From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Photo: Carlos Augusto Freire, 1994


Where they are How many
ES 3278 (Siasi/Sesai, 2020)
Linguistic family

Of the various indigenous peoples in Brazil, the Tupiniquim are among the most often mentioned and, paradoxically, one of the least known. In the Portuguese currently spoken in Brazil, Tupiniquim is synonym of “national”, or “Brazilian” (it is common to see "Tupiniquim Anthropology", "Tupiniquim cinema" etc. used in the press), but the use of the terms does not help to reveal the reality of a specific people that struggles for its survival. Who are the Tupiniquim anyway?

Name and language

Foto: Carlos Augusto Freire, 1994
Foto: Carlos Augusto Freire, 1994

The self-denomination Tupiniquim, written in the past in different forms – Topinaquis, Tupinaquis, Tupinanquins, Tupiniquins – means, according to Antenor Nascentes’ Dicionário Etimológico da Língua Portuguesa, with the support of the historian Adolfo Varnhagen, "next door Tupi, neighbor on the side", as the expression Tupin-i-ki was translated into Portuguese. Silveira Bueno’s Grande Dicionário Etimológico-Prosódico da Língua Portuguesa confirms: Tupinã-ki, "collateral tribe, the branch of the Tupi".

Former speakers of the coastal Tupi language, of the Tupi-Guarani family, today the Tupiniquim use only Portuguese.


The Tupiniquim inhabit three Indigenous Lands in Northern Espírito Santo, all of them in the municipality of Aracruz, close to that city and also to Santa Cruz and Vila do Riacho. The Caieiras Velhas Indigenous Land, located along the banks of the Piraquê-Açu River, has half of its areas occupied by capoeiras (land covered by low, second growth), while the remainder is divided between the Atlantic Rain Forest, agricultural fields and the river’s mangrove. Its demarcation was homologated by Decree nr. 88926, of October 27, 1983, and was registered at the Serviço de Patrimônio da União (SPU) in 1995.

The Pau-Brasil Indigenous Land has as one of its limits the Sahy creek. Capoeiras and macegas (dry grass) cover 70% of its area, which has no forest; 20% of it is planted. Its demarcation was homologated by Decree nr. 88672, of September 5, 1983, and registered at the SPU in 1995.

The Comboios Indigenous Land, on the margins of the Comboios River, has almost all of its territory covered by capoeira (50%) and coastal woods (40%); with poor, sandy soils, it has few areas used for agricultural activities. Its demarcation was homologated by Decree nr. 88601, of August 9, 1983, and registered at the SPU in 1995.

In colonial times and during the Empire and the Old Republic

Foto: Carlos Augusto Freire, 1994
Foto: Carlos Augusto Freire, 1994

When the Portuguese arrived, in the 16th Century, the Tupiniquim occupied the area between present-day Camamu, in the State of Bahia, and the São Mateus (or Cricaré) River, in Espírito Santo. They also lived in the region of the Piraquê-Açu River, where, in 1556, the Jesuit Afonso Brás founded the village of Aldeia Nova. An epidemic of smallpox and the founding of the Aldeamento dos Reis Magos, in 1580, explain the decay of Aldeia Nova, which was also affected by the attacks of ants, which destroyed the fields the Indians planted. The Jesuits and the local indigenous groups then concentrated at Reis Magos, which soon became a populous aldeamento (village inhabited by Indians but administered by missionaries). According to Serafim Leite, in his História da Companhia de Jesus no Brasil, the Indians there were almost all Tupinanquins. Reis Magos gave origin to the present-day city of Nova Almeida, and Aldeia Nova to the village of Santa Cruz.

It was in 1610 that the Jesuit superior of Reis Magos village, Father João Martins, obtained for the Indians a sesmaria (land grant) of “six square leagues”, according to Serafim Leite. However, the area was measured only in 1760, when, through a Termo de Concerto e Composição (Term of Concertation and Composition), the Indians of Nova Almeida and the inhabitants of the Freguesia (Parish) da Serra established the limits of the domains whose possession they had, transformed, through a Sentença (Sentence), in amicable measuring and demarcation. Below the Sentença of the minister that established the territorial agreement, it was mentioned that “there were no outsiders” in the measured and demarcated lands. This Sentença, which reduced the limits of the land grant, was confirmed by a royal alvará (writ) in the same year of 1760. By the time the Sentença was issued, the Jesuits had gathered more than 3,000 Indians in Nova Almeida. In the end of the 18th Century, the governor of the Captaincy of Espírito Santo described this village as being inhabited mostly by Indians. When traveling through Espírito Santo in the beginning of the 19th Century, the French naturalist Auguste de Saint-Hilaire was informed that the Nova Almeida Indians owned an inalienable territory, granted to them by the Portuguese Crown, that extended to the North all the way to the Comboios River.

