From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Photo: José Luiz de Souza, 2004.


Where they are How many
MS 600 (Rosaldo Sousa, 2016)
Linguistic family

There was a time when nobody spoke of our existence anymore, but among ourselves we were always aware of our true origin."

Forced to renounce their Kinikinau identity and persuaded by the official indigenist organization, for a very long time, to declare themselves Terena Indians, with whom they possess close historical and cultural ties, over recent years the Kinikinau have been demanding recognition of their ethnic distinctiveness and the recovery of part of their traditional territory.

Location and population

Kinikinau group at the small hotel for the ‘Kinikinawa People encounter: the resistance continues,’ in Bonito (MS). Photo: José Luiz de Souza, 2004.
Kinikinau group at the small hotel for the ‘Kinikinawa People encounter: the resistance continues,’ in Bonito (MS). Photo: José Luiz de Souza, 2004.

The Kinikinau or Kinikinawa currently live spread across a number of villages in the western part of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The largest concentration of the group resides in São João village to the southeast of the Kadiwéu Indigenous Reserve (IR), in the municipality of Porto Murtinho. There are also reports of members of this group living in Terena villages in the municipalities of Aquidauana (Bananal and Limão Verde), Miranda (Cachoeirinha and Lalima) and Nioaque (Água Branca and Brejão).

In 1998 the census conducted in the Kadiwéu IR by the Porto Murtinho Local Council revealed the presence of 58 indigenous peoples who declare themselves Kinikinau from a total of 195 Indians surveyed in São João village, including Terena, Kadiwéu and Guarani-Kaiowá. More recently in 2003 around 180 Kinikinau individuals were identified as living in São João village. The difference between these figures derives from the fact that in 1998 many of these people were still afraid to identify themselves as Kinikinau. It is estimated that, combined, the Kinikinau scattered across the Terena villages and those living in São João village numbered approximately 250 people in 2005.


Drawing: João Moreira Anastácio Kinikinau, 2000.
Drawing: João Moreira Anastácio Kinikinau, 2000.

The Guaná are among the groups representing the southern migration of the Arawak via the basin of the Paraguai river. The territories traditionally occupied by the Guaná groups are located in distinct areas that span from the left shore of the lower Apa river to the area north of the Negro river. After the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese to the region, the group’s migrations shifted eastwards.

The first information on the Guaná relates to their highly developed agriculture and the enormous quantity of maize swiddens that they planted. Reading the texts producers by the chroniclers and explorers of the Brazilian colonial period, we can infer that there were four Guaná subgroups that crossed the Paraguai river, passing to its eastern shores: Exoaladi, Terena, Layana and Kinikinau. Of these, only the first do not present, as yet, survivors in the current territory of Mato Grosso d Sul. These groups apparently crossed the Paraguai river in a number of waves from the second half of the 18th century onwards, settling in the region drained by the Miranda river where they were encountered by the 19th century travellers.

The writings of João Henrique Elliot and Augusto Leverger, produced in the 1840s, reveal the important role performed by the Layana, the Exoaladi (also called Guaná, which generates a degree of confusion) and the Kinikinau in the regional economy of the south of Mato Grosso. In the report of the General Directorate of Indians from 1872, Francisco José Cardoso Júnior revealed the existence of around a thousand Kinikinau Indians scattered across Albuquerque and Miranda who were characterized by their agricultural skill and the services they provided to non-Indians (apud Vasconcelos 1999:96-97).

Although imprecise, the data provided by the director reveal that the Kinikinau group was numerically significant even after the Paraguayan War. While the Layana lived aggregated on farms, the Exoaladi and the Kinikinau supplied the region’s population with food provisions. According to the Viscount of Taunay, the three Guaná subgroups took part in the Paraguayan War:

[...] Guanás, Kinikináus and Layanos ultimately united with the runaway population (coming from Miranda, heading to the Serra do Maracaju); [...]. The Kinikináus were the first to climb the Serra do Maracaju, by the steepest side in fact, and settled on the beautiful plateaus that crowns the mountain range... (Taunay 1948:268)

According to Cardoso de Oliveira, the Exoaladi had disappeared during the Paraguayan War. The Terena are the largest group among the present-day survivors of the former Guaná. The Layana are dispersed in Terena villages in the municipalities of Aquidauana and Miranda. The Kinikinau, for their part, as well as living in some Terena villages in Mato Grosso do Sul, are concentrated in São João village. However the Kinikinau became ‘hidden’ amid the larger Terena group, meaning they were seldom mentioned in books and documents between the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th. It became commonplace to refer to them as a Terena subgroup, especially after the destruction of the last settlement recognizably belonging to the group, located close to the Miranda river region. The question of the disappearance of the Kinikinau, in the 20th century, dates back to the works of the anthropologist Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira in his classic studies on the Terena:

Among the numerous tribes or subtribes that disappeared as late as the present century [20th], we can point to the Kinikináu (Guaná) and the Ofaié-Xavante. The former still maintained a village next to the Agaxi river from where they dispersed, expelled by a non-Indian who had bought their lands from the state of Mato Grosso; their survivors are found today in some Terena villages (Cardoso de Oliveira 1976:27).

