Foto: Camila Gauditano, 2001


  • Other names
    Awytyza, Enumaniá, Anumaniá, Auetö
  • Where they are How many

    MT192 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family

Social organization

The bases of Xinguano and Aweti social organization are undoubtedly the kinship and marital relations that connect families and comprise the domestic units. Equally important, though, are the chiefdom and the ritual system.

The chiefdom system in the Upper Xingu is fairly complex: as well as the hereditary title (Carib: anetü; Arawak: amulaw/amunãw; Kamayurá: morerekwat; Aweti: morekwat) transmitted by both men and women, there is a series of named statuses, including "owner of the village", "owner of the clearing" and "owner of the path", which are linked in various ways to the function of representing the village during the intertribal rituals. As well as affiliation to a line of chiefs, performing this function requires a series of qualities and skills, particularly linguistic. The development of these attributes forms part of the ‘education’ of anyone training to be a chief, but here we should note that nature (inheritance) and nurture (education) both involve making and that, in both cases, this making involves shaping the body. The acquisition of the personal, physical or moral qualities (generosity and self-control, but also beauty and strength) that characterize the chief - and the good wrestler (every chief has ideally been a good wrestler) - depends on successful reclusion at puberty (and longer than the period spent in confinement by commoners) during which the body and personality are jointly fabricated. This fabrication is directly conceived as a form of work undertaken by the father and comparable to the work invested (through repeated sexual relations) in the conception of a child in the mother’s womb: in both cases, this father ‘makes’ the son, just as the initiating shaman "makes" his apprentice.

The principal skill needed to perform the function of representing the community is probably mastery of the ceremonial speeches. This mastery is acquired through a special apprenticeship with a relative (generally the father) or, if this is impossible, another "owner/master" of these speeches, in which case payment is needed, along with the (tacit) authorization of the community. Representing the village - that is, the chiefdom as a function (and power) - depends then on other factors besides inheritance, although the "empty" chiefdom of those who merely hold the title is still marked at their funerals.

All of this means that someone may be a "big" or "little" chief – and that the village has more than one "chief" although in general one man is always recognized as the main figure. This distinction (morekwat ‘ytoto/morekwat ‘jyt) may express the recognition of a greater or lesser identity in terms of substance ("genealogical substance") between the active chiefs and those wishing to derive legitimacy from them, but there are also indications that these qualifications are used to differentiate not only legitimate (hereditary) chiefs from the illegitimate, but also active (or effective) chiefs from the inactive (or ineffective). This gradation also therefore has an impact on the legitimacy of the inherited title, the merits of the heir, and his position in local factional disputes. Consequently, various components are involved in the status of "chief" (morekwat), namely: affiliation (identity of substance), the physical and moral attributes cultivated during puberty reclusion, mastery of formal language and ceremonial speech, and the position of leader of a cohesive group of kin and allies. The non-fulfilment of any of these prerequisites implies a distance from the model that they should embody as chiefs, and it is this variable distance that is marked by qualifications such as "a little bit chief".

This model embodies the type of civility required by the new conditions of coexistence in the area at a double level: the (re)constitution of local groups as single communities, and their peaceful interaction - a double dimension expressed in the emergence of the chief as a man occupying the central public space, the clearing where the different domestic groups and, ceremonially, the different local groups all converge. Internally within each community, the chief appears as the mediator between these domestic groups (potential nucleuses of political factions), a position ideally symbolized by the special status of his house (a bigger mo’atap than the others, especially decorated and collectively built). Externally he mediates between the different communities as a maestro and pivot of the intertribal ceremonies. These two facets of the chiefdom are interdependent, just as the presence of other communities in the intertribal ceremony is revealed to be essential to the internal reproduction of one’s own: a fact that applies to the maturation of the young (ear piercing of boys, the emergence from reclusion of the girls during the kwar’yp), and the definitive departure of the souls of the dead to the celestial village (kwar’yp). This double dimension of the chiefdom, at once external and internal, is revealed in the fact that each of these processes involves chiefs (morekwat) in a central role - a (dead) chief is needed for the other spirits to be duly dispatched (and women put into circulation), and a (young) chief is needed for the other boys to be able to be initiated - and at the same time, both these depend on a ritual intertribal performance orchestrated by other chiefs.