During the 19th Century, travelers reported running into isolated residences or small villages of ‘civilized Indians’ in the region between the Doce River and the village of Nova Almeida. In 1860, Emperor Pedro II in person, while visiting the region, had contact with a Tupiniquim woman in Nova Almeida, as well as with other Indians from Santa Cruz and the mouth of the Sahy creek which he did not identify in his diary. The Tupiniquim say that, when he visited Santa Cruz, the Emperor ratified the grant of the sesmaria lands.

Painter Auguste François Biard portrayed the way of life of the ‘civilized Indians’ in the forests of Santa Cruz in mid-19th Century, described the landowners who exploited the woods for export using Indian workforce and reported the presence of indigenous families scattered through the forest, who sold wood and planted subsistence roçados (small planting fields). In 1877, the Núcleo de Colonização de Santa Cruz (Colonization Nucleus of Santa Cruz) had 55 Indians from the Province populating the area, along with Italian immigrants.

Created in 1910, the Serviço de Proteção aos Índios – Service for the Protection of the Indian – (SPI), the first official organ dedicated to the government policy towards the Indians in Republican Brazil, made Northern Espírito Santo one of its foci. In the area, the SPI Inspector Antonio Estigarríbia visited several villages of ‘civilized Indians’ of Tupi origin, established on the Lower Doce River and on the coast nearby. Estigarríbia kept in contact with those Indians until 1919; his successor, Inspector Samuel Lobo, met in this area, in 1924, a few Tupiniquim Indians.

In the 20th Century: the Indian system

The Tupiniquim recognized as occupation more than twenty localities, from villages formed by several houses, hamlets with just a few scattered houses – the majority – and places where there was only a single family established. The Indians identified the localities of Caieiras Velhas, Irajá, Pau-Brasil, Comboios – which still exist –, and Amarelo, Olho d'Água, Guaxindiba, Porto da Lancha, Cantagalo, Araribá, Braço Morto, Areal, Sauê (or Tombador), sertão (hinterland) and coast of Gimuhúna, Piranema, Potiri, Sahy Pequeno, Batinga, Santa Joana and Córrego do Morcego – all extinct.

The region where the Tupiniquim lived was covered by virgin forest before systematic logging began, and the contact among the population centers was made by trails through the forest. However, the majority of the indigenous families lived scattered in the woods, with the occasional inclusion of relatives, planting in the areas of capoeira. The manner in which the families occupied the space and the way the commercial exchanges took place turned two localities into an almost single area, because distances between one another were not great, strengthening community ties that manifested into religious rituals or in certain forms of economic cooperation (group work, community aid). These were families involved in direct production, forming a social unit. The knowledge and the control of a territory worked as a factor of identification and exchange, with the common physical basis, inalienable, giving sense to the relations among the domestic groups.The villages had streets, and in Caieiras Velhas there existed a large patio, with a centuries-old chapel occupying one of the sides. The houses were built of pau-a-pique (wattle and daub) and covered with sapê (straw), surrounded by woods or capoeira. The Tupiniquim moved constantly their houses and their roçados, be it due to marriage, be it because they were looking for better conditions for their survival.

Houses and roçados could be established anywhere, but no one could say ‘that’s mine’. There were rules for having access to land – keeping it exclusively for oneself or fencing it was not allowed. However, since marriages were preferably between dwellers of neighboring localities, the domestic groups ended up identifying themselves with the roçados, as in the villages of Cantagalo and Araribá.

In these villages there existed a communal possession of the land, because each family group could freely use the fields. There were also domains of communal character – woods, rivers, springs. In short, the system of communal possession of the lands and of other domains, along with the domestic and individual appropriation of the product of the work, made the survival of the Tupiniquim possible.

Fishing on the river and in the mangroves had a relevant role in the domestic activities in the localities close to the Piraquê-Açu. The Indians fished using fish lines or homemade traps, such as the quitambu (which uses thorns) and the jequiá (a funnel shaped basket of flexible canes). They also caught crabs and gathered clams and oysters.

Using a centuries-old process, they produced lime from oyster shells, which they sold in Santa Cruz along with clams, flour, firewood and crafts such as wooden spoons, gamelas (wooden troughs), straw mats, oars and sieves, as well as several kinds of baskets, such as samburás and balaios, made from imbé vine.

