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Identification. The Araweté are an Indian group in northern Brazil. The name "Araweté" was imposed by the leader of the "pacification" team of the Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Indian Foundation, FUNAI) in 1977, who probably mistook some word of their language for a self-designation. The Araweté call themselves "Bïdé" (human beings, or people). "Asurini" (of Juruna origin and meaning "red people"), a term applied in the last century to the Indians of the right bank of the middle Rio Xingu, may have designated the Araweté as well as the present-day Asurini.

Location. The Araweté live in the middle course of the Ipixuna (4°4540" S and 52°3015" W), a small blackwater tributary of the Xingu, in the state of Pará in northern Brazil. The region is covered with semihumid tropical vegetation ("liana forest"). Heavy rains fall from December to late March; the rest of the year is dry, with occasional thunderstorms.

Demography. The Araweté might have numbered at least 200 just before contact in 1976. In March 1977 the first census counted 120 persons. In August 1989 there were 180.

linguistic Affiliation. The Araweté language belongs to the Tupí-Guaraní Linguistic Family.

History and Cultural Relations

The Araweté belong to the large Tupí-Guaraní block of tribes established in the hinterland between the Tocantins and Xingu rivers. These groups (some of them now extinct) may be the remnants of the large Pacajá tribe, many villagers of which resisted the intense missionary activity during the seventeenth century and dispersed in the jungle. Until 1950 the Araweté occupied the headwaters of the Rio Bacajá, a large tributary of the middle Xingu. The arrival of the bellicose Kayapó-Xikrin pushed them to the small Xingu tributaries that flow westward from the Bacajá-Xingu watershed. There they fought and displaced the Asurini, establishing two main village agglomerations along the Ipixuna and the Bom Jardim rivers. In the late 1960s both subgroups had sporadic encounters with White hunters. The arrival of the Parakanã in 1975 forced the tribe to reunite and flee to the margins of the Xingu.

The opening of the Trans-Amazonian Highway in the early 1970s transformed the economy and demography of the middle Xingu region, leading the Brazilian government to start a program of "attraction and pacification" of the Indian groups living there. Based in the boom town of Altamira (180 kilometers north of the Ipixuna), FUNAI contacted the Araweté in 1976, on the banks of the Xingu. Although weak and hungry (they had been fleeing the Parakanã for months) and already showing the first symptoms of diseases contracted from Whites, they were removed by FUNAI officers to the upper Ipixuna, in a march through the jungle that caused thirty deaths. In 1978 they settled in a more downstream location, where they have been living ever since. Their lands began to be invaded by timber companies and gold diggers. The Altamira Hydroelectric Complex, the construction of which was planned to begin in 1991, may flood at least 15 percent of the Araweté territory.

Although they have the general characteristics of the Tupí-Guaraní of eastern Amazonia, the Araweté show some distinctive features. Their language is fairly different from those of the neighboring groups; their main cultigen is not manioc, but the faster-maturing maize (which may be explained by a long history of flight from enemy groups); their material culture is simple, but they have some unexpectedly complex and unique items, such as a four-piece female garment and the shaman's rattle. The importance of the dead in Araweté cosmology, finally, evokes that of the Juruna and Shipaya (riverine Tupían tribes of the Xingu) rather than those of the Tupí-Guaraní proper.


In the period just before contact, villages had an average population of fifty and formed two widely separated agglomerations. Marriage between these was infrequent but occurred often enough to keep the two divisions of the tribe in contact with each other. The Araweté gathered for ceremonies and were closely connected through marriage. Villages of the same agglomeration were settled in the headwaters of a river basin, lying within a radius of one day's march. Villages were abandoned after an average period of four years because of enemy raids, the increasing distance of the swiddens, or the death of some prominent person. Araweté villages were multicentric clusters of conjugal houses; each cluster sheltered an uxorilocal extended family or a group of married siblings. There was no communal center; ceremonies were conducted in the clusters' small plazas. The present village maintains this traditional arrangement, but it is much larger, being occupied by the whole Araweté population. The Ipixuna village also has FUNAI Post buildings. The employees of the post are the only Brazilians the Araweté see regularly. The aboriginal Araweté house was windowless with a single small door. The dwelling had a rectangular ground plan and no separation between roof and walls; its two vaulted side walls were covered with palm leaves, and its front and rear walls were of woven mats. Today, houses are built in the wattle-and-daub regional style.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Araweté are slash-and-burn horticulturists who depend heavily on hunting and collecting. The primary cultigen is maize, which is planted in the fertile anthropogenic black earth common in the Ipixuna region. The most important game animals are land turtles, peccaries, and armadillos. Fishing is important at the end of the dry season. Honey, Euterpe fruits, and Brazil nuts are the main gathered resources. The Araweté economy has a bimodal pattern: at the beginning of the wet season, just after maize is planted, villagers disperse in the forest for a three- to four-month period of trekking. In March the trekking groups reassemble for the green corn festival; the dry season is spent in the villages and dedicated to maize-related products and activities. The influence of the Indian post seems to be making the Araweté more sedentary; FUNAI is also stimulating the raising of rice (for subsistence) and cocoa (for cash). The introduction of shotguns and flashlights greatly changed hunting techniques. All foreign objects the Araweté now need (metal tools, ammunition, pots, etc.) are freely but sparingly distributed by FUNAI. The Araweté place a small amount of craft products on the tourist market, but prices paid by FUNAI, the sole legal intermediary, are not encouraging.

