From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Photo: Valter Campanato/ABr, 2007.


Where they are How many
BA, MG 12865 (Siasi/Sesai, Cedefes, 2020)
Linguistic family

The Pataxó people live in several villages in the southern part of the state of Bahia and northern of the state of Minas Gerais. There is evidence that the village of Barra Velha has existed for nearly two and a half centuries, since 1767 (see History). Tracing a history of contact with non-indigenous people that goes back to the sixteenth century and often forced to hide their customs, nowadays the Pataxó strive to enliven their language - the Patxohã - and rituals "of the ancient", like the Awê.


"Pataxó is rain water hitting the earth and the rocks and disappearing into the river and the sea." (Kanátyo Pataxó, Txopai e Itôhâ, 1997)

Pataxó is the self-denomination used by this people.

Emmerich and Monserrat (1975, p. 13), seeking to mark the boundaries of the areas occupied by the so-called Gren, Aimorés or Botocudos, and based on Simon de Vasconcellos (1864, p. 28), claim that Salvador Correa de Sá, during an incursion in 1577, found them in the vicinity of the Doce River "along with other tapuia nations such as the Patachos, Apuraris and Puris."

This record is particularly relevant for it is the first specific reference to the presence of the Pataxó indigenous people within their traditional distribution area, i.e. between the north bank of the São Mateus River and the Porto Seguro River. They would be the southern Pataxó, as defined by the anthropological literature, while the distribution range of the northern Pataxó, currently called Pataxó Hãhãhãe, would be the area covered by the Pardo River and Rio de Contas River.

Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied noted the existence of cultural similarities between the Pataxó and Maxacali, such as the use of hanging bags; the foreskin tied with a vine; the small piercing of the lower lip, in which they sometimes used a bamboo plug; the pataxó-style hair shaving; the similar construction of huts; and the use of cauim [a lightly fermented beverage] (1958, p. 276-277). It is important, however, to remember that besides the fact that these characteristics are widely shared by the tribes of the eastern coast, as the prince rightly pointed out, many others similarities could be due to mutual exchanges in contexts of interaction.

Language and Sociolinguistic Status

The Pataxó is a language of the Macro-Jê trunk and of the Maxakalí linguistic family.

Strictly speaking, the indigenous language is no longer spoken, and communication is done in Portuguese mixed with indigenous language words. However, great effort is being put into the reconstruction of the Patxohã, the "Warrior Language" (Bomfim, 2012), from the vocabulary recorded by chroniclers and travelers. The Grupo de Pesquisadores Pataxó [Pataxó Researchers Group], dedicated since 1998 to the study of the indigenous language, refers to "the process of revitalization of the Pataxó language", in which all generations are participating, and understands it as the collective, dynamic process experienced by the language throughout the history of the Pataxó people (Bomfim, 2012, p. 11). Before the research group was created, the vocabulary still held by the elders started to be shared and taught in the Pataxó de Barra Velha Indigenous School by the first culture teachers Arawê and Itajá (Bomfim, 2012, p. 64). Young pataxó teachers also recognize the pioneering work of Kanatyo, who always showed great interest in the knowledge of the elders, as well as in the composition of songs with indigenous language words. The first school of Barra Velha, founded in 1978 by Funai, strongly contributed to stimulate their interest in it (Bomfim, 2012, p. 59). Patxohã teaching is not restricted to the language lexicon. It comprises a wide range of information, such as about dances and indigenous songs; the historical processes experienced by indigenous peoples, particularly those established in the south of Bahia; and indigenous identity today.

The Path to a Classification

In 1938, Curt Nimuendajú, during a trip to the area located between the Rio de Contas River and the Doce River, called the attention of the Indian Protection Service - SPI to a group of indigenous persons who lived outside their area of action. It was the Maxakalí people, established along the affluents of the Itanhaém River (Alcobaça River), located in the state of Minas Gerais, near the eastern border with the state of Bahia (Nimuendajú, 1958, p. 53). The author emphasizes that the language of the Maxakalí is very similar to the languages spoken by the Macuni, Copoxó, Cumanaxó, Pañame and Monoxó, and that it presents "some resemblance to the Pataxó and Malali." He further states that von Martius grouped the languages spoken by these peoples and some others into the language group of the Goytacás, assuming a kinship with the Jê group.

Von den Steinen, on his turn, included in the Goytacá group only the languages spoken by the Maxakalí, Macuni, Capaxó, Cumanaxó and Pañame, and with some reserve the Pataxó, which would be a subdivision of the Jê group. Ehrenreich, Rivet and P. Schmidt maintained this classification.

It was in 1931 that the Czech C. Loukotka reexamined the scarce existing vocabularies and came to the conclusion that these languages, excluding the Pataxó, formed a language family completely independent from the Jê family (Loukotka, 1939).

In 1971, Colonel Antonio Medeiros de Azevedo gave to the Anthropologist Pedro Agostinho a list of 71 Pataxó words he collected while commanding the troops which, in 1936, submitted the Paraguassu station in southern Bahia. Augustine, on his turn, gathered a vocabulary of 120 words during his fieldwork among the Pataxó of Barra Velha in the extreme south of Bahia in December of 1971. Copies of Azevedo's list, of the questionnaires that Augustine applied (a standard questionnaire from the National Museum for preliminary comparative studies of Brazilian indigenous languages; and dialectal questionnaires designed to check the characteristics of the Portuguese spoken by the Indigenous people) and their recording on magnetic tape were forwarded to the Linguist Aryon Dall`Igna Rodrigues for comparative purposes, who was then working at the Linguistics Sector of the National Museum/UFRJ (Augustine, 1972, p.7). Rodrigues examined the material and concluded that it was a language of the Maxakalí family.

