From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Photo: Miltom Guran, 1978


Where they are How many
MT 710 (Siasi/Sesai, 2020)
Linguistic family

The Kamaiurá are an important reference in the culture area of the Upper Xingu, in which peoples who speak different languages share very similar worldviews and ways of life. They are even connected by a system of specialized trade and intergroup rituals, which have different names for each ethnic group, but which have become known (both by people within and outside the Xinguan universe) precisely by the terms used in the Kamaiurá language, such as the Kwarup and the Jawari.

Location and population

Aldeia kamaiurá. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.
Aldeia kamaiurá. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.

The Kamaiurá have never withdrawn from their area of occupation, in the region of the junction of the Kuluene and Kuliseu rivers, near the great lake of Ipavu, which means, in the language of these people, “big water”. Presently, the village of the Kamaiurá is located about ten kilometers to the north of the Leonardo Villas-Bôas Post, approximately 500 meters from the south bank of Lake Ipavu and six kilometers from the Kuluene River, to its right. What constitutes the immediate Kamaiurá territory are the village, formed by the houses and cerimonial plaza, the neighboring forest, Lake Ipavu and the streams that flow into it.

Their population in 2002 totalled 355 individuals, demonstrating a significant demographic growth in relation to the beginning of the 1970s, when there were 131. In 1954, when there was a serious measles epidemic in the region, their population was reduced to 94, in contrast with the year 1938, when their population was around 240, and the period in which they were visited by Von den Stein, in 1887, when they totalled 264 people.


As diversas fases de construção de uma casa kamaiurá. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.
As diversas fases de construção de uma casa kamaiurá. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.

The Kamaiurá village follows the upper Xinguan model, with houses arranged more or less in circular fashion, covered with sape grass, with a rounded roof that reaches to the ground. In the center of this circular space there is a patio or “plaza” (hoka´yterip) towards which all trails converge, leading both to the dwelling-places and the public spaces, and where the house of the flutes is built (tapuwí), crossed over the middle by the “path of the sun”. Instruments of notable importance in Kamaiurá culture, the flutes (jakui) can only be seen and touched by men.

In front of the house of the flutes and facing to the east, there is the bench for the smokers’ circle, where the men get together to tell about the happenings of the day or to discuss specific subjects – such as the preparation for a collective fishing expedition, participation in the building of a house, collective cleaning of the plaza, preparation for an upcoming festival, among other things.

As diversas fases de construção de uma casa kamaiurá. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.
As diversas fases de construção de uma casa kamaiurá. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.

The center for information, public place, social and masculine par excelence, this plaza is the place where official messengers from other villages are received with public discourses, where the wrestling matches of the Huka-Huka, the intergroup cerimonies and the majority of the rituals and festivals of the village itself are held. It is also there that, among the men, food distribution (of fish, beiju, porridge, pepper, bananas) is done, generally in payment for services rendered (such as on the occason of a house-building or the burning, cleaning or community planting of a garden), or simply retribution from the “owner” of a festival for those who participated in it. It is even there that the dead are buried.

The house, on the other hand, is a relatively dark and private place, at the same time it is an open place and, fundamentally, the domain of the women and children. Various nuclear and related families live on the sides, while the center part is for shared use, where the cooking fires and food deposits are situated.

Beyond the circle of the houses, the forest and the river ports are reached by a network of trails cut through the low brush and which pass by small individual gardens. Places of privacy and of nightly amorous encounters par excelence, before all else, they open out to a hybrid world, where nature is saturated with supernatural beings and where man can “become an animal”, in the same way that a jaguar can appear to him suddenly “like a person, beautiful, and all decorated”, as they say. The forest is conceived of as a world of radical transformation and mystery; a liminal place, of the profane and sacred, of the known and the always strange and unknown.

History of the occupation of the upper Xingu

Orlando Villas Bôas trocando presentes com os Kamaiurá. Foto: Pedro Martinelli, 1973.
Orlando Villas Bôas trocando presentes com os Kamaiurá. Foto: Pedro Martinelli, 1973.

