From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Photo: Cimi-RO, 2002


Towa Panka
Where they are How many
RO 140 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
Linguistic family

The Kujubim live in the southwest Amazon, in the state of Rondonia, bordering Bolivia. They are among the many indigenous peoples living in the area called “Grande Rondonia”, who are still very little studied or even known. Their language, Kuyubi, or Kaw Tawo, belongs to the Txapakura linguistic family. Despite being considered extinct by the Brazilian state in the 1980s, the Kujubim and other peoples of the region never ceased to exist and resist, in their view. Since the 2000s, the Kujubim have been reclaiming their leading role regionally and nationally, mainly regarding the demarcation of their traditional territory and the assertion of their constitutional indigenous rights.

Name and Population

Kujubim children fishing on the Guaporé River. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
Kujubim children fishing on the Guaporé River. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

‘Kujubim’ is the name by which all individuals of the group - and even those outside it - identify the ethnicity. According to the deceased matriarchs, who lived directly on this people’s traditional territory, the name Kujubim was given by members of Marechal Rondon’s committee who passed through the indigenous land around 1920, and gave the indians this name as they lived on the banks of a stream [igarapé] where the cujubim bird (Pipile cujubi) was abundant. The group’s self-denomination during the ‘time of the maloca’ (the period before contact) was Towa Panka, which according to the matriarch Suzana, means, in the native language, ‘white head’. The term suggests an already existent symbolic relationship between the indigenous people and the cujubim bird, which has an all black body except for white feathers on its head. The native explanation for this relationship appears in a mythical narrative, according to which it is the cujubim bird which brings human souls to their bodies when they are born, and takes them away when they die.

The current Kujubim used to be separated into three different groups: Kumaná, Matawá and Kujona. Although there are differences between them, non-indians of the time would call them ‘cautários’ without distinction. The denomination very likely derives from the interpretation of a term they heard from the Moré, a group with historical ties to the Kujubim, who attributed the latter with the name ‘Kaw Tayo’ - ‘dogfish eaters’ in the native tongue.

Girls collecting potatoes. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018
Girls collecting potatoes. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018

The 2014 Sesai census registered 140 Kujubim individuals, which represents a yearly growth of around 2% since the Funasa survey of 2010, which counted 129 people. For comparative purposes, the period’s average annual growth rate for Brazil was approximately 0.9%, according to the World Bank. The Kujubim population has been increasing year on year, mainly through interethnic marriages with other indigenous peoples living on the Rio Guaporé Indigenous Land, quilombolas of the Santo Antonio region in Costa Marques (RO), and with non-indians. The descendents of these marriages are still identified as Kujubim. This scenario of an increasing population is extremely important and significant to them, mainly for the fact that in the 80s the Kujubim had been considered extinct by official sources.


Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

The Kujubim language belongs to the Txapakura linguistic family and was classified by Duran (2000) as ‘Kuyubi’ or ‘Kaw Tayo’. The only speakers of the Kuyubi language to be heard - and with whom linguistic studies were possible - were the three deceased matriarchs, Suzana, Rosa and Francisca. Today, oral communication in the language is reduced to words of everyday use, such as “tok ta” (chicha, a fermented manioc drink), and the names of animals present in their everyday lives, such as imin (tapir), myak (white-lipped peccary) and kinam (jaguar), with Portuguese being the predominantly spoken language on the territory.

In 2017, a project titled the “Documentation and Safeguarding of the Moré-Kujubim Language” began, aiming to rescue the written and oral use of the native language in the villages. Coordinated by Joshua Birchall (from the Emílio Goeldi Paraense Museum), who produces activities and workshops with the Kujubim and other ethnicities of the region, the action recovers the currently spoken repertoire of Kujubim words. Through these linguistic studies, carried out based on recordings, scientific projects and travellers’ notes, it has been possible to make records of around 800 Kuyubi language words in use today.

This language was shared by the Matawá, Kumaná and Kujona groups, which fused into the current Kujubim during the 20th century. Data from a dialect called Kumaná, collected by the German ethnologist Emil Snethlage in the 1930s, shows a striking resemblance to the Kujubim language, which reaffirms the possibility that they were the same group in the past.

Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

In a study on the proto-Txapakura, Angenot-de Lima (1997) had considered that the Kuyubi dialect spoken by the three matriarchs would be a ‘new’ language, very close to that spoken by the Moré, the indigenous people with historical ties to the Kujubim, who live on the left bank of the River Guaporé, on the Bolivian side.

