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ETHNONYMS: Krikati: Caracaty, Gaviões, Knkateye, Krikati, Põkateye (most recent self-designation); Pukobye: Irobmkateye (most recent self-designation), Paicogês, Piocobgêz, Põpeykateye, Pukobyé


Identification. There is no common term used by Krikati or Pukobye for themselves; it is only outsiders who lump them together. The set of names they both use is, for Krikati, "Poõkateye" (people of the savanna) and for Pukobye, "Irobmkateye" (people of the forest). The term "Pukobye" has become functionally moribund, although it is recognized by some older people. By contrast, the Krikati still use the term "Krikati" as their most common self-designation. Village names are another source of identification used in casual conversation, even when the reference village no longer exists.

Location. In west-central Maranhão, along the headwaters of the Rio Pindaré, the Krikati have two villages near the Brazilian town of Montes Altos, and the Pukobye have three villages near the town of Amarantes. The Krikati are now residing in the northeastern part of their original territory; the Pukobye are migrants into this area from their original homeland to the east.

Demography. The 1919 government census and the first visit by an anthropologist (Curt Nimuendajú) in 1929 suggest a population of about 300 for each of these tribes. By the 1960s their numbers had diminished to about 200 people in each tribe, their smallest recorded population. After the visit of the first medical team and establishment of government posts, each tribe increased to just under 300 by the mid-1970s, and by the mid-1980s, following the installation of well water, to almost 350.

Linguistic Affiliation. Krikati and Pukobye are dialects of Timbira, which is a branch of the Gê Language Stock. There is no satisfactory basis on which to characterize these dialects as more similar to each other than to that of any other Timbira group, except for changes that must be occurring through contacts and intermarriages during recent generations.

History and Cultural Relations

The names of these tribes appear for the first time in records of the nineteenth century, during which period the Timbira tribes were pacified and reduced in number by war and disease. The first mention of the Pukobye locates them east of their present territory, near the Rio Grajaú. The Krikati were first situated near the Rio Tocantins, to the west of their present site. Protracted conflict with a rancher in the 1920s led to the abandonment of the village of Canto da Aldeia and to a period in which they attached themselves to Brazilian homesteads or lived as isolated family groups before reuniting again by 1935 in a village called Itaboquinha. That village was also abandoned after many died in an epidemic. In the early 1960s they united again in their present location. Kindred feelings do exist between individual Krikati and Pukobye, but the social stance of each group is to mute their ancestral diversity and to emphasize locality as the important criterion of tribal identity.


Krikati and Pukobye, as do all Timbira, position their houses in a circle, with a front door facing the village center and a rear door toward the cookyard area and bush. Multiple villages and even double rings of houses are said by them to have once existed in each of these tribes. In this century, no more than three villages have been known to exist at the same time. One is the principal village, which houses the majority of the population and in which the community ceremonies take place. Both tribes prefer places that are higher in elevation than the surrounding countryside and relatively clear of vegetation. In historic times they have chosen sites far from large rivers and, since midcentury, they have had easy access to roads. The relative placement of houses and their residents is an indicator of social and political alignmentsas people's situations change, houses are rearranged to conform to the new social reality. In about 1970 government agents were stationed permanently in the main villages, and a set of special-purpose buildings surrounded by barbed wire (the agent's residence, a clinic/nurse's residence, a school, and a store) were erected. These make up a large arc of the village inner circle; from the time of their construction a double ring of houses has existed. In Krikati and Pukobye house building there is now more emphasis on adobe and mud-brick walls in place of frond.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Horticulture based on slash-and-burn techniques, the gathering of wildplant foods, hunting, and fishing are the traditional and still-important food sources. The aboriginal Timbira emphasis on potatoes of several varieties, as well as on sweet and bitter manioc (in the form of giant, leaf-wrapped pies cooked in earth ovens), is still evidenced by the particular use of these crops in ceremonial contexts. However, rice and farinha (a form of manioc, grated and cooked to a dry, coarse meal) have become the most important foods in terms of quantity and storability. Other crops include peanuts, squashes, maize, melons, beans, cotton, urucû (for red body paint), and historic additions of sugarcane, bananas, caroa (a fiber for cordage), tobacco, and marijuana. Game animals include armadillos, deer, coatis, peccaries, anteaters, sloths, monkeys, lizards, bats, and many birds. Certain domestic animals, particularly pigs and chickens, have become important, especially as the wild game in the area becomes scarce. Dogs are used in hunting. Grubs found in palm nuts may be eaten or used for their fatty content as a cosmetic base. Buriti, babassu, and bacaba palms provide nuts or fruits as well as the most important fronds used in basketry and in house construction. Other gathered fruits include the piquí, mangaba, caja, bacuri, cashew (nut and fruit), and the historically introduced mango.

