Waimiri-Atroari Indians

The Waimiri-Atroari Indian tribe is indigenous to northern Brazil. Their territory lies in the states of Roraima and Amazonas, deep within the Amazon rainforest. Farming is their main means of subsistence.

The tribe made contact with the outside world for the first time in 1732; at that point in history, Waimiri-Atroari territory was the most feared by the Europeans in the area seeking spices for export. This was due to the warlike nature of the inhabitants. For over 300 years they survived in a state of war with the government, and only fairly recently, in 1977, did they finally surrender to the government and its pacification efforts. The surrender was effected during the construction of the Pan American Highway which extends from Alaska to the southern portion of South America. The construction of the Balbina dam hydroelectric project was another reason for the tribe’s pacification by the government. Both of these governmental developments occupy Waimiri-Atroari territory.

When the Waimiri-Atroari surrendered in 1977, the tribe’s population numbered 3000 members. In the most recent count, which took place in 2001, their numbers had dwindled to a mere 931. Along with the pacification efforts, a part of the reason for the decrease is attributed to the death of a Catholic priest and seven nuns which took place on the tribe’s land in 1968. A large but unknown number of Waimiri-Atroari were killed in reprisal for those deaths.

The Balbina Dam that required Waimiri-Atroari’s pacification by the government also resulted in 250,000 hectares of their lands being flooded. In the effort to secure compensation for the lost land, the tribe embarked on a major legal effort in 1992.

In 1999, the government instituted Programa Atroari, which is considered an example of how problems with indigenous tribes should be handled in the Amazon basin. The program includes such efforts as demarcation of the tribe’s territory, education for its members along with various healthcare measures. The healthcare services provided by the government dealt with the epidemics of measles, malaria and influenza. Programa Atroari has also rescued the tribe’s cultural practices from extinction. The recent population estimate of 931 actually represents an increase as prior to Programa Atroari, the number of Waimiri-Atroari had declined to 374. The program has increased literacy to almost 64 percent with the rest of the tribe in the process of being educated.

Among the books that serve as a resource on the Waimiri-Atroari Indians is the Ethnobotany of the Waimiri-Atroari Indians of Brazil. The book was written by W Millen, RP Miller, SR Pollard and EV Wandelli and published by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, in 1992. The book charts the destruction of the Brazilian forests and the fact that indigenous people are being absorbed into modern society. The Ethnobotany of the Waimiri-Atroari Indians of Brazil also points out that both of these factors have resulted in lost knowledge regarding traditional plants and their uses. The book lists the various plants found in the territory of the Waimiri-Atroari Indians and their terms for those plants as well as how they are used. The introduction to the book covers the history of the Waimiri-Atroari tribe.

Waimair-Atroari Backpacks

The Waimiri-Atroari are also known for weaving baskets and backpacks from aruma fiber. These craft items are typically woven with geometric patterns and are used to carry agricultural produce, a hunter’s or fisherman’s catch or other heavy items.

Back pack Back pack
Back pack Back pack

Additional Information

Waimiri-Atroari – web page
Waimiri-Atroari – search for “waimiri” to get an index of articles
Waimiri-Atroari – fight Paranapanema for their rights
Adote Um Povo Waimiri-Atroari Perfil
Governo do Estado do Acre
Government Agrees with Waimiri-Atroari Indians to Pave Road
The Rankin Museum – photos
Ethnobotany of the Waimiri Atroari Indians of Brazil. by W. Milliken, R.P. Miller, S.R. Pollard & E.V. Wandelli. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens, 1992. ix + 146 pp. Four colour plates, and other illustrations. Soft Cover. ISBN 0 947643 50 8

Tucano (Tukano) Indians

Father of a group of various sub-nations that live in the upper Rio Negro area called Tucano (Tukano). This group’s culture is a virtual melting pot. It is common practice for the men to take wives from other groups. The mother will remain with her native language and children will learn as many as five languages living in a mixed community. The Tucano have been affected severely by their exposure to the national society. They are very involved in their self-determination, defense of their territory, and autonomy.