Duran’s work (2000), which better investigates the language, indicates that the Kuyubi and Moré have only a few dialectal variations in the use of consonants, but in general are almost identical, considering that lexemes not recognised as existent were extremely rare in both languages. Also, there were no syntactic or morphological constructions identified in the Kuyubi grammatical system which did not also occur in Moré. In a recent study, Birchall et al (2016) proposes a division into subgroups of the Txapakura family, based on a rereading of previous classifications, positioning the Kujubim language in a branch called ‘Moreico’, together with other languages, such as Moré and Torá, which are different to, for example, languages of the ‘Warico’ branch, constituted of the languages Wari’, Oro Win, Wanyam, Jarú and Urupá.


Kujubim man returning from work carrying a paneiro, a basket commonly used for carrying crops. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
Kujubim man returning from work carrying a paneiro, a basket commonly used for carrying crops. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

The Kujubim are distributed throughout Rondonia, with the largest concentration in the southwest and south of the state on the border with Bolivia. There is a large concentration in two villages: Baía das Onças and Posto Indígena Ricardo Franco, on the Rio Guaporé Indigenous Land, in the municipality of Guajará-Mirim. The territory, inhabited by ten ethnic groups, was demarcated in 1976 and homologated twenty years later. Many Kujubim families are also dispersed in urban areas of the cities of Guajará-Mirim, Costa Marques, Porto Velho, Seringueiras and São Francisco do Guaporé.

Since 2002, the Kujubim have claimed, through assemblies and demonstrations, the demarcation of their traditional lands in the upper and middle Cautário River, between the municipalities of Guajará-Mirim and Costa Marques. The process of demarcation of their territory, Rio Cautário Indigenous Land, began in 2013 and, in 2019, is still at the first stage: the identification phase.

Contact History

Kujubim in a canoe in Baía das Onças. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
Kujubim in a canoe in Baía das Onças. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

There is documentary evidence - in maps, reports and diaries - that the current Kujubim were previously separated into three different groups, called Kumaná, Matawá and Kujona. They all spoke the same language, with only a few dialectal variations, and exchanged spouses, food and artifacts among each other. This data is also supported by information from a Kujubim matriarch captured by rubber-tappers [seringueiros] in the 1940s. Although the three groups have some differences, non-indians of the time made no distinction and simply called them ‘Cautários’.

The contact of these groups with non-indians occurred around the 18th century. According to Denise Maldi, during this period the Guaporé River and its tributaries formed a ‘natural’ barrier on the border between two Iberian crowns of colonial America. This conferred to the region a type of occupation which was strongly committed to the defense and possession of territories of two traditionally rival kingdoms, if we consider, for example, the construction of the monumental Forte Príncipe da Beira, neighboring the lands traditionally occupied by the Kujubim (Métraux, 1948). The indigenist policy of the colonial period, which insisted on border occupation, expressed interest in keeping the indians on their lands to ensure the security of their territory.

At the end of the 18th century, when liberation movements in the Americas began to form and the territorial borders of the colonies did not work so well, the region was quickly emptied. However, contact between the Kujubim and non-indians in this period was enough to cause the near disappearance of this people, who were reduced to a few dozen individuals, mainly due to the infectious diseases introduced by non-indigenous people.

In the 19th century, the engineer Ricardo Franco registered that contact with the ‘Cautário’ indians was gradually resuming. From the start of the 20th century, the region was invaded once again due to the global demand for rubber, with an intensified presence of loggers and rubber tappers, causing the indigenous people remaining from the first contact to be rapidly incorporated into the local labour force. In the 1930s, the area became occupied by countless establishments for exploiting rubber, causing people living on both the left and right banks (in the case of the Kujubim) of the Guaporé River to have their villages invaded, suffer epidemics and expulsion from their traditional territories, settling in shacks in the surroundings.

Suzana, one of the Kujubim matriarchs, stated that even before the rubber tappers appeared, one of Marechal Rondon’s committees passed through their land in the 1920s. In that same period, some years later, other whites began arriving and spreading diseases, mostly the flu and measles, which almost wiped out the population. Suzana remembers her relatives throwing themselves into the water because they burned with fever. She also told that her people were extremely ‘bravo’ [angry, wild,], but which were gradually ‘softened’, and began to exchange manufactured objects with the non-indians.

Some of the Kujubim who survived those initial contacts were able to flee to other regions, but others, those who didn’t perish from diseases, were captured by rubber tappers and taken to seringa sheds in different locations, mainly in Canindé, Esperança, Marçal, Ouro Fino and Santa Lurdes. Thus the dispersion of the Kujubim through Rondonia began, as well as of several native groups of the Guaporé Valley.