Rufino Vicente Ferreira (Tururim) was one of the indigenous informants of Pedro Agostinho. Turumin looked 30 years old in 1971 and his information was limited to isolated words, usually nouns, and less often he remembered verbs and adjectives and their direct referential in Portuguese grammar. The other informant was Vicentina Ferreira, who was about 45 years old and had moved from the Come-quem-Leva village to Barra Velha for the first time after the "Fire of 1951". She was only able to answer the questionnaire in a small isolated chapel and only as she acquired more confidence in the researcher. She mostly remembered isolated nouns and, at the end, she established a brief conversation with Peter Augustine, which lead him to assume that the formal result was much inferior than her apparent skill to speak the language, though using a poor vocabulary. Finally, there was Luciana Ferreira (Zabelê), who lived in Comuruxatiba, but could not be interviewed (Augustine, 1972, p. 81).

In the late 1990s, during a field research in Comuruxatiba, Maria Rosario de Carvalho learned through Zabelê that Vicentina, Tururim and others had gone, years before, to the Maxakalí village of Água Boa, located in the city of Santa Helena de Minas, northeast of Minas Gerais, where they stayed for about a month. At the time of trip mentioned, Zabelê, who was about ten years old, lived in Barra Velha with her parents, Emilio Ferreira and Maria Salviana. They and their children, Patrick and Zabelê, plus the others mentioned above, were invited to visit their Maxakalí relatives by a mineiro [person born from Minas Gerais] who passed in pilgrimage by Arraial Nossa Senhora D'Ajuda, and the invitation was promptly accepted.

It is important to consider, in the light of the existing historical relationship between the Pataxó and Maxakalí, that this visit was not without a reason, just as wasn't the presence of a Maxakalí family in the Monte Pascoal Park immediately after its retake by the Pataxó in August 1999. After all, the pataxó oral tradition repeatedly refers to the presence of wild indigenous persons from Minas Gerais, who every once in a while passed by the Prado River and reached the old village of Bom Jardim / Barra Velha to trade game for fish with the elders at the beach. This exchange flow was most probably interrupted due to the deforestation that occurred in the region, and eventually frightened off the Maxakalí. "The wild ones would bring game and women (the "tapuia") to exchange for the women here, for flour, tapioca, coconut and cauim, and after they would returned to their tents" (Carvalho, 1977, p. 93-94).

It was during this one-month visit that Zabelê and the others recalled words of the Maxakalí language. Zabelê, who died on July 04, 2012, said she learned words in Pataxó language from her father Emilio Ferreira before the alluded trip: "before going there I already knew, but when I brought them [the words], they complemented the ones from here, which grew" (Bomfim, 2012, p. 49). Her statement reveals that she seemed to consider it one sole language, whose words would fit together without difficulties.

Patxohã - the "Language of the Pataxó Warrior"

Great effort is currently being made to expand the repertoire of spoken words and retrieve the syntax through researches conducted by teachers and college students from various Pataxó communities. It is a complex reconstruction process in which specially the youngsters have spent much time and effort. The Patxohã ( "language of the pataxó warrior") has been taught in the indigenous school of Barra Velha since the 1990s. In the case of the Coroa Vermelha village, which has the biggest of all pataxó schools, the Patxohã language became a subject in primary education in 2003, and in secondary education in 2007.

Anari Braz Bomfim states that when the Maxakali teachers were presented the Pataxó language material collected by Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, they recognized most of it, although when comparing it to the Maxakali vocabulary also collected by the same traveler they verified the presence of different words. Moreover, a teacher was impressed when she identified terms in pataxó vocabulary that are still used in Maxakalí ritual songs (Bomfim, 2012, p. 47-48).

In Table 1.13 of the 2010 Census, which refers to indigenous persons of 5 years old or older living in indigenous lands, divided into sex and age groups, according to the condition of speaking the indigenous language at home, there is record of the Pataxó language for 772 individuals (394 men and 378 women) distributed among: 5-9 years old (93), 10-14 years old (133), 15-24 years old (252), 25-49 years old (258) and 50 + (36). In table 15, which refers to indigenous persons of 5 years old or older and with the 15 languages with most speakers indicated, there is record of the Pataxó language for 836 people outside indigenous lands (IBGE, 2012). Data seem to suggest that a number of pataxó individuals specially among ages 10 to 49 are aware that they are speakers of a indigenous language, which might be a result of the work done by indigenous researchers.

Some Patxohã Words

The Indios Online website prepared a glossary of Patxohã words. Please see some below:  


Data concerning the whole Pataxó population was obtained from the Indigenous Healthcare Information System (SIASI - FUNASA). The fact that there is no information about the methodology used by SIASI for the collection of such data makes it difficult to carry out a detailed analysis of the demographic behavior presented by the Pataxó. However, considering it is an available population data set, it would not be possible to neglect it. Therefore, we decided to adopt the strategy of accounting it as somewhat reliable as representative of the amount of Pataxó indigenous persons living in the rural areas of Itamaraju, Porto Seguro, Prado and Santa Cruz de Cabrália.

