- Where they are How many
- PA,AM 1242 (Siasi/Sesai, 2012)
- Linguistic family
During the process of returning to their traditional territory, on April 29th 2010, the leader of Torre village on the Nhamundá river, Ahtxe Hixkaryana, had the following to say about his ancestors:
A very long time ago our grandparents lived downriver, by the mouth of the Nhamundá, where the city of Faro exists today. They lived there in the middle of the whites for whom they worked, cleaning their faeces, they lived like dogs. And if they did anything that displeased their bosses, their heads were cut off. There was much persecution, which is why we fled from there, we travelled upriver to the headwaters of the Nhamundá, there were I was born, but our origin is downriver.” The same day, another resident of Torre village, Txikirifu, spoke of the reason why they are returning downriver: “our grandparents were persecuted by the whites and fled to the headwaters, now we are returning to our land, we want just a small portion of our land, which used to be very extensive. We are united here to fight for our land, land that was always ours. I’m finding this all very weird, ‘fighting for our land,’ but that’s really what’s happening, we are in the place that always belonged to our people.
Hixkaryana (hixka, red deer; yana, people; hixkaryana, red deer people) is a generic name designating various groups with similar language and culture, who today live in the valleys of the Nhamundá river (Amazonas-Pará) and the middle Jatapu river (Amazonas). Hixkaryana encompasses other groups that, very probably, possessed greater autonomy in the past and who even today, in local contexts, use separate names for themselves: Kamarayana (kamara, jaguar; yana, people; kamarayana, jaguar people); Yukwarayana (yukwarî, manioc starch; yana, people; yukwaryana, people of the manioc starch); Karahawyana; and Xowyana.
The Hixkaryana language belongs to the Carib linguistic family and is spoken by all the group’s members. This language is very similar to the other dialects spoken in the wider region bounded by the valleys of the Trombetas and Mapuera rivers, such as Waiwai, Xereu, Katuena, Karapawyana and Tunayana. Consequently, and because the Hixkaryana established very close relations with these groups in a network of matrimonial and ritual exchanges, these dialects are mutually intelligible. Like the Waiwai language, which was studied by Evangelical missionaries and used as a model to translate the Bible (New and Old Testaments) into the indigenous language (in the context of the Mapuera river), the Hixkaryana language (in the context of the Nhamundá river) was used as a model to translate the New Testament by missionaries from SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) and suppressing the other dialects. The same process occurred with the Waiwai language, which ended up suppressing variants and even forcing those Indians who spoke their own dialectics in the Mapuera river region to use Waiwai as a lingua franca. Hence, today, the Waiwai and Hixkaryana languages are widely used across a vast portion of the Guianas region as a direct result of these missionary activities.
The Kaxuyana, almost all of whom live on the Nhamundá river, also speak the Hixkaryana language, as well as their own, Kaxuyana. In general, though, the Hixkaryana do not speak the Kaxuyana language, a fact that to some extent demonstrates that the Kaxuyana are considered the ‘strangers’ in the region and that they should learn the ‘native’ language, Hixkaryana.
The majority of the Hixkaryana are able to read and write in the native language. In 2008 there was just one primary school in Kassauá village and, after finishing, many young people head to the city of Nhamundá (AM) to continue their secondary level studies. In 2010, a secondary school was installed in Kassauá village. Additionally, a dozen Hixkaryana students have already completed or are now taking higher education courses in cities like Parintins and Manaus. However the majority of women and elders speak very little Portuguese with Hixkaryana the language most frequently used by everyone.
The linguistic study of the Hixkaryana language began in 1958 with the work of the SIL couple Desmond and Gracie Derbyshire. Thereafter texts and primers were published for use in the schools, along with a grammar and a complete translation of the New Testament.
Location and contact history
Today most of the Hixkaryana live by the shores of the middle Nhamundá, a river dividing the states of Amazonas and Pará. There are ten villages located on the Amazonas side and one village on the Pará side. A further two villages are situated on another river, on the Jatapu river, also in Amazonas state. There are many Hixkaryana families mixed with other groups (particularly Katuena, Waiwai and Xereu) who inhabit other localities, especially settlements along the Mapuera river in Pará state. Finally it should be noted that a few Hixkaryana families live temporarily in the cities of Nhamundá, Parintins and Manaus.
The discourses of the Hixkaryana leaders on the right to the land that they occupied traditionally are confirmed by a small detail in the region’s historiography. According to Protásio Frikel (1958), between 1725 and 1759 there was a Catholic mission on the lower Nhamundá river, close to the Amazon, among the Wabui Indians who, for their part, had been ‘brought downriver’ from the shores of the Trombetas river by Friar Francisco de São Manços. It is highly likely that the contemporary Hixkaryana living in villages along the Nhamundá river are descendants of these Wabui transferred from the Trombetas river and mixed with other autochthonous groups from the Nhamundá river region. Based on the brief biographies and life histories narrated by the Hixkaryana, as well as the records made by travellers, FUNAI and missionaries, we can produce a rough overview of the formation and dispersion of various indigenous groups in the valleys of the Nhamundá and Jatapu rivers.
There are reports of Indians living on the lower Nhamundá, at the site of the present-day city of Faro, until the mid-18th century. Fleeing from conflicts with the colonizers, these Indians then began to move up the Nhamundá river, encountering on the way other groups already living there.
In the 19th century and the start of the 20th, the region’s indigenous groups were confined to the headwaters of the rivers, generally locations more difficult to reach (above the waterfalls, along small affluents and deeper into the forest), fleeing from the invading non-indigenous colonizers.
In the mid-20th century the Indians resumed contacts with the non-Indians began to occupy the shores of the Jatapu and Nhamundá rivers once again.
According to information published in Povos Indígenas no Brasil/1982 (Gallois & Ricardo 1983), in the 1920s the indigenous populations of the Nhamundá and the Jatapu were struck by a flu epidemic and subsequently dispersed into a series of small villages.
