Foto: Eduardo Biral, 1987


  • Autodenominação
  • Where they are How many

    MT477 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family

War and social reproduction


War is a central question in Ikpeng culture, present in the myths and the worldview of these people. The acquisition of goods has only secondary importance for warfare. Its main purpose is to avenge the dead, or even avenge death. For the Ikpeng, it is the witchcraft of the enemies that causes death, and prisoners of war are substitutes for the deceased.

Any death in principle could serve as pretext for a vengeance expedition, because death, for the Ikpeng, is never a natural phenomenon, which happens by accident or by chance. It always results form the direct or indirect action of the enemy-foreigner (uros). In war, the enemy's desire to kill manifests itself as a visible murderous violence; on other occasions, witchcraft is the means which the enemy uses to get the same results, principally by sending sicknesses. This enemy is not an abstract entity, but refers to people close to the village, generally neighboring groups. As the cases of homicide are very rare among the Ikpeng - and, when they occur, it is believed that the killer has been possessed by the spirits and did not know what he was doing -, voluntary evil only exists, and always exists, between enemies.

But the enemy, once captured, is incorporated into Ikpeng society, is treated well and is a source of prestige for the family who has adopted him. This family seeks to systematically ridicule his culture of origin and praise that of the Ikpeng, and, as a result, many captives have refused to go back to their group of origin, even when the circumstances permitted.

In this sense, social reproduction goes through two distinct and to a large degree opposed modalities: biological birth and sociological incorporation. Thus, one can be born Ikpeng (when the parents are), but one also can become Ikpeng by virtue of being captured or incorporated, for in that case, the person substitutes an Ikpeng who died. Despite the number of captives incorporated into Ikpeng society being very small, there is an intellectual and moral need for substituting the dead through prisoners.

Another element related to the status of the captive - who can receive an Ikpeng name or keep the name from his language, but who frequently assumes an ethnic nickname that recalls his origin- is that his worth is in part measured by his "naming" capacity. The captive, in effect, is a privileged namer given that he is able to recall foreign names, which is why part of the present-day Ikpeng population has Xinguan names.

Thus, the substitution of the dead takes place through births as much or more so than through captives, and both are incorporated into the totality through the system of names.