For the year of 2010, SIASI data shows 11,436 inhabitants (of which 5,839 are men and 5,597 are women) distributed among the villages of Barra Velha, Aldeia Velha, Boca da Mata, Meio da Mata and Imbiriba, all located in Porto Seguro; Pé do Monte, Trevo do Parque, Guaxuma, Corumbauzinho and Aldeia Nova, established in Itamaraju; Coroa Vermelha and Mata Medonha, established in Santa Cruz de Cabrália; and finally Águas Belas, Craveiro, Tauá, Tibá, Córrego do Ouro, Cahy and Alegria Nova, located in Prado. They total 19 villages.

If we compare the total data on the rural population of these four municipalities, which according to the 2010 Census averages out approximately 50,000 inhabitants, we reach the proportion of about one Pataxó for every five inhabitants of the rural area of these municipalities, nearly the same proportion of indigenous/rural population found in the state of Amazonas, which has the largest rural indigenous population among all states surveyed by the 2010 Census.

In the state of Minas Gerais, on the other hand, according to SIASI, there are in the towns of Carmarthen, Itapecerica and Araçauaí 349 pataxós (178 men and 171 women), which represents 1.9% of the rural population established in these municipalities.

In the 2010 Population Census, the Pataxó are listed in table 1.14 - indigenous people divided by gender, according to language branch, language family and ethnicity - with a total of 13,588 inhabitants, of which 6,982 are men and 6,606 are women. Table 3.1 - persons living in indigenous lands per indigenous status, federation units and indigenous lands - shows, in Bahia, only the villages of Águas Belas (232 inh.), Aldeia Velha (928 inh.), Barra Velha (3064 inh.), Coroa Vermelha (3541 inh.), Imbiriba (397 inh.) and Mata Medonha (874 inh.). In Minas Gerais, there is only reference to Fazenda Guarani (246 inh.) (IBGE, 2012).


Aldeia Barra Velha. Um dos marcos fixados na atual TI Barra Velha por uma comissão preparatória à criação do Parque Nacional do Monte Pascoal, na década de quarenta do século XX e localizado por Manuel de Suia Pataxó. Foto: E. Almeida, Mai 2001.
Aldeia Barra Velha. Um dos marcos fixados na atual TI Barra Velha por uma comissão preparatória à criação do Parque Nacional do Monte Pascoal, na década de quarenta do século XX e localizado por Manuel de Suia Pataxó. Foto: E. Almeida, Mai 2001.

The Pataxó people live in the extreme south of Bahia in 36 villages distributed into six Indigenous Lands (Águas Belas, Aldeia Velha, Barra Velha, Imbiriba, Coroa Vermelha and Mata Medonha) located in the municipalities of Santa Cruz Cabrália, Porto Seguro, Itamaraju and Prado.

In the state of Minas Gerais, the Pataxó live in seven communities: four of them (Sede, Imbiruçu, Retirinho and Alto das Posses) are located in the Fazenda Guarani Indigenous Land in the municipality of Carmésia; Muã Mimatxí is located in a property transferred to Funai by the Serviço de Patrimônio da União (in English, Government Property Management Office) in the municipality of Itapecerica; Jundiba/Cinta Vermelha, also inhabited by the Pankararu, is located in the municipality of Araçuaí; and Jeru Tukumâ is located in Açucena.

The communities of Minas Gerais were formed, in an indirect manner, from the "Fire of 51" events and the creation of the Monte Pascoal National Park, and later from the "recognition" of the Pataxó by Funai in 1971, which would have attracted them to the state due to the existence of a Funai office there that could assist them (information by José Augusto Laranjeiras Sampaio).

Zé Guedes e filho examinam mapa da TI Pataxó reivindicada. Aldeia Cahy. Foto: E. Almeida, Maio, 2001.
Zé Guedes e filho examinam mapa da TI Pataxó reivindicada. Aldeia Cahy. Foto: E. Almeida, Maio, 2001.

In July 2010, Pataxó groups from the Fazenda Guarani Indigenous Land occupied areas located in two Conservation Areas: the Rio Corrente State Park, in the city of Açucena, and the Serra da Candonga State Park, in the city of Dores de Guanhães. According to indigenous leaders, their request for the creation of new indigenous lands aims to minimize situations of insufficient territory area and scarcity of natural resources, to which indigenous peoples are currently subjected.

The number presented here concerning the villages in Bahia was obtained from the local communities and from some of their leaders over successive field work carried out by different researchers. This estimate, however, differs from the one provided by official agencies due to the dynamic nature of the Pataxó territorial occupation.

Furthermore, these data may vary among native informants themselves, since the characterization of a particular area as a village, and not as a "retomada" ["retaking", term used to characterize the occupation of land that has not been officially identified yet as indigenous, but that the Pataxó tradition recognizes and claims as such] is a disputable argument.

Further readings

The Struggle for Land Demarcation

Contact History

Historical records show that the presence of the Pataxó in the region located between the river of Porto Seguro and the north bank of the São Mateus River, which is today the state of Espirito Santo, dates back to the 16th century.

