Foto: Gustaaf Verswijver, 1991

Mebêngôkre (Kayapó)

  • Autodenominação
  • Where they are How many

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

Notes on sources

The Kayapó are one of the indigenous peoples most studied by Amazonian ethnology. Most of these works were written from the 1960s onward as academic theses in the English language, not all of which have been published. Since then, a significant quantity of texts, articles, theses and books have been produced about the Kayapó, providing a reasonably solid body of knowledge on their history, culture and social organization.

Here we have selected some of these works, classified by the type of production and themes. We also list sources of information on the Kayapó language, as well as audio-visual material, so as to compose a fairly general panorama of the diverse aspects of life of one of the most important indigenous groups in Brazil.

Though the list is not complete, it still allows those interested to acquire an in-depth and comprehensive picture of this people. Through these works, the reader may easily obtain other references not selected here.

Primary works (theses and books)

The texts below are listed in chronological order (except when pertaining to the same author) and form the main body of knowledge already written on the Kayapó. They comprise academic monographs focusing on history, social organization, ecology, warfare, politics, myth and cosmology.

Highlighted are the works by Terence Turner, who has studied the Kayapó for over 30 years; Vanessa Lea, who provides an alternative interpretation to this author; and Verswijver, who has produced a fairly detailed historical reconstruction, especially from the 20th century on.

The theses by Turner (1966) and Bamberger (1967) were written as part of the Harvard-Central Brazil Project – a broad program of integrated research, co-ordinated by David Maybury-Lewis and Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira, whose aim was to generate a comparative study of Gê-speaking societies.

Unfortunately, some of these texts are not easy to access (such as Turner’s doctoral thesis or the book by Simone Dreyfus). However, almost all of them can be found in the libraries of Postgraduate Social Anthropology courses.

  • DREYFUS, Simone. 1963. Les Kayapo du Nord. Paris: Mouton.


  • TURNER, Terence. 1966. Social structure and political organization among the Northern Cayapó. Ph.D. thesis. Cambridge: Harvard University.


  • TURNER, Terence. 1991. The Mebengokre Kayapó: history, social consciousness and social change from autonomous communities to inter-ethnic system. Unpublished manuscript. Department of Anthropology. University of Chicago. 337pp.


  • BAMBERGER, Joan. 1967. Environment and cultural classification: a study of the Northern Kayapó. Ph.D. thesis. Cambridge: Harvard University.


  • LUKESCH, Anton. 1976 [1969]. Mito e vida dos Caiapós. São Paulo: Livraria Pioneira Editora.


  • VERSWIJVER, Gustaf. 1978. Enquete ethnographique chez les Kayapo-Mekragnoti : contribution a l'etude de la dynamique des groupes locaux (scissions et regroupements). Paris : École des Hautes Études, 1978. 138 p. (Thesis)


  • VERSWIJVER, Gustaaf. 1992. The club-fighters of the Amazon: warfare among the Kayapo Indians of Central Brazil. Gent: Rijksuniversiteit Gent. 378 pp. (Publication of the author’s 1985 doctoral thesis: Considerations on Mekrãgnotí warfare. Faculteit van Rechtsgeleerdhei, Rijksuniversiteit Gent Academiejaar).


  • WERNER, Dennis. 1980. The making of a Mekranoti chief : the psychological and social determinants of leadership in a native South American society. New York : Univ. of New York. 367 p. (Doctoral thesis)


  • LEA, Vanessa. 1986. Nomes e nekrets Kayapó: uma concepção de riqueza. Doctoral thesis. Rio de Janeiro: PPGAS-Museu Nacional-UFRJ. 587 p.


Older texts and historical sources.

There is a set of earlier texts, produced approximately between the end of the 19th century and the first half of the following century, which are of primarily historical interest, but which also contain good information on the Kayapó way of life and diverse cultural aspects.

The French explorer and geographer Henri Coudreau was responsible for writing the first reliable reports on the Kayapó at the end of the 19th century. During his expeditions along the Tocantins and Araguaia rivers, Coudreau obtained important information directly from the Irã'ãmrajre Kayapó, who at the time maintained peaceful contact with the Dominican mission established in the region of the middle Araguaia river, but also from news passed on to him by Father Gil Vilanova. His record is published in French in a rare edition. However, two other reports by Coudreau exist mentioning the Kayapó, both published in Portuguese.