Ceramic design has developed into a precise visual language with which to communicate cultural ideas and values. They have two distinct categories of design. One is predominately abstract geometrical pattern, lines, dots, parallel lines, circles, circle spirals, triangles, and diamond shapes. There are also figurative motifs of frogs, birds, lizards, bats, fishes, and snakes, often repeated. At times they combine these designs together, producing a distinctive art which is both sophisticated and meaningful.

As a group, the Tucano Indians are known for their strength as they have been threatened time and time again by outsiders who wish to assimilate them into larger society. With only 5,500 Tucanos living in Brazil (and parts of Colombia), the tribe has done its best to remain vigilante about maintaining the self-determination and autonomy required when it comes to defending their own land and culture. Despite this heroic stance, the Tucanos are frequently subject to violent attacks and have been weakened at times by new strains of diseases, such as malaria, which have hurt them.

Transportation is also difficult for this tribe as rain regularly frequents the area and floods nearby rivers in both the summer and winter months. Still, waterways are the best mode of transportation as the rest of the terrain is marked by rolling hills and steep uplands. If those conditions were not difficult enough, any pathways to move transport by foot is typically covered in overgrown forest growth coming from the surrounding tropical forests.

Though the Tucanos have their own language, different dialects are used for different purposes. Two familiar dialects are Yohoraa and Wasona – both of which can also be used as a second language when it comes to doing business with other tribes.

Fishing stands out as the number one male activity when it comes to both hobby and nourishment. Fish is a major source of protein for the tribe and typically males use a variety of techniques ranging from arrows to even poison as a means of catching a substantial number of fish. Women also have a large part in creating their own food by means of agriculture. Vast acres of land are cleared every year for the planting of various crops that are aimed as a supplement to the main meal. Bitter manioc, also known as cassava, is the most important crop and is known to be a dietary staple for the tribe. More well-known crops such as squash, melons and yams are also grown and prepared for everyday feasts.

Additional Information

Tucano – Culture summary from the Ethnographic Atlas.
Ayahuasca Tales
Vocabulário tucano
Macro Tucano
Museum of Natural History – Tucano introduction

Ticuna Indians

The Ticuna, also spelled Tukuna or Tikuna, reside in the Brazilian Amazon rain forest near the borders of Peru, Brazil and Colombia along the Rio Santo Antonio do Ica and Rio Solimones. The Ticuna were one of the first major tribes of the Amazon to be contacted by the early conquistadors. Even with over 400 years of contact, the Ticuna Nation has managed to preserve their personal identity through their native language, traditional religions, rituals, and cultural art forms. They have survived the constant threat of violent extermination and forced integration policies by Western society.

There are over 70 established Ticuna aldeias (villages) in the Alto Solimones. With a population of over 36,000 within the Brazilian Amazon, an additional 6,000 in Colombia and another 7,000 in Peru, the Ticuna are the most numerous tribes in the general area. They’re also one of the last remaining large population groups of indigenous people in Brazil. Much of the Ticuna population resides along a 600 mile stretch of Amazon. There are currently 70 established villages, known as “aldeias” in the Tikuna tongue, in the area along the Santo Antonio do Ica and Solimones. Within these villages, most Ticuna live in malocas, large hut-like dwellings that offer a mythological significance among the indigenous people.

Like many other indigenous peoples, the Ticuna have suffered their fair share of violence and displacement in recent times. Constant encroachment of their lands by loggers, rubber-tappers and fishermen has resulted in a number of violent conflicts, including the infamous Helmet Massacre of 1988. Four people died and an additional nineteen were wounded; ten other Ticuna disappeared, their whereabouts unknown to this day. In response to these atrocities and to protect the Ticuna indigenous population, Brazil formally recognize their right to their lands in the early 1990s. Forced integration into Brazilian society has also taken a toll on the Ticuna population.

The Ticuna are an extraordinarily artistic people with a rich cultural history. The indigenous group is also one of the few Amazon tribes that paint just for the sake of painting, as opposed to using paint as decoration on utilitarian objects. This particular trait allows the Ticuna to create a vast spectrum of artistic crafts for genuine enjoyment. Alongside traditional rituals, these crafts are also used to mark important milestones in one’s life. Much of their artistic output consists of wood and stone sculptures, basketry and mask making. The Ticuna are also adept at making bark cloth, a natural, paper-like fiber fabric that is often used as a canvas or paper for painted materials.