Data from the SPI (Indian Protection Service) cited by the FUNAI officer Sebastião Amâncio da Costa (1982) indicates that in 1942 unknown Indians were encountered in the area of the Novo river, an affluent of the left shore of the upper Jatapu.
A Protestant missionary expedition led by Desmond Derbyshire from the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) was established among the indigenous population of the Nhamundá river in 1958, in Kassauá village. The Hixkaryana assumed the task of attracting small local groups previously dispersed in the upper Nhamundá and the Jatapu river (Gallois & Ricardo 1983). In Kassauá village a basic healthcare post was set up by the missionaries, along with a school for teaching the population to read in write in the Hixkaryana language and in Portuguese.
Another US Evangelical missionary expedition, the Unevangelized Fields Mission, established itself in southern Guiana at the start of the 1950s and attracted a large number of Waiwai Indians and other groups from the Mapuera river basin, who in turn succeeded in co-opting a large proportion of the Hixkaryana and persuading them to leave the Nhamundá and Jatapu rivers. Only15 Hixkaryana families resisted the appeal of the Waiwai (who had been converted by the Evangelicals in the Guiana village) and remained in the region of the Nhamundá river. These families were as follows: Kaywerye, Tohkoro, Waraka, Mahxawa, Juno, Awatxare, Mohtî, Txawa, Uemko, Erefoka, Hanami, Tavino, Wari, Atxatiko and Copoi.
According to the FUNAI/Radam Project (FUNAI 1976: 11-14), a village continued to exist on the right shore of the middle Jatapu river until 1960, occupied by some 30 to 40 Hixkaryana and Xowyana, close to the site of the Jatapu Indigenous Attraction Post by the Santa Maria waterfall.
According to information contained in FUNAI documents (proc. 3115/81) and papers held by the indigenist Sebastião Amâncio da Costa (1982), in 1962 a group of balata gum gatherers encountered a group of Indians on the Cidade Velha river, an affluent of the right shore of the upper Jatapu. Some of the survivors of this contact were ‘attracted’ and taken to the Jatapu Indigenous Post (PIN), where they lived until 1982. According to the reports given by the indigenous population lured to this PIN, a large number of Karara Indians were known to be inhabiting the Cidade Velha river, the Pedras stream (a right-shore affluent of the upper Jatapu), the Cidade Encantada stream (a left-shore affluent of the same), and the Novo, Jatapuzinho and Baracuxi rivers.
Also around 1960, a mining company, the Amazonian Steel Company (Siderama), began operating at a site close to the Jatapu PIN, on the left shore of the Jatapu river. A year later, according to oral testimony from the Hixkaryana of Nhamundá, an epidemic struck the residents of the villages along the Jatapu, various people died and the survivors migrated to Kassauá village on the Nhamundá river. Just a single Karara family stayed at the Jatapu, composed of the father and his adult son and daughter, living among the non-indigenous population. Around 1975, the Jatapu PIN was deactivated and this family also later migrated to the Nhamundá river.
From 1972 onwards the Indians concentrated close to the Kanashen Mission in Guiana began to disperse: one group migrated to the region of the Anauá river in the state of Roraima, another migrated to Araraparu village in the south of Suriname, and a third group went to the Mapuera river in the state of Pará. The Hixkaryana families that remained on the Nhamundá river, therefore, supported the return of their ‘kin’ to the Mapuera, providing them with manioc flour and cuttings to plant new swiddens of manioc, banana, sugarcane, yam, pineapple and so on. In addition, there was an expansion and consolidation of the network of marriages and ritual exchanges between the Hixkaryana of Kassauá village and the other indigenous groups recently arrived at the new village on the Mapuera.
In 1970 FUNAI established a base at Cachoeira Porteira (on the Nhamundá river) and in 1971 another in Kassauá village (Nhamundá river). In 1977 SIL left the area. FUNAI, under the administration of the head of the Kassauá Post, Raimundo Nonato, took over the healthcare and education services. In addition, through the installation of a canteen, it also became the provider of industrial goods to the Indians (salt, sugar, ammunition, tools for working in the swiddens, etc.) and in exchange sold native produce in the city, including flour, craftwork and above all Brazil nuts. Following FUNAI’s administrative and political logic, the Indians should avoid as far as possible contact with the whites and the cities (including dealings with money) in order to preserve their language and customs and to impede their access to non-indigenous habits, as well as avoiding diseases. This philosophy remained implanted in the area until the end of the 1980s.
From the 1980s onwards with land regularization and the demarcation of the Nhamundá/Mapuera Indigenous Land, the residents of Kassauá village began to disperse and new villages were formed downriver: Cachoeirinha, Cachoeira Porteira, Jutaí, Riozinho and Cafezal.
From the 1990s onwards with the absence of SIL and the low presence of FUNAI in the area, the Hixkaryana began to visit the region’s cities (Nhamundá, Parintins and Manaus) more frequently, whether to obtain financial resources through the sale of their goods (craftwork, flour and Brazil nuts) or to obtain healthcare and education. Many Hixkaryana youngsters went to study in Nhamundá city. At the end of the 1990s the General Council of the Hixkaryana Peoples (CGPH) was created.
In the 2000s there was an even larger dispersion away from Kassauá village. New villages were founded outside the Nhamundá-Mapuera Indigenous Land and outside the Trombetas-Mapuera Indigenous Land with the idea of locating the villages closer to urban areas and their resources, including public welfare services and consumer goods. At the same time the aim of this movement was to reoccupy the traditional Hixkaryana lands on the middle Nhamundá river. Travelling in sequence downriver, the new villages are: Matrinxã, Gavião, Torre, Areia and Belontra.
In 2002 the Nhamundá Indigenous Post in Kassauá village was transferred to the city of Nhamundá. The same year, under the leadership of Yereyere and his son-in-law Wayarafan, part of the Hixkaryana population returned to the Jatapu river, forming two new villages, once called Santa Maria (where the Jatapu PIN had operated until the start of the 1970s) and another called Bacaba, located slightly further upriver.
