Foto: Kimiye Tommasino, 2000.


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    PR, RS, SC, SP45.620 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
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Cosmology and mythology


The dispersion of Kaingang groups over the fields and forests of their traditional territory did not prevent and does not prevent these Indians from recognizing a common cosmological system. Effectively, Kaingang groups even today share, besides a common mythological record, beliefs and practices related to ritual experiences – the deep respect for the dead and the attachment to the lands where their umbilical cords are buried are indisputable expressions of the structuring value that cosmology has for these Indians.

Few studies are dedicated exclusively to the analysis of Kaingang myths. There are, nevertheless, recurring references to the myths collected by Borba (1882), Nimuendajú (1913) and Schaden (1956). We owe the first record of Kaingang mythology to Telêmaco Borba, who, in 1882, published the Kaingang origin myth and myth of the origin of corn. The origin myth narrates the story of the mythological brothers Kamé and Kairu who, after the great deluge, came out from inside Crinjijimbé mountain. “In times past, there was a great deluge that submerged all the land inhabited by our ancestors. Only the top of Crinjijimbé mountain emerged from the waters. The Caingangues, Cayrucrés and Camés swam towards it carrying in their mouths sticks of burning firewood. The Cayrucrés and the Camés, exhausted, drowned; their souls went to live in the center of the mountain...” After the waters had dried, the Caingangues established themselves near Crinjijimbé. The Cayrucrés e Camés, whose souls had gone to live in the center of the mountain, began to open a way through its interior; after much labor, they came out by two paths” (Borba 1908:20-21).

Although Telêmaco Borba had lived for many years with the Kaingang of the region north of the present state of Paraná – which allowed him to record myths and histories as well as prepare a small dictionary of the Kaingang language – he, like his contemporaries of the 19th Century, did not recognize the existence of a system of moieties among these Indians.

Nimuendajú (1913) was the first to state that Kaingang society is organized according to a system of moieties. As he said: “Telêmaco Borba did not understand well this division into two clans (...) The division into Kañeru and Kamé is the guiding thread which passes through the whole social and religious life of this nation..” (Nimuendajú 1993[1913]:60). The division into the Kamé and Kairu moieties, the guiding thread to which Nimuendajú is referring, appears in the myth of origin through the trajectory of the mythological brothers Kamé and Kairu. These are the culture heroes who give their names to the Kaingang moieties, it is they who, in the events of the myth, created the beings of nature. “Kanyerú made snakes, Kamé, jaguars. Kamé first made a jaguar and painted it, then Kanyerú made a deer. Kamé said to the jaguar: ‘Eat the deer, but do not eat us’. After that he made a tapir, ordering it to eat people and animals. The tapir, however, did not understand the order. Kamé even repeated it to him twice but in vain; after that, he said to him angrily: ‘You will eat nettle leaves, you’re good for nothing!’. Kanyeru made snakes and ordered them to bite men and animals” (Nimuendajú 1986:87).

The mythological brothers Kamé e Kairu not only created the beings of nature, but also the rules of conduct by which men should live, defining the formula for moiety recruitment (patrilineality) and establishing the way the moieties should be inter-related (exogamy). “They came to a large field, they joined together the Kaingang and decided to marry the young men and women. First, the Kairucrés married with the daughters of the Kamés, and the latter with the former, and since there still were some men left over, they married the daughters of the Kaingang” (Borba 1908:22).

The dualism expressed in the Kaingang origin myth, as analyzed in the light of Nimuendajú’s contribution, presents two fundamental classificatory properties. In the first place, the Kamé and Kairu dualism offers an all-encompassing and totalizing classificatory system – the beings of nature, including men, possess the mark of the moieties and bear values associated with them, such as: strong/weak, high/low, impulse/persistence. In the second place, Kaingang dualism, in its mythological record, offers a formula for social organization through the establishment of descent and marriage rules.

Both in the version of the origin myth collected by Borba, and in that collected by Nimuendajú, the complementary between the mythological brothers Kamé and Kairu is explicit: the Kamé worked during the day to make the animals which belonged to this moiety, the Kairu, inversely, worked at night; the sun belongs to the Kamé moiety, the moon to the Kairu moiety. Although the complementarity may effectively be expressed in the episodes of the origin myth, there are moments in this narrative which indicate asymmetry, a hierarchical relation between the moieties. In the first place, Kamé was the first to come out from inside the earth after the deluge – this is an important characteristic for the unfolding of the ritual experience, as we shall see further on. In the second place, the episodes which involve the creation of the animals present Kamé and Kairu with different powers. To combat the ming (the jaguar or tiger, as they say), created by Kamé:“Kairucré was making another animal, he had still not made its teeth, tongue and some toenails, when dawn was beginning to appear, and, since during the day he had no power to make it, he quickly put a thin stick in its mouth and said to it: You, since you have no teeth, will live eating ants - ; that is why the anteater, Tamanduá, ioty, is an unfinished and imperfect animal”(Borba 1882).

Kairu, in this myth, is a total disaster in his attempts to imitate Kamé, the result of his creation is unfinished and imperfect. In the case of the creation of the animals, one is not dealing with a complementary opposition, nor with a simple inversion, but with an opposition that evaluates in an unequal way the creations of Kamé (perfect and dangerous) and of Kairu (imperfect and unfinished). In the case of a confrontation, the creatures of Kamé are winners – once again, the Kamé come out on top.

Complementarity and assymetry are characteristics expressed in the Kaingang myths. Updated narratives employ this formula to deal with themes from popular Catholicism. Perfection opposed to imperfection appears as the organizing axis of narratives about Christian figures (such as the Catholic saints or like São João Maria do Agostinho, the Monk of the Contestado movement). Besides having a common formula, the updated versions of the Kaingang myths always present the participation of animals which, as in the origin myths, think, speak, and act like humans.