From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Photo: Kimiye Tommasino, 2000.


Where they are How many
PR, RS, SC, SP 51000 (Veiga, 2022)
Linguistic family

Contact of the Kaingang with non-indigenous society began at the end of the 18th Century and solidified in the mid-19th Century, when the first traditional political chiefs (Põ’í or Rekakê) accepted an alliance with the White conquerors (Fóg), by taking on the position of capitães. These capitães were fundamental in the pacification of scores of isolated groups who were subdued between 1840 and 1930. Among the consequences of this history, the processes of expropriation and exacerbation of conflicts over land stand out, not only from the invasions of their territories, but also because of intra-group Kaingang disputes, given that the factionalism characteristic of Jê groups exploded as a result of the contact situation. The Kaingang live on more than 30 Indigenous Lands which represent a small part of their traditional territories. By being distributed in four states, the situations of the communities display the most varied conditions. In all cases, however, their social structure and cosmological principles continue in effect, and are always being brought up to date by the different circumstances which the Kaingang experience.


Self-designation: Kanhgág; Kaingang.

Kaingang de Ivaí (RS). Foto: Vilaine Capellari, 1994.
Kaingang de Ivaí (RS). Foto: Vilaine Capellari, 1994.

According to Teschauer (1927), the Guayanás who lived on the Atlantic coast between Angra dos Reis and Cananéia were ancestors of the Kaingang. The names Guayaná, Goyaná, Goainaze, Wayanaze, were names given to the Kaingang of that region. The name Guayaná continued being utilized until 1843 along with others such as Coroado, Coronado, Shokleng, Xokren; Guanana, Gualachos, Gualachí, Chiqui, Cabelludo; Tain, Taven, Tayen, Ingain, Ivoticaray; Nyacfateitei; Votoron, Kamé, Kayurukré, Dorin; Tupi (Kaingang who lived in Misiones – north of Argentina – and in the far west of Rio Grande do Sul, on the banks of the Uruguai River). This variety of names ended up producing a great deal of confusion for researchers. It is also important to point out that several of these groups could be related not to the Kaingang, but to the Xokleng, Guarani or Xetá who also demonstrated resistance against the European presence in the lands of the South.

The name Kaingang was only introduced at the end of the 19th century by Telêmaco Borba. Initially, the Kaingang and the Xokleng were classified as a single ethnic group with different dialects, the Xokleng being called Aweikoma-Kaingang by Métraux (1946) in the Handbook of South American Indians. Now they are considered two ethnic groups who, in the distant past, were a single group (Urban, 1992) but who, after their historical separation, developed specific socio-cultural processes which made them relatively differentiated groups.



Paris: armadilha de pesca kaingang na bacia do Tibagi. Foto: Kimiye Tommasino, 1999.
Paris: armadilha de pesca kaingang na bacia do Tibagi. Foto: Kimiye Tommasino, 1999.

According to the linguist Aryon Dall’Igna Rodrigues, the Kaingang language belongs to the Jê family of the Macro-Jê trunk. Ursula Wiesemann, linguist and missionary of the SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) classified the language of the present-day Kaingang in five dialects: (1) of São Paulo (SP), between the Tietê and Paranapanema rivers; (2) of Paraná (PR), between the Paranapanema and Iguaçu rivers; (3) Central Dialect (C), between the Iguaçu and Uruguai rivers, State of Santa Catarina; (4) Southwest Dialect (SO), to the south of the Uruguai River and west of the Passo Fundo River, State of Rio Grande do Sul; and the Southeast Dialect (SE), to the south of the Uruguai River and east of the Passo Fundo River.

The dialects differ amongst themselves in various parts of their structures, the most evident differences being phonological.

Wiesemann (1967; 1978) was responsible for a study of the Kaingang grammar and for the introduction of a system of writing this language. In the 1970s, she founded a school for the training of indigenous instructors, called the Clara Camarão school which is located on the Indigenous Post of Guarita-RS. She was likewise responsible for the introduction of substitute bilingual instruction (Veiga & D’Angelis) in all the Kaingang schools: the children would learn writing of the Kaingang language in their first school year and, from the second year on, they would learn Portuguese. There have been no significant changes in this system made today because the use of the Kaingang language has been extended to the second grade, and from then on Portuguese is used.

The situation in relation to the spoken language varies from one indigenous land to another: there are communities where all are Kaingang speakers, while in others they are Portuguese speakers with the exception of the elderly people who are bilingual, and in other areas, most of the population is bilingual or Portuguese-speaking. Even with these variations, one perceives that the Kaingang, in general, have begun to attribute great worth to the use of the maternal language as an important element, politically, for defending the legitimacy of their struggles for land. On the other hand, ever since the promulgation of the Federal Constitution, they have actively participated in school education and health policies that demand respect for the specific cultural patterns of each people. Several bilingual school texts and material on health (alcoholism, STD/AIDS), have been published and serve as resources for the formulation of policies in the areas of health and education. In this sense, depending on the situation of each Kaingang indigenous land, one perceives the interest of the community in maintaining or recovering the use of the native language.


Kaingang de Ivaí (RS). Foto: Vilaine Capellari, 1994.
Kaingang de Ivaí (RS). Foto: Vilaine Capellari, 1994.

It is estimated that the Kaingang population today is 25,875 people living on 32 Indigenous Lands (Funasa, 2003). However, the presence of families living in urban and rural zones near the Indigenous Lands has been verified. In greater Porto Alegre-RS three Kaingang groups have emerged who have come to live in the city and one has already obtained a place to build a village. These are groups comprised by an entire, or part of, an extended family, part of which remained on the Indigenous Land from which it originated. In the rural zone, the Kaingang are usually organized by individual family units or just individuals, who, due to the economic or political impossibility of living on the Indigenous Lands, have decided to live as unskilled laborers on ranches and settlements in regions near the villages. If all these families are included in the total count, the Kaingang population could be as high as 30 thousand.

It is important to note that the censuses undertaken up to the present time are not very reliable because the Kaingang families move frequently from village to village and indigenous land for a wide variety of reasons and this dynamic dimension of their lives makes their visibility somewhat difficult. The reproductive growth is considered quite high and, even with a high rate of infantile mortality, when the censuses are made known, they are already out-of-date.

History of contact

Concun, cacique do Toldo, com 80 anos, e Moreira, seu ajudante. Foto: acervo Museu do Índio, década de 1920.
Concun, cacique do Toldo, com 80 anos, e Moreira, seu ajudante. Foto: acervo Museu do Índio, década de 1920.

The history of contact between the Kaingang and the European colonizers began back in the 16th century, when several groups who lived nearer to the Atlantic coast had contacts with the first Portuguese. However, the historical records of that time do not specify with any certainty the groups that were the ancestors of the present-day Kaingang.

Although the great majority of the Indians who were settled on ‘reductions’[mission settlements] in the 16th and 17th centuries in the Province of Guairá were of Guarani origin, it is known that several groups who were the ancestors of the present-day Kaingang were ‘reduced’ in Conceição dos Gualachos, on the banks of the Piquiri River, and in Encarnación, on the banks of the Tibagi. After having fled the attacks of the bandeirantes of São Paulo, the Jesuits founded new ‘reductions’ in the Province of Tape, between 1632 and 1636 (present state of Rio Grande do Sul). Based on several historical records, it is possible to state that the Kaingang may have been influenced by the Jesuit reduction of Santa Tereza, in the region of Passo Fundo.

From the writings of Montoya (1985 [1639; 1892]), it is evident that many reduced indigenous populations were affected by various epidemic diseases and that they suffered major demographic losses. Fathers Ruiz de Montoya and Dias Taño visited the Gualachos and the Guaianá on the upper Uruguai just as an epidemic swept the region. Mota (1997) recovered the record that the chief Kanha-fé, who was born in the fields of Kavarú-koyá (far southwest of the present state of Santa Catarina), and his ancestors were there before the arrival of the Jesuits and continued there after their expulsion.

As few Kaingang accepted living under the Jesuit command, the Kaingang lived free lives in the regions of the forests and fields of the South of the country until the 19th century when they were conquered.