At the beginning of 2010, after an internal conflict in Santa Maria village, the local group split: following a disagreement between Wayarafan and his father-in-law Yereyere, the family of the former (including father, mother, married and single children) left Santa Maria and founded a new village on the Nhamundá river called Cupiúba.
Regularization of the Hixkaryana lands
The Nhamundá-Mapuera Indigenous Land is located in the states of Amazonas and Pará, in the municipalities of Faro, Oriximiná and Nhamundá. The first workgroup to study and delimit this indigenous land was set up in 1976 by the FUNAI/Radam Project. At the time it delimited an area of 950,000 hectares. A second workgroup to identify the area was created by Directive 920 (12 January 1981) with the purpose of completing the data of the previous team. The anthropologist coordinating this second workgroup, Maria da Penha Cunha de Almeida (1981a), argued at the time for the need to readjust the proposal of the previous FUNAI/Radam team in order to include the indigenous swiddens located on both sides of the Mapuera river within the boundaries of the Nhamundá-Mapuera Indigenous Land.
On the other hand, although the anthropologist had observed that the Hixkaryana used to fish on the Jatapu river, as well as maintaining permanent settlements on this river until the start of the 1970s, this portion of the Jatapu was excluded from the limits of the Nhamundá-Mapuera IL. Nonetheless, the same identification report observed that three indigenous villages existed in isolation on the headwaters of the Jatapu. As Maria da Penha C. de Almeida states (1981a: 183), these areas were very close and the Hixkaryana used to travel the Jatapu on fishing expeditions, frequently trekking further to visit the more isolated populations; consequently, the report suggested “the later creation of a park to avoid future problems arising from the invasion of indigenous lands.”
After these studies, the Nhamundá-Mapuera IL, with a total area of 1,022,400 hectares, was declared to be the permanent possession of the Hixkaryana, Kaxuyana, Waiwai, Katuena, Mawayana and Xereu indigenous groups. Demarcation was officially declared on 25th November 1982. However a new interministerial workgroup was created on March 17th 1983 to examine the validity of the proposed demarcation. This workgroup concluded that the area had been traditionally occupied by the indigenous people and recommended demarcation of their lands. After demarcation, the Nhamundá-Mapuera IL was homologated by decree on 18th August 1989 with a total area of 1,049,520 hectares.
The official process of demarcating the Trombetas/Mapuera IL, contiguous with the Nhamundá/Mapuera IL, began with the interdiction of the area in 1987 due to the presence of various isolated indigenous groups within its boundaries. The identification and delimitation studies for this area were begun at the end of 2000 and were concluded in 2004 with the official declaration from the Ministry of Justice signed on the 16th September 2005 with a total area of 3.97 million hectares. This process was concluded on the 21st December 2009 with the Homologation Decree signed by the President of the Republic. However, this Indigenous Land, which combined with the Nhamundá/Mapuera IL totals of more than 5 million hectares, does not include the villages located on the middle Nhamundá river (Matrinxã, Gavião, Torre, Areia, Cupiuba and Belontra villages) and on the middle Jatapu river (Santa Maria and Bacaba). The identification and delimitation report for the Trombetas-Mapuera IL proposed that these areas should be considered in a future study for demarcating a new land, which would be denominated the Middle Trombetas-Jatapu IL and would also include the area traditionally occupied by the Kaxuyana on the Cachorro river.
The residential rule of Hixkaryana society is matrilocal (a synonym of uxorilocal, a norm that entails the couple living in the house of the bride’s parents or nearby) while affiliation is bilateral (where the system of descent and/or transmission of rights and obligations is traced via both the paternal and maternal lines). There is no real chief but rather an ‘owner’ of the village, someone who possesses leadership (albeit tenuous or transitory) by being generous, possessing the largest swiddens, or retaining his sons-in-law and perhaps his brothers. This ‘owner’ of the village may also combine the function of shaman (curer). On the other hand, the sorcerer – someone who has supernatural powers and is capable of using them against someone else, sometimes even provoking death – is almost always identified with an ‘outsider’ from another group or another village (always other in relation to the affected group). Sorcery accusations frequently lead to splits within the local groups and the founding new villages. The reasons for creating a new village may also be attributed to the exhaustion of hunting and gathering resources, pests ruining the swidden crops, or the death of an important member of the group. Whatever the reason, approximately one village in this traditional model breaks up every five years, creating new arrangements within the local units.
But how and with what criteria do these local groups identify themselves?
If we ask an indigenous inhabitant of the Nhamundá river to which ethnic group he belongs, more than likely he will immediately reply Hixkaryana. But if the conversation continues, he will say that he is Kamarayana, or Karahawyana, or Yukwarayana, or Xereu, or Xowyana. Many of these groups may have their roots in other groups no longer existing, which possessed minimal differences in dialectic and shared the same cultural pattern and social organization. While this differentiation still exists today amid the large ‘Hixkaryana’ agglomerate, these differences do not appear in an idea of ‘ethnic affiliation’ (much less in the notion of past clan lineages), but in the memory of places/spaces where the ancestors of these groups lived: namely, the different streams and rivers forming the affluents of the middle Jatapu, the upper, middle and lower course of the Nhamundá, and affluents of the right shore of the Mapuera river.
Below are some brief descriptions of these local groups, based on accounts taken from the life history of various members of the Hixkaryana people.
