Skip to main content



ETHNONYMS: Craô, Krahó, Krahô, Kraô


Identification. The Craho are Timbira speakers who live in the north of the state of Tocantins in Brazil. Although the word "Craho" can mean "paca [Cuniculus paca]'s hair" in their language, it is not so understood by all Craho. Their autodenomination is "Mehim," a term that might have included all Timbira Indians in the past and today designates all Indians, whereas "Kup ," its opposite, has had its meaning redefined from "all non-Timbira" to "all Whites." In the early 1800s the Craho were also known as "Mankamekhrá" or "Mankhráre," which means "children of ema [Rhea americana]," but today it is used for only one part of the Craho, their original core, given that they have received immigrants from other societies.

Location. The Craho reservation, with an area of nearly 3,200 square kilometers, is located between 8° (this parallel cuts through its northern tip) and 9° S and 47° and 48° W, between the Manoel Alves Grande and the Manoel Alves Pequeno rivers, both right-hand tributaries of the Tocantins. At elevations between 200 and 500 meters, the reservation is covered by savanna and patches of gallery forest. The year is divided into a rainy season (from October to April) and a very dry season (from May to September), with a temperature range between 25° and 26° C. Craho land annually receives between 150 and 175 centimeters of precipitation.

Demography. In the early nineteenth century, the Craho population was estimated at between 3,000 and 4,000; in 1852, they were 620; in 1930, about 400; in 1948-1949, about 500; in 1962-1963, 564; in 1971, 632; and, in 1984, 912. There has been a rapid increase in their population, which now has an average density of 0,3 persons per square kilometer. The Craho population includes descendants from the Põrekamekhrá and the Kenkateyê, both extinct Timbira societies; from other Timbira societies; from Sherente; and even from Blacks and Whites.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Craho speak a dialect of Timbira, a branch of the Gê Family (which includes other languages spoken in the Brazilian central plateau, such as Suya, Cayapó, Akw , and in the southern plateau, Caingang), which is part of the Macro-Gê Stock.

History and Cultural Relations

In the early nineteenth century the Craho lived near the lower Rio Balsas, a tributary of the Parnaíba, in an area that is now part of the state of Maranhão. They were in conflict with cattle ranchers who were conquering tribal lands with the help of soldiers of the Portuguese army. After a crushing defeat in 1809, the Craho accepted peace and migrated to the banks of the Rio Tocantins, where the town of Carolina was being settled. At that time the Craho became allies of the Carolina founders in the fighting and enslaving of the neighboring Indian societies, until they themselves came to be seen by farmers as cattle thieves and obstacles to colonization. For these reasons, and also to make a barrier against the Shavante and Sherente Indians (then in the process of forming two different societies), the Craho were transferred upriver by Fra Rafael de Taggia, a Capuchin missionary, who settled them at the junction of the Tocantins and Sono rivers, where he founded the town of Pedro Afonso. There the Craho lived near the Sherente until they migrated to the area where they live now.

The Craho established friendly relationships with the farmers, especially with one, Agostinho Soares. But, in 1940, accusing the Craho of stealing cattle, the farmers attacked. Lack of coordination frustrated their intention to wipe out the Indians completely, but about 26 Craho were killed. Prompt intervention by the Brazilian government led to the trial of the attackers, the delimitation of a reservation, and the installation of an outpost of the Indian Protection Service. Although the penalty for the three farmers who led the attack was very mild, it generated more respect for the Craho on the part of the regional population. The greed of cattle ranchers and peasants for tribal lands, however, has not been sated. Memories of that attack and prejudices resulting from this greed have created the right climate for the rise of a Craho messianic movement. If, in about 1951, the Craho would have liked to transform themselves into Whites by messianic action, in 1986, on the contrary, they launched a campaign to retrieve a stone ax kept in a warehouse at the Museu Paulista; they succeeded in taking it back with them and have turned this artifact into the main symbol of their culture. In 1985 the Craho and Sherente were of great help to the Apinayé against White invaders of the latter1 s land and in the campaign for its demarcation.

Because cattle ranchers have no jobs for the Craho and the Indians have no buyers for their agricultural produce, the Craho remain marginal to the regional economy and, as a consequence, are able to maintain their own way of life, a situation that in the past was interpreted as Timbira cultural conservatism. Compensating for their minimal economic interchange with regional Whites, the Craho have, since around 1900, developed the habit of visiting big cities. By exploiting exotica (e.g., long hair, big holes in their ear lobes, unintelligible language) and the favorable romantic stereotypes urban people have about Indians, they acquire a large number of gifts. Craho contact with regional and urban Whites and with the Sherente (who speak the Akw language) contributes to culture change, especially with regard to technology and folk Catholicism, whereas their contact with other Timbira societies, particularly , reinforces their own culture.