The Kaingang in the 18th Century: the first attacks against their territories

Conquista dos Campos de Guarapuava. O Cappitão Carneiro que passou alem do rio com outros Camaradas, ficando estes mortos, veyo fogindo. Guache e aquarela: atribuído a José de Miranda, século XVIII.
Conquista dos Campos de Guarapuava. O Cappitão Carneiro que passou alem do rio com outros Camaradas, ficando estes mortos, veyo fogindo. Guache e aquarela: atribuído a José de Miranda, século XVIII.

In the period after the destruction of the Jesuit reductions, the expansion and presence of the Kaingang on the plateau lands in the South of the country can be observed, in areas of subtropical forests and pine groves, from the State of São Paulo to the states of the Southern region, when reconnaissance expeditions and the beginninjg of the first attacks against the indigenous territories caused violent reactions on the part of the Kaingang and Xokleng inhabitants.

In the 17th Century, Kaingang presence was recorded on the upper course of the Uruguay River and in the 18th century, they occupied the vast forests of the upper Uruguay, in an area that went from the Piratini River (in the far West) to the Caí River basin, to the east. Kaingang territories consisted of the West of São Paulo, the lands of the second and third plateaus of Paraná and Santa Catarina and the entire strip above the Piratini, Jacuí and Caí river basins in Rio Grande do Sul.

Conquista dos Campos de Guarapuava. Chegão os novos Indios ao arranchamento, tirão os Camaradas da sua rôpa quanto puderão até ficarem alguns sem camiza, e só os ponches cubertos, e os vestem. Guache e aquarela: atribuído a José de Miranda, século XVIII.
Conquista dos Campos de Guarapuava. Chegão os novos Indios ao arranchamento, tirão os Camaradas da sua rôpa quanto puderão até ficarem alguns sem camiza, e só os ponches cubertos, e os vestem. Guache e aquarela: atribuído a José de Miranda, século XVIII.

The first attempts at conquest and effective occupation of the fields and forests belonging to the Kaingang began in the province of Paraná (which included the greater part of the state of Santa Catarina), in the second half of the 18th Century, with the organization of conquest expeditions. There were eleven expeditions organized between 1768 and 1774, by Lieutenant Coronel Afonso Botelho which had the objective of surveying and taking possession of the natural pastures located in the interior of the Province. In 1770, the expedition led by Lieutenant Bruno Costa reached the fields of Koran-bang-rê (present-day Guarapuava). Two more expeditions reached these fields in 1771, one commanded by the backwoodsman Martins Lustosa and the other by the Lieutenant Cândido Xavier. Their weaponry included pieces of artillery and all the weapons of war of the time. The contacts with the Kaingang of Koran-bang-rê were initially friendly as a result of the distribution of presents. But the indigenous people did not delay in reacting, once they perceived that the friendship offered by the whites was not well-intentioned.

In this period the exploratory expeditions located several territories belonging to various indigenous groups — Kaingang, Guarani, Xokleng, Xetá —, leading to the first attempts at non-indigenous occupation in the lands of the interior of the Southern provinces. The Indians’ reactions were violent, and the conflicts were marked by attacks on both sides, despite the strategy of the Whites to try to win the confidence of the Indians by bringing them presents. All of the expeditions had to abandon the area of Campos Gerais and only 40 years later, they returned, achieving greater success in the 19th Century.

The Conquest of the Kaingang territories in the 19th Century

NIn the 19th Century, there were scores of territorial political units, each one of which was led by a main chief (põ’í-bang) and several subordinate chiefs (rekakê; põ’í) of the local groups which formed the socio-political unit. More exactly, the Kaingang territories in Rio Grande do Sul had the Piratini river as their northwest border, the Pelotas River to the northeast, the Caí, Taquari and Jacuí river basins to the south. As happened in the river basins of the present State of Paraná, several of these chiefs became allies of the Whites and collaborated in the conquest of the resistant groups. The põ’í who, at different moments, collaborated in the process of conquest became famous in the history of the region: in Paraná and Santa Catarina – Condá, Viri and Doble; in Rio Grande do Sul - Condá, Nonoai, Fongue, Nicafi (also written Nicaji, Nicofé, Nicafim), Braga and Doble.

One can relate the geographical expansion of the Kaingang to the mounting pressures of the conquest expeditions. Several chiefs decided to settle and become allies of the Whites, forcing the recalcitrant groups to withdraw to places that were further away from the expansionist route, where they remained until they were once again located and pressured into settling, freeing up part of their territories to the ranchers and national and foreign colonists.

On the conquest of Kaingang territories in Paraná, Mota (1994; 1998) is the researcher who has studied in greatest detail the historical events of contact and the strategies utilized by the indigenous political authorities who, through intense negotiations with the governments, succeeded in holding on to part of their territories until the present day. For the reconstruction of Kaingang history in Rio Grande do Sul, we have the research of Becker (1975) and de Simonian (1981; 1994a; 1994b; 1994c) and in Santa Catarina we have the contribution by D’Angelis (1984; 1994).

The forest road was the initial axis for the occupation of the indigenous territories of the south, which intensified with the commerce from mule and cattle trains brought from Rio Grande do Sul to Sorocaba by way of the Campos Gerais in Paraná. The route of the troops was what would in reality become a national occupation and exploitation front on indigenous lands, especially with the implantation of sesmarias [land grants] from Campos Gerais in Paraná, not only towards the south, but also to the west and north. The expansion of colonists from São Paulo was the spearhead for the conquest of the indigenous lands of Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. The expansion to the north and west of the Campos Gerais is related to the search for an overland connection between the coast of Paranaguá and Mato Grosso, which was of crucial importance for the imperial government in the consolidation of the lands beyond the Paraná River. Another road, connecting Palmas to Corrientes, in Argentina, was begun in 1857 under the responsibility of the engineer Hégrèville.

All of these roads and trails cut through scores of Kaingang territories. The Indians attacked the troops, workers and colonists who would set up camp at the stopping and resting places, which over time became towns such as Castro, Ponta Grossa, Lapa and Palmeiras, in Paraná; Lajes, Curitibanos, Campos Novos and São Joaquim, in Santa Catarina; Vacaria and Cruz Alta in Rio Grande do Sul.

The occupation of the Campos Gerais was renewed in 1810, when a new expedition returned to the fields of Koran-bang-rê, with the clear objective of defeating the Indians. There was no question anymore of enslaving Indians or selling them as slaves, but rather of conquering their lands, first the areas of fields which could immediately be used as pastures for the herds that accompanied the expeditions. After three months of bloody battles and wars, the Kaingang of the Koran-bang-rê were defeated by the troops commanded by Diogo Pinto de Azevedo.

Once their victory was consolidated, ranches were installed in the territories of Koran-bang-rê and from the time of the contacts established with the conquered Indians, the Indians informed the ranchers of the existence of other fields to the west and southwest. Thus, in 1839, the ranchers conquered and occupied the fields of Kreie-bang-rê. In the center of Koran-bang-rê the city of Guarapuava arose, and in Kreie-bang-rê, the city of Palmas emerged, practically and symbolically smothering the Kaingang territories.

Several roads were being opened in the direction of São Pedro do Rio Grande do Sul (today, the state of Rio Grande do Sul). In the 1830s, a connection was sought between the towns of Guarapuava (in Koran-bang-rê) and Palmas (in Kreie-bang-rê) and, in 1842, a way connecting Palmas to Curitiba. In 1860 the government authorized the opening of a road between Kreie-bang-rê and Corrientes, Argentina, which passed through several Kaingang territories such as Kampo-rê and Kavarú-koyá. At that time, the lands of Kavarú-koyá were inhabited by the group of the chief Fracrân (also known as Endjotoi). In 1865, this group was contacted by the expedition of the engineer Morais Jardim and, despite the resistance to occupation, it was defeated by the group of Kondá, which was working for the whites.

Kondá also helped in the conquest of Kampo-rê (SC) and Nonoai (RS). After his split with Virí, his subordinate, he went to live in the fields of Chopim. Later, he became the leader of the Kaingang of Nonoai and made an alliance with the government of Rio Grande do Sul, settling in the fields of Goio-en. In his position as government employee (he received military remuneration from the government), he assisted in the opening up of a road connecting Kampo-rê (Campo-erê) to Kreie-bang-rê (Palmas) and, together with the engineer Hegrévillè, he assisted in opening up the road connecting Palmas to Corrientes, in the North of Argentina.