At that time, the Pataxó were already a target of hostility and deprivation by the settlers, just as were constant the conflicts with other indigenous peoples, many of which caused by the Portuguese, who established alliances with some of them in exchange for tools with the objective to turn them against the Pataxó and the Botocudo, considered the most resistant ones. Groups apparently allied to the Portuguese also benefited from this situation because, through promises of peace and conversion to Christianity, they used to accuse the Pataxó and the Botocudo of "all hostility and carnage" (Revista Trimestral de História e Geographia, 1846).

In 1757, the Pombalino Directory, a set of measures formally aimed at preparing the indigenous people to rule their villages, imposed them a strict rules of behavior. The region of Porto Seguro, between 1767 and 1777, was under the direction of the Judge and General-Ombudsman José Xavier Machado Monteiro, who did not disguise his lack of esteem for the Indigenous people established there or just passing by, considering them "the most vile and idle in Brazil." He fought against the use of Indigenous languages and the supposed laziness of the householders. At the same time, he used to take their sons to make them work and to distribute the girls throughout "the houses of white, honest women." The goal was, therefore, to "civilize" them through the acquisition of new customs and a new language taught in public schools from the age of five. Indigenous families were thus broken up without any concern for their interests and feelings (Revista do Instituto Histórico Geographico da Bahia, 1968).

In the second half of the 18th century, there is notice of the existence of 12 villages of "wild Indians" located in the surroundings of Monte Pascoal. The Chronicler Luis dos Santos Vilhena recommended, at the time, that the Prado Village should be maintained and conserved, considering its relative proximity to these villages, the need to foster production in this "most fertile ground", and to serve both as a barrier and an obstacle to its inhabitants, the "Pataxó barbarians that infest all the vast region of Porto Seguro" (Vilhena, 1969, p. 535).

Vilhena's information was supported and complemented by Jesuit Father Cypriano Lobato Mendes, who worked in one unidentified Missão de Índios (Indigenous People Mission) of the region of Porto Seguro. In July 1788, he sent a formal complaint to D. Pedro II calling for greater attention to the region, which he considered the richest and most fertile land he knew in Brazil, a place abundant in the most precious woods in the country. Mendes also refers to a celebrated Golden Pond "in the surroundings of the Paschoal Mount, [in whose] outskirts, it is said, is located the Pathaxó gentile and their villages, who often go to the beach to catch turtles (.. .) ". (Conselho Ultramarino Brasil, 1788). This pond is still an important landmark for the Pataxó.

A century and a half later, this area became the seat of the National Park of Monte Pascoal, recovered in 1999 by the Pataxó. It was in its surroundings that, like nowadays, more than ten villages were distributed. Their population annually alternated between beach and forest ecosystems in order to supplement their diet based on cassava flour, fish and/or shellfish.

In 1808, Prince Regent D. João, newly arrived in Brazil, ruled that the Court of Appeals Judge Luiz Thomaz de Navarro was to conduct a land journey from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro for reconnaissance of the region. When describing the tip of Corumbau, near Monte Pascoal, the judge noted that, in the southern part, there still existed sugar plantations of formidable grandeur left by the Indigenous individuals that formed their village at this place and who were transferred by Minister José Xavier Machado to the village of Prado (probably in 1767 or thereafter, when the village of Prado was created by the 1st Ombudsman of Porto Seguro) (Revista Trimestral de História e Geographia, 1846). At the time Navarro passed by the village, it was in great decline, both demographically and economically speaking, which voided the argument used for its transfer, in other words, for them "to get the best out of commerce and become civilized".

It should be noted that other Pataxó groups, however, maintained no contact or just occasional contact with non-indigenous people, including in the surroundings of Prado. The court of appeals judge found at the beach called Tauape a non-sedentary Pataxó group, a fact that forced him to stand guard all night, "dividing the people into three groups to scream till the break of dawn in order to resist the Pataxó gentiles, having caught signs of them and they being very bold, courageous gentile who have no certain dwellings, wandering, living of fishing, hunting and theft "(Revista Trimensal de História e Geographia, 1846, p. 442). As from 1810, expectations regarding the settlement of the Pataxó in villages increased. The new Ombudsman, José Marcellino da Cunha, thought he was accomplishing "peace among almost all gentility, especially the Patacho", due to the construction of several detachments (Cerqueira e Silva, 1931, p. 56). Distinct groups moved in and surprised the visitors, who generally interpreted their incursions as friendly expressions of interest in more regular contact.

Groups sometimes appeared in Trancoso, sometimes in the village of Crememuã (now called Caraíva), sometimes in the village of Comuruxatiba, destined by the Ombudsman as a residence for the Englishman Charles Frazer. Frazer later requested and was granted the concession of a land "with a length of six leagues in extent on the coast", in which Comuruxatiba was included, as requested (Cerqueira e Silva, 1931, 1931, p. 56).

In the 1820s came to Brazil the Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, who, because of his production of new, detailed records on the Pataxó of the coastal region, has become one of the best sources on the topic. He noted the predominant presence of the Pataxó and the sporadic presence of the Botocudo in the forests near Mucuri, also visited by "other branches of the Tapuia people" such as the Capuchos, Cumanachos, Machacalis and Panhami, and by the the Maconis, Malalis, among others, already established in villages at the borders of Minas Gerais (Wied-Neuwied, 1958, p. 187).