In the 1960s villages ranged in population from about 49 to 169 people, distributed through seven to twenty houses. Craho houses are built in a circle. They face the central plaza and are at the border of a circular path. Each house is linked to the plaza by a radial path. The diameter of the village circle, about 140 to 200 meters, does not increase in proportion to the number of houses. These houses, built on the model of the regional poor, have palm or wattle- and-daub walls and thatched roofs. Unlike the houses of Whites, they have no windows and, usually, no internal divisions; where divisions exist, they are randomly placed. Inside the house there are household fires, platform beds covered by mats, shelves to keep iron pots, and, on the ground, calabashes for water. The end points of the sticks that shape the roof are used as supports for firearms and hanging baskets into which food and a large variety of household objects and instruments are kept.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Subsistence slash-and-burn agriculture dominates the Craho economy; rice and manioc (both sweet and bitter) are the main staples. In the past maize and sweet potatoes were very important. Today, they are quantitatively as unimportant as beans and yams. Some plants, such as peanuts and the edible kupá (Cissus sp.) liana, have been almost abandoned. Meat is an extremely valued food, but large game animals are almost extinct. Fishing, with hook and line or poison, is not important. Wild fruits, such as buriti (Mauritia vinifera), bacaba (Oenocarpus sp.), and even the domesticated species that remain at abandoned cattle ranches, such as mangoes and oranges, are important sources of food. Domestic animals include chickens, pigs, and cattle, but they are not raised in large numbers. The Craho earn some cash by working for rural and urban Whites in the harvesting or husking of rice and hoeing out grass from the streets and the local airstrip.

Industrial Arts The principal artifact industry is basketry: various forms of baskets, mats, and headbands are woven. But there are no specialists, and this work is done mainly to satisfy domestic needs. The Craho have no pottery or metalwork. Some Western industrial items, such as cloth, beads, and Roman Catholic medals are reworked to fit their own style.

Trade. Trade with other Indian societies is nonexistent and with Westerners is insignificant. The Craho sell artifacts to the shops maintained by the Brazilian National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI) for that purpose. Occasionally, they buy manioc from regional Whites; they also buy cloth, salt, tobacco, ammunition, guns, pots and pans, knives, hoes, axes, and other industrial products from local White merchants. But the most expensive items are acquired as gifts during their long trips to big cities, which the Craho use to meet their marriage obligations.

Division of Labor. Division of labor is only by sex. Men hunt, fish, collect wild honey, clear wooded areas for new gardens, build houses, and make sleeping mats, certain kinds of baskets, bows and arrows, racing logs, and various kinds of cotton bands. Women cook, care for children, bring water from streams, collect wild fruits, and do agricultural work together with the men. There are some parttime specialists, such as headmen, some ritual directors, and medicine men.

Land Tenure. Land is owned collectively, perhaps by each village. The plot used by an elementary family for cultivation reverts to common ownership after all its produce has been harvested.


Kin Groups and Descent. Kin groups are the elementary family, the domestic group, and the residential segment. Near kin include, among others, the relatives born in the same residential segment, which is exogamous. There are also distant kin and nonkin, from whom it is possible to choose a husband or wife. These categories do not have well-defined contours. Near kin, who constitute a kindred, exchange food and services among themselves in a generalized reciprocity, but forbid sexual relations among themselves. Sexual activity with the others is permitted, but food and services are exchanged in a balanced reciprocity. Punishment for incest is more sociological than religious: the more a man increases the number of women with whom he has sexual intercourse, the more he decreases the number of women from whom he can get free food. Sexual intercourse or marriage with a near kin (it seems never to occur between individuals born in the same residential segment) involves a more expensive indemnization or matrimonial prestation.

The Craho have no unilineal groups. They have several pairs of moieties, all of them linked to a series of specific rites, but they do not regulate marriage. Two pairs of these moieties have as their membership criterion the transmission of personal names. There is another pair, which consists of two age-class clusters, and several others, membership in which is simply by free choice: a man can become a member at the time of a certain rite, but he can change to the opposite moiety during the following performance of the same rite. Male personal names are transmitted by relatives included in the keti terminological category, which includes mother's brother, mother's father, father's father, and their half brothers and parallel cousins. Female personal names are transmited by tui, a category that includes father's sister, father's mother, mother's mother, their half sisters and parallel cousins, and every woman born in the same residential segment as the father.