In the direction of Rio Grande do Sul, the conquest expeditions located and occupied the fields of Xaxerê, which separated the valleys of the Chapecó and Uruguai rivers. There, they founded the military colony of Chapecó, which is today the city of Xanxerê (SC). Since several groups wanted to be settled near the military colony, it was founded in the vicinity of Toldo Formigas, whose chief was Kondá.

Virí was another Kaingang who worked as an ally for the whites. He was chief of the Kaingang who lived in Covó and came in contact with the whites around 1839. He moved permanently to the settlement in Palmas in 1850. From subordinate chief of the groups led by Kondá, he became a dissident and worked in an independent way, his group constituting a paramilitary force for the Whites. He defended Palmas from the attack by the Indians led by Vaiton and by many other groups who attacked the town in 1854. He organized the attack on the Kaingang of Paikerê in 1855, bringing back 17 prisoners whom he tried to sell to the ranchers of Palmas. A part of the Indians from Paikerê, after Virí’s attack, gave themselves up spontaneously in the military colony of Jataí, in 1858. In 1864, Virí began receiving military remuneration from the government, which lasted until 1873, when he died.

Other Kaingang chiefs who received salary from the provincial government in exchange for their protecting the new towns and cities were: Bandeira, Henrique, Gregório and Doble. Bandeira was chief of the indigenous settlements of the forests between the Corumbataí and Ivaí rivers. The chiefs Henrique and Gregório lived in the indigenous settlements of Campo Mourão, near the old Vila Rica do Espírito Santo, on the left bank of the Ivaí River. In 1896 they were chiefs of the settlements of Ranchinho and Bufadeira. All of them had been invited by Luiz Cleve to live in the village of Marrecas.

The chief Paulino Arak-xó (also called Dotay) at first lived on the banks of the upper Ivaí with 95 Indians, in the place called Porteirinha, near Barra Vermelha. In 1896 he had moved to the indigenous settlement of Ubá. Seemingly, this is a region of the present-day municipality of Cândido de Abreu.

Groups of the chiefs Aropquimbé, Covó and Nhozoro, all brothers, lived in the Tibagi-PR basin. The conquest of this region was important for the neo-Brazilians because, as we have already said, the imperial State desired to find a connection between the coast of Paranaguá and Mato Grosso, for strategic reasons having to do with the conquest and incorporation of territories to the west. A part of the Kaingang who inhabited the forests of the Tibagi were the Dorins, who had participated in the attack and burning of Atalaia (Guarapuava) in 1825.

Included in the conquest strategy, the founding of four military colonies in the province of Paraná and four in Mato Grosso was planned. The military colony of Jataí was founded in 1855 and, facing it, on the other side of the river, an indigenous settlement was founded which came to be inhabited by several Guarani-kaiowá groups brought from Mato Grosso in 1852 and others who came in the following years. The first contacts with the isolated Kaingang who lived in the forests of the Tibagi basin were begun in 1858. In 1859 the founding of the settlement of São Jerônimo was authorized so that the Kaingang would establish their villages there.

In 1862, the Kaingang came to the settlement led by the chief Aropquimbe, the first from the region of the Tibagi who accepted moving permanently to the settlement. In the following year, it was the Kaingang led by the chief Kairu. In 1864 two groups moved to the settlement of São Pedro: one led by Kovó and the other by Gregório.

The Kaingang of Rio Grande do Sul were catechized and settled at the same time as those of Paraná and Santa Catarina. The opening of a road connecting Palmas to the lands of the Rio Grande Missions was vital to their incorporation to Brazilian territory. In 1845, the second lieutenant Francisco da Rocha Loures was put in charge of this task. Knowing that he would have to cross through Kaingang lands, Loures hired Kondá to help him, not only to know the places that would be safe to stay, but also to guarantee the safety of the expedition and try to convince the Indians to accept settlement. Parallel to this, the government sent missionaries to the region of Nonoai to promote settlement and catechization.

In 1848 the chief Fongue was subdued, and he came to settle with his group in the settlement of Guarita. The presence of Fongue is recorded in reports from 1880 in the settlements of Pinheiro Ralo and Inhacorá and also as one of the chiefs subordinate to the principal chief, Nonoai. In the same region, to the side of Fongue’s group, there is a record of the group of the chief Votouro; to the west, in the regions of Vacaria and Lagoa Vermelha, there were the groups led by the chiefs Doble and Nicafé (Nicaji; Nicafim).

Fongue assisted in the conquest of the Kaingang of the chief Nikué (known as Big John), at the service of the Whites. The conquests pushed on in the direction of the fields of Nonoai where the groups led by the chiefs Nonoai, Kondá and Nicafé (Konda’s daughter’s husband) lived. In 1850 the engineer Mabilde was able to arrange the settlement of the group of the chief Braga, who lived in Mato Castelhano and Campo do Meio. The settlement was situated in Campo do Meio. As there were many subgroups led by Braga, several chiefs did not move to the settlements and the dissident groups remained in their traditional territories, as was the case of the group led by Nicafé. In 1865/66, there are records of the presence of the chief Chico, who lived in Campo do Meio.

The chief Doble, after his split with the main chief, Braga, presented himself to the whites to be settled, thus becoming one of the principal assistants of the “military” force of the Whites in the submission of the isolated groups who attacked the colonists and troops. Doble thus appears, in many places, with Braga before contact and, after, in the service of the whites: in the region of Mato Castelhano, until 1848; in the depths of the Fields of Nonoai and Guarita, in 1849; in Vacaria, in 1851. In the settlement of Santa Izabel he succeeded in submitting the Kaaguá, near the colony of Monte Caseros (Mato Português); Flores refers to Doble in Pontão, in 1880, with 200 Indians. He was responsible for the extermination of the group of the chief Nicafé, the survivors of which settled permanently in Santa Izabel, led by the chief Chico (who must have succeeded the deceased Nicafé). This settlement was extinct in1861. In 1862, Doble left the region and settled near the colony of Monte Caseros, in the place that was later known as Toldo de Caseros. In fact, Doble led 11 groups, each of which had its own chief, when they presented themselves at the colony of Monte Caseros.  

Kaingang contra colonos em Nonoai. Foto: Assis Hoffman, 1978.
Kaingang contra colonos em Nonoai. Foto: Assis Hoffman, 1978.

The main chief (Põ’í-bang) Braga, was leader of a group of 23 subgroups and dominated an extensive territory that covered the Mato Castelhano, the Campo do Meio, and the fields of Vacaria and Passo Fundo, to the southeast of these forests and between the headwaters of the Turvo Prata rivers, tributaries of the river of the Tapirs. With the dissidence of the group of the subordinate chief Doble, they began to go to war amongst themselves. The conquest of the chiefs Nonoai, Kondá and Nicafé, for Braga, meant more persecutors against him. Shortly before 1850, he was camped between the Tapir and Caí rivers, and, possibly to flee from the persecutions, he moved to the hills between the Turvo and Prata rivers, where the engineer Mabilde met him, and convinced him to settle in Campo do Meio.

The chief Nonoai and his group were contacted by Father Parés, who had established himself in the area under the protection of the government. In 1848 the Jesuit priests began the catechization of the Kaingang of Guarita and Nonoai. The settlements founded between 1848 and 1850 in the North and Northwest of Rio Grande do Sul, according to Becker’s analysis, had as their objective to concentrate the Kaingang led by the chiefs Nonoai, Fongue and Braga for the purpose of distributing their lands among the German colonists.

Another important group in the history of Rio Grande do Sul was led by the chief Votouro, probably from Paraná, who did not accept being settled and crossed over the Uruguai River. He was chief of the indigenous settlements of Votouro, five leagues to the east of Nonoai, on the other side of the Passo Fundo River.