Later on in the 20th century, texts appear produced by missionaries who sought to establish contacts with the aim of catechizing the Indians. We highlight the report by Father Sebastião (Dominican) and the Reverend Horace Banner (from the Unevangelized Fields Mission), who lived among the Gorotire Kayapó from 1937 to 1951 and from whom Nimuendaju gleaned information in 1940. And Nimuendaju’s own report. The report by Father Sebastião is very interesting, since it tells of one of the first peaceful approaches to a group of Gorotire Indians, living in the area of the Fresco river.

  • COUDREAU, Henri. 1897. Voyage au Tocantins-Araguaya. Paris: A. Lahure, Imprimeur-Editeur.


  • COUDREAU, Henri. 1977[1896]. Viagem ao Xingu. Volume 49. Belo Horizonte: Editora Itatiaia. 165 pp.


  • COUDREAU, Henri. 1980 [1898]. Viagem à Itaboca e ao Itacaiúnas. Belo Horizonte: Ed. Itatiaia. 177 pp.


  • MISSÕES DOMINICANAS. 1936. Os Gorotirés (report by Father Sebastião Thomas). Prelazia de Conceição do Araguaia. 89 p.


  • NIMUENDAJÚ, Curt. 1952. Os Gorotire: relatório apresentado ao serviço de proteção aos índios, em 18 de abril de 1940. Revista do Museu Paulista, n.s., vol. VI. São Paulo. pp. 427-452. (republished in: Nimuendaju Textos indigenistas. São Paulo: Loyola, 1982. pp. 219-43.)


  • BANNER, Horace. 1952. A casa dos homens Górotire. Revista do Museu Paulista, VI (Nova Série):455-459.


  • BANNER, Horace. 1978. Uma cerimônia de nominação entre os Kayapó. Revista de Antropologia, 21(1):109-15.


  • MOREIRA NETO, Carlos Araújo. 1959. Relatório sobre a situação atual dos índios Kayapó. Revista de Antropologia, 7(1-2):49-64.


  • DINIZ, Edson Soares. 1962. Os Kayapó-Gorotire: aspectos socio-culturais do momento atual. Boletim do Museu Paranese Emílio Goeldi, 18 (Antropologia, n.s). Belém. 40p.


  • ARNAUD, Expedito. 1974. A extinção dos índios Kararaô (Kayapó) - Baixo Xingu, Pará. Boletim do Museu Paraemse Emílio Goeldi, n.s., Antropologia, n. 53. Belém, jun. 1974. (Republished in: O índio e a expansão nacional. Belém: Cejup, 1989. p. 185-202.)


  • ARNAUD, Expedito. 1987. A expansão dos índios Kayapó-Gorotire e a ocupação nacional, Região Sul do Pará. Separata da Revista do Museu Paulista, n.s., vol. 32. São Paulo. (Republished in: O índio e a expansão nacional. Belém: Cejup, 1989. pp. 427-85).

Articles in books or periodicals.

Below is a list of articles translated into or written in Portuguese and more readily accessible to the non-academic reader. We pick out the texts by Turner, since they provide a general overview of the history, social organization and processes of change undergone by the Kayapó in recent years. The article published in the book edited by Manuela Carneiro da Cunha is important, especially for anyone beginning to study this indigenous people, since it provides a synthesis of various aspects of Kayapó society. A complementary study of their social organization is once again presented by Vanessa Lea, who undertook research among the Mekrãnoti groups.

  • VERSWIJVER , Gustaf. 1978b. A história dos índios Kayapó. Revista da atualidade indígena, 12:9-16.

___. 1984. Ciclos nas práticas de nominação Kayapó. Revista do Museu Paulista, 24:97-124.

  • TURNER, Terence. 1992. Os Mebengokre Kayapó: história e mudança social, de comunidades autônomas para a coexistência interétnica . In. Manuela Carneiro da Cunha (ed.). História dos índios no Brasil. São Paulo: Fapesp/SMC/Companhia das Letras. pp. 311-338.

____. 1993. Da cosmologia à história : resistência, adaptação e consciência social entre os Kayapó. In: VIVEIROS DE CASTRO, Eduardo; CUNHA, Manuela Carneiro da, eds. Amazônia: Etnologia e história indígena. São Paulo: USP-NHII/Fapesp. pp. 43-66.