According to the Kamaiurá, their ancestors came from Wawitsa, a region situated in the extreme north of the Park (precisely where the principal feeder streams of the Xingu River flow into it) and to the side of Morená, center stage of mythical actions and the “center of the world” for them. It is possible that this may still be the principal reference point for defining themselves as a group in space and time.

At the time when Von den Steinen encountered the Kamaiurá, in 1884, they were in the final stage of their migration and were altogether on the banks of the Ipavu. The reasons for this move to the south, near the present day Leonardo Post seem to have been conflicts with peoples who inhabited the areas in the north, especially the Suyá and the Yudjá.

The history of contact of the Kamaiurá with non-indigenous society goes back to 1884, with the expedition of Karl Von den Stein. From that time on, various expeditions passed through the region in intermittent and short visits. In 1942, with the creation of the federal agency, the Central Brazil Foundation, the opening up of roads and the establishing of camps in the area began. In 1946, the Kamaiurá were affected by this penetration and started having regular contacts with the members of the Roncador-Xingu expedition, led by the Villas-Boas brothers. Finally, in 1961, the territory that they inhabit was turned into the National Park, today under the direction of the Funai (National Indian Foundation).

Below we read the history of these people in the words of the indigenous teacher Aisanain Kamaiurá:

Long ago the Kamaiurá people lived where the old village of Prepori was, the place that is called Krukitsa. After, they moved to Wawitsa, where the Pavuru post is today. In this place the Suiá and Yudjá people were attacking the Kamaiurá.


After, they moved to Jacaré and others crossed the river and went to the lake to set up a village. From there they moved to the other side of the lake. Today there are people still living in this village. There they made five villages because there were many people.


Many years passed and then Orlando Villas-Bôas came to the mouth of the Tuatuari.


The Kamaiurá went there just to see the whites. Then, they built a very large village and half of the Kamaiurá went there because of the whites. Orlando went downriver, he wanted to make a post on the Morená. He thought it was clean, but it was dirty. He went downriver to Awara´ï. There they made a landing-strip. There are people living in that place, it’s the village of Boa Esperança. The Kamaiurá came after the whites. After ten days, a Kamaiurá named Amarika, who knew all the places of the Xingu, told Orlando of Jacaré, that it was a good place. Orlando spoke with the people that worked with him and on another day they went there. The Kamaiurá who were with him went back, they left Awara´ï early in the morning, slept in the village of the Trumai, a village that is called Inarija.


Nowadays no-one lives in that place anymore. From there they went to the Leonardo post, where many people were joined together: Kamaiurá, Yawalapiti, Waurá and Trumai. They made a great festival at the Leonardo post. Then Orlando asked the chief to open up a trail to the Kamaiurá village.

Social organization

Um pai com seus filhos. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.
Um pai com seus filhos. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.

The Kamaiurá village is formed by a group of houses, each of which is occupied by a domestic group comprised of a core of brothers, to which are added parallel cousins and eventual members of ascending generations. The leader of this domestic group is the “owner of the house”, morerekwat, who coordinates productive activities and other daily tasks that include the participation of all the nuclear families.

Ideally, residence rules define that in the first years of marriage, the husband should live in the house of his wife’s parents, paying through his services for the concession of their daughter. Having completed this period, the married couple can choose a new residence, which is generally the husband’s house of origin. This rule does not apply to the house-owners, the leader of the village (morerekwaratuwiap) or to those who are already married with another woman. In these situations, the wife from the beginning goes to live in the house of her husband and payment is made with goods. Preferential marriage is, ideally, between cross-cousins. The tie between the houses is established through alliances established by marriages and by common support to the leader of the village.