Despite all the wars of the Kaingang to expel the Whites, the chiefs were overcome one by one and accepted taking up residence in the settlements defined by the government, under penalty of being exterminated, as in fact several were. At the same time as the settlement process was underway, the territories were being occupied by ranches and national colonization went on being consolidated in the following decades. At the end of the 19th Century, one can say that all the groups had been conquered, with few exceptions: in the state of São Paulo, the Kaingang of the region of Aguapeí still resisted; in Paraná there were two Kaingang groups in the forests between the Cinzas and Laranjinha rivers; in Santa Catarina the Xokléng still resisted and attacked colonists and passers-by.

The strategy that guaranteed the efficacy of the conquest of the Indians was that of transforming the settled groups into military forces at the service of conquest. Not only did these groups activate the already existing enmities among the different chiefs but also they multiplied and potentialized these enmities. The fact that one groups allied itself with the White man produced dissidence among all the resistant groups, which were then implacably persecuted.g.

The conquest of the last Kaingang groups in the 20th Century

Kaingang aldeados. Foto: acervo Museu do índio, década de 1950.
Kaingang aldeados. Foto: acervo Museu do índio, década de 1950.

NIn the 19th Century, the territories of the principal chiefs provide evidence for their presence in the present-day states of São Paulo, Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and also in Argentina, in the region of Misiones Province. All the Kaingang groups and chiefs who lived in the south of Brazil were practically conquered and settled in the 19th Century, with the exception of the Kaingang of the Tietê-SP basin and the groups who lived in the territories between the Laranjinha and Cinzas rivers, in Paraná. Those of São Paulo were conquered in 1912 and those of Paraná in 1930. In all expeditions of conquest, several pacified Kaingang from São Jerônimo were utilized.

The Kaingang in the State of São Paulo had their territories invaded by the government of the state and by colonizers who, in a joint operation, began constructing the railway towards the backlands which was in fact the territory of the Kaingang. The attacks of the Kaingang on the railway workers were one of the reasons behind the creation of the SPI and the organization of pacification expeditions. Several Kaingang of the Tibagi basin and other linguarás (interpreters who participated in the expedition) were hired to help in the contacts in 1912, the beginning of the conquest. Horta Barboza recorded that half of the Kaingang of São Paulo died from a flu epidemic shortly after the first contacts between 1912 and 1913.  

Família kaingang de Passo Fundo (RS). Foto: acervo Museu do Índio, 1922.
Família kaingang de Passo Fundo (RS). Foto: acervo Museu do Índio, 1922.

In the state of Paraná linguarás and Kaingang Indians from São Jerônimo were also utilized to help in the pacification of the isolated groups. Two expeditions were organized by the SPI in partnership with the CTNP-Northern Paraná Lands Company. The Guarani who lived in the same region were also used as assistants in these expeditions. In 1930 two groups were contacted and accepted the SPI’s “protection” proposals: the smaller group, with about twenty-five people, was settled on the “Old” post or Krenau (near the present=day Guarani village of Laranjinha, municipality of Santa Amélia) and the second group, larger, with about a hundred people was taken to the region of the Ivaí (Tommasino, 1995). With the epidemics that swept the region, the entire group that was settled on the Old Post or Krenau, died. As for those who were taken to the Ivai, there are no reports of what happened to them.

Social and political organization

Família kaingang fazendo fogo de chão na TI Apucaraninha (PR). Foto: Kimiye Tommasino, 1999.
Família kaingang fazendo fogo de chão na TI Apucaraninha (PR). Foto: Kimiye Tommasino, 1999.

In view of the profound influences produced by the violent history between this indigenous population and the White colonizers, analyses of Kaingang social and political organization will be developed based on the presentation of what we conventionally call the “traditional model” and the “present-day model”. Beyond analyzing the differences between the two, this distinction intends to offer resources for comprehending the principles that organize Kaingang social life.

Traditional Model

The Kaingang, like other groups of the Macro-Jê language family, are characterized as socio-centric societies that recognize dualistic socio-cosmological principles, presenting a system of moieties. Among the Kaingang the moieties which gave rise to society are called Kamé and Kairu. The records of the first conquerors of the Campos de Guarapuava suggest that the colonizers partially perceived this mode of social organization. The conquerors knew that the Kaingang recognized certain social divisions, for such divisions resulted in the existence of distinct groups who presented distinct attitudes in relation to the whites. Thus, Father Chagas Lima (1812) proceeded to identify the ‘tribes’ of the Camés and of the Votorões as allies and the tribe of the Dorins as isolated from contact with the whites.

The moiety system, as an articulating mechanism of Kaingang social organization has produced much more complex forms than those identified by the first colonizers. In the origin myth gathered by Telêmaco Borba (1882) one finds a summarized version of Kaingang dualist cosmology. In this myth, the culture heroes Kamé and Kairu produce not only the divisions among men, but also the division among the beings of nature. In this way, according to the Kaingang tradition, the Sun is Kamé and the Moon Kairu, the pine tree is Kamé and the cedar Kairu, the lizard is Kamé and the monkey Kairu, and so on. The strongest sociological expression for this dualist conception is the principle of exogamy among the moieties. According to the Kaingang tradition, marriages must be made between individuals of opposite moieties; the Kamé have to marry with the Kairu and vice-versa.

Kaingang de Ivaí (RS). Foto: Vilaine Capellari, 1994.
Kaingang de Ivaí (RS). Foto: Vilaine Capellari, 1994.

Although marriages ideally unite members of the Kamé and Kairu moieties, the children of this ideal marriage are filiated with the paternal moiety. Various ethnological records reveal the occurrence of patrilineal descent. Teschauer (1927), for example, states that according to the Kaingang tradition, “the child owes its existence exclusively to the father. The mother was only the receptacle and caretaker of the progeny (...) the social condition of the father passes to the children and not that of the mother”(Teschauer 1927:44). Despite the pattern of patrilineal descent, the traditional residence form among the Kaingang is matrilocality – after marriage, the girl’s husband goes to live in his wife’s father’s house. This residence pattern is common among all Jê groups.

As we have seen, membership in a moiety is the result of paternal descent. The ratification of this identity occurs with the choice of a name for the newborn. Naming among the Jê, and specifically among the Kaingang, has been described as an important process for the establishment of social identities. The mythological heroes themselves, Kamé and Kairu, created and named the beings of nature. The names belong to the moieties. On being named, the children receive their social identity, which, along with paternal descent, will be their distinctive mark. In contrast to descent, which cannot be changed, names can be manipulated for the purpose of protecting the child against sicknesses or other misfortunes.

Traditional Kaingang socio-cosmological principles operate on a social structure based on the articulation of territorially localized social units, formed by interconnected families who divide ceremonial, social, educational, economic, and political responsibilities. Kaingang social morphology is based on complementary and asymmetric principles with relation to the dualist principles. The minimum Kaingang social unit is the family group formed by a nuclear family (parents and children). These family groups are part of larger social units that we can call domestic groups, which are formed, ideally, by an elderly married couple, their single sons and daughters, their married daughters, their daughters’ husbands and grandchildren. This domestic group does not necessarily occupy the same dwelling-place, but rather the same territory. According to historical reports (19th Century) and recent observations, we can attest that these domestic groups were formed by groups of twenty to fifty individuals. The domestic group is a fundamental social unit in the construction of Kaingang sociability, for, due to the combination of the rules of matrilocal residence (post-marital residence in the house of the bride’s father) and descent (paternal) men and women of opposite moieties live together within these units thus reproducing, in a certain way, the socio-cosmological principles of moiety dualism. Within the domestic groups, however, there is an asymmetry of status, between husband’s father, and daughter’s husband. Many authors state that it is the political dynamic established between these two social roles that is at the basis of all political organization of Jê societies and also of the Kaingang.

Further, according to the historical reports, we perceive that the domestic groups are encompassed by two other larger social units: the local groups and the político-territorial groups. The local groups correspond to the articulation among several domestic groups, which, through kinship ties, maintain a relation of mutual reciprocity. The politico-territorial units correspond to the most inclusive spheres of articulation among local groups. The same asymmetry of status postulated for the domestic group (wife’s father – daughter’s husband) occurs in the inter-relation of local groups and politico-territorial units. The great Kaingang leaders of the 19th Century were, in effect, the chiefs of politico-territorial units (põ’í bang) and maintained a relation of domination over the chiefs of the local groups (põ’í; rekakê). Thus, the historical records describe the absolute power of command of chiefs such as Nonoai, Braga, Doble, Condá, Fongue and Nicafim over vast territories of the Northwest of Rio Grande do Sul and the West of Santa Catarina. The estimated population for these político-territorial units of the 19th Century was from three hundred to five hundred individuals.

