Cinta Larga

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Cinta Larga

ETHNONYMS: Baatpétamãe, Maatpétamãe


Identification. "Cinta Larga" is a name coined by non-Indian local people; it refers to the long bast ribbons members of this group wear around their waists.

Location. The traditional territory of the Cinta Larga is in Brazil, probably extending from an area on the left bank of the Rio Juruena, near the Rio Vermelho, to the headwaters of the Mirim Juina; from the headwaters of the Rio Aripuanã to the Dardanelos Falls; they live at the headwaters of the Tenente Marques and Capitão Cardoso rivers and in the vicinity of the Eugênia, Amarelo, Amarelinho, Guariba, Branco do Aripuanã , and Roosevelt rivers. The area includes parts of the states of Rondônia and Mato Grosso, approximately between 59° and 61° W and 10° and 12° S. Nowadays the lands of the Cinta Larga are part of the Aripuanã Indigenous Park, which has an area of 3.6 million hectares.

Demography. In 1969 the Cinta Larga population was estimated at around 2,000 people. In 1981 their number did not surpass 500 (a generous estimate). The main causes of population loss are epidemic diseases (e.g., measles, tuberculosis, hepatitis, malaria), conflicts with non-Indian invaders, and unreliable health assistance from the federal government.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Cinta Larga language belongs to the Tupí Mondé Family of the Tupí Language Stock.

History and Cultural Relations

Until 1969 the Cinta Larga lived isolated in the forest, engaging in occasional hostilities with prospectors, rubber tappers, and others who invaded their territory. During this time, the Brazilian National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI), a governmental agency responsible for Indian policy, conducted several expeditions to attract the Indians, who, as of 1973, began to have regular contact with government agents and sporadic contact with the local population. Prior to contact with non-Indian elements, the Cinta Larga lived in a state of war with their neighbors to the east, the Rikbaktsa, and to the south, the Nambicuara. Since 1973 Cinta Larga territory has been invaded by prospectors, settlement projects, roads, hydroelectric plants, and lumber mills. Yet in the late 1980s there were still reports of Cinta Larga who lived in isolation.


A Cinta Larga village traditionally consisted of a single communal house occupied by an agnatic lineage. As a consequence of intensified contact with representatives of the national (i.e., nonindigenous) society, the Cinta Larga founded, near FUNAI posts, villages composed of nuclear families belonging to different lineages. Both kinds of settlements are foundnucleated villages near FUNAI landing strips and individual houses scattered in the forest according to the traditional pattern. These patterns of concentration and dispersal are partially regulated by internal relations between families and by contact between Indians and FUNAI. Friction and disagreement encourage dispersal.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Cinta Larga are hunters. Hunting is not their main source of food, but it is central to their ceremonial life and a strong focal point of tribal reference and identification. Peccaries are the most highly prized game; however, a large variety of other animals is also hunted, including spotted cavies, monkeys, tapir, alligators, and larger birds like curassows. The Cinta Larga also fish and collect honey, grubs, Brazil nuts, and fruit. In family plots that vary from 1 to 2 hectares, they cultivate maize, manioc, potatoes, yams, and peanuts. After contact some villagers began to plant beans and rice. They practice slash-and-burn cultivation; the same tract of land is used for two or three years and then abandoned. In 1980 the Cinta Larga began to extract rubber and gather Brazil nuts with a view toward their commercialization. Monetary returns are limited owing to the isolation of the area, the difficulty of transportation, and the small-scale production.

Industrial Arts. Native handicrafts include basketry and the fashioning of bows and arrows, necklaces of tucum- palm nuts, bracelets of palm nuts and monkey teeth, feather ornaments for head and arms, hammocks, straw or jaguar-skin ornaments, flutes, mortars, spindles, perforators, resin lip ornaments, and other less important items.

Division of Labor. Male activities are hunting, fishing, felling trees and preparing the land for cultivation, constructing houses, clearing the forest in the vicinity of the village, extracting latex, and making bows, arrows, flutes, and feather ornaments. Women gather, spin cotton and tucum-palm fiber, make nets and ceramic artifacts, harvest field products, prepare meals, and make necklaces and bracelets. Men and women jointly collect honey and nuts and plant the fields.

Land Tenure. The land belongs to the residents of the village, and each family keeps one area for its own fields. Members of the same subgroup who live in other villages have free access to the land, as do affinal relations.