Cacique Valdino Kujubim (centre) and Sérgio Wajuru making an arrow for fishing. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
Cacique Valdino Kujubim (centre) and Sérgio Wajuru making an arrow for fishing. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

Together with the rubber tapper invasion, missionaries also began contacting the Kujubim. In his diary, the missionary and first bishop of Guajará-Mirim, Dom Francisco Rey, wrote a reverie on the “visit to the maloca of the indians of the Cautário River”:

The first boy who tamed the ‘Kumaná’, entering and once staying in their maloca, was Francisco Bento (Rivoredo’s assistant in Paaca Nova). He did so well that they made him Tuncháu in the Maloca, celebrating him and wishing to keep him so that he had to run away to escape them. (Diary of Dom Rey, “Visita à maloca dos índios do rio Cautário”, 07/08/1932, page 7)

Emil-Heinrich Snethlage, a leading German ethnologist who spent years researching peoples who lived (and still live) along the entire Guarporé River, also contacted the Kujubim ancestors. At the beginning of 1934, Snethlage travelled up the Cautário River to visit the Kumaná and recorded, in that year, that “only about twenty or so from this tribe remain, including those who moved to Canindé, the centre of the rubber tappers on the Cautário”. Upon returning, by the end of the year, he noted: “[the Kurumá were] reduced to 13 and [in] the famous Baia das Onças [...] I didn’t find any indians”. This lead Snethlage to believe that it wasn’t possible to collect much information about these people - since they were close to dying from disease - but he was able to collect some artefacts.

Over the years little was heard about the Kumaná, Matawa or Kujona, ancestors of the current Kujubim. Those who were able to survive gradually married individuals from other ethnicities, or non-indians, and spread throughout the territory of the Guaporé River and its tributaries, also settling in cities bordering the river. This forced amnesia of the ethnicity resulted in the false statement, released by state agencies responsible for indian protection, that the Kujubim had become extinct on the national territory.

The recent history of this people, of which there is a record, began when the three matriarchs held, with the help of the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI) in Rondonia, a key meeting at the ‘1st Assembly of the Kujubim People’, in 2002. This was the date they began their struggle for the identification and demarcation of their traditional territory, and told their sons, grandsons and great-grandsons a little about the forgotten Kujubim history, thus resuming the historical and territorial aspects of their existence. Most of the individuals of this group have very different histories and did not have the opportunity to live in a shared space. Although a spatially dispersed configuration affected the social structure of the group, the Kujubim continued to resist and organise politically and socially around a recovery of their traditional ways of life. The Kujubim who live in municipalities close to the rivers Guaporé and Cautário constantly complain about how slow the demarcation of their land has been. They refuse to go to other indigenous lands, as other Kujubim have done, as they only recognise the Cautário as their traditional land. In the cities, the indigenous groups cannot hunt and fishing is rarely permitted, especially of turtles, which are much appreciated by the group, such as the tracajá. They claim and denounce that while their territory is not demarcated, which they could be looking after and using responsibly, as all ‘relatives’ do with their territories, non-indigenous invaders - such as fishermen and loggers - are occupying it to illegally extract resources.

To address issues of this nature, the indians created two associations with the aim of facilitating the guarantee of their constitutional rights: AKIKÕ (Association of the Kanoé and Kujubim Indigenous Peoples), formed in February 2001 in Ricardo Franco, and AIPOK (Indigenous Association of the Kujubim People), in 2013. Since then, the Kujubim have constantly organised assemblies and meetings, together with other indigenous peoples of the region, in pursuit of their rights. In these assemblies discussions are held, together with the Federal Public Ministry, on possible improvements in the areas of education, health, and above all the progress of the demarcation of Indigenous Land. In 2016, the Kujubim even made swidden fields within the Cautério territory, to begin a slow-paced occupation. They began building straw hat-style house (a typical regional construction made of aricuri straw), but did not feel safe enough to continue the project after receiving death threats from rubber tappers in the surroundings. A few days later, the house was burnt down.

Ethnohistory and Territory

The three matriarchs. From left to right: Suzana, Rosa and Francisca. Photo: Cimi-RO, 2002.
The three matriarchs. From left to right: Suzana, Rosa and Francisca. Photo: Cimi-RO, 2002.

For the Kujubim, there are at least three histories of their people, in the plural. The first version is about the period before contact (the ‘time of the maloca’) and was passed down through generations by the matriarchs, remaining alive in the group’s collective memory to the present day; another coincides with the period of direct contact with the rubber tappers and defines the courses of the Kujubim past and present; and finally, recent history, which is defined by the retaking of traditional territory, initiated by the three remaining matriarchs of the most recent period.

