From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Photo: Ana Vilacy Galucio, 2002


Where they are How many
RO 219 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
Linguistic family

Demographically reduced, yet strong and warlike, the Sakurabiat are engaged in a daily struggle for survival and preservation of their culture and customs. Since their first contacts with non-Indians, they have suffered various types of exploitation. They have worked for a long time in rubber extraction, under the system of the barracão [rubber camp]. They were kept under the yoke of several lumbermen who invaded their territory and set up lumbermills. In their struggle for the demarcation of their lands, they were accused by the invaders of they themselves being the invaders of a land occupied by their ancestors from time immemorial. They won the battle for land, which has been demarcated and homologated since 1996, but there are still many other battles. Today, they relive the "stories of the old people", told by the elderly in the Sakurabiat language, at the same time they are concerned with discovering ways of going back to teaching the language to their children.


Um dos tipos de casa sakurabiat. Foto: Ana Vilacy Galucio, 2002.
Um dos tipos de casa sakurabiat. Foto: Ana Vilacy Galucio, 2002.

Sakurabiat, which is the self-designation of this group, is a complex word that literally means the “group of the macaco-pregos"[a species of monkey] (sakurap=macaco-prego; -iat=colective; pl). The designation sakurabiat was initially restricted to one of the subgroups of these people having been adopted by the whole community in the 1990s, in a joint decision to group together under the same designation the various territorial subgroups who were at that time reduced to very few people, although they maintained their internal subdivisions. For that reason, the Sakurabiat themselves on certain occasions refer to themselves by the name Sakurabiat as meaning "those who came together", which recalls the political connotation of the term and is important for the external politics of the group.

According to the orthography used for the language (cf. Galucio, 1998), the spelling of the name is Sakurabiat, where the letter “u” represents the high central vowel [i], that is, phonetically the name of the group is pronounced [sakirabiat]. The spelling used in the course of this entry, therefore, is Sakurabiat, following the orthography of the language. Other spellings have been recorded, both in official government documents, and in the scientific literature, for example: Saquirabiar, Sakirap, Sakirabiar, Sakirab, Sakirap.

On the other hand, the people who are called Sakurabiat are traditionally known as Mekens (Mequens, Mequen, Moquen, Michens, Mequenes and Meke). This designation, besides referring to the people who today live on the Rio Mequéns Indigenous Land, was also a general designation attributed since the 17th Century to peoples belonging to different ethnic subgroups living in the region of the Mequéns River.

In the 18th Century, the name Mequens was used to identify the Amniapé (Amniapä) and Guarategaja peoples, both of whom were linguistically and culturally related to the people who live today on the Mequéns River Indigenous Land.

By the 20th Century, the same designation (Mequéns, Mekens) was extended from the Amniapé (Amniapä) and Guarategaja, to the Guaratira (Koaratira), Guarategaja (Korategayat), and Sakurabiat (Sakurap). The term Mequéns (Mekens) is probably a corruption of the Word moquém, which derives etymologically from the Tupi moka’em and means "type of grill, made of sticks, to roast meat quickly; meat which has been prepared according to this indigenous technique" (cf. Cunha 1978). 


Conceição Saquirabiar, TI Rio Mequens, tecendo marico. Foto: Ana Vilacy Galucio, 2002.
Conceição Saquirabiar, TI Rio Mequens, tecendo marico. Foto: Ana Vilacy Galucio, 2002.

The Sakurabiat (or Mekens) language belongs to the Tupari language family, of the Tupi trunk. The other languages of this family are Ajuru, Akuntsu, Makurap and Tupari, all spoken in the state of Rondônia, by relatively small groups. Despite the fact that, at the present time, the Sakurabiat are a small group, there still exist four subgroups which they identify amongst themselves: Sakurabiat, Guaratira (Koaratira), Korategayat (Guarategaja; Guarategajat) and Siokweriat.

