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ETHNONYMS: Aricours, Aukuyene, Karipúna-Palikúr, Paricura, Paricuri, Parucuria, Parikwenê


Identification. The name "Palikur" was initially recorded in 1507 by Vicente Yañez Pinzón, who stated that he had discovered la mar dulce (the Amazon) and the province of Paricura in 1500. Nowadays, the members of the group bearing that name call themselves Parikwenê, with the suffix wenê (or yun ê) translated as "nation" in French or "race" in Portuguese. The name can be considered generic for "people" because the Palikur extend it to other indigenous groups as well, placing it before the name of each one, for example "Parikwenê-Galibí," "ParikwenêKaripúna," "Parikwenê-Oyampik."

Location. In the sixteenth century the Palikur lived in the coastal region, north of the mouth of the Amazon River, in what is today the Brazilian state of Amapá, between 1o and 3° N and 50° and 51° W. In the first half of the eighteenth century they were living further west between the headwaters of the Calçoene and the Curipi rivers, on the upper Uaçá, and the Urucauá. Toward the end of the nineteenth century they were concentrated in the Urucauá region, where they had as their closest neighbors the Galibí-Marawone (upper Uaçá) and the Karipúna (Rio Curipi). In 1902, after the end of the Franco-Brazilian Dispute, they (with the exception of one family) migrated to French Guiana, although later the majority of the group's members returned to the Rio Urucauá, which they considered their homeland. Members of the Brazilian and French Guianan groups, however, who are linked by kinship, often visit each other. Families and individuals also frequently change their place of residence.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Palikur language is affiliated with the Arawak Language Family; 44 percent of its vocabulary is similar to the Mehinaku language (Upper Xingu) and 39 percent to that of the Moxo (Bolivia). Palikuran is also related to several Arawakan languages of the upper Río Negro; that is, Baniwan, Kuripakan, Tarianan, and so forth. In former times the Palikur language was divided into several dialects, of which the dialect of the now-extinct Kamuyenê clan prevailed as the group's language. Besides those dialects, there was a lingua franca, Kapt nka, that was used in interclan contacts and in ceremonies; some of the oldest men of the group still speak it. The men and some women also speak the patois of French Guiana, which is used in communicating with the GalibíMarawone and the Karipúna, who generally speak this language. In the village of Flechas (lower Urucauá), populated by Palikur, Galibí, and Black immigrants from the Rio Cunani, patois is also the usual means of communication.

Demography. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the indigenous population living between the Cassiporé and Maroni rivers (French Guiana) was estimated at 3,500 people, of which a total of around 1,200 were Palikur (including the Karipúna), with almost 400 bowmen. In 1730 it was estimated that there were 480 Palikur, distributed among 160 families or houses. In 1787 there were 484 Indians living on the lower Oiapoque (or Vicente Pinzón) and its environs, among them 141 Palikur. At the beginning of the twentieth century, when they migrated to French Guiana, the Palikur numbered between 200 and 300. In 1984 there were 572 Palikur on the Urucauá, occupying six villages, and a total of 405 Palikur were living in French Guiana.