Almost all social activity is regulated by kinship. There is evidence that the so-called subgroups (Kabã, Kak , and M) are clans. The filiation of each is patrilineal.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The Cinta Larga are polygynous. The preferred form of marriage is between a man and his sister's daughter, who is generally given in marriage before reaching puberty (between 8 and 9 years of age). It is then up to her husband to continue her socialization and to initiate her sexually. This marriage is different from others because it involves a ceremony that is rich in ritual. It is still common for a boy to begin his adult life by receiving one of his father's wives, one who is not his own mother and generally rather older than he. The young man is then initiated sexually by that woman and will have his first children with her. The circle of marriage exchange tends to be limited to two subgroups. Each subgroup's exogamic rules are respected, although there are some marriages with the Suruí (Paiter) from Rondônia. According to the traditional pattern, women have a large number of children (around 6 to 7 per woman), and infant mortality is high (40 percent).

Domestic Unit. The smallest domestic unit, evident especially in times of food scarcity, is composed of a man, his wives, and their children. In normal daily life, however, the domestic unit is larger and encompasses a group of brothers, with their wives and children, who collaborate in activities of collective production like tree felling, planting, hunting peccaries, and fishing.

Inheritance. When someone dies, all of his or her belongings are burned inside the house or on the grave. When the owner of a house dies, it, too, is destroyed by fire.

Socialization. The main goal in the formation of an individual is the creation of an independent, self-sufficient person. Until 3 or 4 years of age, a child is its mother's inseparable companion. When it can move about easily and talk intelligibly, it will join small bands of children who imitate adults in their harvesting activities and in the capture of small animals and fish. Daily it becomes clearer that the challenge is knowing how to defend oneself in order to be on one's own. The result is the development of a bold and somewhat turbulent attitude, which makes the children ready to react to anything that displeases them. It is in young men of around 16 that this attitude is most evident. Fearless, aggressive, sometimes uncivil and gruff, the young Cinta Larga seems to accept no limitations, impositions, or orders from anyone. He demands what he wants directly, without beating around the bush, and at no time is he obsequious or servile.

Gradually, young girls and boys prepare for adult life, becoming skillful in the kind of work that is proper to their sex. After the age of 7 they submit to the perforation of the lower lip, where a small resin plug is inserted as an ornament. Young girls go into seclusion in their own homes during the first menses. As a young man begins to be successful in hunting in the company of adults, and, a bit later, in participating successfully in war raids, he begins to compose his own songs, which relate his successes. Finally, when a man marries his sister's daughter, taking the final step into adult life, the passage is marked by a ceremony in which he gives ritual presents (richly adorned arrows) to his father-in-law and promises to care for and treat his wife well, the latter in a discursive dialogue with the bride's father and her classificatory parents.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The three subgroupsKabã, Kak , and Mãspatially located, form a linguistic and cultural community, with relations between the various villages taking the form of marriage exchange and cooperation in warlike expeditions. The members of each subgroup feel united by strong bonds of solidarity and consider themselves a cohesive group in opposition to the rest of the Cinta Larga. Another very strong bond is that between affines, especially between brothers-in-law and their father-in-law.

Political Organization. The leadership in a village is held by the oldest member of the lineage, generally the father. When he dies, his oldest son will succeed him. Meanwhile, however, as brothers marry, leadership is in danger of weakening, either because they must give service to their respective fathers-in-law, leaving the village when their coooperation is most needed, or because they wish to build their own homes. In such cases, it is up to the chief either not to let them escape his orbit or to attract affinal relations to live in the village. The success of this political game depends on his skill. Contact with agents of FUNAI has made for even less stability in this institution because of the agglutination of nuclear-family houses around FUNAI assistance stations and the prestige enjoyed by federal agents who provide the community with health services and distribute manufactured goods such as salt, sugar, fishing lines, hooks, and metal machetes. Men of the lineage compete for such favors, which can generate internal conflict within the group and a consequent weakening of traditional leadership.

Increasing contact between the Indians and the outside world, especially with cities within the area, together with the lack of government assistance and the invasion of tribal territory by lumber mills, prospectors, and others intruders, has led the men in the lineage to try to obtain financial resources at any cost in order to satisfy needs that were created after contact. In the 1980s many found the solution in making contracts with lumber mills and prospectors, opening the area to wood and gold extraction. When a group is unable to reach an internal consensus regarding commercial agreements, new conflicts occur. Even if consensus is reached and the entire group agrees regarding such enterprises, however, dispersal continues. With the money they receive from such transactions, some young men are beginning to keep houses in surrounding areas, where they live with a non-Indian wife and only occasionally visit the village. In all such situations, the system of values that upheld leadership prestige tends to be weakened.

Social Control. The most common forms of social control are malicious gossip and ostracism. The threat of poisoning is, however, the strongest factor still operating in the Community.