According to the testimony of the elder Leôncio Anastácio – given to professor Rosaldo de Albuquerque Souza at the end of 2003 – after the Paraguayan War the Terena and Kinikinau Indians, among others, suffered a serious persecutions from farmers, untitled occupants and invaders. The Kinikinau were dispersed but some families settled in Agaxi, near to Miranda. The land invaders once again persecuted them, forcing them to look for another place to live. They learned that the area called Corvelo contained devolved lands and they departed for there. At this time they were already receiving guidance from an SPI officer known as Nicolau Horta Barbosa. Arriving at Corvelo, they made their houses, the land was good and so they began to plant, but before long a purported land owner’ appeared. The group communicated the fact to the SPI and the latter told them to look for the Campo dos Kadiwéu. This is what the men did. On June 13th 1940 two families arrived at São João village, which was uninhabited at the time. Colonel Nicolau accompanied them and decided where they should build their houses. The transport used was a carretão, a kind of ox cart with wooden wheels and axle. The group that arrived in the village numbered about a dozen people.

Documents from the former Indian Protection Service and the National Indian Foundation (Funai) reveal little about the presence of the Kinikinau in the Kadiwéu Indigenous Reserve over the course of the 20th century. What is definitely known is that in the 1940s the SPI created the São João do Aquidavão Indigenous Literacy and Training Post, linked to the 5th Regional Inspectorate. The Kinikinau apparently established intersocietal relations with the Kadiwéu in which the latter, essentially hunter-gatherers, demanded from the latter, agriculturists par excellence, tributes in exchange for protection and continued occupation of their territory. On this topic, the leader Martinho da Silva Kadiwéu told the anthropologists Jaime Garcia Siqueira Jr. that:

[...] at the time when the SPI opened [...] so they found a way of placing some colonizers, in the Terena case, you know? The Terena began, my compatriots used the Terena so they could act as a point of assistance for them. They planted, the Terena have always liked agriculture, they plant manioc, rice, beans, maize, and so on, they weren’t, they aren’t true owners, but they looked after things for the Kadiwéu compatriots while they watched over this enormous area that we have here. [...] This São João, São João village, its history goes back a very long way. These Terena have become allies of the Kadiwéu, they always live subordinated, the Kinikinau subordinated to the Kadiwéu. They couldn’t flee because they had a job to do with them, so they brought them. They chose a place for agriculture and so on. The only place, the nearest resource that they themselves found to cultivate a crop, as it happens, a small crop that they grow, is here next to the São João IP, because it’s close to Três Morros [...]. So they, the compatriots, said: - So you can stay here [...] here is the corner of our area, here anything, any irregularity you see, come and find us, come and tell us what’s happening. Now you have a duty, plant maize, rice, beans. everything that grows here you plant, and we're going to sell the produce among ourselves, there on the Paraguai river, and so on, everything that we manage to deliver here [...] We’re negotiating, okay, you stay here as our guard, as our safety net. And they agreed, where the São João IP exists. (Siqueira Jr. 1993:130-131)

As can be noted from the excerpt of the testimony reproduced here, the Kadiwéu leader does not make a clear distinction between the Kinikinau and the Terena. The linguistic proximity between the two groups and the fact that both are descendents of the Gauná made them ‘equal’ in the eyes of the Kadiwéu and most of non-indigenous society.

The relations between the Kinikinau and the Kadiwéu were not always friendly, a reason why the Kinikinau have demanded their own land:

As we live on foreign land, always threatened by some families of another ethnic group, we don't want this life without freedom any longer. That’s why we asked for a return to our territory of Kinikinau origin where we can live freely, ensuring a happier future for our children, so we do not forget our traditions and that we all recognize and respect each other as the Kinikinau people. (Resistant Peoples Seminar 2004.)