The formation of the Kamaiurá person implies a period of seclusion at puberty. In the case of the men, they receive systematic instruction on the techniques of male labor. The young man learns how to tie the feather onto the arrow, to make a comb, to weave a basket and to make a feather-crown. At the same time, he is regularly trained in huka-huka wrestling. Seclusion is more prolonged for those who are to assume greater social responsibilities in the community, such that possible leaders can extend their period of seclusion for up to five years, interrupted by short periods of leave.

Thus, the longer the seclusion, the greater the benefits for the young man. In the periods of leave that interrupt the times of seclusion, the parents seek to prevent the young man from having sexual experiences, for their energy can be jeopardized. The parents seek to put off initiating their son into sexual life until he has turned into a good wrestler.

Young girls go into seclusion at the time of their first menstruation, at which time they learn to makes mats, weave hammocks and perform female tasks in the preparation of food. Their seclusion does not last more than a year, a period in which she does not cut her hair (with her bangs growing over her eyes). On coming out, she has a new name, is considered an adult and ready for marriage.

In the Kamaiurá life cycle, the Indian is born and receives from the father one of the names of his paternal grandfather; from the mother, the child receives the name of his/her maternal grandfather. In childhood, their ears are pierced and the child receives another pair of names, also from their paternal and maternal grandfathers, which children will keep for the rest of their lives. In adolescence the boy goes into seclusion to come out a man. He marries and works in order to feed his family. He cuts down the forest, plants, fishes, hunts, creates objects. He dances, sings, wrestles. He dies, leaving his names for his future grandchildren. The woman’s life pattern is very similar. She receives her first names which will be replaced at puberty. She marries, has children, works for the family, dances, watches wrestling matches and festivals. On dying, she also passes her names on to her grandchildren.

Political organization

Chefe Kamaiurá. Foto: Miltom Guran, 1978.
Chefe Kamaiurá. Foto: Miltom Guran, 1978.

The political unit of the Kamaiurá is the village, the leader of which acts as mediator and regulator of conflicts, maintaining the internal harmony of the group and expressing generosity. These tasks impose on the leader a series of things that he must renounce and which, from early on, he has to accept. In the long periods of puberty seclusion he is submitted to a rigorous discipline and during his life he assimilates the practices which turn him into a good Indian and who can thus be a leader. He exercises power, of a markedly peaceful nature, to the extent that the group accepts it and he obtains the necessary support from the leaders of the family groups. His political skill is expressed through the spoken word, which is, at the same time, the symbol of his status. The rules of succession to the position of leader of the village are flexible and customarily give rise to much competition for the post.

The owner of the house, on the other hand, is, in the last analysis, he who took the initiative in its construction. Ideally, his firstborn son should succeed him. The principal attributes of the owner of the house are: repeating to his kin, if he agrees, the requests that the leader of the village makes in relation to the tasks of weeding behind the houses, the patio, organizing fishing expeditions etc. He is charged with coordinating these activities and others, such as the storage of food, maintenance of the house, building of the new house, moitará (cerimonial exchanges of goods) in other villages etc. The larger the number of dwellers in a house, the greater the importance of its owner and the more significant the support that he may give to the leader of the village.

The Kamaiurá in the ritual system of the upper Xingu

Kamaiurá lutam o Huka-huka. Foto: Eduardo Galvão, 1969.
Kamaiurá lutam o Huka-huka. Foto: Eduardo Galvão, 1969.

Myths and intergroup rituals express the strong articulation among the peoples of the upper Xingu and reflect the Kamaiurá belief in a single act of creation for all these people, the culture hero MaWutsinin being responsible for the one and only coherent system that encompasses upper Xinguan culture and nature.

Among the intergroup rituals that regularly take place, the Kwarup (the feast of the dead), the Jawari (celebration feast of the warriors) and the Moitará (encounters for formalized trade) are all worth highlighting.

The ideal state of creation is ritualized in the kwarup, which celebrates solidarity among the peoples of the upper Xingu. The cerimony brings together, in a single village, various ethnic groups of the upper Xingu, which celebrate the deceased of the village that holds the festival, marking the end of the period of mourning. The ritual is thus the dramatization of one of the versions of the creation of man, conjugated with competition in the huka-huka wrestling matches and eventual exchanges of artwork.