In addition to their commerce in Santa Cruz, they had a system of economic production in which one individual hunted, another fished, and another yet produced flour, and they all exchanged products with one another, in an informal labor division. It was the so-called ‘Indian system’, the notion the Tupiniquim use to divulge and set the standards for the indigenous practices.

The arrival of the big corporations

The devastation of the local forests started in the 1940s, when the Companhia Ferro e Aço de Vitória (Cofavi) hired Indians to cut down tress in order to produce coal. At the time, the Tupiniquim planted cassava, beans, maize and sugarcane, processing the cassava using a grater and a tipiti press in the quitungo, the family casa de farinha (flour mill). Since the forest was rich in prey, the Indians used mundéus (hunting traps) to capture mammals and birds. The Tupiniquim had never bothered to register their lands.

The arrival of the Cofavi brought posseiros (illegal rural settlers) to the region, with whom the Indians at first had no conflicts. The representatives of Cofavi argued that the lands were public, and soon the forest around the village of Pau-Brasil had become pastureland. The traditional planting areas of the Tupiniquim villages were fenced and reduced in the end of the 1960s, when the paper mill Aracruz Florestal began planting eucalyptus in the region. Their way of life – the pattern of relationship that resulted from the occupation of their territory – was submitted to the pressures caused by the tremendous reduction of the planting areas and of the establishment of physical limits to their lands, preventing the traditional rotation of their roças.

The few authors who wrote about the Tupiniquim note that the 1960s were decisive in the alteration of the land panorama, marking the arrival of the Aracruz Florestal in the region, followed by the progressive expulsion of the Indians. The ordeal of the Tupiniquim gave rise to a few protests. When studying the different eco-systems of the State of Espírito Santo in 1954, the biologist Augusto Ruschi saw in Caieiras Velhas, on the left bank of the Piraquê-Açu River, "80 Tupi-Guarani Indians" living in an area of 30,000 hectares of virgin forest. In 1971, Ruschi deplored the manner in which the flora and the fauna was being destroyed, with the deforestation affecting the Indians, since more than 700 families, among Indians and posseiros, had been removed from the region that had been ‘reforested’ by the Aracruz Florestal. Ancient Tupiniquim villages such as Araribá, Amarelo, Areal, Batinga, Braço Morto, Cantagalo, Guaxindiba, Lancha, Macaco, Olho d'Água and Piranema were destroyed. Today the Indians still recall the scenes of violence and disrespect that they were submitted to in the areas Aracruz Florestal wanted.

In 1975, Funai – Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Foundation for the Indian), the successor of the SPI – recognized the presence of the Tupiniquim in Espírito Santo. The administrative process of identification of the indigenous lands had plenty of conflicts, giving rise to several denunciations by Indians, associations and various other organs. The complaints referred to the losses caused by a 1980 agreement between Funai and Aracruz Celulose (an affiliated of Aracruz Florestal), when the limits of the three Indigenous Lands were established; they reached their highest point in 1983, when the areas were homologated.

The Drum Dance

Foto: Carlos Augusto Freire, 1994
Foto: Carlos Augusto Freire, 1994

Even the older Tupiniquim cannot remember matrimonial rules or any other norm of kinship different from the present ones, whose prescriptions are identical to those of the rural, non-indigenous regional population. Of their ancestors, they inherited the fear of using the ‘indigenous language’, totally lost in scattered reminiscences. The grandparents of the present-day Tupiniquim ‘knew the language’, but did not use it because they were threatened if they did; thus in the beginning of the 20th Century it stopped being taught to the young. The older Indians still mention the língua, the Indian who, because he was able to speak well both Portuguese and the indigenous language, was a translator and thus received the guests and talked to the forest Indians who came to the village to take part in the Dança do Tambor, or Banda de Congo (Drum Dance, or Congo Band), in the religious celebrations.

In 1951, the researcher Guilherme Neves identified, among several Congo bands, the members of the Caieiras Velhas band, made up of descendants of the Indians who founded them in Santa Cruz back in the 19th Century.

The religious celebrations took place on the days of São Benedito (St. Benedict), Santa Catarina (St. Catherine), São Sebastião (St. Sebastian) and Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of the Conception), and last two or three days. The Indians cut a tree in the forest to made a post and the Capitão do Tambor (Drum Captain), decorated with a stick and a headdress, commanded the band, which went from house to house inviting the Indians for the dance. At the occasion, the women prepared a beverage, coaba, made of fermented cassava, while the men played, as percussion instruments, the cassaca (an anthropomorphic reco-reco, a musical instrument consisting of a length of bamboo with transverse notches cut into it and over which a wand is rubbed to produce a rhythmic sound) and the tambor (drum) proper, made of hollow wood covered with leather.

