Foto: Beto Ricardo, 1999

Kuikuro

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

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

Economic activities

The fragments of pottery scattered around Xingu villages old and new provide clear evidence of their cultural continuity over almost two thousand years, not just in terms of technology but also in terms of the economic basis of all the upper Xingu peoples: planting manioc and fishing. Other crops planted are sweet potato, maize, cotton, peppercorn, tobacco, annatto. Nowadays banana, watermelon, papaya and lemon are also grown.

The upper Xingu is an example of how Amerindian technologies are able to support large sedentary populations. Although it appears that land use was more intensive in prehistoric times, these patterns in the Xingu provide an important model of how intensive agriculture, with complex systems of land use rotation over long periods, could be possible in an Amazon environment. It is a model that offers an alternative to the destructive patterns of land use employing western technologies commonly adopted in the Amazon.

The crops cultivated, above all manioc, make up 85 to 90 percent of food intake. The Kuikuro are familiar with 46 varieties of manioc, all poisonous, of which just six provide 95 percent of their crop. The pequi (Caryocar brasiliense) planted next to the manioc gardens is a seasonally important food crop from which the pequi oil used to anoint and protect the skin is extracted. Annatto, genipap, white clay, charcoal and resins are used to make the pigments used both for body painting and for artefacts.

Swidden gardens are cleared at varying distances near the forest edge and cultivated for three or four years. In order to remove the prussic acid from the bitter manioc, like all upper Xingu groups the Kuikuro have developed a sophisticated technology for washing the mash obtained from grating the tubercles. Beiju (unleavened bread) and different types of drinks are made from the flour or starch of the manioc.

Collecting honey, seasonal wild fruits, turtle eggs and leafcutter ants complements the traditional diet.

Hunting is not important. People of the upper Xingu do not eat any type of ‘land or furry animal’, with the exception of a species of cebus monkey. Guans and curassows, some types of pigeon, turtles and monkeys substitute fish when consumption of this is prohibited. Fish consumption represents 15 percent of food intake and the Kuikuro are familiar with around a hundred species of edible fish. The upper Xingu with its rivers, streams and lakes is a world of waters. To the traditional methods of fishing with bow and arrow, spear, different types of trap and dam and timbó poison, fishing is also practiced nowadays with hook and line, harpoon and net.

Traditional production of artefacts such as stools, mats, baskets and feather adornments continue to be used for everyday and for ceremonial purposes, for payment of services such as traditional healing or for sealing marriage alliances, as well as for the ritual exchanges within and between villages known as ulukí. The Kuikuro like other Carib groups participate in the economic and ritual system of the upper Xingu as specialists in the production of necklaces and belts made from the shells of land snails, high value goods. These adornments are often used as payment for the pottery dishes produced by the Aruak peoples of the same region.

Nowadays the production of a sizeable volume of varied handicrafts that replicate and innovate traditional objects and patterns is a source of cash that is essential for the purchase of goods that have become indispensible, such as fuel, fishing material, ammunition, beads and foodstuffs that have become part of the diet (rice, salt, sugar, cooking oil, to mention just the most important). A considerable amount of time is now dedicated to the production of ‘ethnic’ objects sold wholesale and retail on the ‘indian art’ market or to purchasers visiting the villages.