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Identification. The Apiaká are an indigenous group living in the northern part of Mato Grosso, Brazil. The name "Apiaká" has been known since the beginning of the nineteenth century; it is a variant of the Tupí word "Apiaba," which means "person, people, human." The Kayabí, a neighboring group, call them "Tapê-iting," "Tapy'iting," or "Tapii'sin" (light-skinned people). Present-day inhabitants of the Apiaká Indian Reserve are known and recognized as Apiaká.

Location. The Apiaká are scattered along large river courses, and some live in the cities of Juara, Pôrto dos Gaúchos, Belém, and Cuiabá. There are also reports of a nomadic group. The majority of Apiaká live in the Apiaká Indian Reserve, however, located at 10°50 S and 58° W, on the right bank of the central course of the Rio dos Peixes, beginning at the waterfall.

Demography. According to Koch-Grünberg, who assembled and ordered the data recorded by various travelers during the nineteenth century and up to 1902, the Apiaká were a numerous and warlike people. From his base in Guimarães, he reported of a village of up to 1,500 people in 1819, as well as very populated villages at the time of Hercules Florence's and Francis de Castelnau's travels. In the Cuiabá archives, Koch-Grünberg found data mentioning 2,700 Apiaká, although he points out that his data are incomplete (1902, 350). According to a report by Rondon, at the beginning of the twentieth century a massacre reduced the Apiaká population to 32 people. Subsequently, part of the group withdrew from contact with Whites and formed the aforementioned nomadic group, the population of which is unknown. In 1978 there were 71 Apiaká living in the Apiaká Indian Reserve, a number that was reduced to 52 in 1984 by emigration. In May 1990, after the arrival of new families, 92 people were living in three villages in the reserve.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Apiaká language belongs to the Tupí Language Family.

History and Cultural Relations

The Apiká were a warrior tribe of the Tapajós River Basin and were greatly feared. According to Menéndez (1981, 85), the Apiaká's neighbors were the Bacuri and Tapanhuna on the Rio Arinos and the Oropia, Bororo, Cauairas, and Sitikawa on the upper Rio Juruena. In the nineteenth century travelers using the Arinos-Juruena-Tapajós route, which linked the centers of Cuiabá and Belém, developed peaceful relations with the Apiaká, exchanging products with them and hiring them as guides and paddlers for some of their trips. According to Koch-Grünberg, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the Apiaká constituted part of the labor force in extractive occupations. They worked as crew members, porters, fishermen, hunters, or rubber tappers, combining their traditional way of life with modern life. According to oral Apiaká tradition, after they were massacred in the early twentieth century, it was impossible for the survivors to maintain their traditional tribal way of life. From then on, they mixed with people of other ethnic origins: the Kokama, Kayabí, Mundurucu, Maué, Parecí, pacified Indians, and others.


From the earliest reports to the present, the Apiaká have been known to build their villages near the banks of large rivers, with the exception of the aforementioned nomadic group. Koch-Grünberg reports that an Apiaká village consisted of a house of enormous size, very well built and sheltering hundreds of people. During the nineteenth century Apiaká villages, initially concentrated in the vicinity of the confluence of the Arinos and Juruena rivers, were moved. Part of the group traveled north along the Rio Juruena, and another part went east, up to the Rio Sao Manoel, where they became known as Parabiteté. This group's tatoos were recognized by the Apiaká as those of "brothers, originating from the same family tree" (Koch-Grünberg 1902, 353).

