or build their own house. If they decide to move village, the husband must prepare a new swidden a year earlier. Even if the new family continues to live in the house of other people, it becomes a specific social unit with its own space, where the hammocks are placed side-by-side around a particular fire (especially during the colder nights of the dry season). It is common, however, for one of the partners to visit the house of their parents or siblings for a while, sometimes taking their children with them. In general children circulate freely between the house of their parents and their grandparents, meaning that the latter may play a significant role in their upbringing.

Today in the main village most houses are home to a single nuclear family, which differs from the pattern more commonly found in the Upper Xingu. It is not clear whether this is an effect of the demographic fall or the expression of a more ancient preference shared by the Aweti with some other Tupi-speaking peoples.

The Aweti fear the consequences of intermarriages with other groups, since the result may always be the departure of a member of the community (and his or her family). Today the few individuals from other peoples living among the Aweti are generally Kamayurá. In the past closer links existed with the Yawalapiti and the Trumai. There are also some Aweti living among the Kamayurá and the Trumai, or at the Leonardo Post.

Extraconjugal relations with one or more partners are common. These encounters occur clandestinely and discretely, but even so are difficult hide from such a small community. Men usually repay female sexual favours with game or fish. A man may recognize the paternity of a child resulting from one of these relationships, especially during old age when he may pass on his names to grandchildren.

A marriage may be undone by either partner, who takes his or her hammock, or the partner’s, to another location. This does not necessarily provoke social disapproval or traumas among the children, who continue to circulate between the houses of both parents. If the woman does not marry again, she herself may become a house owner and possess her own swidden.


There are few older people among the Aweti, a fact that does not necessarily indicate a traditionally high mortality rate, but is directly related to the epidemics of the mid 20th century. Following the arrival of medical care, the mortality rate fell drastically – over the last 40 years the Aweti have suffered very few deaths. Shamanism and the knowledge of the "root experts" today coexist with western medicine, nowadays also represented by indigenous health agents working in their own villages.

Older people continue to be active and participate normally in daily life. The village’s oldest couple have their own swidden; they go fishing (often together, a time of intimacy for the couple) and participate in the "camps" for the intertribal festivals or for manufacturing salt. The titles myrã (old man) and aripi (old woman) apply to adults with children (at first jokingly), but this does not imply that those so described cannot enjoy a full life.

The knowledge possessed by elders is highly respected. Even middle-aged adults are cautious about giving information or opinions on subjects known by older specialists. Usually young people do not talk to people from older generations without first being invited. Older people should exhort youngsters to preserve their traditions such as rising before dawn, not using "white clothing", scraping their skin and taking part in the huka-huka.


Death is not seen as a negation of life, but as another form of existence. The passage to the latter always involves the action of malefic forces, usually invoked by enemies versed in sorcery. In principle, natural death does not exist, even when the person is very old. As a result, it is common for people to accuse someone of sorcery after the death of a relative, especially a young person. These accusations are the most serious expression of conflicts that very often originate in other spheres (especially politics) and may have lethal consequences for the person accused.

The dead are buried in the centre of the village after the body has been washed, decorated and placed in the deceased’s hammock. There are cases in which the corpse is transported over long distances so as not to be left in foreign lands. Different forms of burial exist depending on the status of the deceased. Chiefs and their relatives receive special treatment, laid out in a hammock that is suspended in a tunnel connecting two holes in the ground, while commoners are placed in a sitting position in a single hole.

The dead from a line of a chiefs are also commemorated in a kwar’yp, a ceremony that also has the function of indicating and reaffirming, before the region’s chiefs, the deceased's successor when necessary. The kwar’yp cycle begins with the consent of the deceased’s relatives to construct a special tomb, yp’jyput, in front of the men’s house. This fence is the mark of the festival and is regularly cleaned with songs and mourning sobs by the dead person’s relatives. On the day assigned for cutting the kwar’yp trees ("sun trees") representing the dead in the festival, the yp’jyput is taken down and used as firewood for the guests.

Kwar’yp (which usually honours not only the deceased "noble" man or woman, but also dead "commoners") as the moment when the souls of those who died during the period between one celebration and the next finally leave for the eternal village of the dead. The path to the latter is dangerous, strewn in particular with monstrous birds that may attack and kill, this time definitively, the souls of the dead. For the living, kwar’yp is the last occasion on which to say goodbye to the dead loved one; the continuous crying throughout one night and the rituals onn the following day also clean their souls and mark the end of mourning.

Social organization

The bases of Xinguano and Aweti social organization are undoubtedly the kinship and marital relations that connect families and comprise the domestic units. Equally important, though, are the chiefdom and the ritual system.

The chiefdom system in the Upper Xingu is fairly complex: as well as the hereditary title (Carib: anetü; Arawak: amulaw/amunãw; Kamayurá: morerekwat; Aweti: morekwat) transmitted by both men and women, there is a series of named statuses, including "owner of the village", "owner of the clearing" and "owner of the path", which are linked in various ways to the function of representing the village during the intertribal rituals. As well as affiliation to a line of chiefs, performing this function requires a series of qualities and skills, particularly linguistic. The development of these attributes forms part of the ‘education’ of anyone training to be a chief, but here we should note that nature (inheritance) and nurture (education) both involve making and that, in both cases, this making involves shaping the body. The acquisition of the personal, physical or moral qualities (generosity and self-control, but also beauty and strength) that characterize the chief - and the good wrestler (every chief has ideally been a good wrestler) - depends on successful reclusion at puberty (and longer than the period spent in confinement by commoners) during which the body and personality are jointly fabricated. This fabrication is directly conceived as a form of work undertaken by the father and comparable to the work invested (through repeated sexual relations) in the conception of a child in the mother’s womb: in both cases, this father ‘makes’ the son, just as the initiating shaman "makes" his apprentice.