Ceremonial Masks and Costumes

A very traditional and artistic tribe, the Ticuna have a very rich culture using ceremony and ritual to commemorate many facets of their life. They are known for the traditional masks and costumes they use in these ceremonies.

When a Ticuna dies he is buried in a canoe that has a top carved for it. With this canoe he will cross the river of death. Within the canoe are put things he will need in the afterlife. During the funeral there is a ceremony in which the members of the tribe dance with masks that are carved to represent all the birds and animals that the deceased will want to hunt in the next life. This ritual is designed to make certain that these kinds of game will be plentiful for him. The mask is made of hand carved wood on pounded bark cloth. Both the wood and the bark cloth are decorated with natural vegetable paints. Typically the bark cloth goes over the top of the head and the carving rests on the forehead allowing the dancer to see through the porous cloth or sometimes he sees through the mouth or eyes of the carving.

Full size Ticuna Funeral Masks  – bark cloth 13 to 17 inches long:

Alligator mask Jaguar mask
Alligator mask Jaguar mask
mask mask
Alligator and Jaguar mask
mask mask
mask mask

The full body mask below is made of pounded bark cloth, beeswax faces, fibers and vegetable dyes by the Ticuna Indians. Traditionally, when a young girl reaches puberty she is placed in a hut by herself where she stays two or three years with only her mother being allowed to visit. At the end of this period the father throws a huge party. The girl is given a drink that makes her slightly drunk or numb and the father pulls all of the hair out of her head one strand at a time. It is said that if she can bear this, she can stand the pain of childbirth. Afterwards there is much dancing and celebration. The men wear the suits with the large penis’. These represent the monkey figure. This full body mask is also used in the young girls puberty ceremony. It does not have the penis and represents the Mother of the Wind figure. Most Ticuna today no longer do the forced time alone or the pulling of the hair, but continue with other rituals including dancing with the masks.

mask mask
genuine ritual mask mask face

Ceremonial Rattles

The Ticuna are also well known for creating elaborate ceremonial rattles which also used in various rituals. These rattles are created by relatively simple means – villagers simply wrap a collection of nut hulls onto a stick, creating the desired sound effect. Nevertheless, each ceremonial rattle there is a unique design, much of which also holds a great deal of religious significance.

Ticuna Ceremonial Rattles Ticuna Ceremonial Rattles are hand made with nut hulls on a stick decorated with burned-on designs.


whistles These whistles are made from small gourds on a bamboo stick and decorated with weaving and colorful feathers. They are played by blowing down as into a coke bottle. Approx. 9″ tall.


Ticuna Dolls

They make bark cloth which is a natural fiber, paper-like fabric which they often paint. This fabric is often incorporated into many things such as the below dolls as well as painting on it as on canvas or paper. They are one of the few Amazon tribes that paint just for the worth of the painting itself as opposed to painting as decoration on a utilitarian object.

ticuna doll ticuna doll

All Photos Copyright Hands Around the World

stone animal Intricately hand carved stone caiman or alligator encircled by a snake.
stone figure Covered Ticuna basket, 14″ x 13″
ticuna sculpture Ticuna sculpture

Additional Information

Ticuna Indians – from The Catholic Encyclopedia
Ticuna vocabulary
The Wire – July 2001 Ticuna – Amnesty International
Instituto Pólis – Projeto Educação Ticuna
Language Museum – Ticuna
Arte indígena ticuna
Photo Ticuna children

Tenharim Indians

The Tenharim Indians are a tribe of Indians who live in Amazonas in Brazil. They reside near the mid Madeira River and live in homes that are handcrafted from bark and palm leaves. The Tenharim are a proud people who work hard to provide for their families. They live off the land by producing crops, hunting, fishing, and gathering.

The Tenharim are known as “Boca-Negra” or “Black Mouth” due to their corporal painting designs. They were first encountered due to the TransAmazonica highway. Master “Plummets” in their ability to combine color and textures with small feathers. Small bamboo tubes are made for “Indian Paco Robbanne” – small flowers dried and crushed into a fine powder and sprinkled on the body after a bath in the river. This give the smell of the original flower, a type of ecological perfume.

The Tenharim Indian society is one that is based on a patrilineal system. This means that each person is said to belong to their father’s side and can only marry on the other side. In some instances, this rule is changed, but very rarely, and normally only when the groom lives far away from the bride.

