Foto: Eduardo Biral, 1987


  • Autodenominação
  • Where they are How many

    MT477 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family

Social organization

Three major levels of Ikpeng social organization can be distinguished: the people, the house, and the hearth. Among the Ikpeng there is no single expression that designates exactly the "people", as a community of language and culture, but there are various forms that denote particular aspects of collective existence. In the presence of a non-Ikpeng, the exclusive "we", txmana, is used by preference, which is opposed to the set of foreigners or enemies, uros. As a term of reference, often the phrase "ompan Ikpeng ninkun", which means "all the Ikpeng" is used.

The Ikpeng social whole is a group that expresses moral solidarity in relation to outsiders, that speaks the same language (tximna muran) and is usually valued through the term tempano, "group of men", above all in solemn and cerimonial contexts, in which the essential humanity of "we" is opposed to the ambiguous humanity of the foreigner-enemy.

The second level which one can recognize in Ikpeng society is the domestic group. They live in a single dwelling - the architecture of which is similar to the upper Xingu type - comprised of domestic units of variable kinds and dimensions. The house does not privilege one type of social relation, but rather contains all the social ties existing among inhabitants of different houses, although with greater density. Thus, it is very common that the women of one house go together to gather manioc and prepare manioc bread. In the same way, co-resident men usually hunt and fish together.

Each one of the several nuclear families or co-resident domestic units are then grouped around a hearth, which serves for cooking and warming up the cold nights. Those who share this "fire" comprise the third recognizable level of Ikpeng society, generally comprised of husband, wife and shildren (biological and occasionally adoptive). As the Ikpeng practice polygyny and polyandry, both the man and the woman can have more than one spouse who also shares a space around the hearth.

Generally speaking, the Ikpeng do not differentiate consanguineal from affinal (kin by marital alliance) kin. Thus, kinship does not necessarily imply common ancestry, and can be treated in terms of future procreation. Thus, virtually all Ikpeng are kin, the differences occuring in the degrees of kinship relative to marital rules.

Among the Ikpeng, there is no notion of lineage, for a son is always a descendant of his father and a girl is always a descendant of her mother. Properly speaking, conception is the result of copulation, but the male fetus (tempano) is comprised solely of sperm substance. Thus, it is necessary to constantly nourish the growth of the embryo, and a woman's husband is not capable of fulfilling this task by himself. It is the regular lovers of the future mother and, occasionally, other men who those come to be considered as lovers, who help in this task. The role of the mother,however, is not merely one of a simple receptacle, for she is responsible for the form of the child, while the fathers are responsible for his substance.

The nuclear family, or more precisely the group comprised of mother, her children, her husband, and "associated genitors" forms a community of substance, in the heart of which there occur constant exchanges of body fluids which, when added up, could produce a neutral or balanced result, but the excesses of which cause corporal modifications that have dangerous, or even fatal, repercussions, on the spiritual being of the most fragile members of the community, the children.

Effectively, the rule of bilateral filiation and the set of other social rules do not define any social segment between the ethnic community and the restricted family. Economic and political factors, however, can shape the form of groupings and thus lend a certain plasticity to the collective arrangements.

The status of prestige (werem: "the master", or weblu: "the provider", or simply oke: "the great") depends on personal qualities and efforts and are not hereditary. There are always several werem, around whom a network of kin groups may crystallize for a certain period of time. Finally, each house has a "headman", who is responsible for coordinating daily activities, but who does not necessarily exercise the function of chief.