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Identification. The Marubo live in the southwest of the state of Amazonas in Brazil. Although "Marubo" may be a word taken from their language or from some other language of the Panoan Family, it is not their autodenomination. They have names for their subgroups but no general tribal name.

Location. The land occupied by the Marubo roughly forms an irregular quadrilateral figure that has its angles at 5°56 S, 71°32 W; 5°35 S, 72°6 W; 7° S, 73°8 W; and 7°8 S, 71°53 W. The Marubo population is concentrated in the southern third of the region, to which all moved in the middle of the 1900s. The expansion to the north resulted from the creation of two Indian posts by the Fundação Nacional do Índio (the Brazilian National Indian Foundation, FUNAI), one for the Matis Indians on the Rio Ituí and the other for another Indian group and to assist the Marubo on the Rio Curuçá. These rivers run respectively near and along the eastern and western sides of the region, and both are tributaries of the Rio Javari, which marks the frontier between Brazil and Peru. The area varies in elevation between 100 and 300 meters and is covered by tropical rain forest. The year is divided into a heavy rainy season (from October to May) and a not-toomuch-drier season (from June to September). The annual average temperature is around 24° C, and the precipitation during the year is between 225 and 250 centimeters.

Demography. The Marubo numbered 397 in 1975, 462 in 1978, and 594 in 1985, revealing a rapid population increase. It is possible that the Marubo were decimated during the rubber boom at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. After a period of disorganization, they concentrated along the Maronal Brook, from where they began a new demographic and spatial expansion.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Marubo speak a language of the Panoan Family.

History and Cultural Relations

The Marubo were encountered by Whites when the latter occupied the southwestern part of Amazonia during the rubber boom, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Prior to this time a people named Marubo once occupied the village of Maucallacta at the mouth of Cochiquinas Brook on the Amazon River in Peru, but there is no firm evidence that they belonged to the same culture. The Marubo kept some commercial notes written in Spanish dating from 1906 to 1912. According to these documents, there were relations with Peruvians who were coming down from the headwaters searching for rubber and felling the Castilloa ulei trees, and Brazilians who went up the rivers collecting the latex of Hevea brasiliensis. There is not much information about those times, but it seems that it was a period of suffering, disorganization, and decimation for the Indians. After the Amazonian wildrubber business collapsed in 1912 because of lower prices for Malaysian rubber, Whites began to abandon the Javari Basin. The powerful traders who previously lent merchandise to White and Indian rubber workers in exchange for latex were replaced by poor adventurers who could not maintain the commerce. Even these adventurers became rare, and from 1938 to 1950 the Marubo were almost abandoned and forgotten by the Whites, a period that they now remember as a time of living by themselves, completely isolated.

Lacking iron tools, firearms, and ammunition, the Marubo began to look for Whites, and by 1950 they contacted a trader and rubber-estate owner on the Rio Juruá. With him the Marubo exchanged rubber and furs for industrial items, carrying them by foot across the watersheds between the Javari and Juruá basins. In this period the first New Tribes Mission agents began to visit them, and in 1962 these missionaries established themselves in the Ituí headwaters, where they remain today. After the arrival of the missionaries, the Marubo were contacted by lumber workers coming from the towns of the Amazon-Javari confluence. With the riverboat traders from these towns, the Marubo began to exchange wood, rubber, furs, ceramics, chickens, and even pigs for iron tools, guns, ammunition, batteries, salt, and plastics, and the trade along the Rio Juruá became less important. After 1970 FUNAI began to operate in the region, but the demarcation of a reserve for the Marubo or a park also including the lands of their Indian neighbors has not yet been accomplished.

The extent of Marubo contact with other Indian groups before the arrival of Whites is unknown. At the beginning of the present century, some Marubo lived near the Remo Indians on the upper Javari. In 1960 a group of Mayoruna attacked a small expedition of Marubo who were looking for turtle eggs on the Rio Curuçá, abducting three women and killing at least one man and a child. Some time after this event the Marubo, armed with guns obtained from the Rio Juruá Whites, mounted an expedition on the tributaries of the left bank of the Curuçá, returning after having killed some Mayoruna. The migration of Marubo to the Indian post built by FUNAI on the middle course of the Rio Ituí put them in contact with their northern neighbors, the Matis. The move to the other Indian post, on the middle Curuçá, put the Marubo in contact with a small group of Kalina. The employment of some Marubo by FUNAI and their frequent visits to regional towns, principally to Atalaia do Norte, Benjamín Constant, Tabatinga, and Leticia to the north and Cruzeiro do Sul to the south, has increased their contact with other Indians who also frequent these towns. The discontinuance of facial tatooing probably dates from the beginning of the second period of contact.

Contemporary Marubo wear clothes and cut their hair like the regional Whites; there is no information about their previous type of haircut, although a possible translation for the name applied to them, "Marubo," might be "the bald ones." An increasing number of men speak Portuguese. The mission maintains a school on the Rio Ituí, where the Marubo are taught to write in their own language. For a time, FUNAI mounted a Portuguese literacy campaign on the Rio Curuçá.