O ritual do Jawari. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.
O ritual do Jawari. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.

This upper Xinguan solidarity is, however, denied in another cerimony, the festival of the Jawari, which emphasizes the distinction and opposition of the participating groups. The dead, honoured in the Kwarup, can come to receive lesser homage in the Jawari. Only one group is invited to this festival. Its high point is the sportly competition of arrow-throwing with a propeller, which symbolizes warrior activity and, in this sense, can be interpreted as the stabilizer of interethnic relations, since it channels attitudes of rivalry and aggressive tendencies towards the practice of a sport.

In this way, contrasting the two cerimonies, one has, on the one hand, the ritual expression of solidarity (kwarup) and, on the other, the greatest manifestation of intergroup hostility (jawari). Both can be understood as symbolic expressions of a social reality in which ethnocentrism coexists with alliances and obligations in the social contact among peoples. Thus, despite being united by strict ties and participating in a culture that is relatively homogeneous, the peoples of the upper Xingu still afirm their respective ethnic identities. It is because of their earnest desire to stay united that each group keeps its distance from the rest, giving prominence to their differential traits, competing to get greater prestige, in articulations that sometimes bring on hostilities. The jawari thus constitutes the synthesis of one of the sides of social contact that expressly marks the identity of each group. It is in the kwarup that the Indians identify themselves as people of the upper Xingu. The importance of trade in goods, in turn, is reinforced in the moitará, which marks the strict economic link between the groups.

Kamaiurá Reciprocity and the Moitará

Among kin who are co-residents or not, there are pre-established rules for the retribution of services rendered and the reciprocity involved in acts of giving presents. The greater the prestige of the person, the more generous he should be and the greater his willingness to distribute presents. Thus, in one house, the greatest giver tends to be its owner, that is, the leader of the group of kin.

Friends exchange goods in the form of presents, in which the obligation of retribution is not formally made explicit. The rendering of ritual services, on the other hand, such as shamanism and procedures connected to the burial of the dead, is formally repaid with articles of high value, usually shell collars of cylindrical pieces.

The great shaman has the opportunity to obtain goods of great worth in exchange for services rendered. But he will be led to redistribute what he has received, whether because he is chief of the village, house-owner or even a man of prestige. Thus, differentiated status does not combine with the accumulation of wealth. In providing the individual with possibilities of increasing his prestige, social practice guarantees that redistribution acts as the support for power, in the form of generosity.

By means of the upper Xinguan practice of the Moitará, two other forms of transaction have a cerimonial character: exchange between houses and between villages. Within the village, a group formed by men or women, but never mixed, comes to the house where the trade is supposed to take place. The women, more cautious, usually arrive in a reserved way, carrying articles of their ownership. They are received by the house-owner’s wife, who passes around gourds with pequi nut and cauim [lightly fermented beverage]. The visitors take the initiative in the first offer: they place on the ground, near the entrance, the article that they wish to trade. The article is passed around amongst the women of the house until an interested person puts down her offer. There is then another examination of the qualities of the good offered in exchange. Having concluded the trade, the object is removed from the soil. To the degree that enthusiasm grows amongst the participants, it becomes difficult to distinguish to whom the offers belong, such is the quantity of objects on the ground and in the hands of the women. Having gone through all the articles of the visitors, they return to their house. Later, continuing with the Moitará, the women of the house that was visited go to visit the groups who were before visitors, reinitiating the trade.

With the men, the procedure is more noisy. On arriving at the house where they intend to trade, they announce the event to the village shouting “Moitará! Moitará!”. Many people come to watch. The transactions are done with the same patterns described. To the whites who visit the village frequently, they propose a Moitará.