Accounts of the local group networks
Wirhta’s father (Kurupumna) and mother (Pexu) were Hixkaryana. Wirhta was born on the headwaters of the Nhamundá river in a village called Watkîwî, situated on the Warua stream. Many Hixkaryana and Xowyana lived there, maintaining close contact with the indigenous groups on the Jatapu river. Wirhta’s first child was born while he was still living in Watkîwî village. When his second daughter was due, the shaman advised him, “you can’t see blood, don’t stay near your wife,” and told him to go to another village. While he was there, his wife and baby died during labour. His uncle, Mohtî, wanted Wirhta to marry again with another woman from Watkîwî village, but he did not want to since given she had rejected him in the past, she was unlikely to accept him now. At this time [the end of the 1950s], the Waiwai Indians, who had been taken from the upper course of the Mapuera river to southern Guiana (Kanashen village) by American Evangelical missionaries, had already been converted to Christianity and would undertake expeditions to the Nhamundá river with the aim of taking the Hixkaryana back with them. Wirhta, now a widow, decided to head to Guiana with the Waiwai and there he married again, this time to a Karapawyana woman who had previously lived on the Jatapu river. They had several children. The children of this marriage lived and grew up among the Waiwai, learned to speak their language and consequently felt themselves to be more or less members of the Waiwai group. Around 1972, following the expulsion of Evangelical missionaries from Guiana by a socialist-leaning government, the Indians living there dispersed: one group went to the Anauá river (in Roraima state), a second group went to the Araraparu Mission (in Suriname), a third group moved to the Mapuera river (Pará state), while a fourth group remained in the south of Guiana. Wirhta followed those who went to the Mapuera river and remained there until 1985. That year one of his sons died and, fleeing from a possible act of sorcery, he moved back to the Nhamundá river, Kassauá village, with his unmarried children. From there he moved a short while later to Riozinho village on the same river, downstream of Kassawá, where he still lives today.
Born and raised on the headwaters of the Nhamundá river, close to the Jatapu, Copoi’s childhood village was called Matika, located deep in the forest. (At that time, fearing invasion and persecution by the whites, the Hixkaryana built their villages far from the larger rivers.) A while later, he moved to Marawa village, almost on the left shore of the middle Jatapu. Moving further down this river, he founded Eremtu village, also on the left shore of the middle Jatapu. This functioned as a kind of centre for various outlying villages locates upriver and on the streams – many people were living there, especially Hixkaryana and Xowyana. For a long time Copoi lived alternately in these two villages, Marawa and Eremtu. In 1963, the former SPI (Indian Protection Service) installed an Attraction Post close to the Santa Maria waterfall, on the right shore of the Jatapu river, persuading Copoi’s family to move there along with various other families living further upriver. At that time the Jatapu river was regularly visited by balateiros (gatherers of balata gum and other forest products) and gateiros (hunters of wild animals for their pelts, especially jaguars). Diseases came with them, many Indians died, others left the village-post of Santa Maria and retreated to the headwaters of the Nhamundá river. For a long period Copoi changed location repeatedly from one side to the other, moving from the Nhamundá river to the Jatapu and back again. There were few women among the survivors, meaning that Copoi had to make do with a Xereu woman, the only one from the group he could marry. Later his first son, Pedro Arwoka, was born in Mutuma village on the Nhamundá river. In contrast to many Hixkaryana families, Copoi’s was not lured by the Evangelical mission in the Guianas (formerly British Guiana, now Guyana), but remained in the villages along the Nhamundá until settling in Riozinho village, where he lives today.
I was born in Krikrikî village on Warua Stream, on the right shore of the upper Nhamundá. At that time, the whites were arriving, rosewood extractors who brought many diseases, measles, diarrhoea. Many people died. From there we moved to Kuruni Stream, a village called Tohkuri, which already had swiddens planted with manioc and banana; another group already lived there, Pedro Waraka’s family. Later I went to live in Kassauá village [on the right shore of the Nhamundá] along with Candinho Kaywerye’s family. I stayed for a while in Tohkuri and for a while in Kassauá. Afterwards I cleared a swidden on the other side of the river [left shore] along Matariu stream, I named the site Mekutîrî [place of the monkey]. I was going to build my village there, but then Ewká arrived there [a Waiwai shaman and leader who had converted to Christianity at the start of the 1950s] and told me that I could no longer live so far away, far from the Kassauá village, where the missionaries had arrived [the Derbyshire couple working for SIL in 1958]. Ewká said that I had to live with Candinho Kaywerye [the leader who was being ‘prepared’ by the missionaries] who was the ‘owner’ of Kassauá. Later FUNAI arrived in Kassauá (1971), bringing fishing hooks, guns, industrial goods, everything that we needed, which is why everyone concentrated there. FUNAI stayed there for a long time, there were a lot of resources in the village. It was good. Then one day the head of the FUNAI post, Raimundo Nonato, messed with the wife of the village owner, Candinho. The latter didn’t like this and called a meeting where he said that he was going to expel the FUNAI boss. As a result, everything finished in Kassauá, all the goods to which we had access through FUNAI came to an end. Even today we miss this time when FUNAI was here, there was a diesel generator, electric lighting. When FUNAI left [at the end of the 1980s] it was all gone, there was nothing, no machetes, no scythes, there was nobody to buy our Brazil nuts [the head of the FUNAI post, Raimundo Nonato, had acted as an intermediary selling the nuts for the Hixkaryana]. This left me extremely sad. Should I leave? I thought to myself. We founded Jutai village, downriver, where I lived for ten years. Everyone from Jutai liked me, I gave lots of things to the people there, but the leader there was someone else. I thought: why not found a village for myself? So we decided to found this village here [by now at the start of the 2000s], Torre village [outside the Indigenous Land demarcated by FUNAI]. We are not stealing land from anyone, since this is where my kin lived in the past, my ancestors. I want to demarcate this land, I’m going to demarcate it myself, if FUNAI doesn’t do it, because I’m going to continue living here, this is where my people lived in the past.
