ETHNONMYS: Macoushi, Macuchi, Macusi, Macuxi, Makuschi, Makuxi
Identification. The Makushi speak the Carib language, live in the northeast of the Brazilian state of Roraima and in the Socialist Republic of Guyana, on the frontier of Brazil, and are predominantly of the Christian faith.
Location. The state of Roraima is located in the extreme north of Brazil. The Rio Branco is its principal hydrological resource. This region presents two natural zones, tropical forest in the south and savanna in the north. The state of Roraima is located between 5°16′19" N and 1°27′00″ S and 58°58′30"E and 64°39′30″ W. The area of the state is 230,104 square kilometers. The state of Roraima was part of the state of Amazonas, from which it was separated in 1943 with the denomination of the Federal Territory of Rio Branco; the name was changed to the Federal Territory of Roraima in 1962.
Demography. The Makushi population is estimated at 8,000 in Brazil (the non-Indian population of the state of Roraima is about 200,000).
History and Cultural Relations
Effective contact between the Makushi and Whites dates back to the second half of the eighteenth century, but contact began perhaps many years before that. The present state of Roraima was populated by Whites after the introduction of cattle by the Portuguese and the founding of São Joaquim Fortress to defend the region against invasion by other Europeans.
Villages range in population from about 100 to 600 persons. There are about fifty villages, but some people live in isolated houses, on cattle ranches, or in the capital of Roraima. Makushi villages are located in the savannas, their traditional habitat, and they do not have a regular type. The houses are rectangular with roofs made of palm stems and walls of clay. This style of housing is common for poor people throughout the Amazon region. Some years ago, the Makushi house was typically square, round, or elliptical, either very small or very large, built for one family or sufficiently large to provide accommodation for many families. Today the houses accommodate only a few persons.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Subsistence agriculture dominates the Makushi economy. Traditional methods are used along with iron instruments. A small amount of produce is sold. The land is held in common and in general is used by members of each family living in the same place. The principal products are manioc, yams, and beans. Fishing is not an important activity for subsistence or commercial activities. Domestic animals include pigs, chickens, and some cattle.
Industrial Arts. Some villages have women specialists in pottery and cotton weaving.
Trade. The Makushi are now highly acculturated, having been in regular contact with settlers, particularly cattle ranchers, since the late nineteenth century. They are not, as a whole, totally adjusted to the changes, although they take wage labor from the ranchers and sell surplus cassava flour.
Division of Labor. The traditional division of labor was modified by contact with the Whites, but some traditional ways of life continue. The women cook, tend babies, clean house, wash clothes, make pottery, and weave cotton. The men are mainly responsible for subsistence agriculture and other related activities. Both men and women undertake permanent or seasonal migration in search of wage labor.
Kin Groups and Descent. Two types of kin groups have been described: small village clusters with independent households of kindred joined through work reciprocity, and linked hamlets of kin living at a distance and joined through shared rituals or dancing. Descent is bilateral.
Kinship Terminology. The kinship system in the first ascending generation is bifurcate-merging. Iroquois cousin terms are used. The social emphasis on age is reflected by the relative ages of people in most kinship terms.
Marriage. Although polygamous marriage has long been a part of Makushi culture, most marriages today are monogamous. There is quite a bit of freedom in the choice of marriage partners. In the past, marriages theoretically were arranged by the parents. Marriages are usually endogamous. Cross-cousin marriage is allowed and desirable. The couple resides for a short time with the wife's family. Generally, after the first son is born, an independent family household is established, but matrilocality, as the prevailing rule of residence, is still practiced.
Domestic Unit. The people who cook and eat around the same hearth are considered a family. This group not only lives and consumes goods together but also farms cooperatively. The nuclear family is the minimal family unit. Membership in the household unit requires that one perform an acceptable amount of work.
Socialization. Infants and children are raised both by parents and siblings, who almost never use physical punishment in child rearing.
Each settlement has a chief; there is no chief of the tribe as a whole.
Social Organization. Makushi society is organized on the basis of age, kinship, and rule of residence. There are no social classes, since the Makushi are a tribal society. They have retained some degree of sociocultural stability in their process of integration into Brazilian society. The majority live in tribal villages, but some are dispersed among regional people. There is no physical segregation in their daily contact with Brazilians, but the latter control the wages for their manual labor, and there is evident discrimination in regard to commercial activities and economic opportunities. Land ownership is also an interethnic issue.
Christianity is the dominant religion in Brazil. Makushi culture is being greatly modified by interethnic trade, contact, and integration of the tribe as a whole into regional Brazilian society. The Makushi now say that their religion is Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), but they continue their own ritual practices. Shamanism has great influence in Makushi society. The shaman or medicine man is the religious head of the village and the controller of all kinds of spirits. The office of shaman was formerly hereditary, but this is apparently no longer the case. The shaman uses traditional home remedies in curing.
Diniz, Edson Soares (1972). Os índios makuxi do Roraima. Sao Paulo: Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciencias e Letras de Marília.
Myers, Iris (1944). The Makushi of British Guiana. Timehri, Georgetown. Reprint. 1946.
EDSON SOARES DINIZ