In the mid-1970s a group of families began the return trip toward the south, looking for a "good employer." A Jesuit missionary invited them to settle in the vicinity of the Kayabi on the Rio dos Peixes. From then on, additional families moved to the south and built the villages of Nova Esperança (1968), Mayrob (1982), and Tatu (1986), all on the Apiaká Indian Reserve. Their houses and kitchens are built from materials obtained from the nearby forest. The architectural style is modeled on that used by Brazilian rubber tappers. As a roof covering, wooden slats are substituted for palm fronds. When the kitchen is not a subdivision of the nuclear-family house, it consists of a smaller structure with half-walls, adjacent to the house.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Until the nineteenth century the Apiaká cleared their fields by cutting the forest with stone axes fixed to wooden handles. They had a reputation for being hardworking agriculturists who also practiced hunting and fishing. Nowadays the Apiaká use sickles, machetes, steel axes, and chain saws in combination with slash-and-burn methods to clear their fields. The Apiaká grow mainly manioc and maize, but also rice, bananas, pineapples, yams, taro, and various other cultigens, as well as dozens of fruit trees. This food production is complemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering in the nearby forest and by raising domestic animals. Besides objects of personal use, they make handicrafts to sell. As far as the products of the hunt, fishing, gathering, and other work is concerned, the Apiaká follow traditional modes of distribution. The same rules govern economic obligations that are part of the social structure.

Industrial Arts. According to Koch-Grünberg, the Apiaká used feathers to adorn their spears and to make diadems, earrings, and scepters. Body adornment consisted of raffia or cotton strips. Men wore waist belts of woven cotton and penis sheaths. Strips of the same material were worn on the arms and legs by both sexes. Women also wore cotton strings in their hair. Necklaces of seeds, teeth, and shells completed a warrior's decoration. Nowadays, they dress as Brazilians do and make canoes, paddles, bows and arrows, carrying baskets, sieves, fire fans, nets from commercial thread, and bracelets and rings of tucum -palm material. From the inner layer of the bark they make shoulder straps to carry their children. This fiber is also used for basket handles. Pottery has been replaced by aluminum ware. Bracelets, rings, necklaces, and bows and arrows are made for their own use; these same items, but in simplified form, are also made for sale to tourists.

Trade. The Apiaká traditionally used the barter system for their products. There is an obligation to distribute game or fish proportionately, according to the abundance of the food item and the degree of kin relationship. Items of local trade are acquired with money earned from work on neighboring plantations or cattle ranches and/or the sale of handicrafts or rubber latex. The Apiaká have long bought salt, sugar, coffee, clothes, textiles, soap, firearms, munitions, fishing items, kerosene, and steel tools. Occasionally, they buy radios and battery-operated tape recorders.

Division of Labor. Agricultural tasks are divided among men, women, and, to a lesser degree, children. Men are responsible for clearing the fieldsa series of activities that includes cutting shrubs and small trees by using machetes and sickles and large logs by means of steel axes and chain saws. Planting, weeding, and gathering are done by the family, following internal subdivisions. Hunting is an exclusively male task, whereas fishing is done by all. Housework, child care, making clothing, and cooking are female tasks. Men build houses and make canoes, paddles, bows and arrows, and baskets. Women make the rest of the handicraft items that are used as trade goods. Despite the temporary lack of certain items, most of them can be obtained in the village throughout most of the year.

Land Tenure. One cannot speak of landownership among the Apiaká. The individual who wishes to clear a field communicates his intent to the others and determines with them the dimensions of the plot. The Apiaká consider themselves the owners of the field even after it has been harvested and is covered by secondary growth. It can be ceded to another person, or, once it has been abandoned, simply taken over by someone else. The produce of the field belongs to the farmer who planted it; some may be given to whoever needs it and asks for a "loan." There is also ownership of trees in the forest. From the moment that someone makes it clear that he intends to make a boat or house posts from a tree or that he is interested in harvesting its fruits or honey from a hive in its trunk, he owns it. Hunters and fishermen tend to frequent specific trails and places time after time, but this does not imply ownership; it is simply recognized as "the trail of a specific individual." Among rubber-tapping Apiaká, each is the owner of his "street," that is, a trail he has opened to reach 50 to 100 trees. Use of the "street" can be let to other individuals.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Apiaká distinguish themselves from other groups like the Kayabí, as well as from Whites. Some show evidence of identity crisis, probably a result either of long and intense contact with Whites or because the Apiaká no longer constitute a homogeneous group in terms of ethnic ancestry. There are those who, on an ideal level, identify themselves with the nomadic Apiaká group, "our relatives from the forest."