Amkoroci was the mother of my mother, Xuari. She told Xuari, who told my father (Joaquim Wanawa) that a very long time ago her parents lived downriver, close to the city of Faro. At that time the whites were arriving, logging firms. There was a lot of war and the elders came upriver [Nhamundá river, above the Fumaça waterfall, named Kaximo in the Hixkaryana language]. My grandmother, Xuari’s mother, ended up settling in a village called Mutuma, which was founded by the father of Joaquim Wanawa, my own father. Afterwards they established a hunting and fishing camp at the Fumaça waterfall and cleared a swidden on the other side of the river [left shore]. That’s where we lived, it was our village, called Kaximo. Around that time , the missionary Desmond Derbyshire arrived there, accompanied by another white man, called Mário Rossy, who already knew the Hixkaryana. Derbyshire arrived carrying God’s Bible. But my father (Joaquim Wanawa), who had already been taught by Catholic priests, said to him: “I cannot hand myself over to you, I’m already with the priests, I’ll just hand you my oldest son, Juno, he will learn the word of your God.” At the time when Desmond arrived in our village, someone died and everyone thought that Desmond had been responsible for the sorcery, they were very scared of him. Some time passed and my father died in Kaximo village, where he still lies buried today. We decided to abandon that village, moved upriver and settled once again in Mutuma. There Desmond said that there were just a few of us, we should travel further upriver to Kassauá village and join the families of Pedro Waraka and Candinho Kaywerye. FUNAI was already there at Kassauá, where I grew up and lived until I reached the age of 20. From there I headed downriver with Ahtxe’s family to Jutai village where we stayed for 10 years and where my son married Ahtxe’s daughter. When his father-in-law moved downriver and founded Torre village, my son said to me: “I’m going downriver with my father-in-law, because he’s going to make a new village, I have to go with him.” I replied: “That’s okay my son, so we’ll all moved downriver, the entire family, because the area downriver is where my grandparents used to live.” Now we are all here, we need to clear more swiddens, we need land to hunt and fish, which is why we need to demarcate our land. We come from here, in the past my grandparents were forced downriver, but we are from here.
Population and villages
The traditional model of the Hixkaryana village basically involved a communal house within which the entire village population lived (between 30 and 50 people), divided into nuclear families. The time span of the village was around 4 to 6 years. This model was heavily disrupted by the arrival of missionaries from SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) in the region in 1958 and later, at the start of the 1970s, by FUNAI. Combined the work of these two outside agents contributed to two processes: on one hand, a large demographic growth due to the arrival of vaccines and better healthcare provision; on the other hand, this population was concentrated in one single large village, Kassauá.
However, from the 1980s onwards and especially during the 2000s, there was once again an intense dispersion away from Kassauá village and new villages were founded: 10 on the Nhamundá river, and 02 on the Jatapu. It is never easy to determine precisely the number of residents in each of these villages since, aside from births and marriages, including the operation of the matrilocal residence rule (a synonym of uxorilocality, a norm leading the couple to live in the house of the bride’s parents or nearby), the ‘traditional’ and still active process involving the fusion and dispersal of local groups always leads to rearrangements of families as a result of their alliances and, consequently, changes in their place of residence.
The tables below provide estimates for the Hixkaryana population and villages in 2010.
Villages on the Nhamundá river (upriver to downriver)
|Cafezal||53 (the majority members of the Kaxuyana group)|
|Areia||17 (the majority members of the Kaxuyana group)|
|Villages on the Jatapu river||Number of people|
Note: Total Hixkaryana residents on the Nhamundá and Jatapu rivers: 942 people.
The Areia and Cafezal villages are basically formed by residents belonging to the Kaxuyana and Kahyana groups with some mixed families of Hixkaryana/ Kaxuyana/ Kahyana.
|Year||Number of people|
|2010||1012 (including ‘mixed’ families with the Kaxuyana of Cafezal and Areia villages, a total of 70 people)|
|2002||900 pessoas (Source: Caixeta de Queiroz, 2008: 258)|
|1981||307 pessoas (Source : Almeida, 1981)|
|1978||291 pessoas (Source: Nonato Nunes, 1978)|
|1972||140 pessoas (Source: Nonato Nunes, 1978)|
|1959||100 pessoas (Source: Derbyshire, 1965: 05)|
On the Nhamundá river there are residents belonging to two other indigenous groups who, despite originating from other geographic areas and speaking distinct languages, were incorporated by living alongside and/or marrying the Hixkaryana. These are the Kaxuyana and the Karara.
The Kaxuyana were originally inhabitants of the Cachorro river, an affluent of the right shore of the Trombetas. The name ‘Kaxuyana’ means people (yana) inhabiting the Cachorro (Kaxuru) river. These Indians lived there until 1968 when their population collapsed dramatically due to epidemics and the lack of healthcare assistance. The group therefore left the traditional territory and split into two groups migrating in different directions: a larger group of around 50 people relocated to the Tiriyó Mission on the upper Paru de Oeste, while a family of 7 people joined the Hixkaryana on the Nhamundá river. The group that headed to the Nhamundá first settled provisionally in Kassauá village but later went to live close to Cachoeira Porteira, slightly further downriver. In the 1980s, after the demarcation of the Nhamundá-Mapuera Indigenous Land, the group – already substantially larger following interethnic marriages with the Hixkaryana – founded its ‘own’ village, further downriver, called Cafezal. A group split off from this village at the end of the 1990s under the leadership of Kanahtxe (a Kahyana man married to a Kaxuyana woman) and formed a new village, Areia, below Cafezal village on the Nhamundá river, outside the Nhamundá-Mapuera IL. The population of Cafezal village had reached 74 people in 2002.
In 2003, the Kaxuyana leader João do Vale, who had migrated to the Tiriyó Mission in 1968, returned to the group’s area of traditional habitation on the Cachorro river, where he refounded Santidade village. A little while later, this group re-established on the Cachorro river persuaded part of the Kaxuyana group in Cafezal village, led by Joãozinho Printxe, to live with them. At the time Printxe’s idea was to build his own village on the Cachorro river, independent of Santidade, a plan which came to fruition at the start of 2009 with the founding of Chapéu village (with 38 people in 2010). Another brother of Joãozinho Printxe, married to a Hixkaryana woman, did not want to return to the new village on the Cachorro river and remained living with her kindred in Cafezal village.
See the main article about the Kaxuyana.