A reflection of this subdivision is the dialectal variation which has been observed. Three dialects have been identified: Guaratira, Siokweriat and Sakurabiat, the last mentioned including the dialects of the Sakurabiat and the Korategayat. The three dialects are mutually intelligible, the differences among them in general being restricted to questions of vocabulary. For example, all dialects have a silent fricative phoneme /s/, with two allophones: [s] in initial position and [ts] in intervocalic position. However, in some words, the intervocalic /s/ only occurs in the Sakurabiat dialect. For example, the word for ‘my foot’ is opiso in Sakurabiat, but opio, in the other two dialects. But the word for 'man, person' is aose [aotse] in all dialects.

The self-designation Sakurabiat is used as much in reference to the people as to the language, and includes all the subgroups, in the case of the people, and the dialects, in the case of the language.

The status of the native language of the Sakurabiat and their traditional culture, from the time of their contact with the surrounding society, has gone through ups-and-downs from a situation in which language and culture had prestige and were greatly valued to a situation in which the native language has lost value and space to Portuguese. At the present moment, although one perceives a general desire among the Sakurabiat community to reinforce the use of the native language, this desire is not being realized and the community is now in a delicate situation. The children of the community are not learning Sakurabiat and even most of the younger adults are only passive speakers of the language.

From 1996 to the present, one can say that only one girl, who today is an adolescent, has learned the language. Only about 23 people on the Rio Mequens Indigenous land still fluently speak the indigenous language, including the elderly people of the community. However, in general, everyone knows words of the day-to-day language in Sakurabiat, such as names of the more common animals and plants, kinship terms, manufactured objects and domestic utensils. Regarding the relation to the surrounding society, from the linguistic point of view, Portuguese is spoken fluently by everyone in the community, and has already become the first and only language of most of the population.  


Vista parcial de uma das aldeias. Foto: Ana Vilacy Galucio, 2002.
Vista parcial de uma das aldeias. Foto: Ana Vilacy Galucio, 2002.

The Sakurabiat presently live in the Rio Mequéns Indigenous Land, in the municipality of Cerejeira, state of Rondônia. The Indigenous Land was homologated and registered in 1996, with 105,250 hectares and is located in the region which has been inhabited by the Sakurabiat from time immemorial, in an area near the headwaters of the Mequéns and Verde rivers, both tributaries of the Colorado and Guaporé rivers.

The present-day habitations are located in forest areas, always near small streams, where there are few fish available, but where there is still a good distribution of game animals, which is the basis of the diet of the population.

At present, the few families who leave the Indigenous Land, in search of work or schooling for their children, move to the municipalities of Pimenta Bueno and Parecis and to the place called Riozinho, in the municipality of Cacoal. There is information that several families left the Indigenous Land at the end of the 1980s and presently live in other municipalities of the region; however the exact location or number of these families is not known.


In 1994, the population of the Rio Mequéns Indigenous Land was reduced to 68 people, distributed in the following categories: 35 adults (Guaratira, Korategayat, Sakurabiat and Siokweriat), 27 children (of the four subgroups), 1 Makurap woman, married to a man of the Sakurabiat subgroup, and her son from another marriage, 03 non-Indians, married to people of the community, and 1 family of Atikum Indians, comprised of 4 people. Due to the reduced number of people, especially women, marriages with non-Indian women, from neighboring cities, are common among the Sakurabiat.

From 1994 to the present, there has been a small growth in the Sakurabiat population, but the number of people living on the Indigenous Land has stayed practically the same, given that the Makurap and two Sakurabiat families, totaling 13 people, have moved to neighboring cities. The number of births has been growing in this period and only three deaths have been recorded.

In the beginning of 2003, there were 66 people living inside the Indigenous Land, including a newly-arrived Atikum family who came to join the other family already there. Out of this total, there are 8 people who live part of the year in one of the nearby cities to attend school. Two other families live in an isolated house, outside the Indigenous Land, but near its borders.

History of contact

The first notes on contact between non-Indians and the indigenous peoples who inhabited the right bank of the Guaporé River go back to the 17th Century. The Portuguese documents make ample reference to two groups of this region: the Guajaratas (Pauserna, Tupi cf. Metraux 1948) and the Mequéns. On the basis of archaeological and historical data, the archaeologist Eurico Miller (1983) suggests that the Indians called Mequéns in the 18th Century were the Amniapa (Amniapé) and the Guarategaja.

