views updated Jun 27 2018


ETHNONYMS: Drio, Tarëno, Tirío, Tiriyo, Tiriyó, Tïrïyo


Identification. The self-name is "Tïrïyo" for the more easterly groups and "Tarëno" for the westerly groups. "Trio," the name by which these people are generally known in Suriname and French Guiana, is almost certainly a Bush Negro distortion of "Tïrïyo." In Brazil the group is generally known as "Tiriyó." Today the name covers previously distinguished groups, such as the Pianokoto, Okomoyana, Pirëuyana, Arimiyana, Aramayana, Aramiso, and Maraso.

Location. The Tiro live on both sides of the Suriname-Brazilian frontier.

Demography. First estimates, from the early twentieth century, put the number of Trio at between 800 and 1,000. Figures for the middle of the century range upward from around 600. At that time the Trio had experienced a severe decline in their numbers, mainly as a result of imported diseases against which they had little natural resistance. Following the introduction of Western medical care in the 1960s, the population increased rapidly, and today there are about 1,200 Indiansapproximately 400 in Brazil and 800 in Suriname.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Trio language belongs to the East-West Guiana Subdivision of the Northern Carib Family.

History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological evidence indicates that this region was inhabited over many centuries, but it seems likely that the modern population is mainly descended from various groups who took refuge in this watershed region from the seventeenth century onward. Their neighbors to the east, south, and west are other groups of mainly Carib-speaking Indians with whom the Trio intermarried, traded, and raided. To the north, from about the eighteenth century onward, contact was almost exclusively with the Bush Negroes, or Maroons, who inhabited the middle reaches of the Suriname River. This contact was of crucial importance to the Trio since trade with the Bush Negroes provided them with highly valued manufactured goods, above all metal-cutting tools. Although references to the Trio and various subgroups appear from the seventeenth century and contact was probable, the first recorded encounter was by Robert Schomburgk in 1843. Other contacts with the Trio during the nineteenth century were few, and it is not until the beginning of the twentieth century, with an increase in the number of expeditions into the region from both the Brazilian and Suriname sides, that the Trio received more frequent mention in the literature.

Until the late 1950s contact remained sporadic because there was no permanent White settlement in the region. Then, almost simultaneously on both sides of the frontier, airstrips were cut and permanently manned by a few non-Indians. From the Trio point of view the most important event that took place at that time was the arrival of two missionary organizations, a Franciscan mission in Brazil and a U.S. Protestant group in Suriname. The policies pursued by these two groups are very different. There is also a difference in civil status afforded to the Indians by the respective nations. In Suriname the Indian is a full citizen of the country with the right to vote and to pensions and welfare benefits, but the Indian's right to land is not guaranteed since all land is owned by the state. In Brazil the Indian is still a minor, but at the moment the Trio live in a park in which their right to land is guaranteed. In describing Trio culture, however, it is necessary to bear in mind that many features of their society and culture have been transformed since the the late 1950s by external influences. The word "traditional" as used in the following description refers to the period prior to then.


