From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Photo: Sheila Brasileiro, 1995


Where they are How many
BA 401 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
Linguistic family

Descendants of the Pankararu, the Kantaruré people came into being a little more than a century ago, when the Pankararu woman known as Rosa Baleia left her village in the Brejo dos Padres to marry Balduíno, who lived in Olho d´Água dos Coelhos, located near the Serra Grande[Big Hill]. The couple set up residence and made their gardens on the other side of the Hill, where they raised thirteen children and founded the village of Batida. Beyond that, the Kantaruré today are also located in the community of Pedras, both inside the Kantaruré Indigenous Land, homologated in 2001.

Name and language

Foto: Lucia Mascarenhas, década de 90
Foto: Lucia Mascarenhas, década de 90

According to the Pankararu , to whom the Kantaruré attribute their “origin", the term Kantaruré refers to a mythical figure from the magical-religious universe of that indigenous group which generally appears during the holding of rituals: "Wild mixed-breed", "Father of the ritual terrain". According to the statement of a Kantaruré elder, this ethnonym was suggested by a Pankararé Indian, who suggested it in contrast to the name that had until then been adopted by the group, "mixed breed of the Batida", during the process of official recognition.

The Kantaruré today speak Portuguese and the cultural losses have made their linguistic identification impossible.

History of occupation

The Kantaruré are descendants of the indigenous population that originally lived along the stretch of the São Francisco River between Paulo Afonso rapids, the mouth of the Pajeú River and the scrub forests, heaths and nearby hills. They appear in the historical sources of the 17th and 18th centuries as "Pancararu", "Brancararu", "Pancaru" or "Caruru". They were settled from the end of the 18th Century on, on the banks of the São Francisco River by Jesuits, Franciscan and Capuchin missionaries. Among the missions which were founded at the time, the outstanding ones were Sorobabé, Caruru and, especially, Curral dos Bois, which gave rise to the city of Glória. The missions were extinguished by the middle of the following century and the remaining indigenous population became the target of colonial pressures, above all from cattle ranchers who were interested in the more fertile lands along the banks of the river, whence the Indians were forced to migrate, seeking places of refuge and resistance in the heaths and hilltops, dispersed in the nearby scrub forest, which were part of their traditional area of dispersal and foraging.

By the mid-19th Century, the consolidation of two new nuclei comprised of the indigenous population which had left Curral dos Bois can be identified: one in Brejo dos Padres, on the Pernambuco side of the river, where the present-day Pankararu live; and another in Brejo do Burgo, on the Bahian side of the river, where the Pankararé live. Still at the end of that century, the first of these nuclei gave rise to two others, in nearby places: that of the present-day Jiripankó, in the far west of the state of Alagoas, and that of the Kantaruré, at the place called Batida, near the Bahian bank of the river.

The Batida nucleus

Kantaruré oral history speaks of a Rosa Baleia, a Pankararu woman, who came from Brejo dos Padres/Tacaratu/PE, as the old "trunk" of the Kantaruré people. When she was still young, Rosa Baleia, during a pilgrimage to Bahia, came to know the "squatter" Balduíno – an inhabitant of the vilage of Olho D'Água dos Coelhos, in the municipality of Glória/Bahia – and had a family with him and never returned to her place of origin. The married couple settled near Balduíno’s village, called Batida, where they reared 13 children and created roots. The whole population of Batida are direct descendants of Rosa Baleia and Balduíno, through four of their children: Little Cícero, Rosendo, Honório and Constantina.

The nucleus of Pedras

Several generations after Balduíno and Rosa Baleia settled in Batida, two Kantaruré brothers, Arcelino and Bregídio, who resided there, married two sisters, Santina and Maria de Virgílio, who came from the village of Baixa das Pedras de Cima, 3 kilometers away from Batida in a straight line, and came to establish a second nucleus of Kantaruré settlement, at a place next to the village, which today is called "Pedras".

Location and population

The Kantaruré Indigenous Land, which has 1,695 hectares, was homologated in 2001. The Kantaruré have a total population of 353 individuals (Funasa 2003), which are distributed in two population nuclei, Batida and Pedras, three kilometers distant from each other and are located near the northern slope of the Serra Grande, less than a league from the right bank of the São Francisco River. Both nuclei or "villages" are located near the northeastern and northwestern extremities of the Indigenous Land and their lands for planting and dwelling have a common border respectively with the neighboring places of Salgadinho dos Benícios and Baixa das Pedras. Towards the south, in turn, these lands extend to the foot of the Serra Grande hills, a territory which is mainly set aside for the group’s hunting and gathering.

The Indigenous Land is located in the north of the state of Bahia, municipality of Glória, in a region of semi-arid climate, with very low rainfall, 42 kilometers from the city of Paulo Afonso. Its soils are sandy and infertile, with low, creeping vegetation, typical of scrub forest, bromelacias and cactuses. The community of Batida is situated on a wide sandbank bordered on the south by hills, and intermittent water flow. The dwelling places, spread out, are located in the low areas. They are very similar in construction, most of them built with mud walls, with roofs of tile or croá and beaten earth floor. In the community of Pedras the soils are dry and sandy. The houses, which are the same style as those of Batida, are a bit more concentrated, arranged along a small street.

Social organization and cosmology

Kantaruré residences are mostly comprised of nuclear families, related by ties of kinship and horizontal godparenthood [compadrio] . More recently, a tendency has been observed of decentralizing internally constituted power, which is expressed in the high degree of circulation that occurs in the positions of chief and shaman, a phenomenon that occurs both in Batida and Pedras.