The indigenous peoples who inhabited the right basin of the Guaporé for a long time remained isolated from contact with the surrounding society, living in areas of difficult access, many of them at the headwaters of the tributaries of the right side of the Guaporé, as is the case of the Sakurabiat. The isolation of these peoples in relation to the non-Indians is probably one of the factors that guaranteed their survival, even though they suffered great losses from the time of contact (Maldi 1991).

The contacts between the indigenous peoples of the region and the colonizers were renewed at the end of the 1930s and beginning of the 1940s, when the Second World War caused an increase in the demand for rubber. With the exploitation of rubber and caucho, many rubber-gatherers came to occupy the areas near the tributaries of the Guaporé and entered in conflict with the indigenous peoples of that region.

In this period, the peoples of Tupi origin who inhabited the tributaries of the middle Guaporé, especially the headwaters of the Mequéns, Colorado, São Simão, Branco, Verde and São Miguel rivers, were heavily affected, had their traditional lands invaded and were contaminated by various outbreaks of diseases which until then were unknown to them. Many were forced to abandon their territories and ended up living in the rubber camps, co-opted to working on rubber extraction.

The survivors of the four subgroups who presently live in the Rio Mequéns Indigenous Land (Guaratira, Korategayat, Sakurabiat and Siokweriat) relate that the kwerep – the name they give to the non-Indians – came to the region in which they traditionally lived, in the mid-1930s. The various subgroups of the society which today calls themselves the Sakurabiat suffered a violent population reduction after the arrival of a Bolivian (sometimes also identified as being Peruvian) called Magipo, who established himself in the region of the Mequéns River, exploiting rubber and using indigenous labor.

According to the reports of the elders of the community, the group was affected by various epidemics of diseases, such as measles and flu, causing an accelerated depopulation of the group. They relate that there were several villages, each with a population that varied between 40 to 200 people, that were systematically abandoned to the extent that their inhabitants perished due to the ‘sicknesses of the kwerep'. The total population at that time would have consisted of thousands of people, belonging to various subgroups. In 1934, the ethnologist Emil Snethlage (Snethlage, 1937) visited various indigenous societies of the basin of the Guaporé River and came upon the villages of Guarategaja and Amniapé near the headwaters of the Mequéns River. He calculated the population of the two villages to be around 500 people, noting that the number of women was very small among the Amniapé, causing a great population imbalance in the group.

In the 1940s, there was an attempt – which did not have much success – by the Indian Protection Service (SPI) to bring together the indigenous peoples who inhabited the area of the Guaporé, Corumbiara, Colorado and Mequéns rivers onto Indigenous Attraction Posts (PIA), especially the PIA Ricardo Franco and the PIA Ministro Pedro de Toledo. These Posts were planned as safe reserves where the indigenous peoples would be protected from the various kinds of adventurers (prospectors, rubber-gatherers, etc.) who were invading their traditional territories. However, the PIAs never functioned as planned and the indigenous peoples, when they could, preferred to remain in their territories, although various of them, including several Sakurabiat, may have gone to live on the PIAs. Around 1949, the SPI itself recognized the ineffectiveness of the PIA Ministro Pedro de Toledo. Subsequently, the Sakurabiat (Mekens) and other indigenous peoples of the region were left without any kind of support or guidance from the government agencies, as the elders of the community and Leonel Jr. (1985) relate. More significant information on the period between 1949 and 1982 has not been located.

In 1982, employees of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) – the indigenist agency that replaced the SPI in 1967 – visited the present area of the Rio Mequéns Indigenous Land, where they found the Sakurabiat and several Makurap families at that time living in great difficulties, but no more specific support from the federal agency resulted from that visit. Only in 1983, after a flu epidemic decimated around 30 people, was a more solid contact re-established with the FUNAI.

In 1985, the FUNAI organized a work group to investigate the actual situation of the dwellers of the area that is today demarcated and their rights as a native population who are inhabitants from time immemorial of the region. It was verified that, in that year, there were five large corporations, including sawmills and ranches, illegally exploiting the commerce of lumber inside the indigenous area and attempting to expropriate the land belonging to the present Rio Mequéns Indigenous Land (Leonel Jr 1985). The Sakurabiat were not directly working for the lumbermills at that time, but their territory had been occupied and they suffered restrictions in access to several occupied areas.