  • TURNER, Terence. 1993b. Imagens desafiantes: a apropriação Kayapó do vídeo. Rev. de Antropologia, São Paulo: USP, v. 36, p. 81-122,


  • LEA, Vanessa R. 1993. Casas e casas Mebengokre (Jê). In: VIVEIROS DE CASTRO, Eduardo; CUNHA, Manuela Carneiro da, eds. Amazônia: Etnologia e história indígena. São Paulo: USP-NHII/Fapesp, pp. 265-84.


  • LEA, Vanessa. 1995. Casa-se do outro lado: um modelo simulado da aliança mebengokre (Jê). In: VIVEIROS DE CASTRO, Eduardo, ed. Antropologia do parentesco: Estudos ameríndios. Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ, 1995. p. 321-60.


  • GORDON, César. Nossas utopias não são as deles: os Mebengokre (Kayapó) e o mundo dos brancos. Sexta Feira: Antropologia, Artes e Humanidades, São Paulo: Pletora, n. 6, p. 123-36, 2001.

Articles and academic works in other languages

The themes dealt with in the articles mentioned above are developed in more detail in the set of publications listed below. These texts are recommended to students of anthropology and to readers with a little more familiarity with the ethnological literature.

Standing out in this list are a number of articles by Turner dealing with important contemporary issues of Kayapó life, such as their appropriation of filming and video techniques in order to record for themselves important aspects of their culture (1991 and 1992, c.f. a version in Portuguese in the previous section: 1993b); their involvement with – and later reaction against – the extractavist logging and mining industries (1995); and their involvement in ‘environmentally correct’ economic development projects, focusing particularly on the case of the contract with the Body Shop cosmetic company (1995b).

  • LEA, Vanessa. The houses of the Mebengokre (Kayapó) of Central Brazil : a new door to their social organization. In: CARSTEN, Janet; HUGH-JONES, Stephen, eds. About the house : Levi-Strauss and beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. p. 206-25.


  • LEA, Vanessa. Mebengokre (Kayapó) onomastics: a facet of houses as total social facts in Central Brazil. Man, London: Royal Anthr. Inst. of Great Britain & Ireland, v. 27, n. 1, p. 129-53, 1992.


  • TURNER, Terence. 1979. Kinship, household and community structure among the Kayapó. In: D. Maybury-Lewis (ed.), Dialetical Societies. Cambridge, Mass. & London: Harvard University Press. pp. 179-214.


  • TURNER, Terence. 1984. Dual opposition, hierarchy and value: moiety structure and symbolic polarity in Central Brazil and elsewhere. In: J.C. Galey (ed.), Différences, valeurs, hiérarchies: textes offerts à Louis Dumont. Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. pp. 335-370.


  • TURNER, Terence. 1991. Social dynamics of video media in an indigenous society: the cultural meaning and the personal politics of videomaking in Kayapó communities. Visual Anthropology Review, v. 7, n. 2, p. 68-76.


  • TURNER, Terence. 1992. Kayapó on television: an anthropological viewing. Visual Anthropology Review, v. 8, n. 1, p. 107-12, 1992.


  • TURNER, Terence. 1995. An indigenous people’s struggle for socially equitable and ecologically sustainable production: the Kayapó revolt against extractivism. Journal of Latin American Anthropology, s.l. , v. 1, n. 1, p. 98-121.


  • TURNER, Terence. 1995b. Neo-Liberal eco-politics and indigenous peoples: the Kayapó, the ‘rainforest harvest’, and the Body Shop. In: DICUM, Greg, ed. Local heritage in the changing tropics. s.l.: Yale School of Forestry and Env. Studies, 1995. p. 113-23. (Bulletin Series, 98)


  • TURNER, Terence. 1995c. Social body and embodied subject: bodiliness, subjectivity and sociality among the Kayapó. Cultural Anthropology, Washington: American Anthropological Association, v. 10, n. 2, p. 143-79.


  • WERNER, Dennis. 1983. Why do the Mekranoti trek? In: HAMES, Raymond B.; VICKERS, William T., eds. Adaptive responses of native amazonians. New York: Academic Press, p. 225-38.


Below is a selection of varied works, from travel reports in English to recent M.Phil. dissertations in Portuguese. Werner’s book provides a behind-the-scenes account of his research among the Mekrãnoti, containing more personal rather than academic reflections on his experience with the Indians. Another interesting text (though difficult to acquire as the book is out of stock) is the report by Sting and Jean Pierre Dutilleux on the period during which they were in contact with the Kayapó, the leader Raoni acting as intermediary, and their efforts to set up the Rain Forest Foundation and demarcate the Mekranoti Indigenous Territory.