Present-day Model

All of the parameters of social organization analyzed above are, in some form, present in the construction of Kaingang sociability in the present-day. We can perceive that there is a clear permanence of principles, especially with regard to the rules of descent, residence, economic production and political authority.

The concept of descent continues to be operative among the Kaingang. The very criteria of ethnic identity is shaped by the concept of paternal descent. To be Kaingang means to be the son of a Kaingang father. On Kaingang indigenous lands, there is a significant number of individuals classified as mestiços (children of marriages between Kaingang and whites), mixtures (children of parents from two indigenous ethnic groups, such as Kaingang with Guarani or Kaingang with Xokleng) , Indians (Whites married with Kaingang women who live as incorporated members of the wife’s community), or crossed (according to the Kaingang themselves, these are defined as those children of Indian mother and White father and who do not speak the native language).

Given that the post-marital residence rule is matrilocal, parents and male children theoretically go to live in separate residences at the marriage of their children. This separation does not prevent parents and children from maintaining relations of solidarity, which is especially evident in the making of their gardens. In effect, many Kaingang state that the children inherit the gardens of their parents. Moreover, there are numerous cases where the gardens of the parents and children are contiguous. We perceive the same rule with regard to political organization – no doubt there is a recurrence of the permanence of the sons in the posts and positions that their fathers occupied. According to several historical records and our own field observations, it is common for the sons to succeed their fathers in the post of chief.

The rule of matrilocality is maintained as a structuring principle in the constitution of the domestic groups. It is common to see houses that are built near each other occupied by women who have some relation of consanguinety (sisters, daughters and granddaughters, for example) and men who have some relation of affinity (wife’s father, daughter’s husband, and sister’s brothers). Obviously, not all families are organized according to this pattern, but there are historical and ethnographic records that demonstrate that matrilocality constitutes a residence pattern.

There are cases in which the residence pattern is not matrilocal. In these cases the most common form of residence is neolocality – the married couple sets up a new home. Even in these cases, it is the relations of kinship which guarantee the socialization of the new family in the community. That is, even if the residence pattern presents differences in relation to the traditional model, the mechanisms of solidarity constructed by kinship continue to operate as a native strategy of sociability. In effect, for the Kaingang the worst punishment that one could receive is withdrawal – transferral, as they say – from the land of their families. The people who are transferred not only are at a distance from their umbilical cords and their dead, but, above all, they are set off from their kin ties and, because of that, they suffer numerous deprivations.

If we remain alert to a comparison between the traditional model and the present-day model of Kaingang sociability, we can state that the family and domestic groups of the past and those of the present are structurally identical. That is: the domestic groups encompass the family groups. We can go further in this comparison and state that the local groups of the past correspond to the assistance groups of the present. Evidently, there are differences between these two groups. In the past the agenda of a local group was formed by activities such as the hunt, gathering, wars with neighbours, alliances celebrated in ritual events. In the present, the assistance groups share religious beliefs and productive practices of another order, yet, they remain as a group with a specific social identity. If we accept this comparison, we can advance our comprehension of the strategies of Kaingang sociability by stating that these assistance groups encompass the lesser social units (domestic groups and family groups) and, in turn, are encompassed by larger social units. In the past we conventionally called these larger social units, político-territorial units; in the present-day context, we identify two other social units that are all-encompassing, which are: the villages and the Indigenous Lands.

This social structure is visible both in the distribution of the houses, and in the distribution of the families. However, it is in Kaingang political organization that this model of sociability becomes evident to the outside observer with greater clarity. The Kaingang, as has already been pointed out by numerous studies, are characterized by a highly hierarchicized political structure. The maximum position of this hierarchy is occupied by the chief, followed by the vice-chief. The vice-chief is not a mere assistant in the decisions taken by the chief. In fact, this post carries a great deal of prestige and attributes comparable to those of the chief. In the traditional model, as the old people relate, chief and vice-chief should belong to opposite moieties; this rule is still followed in some Kaingang lands – the Kaingang themselves justify this in the following way: only with individuals of the opposite moiety is it possible to plan political actions; punishments, on the other hand, can only be applied by individuals of the same moiety. There is thus a notion of complementarity between these posts.

The attributes of chief and vice-chief involve both representing the group before the authorities of the White man’s world, and decisions on diverse aspects related to internal dynamics of the groups. For the Kaingang, in a general way, the political authority of their chiefs is directly related to the capacity of the chief to represent his group well. For this, they expect that the authority of their chiefs will go beyond the borders of the Indigenous Land. That is: it is important that the indigenous authority also be an authority in the “world of the Whites’. There are numerous cases in which the chiefs combine these two attributes being, at the same time, chiefs and councilmen in neighboring municipal governments.

The participation of the chief and the vice-chief in the internal dynamics of the Indigenous Land is related to the process of taking decisions related to economic, political, legal, and ethical questions. Such decisions involve the participation of other Kaingang authorities, those that are generically called the Leadership, a sort of local council. Besides the chief and vice-chief, the other members of the Leadership are individuals that fulfill specific functions, either related to social control (called ‘soldiers’, ‘corporals’, ‘sergeants’), or related to processes of decision-making(called capitães and councilmen) – these are terms which are used by the Indians themselves. In research undertaken between the years 2000 and 2003, which analyzed the political structures of ten Kaingang indigenous lands, Fernandes discovered that among these Indians there is, on the average, one political authority for each six families (or thirty individuals).

The selection of the chief is done through elections, in which the men over 15 years old participate. This is a common process on Kaingang lands: in the Kaingang lands in Rio Grande do Sul, there are elections with parties identified as corn and beans. The voters drop a grain corresponding to their candidate into the urns. On the Ligeiro Indigenous Land, in the elections which took place in 2000, there was a third candidate, who utilized soy beans for the elections. Theoretically, the chief appoints his political assessors (vice-chief and members of the Leadership). Despite the fact that the elections are a practice that is well-established in Kaingang political life, candidates to the position of chief are articulated among the families of greater prestige in the Indigenous Lands.

In the same way that one verifies a hierarchical structure in the political positions, one also verifies an hierarchy in the decision-making processes. The ‘soldiers’, corporals and sergeants are responsible for small problems, such as: internal fights, ‘drunkenness’, accusations of petty theft and disrespect for authority. Decisions are made in encounters, generally in front of the house of the capitão of the village, in which the accused explain their motives and the soldiers (in this context they are called the ‘Leadership’) argue, seeking conciliation. The punishments applied to the accused found guilty vary. In the past, the Kaingang were infamous for applying extreme punishments to those found guilty. The best known of these punishments was the ‘trunk’ to which the guilty was tied by his feet. With the establishment of the SPI Indigenous Posts in the Kaingang Indigenous Lands, in the 1940s, the ‘trunks’ were in large part substituted by prisons. Even today, however, there still exist ‘trunks’ on several indigenous lands. There are cases in which the guilty who are accused of serious offenses are either tied to a tree (generally, for a time considered sufficient to ‘cure the drunkenness’), or remain in prison without the right take a bath or eat – they only receive water – or even, in the most serious cases, they are transferred to another Indigenous Land. The punishments, on the average, do not last longer than three days. In the less important cases, the guilty are summoned to do community service(like cleaning the trails and access ways to the school or to the health post).

The transferals are extreme cases, that occur from time to time, and this is an attribute of the chief. In thesis, transferals are applied after the third time that an individual commits a serious offense. It is public knowledge, however, that transferal is imposed in many case on individuals who present opposition and constant criticisms of local politics. There are numerous cases of family groups who, having felt pressured by internal political power, abandoned their lives on the Indigenous Lands, often migrating to the urban centers. According to members of a Kaingang group who abandoned the Xapecó Indigenous Land, and have lived for eight years on the outskirts of Florianópolis, the persecutions and deprivations imposed on those who opposed the Political Leadership, led them to abandon the land. This is also the case of the families who left the Nonoai Indigenous Land and built an emã (village ) in the center of the city of Chapecó-SC in 1998, and later, in 2000 were transferred to the rural zone of the municipality. As we have seen, expulsions and transferals are a frequently utilized recourse. Examples could be multiplied.