Cultural aspects

Dance of the Bate-Pau. Photo: José Luiz de Souza, 2004
Dance of the Bate-Pau. Photo: José Luiz de Souza, 2004

The Kinikinau live above all from agricultural activity, speak fluently a language belonging to the Arawak linguistic family, like the Terena, and also communicate in Portuguese.

The Dance of the Bate-Pau, also found among the Terena, is performed today during important events for the Kinikinau (Day of the Indian Festival and other commemorations). Recalling the group's participation in the Paraguayan War (1864-1870), the dance is performed by men and women of various ages, from children to the elderly. Flutes and drums are played to mark the beat of the dancers' steps. The ritual colours are red, blue and white. The garments, made from rhea feathers and straw, are especially prepared for the ritual dance. The men and women carry long lengths of bamboo in their hands and produce a choreography with them, either beating the bamboo tubes with those of other dancers, or beating them on the ground. The end of the dance is marked by the gathering of the dancers into a circle and the assembly of the bamboo tubes over which is placed a warrior who is then raised and acclaimed. In the Terena version only men dance the Bate-Pau.

As among the Terena and Layana (other Guaná subgroups), there also healers among the Kinikinau called Koixomunetí. These healers perform rituals in which they use a rattle and a crest of rhea feathers, elements common to healers from other groups of Chaquenha origin, such as the Mbayá-Guakuru, ancestors of the Kadiwéu. Today, as far as we know, there are no longer any Koixomunetí living among the Kinikinau. Many people today are followers of Christian religions, especially Protestant sects.

In terms of material culture, the pottery made by Kinikinau women continues the ancient Guaná cultural tradition. Chosen as one symbol among others differentiating the group from the Kadiwéu – despite being inspired by Kadiwéu pottery designs – and other indigenous groups, Kinikinau pottery performs an important role as a diacritical sign. These products have been sold, in particular in the town of Bonito.

Sources of information

  • ALVES, M. M. Os Kinikinau: dados históricos e vocabulares. Três Lagoas: CPTL/ UFMS, 2003. 8 p. 
  • BENCINI, R. Escola de índio, professor índio. Finalmente! Revista Nova Escola, São Paulo, edição 171, abril de 2004.
  • CARDOSO DE OLIVEIRA, R. Do índio ao bugre: o processo de assimilação dos Terena. Rio de Janeiro: Francisco Alves, 1976 [2. ed].
  • ELLIOT, J. H. Itinerário das viagens exploradoras... descriptas pelo Sr. João Henrique Elliot. Revista Trimestral de História e Geografia ou Jornal do I.H.G.B., Rio de Janeiro, vol. X, (1848), 2. ed.
  • FONSECA, J. S. da. Viagem ao redor do Brasil: 1875-1878. Rio de Janeiro: [s.e.], 1880-81.
  • JOSÉ DA SILVA, G. A construção física, social e simbólica da Reserva Indígena Kadiwéu (1899-1984): memória, identidade e história. Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul (UFMS), 2004. (Dissertação de Mestrado em História).

. Dias melhores virão: educação escolar entre os Kadiwéu, Kinikinawa e Terena na Reserva Indígena Kadiwéu, município de Porto Murtinho, Mato Grosso do Sul. Jahui – Revista do Museu do Índio da Universidade Federal de Uberlândia, Uberlândia, 1999.
& SOUZA, J. L. O despertar da fênix: a educação escolar como espaço de afirmação da identidade étnica Kinikinau em Mato Grosso do Sul. Sociedade e cultura, Goiânia, v. 06, n. 02, p. 149-156, 2005.
  • LEVERGER, A. Roteiro da navegação do rio Paraguay desde a foz do São Lourenço até o Paraná. In: Revista Trimestral do Instituto Histórico, Geográfico e Ethnográfico do Brasil, XXV, Rio de Janeiro. [184-]
  • PREFEITURA MUNICIPAL DE PORTO MURTINHO. Censo Kadiwéu 1998. 63 p. Mimeografado.
  • SIQUEIRA JR., J. G. “Esse campo custou o sangue dos nossos avós”: a construção do tempo e espaço Kadiwéu. São Paulo: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas da Universidade de São Paulo (USP), 1993. (Dissertação de Mestrado em Antropologia Social).
  • TAUNAY, A. E. Memórias do Visconde de Taunay. São Paulo: IPE, 1948.

. Entre os nossos indios: chanés, terenas, kinikinaus, guanás, laianas, guatós, guaycurus, caingangs. São Paulo: Melhoramentos, 1931.
  • VASCONCELOS, C. A. de. A questão indígena na província de Mato Grosso: conflito, trama e continuidade. Campo Grande: UFMS, 1999.