The Trio traditionally lived in small, autonomous settlements, averaging about thirty inhabitants and rarely exceeding fifty for very long. Villages were distributed about a day's walk apart, and the closest ties were with neighboring villages. Migration between villages was common; villages themselves rarely lasted for more than seven years before being abandoned, at which time a new settlement was constructed, often in the vicinity of the old one. There were many reasons for the abandonment of villages, including the death of its leader, its general decay, or the exhaustion of agricultural land and other resources in the locality. There were several different styles of housing, but all were wood framed with palm-leaf thatch. Villages were composed of a number of nuclear- or extended-family houses, but there is some disagreement over whether the Trio ever had men's houses. The missionaries on both sides of the frontier did much to change this traditional settlement pattern. They persuaded the Indians to settle in large villages (two in Suriname and one in Brazil) close to the mission stations. These settlements became commercial, medical, religious, and educational centers many times larger than the traditional villages. By the 1980s the Trio were facing subsistence problems, and a move back to the traditional dispersed pattern was detectable, although links were maintained with the missionary centers. Houses have mainly kept their traditional construction, but zinc roofs have gained some popularity.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Trio are slash-and burn cultivators, hunters, and gatherers. The staple crop is bitter cassava, which is used for making a range of dietary products. Supplementary crops include sweet potatoes, eddoes (aroid plants with edible farinaceous roots, such as taro of yautia), yams, maize, bananas, pineapples, sugarcane, tobacco, and various medicinal plants. In Suriname agricultural practices have remained relatively unaffected, but in Brazil change has resulted from mechanization and the introduction of new crops, such as rice. Hunting was traditionally with bow and arrow, but now firearms are generally used. Dogs remain an important hunting aid. The most highly prized game are peccaries, tapir, and howler and spider monkeys, although the more common catches tend to be agoutis, labbas (pacas), armadillos, and other small animals. There are few animals and birds other than carnivores, carrion eaters, and snakes that are regarded as inedible. The importance of fishing varies, depending on the size of the rivers in the vicinity. Fish are caught using the bow and harpoon, hook and line, traps, and, in the dry season, fish poisons. A very wide range of natural products is collected as required or when available. These include honey, wild fruits, and raw materials for all types of objects and uses: basketwork, pots, houses, bows, canoes, medicines, and poisons. Traditional commercial activities were limited to trading, but in the second half of the twentieth century there have been periods in Suriname when wage labor for government and other agencies, either in Trio territory or elsewhere, has been available. In Brazil a system of paid agricultural work has been introduced. Most Trio are now familiar with the use of money, and they are increasingly in need of a regular cash income in order to obtain supplies of shotgun cartridges, electric batteries, and fuel for outboard motors.

Industrial Arts. Traditional crafts included pottery, basketwork, and woodwork. The first of these has declined as pottery items have been replaced by metal objects, but the other two continue to form an important part of Trio technology and material culture. There is some production of traditional items such as bows, arrows, baskets, and combs for trade.

Trade. The traditional Indian trade items consisted of hunting dogs, basketwork, arrow cane, and cassava graters. There is evidence to suggest that the Trio were involved in very extensive trade networks. From the seventeenth century and perhaps earlier the introduction of Western manufactured goods greatly increased the importance of trade. The Bush Negroes became the Trio's main supplier of these objects, and formai trading partnerships were formed between individuals of both groups. The trade with the Bush Negroes has now virtually ceased as a result of permanent White settlement in the region.

Division of Labor. Work is apportioned almost entirely along gender lines. Men hunt and do most of the fishing. Their participation in agriculture involves clearing the forest and helping with the planting. The women are responsible for the maintenance of the gardens, the harvesting, all food preparation, and child care. The men build and thatch houses, weave all the basketwork (much of it for use by women in the preparation of food), and make their own tools, weapons, and canoesthe last being one of the few activities that require cooperative labor. Men also work with silk-grass fiber, from which they make bowstrings and one of two sorts of hammocks. The processing of cotton, from which the other type of hammock is made, is a very important female activity. Women are also the potters. In Suriname access to wage labor, almost entirely limited to men, has done little to disturb this traditional pattern. In Brazil mechanization has resulted in men playing a far larger part in agriculture.

Land Tenure. The Trio do not have a notion of land ownership, nor is there a strong sense of territoriality. A man who cuts a field has the right to the land, but once he has abandoned it and it has reverted to forest, he has no further claim on it. Settlements are too widely dispersed for there to be competing claims between villages for natural resources and for hunting.


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is cognatic and there are no formal kin groupings. The settlement is ideally composed of an endogamous bilateral kindred, although in practice it often has a matrilateral slant. The membership of such groups fluctuates, and they lack any enduring corporate nature. The large settlements, which are the result of missionary activity, tend to be divided into units reflecting the traditional residence pattern.