We can represent the political hierarchy on the Xapecó Indigenous Land with the following model:

Social Unit Authority Decisions
Indigenous Land Chiefs External
  Vice-chief/Leadership (projects, transferals)
Village Captain maintenance of order
  Soldier punishment


Cosmology and mythology

Vicente Fokãe, liderança do PI Xapecó, no Kikikoi (ritual dos Mortos). Foto: Kimiye Tommasino, 2000.
Vicente Fokãe, liderança do PI Xapecó, no Kikikoi (ritual dos Mortos). Foto: Kimiye Tommasino, 2000.

The dispersion of Kaingang groups over the fields and forests of their traditional territory did not prevent and does not prevent these Indians from recognizing a common cosmological system. Effectively, Kaingang groups even today share, besides a common mythological record, beliefs and practices related to ritual experiences – the deep respect for the dead and the attachment to the lands where their umbilical cords are buried are indisputable expressions of the structuring value that cosmology has for these Indians.

Few studies are dedicated exclusively to the analysis of Kaingang myths. There are, nevertheless, recurring references to the myths collected by Borba (1882), Nimuendajú (1913) and Schaden (1956). We owe the first record of Kaingang mythology to Telêmaco Borba, who, in 1882, published the Kaingang origin myth and myth of the origin of corn. The origin myth narrates the story of the mythological brothers Kamé and Kairu who, after the great deluge, came out from inside Crinjijimbé mountain. “In times past, there was a great deluge that submerged all the land inhabited by our ancestors. Only the top of Crinjijimbé mountain emerged from the waters. The Caingangues, Cayrucrés and Camés swam towards it carrying in their mouths sticks of burning firewood. The Cayrucrés and the Camés, exhausted, drowned; their souls went to live in the center of the mountain...” After the waters had dried, the Caingangues established themselves near Crinjijimbé. The Cayrucrés e Camés, whose souls had gone to live in the center of the mountain, began to open a way through its interior; after much labor, they came out by two paths” (Borba 1908:20-21).

Although Telêmaco Borba had lived for many years with the Kaingang of the region north of the present state of Paraná – which allowed him to record myths and histories as well as prepare a small dictionary of the Kaingang language – he, like his contemporaries of the 19th Century, did not recognize the existence of a system of moieties among these Indians.

Nimuendajú (1913) was the first to state that Kaingang society is organized according to a system of moieties. As he said: “Telêmaco Borba did not understand well this division into two clans (...) The division into Kañeru and Kamé is the guiding thread which passes through the whole social and religious life of this nation..” (Nimuendajú 1993[1913]:60). The division into the Kamé and Kairu moieties, the guiding thread to which Nimuendajú is referring, appears in the myth of origin through the trajectory of the mythological brothers Kamé and Kairu. These are the culture heroes who give their names to the Kaingang moieties, it is they who, in the events of the myth, created the beings of nature. “Kanyerú made snakes, Kamé, jaguars. Kamé first made a jaguar and painted it, then Kanyerú made a deer. Kamé said to the jaguar: ‘Eat the deer, but do not eat us’. After that he made a tapir, ordering it to eat people and animals. The tapir, however, did not understand the order. Kamé even repeated it to him twice but in vain; after that, he said to him angrily: ‘You will eat nettle leaves, you’re good for nothing!’. Kanyeru made snakes and ordered them to bite men and animals” (Nimuendajú 1986:87).

The mythological brothers Kamé e Kairu not only created the beings of nature, but also the rules of conduct by which men should live, defining the formula for moiety recruitment (patrilineality) and establishing the way the moieties should be inter-related (exogamy). “They came to a large field, they joined together the Kaingang and decided to marry the young men and women. First, the Kairucrés married with the daughters of the Kamés, and the latter with the former, and since there still were some men left over, they married the daughters of the Kaingang” (Borba 1908:22).

The dualism expressed in the Kaingang origin myth, as analyzed in the light of Nimuendajú’s contribution, presents two fundamental classificatory properties. In the first place, the Kamé and Kairu dualism offers an all-encompassing and totalizing classificatory system – the beings of nature, including men, possess the mark of the moieties and bear values associated with them, such as: strong/weak, high/low, impulse/persistence. In the second place, Kaingang dualism, in its mythological record, offers a formula for social organization through the establishment of descent and marriage rules.

Both in the version of the origin myth collected by Borba, and in that collected by Nimuendajú, the complementary between the mythological brothers Kamé and Kairu is explicit: the Kamé worked during the day to make the animals which belonged to this moiety, the Kairu, inversely, worked at night; the sun belongs to the Kamé moiety, the moon to the Kairu moiety. Although the complementarity may effectively be expressed in the episodes of the origin myth, there are moments in this narrative which indicate asymmetry, a hierarchical relation between the moieties. In the first place, Kamé was the first to come out from inside the earth after the deluge – this is an important characteristic for the unfolding of the ritual experience, as we shall see further on. In the second place, the episodes which involve the creation of the animals present Kamé and Kairu with different powers. To combat the ming (the jaguar or tiger, as they say), created by Kamé:“Kairucré was making another animal, he had still not made its teeth, tongue and some toenails, when dawn was beginning to appear, and, since during the day he had no power to make it, he quickly put a thin stick in its mouth and said to it: You, since you have no teeth, will live eating ants - ; that is why the anteater, Tamanduá, ioty, is an unfinished and imperfect animal”(Borba 1882).

Kairu, in this myth, is a total disaster in his attempts to imitate Kamé, the result of his creation is unfinished and imperfect. In the case of the creation of the animals, one is not dealing with a complementary opposition, nor with a simple inversion, but with an opposition that evaluates in an unequal way the creations of Kamé (perfect and dangerous) and of Kairu (imperfect and unfinished). In the case of a confrontation, the creatures of Kamé are winners – once again, the Kamé come out on top.

Complementarity and assymetry are characteristics expressed in the Kaingang myths. Updated narratives employ this formula to deal with themes from popular Catholicism. Perfection opposed to imperfection appears as the organizing axis of narratives about Christian figures (such as the Catholic saints or like São João Maria do Agostinho, the Monk of the Contestado movement). Besides having a common formula, the updated versions of the Kaingang myths always present the participation of animals which, as in the origin myths, think, speak, and act like humans.

Ritual e shamanism

Carimbo de taquara kaingang. Foto: Vladimir Kozak, 1955.
Carimbo de taquara kaingang. Foto: Vladimir Kozak, 1955.

The center of ritual life among the Kaingang is occupied by the ritual of the cult to the dead. Effectively, among these Indians the stages of the life cycle either are the object of rituals restricted to the domestic environment (the case of naming ceremonies) or do not present any form of ritualization (the case of marriages). By contrast, the cult to the dead stands out not only for the importance attributed to it by the Kaingang, but also, for its community and inter-community character.

We owe the first references to the ritual of Kikikoi to Curt Nimuendajú (1913) and Herbert Baldus (1937), although the records on the drinking bouts which accompanied the funerals, in which the beverage Aquiqui was consumed go back to the first decades of the 19th Century.

The Kiki, or the ritual of the Kikikoi (to eat the Kiki), as the Kaingang cult to the dead is known, has already been described as the center of the religious life of these Indians. Although this ritual today is celebrated by only a small group on the Xapecó (SC) Indigenous Land, all the Kaingang associate the Kiki with the indigenous ‘tradition’, to the ‘system of the ancients’. The historical records allow us to state that, in the past, this ritual was held in various regions.

Even in the present context of the Xapecó Indigenous Land, where the Kiki was last held in the year 2000, the holding of this ritual makes it possible to identify the articulation of this ritual experience with beliefs and practices related to Kaingang dualist cosmology. The ritual consists, fundamentally, of the performance by two groups formed by individuals belonging to each one of the clan moieties, Kamé and Kairu. Kaingang social life, we have seen, operates through the constant fusion of the two clan moieties. During the Kiki, however, the moieties act separately, forming groups of ‘classificatory or mythological consanguineal kin.’ As in the myths, the relations between the groups which act in the ritual are marked by complementarity and assymetry between the Kamé and Kairu moieties.