Individuals or families sell their labor to Brazilians farmers, especially to harvest and process manioc into farinha. There is economic reciprocity to a small degree between Indians and some individuals of the surrounding Brazilian community. Commercial transactions predominate in the economic relationship between members of these ethnic communities and are fraught with foreseeable clashes. Krikati and Pukobye have a concept of "payment" that is invoked between all except very close kin, for compensation of economic loss or in cases of social misconduct. Such payments can now be made in cash but are still more commonly made in goods.

Industrial Arts. The focus of technological skills is on basketry. These include many kinds of containers, flexible and rigid, for transport and storage of food and goods; a tubular manioc press; strainers; mats for sleeping; and ceremonial paraphernalia. Basketry techniques consist principally of interlacing, with some weaving and twining. In the late twentieth century coiled/sewn baskets are being produced commercially. Cotton is used mainly for twined hammocks (the Krikati and Pukobye are the only Timbira who make cotton or twined hammocks) and for a number of items of personal decoration used in ceremonies. The technique of producing decorative cordagesquare in cross-sectionis in decline. Featherwork is mostly restricted to the embellishment of larger artifacts. The macaw is increasingly scarce, and the traditional men's headdress, requiring its long tail feathers, is now rare. Woodwork continues in the form of hunting bows (now increasingly embellished with woven cover work and feathers), ceremonial staffs, and spoons. Wood, as well as cattle horns and gourds, is used for several kinds of wind instruments. The Krikati and Pukobye have never made pottery.

Trade. Pukobye have sole access to guarumã (a vine used in baskets), scleria seeds (used for beads), and a type of palm used for bowstring cordage. These raw materials, as well as the finished products made from them, are important trade items.

Division of Labor. Men clear the forest for the family gardens; both women and men plant, and women harvest. Groups of related women or families go on fruit-gathering expeditions. Men hunt and fish, although women and men go together to drug fish for several days at a time during the dry season. Women do the cotton work, and men work with fronds, wood, and feathers. The different food- and artifact-production tasks are thus ideologically associated with gender, providing for the dramatic effect of role reversals in ceremonial contexts. In practice, informal exceptions exist in almost every activity and are met with minimal comment.

Land Tenure. It is use rights that matter; individual plot ownership is not long term. Conflicts over the use of arable land arise only with neighboring Brazilian settlers. Demarcation of reservation lands has been the most important issue of the last two decades and is still unresolved even as the area fills up with squatter settlements.


Kinship Groups and Descent. The descent principle is weak, in view of the importance of locality. The kindred in a given house or house cluster is variable and changes frequently. Descent is bilateral and extends as well to cases of marriage between Krikati and Pukobye. In cases of mixedtribal parentage, the issue of identity is settled by location after marriage. Thus, the flexibility of the bilateral choice also functions to maintain the boundary of the village cluster.

Kinship Terminology. The primary kinship terms are bifurcate-merging in the first ascending generation. The terms applied to father and mother extend to the acknowledged sexual partners of either parent. Another pair of terms includes the opposite-sex siblings of each parent and both sets of grandparents. In Ego's generation, siblings and parallel cousins are classified together, in contrast to cross cousins. A series of overriding nongenealogical relationships, each with its own set of terms, eclipses the primary kin terms. The most important of these is the system for name givers and receivers. Important obligations and ceremonial prerogatives are transmitted with names. Other relationships that alter the terminology used are those of ceremonial trading partnership and formal friendship. It is the terms applied to cross cousins in the overriding naming system that have a Crow bias.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. There is no marriage ritual. Children are recognized as the offspring of the mother and all the men who have had intercourse with her during pregnancy, a fact made public by the practice of couvade. Thus, marriage is not the exclusive social relationship for either sexual relations or the production and care of offspring. Monogamy, albeit serial, is the rule, but several cases of polygyny have been noted. Divorce and temporary separations are common and may be initiated by either spouse. The preference, and the majority pattern, is tribal endogamy.

Domestic Unit. A series of households, based on sisters' nuclear families, forms a domestic clusterthe significant unit of food production and exchange.

Inheritance. Goods generally fall to a surviving spouse and/or to close kin of the appropriate gender. Rights to the harvest of a garden plot go to female kin.

Socialization. An infant is constantly with its mother until weaned at about 3 years of age, by which time it is acceptable for a woman to resume sexual relations. Boys and girls 8 to 12 years of age go through a one-to three-month period in seclusion. Traditionally, before seclusion, boys had their earlobes piercedto be gradually stretched to accommodate a 5to T.S-centimeter disk. This practice ended in about 1960.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The integrating feature of these societies is the elaborate ceremonial order, which is derived in part from kinship, in part from a system of naming, and to some degree from personal choice. It is believed that the disappearance of age classes promoted the use of naming as an organizing device. Factions, which among other Gê are associated with the age-set system, here arise from the domestic clusters and are countered by the myriad ceremonial groupings. Dualism characterizes the ceremonial order in both social and symbolic forms.