Protásio Frikel (1958: 136-137), based on his own field research, made the following remarks at the start of the 1950s:
Some ‘balateiros’ [hunters of animal pelts and gatherers of Amazonian forest products] made their way up the Jatapu and, reaching an affluent, encountered a maloca with small plantations. As they approached, the Indians fled. Driven on by hunger, the balateiros took some mature bananas and sweet potatoes, and as payment left a machete. And, as they thought the situation was somewhat uncertain – since they were suspicious of the Indians suddenly running away – returned to their canoe. A short while later, a group of men with war clubs appeared there. They were entirely naked, they had a fairly light complexion and wore beards (owing to this detail given by my indigenous informants, I believe they were Karara). Extremely irate, they injured the balateiros, becoming increasingly worked up, shaking their war clubs and ended up throwing the machete at their feet. The situation became critical. So my informant, plucking up courage, approached them and using signs and gestures, explained that they had taken the bananas simply because they were hungry. The Indians understood and gradually became calmer. The interaction between them became more or less friendly, indeed the Indians gave them more bananas. And then they went away. However they didn’t want to take the machete under any circumstances, they wouldn’t even touch it. The balateiros, though, ceased waiting and departed.
Near to the same region, much more violent contacts between balateiros and people who seem to have been the Karara, or their kin, are reported by Sebastião Amâncio (1982). According to data derived from the former Indian Protection Service (SPI), the following accounts exist of contact between the Karara and non-Indians:
- In 1942 a group of balateiros was surprised by a group of unknown Indians in the area of the Novo river, an affluent of the left shore of the upper Jatapu. On this occasion members of the extractivist group, out of fear, panic among other factors, during the contact began to shoot at the indigenous group indiscriminately before abandoning the area, which even today is avoided by non-indigenous people venturing into the region. According to the information available, there are individuals who survived this contact.
- In 1962 a new group of balateiros encountered a group of Indians on the Cidade Velha stream, an affluent of the right shore of the upper Jatapu, an event that led to the kidnapping of an Indian woman, later taken into the custody of employees of the Jatapu Indigenous Attraction Post located in the area.
- In 1963 an expedition was organized by the former SPI, accompanied and guided by the captured Indian woman. She led the expedition to her people’s maloca. The location was inhabited by ten Indians of both sexes and various ages, all of whom were ‘attracted’ and taken to the Jatapu Post.
According to information from the indigenous group persuaded to move to the Jatapu Post, there were a large number of Karara Indians living on the Cidade Velha river and the Pedras stream (affluents of right shore of the upper Jatapu) and the Cidade Encantada, Novo, Jatapuzinho and Baracuxi rivers (affluents of the left shore of the upper Jatapu).
In 2002 two women from the Karara were found in Jutai village in the Nhamundá-Mapuera IL: Esese (‘baptized’ by SPI employees with the name Maria Karara) and her daughter Xenyexenye. The women recounted a little bit of the group’s history: they were once inhabitants of the Carara or Cidade Velha river (an affluent of the right shore of the upper Jatapu). While they lived in a village located on the Quixubim river, an affluent of the right shore of the Carara, they were contacted by SPI officers and persuaded to relocate to the Jatapu Post along with various other Hixkaryana and Xowyana from the Jatapu river. Esese recounts that her father’s parents (Caitako Akolo, father, and Txurye, mother) died at this Post, as well as her own mother Ateo and her sister Nazaret (who has married a ‘white’ man and had a son with him, who also died at the Jatapu site). They lived there until sometime after 1960 when a mining company, Siderama, arrived in the area, bringing various diseases and deaths, forcing the Indians of the Jatapu Post to migrate towards the villages on the Nhamundá river. José Karara, Esese’s father, after the death of his first wife – Ateo Karara, with whom he had two other children, Francisco and Nazaret – married a Hixkaryana woman called Kuiwi. He had six children by his second marriage. He died in Jutai village, leaving behind his second wife and his children. Francisco, Esese’s brother, after all their Hixkaryana kin left the Jatapu Post, carried on living there alone for a while until he too moved and went to live in the city of Maués, where he married a ‘white’ woman. Esese had a daughter, Xenyexenye, with a Sataré man, Vitor, who moved to Manaus. Today Esese lives in Jutai village with her daughter Xenyexenye, her son-in-law, a Hixkaryana man, and the couple’s children.
Traditional ways of life and their transformations
The traditional pattern of the Hixkaryana villages, as elsewhere in the Guianas (especially for the groups from the Tarumã/Parukoto cultural complex), involved a single large communal house occupied by matrilocal extended families (matrilocality being a synonym of uxorilocality, a norm leading the couple to live in the house of the bride’s parents or nearby). Next to this house there would often be one or two shelters used to prepare food, make craftwork and house visitors to the village. The communal house sheltered between 30 and 50 people. The villages were dispersed, situated close to a river or stream and generally lasted around 4 to 6 years.
Following the arrival of missionaries in the region in 1958 and the group’s conversion, this pattern underwent a transformation. Today the nuclear families live in separate houses. Although the architectural structure of the buildings still in most cases follows the traditional house style (that is, a cone-shaped house rising directly from the ground, covered in palm thatch and without internal divisions), many of the individual houses are beginning to absorb the features and forms of regional architecture (houses raised on stilts, internal division into more than one room, covered in asbestos or zinc roofing). However even today every village should ideally have one large house (umaná) where nobody lives but where public events are held (such as meetings with members of government agencies) as well as festivals and dances.
The villages began to concentrate much larger populations and to last much longer than the previous pattern allowed. Kassauá village, for example, had more than 500 inhabitants in 2010 and has been located on the same site for more than 50 years. However, especially from 2000 onwards, a large dispersion began across the Nhamundá river region, reviving the traditional model involving the fusion and dispersal of local groups.
Currently the ideal village model should also include a church or house of worship, a healthcare post and a school.
A number of traditional practices were abandoned as a result of missionary activities, among them the use of tobacco, fermented drinks (caxiri) and the performance of rituals and festivals during which these drinks were consumed, polygamous relations and sorcery practices. Perhaps the biggest disruption to traditional life has been produced by the weakening or at least eclipsing of shamanism, since it was inextricably associated with an entire domain of curing practices and mythological agencies.
Once again not everything disappeared since even today people continue to be accused of sorcery and many events are explained on the basis of a native cosmology. Likewise while many of the traditional rituals are no longer practiced, there is an intense enactment of the relations between the Hixkaryana and the outside world (or between ‘us’ and the ‘others’) which remains active during the Christian festivities (Christmas and Easter) or during the self-styled ‘conferences’ of local groups in which groups travel long distances to celebrate the Christian spirits, which are almost always merged with an indigenous cosmological background.