The first four "Tapuia branches" were, in 1815, allied with the Pataxó to fight the Botocudo, who outnumbered them. This alliance have probably been facilitated by alleged cultural and linguistic similarities that encouraged a "close affinity" and a more or less shared space distribution. Presumably, the Pataxó were established at the time along the Mucuri River, while other peoples were further north along the Belmonte River, where also lived the Botocudo (Wied-Neuwied, 1958, p. 187).

Porto Seguro. Almirante Gago Coutinho e comitiva, com índios Pataxó, em 1939. Foto extraída do livro “Sob os céus de Porto Seguro
Porto Seguro. Almirante Gago Coutinho e comitiva, com índios Pataxó, em 1939. Foto extraída do livro “Sob os céus de Porto Seguro

The description Wied-Neuwied made of the group he met and held exchanges with, in the village of Prado shows that it was a friendly contact performed by a group of men who arrived at the place a few days before, coming from the forest and holding bows and arrows and carrying wax balls. Their goal was to exchange forest products for goods produced by non-indigenous people such as knives and red cloths, which they obtained from the prince. Their presence, arousing more interest than fear, indicates that their visits had become more usual since 1813 through the mediation of a Maxakalí group, who had been contacted longer before (Wied-Neuwied, 1958, p. 214).

In 1857, there is information about an intended transfer of the Indigenous individuals of the Prado village to a nearby village, Alcobaça, fact that caused negative reactions from the police deputy of Prado, who claimed he had not received such instructions from the General Director of Indigenous People. Four years later, in 1861, the matter was brought back by an explicit statement regarding the establishment or reestablishment of a village along the Corumbau River, in the village of Prado, made by the Vicar Capitulate Rodrigo Ignacio de Souza Meneses. In a letter sent to the Presidency of the Province, he said it was of utmost need to create a village at the Corumbau River, where "in the contiguous wild [...] there were hundreds of families, who were sometimes in the thickets and sometimes in the village of Prado, with no hostile features but persistent in their savage customs, their fertility and proportions fit for the establishment of large farms (Pinto, 1861, p. 36). These Indians were always fishing at the Corumbau River, attracted by the fish that abounded there and by the seafood. They used to build their ranches there while fishing and salting the fish, and then they would transport such fish to the forest, where they lived during the other part of the year. The Corumbau lands were then almost all vacant.

The vicar's recommendation was readily accepted. Speaking to the Provincial Assembly on 1 March 1861, Antonio da Costa Pinto, President of the Province, discussed the creation of an indigenous village at the Corumbau River.

The village mentioned is the village of Barra Velha, traditionally named Bom Jardim, and called by the Pataxó nowadays very suggestively as the mother-village. First this hypothesis was raised by Pedro Agostinho (1974) and then by Carvalho (1977), who based on indigenous statements and the description of the coast made by the Captain General of Porto Seguro in 1805 (Castro and Almeida, 1918 ), concluded that the mouth of the Corumbau River was right in front of the site where the village of Barra Velha is currently located. This village was later moved further south, justifying the name of the village as Barra Velha ["Old River Mouth"]. Thus, it seems indisputable that Barra Velha and the village created in 1767 (which was created again in 1861) are the same one, demonstrating its approximate two and a half centuries (245 years) of existence.

The Fire of 1951

In 1949, the Pataxó Captain Honório Borges moved to Rio de Janeiro in order to ask the Indian Protection Service (SPI) for measures against the invasion of the indigenous land. According to his son Severiano, who accompanied him and was a boy at the time, Honorius met Marechal Rondon and got him to promise that something would be done for his people (Augustine, 1972, p. 62).

Back in Bahia, two men that Captain Honorio Borges had met in Rio de Janeiro (generally referred to as lieutenant and engineer) were the ones responsible for a robbery of a merchant of Corumbau village, according to evidences. The tobbery sparked riots that culminated in what is locally referred to as the 'Fire of 1951'.

The riot, in which the Pataxó of the Barra Velha village were involved, resulted in violent repression by police detachments of Porto Seguro and Prado; in the death of an indigenous person and two non-indigenous leaders; in the arrest of 38 Indians, including Captain Honório Borges; and in the fire of the Barra Velha village, which caused the dispersion of the rest of the inhabitants, in despair.

On 11 June 1951, the troop commander, Major PM Arsenio Alves, stated that the uprising had a political and communist nature, and that in Barra Velha he had found address lists of militants from Bahia and other states (A Tarde, 11 June 1951). Regarding the burning of the village, he said it was a sanitary measure recommended by the medical doctor of the police force, given that inside the house there was rotting "... cattle slaughtered two days before ..." (A Tarde, 11 June 1951).

After a while, the fugitives gradually returned. Pedro Agostinho, examining aerial photos from 1957, marked four clearly visible houses on the site of the village, and nearby, two recent clearings he supposed had been opened for planting (Augustine, 1972, p. 68). Honório Borges no longer returned and died in Canavieiras, where he settled after leaving prison.

Some people perceive the fire of 1951 (the name by which the succession of facts above reported was known afterwards) the features of a narrative of origin, part of a broader dialectic of historical legitimation of old claims (Kohler, 2011, p. 83).


The status of village does not necessarily coincide with land regularization and is usually related to the sociopolitical organization, such as the designation of its own chieftain. However, other elements are also significant, such as the establishment of schools in the communities, as stated by the Cacique [chief] of Barra Velha in 2006, to distinguish 'retomada' [retaking] from 'village': "it's a village when there's a school" (Miranda, 2009 p. 34).