When a bride and groom marry, the groom owes his father-in-law for a certain period of time. The groom must work for the father-in-law, to work off a debt owed for his bride. The period of work varies on the prestige of both of the men. Those that are higher in prestige can demand longer working relationships and can even make them permanent.

The gender roles in the Tenharim society are very much like the traditional roles in other tribal societies. Men are responsible for hunting, fishing, making bows and arrows, and clearing the land. They also help in times of harvest and sometimes work outside of the village.

Women are responsible for caring for the children and taking care of the crops. They process and cook all foods and make crafts that are used for ceremonies, gifts, and for trade and sale. Planting begins in the dry season, normally around the month of June. During this time, the land is cleared and the crops are sown.

The Tenharim Indians grow a variety of crops, but like many Indian tribes in the Amazon area, they rely heavily on their crops of manioc. Manioc provides them with a way to make bread, teas, and even a beer. It is used in almost every meal and every day.

The Tenharim people are able to create stunning headdresses that are very popular amongst tribal members and are also sold to travelers throughout the area and to other villages. The art used in the creation of these intricate headdresses shows the true skill that the Tenharim people hold. They are able to create stunning plummets of dyed feathers that are true works of art.

They also create bows and arrows, necklaces, bracelets, and rings. These items are used for trade, barter with other villages, and are sometimes taken into other towns to be sold to travelers. This helps the people to raise funds for purchasing items that they cannot grow or create themselves.

The Tenharim people are truly a people who work to live off the land and respect its beauty. Through slash and burn agriculture, they grow their crops and make sure to replenish what they take from the land and from the forest. They are a people who believe in respect and great tradition, and value their families

Additional Information

Tenharim – SIL International
Ethnologue report for language code: PAH

Paumari Indians

The Paumari are an indigenous people with ties to the Rio Purus in the southwestern quadrant of Amazonas state in Brazil. Formally known as the Pamoari, the “Paumari” name is derived from a denomination used for communication with whites and other indigenous peoples. “Pamoari” can be translated into several meanings, including “man,” “human being” and “client,” reflecting the Paumari penchant for trading with regional merchants. The Paumari have also been known as the Purupuru, or “painted” people. This is largely due to a common disease among the Paumari that causes cutaneous spots to develop along the extremities.

The Paumari indigenous people are descended from a subgroup of ancient Purupuru, once occupying a region spanning from the mouth of the Rio Purus to the Rio Ituxi. Prior to contact with explorers starting in 1845, not much is known about the Paumari. Early observations made by various scientists of the era described a society that was highly reliant on fishing for sustenance, with only occasional agriculture as a supplemental measure. While the Paumari resided in straw huts during the dry season, the indigenous people took to rafts anchored in the middle of various lakes created during the rainy season. These rafts carry their huts, in which one to two families reside. At the time, the Paumari did not wear clothes, choosing to wear body paint instead.

In contrast to other indigenous peoples who were grievously affected by the conflicts surrounding the rubber booms of Brazil, the Paumari survived relatively unscathed. It is thought that their mobility as fishermen helped the indigenous Paumari survive without experiencing any armed conflicts during these periods. Other indigenous peoples suffered enslavement, death, displacement and loss of their settlements and lands during this tumultuous period. Today, the Paumari face challenges in the form of deforestation, disease and the intrusion of outside elements onto their lands and culture. The Urucu and Jurua gas fields pose a considerable threat to the Paumari way of life.

Like the majority of ethnic groups within Brazil, the Paumari commonly use Portuguese in their communications. However, they also use an indigenous language that is also known as “Pamoari.” A member of the ArawÁ family of indigenous languages, Pamoari is often used interchangeably with Portuguese among the indigenous group, resulting in a unique sort of linguistic “Creole” that excludes the syntax of both languages while retaining common vocabulary. Due to the development of this Creole variant, there are legitimate concerns that language may be on its way to becoming endangered.