Industrial Arts. Crafts include featherwork, basketry, cotton weaving, and pottery. Canoes were not used until after contact. Stone axes, thought to be of divine origin, were found in the black-earth sites and used by the Araweté, who also got some iron tools in the old missionary village sites of the Bacajá area. The weapons are bows of tecoma hardwood and short wide-bladed arrows. Women's clothes are tubular pieces of woven cotton dyed with annatto.

Division of Labor. Men hunt and clear the planting sites; farming, although done by both sexes, is associated with women, who are considered the "masters" of maize fields. Both sexes fish and gather, cook, make basketry, and take care of the children. Women weave cotton and make pottery. The two activities that link Araweté society to other human or mythical beings are exclusively male: shamanism and war.

Land Tenure. Every individual may live, hunt, and cultivate wherever he or she pleases. A field, while bearing crops, is the joint property of those who worked in it. The Araweté territory, which like all lands occupied by indigenous groups in Brazil is in the national domain, is not demarcated yet; only in December 1987 the FUNAI "interdicted" (a fairly innocuous legal measure) in the name of the Araweté an area of 985,000 hectares.


Kin Groups and Descent. Araweté society is based on the bilaterally recognized, egocentric kindred, with no intermediary structures between the extended family and the tribe. The village has an unstable membership and no corporate functions other than those spontaneously arising from daily life together. There are no descent constructs. The physical and spiritual substance of the child is thought to come exclusively from the father; but abstinence for sick kin includes both patrilateral and matrilateral relatives, and incest prohibitions apply to uterine half-siblings. The idea and the ideal of multiple paternity, finally, neutralize any patrilineal bias.

Kinship Terminology. Araweté terminology is a variant of the Dravidian system as regards its reckoning of "crossness," but it exhibits a full set of separate affinal terms. Terms tend to be restricted to close genealogical kin, and there is a category of "nonkin" or potential affine, which has as its closest specification the cross cousins.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Bilateral cross-cousin marriage is the ideal union, but spouses may belong to any terminological class except those of parent, sibling, and child. Aside from the cross cousins, there is a distinction for marriage purposes between close and distant kin, the former being considered somewhat less proper partners. Avuncular marriages are common, as well as unions with the father's sister. Sister exchange, serial marriages between sibling sets, levirate, sororate, and avuncular succession also occur. Polygyny is unusual. The repetition of affinal ties between kindreds is sought. Uxorilocality is the stated norm, but postmarital residence hinges on the political influence of the spouses' kindreds. Divorce is very common among childless couples. Marriage is the condition for the establishment of formal friendship ties between couples, the apïhi-pihã relationship, which has as its defining feature sexual access to the friend's spouse.

Domestic Unit. Every married couple lives in a separate house and forms a consummation unit within an extended-family residential cluster. The two-generation extended family is the productive unit for horticultural purposes.

Inheritance . There is no important property or office transmission. At death, the belongings of the deceased that are not destroyed are kept by his or her consanguines and spouse.

Socialization. Children are raised permissively. Fear of the forest spirits is sometimes used to control children. Overt expressions of hostility are discouraged. Sexual behavior is free among children.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Male and female heads of large residential clusters enjoy the greatest prestige. Women have an active voice in village life. Great shamans and men with the status of killers are much respected. Age stratification is not emphasized.