Kinship Terminology. The Apiaká have adopted Portuguese (Brazilian) kinship terminology including the compadrazgo (cogodparenthood) system and its corresponding relationship terms.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. According to Koch-Grünberg, marriage was monogamous, even though he mentions Castelnau's reports, according to which each Apiaká man had two wives and chiefs had three. Nowadays marriages are monogamous and predominantly interethnic. The Apiaká do not practice ritual initiation as a prerequisite for marriage. Women are considered ready for marriage after their first menstruation, that is, between 11 and 15 years of age, and men after they reach the age of 16. The preferential type of marriage is between cross cousins. Residence is uxorilocal when the marriage is interethnic and patrilocal when it is intratribal. Remarriage is encouraged if one of the two partners dies, even if there is a considerable age difference between the two new spouses. Marriages break up when there is proof of some threat or unfaithfulness. Single mothers are rare and considered an anomaly.

Domestic Unit. In the past, extended families lived in large communal houses. Nowadays each nuclear family lives in a separate house. Houses are generally built near the couple's relatives, depending on where the marriage takes place. Therefore, a village map reflects kin and social relationships.

Inheritence. Each man and woman owns the items that he or she uses and those that are the fruit of his or her labor or trade. These goods are not inherited but instead destroyed when their owner dies. Items acquired by trade, such as pots and firearms, are individually owned and are inherited by the surviving spouse or the son or daughter who lives in closest proximity. If the house of a dead person is not abandoned, it is demolished and part of the material is reused for a new building. No one lives in a house where someone has died.

Socialization. Socialization of children takes place in the home and in monolingual (Portuguese) schools supported by the mission. Babies remain with their mothers, who are helped by adolescents. Fathers may hold their sons in their laps, but boys' necessities are met by their mothers. Babies are wrapped in pieces of cloth, in the Western manner; small children are either skimpily dressed in shorts or left naked as they begin to crawl or take their first steps. From an early age they are taught to be respectful in their dealings with parents, godparents, and adults. At the same time a spirit of self-esteem and freedom is encouraged. Adults give great importance to formal schooling, which, however, presents some problems of constancy. In schooling, emphasis is given to arithmetic and reading and writing in Portuguese. These are considered to be of prime importance in dealings with non-Indian outsiders.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Apiaká are egalitarian, but the oldest men exercise leadership over the rest. The most influential man is not necessarily the most skillful craftsman, but he is the most knowledgeable. He is the one who harmonizes and synthesizes the desires and objectives of the community and takes the lead in tasks that benefit everyone. Thus, a chief does not command. The Apiaká say, "Among us, no one gives orders!" Even though women do not directly participate in political discussions, they make their wishes known through their husbands. Because of increased contact with the outside world, dealing with "foreign relations" on a national level, and in particular with officials of the Fundação Nacional do Indio (National Indian Foundation, FUNAI), has been taken over by younger men, as they are the most skillful in this regard. All adults deal freely with the mission and with their Kayabí neighbors.

Political Organization. Political organization is determined by kinship, and people are bound together by their forebears. In this way, men who have the most married daughters and sons who build their houses nearby are the ones who have the most power. They are capable of marshaling forces against another Apiaká group or against the Kayabi. Since the 1970s the Apiaká have considered themselves part of the União das Nações Indígenas (Union of Indigenous Nations), which expresses itself in assemblies of representatives and indigenous demonstrations in defense of their territories.