Today, the Paumari number over 870 according to statistics gathered in 2000. The majority of this number are scattered throughout the Rio Purus region, quietly practicing their roles as fishermen along the vast river network. The sustainability of the indigenous group remains a concern with many non-profit organizations devoted to the preservation of indigenous tribes throughout Brazil and Latin America. As the push for modernization across the Amazon continues, much work has to be done to prevent the encroachment of outside cultures from negatively impacting the Paumari and other groups throughout the Rio Purus and beyond

Additional Information

Paumari Indians – basic data
Paumari vocabulary
Vocabulário paumari (Paumari/Paumarí)
PAUMARÍ: a language of Brazil

Matis Indians

Early explorers confused the Matis as belonging to the Mayoruna or Marubo. There is little chance that the Matis had avoided earlier contact. The Matis originate from the Amazon rainforest in the region of the Javari Valley, which is found along the border of Peru near Brazil. These tribal people are striking in appearance, utilizing facial tattoos, piercings, and painting to take on aspects of creatures they admire. They have been known as the ‘Jaguar People’ to many, though this is somewhat a misconception about their facial decor. They are primarily a hunter-gatherer society and have a rich and beautiful spiritual world. They are extremely knowledgeable about the local plantlife and use it to great effect in their daily lives.

The Matis are masters of curare. Of the Amazon groups that use it, each have their own magical method for making this venom. Curare arrived in the Old World on the tongues of a thousand legends and tales. First known as “Wourali”, it was brought to Queen Elizabeth by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584. It was Charles Waterton (1782-1865) who introduced curare to our medical world. Today the synthetic is used on a daily basis as an anesthesia around the world. It is one of the greatest contributions and gifts given by the Amazon Indians.


Within the last few generations, the Matis have undergone a spiritual crisis resulting from the devastation that contact with the outside world has wrought to their health and way of life. Initially, many Matis blamed their spiritual beliefs on the harm that had visited them and rejected traditional rituals and shamanic teachings. More recently, they have begun to return to these customs and embrace them as heartily as they did in the past.

These customs include a number of vibrant and playful rituals that are usually performed in the central longhouse and often include altering their physical appearance to take on the guise of various animals. In one ritual, ‘Mapwa tanek’ or capybara ritual, the young men will paint their bodies in wet clay and mimic the sounds and behavior of the large rodents. In another ritual, the ‘txawa tanek, ‘ they adorn themselves in bright red annatto juice and engage in a boisterous line dance imitating the haunting call of the collared peccary, or txawa. The purpose of this ritual is to draw the pig to the hunters planning to go out the following day.

Small masks are used in a ritual for children. This tradition was stopped for many years. Recently they started to produce them again.


Like many Amazonian tribes, the Matis utilize curare poison in blowdarts for hunting. Their blowdarts are often intricate and beautiful works of art that are highly adapted to hunting the game in the canopy of the Amazon. These weapons can accurately fire up to 98 feet away with complete silence. They can kill a hummingbird in flight that has a defense reaction of 1/20th of a second.

When hunting game that requires more force, they traditionally favor bows with wooden arrows, though shotguns are becoming more prevalent in modern times. Game killed by shotgun does not carry as much status as game conquered by more traditional means.

The Matis also use their knowledge of local plantlife for more than just the poisoned darts; they utilize a poison known as ‘komo’ that can draw all the oxygen from a region of water, suffocating the fish within. Fish killed in such a manner then float to the surface, allowing the fishing Matis to simply gather them up at will. This is usually reserved for children and elderly men.

Social Life

The Matis tribe has been devastated by contact with the outside world, shrinking down to a mere two villages. This has forced them to leave behind a semi-nomadic lifestyle of generations past as malaria and hepatitis wipe out their numbers. Village life is moving away from communal habits, though meal preparation and eating remains so most of the time.

Marriage for the Matis is as simple as slinging one’s hammock next to an intended mate, and holds no restrictions on sexual partnerships. Instead, marriage for the Matis is more about a desire to share household duties together than sexual exclusivity. At one time, it was common for brothers to share each other’s wives sexually to ensure a stronger link to any conceived children.

Additional Information

Enigmas do corpo e soluções dos panos

Marubo Indians

Situated in the Javari river basin of Brazil, the Marubo Indian tribe have found a home along the flowing rivers of the Curuca and Itui for years. Historically categorized as a part of the Amazon, this region is as diverse as its people. It would not be surprising to cross foothills in one part of the area and then find tropical rain forests in another. These conditions combine to make a unique atmosphere where the Marubo have many resources at their disposal to live off of the land. With a population of just 1,043, the Marubo are proud to say that they have tended to these lands – and remained standing – since the turn of the century.