Conflict. Conflicts between Indians and non-Indians are the result of the invasion of indigenous territory. Mutual accusations of witchcraft are responsible for aggression between Indians, and, in cases of death, a series of retaliatory war expeditions is undertaken. Such armed activity still occurs among Cinta Larga subgroups and, in the past, involved other tribes as well.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Cinta Larga creation myth is a richly detailed story of how Gora created human beings (that is, members of the various tribes that people the area) and conferred on them specific identities and characteristics. On the other hand, animals, birds, and other living beings were created through the transformation of human beings, some of whom were turned into jaguars, others into tapir and other animals. This, too, was Gorá's accomplishment. Along with the minor culture heroes who people Cinta Larga mythology, Gorá is responsible for everything positive that exists in the sociocultural universe. The counterpart to those beneficial beings and deeds of creation is a spirit that lives in the forest and incorporates the dark aspect of existence. His name is Pavu. He roams the forest looking for victims. As soon as he finds a solitary hunter or anyone who wanders through his domain, he throws himself on them in a deadly attack. No one can resist his power, and an encounter with Pavu results in fever, followed by death.

Ceremonies. The Cinta Larga are one of the rare groups affiliated with the Tupí Language Stock that do not include tobacco in their culture. Ritual curing involves the recitation of efficacious words, the laying on of hands, and shamanistic blowing. This ritual finds minor expression within the framework of indigenous ceremonies, similar to the ritual of female seclusion and the perforation of childrens' lower lips. They are of minor importance when compared with the festival of bebé-aká (bebé/caitutu, peccary + aká, kill), which is the main expression of male and warrior values. On hunting expeditions men keep a sharp lookout, hoping to capture a young peccary alive. Later, in the village, it will be fed and treated with care similar to that given small children: it will suckle at a woman's breast, receive previously chewed solid food, be taken for walks, and receive many other marks of attention so it will grow up healthy. In the ceremony of bebéaká, the adult peccary is taken to be sacrificed and its flesh is distributed among the participants, according to rank. The most prized pieces will be given the brothers, brothers-in-law, and father-in-law; the rest is distributed according to rank, in descending order down to domestic animals, which will scarcely receive some viscera and bones. During the ceremony flutes are played, personal warrior songs (berewá ) and dances are performed, and decorated arrows are presented to the owner of the peccary. The songs and praise express the bravery of a warrior and, consequently, male prominence.

Festivals similar to that of bebé-aká are held on other occasions, but without peccary sacrifice. They are held during important social eventsfor example, as recompense for collective work in the fields, to commemorate a raid on other Cinta Larga subgroups, to avenge grave offenses (kidnapping of women, for example), and earlier (approximately mid-twentieth century), according to the oldest Indians, for the performance of cannibalistic rituals after intertribal warfare. Ranches and cities have since been built on indigenous territories, isolating tribes from one another.

Medicine. Because they prize individual self-sufficiency, the Cinta Larga are ever attentive to their bodily health. At the first sign of illness they lie down in their hammocks and try to identify the causes of their discomfort. They can count on a wide array of knowledge and practices to help them cure illness. Of the many hundreds of plant species in the forest, some are noted for ensuring protection, preventing illness, and even for furthering the development of skills that directly or indirectly guarantee well-being. This knowledge is shared by all and increases with age. For example, some plants are regularly used to increase female fertility, to guarantee male vigor, to ensure a good delivery, to keep a woman from aborting, to diminish uterine contractions, to purify the parents of a newborn child and to ensure its well-being, to keep it from crying continuously, and to relieve pain in practically all parts of the body. Special leaves or roots are used for all these purposes. Plants are also used to make a child sleep soundly, to make adults sleep lightly, to keep a baby from biting its mother's breast when suckling, and so on. Once health is assured, another group of plants meets needs of another type: success in hunting and the correct use of weapons. There are even plants that the hunter uses to attract animals by rubbing their leaves on his body. Finally, there are plants that serve the totally different purpose of wreaking vengeance. Some poisons are used against womento cause mortal hemmorhages, abortion, or death. A plant that can be used against anyone is the po sut which, when mixed with food, causes a person to get progressively thinner until he or she dies.

Death and Afterlife. With the exception of deaths that occur as a result of conflicts with non-Indian invaders or of intergroup conflicts, almost no death is considered natural. Illness, accidents, and old age are not considered to be factors that can cause death. Instead, death can only be caused by Pavu or poison, both of which act in an irreversible way, leaving the victim no possibility of recovery.


Junqueira, Carmen (1984)"Sociedade e cultura: Os cinta larga e o exercício do poder do estado." Ciência e Cultura 36:1284-1287.

Junqueira, Carmen (1985). "Os cinta larga." Revista de Antropologia (São Paulo) 27-28:213-232.

Junqueira, Carmen, and Betty Mindlin (1987). The Aripuanã Park and Polonoroeste Programme. Document 6. Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

CARMEN JUNQUEIRA (Translated by Ruth Gubler)