In the intervillage Moitarás, men, women, and children leave the village taking everything that could be exchanged, under the leadership of the chief. In the village they go to visit, they are accomodated by the local chief, from whom they receive beiju and fish. All the trades are done with the intermediation of the respective chiefs of the village. These chiefs receive the objects and are informed of the owner’s trade intentions. The offer having been made, the interested parties of the other group show their interest through their chief; direct and informal trades among individuals do not occur. Before the trade takes place, the men of the two groups hold huka-huka wrestling matches.

Specialized trade

Many of the goods traded in the moitará are produced according to the system of specializations of each ethnic group. In the upper Xinguan system of specialized trades, the production of bows was attributed to the Kamaiurá, highly-skilled in their fabrication. But the introduction of firearms in the area greatly affected the the utility of the bow, which today is more a symbol of the group than a trade article.

Two types of goods currently used by the Kamaiurá are produced by other groups of the area: ceramic pots and snailshell belts. Ceramics is the specialization of the Wauja and is indispensible for basic foods, such as beiju and mohete [a kind of soup]. Shell belts and collars, made by the Kuikuro and Kalapalo, are part of native dress. To obtain these products, the Kamaiurá make sporadic visits to the specialist groups.

The Kamaiurá still consider themselves excellent specialists in baskets, arrow-throwers used in the Jawari, canoes of jatobá bark, hammocks, fishnets, and the jakui flute. They even say they are the best in house construction.

In relation to the other good produced by the upper Xinguans, the Kamaiurá attribute different values to some of these: the Wauja are held to be the best producers of salt, pepper and ceramic pots; the Kalapalo, of snailshell collars, baskets and mats; the Mehinako, of the same kind of pot as the Wauja and salt; the Kuikuro of a double-tipped arrow for fishing and snailshell collars.

Kamaiurá testimony: a people teaching another people


O herói cultural Mavutsinin. Desenho: Wary Kamaiurá, 1999.
O herói cultural Mavutsinin. Desenho: Wary Kamaiurá, 1999.

The whites learned from the Indians some dancesteps, to smoke tobacco, to make ceramics, hammocks, porridge, manioc mush, corn, guaraná, to take a bath, remedies, flutes, rattles, many words from the indigenous languages that were included in the Portuguese language. There are pots, large pots and pans for making beiju made of clay, of Waurá origin. We use these objects out of necessity. For food we use vegetal salt made by the Aweti and Mehinako. In dances and feestivals we have Takwara that the people of the upper Xingu learned from the Bakairi. This dance went from village to village until it got to the Kamaiurá.

Today, in this festival we play music which came from the Yudjá. The famous Jawari festival which is celebrated by the indigenous people of the upper Xingu every year, comes from the Trumai. This festival is celebrated to remove sadness or mourning and to burn objects that were of the dead kin, for example, a bow or arrow-thrower. The most frequent and threatening influences that we live today are from the city. I will cite some examples: machines, food, clothes, schools, basic health units, medication, soccer, music and many other things. I have an observation to make with respect to this: there are some things that are important among those I mentioned, and others not. It is good to remember that it is good to learn to use the most important things from the city and it is necessary to be careful with the other things that aren’t worth anything.



In Kamaiurá reports, it is possible to distinguish three important epochs of their history: mythical time, when the creation of man took place; the time of the ancestors when the Indian had no contact with the white man; the present time, which includes from the first encounters with the whites to the present day. Nevertheless, the present time contains the essence of the worldview as the world was conceived in mythical time.

Present in all the versions of the act of creation is the conception that the Kamaiurá and the white man were conceived in a similar way. At times, the two are presented as twins. In another version, the creator hero Mavutsinin scarified the Kamaiurá and put the blood shed into the white man. Mavutsinin created both with the intention of forming a great village on the Morená. When the two became adults, Mavutsinin made a black bow and a firearm. He called the boys and put the objects in front of them. He ordered the Kamaiurá to take the firearm, but he preferred the black bow and took it. Mavutsinin insisted that he change his mind, but the Indian did not. The white man then took the firearm for himself. Angry with the way things turned out, Mavutsinin ordered the white man to go far away and the Kamaiurá to stay where he was. The creator gave the Indian fish and beiju, giving to the white man pigs, rice, fat, bricks, the axe and an interminable list of goods. Other upper Xinguan peoples were also created by Mavutsinin. The Txucahamãe, the Yudjá and the Suyá are snake-children and thus are aggressive.