Kinship Terminology. Kin terms are of the Dravidian type.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The relationship terminology prescribes marriage for a man with a woman from the category that includes his bilateral cross cousin and elder sister's daughter. There is also a strong preference for settlement endogamy, although, given the size of settlements, this is not often achievable. The alternative is usually uxorilocal residence, but in the absence of a definite rule, this is negotiable. Polygyny, practiced before the missionaries stopped it, was never common. There is no traditional wedding ceremony and, in premissionary days, divorce was easy and frequent.

Inheritance. There are no rules of inheritance. Possessions are destroyed or buried with the deceased, although exceptions are made in the case of valuable such as manufactured goods that cannot be easily replaced. A traditional exception was the shaman's rattle, for which a new owner, usually a son, was essential in order to pacify the late shaman's familiars.

Socialization. Boys and girls have different upbringings. The former are allowed considerable freedom to roam and play with age mates, although many such activities are undoubtedly preparation for later life. It is only toward adolescence that a boy will begin to hunt seriously under the tutelage of a grown man, usually his father. Girls are kept close to home and from an early age are expected to undertake household chores. There is little formal disciplining of children, although the occasional punishment may be severe. Today both sexes attend school, and most children know how to read and write in their own language and do simple arithmetic.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. There are no formal groupings in Trio society; the main social distinctions are based on kinship, affinity, age, sex, and residence. In general, increasing old age confers respect, and this status is often bolstered by the influence that a man or woman can exert on his or her daughters' husbands. The relationship between the sexes is relatively egalitarian, although men tend to be overtly dominant whereas women exercise a more subtle control. The roles of men and women are complementary; together they form a self-sufficient productive and reproductive unit. In a similar way, the settlement, which is the main center of social interaction, is seen as economically and socially self-sufficient.

Political Organization. The Trio had no overarching political system; each traditional settlement was an autonomous unit. The village leader had no authority outside his settlement and relatively little within it. What authority he possessed rested on his personal qualities and ability to persuade others to do his bidding. His success in doing this was evident in the size of his village: the biggest check on a leader's undue exertion of his will was the ease with which people could migrate. The Suriname government appoints chiefs, but these receive little respect, unlike the missionary-selected church elders, who exercise more than traditional authority.

Social Control. The Trio lack tolerance for conflict, and the tendency is always to move in order to avoid confrontation. The village leader and the shaman, who may be the same person but are not necessarily so, have important roles to play in settlement disputes. There was a traditional idea that the actions of individuals affect the well-being of those closely related, and that certain actions bring supernatural retribution. Missionary teaching has reinforced these ideas in a Christian idiom.

Conflict. There is a strong ideal of harmonious relations, which are maintained by the fact that settlements cannot contain conflict, either physical or supernatural. If either arises, the settlement will automatically fission. Conflict, usually in the form of accusations of sorcery, is deflected to the outside. Trio traditions speak of past wars and raiding, but within this century these seem to have been on a small scale. Cases of physical violence are rare.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Traditional beliefs centered on the existence of an invisible world, a counterpart to this world. It was in that world that the causes and reasons of the happenings in the mundane world of the ordinary senses were to be found. The counterpart world was inhabited by innumerable spirits, although only a limited number of these were regarded as being influential in human affairs. Spirits were traditionally regarded as being ambivalentneither good nor bad. The missionaries have taught the Indians that all their traditional spirits are bad.

Religious Practitioners. The shaman, almost invariably a man, was responsible for mediating between this world and the invisible world. The most important qualification for the shaman was his ability to "see." The shaman's duty was to deal with misfortune, sickness, and death. He was aided by spirit helpers, and he traveled to different layers of the cosmos. The shaman's power was suspect, since it was appreciated that the power to cure was also the power to kill. There are no practicing shamans among the Trio today.

