Foto: Vincent Carelli, 1982

Karipuna do Amapá

  • Other names
  • Where they are How many

    AP2.922 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family

Social organization


The indigenous peoples of the lower Oiapoque river form part of wider exchange networks that include Indian and non-Indian families living in villages and neighbouring towns in Brazil and French Guiana. The self-recognition as ‘mixed Indians’ expressed by Karipuna families refers to their heterogenic origin, as well as the constant alliances established with foreign individuals or families. Hence the criteria of group belonging depend on agreement with the principles of solidarity and mutual cooperation, encompassing over time persons and families who were initially considered to be ‘from outside.’

The other indigenous groups of the region with whom the Karipuna families live are the Galibi-Marworno, the Palikur and a small Galibi group which migrated from the coast of Guiana and now lives on the Oiapoque river. The Karipuna share with these peoples the features of a broad regional tradition, though they possess their own specificities.

Their marriage choices reveal a high number of alliances between close kin, including nephews, nieces and cousins. These marriages, taken to be incestuous by neighbouring groups, are valorized among the Karipuna since they correspond to the ideal of ‘not spreading the blood.’ In the interethnic marriages there is a tendency for women to marry non-indigenous men, while men tend to seek out wives from other indigenous groups. We can also note the tendency to repeat marriages with people from the same family, even when these come from other indigenous groups. Thus the majority of ‘outside’ spouses end up incorporated into life in the villages with cases of people bringing other relatives to form new marriages.

The two tendencies evident in Karipuna alliance – towards closure, manifested in the endogamy at the level of the extended family, and towards opening, evident in the valorization of marriages with ‘outside’ people – constitute two apparently opposed movements, which nonetheless complement each other in the construction of a singular pattern of social organization. This pattern is also related to the composition of the villages.

The pattern of Karipuna sociability enables the flexibility of the residential pattern, ranging from large villages to small sites sheltering a single nuclear family, without the need to consider one of these forms of residence as ‘typical’ or ‘traditional.’ This is because the basic network of sociability needed to maintain each nuclear family is not so narrow that it is exhausted in the population of a small village, nor so wide that it encompasses the population of a large village. Consequently, the families residing today in small dispersed villages are united with one another, composing a larger circle of exchanges and mutual support, while the families living in large are villages are not equally connected to the entire population but form smaller circles, which generally compose residential sectors within the overall layout of the village. It is within these circles of cooperation and mutual support that we can visualize the constitution of local groups, where the tendency towards endogamy operates.

These circles are also the ambit within which people organize the collective tasks that ensure the families’ subsistence: the building and maintenance of houses, or the production of flour for their own consumption and sale, for example. These circles also act together to help a particular nuclear family to offer food and drink in collective planting (which unites a wider community) or a ‘saint festival.’