Based on historical and ethnographic information, and government documents, the work group confirmed the presence from time immemorial of the Sakurabiat and Makurap in the region and recommended the immediate demarcation of the indigenous land. However, the demarcation did not occur without resistance. There was resistance by the invaders of the area, supported by local politicians and ranchers. On the other hand, several people and non-governmental organizations assisted the Sakurabiat in removing the invaders and completing the demarcation of the area. From the time of the demarcation, the FUNAI began to participate more actively in the process. In 1996, the Rio Mequéns Indigenous Land was demarcated and homologated, with an area of 250 hectares, far smaller than the size that was originally demanded by the Sakurabiat.

Productive system

Information on the material culture and the traditional way of life of the indigenous populations who inhabited the region of the Guaporé River(Lévi-Strauss 1948, Snethlage 1937, 1939), despite being scarce, confirm that these peoples had corn and peanuts among their principal sources of food, while manioc was secondary in importance. Besides that, they also cultivated urucum, cotton, peppers, gourds and tobacco. One trait that seems to be exclusively Korategayat (Guarategaja) was the cultivation of a variety of black bean.

At the present time, corn still has a central role in the diet of the Sakurabiat. They cultivate four varieties of soft corn: yellow, white, black and red, which are used to make chicha – a fermented beverage which has central importance in the social life of the group – and also for direct consumption. On the other hand, at the present time, manioc is the basis of their diet. They cultivate sweet manioc for direct consumption, for the preparation of chicha and for the making of macerated manioc cereal. On special occasions, besides corn and manioc chicha, they also make chicha from sweet potato, yams or banana. Only two families seem to still have seeds of large peanuts (known as "Indian peanuts") which were traditionally cultivated.

In the gardens of each family one can find papaya, banana, sweet potato, yam, manioc and corn. Several families also have begun to cultivate rice and coffee on a small scale. The cutting and planting of the gardens used to be collective activities, in which those who helped in making the garden received chicha, rapé [snuff] and food from the owner of the garden, besides which these were always moments of festivals and dances. These days, it is still common for at least the members of the extended family to help in the preparation of the gardens of their kin. On these occasions, the owner of the garden offers chicha and food; however, neither the use of rape, nor dances and music have been maintained. Besides the cultivated products, various forest fruits are also part of the diet, among which the most appreciated are Brazil nut, peach palm, açaí, patauá.

Once the garden has been prepared for planting, the women participate in the whole process of agriculture, from planting the seeds to gathering. They do not participate directly in the phases of cutting and burning of the garden, but they have a good quantity of chicha ready for consumption by the workers. The preparation of chicha is an almost exclusively feminine activity, although some men help sporadically during the phase of grinding the corn in the mortar. The gathering of forest fruits is also done mainly by the women and children, except for the palmtree fruits, such as açaí and patauá, which requires the work of the men.

Hunting is at the center of the almost daily activities of the men of the group, since the product of the hunt is the principal source of protein of their diet. Nowadays, hunting is done with shotguns, instead of bows and arrows. They still dominate the technique of making arrows, which in general were made with bone tips and decorated with feathers, and some boys made small arrows to hunt little birds.

In general, women do not participate in hunting activities. They are responsible for cleaning the meat and preparing the food. However, when a large-sized animal, such as the tapir, is killed, everyone helps bring the meat to the village.

Fish is a highly appreciated food among the Sakurabiat, although it is not part of their daily diet due to the difficulty of access, since they do not live near large streams or rivers abundant in fish. In the dry season, they are accustomed to making fishing trips, with the entire family, during which they camp near one of these larger streams. These days, fishing is done with hooks. They no longer use the traditional techniques of soaking timbó fish poison in the water nor closing off and drying up a small area of the stream. However, they still use a mixed variation of the traditional practice of walking in the streams at night killing the fish with pieces of wood. These days, they use flashlights to light the way and use machetes and clubs to beat the fish. These fishing trips are generally an opportunity for joining the extended family around the campfire, where the fish caught during the day are smoked or fried. During these fishing trips, the women also occasionally participate in the daytime fishing and are active in the preparation of the food.