Ceremonies. The Trio performed various life-cycle and seasonal ceremonies. The former included the couvade at childbirth; initiation rites, which were more marked for girls than for boys; and funeral rites. The seasonal ceremonies were related to the hunting and agricultural year and often entailed the attendance of visitors from neighboring villages. These events involved the consumption of huge quantities of cassava beer. The ceremonies have mainly fallen into abeyance except that Christmas festivities are still characterized by certain traditional practices.

Arts. Dancing, music, and chanting were important parts of ritual life, but missionaries banned the first two and replaced the last with hymn singing. Body painting, featherwork, the decoration of basketwork, and other ornamentations are all part of the Trio artistic tradition.

Medicine. The Trio had numerous herbal and other remedies with which they treated minor ailments. Serious ailments were thought to be the result of soul loss, occasioned by malevolent spirits or people, and treatment by a shaman was required. The missionaries now provide excellent medical care, but the old ideas have not disappeared.

Death and Afterlife. Death, like sicknessof which it was a more severe casewas not regarded as a natural event but as the result of spirit or human action. A death usually involved retaliation by revenge cursing. The corpse was normally buried in the floor of the house, which was then abandoned. The soul of the deceased traveled to the soul reservoir at the eastern horizon. The missionaries have dissuaded the Indians from interring corpses in the house and have taught them that the souls of the good join God in the sky and those of the wicked burn in hell.


Frikel, Protasio (1973). Os tiriyó: Seu sistema adaptivo. Hanover: Kommissionsverlag Münstermann-Druck.

Koelewijn, Cees, with Peter Rivière (1987). Oral Literature of the Trio Indians of Surinam. Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Landen Volkenkunde, Caribbean Series 6. Dordrecht and Providence, R.I.: Foris Publications.

Rivière, Peter (1969). Marriage among the Trio. Oxford: Clarendon Press.



views updated Jun 08 2018

trio (It.). Three.
1. Any body of 3 performers together, or piece of mus. written for them to perform, e.g. string trio, usually vn., va., vc., piano trio, usually pf., vn., vc. The comp. called a trio is usually in sonata form and in 3 movts.

2. The central section of a minuet, scherzo, or march, usually in gentler contrast to the first section and its repeat. So called because formerly it was written in 3-part harmony, as for a trio.

3. A vocal trio may be acc. or unacc. In the 16th cent. the minor-key sections of the mass were often written for 3 vv.; there were also 3-part canzonets. In opera, the simultaneous combination of 3 vv. is a trio, a famous example being that for 3 sop. in Act 3 of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, but there are of course many examples of trios for 3 different types of v.

4. For the org. a trio is intended for manuals and the pedals, each in a different registration for contrast (and, of course, played by one performer).


views updated May 18 2018

tri·o / ˈtrē-ō/ • n. (pl. -os) a set or group of three people or things: the hotel was run by a trio of brothers. ∎  a group of three musicians: a jazz trio. ∎  a composition written for three musicians: Chopin's G minor Trio. ∎  the central, typically contrastive, section of a minuet, scherzo, or march. ∎  (in piquet) a set of three aces, kings, queens, jacks, or tens held in one hand.


views updated May 21 2018

Trio ★★★ 1950

Sequel to “Quartet,” featuring the W. Somerset Maugham stories “The Verger,” “Mr. Knowall,” and “Sanatorium Acclaimed.” 88m/B VHS . Jean Simmons, Michael Rennie, Bill Travers, James Hayter, Kathleen Harrison, Felix Aylmer, Nigel Patrick, Finlay Currie, John Laurie; D: Ken Annakin, Harold French; C: Geoffrey Unsworth, Reg Wyer.


views updated May 17 2018

trio composition for three voices or instruments. XVIII. — It. (partly through F.), f. L. trēs, tria THREE.


views updated Jun 08 2018


a musical composition for three performers; a group or set of three.

Examples : trio of charming cousins, 1904; of walruses, 1856.