With the personal name an individual receives his membership in a season moiety, as well as formal friends, ritual roles, kinship terms to be applied to distant kin and nonkin, and, for men only, inclusion in a plaza group that is part of a moiety of another pair. On the other hand, an individual is linked to his father, mother, brother, sister, son, and daughter by food restrictions during critical life periods, such as the first months after birth, illness, or snake bite. In Craho thought, an individual's body is biologically tied to those of his or her parents, siblings, and children and is masked as the same ritual personage animated by his or her name's transmitter.

Kinship Terminology. Kinship terminology is of the Crow type. Cognatic terminology can be extended by an individual to the outer limits of society, but its Crow features are blurred by the overlap of affinal terms, formal friendship terms, name transmission, and terminological changes that occur when kin behavior is modified by individual choices. Some features of female-name transmission can produce a partial Omaha effect in terminology.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage is monogamous and very stable after the first child is born. The husband and his near kin must pay to his wife's kin a sort of bride-price, including guns, iron pans, axes, hoes, cloth, and beads. Long journeys to big cities are motivated by such payments. Bride-price is paid gradually and can always be negotiated. It pays for the wife's sexual favors and for her cooking. Its final portion is paid when there is divorce or during mourning for the wife's or husband's death. Residence is matrilocal.

Domestic Unit. Each elementary family has a garden and eats out of the same dishes and bowls. Food is prepared by a woman, from products of her own garden, and offered to all elementary families of the domestic group. A man hunts and a woman gathers mainly for the members of his or her elementary family, but meat and fruits are also shared with the other members of the domestic group and other near kin or affines. The elementary family is the principal economic unit. A domestic group, which occupies the same house, splits up when the building becomes too small to accommodate everybody or when the parents of the married women die. The domestic groups with a common origin are related through female members and constitute an exogamous unit, which is a designated residential segment. When a village migrates or when a residential segment or part of it moves from one village to another, the spatial position of each segment in the circle is maintained.

Inheritance. There are no fixed inheritance rules for indigenous cultural objects. These are discarded and anyone can keep them after the owner's death. There is a tendency for fathers to pass the ownership of cattle to their children during their lifetime.

Socialization. Infants and children are raised by their parents, older siblings, or other members of the domestic group. The Craho do not use physical punishment in child rearing. Children spend a large amount of time playing with their neighbors on village paths, in backyards, or in streams. Depending on their age and physical capacity, they can help the adults in their work.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Craho society is organized on an egalitarian basis according to sex, age, and kinship.

Political Organization. If the context of Brazilian domination is disregarded, each Craho village is an autonomous political unit. Village headmanship is not inherited and is not for life. The headman, pahí, has power so long as his faction supports him. He must maintain the peace in the village and act as mediator in the relationships between villagers and Whites. Two kokatê administer daily activities, collective works, and meat distribution after a collective hunt. They are selected at the begining of each rainy or wet season, one from each season moiety and from a different age moiety. A rites director, inkrerekatí or pad-ré (from the Portuguese word for priest), is usually appointed for life, having been previously trained by his predecessor. The men who have played the kokatê role form a village council, which meets every morning and, sometimes, in the evening.

There are some honorary roles with political importance, such as the headman's wife; the wutu, girls or boys associated with an age segment of the opposite sex (adult men, adult women, boys, or girls), who are regarded as kin of everybody and guardians of peace in the village; and the honorary chiefs, individuals of any age associated with the opposite-sex members of another villagethey are the focal points in the network of friendly relations between the villages. A village can have honorary chiefs in all other Craho villages, in other Timbira or Sherente villages, and even among the White men in large cities. Among the regional Whites, the Chaho have Roman Catholic coparents. To a large extent, social control is maintained by a system that emphasizes the avoidance of conflicts and only tolerates brusque or violent men who can show courage to outsiders. Gossip is an important informal source of social control.