Social organization and material culture

The houses are inhabited by nuclear families and today they are similar to non-indigenous house styles Although they still use traditional materials such as the açaí palm leaves for the roof, which is made in the sloping style, and paxiúba boards for the walls, whenever possible, they prefer the use of strips of wood (shingles) or sheets of asbestos for the roof and boards for the walls. Another type of construction found is the house with walls of pounded mud (regionally called taipa, or pau-a-pique). The present-day houses generally have two rooms, besides a separate kitchen, where meals are prepared and consumed. Another option is to build a house with two divisions, a room for sleeping and a cooking-space.

Newly-weds make their houses preferably near the house of the wife’s parents, but after some time they usually leave to make their houses further away or to live near the husband’s family.

Adornments and artifacts

Collars and bracelets, made with monkey teeth and beads of tucumã seeds, are traditional body adornments that are highly appreciated. Another very popular adornment is the tucumã ring, with or without decorations. Several elders of the group have holes in their nasal septa in order to use the nose ornament, made of feathers or bamboo, although today, they no longer use this ornament. They used to use body paint made from genipapo, above all on ceremonial situations, with the paint style associated with the subgroup. Presently, the practice of body painting is not utilized.

These days, perhaps the most expressive cultural artifact elaborated by the Sakurabiat is the marico – a basket or bag woven out of tucum fiber. The marico can have various sizes and is used both by men and by women, children and adults. The process of making marico is slow and complex, from the extraction of the tucum fiber to the weaving of the marico itself. The making of the marico, like the preparation of the chicha, is an almost exclusively female activity. The men help, when requested, in extracting tucum fiber, which will later be boiled, exposed in the sun to dry, torn into fine strips, and finally, transformed into strong fiber from which the marico is woven.

Cultural complex of the marico

According to studies by the anthropologist Denise Maldi (1991), the indigenous societies Sakurabiat (called Koaratira and Sakirap, by Maldi), Ajuru, Makurap, Jxeoromitxi, Aruá, Arikapu and Tupari maintained an inter-societal exchange, in some cases more pronounced from the time of contact with the non-Indians, which has produced marked similarities in their material, spiritual, and intellectual culture. These societies, located on the eastern side of the Guaporé River and its tributaries, more precisely in the region between the Branco and Colorado rivers, besides their geographical proximity shared a cultural complex with well-defined features, which Maldi has called the “cultural complex of the marico".

Several features typical of this cultural complex are the making of maricos, the inhalation of angico (rapé) powder in shamanic acts, the lack of the cultivation of “bitter” manioc and the use of manioc cereal in the diet, the construction of roundhouses with a center pole, the consumption of chicha, especially of corn, in the normal diet and fermented chicha on ceremonial occasions, specific aspects of the narrative structure of the origin myths, always involving the two demiurge brothers and the existence of defined and named territorial groups, generally with names of animals and plants. The first two features – the making of maricos and the inhalation of the angico powder in the shamanic rites, however, are exclusive to the Ajuru, Aruá, Jxeoromitxi, Makurap and Sakurabiat societies.

Although the Tupari did not share with the peoples mentioned above the features of making maricos nor the traditional style of dwellings, they shared several other traits, which have justified their inclusion in the "cultural complex of the marico". Recent studies by the linguist Hein van der Voort indicate that the Kwazá also share the characteristics associated by Maldi with the same cultural complex.

Among the Sakurabiat, the art of making maricos, called etu in their native language, is still transmitted from generation to generation, although at the present time few people are learning. Ever since the last shaman of the tribe died, in the mid-1990s, shamanic acts have not been practiced, which included the inhalation of the angico powder. Nevertheless, the Sakurabiat still use, on a smaller scale, their traditional medicine, which involves the use of medicinal plants of the forest, the knowledge of which is dominated by the elders of the community. Although the present-day houses copy the model of the surrounding society, the elders confirm that in the old times, referred to as the time “of the maloca", their dwellings were roundhouses with a central pole, covered with woven thatch, and had a division made of paxiúba, that kept the stone oven which had three supports separate from the large space and room for sleeping.

