Kaxinawa Indians

The Kaxinawa Indians “migrated” from Peru, date unknown. Contacts before 1948 were made but these groups were in semi-permanent villages and were still returning to Peru. Known to themselves as the Huni Kuin (true people), the Kaxinawa tribe straddles a territory between Brazil and Peru in a lush tropical rainforest. The Brazilian territory is known as the State of the Acre, which is found in the valleys of the Purus and Jurua rivers. In Peru, they are found along the river Curanja. The State of the Acre is land set aside to share between three other tribes, the Ashaninka, the Shanenawa, and the Madija. They are a people who place a high value on their extensive family structures while the shaman and the tribal leader share the guidance of the community. They are blessed with a rich diversity in material resources, with which they create an abundance of goods decorated with patterns that are sacred to their people.

Unlike many of the tribal cultures in the Amazon, the Kaxinawa never relegated the respect and authority granted to the shaman despite pressures from external forces. Four primary rituals and dances are kept sacred to the tribe. The Katxa Nawa is a celebration of harvest and an encouragement of fertility, the Txirin is a ceremony of the royal Hawk, the Nixi Pae which is a special brew that is often called ayahuasca, and the Nixpu Pima which is a baptism. The shamans also keep alive the knowledge of the magical and healing properties of the local flora. To these people, the shaman helps maintain the connection with the spiritual realm to protect his people from harm that originates there. He keeps them healthy and safe.

Gender differences are very strong with the Kaxinawa. Men and women have very clearly delineated tasks and the training to support this begins very early on. Other divisions occur with regard to activity level. The elderly and the young are often grouped together because they cannot often take on more complex or challenging tasks.

This tribe has a long and bloody history of abuse from the outsides. During a time known as the ‘Rubber Era’ at the end of the 19th century, the entire tribe were used brutally in forced labor to produce rubber for the ‘Seringalistas’ or company owners. Even the young and strong did not survive. Only ten-out-of-sixty tribal groups in that region survived this bloody control, and of those that did, their populations diminished considerably.

Other causes of death included the ‘Correrias’ who were a group of 50-armed gunmen who randomly assaulted a native village, targeting the men and stealing the women to become their wives. Decimation also occurred from tuberculosis and measles, which had been previously unheard of for these people. In 1951 the Kaxinawa suffered a genocide that exterminated 75-80% of the group. During 1955 to 1968 there were only 400 to 500 persons left.

Finally, in the 1970s, the people began to break free from the yoke of the rubber industry. Much of their culture by that time had begun to disintegrate, but they began to organize and demand access to the land that had been set aside for them along with the right to live in traditional ways. As a result, they are able to continue to hunt, practice their traditions of agriculture, hunting and fishing, while their women weave cotton into patterns they find sacred (called Kene) and create beautiful ceramic pieces.

Additional Information

International – Amazon Indians Ask ‘Biopirates’ to Pay for … – … INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: Kaxinawa Indians like Valdir Ferreira (l.) want fair compensation for sharing their plant lore with foreign companies.
Amazon dwellers tap a demand – … Hundreds of tappers, Kaxinawa Indians and other Amazon dwellers make organic leather, mostly for Hermes’ high-end accessories such as purses, wallets and bags …
Vocabulário caxinaua (Kaxinawa/Kaxináwa/Kashinawa/Cashinawa/Kashinahua/etc.)
Amanaka’a Amazon Network Home – Environmental Education and Indigenous Rights
Governo do Estado do Acre
Brasil Community Forestry Profile
International – Amazon Indians Ask ‘Biopirates’ to Pay for Rain
Huni Kuin & Kaxinawa webpage
Natureza Divina
Kaxinawa – Kosmix Topic Page – Medical Information for Kaxinawa

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