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ETHNONYMS: Apalakiri, Apalaquiri, Kalapalu, Nahukwa

The Kalapalo, who numbered 110 in 1968 and perhaps more than 200 in the early 1990s, speak a Carib language and live in the village of Aifa (meaning "finished") in the upper Xingu Basin of Mato Grosso, Brazil. Their village is located within the Indian reservation known as Xingu National Park. They moved to the park in order to have fewer contacts with outsiders and to receive medical assistance at the government-run Leonardo Villas Boas Indian Post there. The Kalapalo are now known to Carib speakers as "Aifa otomo" (People of Aifa). Their aboriginal homeland is three days' travel by canoe downriver and remains of considerable symbolic importance to the Kalapalo. The region is a remote and rugged area, and the neighboring Shavante and Kayapó discouraged outside intrusion. Thus, the Kalapalo went uncontacted until perhaps the early twentieth century (the date of first contact is not known with certainty). Contact has had negative consequences: the Kalapalo became the targets of slave raiders, victims of a measles epidemic, and, finally, reluctant inhabitants of the reservation.

The Kalapalo subsist mainly by fishing in rivers and lakes and raising bitter manioc, piquí fruit, and maize. They also grow peppers, beans, and sweet manioc and produce salt from a variety of the water hyacinth. They hunt little and eat little flesh, believing that hunting is aggressive behavior, and thus improper. For this reason, they have made the hunting of many animals taboo.

The river traditionally supplied much of their food. The Kalapalo possessed exclusive rights to portions of rivers, which they fished with nets, baskets traps, weirs, fish dams, and by using bait to lure fish to the surface where they could be shot with bows and arrows. Modern manufactured tools and equipment such as firearms, fishing gear, and razors began replacing traditional manufactures shortly after first contact with Whites.

Kalapalo sociopolitical organization focuses on village and household groups. Only those born at Aifa or in the former village of Kanugijafïtï are considered members of the Aifa village community. Others are considered members of neighboring villages, such as those of the Kuikuru or Mehinaku. The village consists of oval-shaped houses arranged in a circle around a large clearing. Households are composed of two core nuclear families and bilateral kin of both in various combinations. The reciprocal preparation and exchange of food is an important unifying force among individuals and household groups and for the village as a whole. A complex set of kinship and marriage ties extends across all upper Xingu villages and links the village groups (Kuikuru, Mïgiyapei, Kamayura, Awïtï, Waurá, Mehinaku, Suya, Kayapó). Village groups specialize in the manufacture of goods that are exchanged with other villages. The Kalapalo specialize in the production of shell belts and necklaces and gourds. Leadership brings with it more obligations than rights and generally extends only over the household group; those in leadership positions also serve as village representatives in matters that involve other upper Xingu groups.


Basso, Ellen B. (1973). The Kalapalo Indians of Central Brazil New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Basso, Ellen B. (1975). "Kalapalo Affinity: Its Cultural and Social Contexts." American Ethnologist 2:207-228.

Steinen, Karl von den (1894). Unter den Naturvölkern Zentral'Brasiliens. Berlin.