The other three works deal with mostly current issues and the relations between the Kayapó and Brazilian society and the international community. Linda Rabben provides a case study of the ‘rise and fall’ of the leader Paulinho Pajakã in the eyes of the environmentalist community, in a book that also deals with the Yanomami. The dissertation by Inglez de Souza involves a discussion on the present economic and political situation of the Gorotire Kayapó, and about how they are reflecting on their own experience and looking to overcome the challenges to their survival as a distinct ethnic group at a moment of growing interaction with nation states and the global market. Finally, Freire presents a study of the way part of the Brazilian press helped to construct a twisted public image of the Kayapó as ‘capitalist Indians,’ through an analysis of the ‘Pajakã case.’

  • WERNER, Dennis .1984. Amazon journey: an anthropologist's year among Brazil's Mekranoti indians. New York: Simon and Schuster. 296 p.


  • STING & Jean-Pierre Dutilleux. 1989. Jungle Stories: the fight for the Amazon.

London: Barrie and Jenkins. 128 p.

  • RABBEN, Linda.1998. Unnatural selection: the Yanomami, the Kayapo and the Onslaught of civilisation. London: Pluto Press. 183 p.


  • INGLEZ DE SOUSA, Cassio.2000. Vantagens, vícios e desafios: os Kayapó Gorotire em tempos de desenvolvimento. M.Phil. dissertation - USP . São Paulo. 266 p.


  • FREIRE, Maria José Alfaro. 2001. A construção de um réu : Payakã e os Kayapó na imprensa durante a Eco-92. Rio de Janeiro : Museu Nacional-UFRJ. (M.Phil. dissertation.)


Studies of ecology and subsistence.

  • BAMBERGER, Joan. 1971. The adequacy of Kayapó ecological adjustment. Proceedings of the 38th International Congress of Americanists, Stuttgart-Munich, 1968. Vol. 3, pp. 373-379.


  • PARKER, Eugene. Forest islands and Kayapó resource management in Amazonia: a reappraisal of the apete. American Anthropologist, Washington: American Anthropological Association, v. 94, n. 2, p. 406-28, 1992.


  • Posey, Darrell A. Ethnoentomology of the Gorotire Kayapo of Central Brazil. s.l. : Univ. of Georgia, 1979. 177 p. (M.Phil. Dissertation)

___. 1981. O conhecimento entomológico Kayapó: etnometodologia e sistema cultural. (Anuário Antropológico, 81):109-24.

___. 1986. Manejo da floresta secundária, capoeiras, campos e cerrados (Kayapó). In: RIBEIRO, Berta G., ed. Etnobiologia. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1986. p. 173-88. (Suma Etnológica Brasileira, 1).


Gender issues

The three articles below tackle the issue of women in Kayapó society. Vanessa Lea’s texts are situated within the current debates on the gender issue, discussing the opposition between domestic and public domains and the position of Kayapó women.

  • WERNER, Dennis. 1984. Mulheres solteiras entre os Mekranoti-Kayapó. Anuário Antropológico, 82:69-81.


  • LEA, Vanessa. 1994. Gênero feminino Mebengokre (Kayapó): desvelando representações desgastadas. Cadernos Pagu, Campinas: Unicamp, n. 3, p. 85-116,


  • LEA, Vanessa. 1999.Desnaturalizando gênero na sociedade Mebengokre. Estudos Feministas, Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ/IFCS, v. 7, n. 1/2, p. 176-94,

Material culture and artistic expression.

  • VERSWIJVER, Gustaf. 1992. Kaiapó amazonie: plumes et peintures corporelles. Tervuren: Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale ; Gent : Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon. 198 p. VERSWIJVER, Gustaf. 1996. Mekranoti: living among the painted people of the Amazon. Munich: Prestel-Verlag. 168 p.


Myths and narratives

A large part of the Kayapó Indians’ oral tradition is available to those interested through a set of myths documented by various researchers and published in the collections indicated below. This selection of beautiful narratives is indispensable for an insight into the rich conceptual and imaginative universe of the Kayapó.