Regarding the traditional social structure, there are only a few bits of evidence, since definitive conclusions are difficult to be reached due to the modifications imposed by contact, including the brutal reduction in demography. Despite the reports and even the contemporary situation of the group, one can infer that the social groups today known as Mekens or Sakurabiat were traditionally divided into local groups that had delimited territories, which are equivalent to the territorial groups identified by Maldi in the cultural complex of the marico. With the information that is available with respect to this complex, it is not possible to know whether we are dealing with clan subdivisions. It is known that the villages of each group were distributed along the Mequéns and Verde rivers and that the delimitation of the territory occupied by each one of the groups was well-defined. The groups were named with names of plants and animals, for example, Siokweriat 'group of the bats', Kwakoyat 'group of the jacus' and so on. The groups alternated between relations of friendship and conflict, and some were considered more violent and dominating.

There is no exact information on the number of groups existing before contact, but it is still possible to obtain information on 14 of them, including a description of their location, as follows: Piribiat, Kwako Perebiat or Kwakoyat, Tapeareyat, Korategayat (Guarategajat), Korategaraso, Õkurayat, Sakurabiat, Tauuyat, Siokweriat, Uroyat, Taagayat, Taapiroyat, Aweyat and Ekwiyat.

According to Maldi (1991), residence in the local groups followed the rule of patrilocality and descent, patrifiliation; however, the present-day data demonstrate that descent follows the rule of matrifiliation, while residence is, these days, more fluid, and is not necessarily regulated by the group. However, we don’t know whether this situation corresponds to the situation before contact.

The language both marks the unit when compared to outside groups, and internal diversity, given that that there existed and still exist dialect differences among the subgroups. Of the four remaining groups in the Rio Mequéns Indigenous Land today, three speak mutually unintelligible dialects, a situation that could reflect an internal diversity even greater in the time before contact.

These days, this internal diversity continues to be quite distinct from the political point of view, which also has repercussions on the external politics of the group. The sentiment of unity is defined by the cultural and linguistic similarities (the dialects are mutually intelligible), by the strict kinship ties and the mechanisms of social interaction. In this sense, the consumption of chicha continues to have a role of social agglutinator, around which ties of kinship and solidarity are strengthened.


The mythological narratives recorded among the Sakurabiat can be didactically divided into four kinds: (1) myths of creators and culture heroes, which explain the origin and transformation of the world and things; (2) myths of supernatural and malefic spirits (the fantastic beings); (3) myths that indicate ideal moral conduct; and (4) myths of animals, generally referring to a mythological time when the animals had human characteristics. Nevertheless, the stories become mixed, and the boundaries among these categories should be considered as didactic abstractions and not as impassable lines. A myth that explains the origin of a certain star or phenomenon of nature can also indicate a moral rule of behavior for society.

There are many similarities among the mythological stories of the Sakurabiat and those of other groups of the region of the right basin of the Guaporé, especially those who share the cultural complex of the marico, such as the Tupari and the Makurap. These similarities range from the themes to the structure of the narratives and the characterization and names of the characters.

Among the various recurrent themes in the myths of the groups of this region, there is the story of the tapir "of the time when the tapir was a person". The story deals with a marvelous lover who seduces one or several women of the group, depending on the version that is told. The men of the village, upon discovering the infidelity of their women, kill the tapir-man, which provokes the revolt of the women. The women flee to a distant land, inhabited only by them, becoming warrior-women and extraordinary shooters, a reference to the myth of the "Amazons". For the Sakurabiat, the repopulation of the tribe after the flight of the women was only possible due to a boy who longed for his mother and went to look for her. On finding the village of the women, the boy was protected by his maternal grandmother, who protected him from his mother, showed him the way back and the place where he would find a woman to take him back to the original village. "If it wasn’t for that, there wouldn’t be anyone".

Themes involving the culture heroes are also recurrent, such as the flood caused by Pasiare, having been mistreated and humiliated by Arikwayõ. Pasiare causes a great flood, flooding everything and killing people and animals. The theme of destruction and recreation of the livable world, illustrated in these two myths, is present in various narratives. At a certain moment, there are women who flee, making procreation impossible, in another it is the destructive flood or even the flight of everyone to an other world". This happens not only in the myths of the Sakurabiat, but in various groups of the region.