The attempt to establish the order of seniority of the villages can lead to mistakes, as old villages may have been invaded and only recently reoccupied. The old pajé [shaman] of Boca da Mata, Manuel Santana, whose memory and observation skills are noteworthy, says with conviction that the Caveira village, located between the Corumbau River and the Jibura River, is the oldest one, loosing only to the village of Imbiriba. When taking such statement into account, the actual information acknowledged about the Barra Velha village should be reviewed, for historical evidence indicates it was created in 1861, and anthropologists and the Pataxó still consider it as their oldest settlement.

Each village has a leader called Cacique, which is an external spokesman and an internal articulator. Many reasons may lead someone, usually a male, to become a Cacique, rarely prevailing succession mechanisms of hereditary or prerogative of a family, as occurs in Barra Velha, where the Ferreira family members were the first Caciques (Machadinho, João Vicente and Marcelo) and also the first ones to return to the village after the "Fire of 1951". The first to return were probably Epifânio Ferreira, raised to the status of Cacique/Captain, and his daughter Josefa, somewhat her father's alter ego. Gabriele Grossi shows the concentration of political power in Barra Velha within the Ferreira family (2004).

The significant number of Pataxó villages today is due to the process of retaking portions of their traditional territory, of which the Indians were dispossessed in different historical moments. More recently, there is also the occurrence of factioning in villages or groups, derived most likely from a disproportional relation between the number of people and the amount of available environmental resources.

Ritual Practices and Festivals

The Pataxó often mention the Abatirás, "Baquirás" or "Abaquirás" and the Habiá. The former are related to Juacema or the tip of the Juacema, as this place is more commonly known, a stretch of the coast of Porto Seguro where the cliffs reach the sea, located between the Frade and Caraíva rivers, nearer the latter. The first record performed by Carvalho on the subject was in Barra Velha in 1976, when the Pataxó were still in great isolation. When attempting to extract information about the "history of the ancient", after some resistance, she heard from João Nascimento, now deceased and notorious at the time as a relevant keeper of tradition, "that in about 3 days the Indians arrived, and then the Juacema was razed. These Indians were from up there. Indians came by land, above the ground, with bows, and the Baquirá through below the ground... Baquirá are wild Indians, very wild. I think they live under the ground, that people have not yet discovered this village. They dug a hole, there are two big holes. One near the coast and the other up there. I guess people never discovered this village of Indians. They're called Baquirá" (Carvalho, 2008, p. 17).

The same informant said, at the time, that the ancients told that they used to come to make war out here. Bow fight, that's how they fought. "In Juacema, the son of the mestizo, of the Indian, took a Great Kiskadee (Indian from the coast, Pataxó) and this Great Kiskadee made a war with them. The son of the civilized hit the son of the mestizo, and took the Great Kiskadee. They went into the forest to call the others and when they came, they made war. And the others, the Abaquirá, came from under the ground. They made war and ended the Juacema. They came from under the ground - there is the hole through which they came, the Baquirá. The ancients told it, and the proof are the holes that still exist there" (Carvalho, 2008, p. 18).

The Pataxó oral tradition is reproduced by the written tradition of travelers, chroniclers and historians. Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, visiting the region over the years 1816-1817, passed by the place and described it as dry plain fields, reached after passing high, steep banks of clay and sandstone, followed by a steep trail to the top of the barrier, after which the visitor enters Juacema. According to the tradition of local residents recorded by the prince, there was, in the early days of Portuguese colonization, a large, populous village with the same name, also called Insuacome, which was destroyed during the war by a barbaric and anthropophagic nation of the Abaquirás, or Abatirás. For the Prince, this tradition would be arguably based on the devastation caused by the Aimorés or the Botocudos to the captaincy of Porto Seguro, when they invaded it in 1560, moment when they also struck establishments outside the Ilhéus River or S. Jorge until governor Mem de Sá repelled them. pushed them away (...)" (Wied-Neuwied, 1958, p. 221).

Both the Bakira and the Habiá are living beings, and the second are described by those who see and communicate with them as swarthy, speakers of the current language, with normal size and human aspect, and with the peculiarity of not eating salt. There is also the somsim saperé, a man with one leg wrapped around the other, full of wounds. He is human and invisible. But, just as humans, the "critters of the wild" can also charm. Caipora, for example, is a woman, owner of the bush stock. It is a secret...because she is an enchanted one. It is largely commented that at Pé do Monte [hillfoot] "there's human critter under the ground." The boitatá is also an invisible man with fire over his head. The giburinha is also invisible, a little man that, as his tracks show, has only a few centimeters. But he likes women and gets them pregnant. Barra Velha produced four female gibura. He gnaws mangaba, caxandó, guaru, the woman eats it...when the boy is not born small, and born with tooth, he is a gibura product. There is also a kind of water blackmen, enchanted water people, who, when notice a woman, she dives deep with him and they have sex. Their skin is dark like the otter's.


According to reports from some of the older Indigenous persons recorded by Maria Rosario de Carvalho in the village of Barra Velha in the 1970s,

in the old days, cousin would marry cousin in order for the nation not to end, but now this has changed. (...) They would cut wood, a trunk... if the boy managed to hold that trunk, he was a good one to marry. If the girl also managed to lift it, she was a good one to marry. If one could not manage it, one was not good to marry yet. The marriage was to a relative, to a cousin ... no marriage with people from outside, it was all with relatives."

