Foto: Camila Gauditano, 2001


  • Autodenominação
  • Where they are How many

    MT424 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family

Music and Cosmology


The Kĩsêdjê emphasize hearing and speech as particularly social faculties. Vision and smell are associated with animals and dangerous beings. The two faculties the Kĩsêdjê consider social were traditionally emphasized with body ornaments-- through large ear discs and lip discs. The eyes and nose were not ornamented (for further observations on this topic see "ornaments"). Even though they no longer use ear discs and lip discs today, due to the strong influence of Upper Xingu and Brazilian societies, the ears and the mouth are conceptually privileged organs for expression and a synthesis of the Kĩsêdjê concept of person

The Kĩsêdjê word associated with hearing, kumbá, has a much broader significance than the Portuguese word "ouvir." It signifies hear, understand, and know. These attributes are highly valued. The Kĩsêdjê say that the ear is the receiver and the location for storing social codes and knowledge rather than the "mind" or "brain" as described in English. When the Kĩsêdjê learn something, even when it is.

In many nonindigenous societies, discourse is emphasized over music. Everyone can speak, but only a few will sing in public. Among the Kĩsêdjê the opposite occurs-- everyone sings, but not everyone is expected to speak in public. Singing is the height of oral expression both individually and collectively. Among the Kĩsêdjê, as in other societies of lowland South America, indigenous people only needed to work three or four hours in a day to obtain the basic subsistence, and sang for almost as many hours. During ceremonies they might sing for as many as 15 hours without stopping.

Speech is privileged among the Kĩsêdjê as well, who employ various categories of discourse. The Kĩsêdjê language is divided in a general way into "everyday language" (kaperni) and “plaza speech" (ngaihogo kaperni). There are several kinds of plaza speech, including angry speech (grutnen kaperni), and speech that everyone listens to (me bai hwa kaperni). While everyday language is used in daily discourse by men and women of all ages, the various types of oratory are only spoken by fully adult men. They have specific rhythms, established language formulae, appropriate performance spaces, and particular performance styles. Even though women do not speak in the plaza, they also have certain more elaborate forms of speech and were also in the past specialists in ritualized crying, or laments. The melodies of the laments resemble the melodies of the men’s shout songs (akia).

The Kĩsêdjê use and identify several genres of song, among which are two contrasting genres of song: akia, sung only by men, and ngere, sung by both men and women. The shout songs are a means through which Kĩsêdjê men speak publicly about their individual identity. They are songs composed and sung by males in a high voice with characteristic melodic structures and styles. The Kĩsêdjê say that only they sing shout songs, which differentiates them from other Indian groups.

Shout songs are part of plaza rituals, but also may be sung outside the village periphery. For many ceremonies, a man should have a new shout song which he sings in a way to be heard individually. Each person sings a different song, but all of them sing at the same time, and to the same tempo established by their rattles. Thus. a group of men will sing different songs at the same tempo and in a unison rhythm marked by their feet and rattles. The effect is a kind of strident cacophony, which is in fact a polyphony of strained voices singing as high as they are able in order to be heard by their sisters and lovers above the voices of the others. In the ceremonies in which men sing shout songs, women are principally members of the audience and providers of cooked food.


The women, on their side, have their own ceremonies in which they play the principal roles and are listened to by the men. As with men, certain women are recognized as masters of certain ceremonies. Over the years men have been incorporating songs from other indigenous groups, such as the "people living under the ground," the Munduruku, and the Upper Xingu global replace U societies. In the same fashion, Kĩsêdjê women have introduced new songs into the Yamuricuma ceremony, originally learned from Upper Xingu women.

When Kĩsêdjê listen to one another sing shout songs, they think not only about the general situation of the group, but also about how particular men are feeling with respect to something. Kĩsêdjê shout songs are one of the ways men express something about themselves and their attitudes. When a man is angry or sad, he will not sing at all or will sing very quietly. When he is happy, his voice will sound out of above all the rest. The unison songs are different, since they are sung by a group in a low voice. They are sung almost exclusively inside the men’s house, in the patio, or inside the residential houses on the periphery of the village. They are rarely sung outside the village.

A unison song is sung by a ceremonial group whose constitution is not necessarily based on kinship, marriage, or subsistence activities, but on names a child received after birth. In unison songs, each man combines his voice with those of the others so as not to be distinguished individually. On the other hand, each ceremonial group may sing different songs or in different styles from other groups. Thus the two ceremonial moieties may sing at the same time, but one of them will sing more slowly while the other sings more rapidly, and they will sing about different animals. The care with which the unison songs are performed in a single voice contrasts with that of the shout songs, and is a musical expression of the identity of a ceremonial group.

With the exception of certain flutes (which are rarely played) that the Kĩsêdjê adopted from Indians of the Upper Xingu, Kĩsêdjê music has always been predominantly vocal. The only instruments traditionally played are various types of rattles, which may be held in the hands, tied on the knees, worn as a belt, or affixed to other parts of the body. Kĩsêdjê euphoria is produced by singing and by food rather than through the use of alcohol, hallucinogens, or narcotics found among other indigenous groups in the Amazon basin. Singing and dancing for long periods of time is a physiological experience that also probably alters perception and creates euphoria.

In their cosmological universe, the Kĩsêdjê sing because by singing they can restore certain types of order in their world, and also create new types of order in it. As a physiological and social experience song is an essential mode for articulating experiences of individual lives with larger social processes. In a society where everyone makes music, “music making" is also dancing, political activity, and communicating something essential about oneself.