Foto: Harold Schultz, década de 1950


  • Other names
  • Where they are How many

    MT540 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family

Artistic expressions

Painted and woven designs


Next to ceramics, weaving is one of the most expressive graphic elements of Wauja material culture. Their graphic system is built around the combination of five basic graphic elements:

1) triangles (rectangular and isosceles)

2) points

3) circles

4) quadrilaterals (lozenges, squares, rectangles and trapezoids)

5) lines (straight and curved)

As in any system of decorative art, it is the standardized combinations of basic elements that determines the formation of a motif. Wauja design utilizes approximately 40 to 45 motifs in the decoration of material culture, excluding many others used especially in body painting. Despite this rich variety of graphical motifs, only 16 motifs are employed with any frequency, and, among these, the kulupienê motif (figure 2) has been designed with a very high frequency on all types of substrates since the first historical report on the Xinguanos in 1884. This motif has also been identified on pottery from the 12th century.

The Wauja possess three main types of basket: mayapalu, mayaku and tirumakana. The first, with an open weave and without designs, is used to transport cargo and briefly store manioc; the latter two, with a closed weave, display a dazzling variety of graphic designs. All baskets are made exclusively by men. Their uses basically follow the principles of the sexual division of labour: the woven fishing basket is for male use while the domestic basket is for female use. The large-scale mayaku (60x50x20 cm) is fabricated in special contexts as payment for ritual services to the sponsors of mask and flute festivals. The large baskets – objects requiring a high degree of technical skill and experience – have a higher symbolic value than the smaller baskets, which are usually made by young apprentices and more recently have been made to supply the ‘tourist art’ market.



For the Wauja, the feathers of birds are their ‘clothing.’ After being killed, the birds are ‘undressed’ (plucked). Their plumes, having become ‘leftovers,’ will go to make up one or more adornments, mixing feathers from different birds, in compliance with the patterns of visual composition. On human beings, the feather adornments conceptually approximate clothing. Featherwork is an essential element in rituals. A man rarely dances without the full set of adornments: ear decorations, diadems and armlets. Even the masks the Wauja use cannot dispense with these adornments. Featherwork and body painting are expressions of beauty that contribute decisively to the production of joy in the rituals. 


As with other groups of Upper Xingu, the Wauja possess a truly musical view of the universe (Basso 1985 and Menezes Bastos 1990 and 2001). Music is one of the principle domains for the symbolic ordering of the relations between men and women, human beings and extra-human beings (yerupoho, apapaatai, masked monsters and animals). By producing joy and semiotically linking other expressions (dance and body decorations), music subtly moulds a pattern of balanced and productive (non-predatory) co-living. As among many peoples of Amazonia, the notion of joy – which very often includes the notion of music, but at the same time extrapolates it – possesses a deep philosophical resonance that founds native socialities (cf. also among the Araweté, Viveiros de Castro 1986).

The Wauja possess an extensive repertoire, both instrumental and vocal. Each ritual has its own series of music, whether funerary, male or female initiation or mask rituals.