Karaja Indians

The Karaja people, also known as the Iny, are a tribe of people indigenous to the Brazilian Amazon jungle. The Karaja people reside in an area of central Brazil contained by the Araguaia River valley. The river is a sprawling watercourse, with many tributaries. It is rich in natural biodiversity. The Karaja live on the Araguaia Reservation, which takes up four thousand acres and is inhabited by an indigenous population of around three thousand people. The population of the Karaja people declined significantly over the course of the twentieth century, from over forty thousand to just over three thousand in 2010. In the 1980s and 1990s a community leader of the Karaja people, Idjarruri Karaja, campaigned for the tribe to receive better land rights, as well as more access to education and employment opportunities. The tribe received access to electricity and telecommunications in the early nineties. Like most Indian tribes of the region, they struggle to balance their traditional ways of life with modern challenges, and the increasing globalization of Brazilian society.

The Karaja people speak a language also known as KarajÁ, which belongs to the non-classified linguistic group known as the Marco-Je, which also includes the Javae and the Xambioa tribes. The speech of the Karaja people contains distinct male and female forms, which are distinguished by an absence or presence of the “k” sound, which is pronounced only by women.

Although the Karaja people are among the poorest tribes in Brazil, they are self-sufficient. The livelihood of the tribe revolves around agriculture and craft. The Karaja people cultivate a wide range of crops, including bananas, beans, maize, and yams. Fishing and hunting are also important sources of food. The men of the Karaja tribe govern, using group decision-making practices to negotiate with outside groups, such as Non Government Organizations.

Artistic endeavors and creativity are highly valued by the Karaja tribe. They primarily produce ceramic dolls for export, although they also create animal figures, masks, and intricate feathered caps. The special dolls and animal figures have been considered notable since the Karaja were first chronicled by Westerners. In the past the creation of the dolls and animal figures was traditionally considered women’s work. The figures were originally created to be children’s toys, and cultural learning toys. They help children to learn about everyday life in the community, and they also portray animals and fish from the region. Some of the sculptures that the Karaka create also portray creatures from their mythology. One of the most famous figures that the Karaja create are their sets of female and male dolls. The female figures are very revealing of the Karaja’s notions of ideal feminine beauty, with heavy thighs and voluptuous lower bodies.

The Karaja also employ body painting as an art form. The paints that the Karaja use are made from the juice of the genipap fruit, as well as charcoal and annatto dye. Both the women and the men of the tribe weave baskets, while women create ceramics. The Karaja also use tufts of feathers to decorate their crafts. During the dry season, the Karaja people host festivals.

Photos property of Hands Around the World

Karaja hunter with a dead jaguar in a canoe. Very unusual figure of a Karaja hunter with a dead jaguar in a canoe. 20″ long.


Karaja women figures average 8″ in height.


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Origin Myth – The Karaja ancestors, they say, once dwelt in an underworld until one day one of them climbed up a hole in the ground and out onto the surface of the earth, where his fellow tribesmen later followed and where they eventually settled. (from Robert L. Carneiro, American Museum of Natural History)

small lidded baskets The Karaja Indians are a very artistically talented tribe making ceramic dolls, masks, baskets, and beautiful feathered caps. These small lidded baskets are hand woven and trimmed with colorful feathers. Approximately 4 to 6″ in diameter.
combs These Karaja combs are hand woven of natural reeds and fibers. Each comb has a different beautiful pattern of weaving.

Additional Information

Brazil Fires Raging Toward Major Nature Park – … firefighting efforts, a spokesman in Brasilia said.
Karaja – SIL International
Brazil’s Indigenous People Resist Large River Modifications
Ethnologue report for language code: KPJ
Vocabulário carajá (Karaja/Karajá/Karayá/etc.)
De Karaja indianen
The Rankin Museum – photo

2 thoughts on “Karaja Indians”

  1. Years ago I saw a two headed ceramic animal in a museum in Rio and would like to know more about it. I have got a ceramic doll very similar to the ones in the pictures and wondered if the animal was from the same tribe.

  2. Hey, I’m looking for creation stories from around the world. Do you have some papers of Karaja’s creation stories?



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