Such practice was seen as a requirement for the celebration of a marriage, as it tested the physical ability of suitors in providing for their mutual needs in risk situations:

when one fell ill in the woods, in pain or attacked by an animal, the woman would put that man in her back and take him to the ranches. Also, if she got sick in the woods, he had to bring her back. They were supposed to lift the trunk."

In Coroa Vermelha, it is common to hear reports that, in times past, when a boy was interested in a girl, he would throw her a pebble. In another meeting, if the girl wanted to return the compliment, she would throw another pebble back. For some time, the lovers would continue with the pebble game until the boy threw a flower as a wedding request signal. This act was followed by a conversation between the couple and the chieftain, who addressed the girl's parents to formalize the union (Castro, 2008, p. 123).

João Nascimento told Carvalho in 1976 that, in his time, the interested man would asked the girl's father for her daughter's hand in marriage, and choose the day to "join in", usually Saturday night, and "then there was song, people gathering a circle". In addition to that, in order for the consensual union to happen, the boy should have resources to ensure the reproduction of the couple and their future offspring with a shelter (kijemi) separate from their families; and "with the means to feed themselves, they could marry".

The "old time marriages" used to be performed at an early age. Many women said that, in the 1970s, they got married when they were "modern, small." According to this expression, it was the husband who "raised" them. "He was already a grown man, and I was a girl. I was a girl, but I had the body for it." In situations where certain emotional relationships gave rise to rumors - "people said he fooled around with that girl" - everyone's expectation was that those involved would then live together. Sexual intercourse before marriage was characterized as theft, with frequent comments about theft among villages.

Currently, the practice of carrying the trunk is being recovered in ceremonies held in the Jaqueira Reserve located in the Coroa Vermelha village. Thus, some religious marriages, both the ones contracted in the Catholic Church or in the numerous evangelical churches established in the surrounding areas of the Indigenous Land, are followed by the indigenous ritual, in a large party that attracts indigenous and non-indigenous people. In addition to carrying the equivalent of the bride's weight, the groom must show skills with the bow and arrow. After such demonstrations of resistance, accompanied with enthusiasm, the chief leads a ceremony in the Pataxó language, Patxohã (Castro, 2008, p. 123).

Awê Ritual

The Awê Ritual is the only one considered "of the ancient". It is "something that has always existed and that even the elders' grandparents did not know when it has started (...). It seems that when an Awê was held in the old times, a single song/dance was performed all along. But holding an Awê is an expression that today refers to different festival contexts (...) it encompasses a varied set of choreographies, each with a particular meaning" (Grunewald, 1999, p. 251) . The Awê requires cauim [manioc beer], and eventually aluá, a brew made of milled corn or husks of fruit such as pineapple, among others.

On the other hand, the existence of Toré among the Pataxó has always been denied: "The Toré is from the north, it is not ours." Some people, like the Shaman Manoel Santana, react very negatively to the possibility of admitting this practice, on the grounds that "we can not copy that, no, that is not ours, when the northern people come we'll be embarrassed and we can not sing it there. Each people represent what is their own. How can we represent something that is other's?".

Indigenous rituals, in the Northeast ethnographic context, have a strong emphasis on its private character, in the form of "secret". Therefore, it is common the reference to a Toré that can be shared with non-indigenous workers, and another, a private one, in which participation is the sole prerogative of indigenous persons. The Awê of the Pataxó established in the extreme south of Bahia seems to emphasize public expression, opposed to what has been observed in relation to Toré, considered by them as "of the Northeastern Indians, from further up there." Sandro Campos Neves notes, however, that the Awê performed in the Coroa Vermelha village is presented both in the public context as well as in intimate and exclusive contexts, such as land resumption celebrations or celebrations in the Jaqueira Reserve (Neves, 2012, p. 155).

According to the description made by Grunewald, the leader Nelson Saracura believes that the Indians of Coroa Vermelha are "recovering an ancestral ceremony," but that this process of recovery can not be shown to non-indigenous people, "because it requires the existence of secret in the ritual, the secret is the security of it, the secret is our way of resisting as an indigenous area". Saracura states that the Coroa Vermelha community intends to represent "both parts", meaning both the Awê (from Barra Velha) and the Toré (from the Paraguassu-Caramuru Indigenous Reserve, home to the Pataxó Hãhãhãe or northern Pataxó, among other ethnicities) (Grunewald, 2008, p. 261). Nevertheless, Saracura's statement should not be taken so strictly, because he is a Kariri-Sapuyá - one of the ethnic groups established since 1938 in that reserve - who most probably favors the union of the two pataxó branches. Among the Pataxó of Carmésia (Minas Gerais), records point to the existence of a ritual that would follow a general pattern closer to that of the Toré (Grunewald, 2008).

With regard to the relationship between the Pataxó of Bahia and of Minas Gerais, there are often journeys undertaken by representatives of the cultural mobilization movement from Coroa Vermelha and Barra Velha to Minas Gerais, in order to share pataxó traditions. Researchers of the Patxohã language from the two aforementioned villages periodically travel to the other ones, including those in Minas Gerais, to conduct refresher courses for teachers, aiming not only at the exchange of produced knowledge, but also to assure, according to their own arguments, the "unity" of their identity (Miranda, 2009).



