Foto: Beto Ricardo, 1999


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

    MT653 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family

Social and political organization


From the continuity of the spatial organization of the village centred on the patio one can infer continuity of social and ritual organization. Ceremonial activities take place in the patio, above all those related to the principal rites of passage that mark the trajectories of chiefs. The complex system of ‘masters’ and ‘chiefs’ controls political dynamics and ritual life; in other words the very existence and reproduction of the local group (village).

There is more than one chief and more than a single category of chiefdom in the village, including ‘master (I) of the patio’, ‘master of the village’, ‘master of the path’. Women can be chiefs. Becoming a chief is the outcome of a calculus of bilateral descent, in other words it has a hereditary component; but it is above all the result of an individual political trajectory, of an individual’s efforts to acquire and retain prestige through generosity in the distribution of his wealth, of his abilities as a leader and representative of the village as well of his ritual knowledge, ceremonial speeches and oratory. Chiefs and their families constitute a species of ‘noble’ social stratum distinct from the ‘commons’.

Each house has its ‘master’ (oto), the man who built it and has brought together around him his own family group. A swidden gardens has a ‘master’, the man or woman who has responsibility for and commands the work of clearing the forest, preparing the ground and planting. A pequi groves has its ‘master’, the person who planted it. Each festivity has its ‘master’, the person who sponsored its organization in accordance with the wishes of the village on that specific occasion. To be ‘master’ of a festivity signifies having the capacity to mobilize family and collective labour for the production of large quantities of food and to pay for the various types of services.


The basic unit is the nuclear family, which can be enlarged (extended family) by adding further relatives such as widows and married children. The rule is that the newly married son goes to live with his in-laws, taking part in the everyday productive activities of this family (uxorilocality). After a few, or many, years the couple may build their own house.

Descent is bilateral. Types of inheritance, including that of chiefdom, derive equally from the paternal and maternal lines. Transmission of proper names is carried out from grandparents to grandchildren, also bilaterally. Thus an individual will carry all the names by which his mother calls him and all the names by which his father calls him. The names given a few months after birth are changed at specific moments of the cycle of life: at the boy’s or girl’s initiation, on the birth of children and grandchildren. New names can be bought or, more rarely, donated.

Kinship terms reveal a Dravidian form with variation in cross cousin classification. In other words, parallel cousins – one’s mother’s sister’s children and father’s brother’s children – are called and treated as brother and sister. The distinction between parallel cousins and cross cousins – these being a mother’s brother’s children and a father’s sister’s children – is fundamental, as marriage always preferred between cross cousins. The terminology of bilateral cross cousin marriage derives from this. Cross cousins are however defined as such, or as parallel cousins, depending on their social or genealogical distance, with attendant consequences for the classification of descendants.