Frequently a local group coincides with a domestic group and occupies a single large hut, the plan of which is a decagon with two parallel sides much longer than the others. Two small doors opposite each other are located in the angles formed by the shorter sides. The palm-thatched (Phytelephas macrocarpa ) roof slopes from the ridge to the ground. It is supported by four parallel lines of wooden pillars, the two innermost of which are higher, creating a central rectangular space. Between this space and each of the hut's longer sides there are three or four square areas, the angles of each marked by two long and two short pillars, separated from each other by a space of 3 meters. Each of these squares can be occupied by a nuclear family, with its hammocks and cooking fire. Generally this hut is inhabited by fifteen to thirty-five people and stands on the top of a small hill.

Around it, where the ground begins to slope, there are some other constructions, built according to Amazonian rural-White style: small rectangular huts built on stilts with a palm-thatched roof and palm-bark (Iriartea sp.) walls and floor. These buildings are used as stores for objects that are generally of White origin: cups to collect latex, knives to incise rubber trees, iron cables to tie to the tree trunks floated in the river, aluminum pans, iron tools, salt, clothes, and even sewing machines. Under the floor, many overturned ceramic pots are kept on the ground. The slopes of the hill and the surrounding ones are covered by gardens. The distance between settlements is at least 1.5 hours by foot. There are, however, some settlements that diverge from this pattern, with two huts on top of the same or neighboring hills, or even substituting for the indigenous hut several residential small huts on stilts. The latter pattern is found only near the FUNAI Indian posts, not near the mission post. At the mission there is a concentration of traditional huts. Thus, both the FUNAI and mission posts have a concentration of Marubo around them.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Subsistence slash-and-burn agriculture dominates the Marubo economy; sweet manioc, bananas, and maize are the main staples. The cultivated palm Guilielma speciosa is valued for its edible fruits and is also used for its strong black wood and to make beer. Hunters using firearms, and helped by dogs, generally return with meat. The most frequent game are wild pigs (Tayassu ) and two species of monkeys (Ateles paniscus and Lagothrix sp.). Tortoises (Testudo tabulata ) and turtles (Podocnemis unifilis ) are kept in "corrals." The dry season is the best time for hunting the rodent Cuniculus paca and for fishing activities, with hook and line or with poison. Wild fruits from the palms Mauritia sp., Oenocarpus bacaba, Euterpe edulis, Oenocarpus bataua, Orbignia speciosa, and Leopoldinia piassaba (this could be Attalea funifera ) are important foods.

Industrial Arts. Beads, pottery, cloth, and basketry are the principal items produced. Beads are produced by breaking and piercing snail shells, putting them on strings, and then polishing them. These are used as body ornaments. The strings used for beads and for hammocks are made from Bactris setosa palm fiber. Pottery includes small bottles to store the vine Banisteriopsis caapi (ayahuasca) juice, dishes for eating and drinking, jugs for carrying and keeping water, and big pots for cooking and making beer. A simple loom tied to a pole and to a woman's waist is used to weave thin bands and a very small skirt. There is no metalwork.

Trade. Trade with other Indian societies is nonexistent but with Whites it is very important. The Marubo earn some cash or obtain White items by working for missionaries or by extracting rubber and wood and raising chickens (and sometimes pigs) for the riverboat traders. The selling of artifacts to the shops maintained by FUNAI for this purpose is sporadic. Some Marubo men borrow merchandise from White traders and lend them to other Marubo, who must pay rubber or wood to the lender; the latter transfers these forest products to the White creditors. Thus, some Marubo have become middlemen in the Amazonian commercial system.

Division of Labor. Division of labor is based on gender only. Men hunt, fish with hooks, clear wooded areas for new gardens, and do some kinds of agricultural work, such as planting bananas or storing maize in the dwelling hut. They build houses, make certain kinds of baskets, and sing curing chants. Women cook, make beer, care for children, draw water from streams, make pottery and beads, weave, and collect wild fruits and do other kinds of agricultural work, such as the gradual harvesting of manioc and bananas. Men and women together poison the streams for fish and harvest the fruits of the cultivated palm. There is at least one part-time specialist, the shaman.

Land Tenure. Land is owned collectively by the society as a whole or perhaps by each local group.


Kin Groups and Descent. Every Marubo is member of a section. Each section has a name. A person never marries a member of his or her own section or his or her mother's section and always belongs to the same section as his or her mother's mother. Thus, it is possible to suppose the existence of matrilineal units, each formed by two sections. As of late 1990, there are twelve such units (there were more in the past), but two of them will become extinct because they do not have women.

Kinship Terminology. Generally, each kinship term or one of its variants is applied to people of alternate generations; there are some distinctions between the term a person applies to members of his or her own matrilineal unit and the others. The crossing of these two sets leads to four clusters of kinship terms. The Marubo are reticent in declaring their personal names; these are transmitted, like section membership and the distribution of kinship terms, through alternate generations.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Sororal polygyny is frequent, although most marriages are monogamous. Unions are generally stable. There is a preference for marriage with the daughter of the koka, a term applied to a kin category that includes, among others, the mother's brother and the sister's son.