According to Kamaiurá mythology, the culture hero Mavutsinin worked the Kwarup wood and shaped five posts. After singing and playing the maracás one day and one night, the posts began to move, at first with difficulty, until they were able to move more freely. Mavutsinin taught these men to take baths at dawn, to whistle and have sexual relations early in the morning, before sunrise. After that, he gave them instruments: black wooden bows for the Kamaiurá, pots to the Wauja, collars to the Kuikuro and Kalapalo.

For the Kamaiurá, when an Indian dies, his soul goes to a celestial village, replicate of the earthly village. But there life is not like it is in Ipavu: the souls are always dressed with ornaments, they do not work, they only dance and play ball; they do not eat fish or beiju, but crickets and potatoes. Thus, when someone dies, he should be buried with ornaments so that his soul will stay this way. If it is a man, arrows go with the body and, if it is a woman, a spindle – for the souls have to defend themselves from the attacks of little birds which, in periodic encounters, try to rip pieces off of them to take to the hawk. A soul with no defense is dead, it ends once and for all.

Productive activities

O preparo do beiju. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.
O preparo do beiju. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.

In the process of food production, agriculture has a central place. From agriculture come the fundamental ingredients for making beiju, basic product of Kamaiurá nourishment.

The dwellers of a house organize the labor for manioc production under the coordination of the house-owner.Both in the clearing of the garden and in the harvest, work presupposes cooperation among the domestic group, even if each nuclear family has its own garden. The men prepare the garden and the women take the manioc out of the soil. Several of them participate in the harvest of a single garden. In the village, manioc is processed by the woman, who extracts from it the pulp and starch, both fundamental ingredients in the preparation of beiju. Another food product which is obtained from manioc is mohete, a thick and sweetened soup which is produced from the boiling of the water that washed the pulp.

Depósito de polvilho e polpa de mandioca. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972
Depósito de polvilho e polpa de mandioca. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972

After they are dry, the manioc pulp and starch are stored in the house in cylindrical deposits that vary from 2.40meters to 2.60 meters in height by 0.80meters to 0.85 meters in diameter. It constitutes a reserve for daily use and nourishment during the rains. If some resident member has to assume the responsibility of distributing beiju in cerimonial situations, he/she begins extra production, which is kept in a distinct recipient. The product derived from manioc is stored in a common place inside the house, thus being for collective consumption, independent of the participation that each person had in its production.

Just as with the processing of manioc, the preparation of beiju is a female task. Several times a day, the fire is lit under the ceramic plate where the beiju is toasted. There the women alternate, sometimes toasting only for their husband and children, sometimes for all of the dwellers. Beiju is eaten at all times of the day: with grilled fish or soaked, only with pepper, pure or dissolved in water, or even in the form of cauim [fermented beverage].

Volta de uma pescaria coletiva. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.
Volta de uma pescaria coletiva. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.

There is even a distribution of beiju among the houses of the village which does not reflect a need for consumption, since all of them produce the food, but which demonstrates the abundance and generosity of the domestic group who gives, which are highly valued by this society. Even during the rains, when fishing is not very productive and the manioc stock is low, at times soaked beiju with fish is taken to other houses. The food distribution goes beyond the limits of the village, since in the cerimonial gatherings it is always up to the host group to provide abundant food to the guests.



Elaborando uma esteira. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972
Elaborando uma esteira. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972

There is even a distribution of beiju among the houses of the village which does not reflect a need for consumption, since all of them produce the food, but which demonstrates the abundance and generosity of the domestic group who gives, which are highly valued by this society. Even during the rains, when fishing is not very productive and the manioc stock is low, at times soaked beiju with fish is taken to other houses. The food distribution goes beyond the limits of the village, since in the cerimonial gatherings it is always up to the host group to provide abundant food to the guests.