These rituals used to place in Caieiras Velhas, Pau-Brasil and Comboios, and there was an exchange between the first two, since the Indians crossed the forest to participate in the festivities. Today the Dança do Tambor is performed only in Caieiras Velhas.

In the old times, the Capitão do Tambor had prestige and was also regarded as a curandeiro or rezador – shaman or quack healer - by the other Indians. The Tupiniquim declared themselves Catholic; the Pentecostal churches came to the region recently, but attracted several Indian families to their denomination. Only the local Capitão do Tambor had ascendance over the families of a given village, being responsible for passing on their cultural traditions. The Dança do Tambor reinforced the exchanges and the symbolic integration among the Tupiniquim. It was the ‘residual culture’ that gave support to their resurgence, enabling the Indians to establish a cultural distinctiveness that identified them against the regional population not as ‘wild’ Indians, a representation that used to be quite common, but rather as caboclos (‘civilized’ Indian) Tupiniquim.

From the struggle for the demarcation of the Tupiniquim indigenous lands in the 1970s comes to the scene the cacique (chief), a social category that expresses the new articulations established among the Indians, who before recognized only the Capitão do Tambor. The figure of the Conselho Comunitário (Community Council) appears at the same time as the cacique. The councils of the villages, through the Tupiniquim and Guarani leaders, along with the respective caciques, had an active participation in the demarcation works of the Indigenous Lands. The struggle for the increase of their territories has produced a formal political organization, called Comissão de Articulação Tupiniquim e Guarani (Tupiniquim and Guarani Articulation Commission), but it is the daily, immediate problems – deforestation, depleted soils, planting, lack of assistance – that maintain the cohesion between the communities and their leaders, strengthening the disposition for demands in all villages.

Note on the sources

Some works that deal directly with the Tupiniquim: the Relatório do GT 0783/94 (Report of the Work Group 0783/94), which was coordinated by Carlos Augusto da Rocha Freire and re-studied  the Tupiniquim lands; the final undergraduate dissertation Tupinikin: os fabricantes de farinha do Pau-Brasil, presented Maria Terezinha Martins to the Juiz de Fora Federal University; and Bandas de Congos, by Guilherme Santos Neves, whom almost half a century ago identified Tupiniquim Indians among the members of a folkloric group. Other works, of a more general character, are important for having registered the continuous presence of the Tupiniquim ethnic group in the region along the past five centuries. For the 16th Century, the Tratado descriptivo do Brasil em 1587, by Gabriel Soares de Sousa, the Tratados da Terra e Gente do Brasil, by Fernão Cardim, confirmed by later authors such as Cezar Augusto Marques and Saint-Adolphe, in their the historical-geographical dictionaries of the Province of Espírito Santo of the Empire of Brazil, as well as by the ethnologist Alfred Métraux, in the chapter he wrote on the Tupinambá for the Handbook of South American Indians.

For the 17th and 18th centuries, the available documentation was used by recent authors, such as Serafim Leite, in his monumental História da Companhia de Jesus no Brasil, and Ewerton Guimarães, in his article about the situation of buildings of Indian heritage in the State of Espírito Santo. For the 19th Century, the travel chronicles of Maximiano de Wied Neuwied, Auguste de Saint-Hilaire, Emperor Pedro II himself, whose trip to Espírito Santo was studied by Levy Rocha, and in special the painter Auguste François Biard, who depicted the Tupiniquim in engravings in his book Deux années au Brésil.

Sources of information

  • ALMEIDA, Alfredo Wagner Berno de. Posse comunal e conflito : terras de preto, terras de santo e terras de índio. Humanidades, Brasília : UNB, v. 4, n. 15, 1988.


  • BIARD, Auguste François. Deux années au Brésil. Paris : Librarie de L. Hachette , 1862.  
  • --------. Dois anos no Brasil. São Paulo : Cia. Editora Nacional, 1945.
  • BUENO, Francisco da Silveira. Grande dicionário etimológico : prosódico da língua portuguesa. v. 8. Santos/São Paulo : Ed. Brasília Ltda., 1974.


  • CARDIM, Fernão. Tratados da terra e gente do Brasil. Belo Horizonte : Itatiaia ; São Paulo : Edusp, 1980. 259 p.