Domestic Unit. Each elementary family has an open square room inside the hut to sleep, cook, and store some objects and horticultural products that are ready to be prepared. If two or more women have the same husband, they do not occupy contiguous rooms. Each married woman has a portion of the garden. The composition of the distinct domestic groups is not uniform. Perhaps the nucleus of a domestic group would be a man, his wife (or wives), his wife's brother (younger than him), and the latter's wife (or wives). Changes over time lead to very different compositions of the domestic groupfor example, a married man and his married sons or a married man and his sister' s married sons.

Socialization. Infants and children are raised by their parents, helped by the other members of the domestic group. The Marubo do not use physical punishment in child rearing, but mothers menace or even treat their disobedient children with a species of cultivated stinging nettle, to which are attributed powers of liveliness and good luck in hunting. Children spend a large amount of time playing with their hut companions, especially their brothers and daughters by the same mother. Depending on their age and physical capacity, they can help the adults in their work.

Sociopolitical Organization

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

Political Organization. Each domestic group occupying an isolated Marubo hut seems also to be a local group and an autonomous political unit. Generally, the eldest man is the leader of the domestic group. Some of these leaders, who are generous and amiable hosts, promote great feasts, inviting everybody and clearing the paths from the other local groups for their members to attend. They thus create an atmosphere of peace, obtain great prestige, and are recognized by the honorable title of kakáya. There is some difficulty in recognizing the political unit where the indigenous huts are very close to each other, or where they have been replaced by clusters of small huts built on stilts, even when the spatial convergence has not been induced by outsiders. The domestic group inside a traditional hut always maintains itself as a ritual unit, however, with its own collective meals, feasts, and wooden drum.

Conflict. Violence among the Marubo was more frequent and bloody in the past than it is today. Conflicts generally arise between sections united by marriage or which dispute the same women. As regards outsiders, after the raids of the 1960s, relations between the Marubo and the Mayoruna remain difficult. In 1976 some Marubo killed a White man who had taken two of their women as wives, disturbing previous marriage arrangements.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Marubo admit the existence of two categories of spirits: the yové, which have human appearance and engage in social life, are generally benevolent, immortal, highly adorned, powerful, and healthy; and the yochi, which are like humans or animals but are harmful and lack adornments and social life, although they are powerful and immortal. Human beings have several souls, but probably these coalesce into twothat of the right side and that of the left side.

The land was created by Kana (reference to a section)

Voã; the flora were created by Kana Mari (the same name as the rodent Dasyprocta aguti ), who it appears also made the river and its living beings; cultivated plants were created by Oni (the same name as the Banisteriposis caapi, meaning "the single one"). Slaughtered animals' meat and bones were the main raw material for these creations. Human beings emerged from the ground near the mouth of a big river, each section through a different hole. In the long walk up the river basin, the Marubo learned the items of their culture, several of them from animals.

Religious Practitioners. When one of the few Marubo shamans is present, frequently at night, his right-side soul travels to some yové huts, where a series of yové come successively to occupy his body, animating it and making it talk, sing, and dance. Although the shaman's performance can be promoted for practical purposes such as curing, its main purpose seems to be to arrange contact by men and women with the yové.

Ceremonies. Major rites mark the maize harvest, the visit of invited domestic groups for a big meal or to drink beer, and the arrival of a new wooden drum into the hut. There is no information about initiation rites.

Arts. The wooden structure of a hut, the delicacy of the strings of beads, the details of liana or string tying and knotting, the variety of cooked dishes, and persistence in reciting chants are all expressive forms.

Medicine. Long curing chants over the body of a sick person or a pot of porridge the patient will eat are common treatments. Curing singers use tobacco powder and Banisteriopsis caapi juice before each chant. The shaman, who use the same substances, invites some of the spirits he receives to cure the patient. The subcutaneous application of the secretion of the frog Philomedusa bicolor, the touching of a species of stinging nettle, and the bite of the ant Dinoponera grandis are used to dispel laziness and to bring good luck in hunting. A resin colored with Bixa orellana is used to paint aching parts of the body. Many medicines are prepared from plants.

Death and Afterlife. In the past Marubo practiced osteophagia after the incineration of a corpse. Today they bury the body. At physical death the soul on the right side takes a path to reach a certain celestial layer (there are several layers above and below the ground where humans live). If the dead person had lived according to Marubo rules, his or her soul escapes more easily from the dangerous and seducing yochĩ, which wait for it along the way and try to destroy it or transform it into one of them. If the soul overcomes all the obstacles and reaches the end of the path, a mythical being, whose name is the same as that of a species of monkey (Pithecia monachus ), will change its skin for a new one and the soul will be transformed into a yové.


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Melatti, Julio Cezar (1985). "Os patrões marubo." Anuário Anthropológico 83:155-198.

Montagner, Delvair (1985). "O mundo dos espíritos: Estudo etnográfico dos ritos de cura marúbo." Doctoral thesis, Anthropology Department, University of Brasília.

Montagner, Delvair (1986). "Simbolismo dos adornos corporais marúbo." Revista do Museu Paulista (São Paulo), n.s. 31:7-41.

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