The stories are engaging, sometimes funny, at other times frightening or intriguing. They deal with day-to-day and supernatural themes, they teach about life in society, they cultivate values, justify behaviors and speak of a mythological time and space that are present in the imagination of all. All of that is explained in a fantastic way, through allegories and metaphors. For example, incest, stubbornness and disobedience to parents are all present in the explanation of the origin of the stars and planets, such as the Sun and Moon. These are people who, due to socially unacceptable behavior, are punished by their parents, "they are expelled from social living and condemned to going up forever [to the other world]".

The beginning of death is also the result of a stubborn act, disrespecting the established social norms. In the past no-one died, or rather, 'they died but they came back to life'. However, the stubbornness of a woman, who insisted on crying all night, brought irreversible death into being. Today the dead do not return. The attitude of one person had consequences for everyone. This message is always present in the myths, the meaning of the social is always invoked. Thus, as in the myths, the meaning of the social, that each one is part of the group, is very strong among the Sakurabiat.

Other stories are told to entertain, but also they teach and/or have some moral lesson. They are short narratives, in the style of fables, generally short and funny stories. Such as the story of the fox who wanted to have children as pretty as the duck and is convinced by the duck to burn her children inside a gourd, to make them beautiful. On perceiving that she was cheated, she tries to take vengeance, but she is once again cheated by the duck, who persuades her to drink all of the water of a lake, as a condition for devouring her. The stomach of the fox literally explodes from having drunk so much water and the lake, clearly, never dries up. The narrative is full of onomatopeia and the dialogues are lively. Humor is a characteristic trait not only of these narratives, but of all the mythological narrations of the Sakurabiat.

Notes on the sources

The archaeologist Eurico Miller developed pioneering research in the region of the upper-middle Guaporé, the results of which were presented in his Master’s thesis (Miller 1983). Based on his analysis of the archaeological, historical, and – on a lesser scale - linguistic data, Miller suggests that the Indians called Mequéns in the 18th Century were the Amniapa and the Guarategaja. As we have seen, one of the groups presently living in the Rio Mequéns is the groups which calls itself Korategayat, which could very well be the same group recorded in the historical souces as Guarategaja.

In 1985, an interdisciplinary work group, coordinated by the anthropologist Mauro Leonel Junior, was named to investigate the real situation of the Sakurabiat and Makurap peoples, who lived in the present area of the Rio Mequéns Indigenous Land. The technical reports they produced as a result of the research present anthropological and ethnohistorical information on the inhabitance from time immemorial of the lands of the Sakurabiat and Makurap peoples, as well as a survey of the deforestation and the activities of lumbermen on the lands of the indigenous area. Based on historical and ethnological evidence, the reports provide evidence for the inhabitance of the area from time immemorial by Tupi peoples, including the Sakurabiat and Makurap; the reports also disprove the suspicion raised by the lumbermill which illegally exploited timber extraction inside the area that its inhabitants (and real owners of the land) would have been brought there from Bolívia for the purpose of interrupting the lumbermill’s business and, concluding, they recommend the immediate interdiction and demarcation of the Rio Mequens indigenous land. As appendix to these reports there is the manuscript entitled “Some ethnographic notes on the Meken Indians" (Moreira Neto 1985), containing mainly historical data on the presence of the Indians called Mekens, on the right bank of the Guaporé and its tributaries.

Two works – Guardians of the frontier: Guaporé River, 18th Century and The cultural complex of marico – by the anthropologist Denise Maldi (1989 e 1991, respectively) present historical, ethnographic and cultural information on the peoples of the Guaporé basin, in Rondônia. As part of her research, Maldi did a month of fieldwork in the Rio Mequéns Indigenous Area, in 1989, and gathered some information on the Sakurabiat, especially the subgroups Guaratira (Koaratira) and Sakurabiat (whom she called the Sakirap), which is presented in the works mentioned above.