  • CIMI; COMISSÃO DE ARTICULAÇÃO TUPINIKIM E GUARANI. Campanha internacional pela ampliação e demarcação das terras indígenas Tupinikim e Guarani. Aracruz : Cimi, 1996. 42 p.


  • COTA, Maria das Graças. Educação escolar indígena : a construção de uma educação diferenciada e especifica, intercultural e bilíngüe entre os Tupinikim no Espírito Santo. Vitória : UFES, 2000. 194 p. (Dissertação de Mestrado)


  • D'ALINCOURT, Luiz. Documentos sobre o rio Doce. Rev. do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico do Espírito Santo, Vitória : IHGES, n. 21, p. 100-25, 1961.


  • FREIRE, Carlos Augusto da Rocha et al. Relatório do GT 0783/94 : Reestudo das Terras Indígenas Tupiniquim. Rio de Janeiro : s.ed., 1995.  
  • --------. A vida dos Tupiniquim do Espírito Santo em meados do século XX. In: ESPÍRITO SANTO, Marco Antônio do (Org.). Política indigenista : Leste e Nordeste brasileiros. Brasília : Funai, 2000. p. 137-49.
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  • LEITE, Serafim. História da Companhia de Jesus no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro : Imprensa Nacional, t. 6, 1945.


  • MARQUES, Cezar Augusto. Diccionario Histórico, Geográphico e Estatístico da Provincia do Espírito Santo. Rio de Janeiro : Typographia Nacional, 1878.


  • MARTINS, Maria Terezinha B. M. Tupinikin : os fabricantes de farinha do Pau-Brasil. Juiz de Fora : UFJF, 1986. (Trabalho de conclusão do bacharelato em Ciências Sociais - Antropologia).


  • MEDEIROS, Rogério. Espírito Santo, maldição ecológica. Vitória : ASB Arte Gráfica e Editora, 1983. 90 p.


  • MÉTRAUX, Alfred. The Tupinambá. In: Steward, Julian H. (Ed.). Handbook of South American Indians. v. 3. Washington : Government Printing Office, 1948.


  • MORAES, João Marçal Bode de. De terra tradicional a território indígena : o processo de territorialização dos índios Tupiniquim de Aracruz. São Paulo : USP, 2002. 103 p. (Dissertação de Mestrado)


  • MUGRABI, Edivanda (Org.). Os Tupinikim e Guarani na luta pela terra. Brasília : MEC, 2001. 104 p.


  • NASCENTES, Antenor. Dicionário Etimológico da Língua Portuguesa. Rio de Janeiro : Livraria Acadêmica, 1955.


  • NEUWIED, Maximiliano de Wied. Viagem ao Brasil. São Paulo : Cia. Editora Nacional, 1940.


  • NEVES, Guilherme Santos. Bandas de Congos. Rio de Janeiro : FUNARTE, 1980. ( Cadernos de Folclore, 30)


  • OLIVEIRA, José Teixeira de. História do Estado do Espírito Santo. Vitória : Fundação Cultural do Espírito Santo, 1975.


  • PREZIA, Benedito Antônio Genofre. Indígenas em São Paulo, ontem e hoje : subsídios didáticos para o ensino fundamental. São Paulo : Paulinas, 2001. 47 p.


  • ROCHA, Levy. Viagem de D. Pedro II ao Espírito Santo. Rio de Janeiro : Revista Continente Editorial ; Brasília : INL, 1980.


  • RUSCHI, Augusto. Grupos antropológicos indígenas do Estado do Espírito Santo. Boletim do Museu de Biologia Prof. Mello Leitão, série Proteção à Natureza, Santa Teresa : Museu de Biologia Prof. Mello Leitão, n. 18, 16 jan. 1954.  
  • --------. O eucalipto e a ecologia. Boletim do Museu de Biologia Prof. Mello Leitão, série Divulgação, Santa Teresa : Museu de Biologia Prof. Mello Leitão, n. 44, 31 maio 1976. Republicado no nº comemorativo do 30º aniversário do Boletim, 26/06/79.
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  • SAINT-HILAIRE, Auguste de. Segunda viagem ao interior do Brasil: Espírito Santo. São Paulo : Companhia Editora Nacional, 1936.  
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  • SOUSA, Gabriel Soares de. Tratado descriptivo do Brasil em 1587. São Paulo : Cia. Editora Nacional, 1971. 389 p.


  • SOUZA, João Roberto Costa de. O tempo redescoberto : os tupiniquins no novo milênio. São Paulo : PUC, 2000. 126 p. (Dissertação de Mestrado)