These three women, Suzana (Moao), Francisca (Sa’at or Rite) and Rosa, are fundamental to the history and the social and political organisation of the Kujubim to this day. The accounts of these women are very important for understanding who the Kujubim are, as they are the only known people to have directly lived the time of the maloca. Suzana was the oldest and her name in the native language was Moao, which means ‘cuia’ (gourd or bowl), most likely due to the shape of her head. Suzana was the daughter of a Kumaná mother, and her father, Huaat, was Matawá. She would tell relatives that, after the arrival of the whites on the Cautário River, only around ten individuals from her group remained, all of which, her included, were taken to the Canindé shed, where rubber was extracted. The shed was managed by a capanga (or henchman) of João Rivoredo, a seringalista of great regional importance, responsible for rubber extraction on the Guaporé River and enslaving and mistreating the local indigenous population.

The matriarch Suzana Kujubim. Photo: CIMI- RO, 2002.
The matriarch Suzana Kujubim. Photo: CIMI- RO, 2002.

It was at Canindé that Suzana had to look after Francisca (another matriarch we will present more about later), who was very young and had lost her mother and father, Timikó, a pajé [shaman] and Matawá cacique [chief]. Some years later, they were able to escape and return to the village, where they lived for a few months until being recaptured by a seringalista named Alexandre Laia. It was Alexandre who baptised Moao as Suzana and Sa’at as Francisca.

Some time after, Suzana married Antônio Laia, another indian who was baptised and captured by Alexandre Laia near the Cautário River. After their marriage, Suzana had to leave Francisca and began living with the committees of seringalistas, moving from shed to shed and through several rubber cutting posts, e.g. Porto Acre, a municipality of northeast Acre. At some point in the 1970s, Suzana came to live in the municipality of Costa Marques (RO), on land bordering the Serra Grande, passing away around thirty years later in Guajará-Mirim. Currently, two of Susana’s daughters live in Costa Marques and one in Guajará Mirim.

Francisca, the second matriarch cited, had two names in the originary language: Sa’at (“Seagull”) and Rite (“Banana”). She lived with Suzana in some placements until she married Sebastião, the baptised name of an indian of Chiquitano ethnicity. Francisca and Sebastião descended the Guaporé River and settled near a stream which bordered Baía das Onças, where they lived for years working for a rubber tapping family called Canuto. After the demarcation of the Rio Guaporé Indigenous Land around 1976, Francisca and Sebastião, together with their five children, crossed the stream and went to live with a Makurap family, on the territory which today is Baía das Onças, predominantly occupied by the Djeoromitxí. As such, the matriarch and her husband came to live on the Rio Guaporé Indigenous Land together with other ethnicities which settled there. The sons of Francisca all live on Indigenous Land except one, who lives in Costa Marques. The matriarch passed away in 2012 in Ricardo Franco village, and is buried in the village’s cemetery.

The story of Rosa, the third matriarch, has yet to be researched. It is known that she always lived on the Sagarana Indigenous Land, also in Rondonia, neighbouring the Guaporé TI, where she married a Kanoê indian and had six children.

Political Organisation

The kujubim assembly held in 2002 gave momentum to this people’s struggle for recognition before the State and the recovery of their traditional territory. The meeting resonated with over 140 individuals who live their history separately, but share a common desire to put into practice their traditional customs and ways of life.

However, this process presents a greater difficulty for the Kujubim who live in the city: without land, without their traditional space, they are not able to reproduce their ways of life and material and symbolic practices. The Kujubim who live on the Rio Guaporé Indigenous Land are able to do so, due to their coexistence and cultural exchanges with other ethnicities.

Today, the main difficulty of continuity in the process of demarcation is due to the fact that the territory is extremely coveted by various non-indigenous groups in the region, involving clandestine sawmills, farmers and also the Reserva Extrativista (Resex) do Rio Cautário (for which the ICMBio is responsible). The Kujubim believe that, with the completion of the demarcation, they will have better living conditions and the necessary rights to bring up their children within the village, with a school and a health centre. Furthermore, not only would the Kujubim move to this land, but also other ethnicities who support each other, such as the Kanoê, Djeoromitxí and Wajuru.

The political organisation of the Kujubim works through leaders [lideranças], both in cities as well as villages. The cacique or the leader must always exercise political leadership in favour of the group, although there is a substantial qualitative difference between these roles. Leaders are responsible for issues which affect the entire group, such as leveraging the movement for reclaiming territory, or mobilising the Kujubim of the entire state to directly address issues with whites and their institutions, such as the Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health (SESAI), the State Secretariat for Environmental Development (SEDAM) and the State Secretariat for Education and Teaching Quality (SEDUC). The caciques, in turn, are leaders at the local level, more concerned with solving small conflicts, organising workshops, leading collective projects, among other practices.

In this sense, there is a difference in the political reach of the cacique and the leader. It can also be the case that political relationships are complexified. In the village of Ricardo Franco, for example, there is a general leader and ten caciques representing the ten different ethnicities which occupy the territory.