Political Organization. Individual ties of kinship and honorary relationships provide visitors with hosts in other tribal villages. Indications since the 1980s of increasing ties to the national bureaucracy include the designation of "head of household" (only in one case a woman), documents confirming birth date, driver's licenses, and recognition of status for retirement benefits. Fundação Nacional do Indio (National Indian Foundation, FUNAI) post personnel increasingly assume the role of intermediary with the outside world, and a "second chief is named and paid by FUNAI.

Social Control. Ceremonial chiefs harangue the village as a whole, from the center plaza. Elder women can lecture their younger male kin. People who feel they have been wronged will avoid the offending party. Stealing occurs, but confrontations are avoided because of the victims' shame about calling the act to public attention. The externally appointed political chiefs mediate disputes between domestic clusters, and their decisions usually involve "payments." Accusations of witchcraft can be made against both men and women within the tribe and from other tribes; the last killing of a witch was in the 1930s.

Conflict. Krikati have not had organized warfare with Brazilians or other Indians for over a century. One of the ceremonial moieties that has become moribund is believed to be the one that organized the age grades from which a warrior age set would have been recruited.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Numerous food and activity restrictions apply to parents of infants or ill children. Illness and insanity can result from breaking food and activity taboos, as well as from witchcraft. There is a belief in omens (e.g., a black circle around the sun signals the death of an important person). Each person has a spirit, which leaves the body during sleep and may linger around the village for a time after death. There is no belief in gods. Myths are prevalent, but ceremonies are not myth based and have the character of secular drama.

Religious Practitioners. For serious illness, Krikati recruit and host curers from other tribesinterestingly, not from the Pukobye, but from the Kraho and Apaniekra. Two ceremonial chiefs, one each from the moieties of one system, determine the timing and procedure of ceremonies once an eligible sponsor sets the ceremony in motion. Although their authority never extended to other spheres of activity, their importance has been seriously eclipsed by the new political chiefs and FUNAI agents. U.S. fundamentalist missionaries inhabit the villages but have made few converts.

Ceremonies. Ceremonialism unites the tribe and invigorates the culture. The year is divided into wet and dry ceremonial seasons, during which one of the several moiety systems is active, depending upon the ceremony performed. Ceremonial groups of cooperating individuals are formed season by season, as one ceremony ends and a new one begins. The wu'tu ceremony, a celebration of subgroup diversity to confirm societal unity, is the most complex and frequently performed ceremony and the one for which Krikati and Pukobye most often visit one another. Participation is by choice, and the ceremony may be a device for the incorporation of remnant Timbira tribes.

Arts. Ceremonial life is the inspiration for both performing and visual arts. In the performing arts, the Timbira are outstanding vocalists, using stylized movements to accompany the singing. Women are the principal singers, and there are a few men who know how to lead them with a rattle. Ceremonial paraphernalia are made over the period that a ceremony is in force. Among the very few objects that have utilitarian or postceremonial value are cotton-woven items of personal decoration. Another ceremony is the occasion for the production and redistribution of burden basketsin an exchange of food between particular men and women. Making expendable paraphernalia (frond masks, bamboo relay-racing rods, batons, staffs, decorated logs) promotes the skills of frond interlacing, woodworking, and the painting of the human body.

Medicine. Food and activity restrictions are central to prophylactic and curative medicine. In addition, characteristics of plants or states of matter (such as heat or cold) can be used in a metaphoric sense to connect a cure to a particular ailment. Urucú is applied for health and beauty and is used as a curative on a particular body part. Amulets are tied around the neck (for a cough), or under the knee (for snake bites).

Death and Afterlife. The corpse is prepared and wept overa stylized keenby kin. It is then wrapped in mats and buried outside the village. Placement is horizontal, with the head toward the west, in a grave that may have a log structure on top. Close kin observe a period of activity restrictions, at the end of which their hair is cut. In a ritual to dispatch the spirit of the deceased, men or women (conforming to the gender of the deceased) run a log into the village and prepare food to be eaten in the plaza.


Lave, Jean Carter (1967). "Social Taxonomy among the Krîkati (Gê) of Central Brazil." Ph.D. thesis, Harvard University.

Lave, Jean Carter (1979). "Cycles and Trends in Krikati Naming Practices." In Dialectical Societies: The Gè and Bororo of Central Brazil, edited by David Maybury-Lewis, 16-44. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Newton, Dolores (1974). "The Timbira Hammock as a Cultural Indicator of Social Boundaries." In The Human Mirror: Material and Spatial Images of Man, edited by Miles Richardson, 231-251. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

Newton, Dolores (1981). "The Individual in Ethnographic Collections." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 376:267-288.

Nimuendajú, Curt (1946). The Eastern Timbira. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.