A significant number of Kantaruré lives outside the borders of the Indigenous Land, in neighboring municipalities, such as Paulo Afonso, in places that are relatively nearby the Indigenous Land, in “agrovilas”[farming towns] established by the Chesf (Hydroelectric Company of the São Francisco River) in the region (principally, numbers 2, 5 and 7), or even in other states, such as Sergipe (Aracaju), Pernambuco (Petrolina, Petrolândia, Floresta), Piauí, São Paulo (Araçatuba), Mato Grosso and Belém. Many of these cases demonstrate the phenomenon of migration - seasonal or permanent – which is a common strategy among rural laborers in the wider regional context, due to the occurrence of long periods of drought. Others, however, are due to intermarriages with individuals from the “outside", when the place of origin of the husband in general prevails as the new residence of the married couple.

The Kantaruré maintain close contact with families of “kin” who reside in nearby places, like Baixa das Pedras de Cima, Olho D'Água dos Coelhos, Salgadinho dos Benícios and Agrovila 5. There is a significant number of marriages between Kantaruré and individuals from these places. The families produced from these marriages never lose contact with their kin from Batida and Pedras. Many of them even are recognized in the community as Kantaruré. Kin who settle in places that are distant from the area of origin generally preserve specific routes of access to the community, either by having a “closed house in Batida", or through the fact of having descendants in the place, "they always come to visit", or even by a well-known interest in going back to the Indigenous Land as soon as possible.

Kantaruré cosmology is connected to an indigenous religious complex of the Northeast backlands in which rituals of possession – generally called "toré" (see the section on the “Ritual of the Toré" in the entry on the Kiriri) – are associated with curing and the ancestor cult and mythical figures, which are contacted through the use of jurema [a psychoactive plant] and tobacco. The "terreiros"[ritual spaces] for the cult and the cemetery are located in the very space of the villages.

Productive activities

The Kantaruré are small farmers of the semi-arid Northeast. Their territory consists of lands which are among the most infertile of those that can be considered cultivable in the region. The basic productive activity is extensive agriculture of plant foods, almost exclusively for the purpose of subsistence, notably root crops (manioc) and beans, along with cereal crops (corn) and a very small variety of greens. The gardens are developed on the basis of family possession and labor, although occasionally wider circles of cooperation (extended families, neighbors) can be used. It is worth mentioning the labor of manioc processing in the manioc flour houses of each nucleus, a task that consumes a great deal of time of almost the whole population in the final months of the agriculture year.

The agricultural calendar is related to the cycle of rains and drought characteristic of the region. In years with no drought, corn and harvest beans are planted between the months of April and May and harvested between the months of July and August. String beans are planted between February and March and gathered after the month of June. Manioc is planted in the months of June and July and harvested throughout the year.

The low fertility of the soils prevents intensive forms of agriculture. Many gardens are situated near the residences, thus forming continuous areas of dwelling and work. Other gardens, however, extend to the foot of the Serra Grande, thus comprising a dispersed agricultural occupation of the lands that covers the whole northern half, around 800 hectares, including the villages, of the traditional territory.

The lack of productive resources means that the gardens are generally of a reduced size, rarely being larger than three “tarefas” (an old land measure, equivalent to about one hectare). The natural insecurity of agricultural activities as a result of the droughts means that nearly all the families choose to maintain their gardens in different places and so, each family has, on the average, two or three gardens, situated in fenced areas. The poorer terrains located in the area around the gardens are set aside for extensive raising of animals, a resource that the extreme poverty of most of the Kantaruré does not allow them to exploit, even in the precarious local conditions, and very few families have a few head of goats. Only the domestic raising of chickens and some pigs is worth noting.

Hunting is done on the hill, by individual men, with hunting dogs and, invariably, they go out hunting for the whole night. The animals that are most easily found are armadillo, peba [a variety of armadillo], anteater, deer, nambu, juti, cordoniza, eagle, jacu and cardieira [ a kind of dove].

Plant extractivism is an important subsistence strategy for the Kantaruré. Besides the traditional use of fruit trees at the time of ripening, such as caju, goiaba , tamarind, umbu and mango, in the dry seasons the trees of the scrub forest provide a good part of the daily food of the population and even material for making the"campiô", a kind of wooden pipe used in the toré ritual; the "aiós", bags, and the "caçoás", baskets of caroá.

Given its closeness to the São Francisco River, fishing is one more subsistence alternative for the Kantaruré people. It is done in a sporadic, generally by individual men. They fish with nets, "lines" (using nylon lines without the "pole", with bait of shrimp, small fish and little birds), or even with "groseira" or "meia-água" (silk line, with no hook) and bait of small fish. The fish that are most commonly found in the region are corvina, tucunaré, pirambeba, piranha, traíra and tucari (or panhari).

Sources of information

  • BRASILEIRO, Sheila dos Santos. Laudo de identificação e delimitação da Terra Indígena Kantaruré. s.l. : s.ed., 1995.

; SAMPAIO, José Augusto Laranjeiras. “Por não ser estadual” ou relatório circunstanciado de identificação e delimitação da Terra Indígena Kantaruré. Brasília : Funai, 1996.

  • BRITO, Maria de Fátima Campelo. Relatório de viagem referente ao grupo Kantaruré ou Caboclos da Batida. s.l. : s.ed., 1990. (Cf. OS n. 301-GAB/3ª. SUER - 89, de 21/09/89).