Foto: Sergio Bloch, 2000

Waimiri Atroari

  • Other names
    Kinja, Kiña, Uaimiry, Crichaná
  • Where they are How many

    AM1.906 (PWA, 2016)
  • Linguistic family
    Karib

Mydy taha, villages

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The phrase mydy taha, literally “big house,” refers to the communal residential structure, built in a circular format, where most of the village members live. The term also designates the space that makes up the village, both the living quarters and its immediate surroundings, including the gardens. The mydy taha is an important space for the Waimiri Atroari, since it serves not only as a settlement but also as a ritual space during their festivities. New villages are founded according to the community's needs, such as an increase in the population, the exhaustion of garden soils, or a scarcity of game.

Mydy taha are located near large rivers and seasonal streams. Each village enjoys economic and political autonomy, since no centralized power exists. The formation of a new village takes place gradually, relying on a prestigious person known as a mydy iapremy, “village master,” to mobilize a set of domestic groups to open up a new space. First, they choose a site within the region destined for the settlement, and then begin work on the gardens. When the crops appear, people start building a large circular communal house, the mydy taha. The structure will house various domestic groups, made up of relatives that include affines (in-laws) and cognates (kin). Each family has its own hearth and specific section.

The economic activities of a village are based on hunting, fishing, agriculture, and gathering wild fruits. Men are responsible for hunting game, which may take place during the day or at nighttime. Both sexes are allowed to fish, and often the whole family may go out fishing. Another activity that is undertaken by everyone in a family is gathering wild fruits. The greatest division of labor occurs in agriculture. Men are the ones who fell trees, burn them, and clear the gardens, while women are the ones who harvest the crops. Both take part in planting the gardens, a collective activity involving all the families, who also collectively divide up the produce. The crops include bitter manioc, sweet manioc, several types of sweet potatoes, yams, and certain fruits.

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Besides these garden crops, the Waimiri Atroari menu includes many species of fish and animals, such as tapirs, howler monkeys, coatis, pakas, wild pigs, curassows, and trumpeter birds, among others. Not all animals and fishes may be eaten on a daily basis. Various food restrictions are imposed on individuals at significant points in their lives, such as birth, rites of passage, first menstruation, and purification before and after a war.

The preferred form of marriage is between people who are classified as cross-cousins. This confers a new status on the couple, who, besides attaining full citizenship, form a new domestic group within the local group. Family responsibilities become accentuated upon marriage: a man is expected to maintain gardens and provide food for his family, while the woman takes charge of cooking food and caring for their children.

The division of labor varies according to sex, age, and civil status. Tasks increase as a person ages, until he or she becomes elderly, when they decrease. Despite the division by sex, men often help their wives butcher game and fish, care for children, and prepare manioc meal for domestic group consumption.

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The upbringing of a Waimiri Atroari individual varies according to sex. Boys and girls are taken care of by their mothers and are encouraged to imitate the tasks appropriate to their gender, until they are approximately four years old. At this age, the boys go through an initiation ritual, marked by a specific festival for commemorating their new status. Members of this age grade undertake activities traditionally associated with their gender. The main rite of passage for girls occurs upon their first menstrual period.

Another constant activity in the daily life of a village is the production of material artifacts. The Waimiri Atroari are expert weavers. All forms of basketry are made by men, who teach the skill to youths when they are old enough to get married. Men weave the items that women use in their work, such as the wyiepe (burden basket), the matepi (a tube for wringing manioc pulp), the matyty (a double-layered basket), and the wyre (fire fan). Women receive these artifacts from their husbands or fathers-in-law. Men also make the pakra (a covered basket for storing arrow-making materials) for personal use, as well as the bows and arrows they use in hunting and fishing. Most Waimiri Atroari baskets are illustrated with designs that they inherited from some mythological beings and their ancestors. A weaver's apprenticeship begins with simple figures, which become more difficult according to his age and skill level, until he earns permission to weave the most complex designs, granted only to elderly men.

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Women weave birthing hammocks from the fiber of the burity palm, as well as bracelets, necklaces, and fire fans. Previously, they used to fashion pottery and griddles from clay, which nowadays have been replaced by ones made of aluminum and iron.

Various objects can be found in current Waimiri Atroari villages that formerly were not part of their material culture Undoubtedly, the first items introduced were cutting tools and clothes. In the recent past, a little over thirty years ago, men were usually seen wearing loincloths made of titica vines. Women made apron-skirts out of tucum palm fibers, decorated with bacaba seeds. These were the Kinja's traditional items of clothing. Nowadays, men usually wear pants, and women, skirts.