Annually in the month of August it is celebrated the Arsgwaksá, a festival celebrating the Jaqueira Project anniversary, which, simultaneously, conveys the Pataxó culture. The festivities include Awê presentations, physical tests such as log races and different forms of "public representation of Pataxó Indianness" such as traditional marriages, preceded by a demonstration of physical strength of male suitors, ie the logs transportation, the same used in competitions in the indigenous games (Neves, 20123, p. 166-167). 

The so-called Holy Week was referred to as the occasion for the use of gourd masks, each with its own name. "There was one called Mandu, an animal with a big head, caipora, ox ... it came out in the Holy Week." It is, up to this day, a period during which more formal habits are manifested, such as treatment with a certain reverence for the elders, taking their blessing, kneeled down, as an expression of the actual or presumptive kinship that unites the youngest to the oldest, "Bless me, uncle! Cousin! Godfather!". There is, apparently, no direct and conscious connection for the Pataxó between the Holy Week (a Christian festival coelebrating the resurrection of Christ) and the use of animal masks. There would be only, most likely, the memory of a time marker of Christian influence.

The Pataxó traditionally celebrate the Folia de Reis festival on 6 January; the Saint Benedict festival on 20 January; and the Our Lady of Ajuda festival on 15 August. In 1971, Augustine reported that, on festival days, especially in the Folia de Reis, they dance with masks made from gourds and furs" (Augustine, 1972, p. 83).

Folia de Reis

It is often reported that the revelry or alms of the Holy Spirit festival, coming from Comuruxatiba in the municipality of Prado has long visited the village of Barra Velha on the eve of Kings. A group of revelers that make up the procession arrives, carrying a flag, and goes to the chapel, after collecting alms from house to house, accompanied by the local population. After every visit/contribution, the visited person joins the revelers, who lead the donations box. The night prayer attracts all local people, and after the prayers, the frontmen (the "singers of kings", using cavaquinhos, tambourines and drums) sing the revelry of the Holy Spirit.

In the villlage's main street, tents are mounted and lit. The pool table is the center of attention, retaining part of the participants, while the rest runs around the village in celebration. Most of the children, girls and boys, parade with brand new clothes, waiting for the party, to be held at the host's house.

St. Benedict Festival

20 January is the time for the Alms of St. Benedict, also coming from the Prado, to reach the vicinity of Barra Velha, accompanied by a reasonable number of people. The Pataxó go meet it and shortly afterwards introduce the Alms into the village, moving to the church, where they sing. Visitors are greeted with a large amount of food, usually pork and cassava flour.

At the beginning of the festival, in the host's house, to the sound of music players and a turntable, cauim is drunk, which is also called jaroba. Bowls with this drink are handed out to the participants. In general, sugarcane juice is used instead of sugar: "it's our cachaça, we make it ourselves. Cook the cassava, put it in a bowl and leave it for four days. After that, it's all boiled. And from then, you add two cans of sugarcane juice and cover. Within four days or more it's all turned into cachaça, it is like a vinegar, pure alcohol."

Our Lady of Ajuda's Festival

The pilgrimage of Our Lady of Ajuda used to take place from 6 August and had its climax on 15 August, when homage was paid to the patron saint of Arraial D'Ajuda in a Mass held at the church with the same name. Pataxó from the several villages of Bahia went there in order to pay off promises made during the year. Moreover, the Sanctuary of Arraial D'Ajuda, referred to as the oldest in the country, attracted, in the 1970s, Indians affected by cases of manifestation of Encantados ["Charmed", powerful spiritual beings] seeking a famous healer who lived there (Carvalho, 2008, p. 42 ).

The Pataxó Games

The "Pataxó Indigenous Games" are a sports and cultural event that takes place each year in the Coroa Vermelha community, the week before 19 April. Several teams participate in different sports and cultural disciplines, the main motto being to celebrate and not to compete. The teams are comprised on average by 20 people with ages ranging from 12 to 70 years old; but most, however, range from 15 to 30 years old. There's significant children participation in the games.

Its first edition took place in 2000, and had as reference the "National Indigenous Games" in which the Pataxó participate. While in the first editions teams were formed only by members of the Coroa Vermelha community, today there are not only participants from other Pataxó villages, but also from other ethnic groups established in Bahia.

The Cruzeiro Square, which is part of the Coroa Vermelha Indigenous Land, is the site that hosts the activities. The community takes a sand soccer field located between two crosses, and builds a small kijeme [house; hovel] around to group participating teams, and also sets a small stage, where sound equipment is arranged. A straw kitchen is also built exclusively for games, where all teams get together for meals.

The games have a coordinating body that varies each year formed by the organizing committee of the event and a team of volunteers. The entire indigenous community is mobilized. About fifteen days before the event, begins the preparation of the teams, the production of body adornments and the training of people to participate in sports and cultural disciplines.

The sports disciplines include log and maracá [rattles] racing, football, archery and club throwing, among others. In the ihé baixú [the most beautiful participant] show, each team presents its candidate accompanied by a kakusú [man; possibly husband] and there is no age restriction for participation. The first, second and third places are chosen by a panel of judges.

Although this big festival is called Pataxó Games, alluding thus to sports activities, it is, in fact, a time of their own, during which the cultural identity of the group is strengthened.

Arissana Braz de Souza Bomfim (2012)

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