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ETHNONYMS: Atonoxó, Caposhó, Cumanashó, Kaposhó, Macuní, Mashacalí, Mashacari, Mashakali, Monaxó, Monochó

The Maxakali number approximately 500 to 600 and live 160 kilometers inland in the Mariano de Oliveira and Pradinho Indian parks in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, near the Bahia border. They are monolingual speakers of Maxakali, a language that belongs to a family of the same name; many authorities consider the Maxakali Family to belong to the Macro-Gê Stock. Originally situated at the borders of Minas Gerais, Porto Seguro, and Bahia states, the Maxakali were forced to move to their present location by their traditional enemies, the Botocudo Indians. The Maxakali fought the Portuguese who encroached upon their land in the eighteenth century. Later, in the 1790s, they came into permanent contact with the Portuguese, with whom they allied themselves to fight the Botocudo. By the 1970s they were living on the Indian reserve, where they were in sustained contact with non-Indians.

In the early nineteenth century, the Maxakali raised maize, sweet potatoes, beans, and cotton, but only some groups grew manioc. Hunting and gathering were important, fishing much less so. The traditional house was made of branches, which were stuck into the ground and bent over into a dome; it was then covered with palm fronds. From cotton, women made hammocks and net bags for storage, and from black clay small globular pots. Bows had a groove for holding a spare arrow while shooting, and arrows were fletched some distance from the butt end.

Postmarital residence was usually virilocal. Cross-cousin marriage was permitted and possibly preferred, but parallel cousins were classed as siblings and covered by the incest taboo. Sororal polygyny was the only type of plural marriage allowed.

Men slept in the men's hut, which was forbidden to females at all times, and after dark, to boys who had not been initiated as members of the spirit cult. Inside the hut, spirits of the dead revealed themselves to the men in their dreams; they could also be summoned with a whistle. The annual initiation of boys was a lengthy process and involved nightly singing lessons. In these initiation rituals, men dressed up as spirits of the dead wielded bullroarers and whips. After the season of initiation passed, a special pole was set up in front of the men's house to conduct the souls of the deceased down to earth as the men danced. The Maxakali buried their dead in the squatting position. Souls were believed to be capable of turning into jaguars.


Ploetz, Hermann, and Alfred Métraux (1930). "La civilisation matérielle et la vie sociale et religieuse des indiens zè du Brésil méridinal et oriental." Revista del Instituto de Etnología de la Universidad Nacional de Tucumán 1:107-238.

Stoddard, Theodore L., ed. (1967). Indians of Brazil in the Twentieth Century. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Cross-Cultural Research.

Wied-Neuwied, Maximilian (1820-1821). Reise nach Brasilien in den Jahren 1815 bis 1817. Frankfurt am Main.

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