Material Culture and Productive Activity

Making an iwi belt in a workshop held at Ricardo Franco village. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
Making an iwi belt in a workshop held at Ricardo Franco village. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

There are six villages, not too distant from each other, on the Rio Guaporé Indigenous Land, which is known for its complex multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic diversity, defined by Denise Maldi as the ‘Marico Cultural Complex’. Currently, ten ethnicities live on the territory, split into six linguistic families.

This complex scenario has been ethnographically explained by the work of the Indian Protection Service (SPI), which, from the 1930s up until 1970 removed the people from their traditional malocas and redirected them to the location today known as Ricardo Franco Indigenous Post. More than attempting to reduce cultures, history and diverse cosmologies into something singular, the SPI was curtailing its duty of guaranteeing a continuous territory, forcing people of different ethnicities to marry each other and live together.

It was based on this new organisation and these new social relations that an intense network of exchange of spouses, substances, elements of material culture, stories and myths was established among the indigenous peoples of the region, persisting until this day.

All the ethnicities living nearby share the same way of building houses, made with itaúba support and covered with aricuri straw. It is in these buildings that they hold collective celebrations, and where bows, arrows and crafts are kept, as well as a series of artefacts of material life, such as the ‘marico’ - a bag made of Tucum fibre for carrying objects and products from the fields (Maldi, 1991). It is interesting to note that there are also peculiarities of each ethnic group: the Kujubim, for example, braid aricuri straw belts by connecting only one point of the braid, while the Wajuru and Djeoromitxí, in turn, use two points. The bows and arrows are of a standard which has been kept to this day on the Guaporé TI, being the first to be made with chichiu, with pupunha tips or heads, and the bows follow a regional standard of pupunha cut to the size of the man who will use the weapon.

There is a series of practices and knowledge which became a sort of regional standard, the main one being chicha, a fermented drink produced from macaxeira (cassava) and the consumption of which constitutes the great moments of sociability within the regional system. The Kujubim, in the time of the maloca, would drink chicha of corn and pupunha. Based on the coexistence with other ethnicities and the building of this regional system, all groups began to make chicha from cassava, and consider it a drink of all the people, very much tied to local identity and sociability.

Productive Activity

A couple collect ''aricuri'' from their field in Baía das Onças, Guaporé TI. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
A couple collect ''aricuri'' from their field in Baía das Onças, Guaporé TI. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

Both in the time of the maloca as well as in the present, the Kujubim produced and produce their own subsistence through hunting, gathering wild fruit and seeds, fishing and coivara farming. This also extends to those indigenous people living in the city, where they would collect açaí and nuts, and plant corn and macaxeira, with flour made from the latter also being made commercially available.

Although there isn’t a closely followed gender division regarding work, there is a consensus that fishing and hunting are predominantly masculine activities, in the same way that tending to plantations and domestic care are preferentially feminine. There are, also, tasks which can be carried out equally by both genders, such as working in groups to clear fields. In the clearings, macaxeira, caiana papaya, corn, cará, potatoes, bananas, watermelon, jerimum, pineapple, beans and rice are grown, among other foods.

Kujubim man making ‘water flour’ (farinha d’água) at the Ricardo Franco Village. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
Kujubim man making ‘water flour’ (farinha d’água) at the Ricardo Franco Village. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

Hunting, like fishing, is done by small groups of between two to four men. They usually leave early from the village and return in the late afternoon, where they are awaited by nuclear family groups. However, depending on the quantity, the meat obtained may be distributed to the entire village. They hunt mammals such as monkeys, tapirs, white-lipped peccaries, caititus, collared peccaries and agoutis; birds such as the curassow, jacu, jacamim and bush duck; and reptiles, such as turtles, which are highly prized and fished, as well as a large number of fish species.

Kinship and Nomination

House in Baía das Onças. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018
House in Baía das Onças. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018

The Kujubim, the three matriarchs tell, had matriarchal logics of nomination and housing, and as such the transfer of names takes the maternal route. When there was a marriage, the men would leave their homes and live with the woman’s family, in other words, post-marital residence was uxorilocal After the SPI began joining ethnic groups and forcing marriage between them, the logic of the paternal transfer of names took hold, mainly of the surname. As such, around twenty years ago, if a Kujubim woman married a Kanoé, the son would only be given the Kanoé surname. Today, however, all children and some adolescents have a dual affiliation, and all have two surnames.

As with the case of uxorilocality, some aspects of the time of the maloca are being taken up today. In the past, a Kujubim individual could have up to 5 names, being technonyms or necronyms, and also names which refer to non-human beings. However, what is strongest in the case of the Kujubim is naming according to human characteristics reflected in objects, animals and plants.