Finally it is worth emphasizing that at least at the level of social organization, or more precisely the uxorilocal residence rule (a synonym of matrilocality, a norm that leads the couple to live in the house of the bride’s parents or nearby), little has changed compared to the past, a rule implying the new husband’s brideservice for his father-in-law and the obligation for families to organize and distribute their subsistence activities in accordance with this rule.
The Hixkaryana mythological universe reflects the themes of South American mythology in general. The myths usually tell of a pre-cosmic past in which there was no rigid distinction between humans and non-humans, or more precisely, a past in which the human condition was coextensive with nature. The mythic narratives also reveal humans in the condition of animals, trying to domesticate plants, acquire cooking fire – in sum, trying to live in society in the same way as many other animals, paradoxically, already did. Two other important themes are: the minimal differences constructed or experienced at the level of thought, based on similar figures or structures, as in the example of the twin brothers; or the minimal differences between members of the same species, such as the eagles or macaw parrots.
Transcribed below are two myths that centre on this theme. The first myth, entitled Mawari and Woska, tells of these similar but different ‘brothers-in-law,’ ancestors of the Hixkaryana, which was narrated in April 2010 by the ‘owner’ of Matrinxã village, Antônio Mauasa. The Waiwai also possess a version of the same myth telling of their ancestors. The second myth is entitled Yaimo and was also narrated in April 2010 by the ‘owner’ of Torre village, Afonso Ahtxe.
Mawari and Woska (told by Mauasa)
At that time, in the village of the Kamarayana [the ‘jaguar people’], an old woman protected two small creatures that had been born from two turtle eggs: Mawari and Woska. She placed them underneath the roof thatching for them to grow in secret. In the morning, at the request of the old Kamarayana woman, the jaguars of the village set off to hunt. The spotted jaguar took one trail and the red jaguar another. Soon after, around 7 in the morning, the spotted jaguar suddenly returned carrying his game. The red jaguar only returned much later at the end of the day.
As the spotted jaguar entered the village and his house, his stomach began to growl: grou, grou, grou! “I can smell people, who’s here?” The old woman replied: “No one, there’s nobody here.” Later the red jaguar arrived and his stomach began to growl too: grou, grou, grou! “can smell people, who’s here?” The old woman replied: “No one, there’s nobody here.”
The next day the old Kamarayana woman again asked the jaguars to go out hunting. While the jaguars were away from the village, the old woman took Mawari and Woska down from the house roof and placed them on the ground to eat and grow. When the spotted jaguar came back from the hunt, first again, his stomach once again started to growl: grou, grou, grou! ““I can smell people, who’s here?” The old woman replied: “No one, there’s nobody here.” Later the red jaguar returned, asking the same question and receiving the same answer.
The next day, the same happened, and the next. Day after day, the same, the creatures grew until one day they were no longer afraid of the jaguars and they themselves were able to leave to hunt.
Deep in the forest, Mawari planted a bacaba tree (kumu), Woska, behind him, planted a bacabinha tree (tatinu); Mawari planted a Brazil nut tree (tîtko), Woska, behind him, planted another type of Brazil nut tree (awanama); Mawari planted a moriche palm (ikako), Woska, behind him, planted another type of moriche palm (karanaru); Mawari planted a banana tree (tuxkma), Woska, behind him, planted a wild banana tree. (1)
At that time, neither of the two heroes had a wife. Mawari went fishing and caught a fish that was a woman, very beautiful, and had sex with her. The next day Woska also wanted a wife, so Mawari invited him to fish with timbó poison in the river. They caught a piranha, which Woska took. However when they were having sex, the piranha cut Woska’s penis and he was never able to have children.
At that time, Mawari had no swidden and went in search of manioc in the forest. There he found a tree without branches or leaves, but full of manioc tubers. He said to his wife, I’m going to the forest to fetch manioc. “Where I you going to fetch manioc? Below ground, where the manioc tubers are buried?” his wife asked. “No, there in the forest I found a tree, you just need to stand underneath and shake it and the manic tubers fall down onto the ground,” her husband replied. The next day his wife went to the spot indicated by her husband where the manioc ‘tree’ was located, but found nothing. Her husband returned alone to the place where the manioc ‘tree’ was found, shook it and the fruit fell down. He took the tubers home. It took a long time for the woman to develop her own way of gathering manioc.
The ancestors of the Kamarayana people are children of Mawari, raised in a village of the Kamarayana people. There they finally learned how to cultivate plants and grow crops. That’s how it is: that was us. We were the ones who were like that. That’s it! Note: (1) The logic here is that the hero Mawari always tries to ‘plant’ perfect things, while Woska, imitating him, always ‘plants’ something of less value or imperfect; in other words, he spoils his brother’s action.
Yaimo (told by Ahtxe)
In the distant past there was a man who lived alone, he was small and thin. He picked up his bow and arrow and went hunting in the forest. Standing beneath the trees he looked up and saw a group of howler monkeys. So he, the man, who was a shaman, transformed himself into a large eagle (yaimo), flew to the canopy of the trees and killed one of the monkey’s. Flying down from the tree, he took his arrow and pierced his prey.
Returning to the village, he showed the killed game to his companions: “Look at the monkey I hunted, look where I struck him with the arrow.” Nobody suspected his secret. One of the women then thought: “I’m going to marry this hunter, he’s really good at hunting, isn’t he?” Later she called over her new husband: “Let’s hunt some howler monkey.” They let. On the way, her husband said: “Stay here, I’ll be back in a bit.” Suddenly the yaimo-man was already there, below the tree, piercing two already killed monkeys with his arrow. His wife was spying from afar: “What’s he doing? He looks like an animal! Is he a real person, or is he tricking me?”