History and Cultural Relations

The first explorations in the area of Guiana were made by the English, Dutch, and French, especially following the expedition by Lawrence de Keymes in 1596, who reported the presence of a dozen indigenous nations. The area to the north of the Oiapoque was then occupied by the Carib (Caribbana) Indians, and that to the south by the Arawak (Arowachi, Arowacas). In 1604 the Frenchmen Sieur de Ravardière and Guy de Mocquet made a reconnaissance of the Guianan littoral. They found that the Yayo and Karipúna-Palikur Indians had formed a confederation to attack the Galibí. In the 1680s the Palikur and the Galibí were still enemies, until a certain M. Ferolles made an attempt to reconcile them. He arranged a ceremony in which the chiefs of both groups had fistfights, embraced, and then said their good-byes. As of the beginning of the eighteenth century, there are no more recorded conflicts between the Palikur and the Galibí. D'Anville's map of 1729 shows the Palikur living between the Calçoene and Curipi rivers, with the notation that they were friends of the French. In 1783 a Jesuit priest, Father Fauque, established a short-lived mission among the Uaçá Palikur, but was not able to evangelize even the small group with whom he had strong ties. At the end of the eighteenth century, when Portugal and France were at war with each other, a Portuguese expedition occupied the contested territory, burned all Indian villagesincluding those of the Palikurand carried off the inhabitants into the interior of Brazil. Because of this, the Palikur remained isolated during the nineteenth century, and there are few reports about them. As soon as the disputed territory was conceded definitively to Brazil in 1900, the Brazilian authorities began to oust the immigrants and merchants from French Guiana (Creoles, Malayans, etc.) who had settled in the Oiapoque-Uaçá area. As late as the 1920s the Urucauá Palikur still continued to sympathize more with the Creoles than with the Brazilians. This was because they had not forgotten the enslavement of their ancestors by the Portuguese, and because the majority of the Brazilians despised the Indians and faulted them for speaking patois and not Portuguese. Baptisms of the Palikur continued to take place in the city of Saint Georges (French Guiana), and the indigenous captain of Urucauá went on wearing a French-style uniform even though more than twenty years had passed since the end of the Dispute. In 1936 the War Ministry of Brazil sent an emissary, Major Tomaz Reis, to Uaçá to study the possibility of gathering the Indians in a single village and using them as border guards. The emissary did not think this possible, however, because of intertribal differences. In 1942 the Serviço de Proteçâo aos Índios (SPI, the Indian Protection Service) installed a Nationalization Service at the confluence of the Uaçá and Curipi rivers, intending to integrate the natives of the area into the larger Brazilian society. The plans that were put into practice did not fully reach their objectives, however, owing to the lack of good environmental and ethnological studies, especially on the Palikur. They were not given school instruction at that time because of the reaction of the Palikur elders, who believed school to be a form of slavery. But as of 1967, when they began adopting Pentecostalism, and when contacts with Brazilians improved, the Palikur became amenable to formal schooling and to the various programs the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI), created in 1967, introduced in the region. Historically, the Palikur were divided into two regional groups of several villages, each of which was occupied by only one clan. Apart from family dwellings, they built larger houses away from the single-family units, spacious enough to accommodate between 30 and 40 people. Territorial separation no longer prevails, and clan groups are distributed indistinctly between several villages. On the Rio Urucauá, until 1970, population figures varied between 15 and 70 persons. In the village of Ukumenê, however, where a Pentecostal church was built in 1980, there were 350 people, that is to say, more than one-half the Palikur population on the Urucauá. The rectangular houses, usually occupied by only a nuclear family, are without walls and have two-sided straw roofs and eaves; the floors are of planks or paxiuba -palm stems, averaging 4 meters in length by 3 meters in width. Houses are built with no fixed plan, with the exception of the village of Ukumenê, where they line a street. The Palikur traditionally slept on woven cotton hammocks. In the twentieth century, however, they have begun sleeping on rush mats, which they learned to make from the Blacks of the Rio Cunani. As of 1942, when SPI's Nationalization Service was installed in the area, the Palikur began using mosquito nets.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. As with numerous other tribes of Guiana, fishing has always been of prime importance to the Palikur. From 1942 on, horticulture, which had been neglected for many years, began once again to be practiced. Hunting and fishing are complementary subsistence activities. Fishing is done with bows and arrows, harpoons, and cotton fishing lines with hooks. Fishing with timbó poison is slowly falling into disuse. Shotguns are used for hunting, and in horticulture, iron tools are used.

Manioc is the principal cultivated plant, but sweet potatoes, sugarcane, peppers, gourds, and cotton are also grown. From the Europeans the Palikur have adopted papayas, mangoes, citrus trees, and coffee. Maize, a traditional cultivar, is rarely grown today. Rice was introduced by the SPI but its cultivation is also rare because of the abundance of rats in the area. Bitter manioc was traditionally used in the preparation of flat cakes and beer. The Palikur learned to make roasted manioc flour from the Creoles of French Guiana and the Blacks of the Rio Cunani. It is processed by using a wooden grater with metal chips, cylindrical cassava squeezers for the extraction of manioc juice, wooden troughs for stirring the mass, and clay ovens or imported iron ovens for roasting. Until the end of the nineteenth century, the main commercial surplus was roasted manioc flour. In the 1940s and 1950s the commercialization of alligator skins took first place, for example, among the Uaçá Galibí and the Karipúna. This trade diminished because of the near-extinction of these animals.

Industrial Arts. Palikur material culture includes basketry, pottery, and objects of wood, bone, feathers, and cotton seeds. The Palikur use plaiting and coiling techniques in the manufacture of large carrying and storage baskets, fans, and manioc squeezers. Pottery for daily and ceremonial use is simple and variously decorated. Wood is used in the manufacture of weapons, small dugouts, paddles, mortars, troughs, clubs, zoomorphic benches made of one piece, and musical instruments. From the time that hammocks became unfashionable, cotton thread has been used only for ornamentation.

Trade. Commercial relations between the Palikur and the Europeans began to intensify around the beginning of the eighteenth century, with an exchange of products from the forest and rivers for manufactured goods (e.g., tools, harpoons, glass beads, clothes). For many years after the French-Portuguese Dispute was over, the Palikur continued to prefer negotiating with the Creoles from French Guiana. Nowadays, they deal with both Creoles and Brazilians, including FUNAI agents.