Together with beiju, fish constitutes a primordial food product for the Kamaiurá (as for the rest of the upper Xinguan peoples), it being the only regular source of animal protein. Various techniques are utilized, each of which requiring different forms of cooperation. Thus, the technique of timbó, which consists of putting plant poison into the waters of streams that have been previously dammed up, involves the participation of most of the men of the village. The fish killed, whether from the effect of the poison, or shot with arrows, are roasted on the very spot where the fishing takes place. Fewer men participate in fishing with nylon nets, the mechanics of which dispenses with broader cooperation. The various forms of fishing with bows and arrow, small native nets, traps and hook are done by one or two individuals, or among the members of the nuclear family. .

Fiando o algodão nativo. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.
Fiando o algodão nativo. Foto: Carmen Junqueira, 1972.

AWhereas in the dry season, fish is part of the daily diet, in the rains its relative scarcity is compensated with a variety of food products, such as corn, papaya, watermelon, among others. Kamaiurá agriculture even includes the cultivation of other plants as much for cerimonial purposes (urucu and tobacco), as to produce various crafted goods (gourds and cotton). In these cases, the work of planting and gathering is usually individual, with the man taking care of the tobacco and the woman the cotton.

The hunting of several birds and small animals, as well as the gathering of forest fruits, also contribute to variety in the diet, but they play a secondary role with regard to food production. In relation to hunting, male labor is almost individual, the main objectives being to guarantee food for the harpy eagle (the presence of which is characteristic of the upper Xinguan villages and which is kept in a large conical cage, made of sticks), to substitute fish in the diet of people undergoing food tabus, and to obtaiin feathers for the production of artwork.

Gathering is usually collective work and involves the participation of women and children. The principal products are honey, pequi, jenipapo, mangaba, ants, tracajá eggs and firewood. Among these, the nut extracted from pequi is more important than the others as a cerimonial food distributed on the occasion of the Kwarup.

In relation to the production of artifacts and clothing, even though part of the raw material used in the preparation may be the fruit of cooperative labor in the family group, the final articles are created through individual efforts. But the artisan doesn’t always become the owner of the new good, principally in relation to the instruments of labor.

Metal articles, on which nearly all male productive activities depend, do not entirely substitute the indigenous artwork used by the women in food production. Thus pots and metal kettles compete with the gourds used in carrying and storing water, without however, threatening the position of ceramic pots, a central element of the Kamaiurá kitchen, obtained through trade with the Wauja group.

A large part of the materials used in the elaboration of artwork is of native origin – wood, embira, buriti fibre, cotton etc. But they also use industrialized products, such as beads of porcelain and glass, thread of cotton and wool, tins, nails, dyes, etc. Among these items, wool thread competes with native cotton and has in several cases (such as the making of hammocks) substituted it entirely. Other items, such as beads, which are highly valued in the elaboration of collars and belts, have not diminished the importance of their native equivalents – snailshell beads – produced by the Kalapalo and Kuikuro. .

Indigenous education

Capa da cartilha kamaiurá. Desenho: Kanawayuri Kamaiurá, 1998.
Capa da cartilha kamaiurá. Desenho: Kanawayuri Kamaiurá, 1998.

Since the year 2000, two youths have participated in the Teacher Training Course, a project of the Instituto Socioambiental in the Indigenous Park of the Xingu. Besides that, the Kamaiurá are organizing the Mavutsinin Association in order to develop specific projects, such as the School for Culture, which has the support of the Funai, in which older men and women teach the children and young people to dance, sing, produce artwork and know the stories of their people.

Sources of information

  • AGOSTINHO DA SILVA, Pedro. Mito e outras narrativas Kamayura. Salvador :Editora da UFBA, 1974.


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