The collection by Wilbert is fairly complete, containing more than 180 versions of Kayapó (and Xikrin) myths recorded by Alfred Métraux, Anton Lukesch, Curt Nimuendaju, Horace Banner, Lux Vidal, Gustaf Verswijver and Vanessa Lea.

  • BANNER, Horace. Mitos dos índios Kayapó. In: SCHADEN, Egon, ed. Homem, cultura e sociedade no Brasil. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1972. p. 90-132.


  • WILBERT, Johannes. 1978. Folk literature of the Gê indians. Volume 1. Los Angeles: UCLA, Latin American Center Publications. 653 pp.


  • WILBERT, Johannes, and Karin Simoneau. 1984. Folk literature of the Gê indians. Volume 2. Los Angeles: UCLA, Latin American Center Publications.


Kayapó language.

A number of works and dictionaries exist on the Kayapó language, although they are not easy to find. The Kayapó idiom has been reasonably well studied by linguists, primarily those affiliated to the Summer Institute. In general, these works pass from hand to hand among the researchers and anthropologists who work with the Kayapó, though they may be found in the libraries of some Postgraduate Programs in Anthropology and Linguistics. The work of the linguistic missionaries resulted in the translation and publication of a New Testament in the Kayapó language (Metindjwynh Kute Memã Kaben Ny Jarenh), published in 1996 by the Liga Bíblica do Brasil.

Below is a list of the main works on the Kayapó language:

  • STOUT, Mickey & Ruth Thomson. 1974. Elementos proposicionais em orações Kayapó. In: Série Lingüística, nº 3. Brasília: Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL).


  • STOUT, Mickey & Ruth Thomson. 1974. Modalidade em Kayapó. In: Série Lingüística, nº 3. Brasília: Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL).


  • STOUT, Mickey & Ruth Thomson. 1974. Fonêmica Txukuhamãi (Kayapó). In: Série Lingüística, nº 3. Brasília: Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). TREVISAN, Renato & Mario Pezzoti. 1991. Dicionário Kayapó-Português e Português-Kayapó. Belém.


  • JEFFERSON, Kathleen.1991. Gramática pedagógica Kayapó : parte 3 e apêndices. Brasília: Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). (Arquivo Lingüístico, 186). 117 p.


  • BORGES, Marília. Aspectos da morfossíntaxe do sintagma nominal na língua kayapó. Brasília: UnB, 1995. 57 p. (M.Phil. Dissertation)


  • LEA, Vanessa (ed.). s/d. Dictionary by Terence Turner based on a word list by Earl Trapp (missionary). A linguistic research project in Mebengokre (Unicamp).


  • SALANOVA, Andres & Amélia Silva. s/d. Mebengokre-Portuguese dictionary. A linguistic research project in Mebengokre. Unicamp. Fapesp.



For those wishing to know something about Kayapó music, there is an excellent CD published in 1995 by Smithsonian Folkways, a division of the Smithsonian Institution specialized in folkloric and ethnic music. It is called Ritual music of the Kayapó-Xikrin, Brazil (International Institute for Traditional Music/Smithsonian Folkways, Traditional Music of the World, 7). The musical research and recordings were made by Max Peter Baumann in 1988 in the Xikrin do Cateté village. Accompanying the CD is a 76 page pamphlet produced by Lux B. Vidal and Isabelle Vidal Giannini, containing information on Kayapó (and Xikrin) society, explanations concerning their ritual life, as well as transcriptions and translations of some songs.

There is also a review of this CD by the ethnomusicologist Rafael Menezes Bastos: 1996 - Música nas terras baixas da América do Sul: ensaio a partir da escuta de um disco de música Xikrin. Anuário Antropológico, 95. Rio de Janeiro: Tempo Brasileiro, pp. 251-63.



  • The Kayapo – out of the forest. Dir.: Michael Beckham and Terence Turner. Colour Video, 51 min. 1989.


  • Aben Kot. Dir.: Breno Kuperman; Otília Quadros. Colour Video, Betacam, 58 min., 1992. Prod.: Cena Tropical.


  • O mundo mágico do A'Ukre. Dir.: João Luís Araújo. Colour Video, 1992.


  • Taking Aim. Dir.: Monica Frota. Colour Video, Hi-8/TSC, 41 min., 1993.


  • Pintura corporal : uma pele social. Dir.: Delvair Montagner. Colour Video, HI-8/Betacam SP, 20 min., 1994. Prod.: CPCE