Foto: Gustaaf Verswijver, 1991

Mebêngôkre (Kayapó)

  • Autodenominação
  • Where they are How many

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


According to the Kayapó, humans are composed of internal corporal elements (blood, bones, organs, flesh and water), an exterior corporal element (skin), a spirit (mekarõ), vital energy (kadjwýnh) located in the liver, and finally social elements associated with the vital cycle and the successive phases of the system of age sets, whose critical moments coincide with the attribution of names, initiation, marriage, birth, and the reinforcing of alliance ties or formal friendships between groups and individuals.Blood is a dangerous substance of which the body must retain a precise quantity – its lack induces weakness and sickness, while its excess leads to

ndolence. This explains why the Kayapó sporadically scar the thighs of adolescents. When the village elders think that the youths have become too soft or slow and attribute this attitude to the excessive accumulation of blood in their bodies, a specialist must scarify the thighs of the boys until they bleed. This is done with the help of a triangular piece of gourd edged with extremely sharp fish teeth.This specialist acts with as much care as possible, since contact with another’s blood is dangerous: it can modify the quantity of blood in the body of the contaminated person. Feared above all is contact with

exterior blood (of other people or animals). Consequently, the Kayapó are very prudent; after such contact, they wash themselves as rapidly and carefully as possible. Depending on the intensity of the contact, a series of prohibitions must be observed. After an attack on an enemy village, the chest of the warriors must be tattooed and scraped with the purpose of eliminating the superfluous ‘bad’ and thus dangerous blood. As warriors are increasingly rare, only the oldest people bear these tattoos.