Many Marubo became directly involved in the rubber trade, locked into debt by the rubber traders. The trade had the effect of breaking up the traditional communities. Every family lived alone to collect their rubber. Economy took precedence over the social and religious ties of the community. The rubber economy collapsed in 1938. By this time, the rubber industry had reduced the Marubo to near extinction. Today, they are one of the guiding forces of the indigenous movement in Brazil.

Ceramics are now the major force behind any economy that the Marubo has. By collecting brown clay along the edge of the various streams, various ceramic artifacts can then be created – typically for use as commercial kitchen items or decoration. This brown clay is first crushed to give it a smooth consistency and then typically one potter will work on the floor to begin making the foundation of the product. Heat is then eventually applied to start carving the texture. Traditions run high among the Marubo and married women of all ages are typically the ones who do most of the carving of domestic clay. Popular finished products range from authentic vases to pots and pans.

Marubo men live a primitive life where their main focus involves agriculture and finding means of living off of the land. Because of this, many Marubo men acquire defacto “occupations” in jobs such as hunting and fishing. While it serves its purpose as a job, it is important to note that this also is a means of feeding their families. Of late, the men of the tribe have been also fighting local politicians who wish to build a new highway that would create an easier pathway for outsiders to begin exploring for oil and gas resources.

Today, the Marubo tribe are largely seen as the most powerful among the Javari River Valley and continue to be one of the few who have made a connection to the outside world. Though these advances have made them powerful, they have also made them dangerous in the eyes of other local tribes. Because the Marubo were among the first to get their hands on weapons and shotguns, they are rarely challenged by the other tribes around them with lesser means of protection

Additional Information

Cerâmica dos índios Marubo
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Aspectos Sócio-Econômicos-Culturais e Antropológicos

Maku Indians

Native to the northwest portion of Brazil, tucked away in the Amazon close to the border of Peru, the Maku tribal group is one of the last of the nomadic peoples in that great rainforest. Presently, they occupy an area bordered by the Guaviare River to the northwest, the Negro river to the north, the Japura River to the south, and the Uneiuxi River to the southeast. The combined area is roughly 20 million hectares of land, which the Maku share with other settlements of people, native and non-native alike.

Within this vast expanse are six distinct tribal groups noted by differences in dialect; this is due in large part to the dispersion amidst the large tract of land they occupy forced by the low quality of the land. Within this region, the Maku people have at their disposal large areas of stunted forest and scrublands, very poor soil and low concentration of game coupled with poor plant variation. Consequently, the Maku groups seek out and make their temporary homes in areas which support more rich and abundant varieties of plant and animal life.

The Maku people are the last of the nomads in the Amazon, and as a result their culture does not have space for concepts of property or wealth as we view them. They keep very few possessions and live in extremely small groups, generally as little as nine to as much as thirty people in a unit. They tend to live in the very deep forest and avoid outside contact as much as possible. Their homes tend to be constructed very simply and of light materials like wood and palm leaves. These structures are mostly designed to provide a roof over a sleeping hammock. Each family unit has their own hearth, which they use for warmth, food preparation, and to chase away insects with the assistance of special herbs they burn.

maku spear

Their men hunt using a blowgun with a poisoned dart. The darts are dipped in curare poison, which is formed through a combination of up to five different plants, and are used mainly to hunt game found in the forest canopy, predominantly monkeys. The weapons themselves are constructed from the trunks of the Stilt Palm. Sometimes they are fashioned with one tube connected into another to form blowguns of impressive length. The quivers they fashion to store their poisoned darts are made out of a bark cloth bearing a protective flap to keep the darts from weather. They also consume fish, turtles, fruits, nuts, vegetables, insects, and honey.

The Maku are currently under threat from external pressures. Since their first frequent contact in the late 80s, the tribe has seen a dramatic decline, losing over half their tribal population. They are one of thirty-two Columbian tribes under immediate risk of complete extinction. Particularly challenging at the present time is their placement in one of the primary coca growing regions. They are caught in a storm between the Columbian army, left-wing guerrilla fighters, and right-wing paramilitary troops battling it out over the rights to the source material for the lucrative cocaine industry.

