Foto: Beto Ricardo, 2002


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Productive activities


Fish, manioc bread and porridges (the latter two being made from the processing of bitter manioc) are the principal items of the diet of the peoples in the southern part of the Park. The ethnic groups of the northern and central regions eat red meat and have greater variety in their agriculture. In any case, fishing and agriculture form the nucleus of productive activities.

On the Upper Xingu, the production of manioc is done in gardens cultivated by the nuclear families, but the families have the support of the entire domestic group and are coordinated by their leader, the so-called “owner of the house”. The men prepare the garden and the women take the manioc out of the soil. In the village, the manioc is processed by the woman,  who extracts the pulp and the flour from it, both fundamental ingredients in the preparation of the bread. The removal of the poisonous juice from the manioc is done by squeezing the mass inside a small mat of rolled-up stalks. Another food which is obtained from manioc is the mohete (in Kamaiurá), a thick and sweet soup which results from the boiling of the water that washed the pulp.

After dried, the manioc pulp and flour are stored inside the house in large rounded vessels, which are utilized in an undifferentiated way by everyone. The manioc bread is toasted by the women on large ceramic plates. Manioc bread is eaten at all hours: with roasted fish or fish soup, just with pepper, pure, or dissolved in water, or even in the form of porridge.


Fish, in turn, is the principal source of animal protein. Various fishing techniques are utilized, each demanding different forms of cooperation. The technique of timbó, which consists of poisoning waters which have been previously dammed up, involves the participation of most of the men of the village. The fish that are killed, whether from the effects of the poison, or from being shot by arrows, are roasted on the fishing grounds. A smaller number of men participate in fishing with nylon nets, which do not require wider cooperation. The various forms of fishing with bows and arrows, small native nets, traps, and hooks, in turn, are done by one or two individuals, or among the members of the nuclear family.

While in the dry season, fish is part of the everyday diet, during the rains, their relative scarcity is compensated by a more varied diet, including corn, papaya, pumpkin, watermelon, among other items. Agriculture still includes the cultivation of other plants both for ceremonial purposes (such as the red dye, urucum, and tobacco), and for the production of various crafted goods (such as gourds and cotton).

The hunting of several birds and small animals, as well as the gathering of forest fruits, also contribute to a varied diet, although they have a secondary role in food production. With regard to hunting, male labor is almost always individual, and has as its principal objectives getting food for the harpy eagle, substituting fish in the diet of people undergoing food restrictions and obtaining feathers for the production of artwork.

In gathering, the work is usually collective and involves the participation of women and children. The principal products are honey, pequi, jenipapo, mangaba, ants, tracajá eggs and firewood. Of these, the nut extracted from the pequi stands out from the others as a ceremonial food distributed on the occasion of inter-village ceremonies. The fruit of the pequi tree becomes abundant at the height of the rains, in January and February, and each village is usually surrounded by extensive plantations of this fruit-tree. The pequi is processed at the time of gathering and is in part stored under water until the time of the Kwarup (in the dry season), when, along with the roasted fish, porridge of manioc and manioc bread, it is the ceremonial food par excelence. The pequi is eaten raw, roasted, or diluted in the manioc porridge.


Among the other peoples of the Park, the Kaiabi are outstanding for their sophisticated agriculture in which they cultivate various species of peanuts, sweet manioc, yams, sweet potatoes, mangoes and bananas. Besides producing other types of manioc bread, the Kaiabi also make a large variety of porridges with products from the garden and fruits. The Yudjá, for their part, are known for their production of caxiri (a beverage of fermented manioc), which presently is also consumed by the Kaiabi, Suyá and Trumai. Among these four peoples and the Ikpeng there is a greater consumption of game, including animals such as the wild pig and tapir, which are not consumed by the peoples of the Upper Xingu.

In relation to the production of artwork and articles of clothing, metal objects – on which almost all of male productive activities depends – has not totally substituted the indigenous artwork used by the women in food production. Thus, metal buckets and kettles compete with gourds used in carrying and storing of water, without, however, threatening the position of the ceramic pots, which are obtained through trade with the Wauja.

A large part of the materials employed in the preparation of artwork is of native origin  – wood, embira fibre, buriti fibre , cotton etc. But industrialized products are also used, such as glass and porcelain beads, wool and cotton thread, tin, nails, food coloring etc. Of these items, wool thread competes with native cotton thread and in some cases (such as the making of hammocks to sleep) tends to substitute it completely. Other items, such as beads, which are highly valued in the fabrication of collars and belts, have not diminished the importance of native equivalents – snailshells – produced by the Kalapalo and Kuikuro.

Artwork still represents an important commercial economic alternative for the market outside the Xingu. Beyond the family initiatives, the Atix (Indigenous Land association of the Xingu) has taken on the challenge of acting as go-between in these transactions with the Kaiabi, Yudjá and Suyá communities, seeking to define strategies that can amplify the relationship with the market specialized in indigenous artwork in Brazil. The goal of this initiative, which is done in partnership with the ISA, is to conciliate the generation of income with the environmental sustainability of the raw materials utilized in the making of the principal products commercialized, as, for example, the concern for the impact on birds of the making of feather art.

Besides commercializing artwork, recently many villages have developed other projects for economic alternatives that are connected to external markets. Two examples are the apiculture project and the project for production of pequi oil, both in partnership with the ISA. In the case of the Honey Cooperative, Suyá, Trumai, Ikpeng, Yudjá and Kayabi villages participate. Each one produces and gathers the honey, which is sent to a “Honey Center” house, on the Diauarum Post, where it is bottled and sent to Canarana, and then commercialized in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. On the average, the production results in two tons of honey per year.

The production of pequi oil, in turn, involves the Ikpeng, Trumai, Kamaiurá, Yawalapiti, Kalapalo, Wauja, Suyá, Matipu, Nafukuá, Kuikuro and Mehinako villages. The type of pequi produced in  the Xingu is not found in other regions, being a product which is differentiated both by the agricultural management which it involves and by the social and cosmological significance of the species for these peoples. The idea of joining the efforts of all the villages is to get to a scale of production which is sufficient for sale to a large cosmetics firm, but without industrializing production.