It is rare, these days, to hear people’s names in the everyday life of the village, as people are known and addressed by their nicknames. As in the time of the maloca, nicknames also referred to human characteristics correlated to those of non-human beings: Lebrão (long legs), Uru (a bird known to be stingy in myth, used as a nickname for a man with these characteristics), and Lontra (otter - sleeps among the mess, as otter homes only have fish bones, as do human ones, when dirty) are some examples.

Cosmology and Mythology

The cosmos, to the Kujubim and other peoples of the Rio Guaporé Indigenous Land, is divided into strata conceived of as planes or domains. The earth is a domain, as well as the wind, the sky, the air, the rivers and water, the celestial villages, the treetop villages, dreams and many other places which serve, overall, to create a division of the universe.

It is within these divisions of the broad cosmos that the Kujubim relate to different beings - animals, plants, spirits, meteorological phenomena and also monstrous beings, such as the Mapinguari and Father of the Bush [Pai da Mata]. Working in the fields, hunting, fishing and even living in the village means that they are subjected, at all times, to encounters with these beings.

Sociality, for the indians, goes beyond human relationships, because all beings have a spirit, or soul. To eat turtle meat when one has a small child makes the child’s body vulnerable to an attack from the turtle’s spirit, which could cast an illness. If they hunt too many animals, the owners of those animals will be furious, creating a reason for panema (a magical force which incapacitates) in the hunter, also casting arrows in the form of illnesses. In addition, the owners will remove their animals from a particular area, making it harder to find them in the surroundings.

The self-denomination ‘Towa Panka’, as previously mentioned, refers to the symbolic relationship between the human Kujubim and the bird cujubim. One of the stories told by an old Kujubim reveals: “the sun went down three times in the day and, in that time, God appeared to deliver the spirit of who had been born, and take away the spirit of who had died”. Cujubins are gods to the Kujubim, as they play a fundamental role: to bring spirits to bodies which are born, and also to take them back to the celestial paradise when they die. In this sense, the cujubins are special beings which go beyond the cosmic plains, going from life to death, through celestial villages and also living together with humans in terrestrial villages. Of course, they can never be eaten.

Ritual and Shamanism

Painting with genipap in the Ricardo Franco village. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
Painting with genipap in the Ricardo Franco village. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

As fitting with regional standards, the Kujubim shamans of the time of the maloca used angico seeds as a psychoactive substance to gain access to other cosmic plains. The angico seeds are macerated and mixed with tree bark and tobacco, which is then suctioned through a stick called a taboquinha.

The shamans would inhale the substance to reach the celestial villages, firing arrows upon each other to form chains until they reached the sky. They would also battle celestial beings such as the great rainbow cobra, and the being which attacked women in the fields making them pregnant, called Tupiran. Today, pajelança is still used in the villages of the Rio Guaporé TI, but not practiced by any Kujubim.

Initiation Rituals

Kujubim child learning to braid a mat (iwi) with straw. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
Kujubim child learning to braid a mat (iwi) with straw. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

Initiation rituals are, for the Kujubim, the same as in the time of the maloca. Women initiate their adult life markedly after their first menstruation. They must remain sheltered inside the house for a week until the cycle passes. If this does not happen, they are exposed to evil spirits and run the risk of becoming lazy and irritable. They also cannot be seen by the rainbow, as the jiboia snake which lives within it (or, at the same time, which is the rainbow itself) may fire an arrow at the woman, causing her to become ill and her future reproductive cycle to become threatened and under the control of the spirit.

Men, at the age of six, when they begin school, also begin learning how to make arrows and to shoot them. At 12, they are initiated by the pajé with juice of the genipap, so that their voice does not thicken too much, but also doesn’t become too thin. As they drink the genipap, they must imitate various animals, among them the tapir, the white-lipped peccary, the collared peccary and nambu, to then go on their first hunt. Their first prey must be shared among all people, and the hunter must not eat any of it, or will remain panema for the rest of his life.

Marriage is also seen as a rite of passage. In the time of the maloca, Kujubim marriages were marked by the piercing of the cheeks and nose. Coco-de-espinho thorns are used as adornment, one under the mouth and two in the cheeks. This basically formed part of the building of the body, mainly regarding certain advances in life marked by the rites of passage. When he was getting married, the groom had to fight the bride’s father with swords made of pupunha; if he won the fight, he had to be prepared to spend two weeks hunting and working in the field, without returning to the village, to gather enough for a big party. Regarding body-painting, one of the matriarchs said that for protection against spirits who cast illnesses, she had to paint herself with genipap and brush her hair with tucuma oil. These days, bodypainting only happens during festivities and is reserved for women and children.

