Foto: Sônia Lorenz, 1980.

Sateré Mawé

  • Other names
    Sateré-Maué
  • Where they are How many

    AM13.350 (CGTSM, 2014)
  • Linguistic family
    Mawé

The children of guaraná

Inventors of the Guaraná culture, the Sateré-Mawé have transformed the Paullinia cupana, a wild vine of the Sapindacea family, into a cultivated shrub, and mastered its planting and processing. Guaraná is a plant native to the highlands of the Maués-Açu River basin, which coincide precisely with the Sateré-Mawé traditional territory.

The Sateré-Mawé see themselves as the inventors of the plant’s culture, a self-image justified on the ideological level through their myth of origin, according to which they are the Children of Guaraná.

Guaraná is the main ingredient of the Sateré-Mawé economy par excellence. It is, among the items they produce commercially, the most valuable in the market. One may speculate that the vocation for commerce showed by the Sateré-Mawé is explained by the importance of the guaraná in their social and economic organization.

The first description of guaraná and its importance for the Sateré-Mawé dates of the year the group first had contact with whites. Thus Father João Felipe Betendorf described, in 1669, that "the Andirazes have in their woods a small fruit they call guaraná, which they dry and then press with the feet and make balls with, and which they praise like whites praise their gold, and which, grated with a small rock and drunk mixed with water from a gourd, provides them with so great a strength that when the Indians go hunting they do not feel hungry and in addition it makes one urinate and cures fever, headaches and cramps".

In 1819, the naturalist Carl von Martius brought from the Maués region a sample of guaraná, which he named Paullinia sorbilis. Von Martius observed that there existed an intense guaraná trade, which spread it to distant places such as Mato Grosso and Bolivia. In 1868 Ferreira Pena wrote: ''Each year merchants from Bolivia e Mato-Grosso sail down the Madeira to Serpa and Vila Bela Imperatriz, to where they bring their export products and where they receive the import ones. From there, before they go back, they go to Maués, from where they take 1,000 arrobas (arroba is an old Portuguese weight measure of weight, equivalent to 15 kilos) of guaraná, returning then on ubás (dugout canoes) loaded with goods and of guaraná, which they sell in the departments of Beni, Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Cochabamba, in Bolivia, and in the settlements along the Guaporé River and its tributaries''.

Guaraná trade has always been intense in the Maués region, and not only involved the Sateré-Mawé, but also by the civilized. The popularity of guaraná is due to its properties as stimulant, intestinal regulator, anti-venereal disease, cardiovascular tonic and aphrodisiac. It is as a stimulant after being processed that guaraná is most popular, because of its high level of caffeine (between 4 and 5%), higher than tea (2%) and coffee (1%).

There is a distinction between the high-quality, Sateré-Mawé processed guaraná – known as guaraná das terras (lands guaraná), guaraná das terras altas (highlands guaraná) or guaraná do Marau (Marau guaraná) – and the guaraná processed by the civilized in the Maués region, called guaraná de Luzéia (Luzéia guaraná, referring to the city of Maués’ former name), of lower quality because it is produced without the knowledge and the care of the Indians’ traditional practices. The guaraná from the indigenous lands has always been the most looked after.