The holding of the Kikikoi ritual depends on a request from the kin of someone who has died during the previous year or in previous years. It is necessary that there be dead from both halves. The ritual process is marked by the meeting of the chanters around three lit fires, on different days, on the terrain of the organizer – a place known as the ‘dance plaza’ or the ‘plaza of the fires’. The date of the first fire generally occurs two months before the holding of the third and final fire. The Kaingang state that the ritual should take place between the months of January and June. The first fire (two fires are lit, one for each moiety) precedes the cutting (the felling) of the pine tree (Araucaria augustifolia), which will be used for the konkéi (trough), a container where the beverage which has the name of the ritual - ‘kiki’ (about 70 litres of honey and 250 litres of water) is poured. The second fire (there are four fires, two for each moiety) occurs on the following night and precedes the beginning of the preparation of the konkéi.

The third fire, the most important stage of the ritual, articulates a greater number of people and events. About two months after the pouring of the beverage into the konkéi, six fires are lit – three of the Kamé and three of the Kairu – parallel to the konkéi. The chanters remain throughout the night around the fires, accompanied by other members of the respective moieties, chanting and praying. During this stage, certain women, the péin, do the facial paintings (with dyes made from the mixture of carbon and water), the purpose of which is to protect the participants from the spirits of the dead of each moiety. It is these women who are prepared to enter into contact with the objects of the dead, without running the risks derived from this act. The chanters from one moiety direct their chants to the dead from the opposite moiety. They pray, sing, and play wind instruments (made of bamboo – turu) and rattles (made of gourds and corn grain – xik-xi). At dawn, the groups leave the dance plaza in the direction of the cemetery, where once again prayers are said for the dead at their tombs. When they return to the dance plaza the groups mix together in dances around the fires. The ritual is concluded with the consumption of the drink, the Kiki. The Kikikoi can be defined as an effort by society to ratify the power of the world of the living over the dangers associated with the nearness of the dead. In these efforts the Kaingang articulate themes such as the complementarity of the moieties, naming, the integration of distinct communities, control over territory and the mythological-historical interaction with nature. The great effort demanded in the holding of this ritual, associated with the formal necessity of integrating different communities, means that it is only held on some indigenous lands. Even these days, the holding of the ritual of the Kiki on the Xapecó Indigenous Land depends on the participation of the guests (chanters and dancers) who reside on the Palmas Indigenous Land.

From the 1940s on, with the intensification of the presence of the Indian Protection Service inside the Kaingang Indigenous Lands, the ritual of the Kiki was gradually abandoned. The “civilizing” pressures condemned both the drinking bouts which marked the festive stages of the ritual and the inter-community articulation necessary for the holding of the Kiki. The strongest, or better said, the most visible expression of Kaingang religiosity was strongly combated. Equally combated were the Kaingang shamans, many of whom had their houses burned and were forced to abandon their lands, still in the decades of the 40s and ‘50s. The shamans, whom the Kaingang call Kuiã, demonstrate, as in the Kikkikoi, a deep and dangerous knowledge (dangerous in the eyes of the “civilizers”), a capacity for manipulating the relation between Nature, Culture and the Supernatural.

The kuiã (shamans), effectively are not only concerned with curing but also with knowledge, or the capacity to “see and know what’s what” (as one Kaingang from the Rio da Várzea Indigenous Land/RS, said). According to a scholar of Kaingang shamanism Robert Crépeau (1997), the power of the kuiã is acquired through the “companions”or animal guides. To initiate the relation with the ‘animal companion’, someone who wishes to become a kuiã should go to the “virgin forest”, cut palmtree leaves and make recipients where he will put water to attract the ‘companion’. Several days later, the initiant should return to the virgin forest and he will know which animal drank the prepared water. If he himself drinks and bathes himself with this water he will come to have the animal as ‘companion’and guide. The power of the kuiã depends on the type of ‘animal companion’ that he possesses. The strongest, who have the mig (jaguar, tiger) as guide, will be able to bring people whose spirits have been seduced by the dead back to life, journeying to Numbé (the intermediate place between the world of the living and the world of the dead).

Besides his curing power, the kuiã develop the capacity to see what is about to happen to those who live in the group. In the case of a struggle between rival groups – an old Kaingang responsible for the present-day organization of the Kiki ritual, explained– the kuiã know when the adversaries are preparing an attack. If the group to be attacked also has a kuiã, he will know that an attack is being prepared, “they converse only amongst themselves, like a telephone”. With their guides or animal ‘companions’, the kuiã thus occupy a strategic position in the organization of the social and political life of the Kaingang communities. The respect the kuiã have for their animal guides is very special. Even though the Kaingang are traditionally hunters, the kuiã cannot hunt these animals.

Although the activities of the kuiã are not restricted to the domain of curing, this is one of their principal attributes. It is also the animal ‘companions’ who teach the kuiã the treatment of sickness with the ‘forest remedies’. This knowledge is not limited to the activities of the kuiã; many people know the ‘forest remedies’. There are, in effect, numerous categories of knowers of forest remedies, such as : curers, remedy specialists and midwives according to several researches that have been undertaken (Oliveira, 1996; Haverroth, 1997). As one old kuiã from the Palmas indigenous land(PR) stated, everything that exists in nature is a remedy. The fundamental condition for considering plants to be ‘forest remedies’ is their location in the virgin forest – the ‘remedies of the forest’ cannot be cultivated, being in the forest is the condition for the plant’s maintaining its force and the remedy produced, its efficacy.

Kaingang shamanism, therefore, is an expression of the strict relation that these Indians conceive as existing between society, nature and the supernatural. The shaman is a mediator who acts in the relations between the domains of the supernatural and the natural, and his reputation is especially built on his skills in curing and his capacity to see and know.

Art and material culture

The reports of travellers and researchers from the past recorded the richness of Kaingang arts and material culture. They made weapons of war and hunting, woven fabrics of wild nettle fibres, strips of caraguatá, baskets of taquara in several sizes and shapes for various purposes, decorations and adornments and ceramic utensils and calabash gourds. 


Homem kaingang do Ivaí (PR) fabricando uma cesto. Foto: Harold Shultz, 1946.
Homem kaingang do Ivaí (PR) fabricando uma cesto. Foto: Harold Shultz, 1946.

The principal weapons of war consisted of bows (uy), arrows (dou) and spears (urugurú). The arrowpoints were made from monkey and bugio bone and, after contact, from iron obtained from the Whites. The bows were made from fiddlewood (Tabebuia Chrysantha). Before they acquired iron, the Kaingang “forged the bow staff in curved shape, scraping it with sandy and stone blades, and smoothening it with the rough leaves of umbaúba (Cecropia sp.)” and later it was heated over the fire and greased with fat (Métraux, 1949). The spears were equipped with iron tips obtained from the Whites. Some bows measured between 2.10 to 2.40m, but they could be up to 2.70m. Arrowheads were made of broad taquara (bamboo), barbed sticks, wooden sticks, pointed with sharpened monkey or deer bone points, or even with wooden rivets, to shoot small birds.

Again according to Métraux, the clubs of the Kaingang in Paraná were short and cylindrical batons, covered with weaving. The Indians decorated the clubs with burnt engravings and each male adult had a woven carrying-case.

The clubs of the Kaingang in the state of São Paulo had an arched head and measured between 1.6 to 1.8 meters.

Horta Barboza also described the weapons of the Kaingang clarifying that they used bows of different dimensions and strength proportionate to their uses: war bows were around two meters long and also served to hunt large animals such as the jaguar and tapir and were so thick that the hand could hardly secure them. The bows used for killing monkeys and other smaller animals were much lighter, shorter and thinner. The size of the arrows should not exceed the height of the person who made them for his own use.

Presently, several Kaingang make bows and arrows only as decorations to sell as souvenirs on the market. They do not make war anymore and, when they hunt, - an activity that is ever more rare – they utilize shotguns. 