They are one of the last groups of nomadic tribal peoples in the Amazon. It is only a question of a decade or two before their traditional trekking lifestyle is eroded into the sedentary agricultural village life. This drastic cultural change is happening under the influence of the Western culture.

Blowguns and Quivers

They use long blowguns with darts dipped into the curare poison to hunt in the forest canopy, mostly for monkeys. The blowguns are made from the straight trunks of the Stilt Palm, sometimes inserting one tube inside another until the length can reach 8 feet. Their quivers are made of bark cloth with a protective flap to cover the darts.

Handmade bark cloth quiver filled with many blowgun darts.

quiver maku darts

Blowgun with quiver

Additional Information

Ethnologue: Language Family Index – Maku
The Use of Psychoactive Plants Among the Hupda-Maku
Maku vocabulary, 2, 3, 4
Folklore video
Hit by disease, deforestation and war, Colombia’s last nomadic tribe faces extinction – AP

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

Kanamari Indians

There are currently an estimated 2,800 Kanamari indians in Brazil. The Kanamari people posess a deep and rich heritage that has lasted for generations. They are located within the amazon jungles away from the influences of settlers. They refer to themselves as Canamari or Tukuna, which means people. The Kanamari people are also known for their natural healing methods, or curandeiros, as well as the facial tattoos of the older generations. The Kanamari people believe they were created by Tamakori, who first created them and then later left and created the whites.

The history of the Kanamari Indians

The Kanamari indians have only had contact with the outside world for the last 150 years. Their initial contact, which has been called “the time of the rubber” by the Kanamari, begin with trade with a white tradesman, or -tawari, named Jarado. They credit him with establishing town limits and mapping out future locations for rubber storehouses. He traded with them several times before he left never to be seen again. White rubber trade bosses later returned and established themselves within the Kanamari land. They soon began to require cruel labor in exchange for trade. This cruelty caused the Kanamari people to further fragment into groups as some fled the cruelty of the rubber bosses.

A portion of the Kanamari fled to Itaqui territory, where the white rubber bosses had not established headquarters.This period saw much abuse on the women and children, at the hands of the white rubber bosses. Unfortunately, the rubber bossess eventually took over this area as well, further fragmenting the people. Some Kanamari eventually settled in Javari and are currently located there. This is referred to by Kanamari as the period of living in the middle of the whites. In 1972 the white settlers began to leave the Kanamari land. The final white settlers were removed in 2002. The brazillian government agency FUNAI began to distribute cargo and assisted with the removal of the whites from Kanamari land. They also released debts owed to the rubber bosses. Many Kanamari refer to the present period as the Time of Funai because of the work of this organization.

The Present-day Kanamari Indians

Currently many Kanamari indians live in poverty created by the brutality of the rubber trade. Brazil does not recognize the right of Native Americans to own their property, which causes many landowners to take their land and drive them away from it. Corruption by landowners has created many hardships for the Kanamari people. Diseases introduced from the outside world has greatly diministed the population. Brazilian NGO the Center for Indigenous Work (Centro de Trabalho Indigenista- CTI) reports that since the year 1970 Hepatitis B and D infections have been rampant. A recent report in the year 2000 found that over 8 percent of all indians in the Javari valley have died from diseases introduced into their environment. The Brazilian government has been accused of not being proactive in providing treatment for the Indian population.

Alcoholism has also been blamed for the deculturization of the Kanamari people, with many of the Indian chiefs becoming dependent and entering the people into a slavery-type working arrangement to fulfill their addiction. In less than 50 years, they have traded their past for alcohol. The effect physically and culturally has been devastating. Alcohol was introduced by the rubber companies and was used to keep the Kanamari in debt and enslaved.

Additional Information

Information sources
Tsohon-Djapa on Ajuricaba expedition – with pictures
Projeto Canamari
Índios do Vale do Javari (AM) pedem socorro
Terra Indígena Vale do Javari é finalmente homologada
Mais dez Terras Indígenas são homologadas
Ministro da Justiça declara posse indígena de seis terras
Funai aprova limites para a Terra Indígena Vale do Javari
Anunciados os primeiros projetos indígenas financiados pelo PDPI