The ‘original’ paintings of the Kujubim are still remembered. They say that, on festive days, they would paint their arms, legs and face with genipap and urucum. The arm painting was based on a pattern of interspersed straight lines, with a bigger vertical line crossed by several much smaller horizontal lines. The leg painting consisted of two straight parallel vertical lines, with traces forming triangles on the outer extremes. The face painting consisted of four parallel lines. Amongst them, traced horizontally, was a sequence of dots. They also highlighted the colours of the painting: when at peace and celebrating, paintings were red (urucum) and black (genipap); but when hunting or warring, paintings were only red. The Kujubim would also paint themselves by making scratches around their noses, which incorporated the spirit of ' maracajá ', a wild cat with a jaguar (kinam) pattern.

Funeral Rites

In the time of the maloca, when a relative passed away, the body was placed in a red clay funerary urn in foetal position. The urn was buried inside the maloca, and then the house was set alight. The cujubim bird would come and rescue the spirit and to take it to the celestial village. A new house would then be built for the family which had just lost its relative.

There is another aspect of funerals which draws attention, which has plenty to do with customs linked to death in cultures of the Txapacura language: the dead were eaten. In the case of the Kujubim, and also the Moré (Metraux 1948), the ashes of relatives were mixed with food and eaten, although they cannot at present explain the reason for this.

Notes on Sources

Young people fishing with bows and arrows in Baía das Onças. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.
Young people fishing with bows and arrows in Baía das Onças. Photo: Gabriel Sanchez, 2018.

It should be said that, so far, there are no studies or research, from an anthropological point of view, on the history and culture of the Kujubim people. However, this is a rather common situation for many of the varied peoples who live, or have lived, in the area anthropologist Felipe Vander Velden classified as ‘Great Rondonia’.

There are some historical accounts about the Kujubim, but using other names, as previously explained in the Name section, with data appearing very succinctly. This is the case of an account found in a diary of the Bishop Dom Rey, which can be consulted in the diocese of Guajará-Mirim, RO, and the writings of the engineer Ricardo Franco de Almeida Serra, which date from 1857.

Regarding the Kujubim language, a first appearance of data can be found from the comparative studies made by Cestmir Loukotka, published in 1963. Later, in a dissertation produced by Angenot-De Lima on the proto-Txapakura language tree, in 1997. But it is only Irís Rodrigues Duran’s (2000) Master’s dissertation which presents more developed data on the Kuyubi language, as well as some ethnographic information.

In 2017, Joshua Birchall (from the Emílio Goeldi Museum of Pará) began coordinating a project with the Kujubim called ‘Documentation and Safeguarding of the Moré-Kujubim Language”, in which he carries out workshops so that the group may recover and learn their language. Together with Michael Dunn and Simon Greenhill (2016), Birchall wrote an article on the Txapakura language family, assigning the Kujubim language a new position within the language tree. Ruth Monserrat has been working with the language since at least 2005 and recently published an article (2018) on the current situation of the Kujubim in linguistic terms, with good news about their collection of words for beginning to practice their language, collected not only by her but also other linguists, such as Iris Duran and Hein van der Voort.

Although she does not directly quote the Kujubim, but rather the Kumaná and the Kujona, the ethno-historian Denise Maldi Meireles (1991) has produced valuable work on the peoples who are living and have lived in the Guaporé valley. From her work, one can form an idea of how the colonial occupation of the territory took place and how the indigenous peoples of the region directly suffered the impact of contact, causing some to disappear, to become extinct, and causing large displacements from their traditional territories. In this text, the author describes the story from the point of view of several indigenous ethnicities and how they are part of what came to be known as the ‘Marico Cultural Complex’. It can be said that, nowadays, the Kujubim are part of this complex, although some information on them needs to be updated in view of the many changes which have occurred since it was conceived by the historian, such as, for example, the absence of wild cassava plantations. Brief mentions of the Kujubim as part of the Rio Guaporé TI were made by Nicole Soares Pinto (2014).

Although the introduction to the article ‘Tribes of Eastern Bolivia and the Madeira Headwaters’, published in 1948 by Alfred Métraux, promises ethnographic data on the Kumaná, throughout the text there is only sparse data lost amidst the varied information and data on the Moré and the Huanyam, also Txapakura peoples. In a study by Luis Leigue Castedo (1957), one can find a Moré origin myth which makes historical allusions to the peoples who lived on the Cautário river, which we can say are the Kujubim. The author, through the myth, comments on some of the relationships which existed among these peoples, which could go from being celebrations watered with chicha and plenty of food, to enmity, provoked mainly by the practice of cannibalism.