Social Control. Apiaká rules of conduct govern the various categories of social bonds. Fathers and fathers-inlaw are respected by their sons and children-in-law, regardless of age. Among affinal relatives of the same generation, the rules are less strict and allow joking relationships. Kayabi who have recently been married into the group adopt a submissive attitude in relation to their inlaws, although in general the Kayabi consider themselves, as "owners of the area," superior to the Apiaká. Deviation from rules of behavior or the display of unconventional attitudes is corrected by discussion, but without recrimination or censure; in this way, mutual esteem is preserved. Disagreements between chiefs may lead to confrontations and threats and are often solved by founding a new settlement, with the later arrivals being the ones to leave. The missionary presence attenuates or restrains the eruption of conflict. Matrimonial infidelities are commented on in passing and with a certain malice, but always as something that happened in the past. In such circumstances, Apiaká express sentiments of self-esteem and liberation rather than guilt or shame.

Conflict. In their wars of the past, the Apiaká were armed with spears so richly adorned with arara feathers that they looked more like ornaments than weapons, according to Koch-Grünberg. They also fought their traditional enemiesthe Mundurucu, Tapanyuna, and Nambicuarawith bows and arrows. The Apiaká reportedly engaged in a form of ritual cannibalism in which they sacrificed their adult prisoners of war and ate them. Younger prisoners were adopted into the group until they reached adulthood, at which time they were also sacrificed. The right to eat human flesh was limited to men who had squares tatooed around their mouths. The Apiaká warred with their neighbors, but their relationship with Brazilians was peaceful despite their martial reputation. Even so, at the beginning of the twentieth century a conflict arose with Brazilians that resulted in a massacre of the Apiaká. In the late twentieth century, whenever the Aipaká feel that their rights have been impinged upon, there are fleeting conflicts with the Kayabi and with members of the surrounding society.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. According to Nimuendajú, the Apiaká traditionally believed in a god who created heaven and earth and who gave vent to his fury with lightning and thunder. Two brothers who lived in mythical times are now located in the Milky Way in the form of animals that can be seen as a dark spot near the Southern Cross. Nowadays the Apiaká want and demand to be baptized in the Catholic church, and the mission maintains a relief station on the reserve. It is hard to evaluate to what degree the Apiaká have kept their traditional belief system, or how much of it is in the form of popular religion or Catholic beliefs.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans used to divine the future and cure the sick. They were very respected but received little compensation for their cures. They used heat and plants and blew on or sucked the affected part of the body, depending on the illness.

Ceremonies. Formerly the Apiaká danced to the accompaniment of wind instruments played by men. They formed two concentric circles: the men inside, and the women outside. Nowadays they no longer practice this dance ceremony. They observe national holidays such as Christmas, New Year, and the Day of the Indian.

Arts. The Apiaká tatooed their bodies and painted them. Dyes were made from urucû (Bixa orellana ) and/or genipapo (Genipa americana ). Arms and legs were adorned with anthropomorphic or zoomorphic designs. Tatoos, once signs of tribal identity, are no longer in use. Body painting and featherwork, except for feather decorations on arrows, have also been discontinued. Pieces worn in necklaces and bracelets are stylized zoomorphic representations of monkeys, fish, or ducks.

Medicine. The Apiaká recognize "modern" illnesses and illnesses of their own. To cure illnesses introduced by Brazilians they resort to the mission pharmacy. Other health problems are treated with dietary adjustments, herbal teas, bark, and roots. Adults are the repositories of this medicinal knowledge, but there are no specialists. In some situations they resort to a Kayabi sorcerer who is believed to be capable of extracting visible or invisible objects from the affected part of the body.

Death and Afterlife. According to Nimuendajú (1948, 317), widows or widowers formerly remained lying in hammocks over the graves of their spouses. Their faces were painted black and their hair was cropped. For an entire year they ate sparingly, consuming only some maize, until the bones of the deceased were exhumed. Nowadays, the dead are buried near the house. People avoid pronouncing the dead person's name and only refer to him or her as "the deceased." There is no other visible evidence of mourning, except that the house is abandoned.


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EUGENIO GERVÁSIO WENZEL (Translated by Ruth Gubler)