Foto: Beto Ricardo, 1999

Kuikuro

  • Autodenominação
    Ipatse ótomo, Ahukugi ótomo, Lahatuá ótomo
  • Where they are How many

    MT653 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family
    Karib

Language

At the end of the 19th century the German ethnologist Karl Von den Steinen collected wordlists of upper Xingu languages, amongst which the nahukuá language. Steinen encountered the Nahukuá during his first voyage down the Xingu river and extended this name to all the karib peoples of the upper Xingu, including the then Kuhikugu (Steinen, 1940). It was Steinen who correctly identified the nahukuá language as belonging to the karib family. Kuikuro is thus a southern karib language.

The Kuikuro, Kalapalo, Nahukuá and Matipu all speak dialect variants of a single language (upper Xingu karib). Linguistic identity is one of the most important identifiers of the social identity of local groups. Thus the contrasting interplay of the socio-political identities of local karib groups is achieved on the basis of differing rhythmic (pronunciation) structures which reveal the dialect variants. Kalapalo and Nahukwá speak the same variant. The Matipu are losing their variant, now spoken only by the oldest members; Matipu appears to be a sub-variant of the Kuikuro variant.

From the perspective of internal genetic classification of the karib family, the karib language of the upper Xingu is a kind of unique island in its syntactic and morphological structures. From the standpoint of morphosyntactic typology, it is an ergative language (at least as regards nominal case morphology). An initial comparison of the upper Xingu karib language with northern karib languages (north of the Amazon river) and with other southern languages (Bakairi, Ikpeng, Arara, Yaruma and Apiaká of the Tocantins, these last two extinct) enable us to propose a prehistory scenario under which there was an initial separation of proto-karib which resulted in the proto-languages of the present day upper Xingu karibs and a second later separation which resulted in the proto-language of the other southern karib peoples.

Inter-marriage has resulted in Kuikuro (or in the upper Xingu karib language) monolingualism being the characteristic of many, but not all the inhabitants of the Ipatse, Ahukugi and Lahatuá villages. There are more than a few bilingual or trilingual individuals with knowledge of other regional languages, Aruak or Tupi. In the Yawalapiti village Kuikuro appears to be the dominant language. Command of Portuguese varies according to age and sex. Some men with specific life histories (chiefs, political leaders) and the younger generation (currently those under thirty) are familiar with Portuguese to varying degrees of fluency. It is still unusual for women to speak Portuguese, although the number is increasing.

Kuikuro is a language that is still living and complete, used by everyone in all aspects of life, though not when communicating with whites and other indians. Schooling, increasingly intense contacts with the outside world, frequent trips to local towns, the increasingly dominant presence of television and other media mean that understanding and use of Portuguese is growing rapidly. Like all indigenous languages, Kuikuro is a minority language of an oral tradition surviving in a context that does not favour the maintenance of its vitality.