The principal skill needed to perform the function of representing the community is probably mastery of the ceremonial speeches. This mastery is acquired through a special apprenticeship with a relative (generally the father) or, if this is impossible, another "owner/master" of these speeches, in which case payment is needed, along with the (tacit) authorization of the community. Representing the village - that is, the chiefdom as a function (and power) - depends then on other factors besides inheritance, although the "empty" chiefdom of those who merely hold the title is still marked at their funerals.

All of this means that someone may be a "big" or "little" chief – and that the village has more than one "chief" although in general one man is always recognized as the main figure. This distinction (morekwat ‘ytoto/morekwat ‘jyt) may express the recognition of a greater or lesser identity in terms of substance ("genealogical substance") between the active chiefs and those wishing to derive legitimacy from them, but there are also indications that these qualifications are used to differentiate not only legitimate (hereditary) chiefs from the illegitimate, but also active (or effective) chiefs from the inactive (or ineffective). This gradation also therefore has an impact on the legitimacy of the inherited title, the merits of the heir, and his position in local factional disputes. Consequently, various components are involved in the status of "chief" (morekwat), namely: affiliation (identity of substance), the physical and moral attributes cultivated during puberty reclusion, mastery of formal language and ceremonial speech, and the position of leader of a cohesive group of kin and allies. The non-fulfilment of any of these prerequisites implies a distance from the model that they should embody as chiefs, and it is this variable distance that is marked by qualifications such as "a little bit chief".

This model embodies the type of civility required by the new conditions of coexistence in the area at a double level: the (re)constitution of local groups as single communities, and their peaceful interaction - a double dimension expressed in the emergence of the chief as a man occupying the central public space, the clearing where the different domestic groups and, ceremonially, the different local groups all converge. Internally within each community, the chief appears as the mediator between these domestic groups (potential nucleuses of political factions), a position ideally symbolized by the special status of his house (a bigger mo’atap than the others, especially decorated and collectively built). Externally he mediates between the different communities as a maestro and pivot of the intertribal ceremonies. These two facets of the chiefdom are interdependent, just as the presence of other communities in the intertribal ceremony is revealed to be essential to the internal reproduction of one’s own: a fact that applies to the maturation of the young (ear piercing of boys, the emergence from reclusion of the girls during the kwar’yp), and the definitive departure of the souls of the dead to the celestial village (kwar’yp). This double dimension of the chiefdom, at once external and internal, is revealed in the fact that each of these processes involves chiefs (morekwat) in a central role - a (dead) chief is needed for the other spirits to be duly dispatched (and women put into circulation), and a (young) chief is needed for the other boys to be able to be initiated - and at the same time, both these depend on a ritual intertribal performance orchestrated by other chiefs.

Ritual, cosmology and shamanism

Supernatural beings occupy an important place in various areas interconnected with Aweti life. Various types of such entities exist and their symbolic value varies according to different occasions and over time. Some figure as protagonists in diverse myths, very often sharing human features with other animals, usually exaggerated and/or monstrous, and endowed with demiurgical capacities and abilities, or appearing as ‘owners’ of cultural practices.

When the kat or "spirits" interfere in the human realm, this usually implies a danger to humans. They are responsible for various diseases. As a result, the curing process includes interaction with the spirit that caused the affliction in the form of specific ceremonies. During the first phase of the ritual, the ‘preparations’ for the festival (for example, during a Jamurikumã or a Karytu), the respective spirit is occasionally represented by members of the group who perform functions such as making the objects to be used in the festival, or the performance of dances for the "owner of the festival" - that is, the sick person or an ally of the latter in the curing process.

The prestige of shamans (mopat) derives from their capacity to interact voluntarily with spirits, some of whom are their allies, others their rivals (other people encounter spirits only in dreams or when ill). The curing of people with afflictions and illnesses involves a combination of chants sung by the shamans - whose also use tobacco smoke, a symbol of the communication with the supernatural world particular to them - and the plant leaves and roots supplied by "root experts" another type of specialist.

Today a conceptual divide separates "white diseases" from "Indian diseases", though the boundaries between theses classes may become blurred and the classification of a disease as one or the other may often be contested.

The Aweti are recognized by other Xinguanos to possess very close ties with strong spirits and most men over the age of 40 are considered shamans. Recently they have also resumed various ritual activities that had fallen into disuse due to the demographic losses, which led to a lack of officiants to perform all the ritual roles required by the festivals. In 1998, the first kwar’yp celebrated by the Aweti in several decades was held.

Also in 2002, another ritual was reactivated by the Aweti: the Nahukwá (another small Upper Xingu group) were invited to a Jawari, a good-humoured competition involving spear-throwing with a special instrument. The Aweti/Enumaniá were undoubtedly among the first enthusiasts of this ceremony in the Upper Xingu: according to a Kamayurá account, the Enumaniá learnt the ceremony from the Payetá, Indians speaking a language similar to the Kamayurá who also taught it to the Trumai. the narrator of the "Waurá legends" recorded by Schultz comments:


“The Trumai know most about Javari. So too the Kamayurá. The Waurá know very little about the Javari. The Trumai grandparents knew about Javari. And the Aweti know much about Javari…” (Schultz 1965/66:48).


Hence, although the Aweti lost much with the demographic reduction and the consequent loss of important specialists in ritual practices and knowledge, such as the singers, today they are showing how at least some of these traditions can be recovered, as in the case of the planned acquisition of karytu flutes, which will allow them to resume one of the rituals that still survives in vibrant form in other Upper Xingu villages.

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