When the couple returned to the village, the husband said to his father-in-law and brothers-in-law: “Look what we killed, howler monkeys!” And his wife told him: “Give one of the monkeys to your father-in-law, let’s divide the catch, the other one is for our house.” Afterwards the woman told her father the secret: “My husband did kill the howler monkeys, only not with an arrow.” “Really, could that be true?” her father wondered. At the same time his daughter was thinking: “I don’t want to eat this game, it wasn’t a person who killed it, it was as though another animal had killed it, I don’t want to contaminate my body, game hunted by another animal isn’t the same thing as game hunted by a man.”
“Is what my daughter told me true?” the father-in-law asked his son-in-law. The latter then became extremely angry that his wife had revealed his secret. The husband, who was a large eagle, thought: “I’ll bite her, I’ll kill her.” So one day when his wife went to harvest potatoes in the swidden, the eagle grabbed her by her shoulders and flew with her to the top of a large tree (wayana). The father saw them from afar: “The eagle is taking my daughter, he flew up with her into that tree.”
In the village the woman’s father talked with his kin: “My daughter disappeared, the large eagle is never going to come back with her. What should I do?” The family gathered: “Let’s go there and kill the large eagle, we need a lot of people, he’s really huge.” Everyone gathered, armed with bows and arrows. The eagle then began to circle the village, drawing closer. He perched on top of a tree and spent the entire day there, sat, yelling: “Uchim, uchim uchim! I tasted people meat, I liked it, I want more! He, the eagle-man, doesn’t look like a person, he’s really an animal!” The village hunters asked each other: “Where is he?” “He’s there in the tree canopy, high above!” They assembled beneath the tree: “Who’s going to kill him, who shoots well?” “I do, I’m a good hunter,” said one man. “Okay, you can kill him,” another agreed. The arrow was shot but it was very weak, the eagle sat above them was unscathed. The eagle was happy in fact: “You’ll never manage to hit me!” A second hunter said: “You already missed, give me a thicker arrow, a stronger bow, a harder arrow, I’ll get him.” He shot two arrows, both hit the eagle. The second time, the eagle opened his legs and wings and flew off. High above the tree the feathers fluttered everywhere and fell, forming other birds similar to the eagle, including the parrot, a small hawk, the karauka (a type of eagle that preys on curassow), the wikoko (a type of eagle that preys on toucans, trumpeter birds and tinamous), the orinhuru (a larger kind of eagle that preys on peccaries, cutias, pacas and large snakes).
Ahtxe, the myth’s narrator, concludes his tale thus: “This happened in the past and is all true. When I lived on the upper Nhamundá river one time, I went to make a canoe in the middle of the forest. On my way back to the village, the eagle attacked and carried off my red dog, he ate it. I went after the eagle, I wanted to kill it, but I couldn’t get him.”
Note on the sources
At present no academic thesis or ethnographic study exists on Hixkaryana social organization and cosmology. The study of the Hixkaryana language, on the other hand, is fairly complete having been undertaken since 1958 by the SIL linguist and missionary Desmond Derbyshire (1961, 1964, 1965, 1965/6, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979).
Aside from this, very little has been written about this people. Anyone wishing to know more about them is left to turn to the information contained by administrative reports and documents referring to the demarcation of their land (see especially Almeida 1981a and 1981b).
The publication Povos Indígenas no Brasil: Amapá/Norte do Pará (Gallois & Ricardo 1983) presents a fairly complete panorama of the history and situation of the group at the beginning of the 1980s.
More recent data can be found in the publication Trombetas-Mapuera: Território Indígena (Caixeta de Queiroz, 2008), which is a modified and printed version of the identification and demarcation report for the Trombetas/Mapuera Indigenous Land.
Sources of information
- ALMEIDA, Maria da Penha de. Relatório de eleição e delimitação das áreas dos Pls Nhamundá e Mapuera (divisa dos Estados do Amazonas e Pará). Brasília : Processo FUNAI 2989/80, 1981a (f. 46-184).
- ALMEIDA, Maria da Penha de. Relatório referente ao projeto de construção da hidrelétrica de Cachoeira-Porteira (Trombetas) Brasília : Processo FUNAI 3115/81, 1981b (f. 02-42).
- AMÂNCIO, Sebastião. 1982 ."Comunicação de Serviço nº184/1ª DR - 20/09/82". Processo Funai 3115/81 (f.69-80).
- CAIXETA DE QUEIROZ, Ruben. Trombetas-Mapuera: Território Indígena. Brasília: FUNAI/PPTAL, 2008.
- CORRÊA, Raimundo Nonato Nunes. Relatório do Posto Indígena Nhamundá. 1978.
- DERBYSHIRE, Desmond. Notas comparativas sobre três dialetos Karib. Boletim do Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi. Nova Série: Antropologia. No 14. Outubro de 1961.
- -------. Formulário padrão Hixkaryana. Rio de Janeiro. Museu Nacional. 1964.
- -------. Textos hixkaryana. Publicações avulsas do Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi no. 3. Belém: Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi. 1965.
- -------. The post positional particle word class – Hixkaryana. Rio de Janeiro. Museu Nacional. 1965-6.
- -------. Performatives in Hixkaryana discourse. Rio de Janeiro. Museu Nacional. 1974.
- -------. Estrutura sintáxica da língua hixkaryana. Rio de Janeiro. Museu Nacional. 1975.
- -------. Discourse redundancy in Hixkaryana. International journal of american linguistics 43: 176-1 88, 1977.
- -------. Another kind of “Hearsay Particle” in Hixkaryana (Brazil). Notes on Translation 70: 8-13. 1978.
- -------. A diachronic explanation for the origin of OVS in some Carib languages. Work papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics 3:35-46. University of North Dakota Session : Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1979.
- FRIKEL, Protásio. Classificações lingüístico-etnológica das tribos indígenas do Pará setentrional e zonas adjacentes. In Revista de Antropologia. São Paulo, n. 6, 1958.
- FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio). 1981. Processo 3115.
- GALLOIS, Dominique& RICARDO, Carlos Alberto (ed.) 1983. Povos Indígenas no Brasil: Amapá/Norte do Pará. São Paulo, CEDI, volume 3.