Kaingang ceramics is comprised of pots made of clay in various sizes and shapes. The archaeological remains of the ancestors of the southern Jê may be seen in ceramics and lithic industry for food processing. They also utilized lithic artifacts such as handgrinders made of stone (or pestles), crude or polished stone axes, choppers, scrapers, and shards which were utilized in activities such as the felling of trees, the opening of clearings, gathering of honey and palm cabbage, in agriculture, for gathering edible insects, in the building of shelters and scaffolding for hunting platforms.

Mulher kaingang no posto Icatu fabricando uma panela de cerâmica. Foto: Harold Shultz, 1947.
Mulher kaingang no posto Icatu fabricando uma panela de cerâmica. Foto: Harold Shultz, 1947.

Métraux knew the Kaingang of Misiones (North of Argentina) and related that “ The Kaingang vases have a conical base, so that they may be placed in the sand. The Kaingang-Coroados make large vases for beer (kiki koi) which are notably like the vases and funeral urns of the Guarani, with a conical surface topped by a narrow border. Besides the large pots, the Kaingang also make flat pans to roast and cups to drink, all of these cups have delicate walls”.

The earthen pots (kokrón) could have a capacity of up to 25 litres and the plates (petké) were made by the women as was the mortar, according to Horta Barboza who studied the Kaingang of the state of São Paulo. These were extremely arduous activities, done without the help of instruments except for the skillfulness of their hands and fingers. Often these vases were retouched with the fingernails or with pieces of snailshell (Becker, 1976:234).

During their recent history, Kaingang ceramic artifacts were substituted by industrialized products and today ceramics can be considered an extinct tradition in all the Indigenous Lands.

The woven objects reveal graphic forms and shapes related to the dualist cosmology of the Kaingang, providing evidence for the symbolic organization of the social, natural, and supernatural worlds in the two halves, kamé and kairu. Téi or ror are the names for the marks (ra) or graphic forms (kong gãr) that identify, respectively, the moieties kamé and kairu.

As a general rule, graphic forms, morphologies, and positions/spaces considered as lines, long, high, open are called téi and represent the moiety kamé. On the other hand, the graphic forms, morphologies, and positions/spaces seen as rounded, quadrangular, diamond-shaped, low, closed, are called ror and represent the moiety kairu. Several graphic forms, however, can present a fusion of the téi and ror patterns and are called ianhiá (mixed mark) and appeared on the nettle mantles (kurã; kurú) of some chiefs, on the trunks of pine trees which marked the limits of the territories for gathering pine nuts of each local group, on the arrows of several chiefs and even on the body paintings.

Kaingang graphic art also appears on the Southern Proto-Jê rock paintings and archaeological ceramics. For Baptista da Silva, the most fundamental and important connection for the perception of this system of visual representations is that which links the graphic forms of archaeological ceramics (recognized as Proto-Jê of the South) with the rock art of Southern Brazil, making it possible to compare the set thus formed with the historical graphic art of the Southern Jê societies. Such a comparison is fully possible in relation to the Kaingang. As for the Xokleng, it is partially possible” (Baptista da Silva, 2001:13).

Notes on the sources

The present text utilized both historical records produced over the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, left by indigenists and settlement directors such as Telêmaco Borba and Horta Barboza, as well as by other people who recorded aspects of Kaingang symbolic and material culture, such as Pierre Mabilde and Ambrosetti, who knew the Kaingang in the early years of interethnic contact. These are publications which, although they lack a certain anthropological basis and were almost always contaminated by ethnocentrisms, recorded ethnographic data which are indispensible for analyzing the historical and cultural trajectories of a people who by now have lived in contact with the national society for nearly two hundred years.

The ethnographic and ethnological sources of a more academic nature which were utilized are authors such as Curt Nimuendaju, Herbert Baldus and Egon Schaden, who were the first to focus on fundamental aspects of Kaingang culture.

Nimuendaju (1913) was the first to see a system of moieties in operation and can be considered the father of Kaingang ethnology. In 1937, Baldus published an ethnography of the ritual of the dead (kikikoi) among the Kaingang of Palmas-PR. Schaden dedicated a special chapter to the heroic mythology of the Kaingang. The studies by Nimuendaju served as source material for Métraux’s article published on the Kaingang in the Handbook of South American Indians in 1946.

The studies of the authors cited above also revealed a concern with the process of culture change among indigenous societies which, at that time, adopted the perspective of the progressive acculturation of the groups in permanent contact with the national society and which foresaw in a not-too-distant future the disappearance of these societies as specific socio-cultural entities. The Kaingang, as well as the Xokleng, were not included in the comparative study on the Jê done by the researchers of the Harvard-Central Brazil Project coordinated by David Maybury-Lewis in the 1960s.

Between the 1960s and the end of the ‘80s, studies that assumed the anthropological paradigm of interethnic relations predominated; these gave special attention to aspects of the indigenist policies and their sociological repercussions. There are studies that analyze the violent expropriation of the territory of the Kaingang undertaken by the colonizers together with the state governments which decreed the reduction of Kaingang lands and freed them for occupation by national and foreign colonists. The indigenist policies and indigenist agents were figured into the analyses, almost always occupying the researchers’ principal focus of attention. The main exponents of these studies are: Silvio Coelho dos Santos (1963), Cecília Maria Vieira Helm (1974) and Lígia Simonian (1981).

In this period, it is important to recall the publication by Delvair M. Melatti in 1976 on the Kaingang of São Paulo. Armed with ethnographic methodology and ethnological interests, Melatti brought to light important aspects of the social organization of the Kaingang in the State of São Paulo. However, in her conclusion, the author foresaw among those Kaingang a complete abandonment of the traditional customs as a result of constant external pressures.

The authors of this period studied the groups they researched historically and this can be considered as one of the contributions of their work, having reconstructed the process of conquest of these peoples and its consequences. However, most historians have worked with recent history based on the idea of the inexistence of indigenous populations in the South and Southeastern regions of the country, creating the false notion of a “demographic vacuum” at the time the lands of the interior plateaus were colonized by European immigrants. Questioning this view of official history, the ethnohistorical researches by Lúcio Tadeu Mota (1994; 1998), focus on the Kaingang, Guarani and Xetá from the time of first contacts in the 18th century until 1924, presenting another version that disputes the widely-accepted history in textbooks and academic literature where the indigenous societies either are totally absent or appear only in the first centuries of the conquest in a stereotyped and ethnocentric way. On the indigenous history of the state of Santa Catarina we have the contributions by Sílvio Coelho dos Santos and Wilmar D’Angelis and in Rio Grande do Sul, the researches by Lígia Simonian. These are important works but of difficult access.

In 1976, Ítala Becker organized a publication on an extensive bibliographic research in which she systematically organized the historical and ethnographic material on the Kaingang of Rio Grande do Sul. This publication is of undeniable worth for Kaingang ethnology although the methods are basically historical and the results present the Kaingang as “largely acculturated, but not assimilated” (Becker, 1976:11).

From the 1990s on, ethnological studies on the Kaingang were renewed with the pioneering studies by Juracilda Veiga. In 1992 Veiga undertook a systematic organization of the bibliographic information on ethnological aspects such as mythology, moieties and clans, descent, residence, kinship and naming. Based on this bibliographic review and field research undertaken in the Xapecó Indigenous Land-SC, Veiga presented her Master’s thesis on “Kaingang social organization and marriage: an introduction to kinship, marriage, and naming in a Southern Jê society”, in 1994. This study placed the Kaingang squarely onto the scene of the ethnological studies on the Jê groups.

Recent studies on the Kaingang done by various contemporary anthropologists continue researching specific ethnological aspects of this group, such as Juracilda Veiga (1994; 2000), Kimiye Tommasino (1995), Maria Conceição de Oliveira (1996), Moacir Haverroth (1997), Ricardo Cid Fernandes (1998; 2003), José Ronaldo Fassheber (1998), Ledson Kurtz de Almeida (1998), Angela Célia Sacchi (1999) and Sérgio Baptista da Silva (2001). These researches continue to confirm the relevance of ethnological analyses for the understanding of the Kaingang ethnographic present.

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