The Kayapo Indians
Xikrin, Txhukahamai, Mebêngokrê, Auto Denomination: Mebêngôkre
|Homeland||Xingú Park, Mato Grosso, southern Pará (Map). The Kayapó live in villages dispersed along the upper course of the Iriri, Bacajá and Fresco rivers, as well as affluents of the voluminous Xingu river, outlining a territory almost as large as Austria in Central Brazil and almost entirely covered in equatorial rainforest, with the exception of the eastern section, filled by some areas of scrubland.|
|Population||9 villages. 7,096 (in 2003)|
|Language Root||Macro-Jê, Jê, Kayapó|
The Kayopo Indians reside on the plain lands of the Mato Grosso state of Brazil, in the southern portion of the Amazon basin. They live partially within the Xingu National Park, which was created to satisfy two objectives: the preserving of the fragile Amazon ecosystem and the protection of the indigenous peoples of the region.
The Kayopo people use a cash economy. They have retained much of their tribal identity while still retaining a good relationship with most of their Brazilian neighbors. However, the region that the Kayopo people inhabit counts mining and timber among its principal industries, and they have a history of protesting against loggers and miners who have commercialized the Amazon rainforest.
Most Kayapo settlements are along the upper reaches of the Iriri, BacajÁ and Fresco rivers, in an area dense with rainforest and some scattered areas of scrubland. The Kayapo rely heavily on the rivers for their livelihood, and their autonym (the word that the tribe uses to refer to itself) means “the men from the water hole.” “Kayapo” was given to the tribe by outsiders, and means “the men who look like monkeys.” This refers to a Kayapo ritual which utilizes monkey masks.
The Kayopo have a strong sense of their tribal identity. This is due in part to the way the Kayopo adhere to their artistic cultural expressions and traditional tribal rituals. Kayopo men traditionally wear a series of disks in their lower lip, which grow progressively larger as time goes on, gradually stretching the tissue. This and other body modification rituals are connected to the complex symbolism of body adornment present in their society. A plug in the lower lip signifies that the wearer is aggressive, and highly faction-prone groups in Kayapo society signal the fact that they value this assertiveness and aggressiveness by wearing a lip plug. Ear plugs likewise signify that the wearer is receptive to the opinions and input of others.
The Kayapo people have a nomadic lifestyle. They have adopted an agricultural practice known as shifting agriculture, where they clear and cultivate a small area of jungle until the soil is exhausted, before moving to another area. The men of the tribe clear patches of the jungle, while the women burn the residue. This practice is known as slash and burn, or swidden agriculture. Their main crop is the manioc plant, also known as cassava. Manioc contains poisonous toxins and must be prepared before it is eaten. The Kayapo mulch the fruit up and then squeeze the juices out.
Villages of the Kayapo people typically consist of a dozen or more huts, arranged around a central meeting area, which serves as a forum for men to discuss local issues. The Kayapo have participated in well-publicized environmental protests, including a protest against a proposed hydroelectric dam on the Xingu river. The Kayapo protested at a meeting, wearing traditional costume and carrying machetes. The protests lasted several days at the planned site of the dam and resulted in the plans being scrapped.
Kayapo Burden Basket
The Kayapo also weave baskets. They use large reed burden baskets to carry loads on their back. The baskets are decorated with simple patterns and tufts of feathers, but their intended use is utilitarian, so they are not created simply for artistic purposes. They feature a long woven strap.
|A Kayapo burden basket (Photo property of Hands Around the World.)|
Music of the Kayapo
Ethnologue report for Kayapo
The Overstory #34 – Forest Islands, Kayapo Example
The Kayapo – Out of the Forest
09/27/00 – Kayapo Hold Inspectors in Pará
The Kayapo Indians’ Struggle in Brazil” by Ava Y. Goodale
Brazil–Kayapo split over benefits of mining and logging
WORLDwrite: Brazil Exchange
Brazilian Music: The Music of Brazilian Indians
Smithsonian Institution – How a photographic assignment served as the catalyst in the Smithsonian’s acquisition of a collection of beautiful Brazilian Indian feather head-dresses.
The Rankin Museum
Tale of the Kayapo Feather Headdresses