Political Organization. Every residential cluster was and is autonomous, although each village acknowledged the couple who founded it (by moving with their dependents and opening the first field) as the "leader" and "owner of the village." The male leader must initiate collective movements such as the rainy-season dispersion, but otherwise has little authority.

Social Control. Gossip, scorn, and fear of divine sanctions are the main forms of social control. There is no witchcraft. The ever-present possibility of fission makes the village a contractuallike unit.

Conflict. Disputes about women seem to have been common in the past and, to a certain extent, still are. Every residential section may be considered a faction in its own right, although they coalesce into larger, fluid units along lines of potential village fission. Homicide is extremely rare, and when it occurs it leads to blood revenge and fission. The relationship with foreign groups is by definition one of war, and the killing of an enemy is an event for a great celebration, having onomastic and religious effects.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The relationship between humanity and the Máï", the immortal beings who left the earth at the dawn of time and now live in the sky, is the axis of Araweté religion. Humans define themselves as "the foresaken," those who were left behind by the gods. Humans and Máï are related as affines, for the souls of the dead are married to the latter. The Máï may and, in the long run, shall annihilate the earth by causing the sky to crumble down. Every death has as its final cause the will of the Máï, who are conceived as being at the same time ideal Araweté and dangerous cannibals. The Máï are not conceived as creators, but the cosmological separation produced the human predicament, namely, old age and death. Among hundreds of species of Máï, the majority of them having animal names, the Máï hete ("real gods") are the ones who transform the souls of the dead into Mâï-like beings, by means of a cannibal-matrimonial operation. There are also the Ani forest spirits, savage beings who invade settlements and must be killed by the shamans, and the powerful Lord of the River, a subaquatic spirit who relishes kidnapping women's and children's souls, which must then be retrieved by shamans. Trees, stones, and some animals also have their "masters," who are less prominent than in Araweté cosmology and in other Amazonian cultures.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans are the intermediaries between humans and the entire supernatural population of the cosmos, having as their most important activity the bringing down of the Máï and the souls of the dead to visit the earth and partake of ceremonial meals.

Ceremonies. The ceremonial cycle consists of a series of feasts at which collectively produced food and drink are offered to the Máï before being consumed by humans; the most important offerings are land turtles, honey, howler monkeys, fish, and maize beer. The maize beer feast, held at the middle of the dry season, is the biggest one, combining religious and military values. The lender of the song-and-dance beer festival is ideally a killer who learns the songs from the dead enemy's spirit.

Arts. Singing is the nucleus of ceremonial life. The "music of the gods," sung by shamans, and the "music of the enemies," sung by killers, are the two musical genres of the Araweté. In both of them, it is the "foreigners" who talk, through an elaborate style of quoted speech.

Medicine. Disease is conceived to be the result of spiritual malevolence (soul stealing), invisible arrows present in incorrectly processed food, and the Máï's will. Curing techniques consist of shamanistic operations of soul retrieval and arrow extracting. The Máï can be enlisted to help against the terrestrial and subaquatic spirits or must be placated when they are the agents. Western medicaments are widely in use alongside shamanic treatments.

Death and Afterlife. The dead are buried in hunting trails somewhat distant from the village. Death divides the person into a terrestrial ghost associated with the body and the Ani spirits, and a celestial soul associated with conscience and the Máï. The first haunts the living while the corpse decomposes, then goes back to the natal village of the deceased, where it disappears. A death provokes the immediate dispersion of the village in the forest, for fear of the ghost. Upon arrival in the sky, the celestial soul is killed and devoured by the Máï then resurrected by means of a magical bath and made into a godlike being who will be married to a Máï and live forever young. The souls of the recently dead come often to the earth in the shaman's chant to talk to their living relatives and report the bliss of the afterlife. After two generations they cease to come, for there will be no more living contemporaries who can remember them: they are not ancestors. The condition of being a killer is the only one that makes the cannibal tran-substantiation necessary; killers, fused with the souls of their dead enemies, enjoy a special status in the afterlife, being feared by the Máï.


Arnaud, Expedito (1978). "Noticia sôbre os índios araweté, Rio Xingu, Pará." Boletim do Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, n.s., Antropologia, 71.

Balée, William (1988). "Indigenous Adaptation to Amazonian Palm Forests." Principes 32:47-54.

Ribeiro, Berta (1983). "Araweté: A índia vestida." Revista de Antropologia 26:1-38.

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo (1986). Araweté: Os deuses canibais. Rio de Janeiro: J. Zahar Editor; ANPOCS.