With regard to linguistic studies on the Sakurabiat ou Mekens language, an article was published in the 1950s (Hanke et al, 1958) on the segmental phonology of the language. In 1994, the linguist Ana Vilacy Galucio began a study of the Sakurabiat language, having completed various stages of field research since then. Her initial researches resulted in a Master’s thesis at the University of Chicago, on general aspects of syntax of the language. A more in-depth work is presented in her Doctoral dissertation, titled "The morpho-syntax of the Mekens (Tupi)", defended in 2001, also at Chicago. She has published articles on phonology, morphology and syntax of the language (Galucio 1994, 2002, 2003). From 1996 to 1998, she coordinated a project for literacy in the Sakurabiat language, developed by the Area of Linguistics of the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, which involved the elaboration of an orthography, classes presented in the villages and the production of didactic and support material for reading, in collaboration with the students. She coordinates the subproject for documenting the Sakurabiat language, part of the larger Project "Documentation of five threatened Tupi languages," developed by researchers of the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi.

Sources of information

  • CASPAR, Franz. Die Tuparí : Ein Indianerstamm in Westbrasilien. Berlin : Walter de Gruyter, 1975. 417 p. (Monographien zur Völkerkunde, Herausgegeben vom Hamburgischen Museum für Völkerkunde, VII).


  • CUNHA, Antônio Geraldo da. Dicionário histórico das palavras portuguesas de origem Tupi. São Paulo : Melhoramentos, 1978.


  • GALUCIO, Ana Vilacy. Estratégias de relativização na língua Sakurabiat (Mekens). Trabalho apresentado no III Congresso Internacional da Abralin, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 13-15 março de 2003.

. Fonologia segmental da língua Mekens. In: ENCONTRO NACIONAL DA ASSOCIAÇÃO NACIONAL DE PÓS-GRADUAÇÃO EM LETRAS E LÍNGÜÍSTICA (9º.: 1994:Caxambu-MG). Anais. Caxambu, 1994.

. Mekens syntax : a preliminary survey. Dissertação de Mestrado, Univers. of Chicago, 1996. (Dissertação de Mestrado).

. The morphosyntax of Mekens (Tupi). Chicago : Univers. of Chicago, 2001. (Tese de Doutorado).

. O prefixo i- em Tupi : morfema antipassivo vs. marcador pronominal incorporado. In: ENCONTRO INTERNACIONAL DO GRUPO DE TRABALHO SOBRE LÍNGUAS INDÍGENAS DA ANPOLL (1º.: 2002). Atas. Tomo I. Belém : UFPA, 2002. p. 274-87.

. Proposta de ortografia para a língua Sakurabiat. Belém : MPEG, 1998. (Manuscrito).

  • HANKE, W.; SWADESH, M.; RODRIGUES, A. Notas de fonologia Mekens. Miscellanea Paul Rivet Octogenario Dicata, México : J. Comas, v.2, p. 187-217, 1958.


  • LEONEL JÚNIOR, Mauro de m. Avaliação da Polonoroeste – IV Relatório antropológico e etnohistórico sobre a ocupação atual e imemorial do território dos índios Sakirabiar e Macurap : a Área Indígena do Rio Mequens. São Paulo : FIPE, 1985.

. Segundo relatório de avaliação – A. I. Rio Mequens : Levantamento dos desmatamentos e da atuação de madeireiras na Área Indígena do Rio Mequens (Sakirabiar e Macurap). São Paulo : FIPE, 1985.

  • LEVI-STRAUSS, Claude. Tribe of the right bank of the Guaporé river. In: STEWARD, J. (ed.). Handbook of South American indians. Washington : Smithsonian Institution, 1948.


  • MALDI, Denise. O complexo cultural do marico : sociedades indígenas dos rios Branco, Colorado e Mequens, afluentes do Médio Guaporé. Boletim do MPEG: Série Antropologia, Belém : MPEG, v.7, n.2, p. 209-59, 1991.

. Guardiães da fronteira : rio Guaporé, século XVIII. São Paulo : Vozes, 1989.

  • MILLER, E. História da cultura indígena do alto médio Guaporé. Porto Alegre : PUC-RS, 1983. (Dissertação de Mestrado).


  • MOREIRA NETO, Carlos. Algumas notas etnográficas sobre os índios Mekens. São Paulo : FIPE, 1985.


  • SNETHLAGE, E. Heinrich. Atiko y meine erlebniffe bei den Indianern des Guaporé. Berlin : Klinkhardt & Biermann Verlag, 1937.