Division of Labor. Men fish, hunt, and prepare the land for planting. They make wooden objects, baskets, and feather ornaments. Women make pottery, spin cotton, harvest the crops of the gardens, and prepare manioc flour and beer. Both sexes make reed mats. Formerly, only men paddled canoes, either with poles or paddles, an activity today also performed by women.

Land Tenure. The territory originally occupied by the Palikur, located in the lower and central portion of the area drained by the Araguari, Amapá, Cunani, Calçoene and Cassiporé rivers (which flow into the Atlantic Ocean), was subject to continual variation because of the sedimentation laid down by the current of the Amazon River. The Palikur therefore lived scattered in several areas occupied by their clan units. A similar situation still obtains on the Rio Urucauá, where the villages are removed from each other, on tongues of land in the interior of swampy areas. Each family's claim to its houses and planted fields is respected by the others. Between 1977 and 1981 FUNAI identified and demarcated the boundaries of a common area for the Palikur, Uaçá Galibí (Galibí-Marawone), and Karipúna, with an area of 434,660 hectares, including the major portion of the Uaçá-Curipi-Urucaua Basin. The lands recognized and used by the Palikur have the Rio Urucauá as their axis and extend midway between the Uaçá and Curipi rivers.


Kinship Groups and Descent. The Palikur are organized into patri-clans designated by composite names of animals, plants, and natural phenomena, and the suffix wenê (or yunê), people. In the remote past, there were around eighteen clans, possibly endogamous, with some of their members originating in other ethnic groups. Nowadays, there are six exogamous clans whose members, contrary to tradition, live among other people in the same villages. Marriage and funeral ceremonies are maintained as cooperative events of each clan, but clans do not function as distinct economic units, and no differences in traditional feasts are observable. Although only patrilineally related clan members are considered to be true Palikur, their recognition amounts to nothing more than a nominal distinction because even those who do not have a Palikur father can now be buried in a place reserved for the members of their Palikur mother's clan.

Kinship Terminology. The kinship terminology is bifurcate merging for the first ascending generation and of the Iroquois type in Ego's generation.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. As in ancient times, monogamy continues to be rigorously observed. Not only are marriages between members of the same clan forbidden, but also those between close relatives who belong to different clans. As is typical of most Guianan tribes, the acquisition of a bride was traditionally preceded by bride-service performed by the bridegroom-to-be for his future in-laws. Nowadays, this practice is no longer observed, and it is not unusual for a boy and girl to begin living together after a dance. Divorce used to be frequent but has diminished considerably owing to the influence of the Pentecostal church. The traditional rule of virilocal residence, which existed because of clan endogamy, lasted until at least the middle of the twentieth century but was limited to cases involving the marriages of the sons of chiefs. Nowadays, temporary uxorilocality is practiced.

Domestic Unit. Traditional domestic units composed of extended families have now been replaced by nuclear-family households.

Inheritance. Upon the death of his wife, the widower generally keeps all her possessions. A widow keeps the dwelling, garden and other planted areas, domestic utensils, and agricultural tools. The most important valuables (including purchased items) do not accompany the man to his grave but generally go to the firstborn son or, in his absence, to his oldest brother. If the couple was separated, the division of goods varies from case to case; the male interest usually prevails, especially when a woman does not have relatives to support her claim.

Socialization. When there were extended families, relations between husband and wife were generally satisfactory because of the rigorous obedience demanded of sons-in-law by their in-laws. After this type of family disappeared, however, husbands frequently began physically punishing their wives (although only very rarely their children). In the latter half of the twentieth century, men's behavior has undergone change owing to the incorporation of Western norms and the influence of religious institutions and agencies. Both children and adults have begun enthusiastically to attend school to receive instruction either in Portuguese or Palikur and to learn about the Bible.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social stratification has always been lacking in Palikur society, not only within the clans but within society at large. The oldest men were and still are respected, however, and their advice is sought on special occasions. Members of other ethnic groups that incorporated into Palikur society participate fully in tribal life, except in those rituals that are restricted to clan units.

Political Organization. In the past, chieftainship was generally held by the oldest men, who were chosen on the basis of their capability and popularity rather than by heredity. A short spear (or scepter) was the only outer distinguishing mark of chiefs. Later, the French administration began to confer military privileges and uniforms, which are still used, on the chiefs on the Urucauá. The SPI continued conferring privileges on indigenous leaders, whose prestige, however, was always slight because real authority was exercised by the official administration. Nowadays, chieftainship is vested in the religious leaders of the Pentecostal church.