The diary of Emil-Heinrich Snethlage, at the time of writing this entry, has not yet been translated to Portuguese, although some extracts can be found in the article Emil-Heinrich Snethlage (1897-1939): Biographical Note, Expeditions and Legacy of an Interrupted Career, by Gleice Mere (2013), in which there is information on the Kumaná. The German ethnologist also kept diaries which have recently been published, in German (2016), about his trip to the Guaporé River, from which ethnographic information on the Kumaná, Matawa and Kujona can be collected regarding the onomastics, language and certain cosmological aspects. This work certainly presents a set of very rich data on the peoples of the Guaporé River, who, like the Kujubim, lack information.

In addition to these sources, information can also be found in the compiled data on the indigenous peoples of Rondonia, organised and published by the Missionary Indigenist Council of Rondonia.

Finally, it should be said that a primary anthropological, historical and cultural effort has been made, the results of which contain most of the data contained in this entry. It is primary information, from recent fieldwork by Gabriel Sanchez, who researches the relationships between the Kujubim and the beings which our western biology classifies as birds, which is under work and development for a Master’s dissertation in progress, to be presented at the Federal University of São Carlos, and probably released in November 2019. This data was collected from participant observation, informal conversations and daily coexistence with the Kujubim of Guajará-Mirim, Costa Marques, Ricardo Franco village and Baía Das Onças village, who are fighting for the demarcation of their traditional territory, as well as valuable information from the still living memories of the Kujubim matriarchs, which remain in the practices and discourses of their descendents.

Sources of Information

  • ALMEIDA SERRA, Ricardo Franco de. Diario do Rio Madeira: Viagem que a expedição destinada a demarcação de limites fez do Rio Negro até Villa Bella, capital do Governo do Matto-Grosso. Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geographico Brazileiro 20: 397-432. 1857.
  • ANGENOT-DE LIMA, Geralda. Fonotática e fonologia do lexema protochapakura. Dissertação de mestrado apresentada ao curso de pós-graduação em linguística da Universidade Federal de Rondônia. 1997.
  • BIRCHALL, Joshua; DUNN, Michael & GREENHILL, Simon. A combined comparative and phylogenetic analysis of the chapacuran language family. IJAL, vol. 82, nº 3. 2016.
  • CIMI – RO. Panewa Especial. Porto Velho: CIMI – RO, 2015.
  • DOM REY. “Visita à maloca dos índios do rio Cautário”. Diário pessoal. Diocese de Guajará-Mirim. 1932.
  • DURAN, Iris Rodrigues. Descrição fonológica e lexal do dialeto kaw tayo (Kujubi) da língua Moré. Dissertação de Mestrado apresentada ao curso de pós-graduação em linguística da Universidade Federal de Rondônia. 2000.
  • LEIGUE CASTEDO, Luis. El Itenez Salvaje. La Paz: Ministério de la Educación. 1957.
  • LOUKOTKA, Cestmir. Documents et vocabulaires inédits de langues et de dialectes sud-américains. Jounal de la Société des Américanistes 52:7-60. 1963.
  • MALDI MEIRELES, Denise. O complexo cultural do marico: Sociedades indígenas dos rios Branco, Colorado e Mequens, afluentes do médio Guaporé. Boletim do Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, Série Antropologia, 7: 209-69. 1991.
  • MERE, Gleice. Emil-Heinrich Snethlage (1897-1939): nota biográfica, expedições e legado de uma carreira interrompida. Bol. Mus. Para. Emílio Goeldi. Ciências humanas, vol. 8, nº3, pp 773-804. 2013.
  • MÉTRAUX, Alfred. Tribes of Eastern Bolivia and the Madeira headwaters. Handbook of South América Indians, vol. 3, ed. Julian H. Steward, pp 381-454. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution. 1948.
  • MONSERRAT, Ruh Maria Fonini. Memória das atividades realizadas junto aos povos Puruborá e Kujubim, Rondônia, constantes em dois relatórios de viagem do regional do CIMI/RO, de 2015 e 2017. Revista Brasileira de Linguística Antropológica. Vol, 10. Nº 1. 2018.
  • SNETHLAGE, Emil-Heinrich. Die Guaporé – Expedition (1933 – 1935) Ein Forschungstagebuch. Rotger Snethlage, Alhard-Mauritz Snethlage & Gleice Mere (org.). Vienna: Bohlau Verlag. 2016.
  • SOARES-PINTO, Nicole. Entre as teias do marico: parentes e pajés djeorometxi. Tese de doutorado defendida no programa de pós-graduação em Antropologia Social da UnB. 2014.
  • VANDER VELDEN, Felipe Ferreira. Os Tupí em Rondônia: diversidade, estado do conhecimento e proposta de investigação. Revista Brasileira de Linguistica Antropologica. Vol.2, nº 1. 2010.

Categoria:Povos indígenas em Rondônia