Foto: Gustaaf Verswijver, 1991

Mebêngôkre (Kayapó)

  • Autodenominação
  • Where they are How many

    MT, PA11.675 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family

Social organization


Traditional Kayapó villages are formed by a circle of houses built around a large cleared plaza. In the middle of the village there is the men’s house, where male political associations meet on a daily basis. This centre is a symbolic place, the origin and heart of Kayapó social and ritual organization, celebrated for its complexity. Notably, this spatial and symbolic structure can also be found among other Gê groups.

The village periphery is constituted by houses set in a circle, divided in regular fashion and inhabited by extensive families. This part of the village is associated above all with domestic activities, the physical development of the individual and his or her integration into the kinship groups. When the women are not working in the swiddens, they collect fruits and firewood or go to bathe. The rest of the time is spent inside or close to the house, where they weave, look after their children, prepare food or simply pass the time with members of their family. Conceptually, the circle of houses is women’s territory, essentially directed towards ‘female’ concerns. It involves the domain of individual relations, marked by affection and avoidance, as well as relations of reciprocity and mediation. As a whole, this peripheral zone is associated with alimentary taboos, the life cycle, kinship and the bonds of formal friendship.

The Kayapó are monogamic. When a man marries, he leaves the men’s house to live under his wife’s roof. Women, for their part, never leave their maternal residence. Theoretically, a house shelters various conjugal families: a grandmother and her husband, along with their daughters and their husbands and children. When the number of residents becomes too large (40 people or more), the residential group splits and builds one or more new houses next to the first one.

The centre of the village is composed of two parts: the plaza, where most of the public activities unfold, and the men’s house. The incorporation of a young boy in the life of the men’s house takes place through friendship ties that have nothing to do with kinship ties. Thus, his incorporation in the adult men’s political groups (the male associations) is a matter lying outside of kinship, which contrasts strongly with the relations sustained on the village periphery. The centre is, then, related to the male associations and the activities typically reserved to men – meetings, discourses, and the performance of public ceremonies and rituals