Social Control. Supernatural powers always directed the fate of the Palikur, be it in situations of danger, in social happenings, or in economic activities. The influence of the Catholic church was only evident in baptism, marriage, and compadrazgo. Nowadays, however, Pentecostal pastors who belong to the individual local groups exercise strong control over the behavior of their members, including their smoking and drinking habits.

Conflict. There were conflicts caused by mutual distrust of individuals and families and by malevolent shamans and sorcerers. Past wars between the Palikur and the Galibí have had no lasting negative effect on present-day intertribal relations. Open hostility, to which the Portuguese had subjected the Palikur and which had reflected on their relationship with Brazilians, no longer exists thanks to the acceptance by the Palikur of religious ideas promulgated by the Pentecostal church.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The name "Ohogri" is applied to the Christian God, and Jesus Christ is called "Ohogri Kamkaen" (God-son). The devil is called "Wapetpiyé." Mentioned among the various tiers of heaven are Nikene, Ena, and Inoliku, the last being the lowest level and the dwelling place of Ohogri. The Palikur also refer to the existence of a small but special heaven called "Yonoklin" where the Yumawalí (mythical shamans) live. Among them, Karumayará stands out for having lived for some time on earth and for having performed there great deeds before returning to Yonoklin upon death. The Palikur posit the existence of several hells, among them Minila and Wimpi, and the universal myth of the flood is present in their mythology. Caused by Ohogri, the deluge left vestiges of its occurrence on Mount Karupina, between the Urucauá and the Curipi, where the people took refuge.

According to tradition, numerous spirits are said to frequent the air, rivers, lakes, forests, and mountains. They can turn into animals and trees and temporarily remain in the shaman's paraphernalia and in the places where these are kept. Many of these spirits are thought to live on Mount Karupina. They are also referred to as demons, but without attributing to them characteristics typical of demons in Christian mythology. Despite the assimilation of elements of Catholic doctrine, traditional beliefs continued to prevail until they were supplanted by the Pentecostal religion.

Religious Practitioners . There are shamans and sorcerers (better known as blowers) who, especially the former, have been exercising considerable influence over Palikur society since time immemorial. Among the Urucauá Indians, however, this influence began to diminish after the introduction of Pentecostalism. The native agents of the supernatural renounced their ancient beliefs and the majority joined the Pentecostal church.

Ceremonies. The most important ceremony is called Aramteme (Feast of the Turé), the aim of which is to pay homage to the benevolent spirits. The ceremony is also performed by the Uaçá Galibí and the Karipúna, generally at full moon. Of great importance to the Palikur is the Kisepa ceremony, which is performed to pay last respects to a deceased person, generally about a year after his or her death. Two other ceremonies are the Wasapina (dance of the rattle) and the Mayapina (dance of the clubs). After joining the Pentecostal church, most Palikur have discontinued performing these ceremonies.

Arts. Numerous songs and dances that were known and performed during traditional ceremonies have been replaced by Christian hymns.

Medicine. Although the Palikur make use of numerous native remedies, illness was basically said to be caused by supernatural agents. In the treatment of such illness, shamans act under the influence of these forces, and each shaman's capacity varies according to the power of his tutelary spirits. The sorcerer (blower) no longer depends in his practice on the power of the spirits but on his own power, which he transmits to the sick person through his own breath or the blowing of tobacco smoke. Since the establishment in 1942 of an SPI agency among them, the Palikur have accepted Western treatment and medication.

Death and Afterlife. Formerly, there were both primary and secondary burials, the latter taking place in ceramic urns. According to Palikur tradition, people were buried facing east, with the exception of shamans, who were buried facing in the opposite direction to stop them from doing harm. A dead person's spirit was said to go to the upper world irrespective of his or her conduct on earth. Initially, however, the spirit remains in a kind of purgatory for the same amount of time as the person had spent on earth. After that it is free to enter into heaven. These, like the other beliefs previously mentioned, are being abandoned by the Palikur under the influence of Christian ideology.


Arnaud, Expedito (1984). Os indios palikúr tradição tribal e protestantismo. Belém: Publicações Avulsas do Museu Goeldi.

Brasil, Tratados (1899). Frontières entre le Brésil e la Guiana Française. Seconde mémoire. 6 vols. Bern: Staempfli.

Grenand, Pierre, and Françoise Grenand (n.d.). "A costa amapaense da foz do Amazonas à baía do Oiapoque através da tradição oral palikúr." Manaus: INPA. Typescript.

Nimuendajú, Curt (1926). Die Palikur-Indianer und ihre Nachbarn. Göteborgs Kungliga Vetenskapsoch Vitterhets-Samhälles Handlingar. Ijärde Följden 31 (2); 1-144. Gothenburg.

EXPEDITO ARNAUD (Translated by Ruth Gubler)