Conflict. There can be confrontation between factions gathered around kinship relationships. Some factions can get help from another village or from FUNAI officials. Rivalry between factions can take the form of accusations of sorcery, but nowadays these confrontations never result in open conflicts. The last execution of a sorcerer was in 1959, and the last war expedition (although it did not engage in battle) was sent against an Apinayé village in 1923. Recently, Craho warriors were sent to help the Apinayé against regional Whites who were threatening to take their land.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Craho religion seems to be more elaborate in its liturgical than in its doctrinal aspects. The world has three layers. Men live on the middle layer; the upper layer, domed, is inhabited by men who fled from the big hawk and the big owl, both killers in the mythical past. The stars are the fires of these men. The underground layer is covered by buriti palms and used by wild boars (Tayassu pecari). The middle layer is bounded by water, and, on its eastern end, it is connected to the underground by a hole. At the same extremity, the foot (or perhaps feet) of the sky supports the upper layer. This column is constantly being carved by woodpeckers, but when these woodpeckers stop to drink or eat, the column recovers its pristine form. The Craho believe their history began in the east and that they have migrated to the west.

Sun and Moon, both males, are the mythical heroes who transformed the world before it was created. From the adventures of Sun and Moon originated men and women, death, work, menstrual blood, mosquitoes, and poisonous snakes. A star-woman gave the Craho agricultural knowledge. Fire was taken away from the jaguar. Sun is identified with the Christian God, and Moon with Saint Peter the Apostle. A man named Aukhê, the child of an Indian woman and the Sun, the Christian God, a snake, or an unidentified father, was the first White man. The belief in Aukhê, has inspired a Craho messianic movement.

Every Craho has the same beliefs with some divergences in the details. Craho objects of worship are difficult to locate; they seem to venerate society without the intervention of any divinity.

Religious Practitioners. All Craho villages have a pad-ré or director of rituals capable of conducting the different rituals of his people. Practitioners receive small gifts for their services and are said to have enjoyed the privilege of burial in the village plaza. It is unclear whether appointments are based on special aptitude or mere desire to obtain the position. Probably because of their knowledge of Craho tradition, ritual directors also enjoy political authority.

Ceremonies. There are more than forty Craho rites. They include life-cycle rites, annual-cycle rites, and initiation rites. Characteristic of these rites are the log races and the exchange of small or large manioc and meat pies baked in hearth ovens. One could say that the Craho live in a continuous ritual situation; some rites last for a whole season, others for several months, and others for a few days, overlapping one another.

Arts. Basketry is more elaborate than feather work or body paint. Vocal music is very impressive; the rattle is the main instrument.

Medicine. Today Western physicians, dentists, and their medicines are welcome, although, in fact, the Craho are attended by insufficiently trained personnel. Western medicines not incompatible with traditional Craho medicinal plants, however. Several medicine men specialize in extracting pathogenic objects from sick individuals, in recovering souls that have fled from people's bodies, and in inviting souls of recently dead individuals to have their last meal. These medicine men are frequently accused of sorcery.

Death and Afterlife. In the past there were two burials. The corpse was unearthed after some months and the bones were cleaned, painted, and reburied. Today the corpse is buried only once, in a cemetery always located on the west side of the village. One or two weeks after death, a last dinner is offered to the soul. At the end of mourning (which in the past coincided with the second burial), a rite is partially performed in which the deceased played an important role while still alive. The Craho believe that everythinghumans, animals, plants, and objectshas a spirit or soul. After the death of the body, the human soul stays alive in human form but behaves in a different fashion. Eventually, the soul itself dies and is transformed into a game animal. When this animal dies, it is in turn transformed into an invertebrate animal. When this invertebrate dies, it is transformed into a dried-up log in the savanna. And, finally, when the savanna burns, nothing remains of the original human being.


Carneiro da Cunha, Manuela (1978). Os mortos e os outros: Urna análise do sistema funerário e a noção de pessoa entre os indios krahó. São Paulo: Hucitec.

Melatti, Julio Cezar (1967). Indios e criadores: A situação dos krahó na area pastoril do Tocantins. Rio de Janeiro: Instituto de Ciencias Sociais da UFRJ.

Melatti, Julio Cezar (1972). O messianismo krahó. São Paulo: Herder and EDUSP.

Melatti, Julio Cezar (1974). "Myth and Shaman." In Native South Americans, edited by Patricia J. Lyon, 267-275. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.

Melatti, Julio Cezar (1978). Ritos de urna tribo timbira. São Paulo: Atica.

Melatti, Julio Cezar (1979). "The Relationship System of the Krahó." In Dialectical Societies, edited by David Maybury-Lewis, 46-79. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Craho." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 20 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Craho." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (August 20, 2018).

"Craho." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved August 20, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.