Kayapó Ethnoecology and Culture


Kayapó Ethnoecology and Culture

Darrell A. Posey died in March 2001 after a long and distinguished career in anthropology and ecology.

Kayapó Ethnoecology and Culture

presents a selection of his writings that result from 25 years of work with the Kayapó Indians, one of the Amazon Basin’s most famous indigenous peoples. The Kayapó originated from one village, Pyka-tô-ti, or the ‘Beautiful Village’. However the modern Kayapó live in several dozen villages scattered over nearly four million hectares that encompass a vast diversity of ecological systems linking the lowland Amazon Basin with the Planalto of central Brazil.

These writings describe the dispersal of the Kayapó subgroups and explain how, with this diaspora, useful biological species and natural resource manage ment strategies also spread. Detailed accounts of their permanent and nomadic agricultural systems, past and present, as well as of the regional ecology, provide a rich and essential record for future study and environmental management.

However the Kayapó are threatened with extinction like many inhabitants of the Amazon Basin. The author is adamant that it is no longer satisfactory for sci entists to just ‘do good science’. They are increasingly asked and morally obliged to become involved in political action to protect the peoples they study.

In the Kayapó village of Gorotire [Darrell Posey] encountered a thriving and complex ancient tribal culture, whose rituals were intimately linked to the forest and the cosmos. His research became far more than a piece of acade mic fieldwork as he learnt the Kayapó language and came to know the Kayapó, not only as friends but as a people whose culture reflected a sophis ticated understanding of the lands that support them.

Darrell Posey’s


The Times

, 31 March 2001

Studies in environmental anthropology

Edited by Roy Ellen

University of Kent at Canterbury, UK

This series is a vehicle for publishing up-to-date monographs on particular issues in particular places which are sensitive to both sociocultural and ecological fac tors. Emphasis will be placed on the perception of the environment, indigenous knowledge and the ethnography of environmental issues. While basically anthro pological, the series will consider works from authors working in adjacent fields.

Volume 1: A Place Against Time

Land and Environment in Papua New Guinea

Paul Sillitoe

Volume 2: People, Land and Water in the Arab Middle East

Environments and Landscapes in the Bilâd as-Shâm

William Lancaster and Fidelity Lancaster

Volume 3: Protecting the Arctic

Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Survival

Mark Nutall

Volume 4: Transforming the Indonesian Uplands

Marginality, Power and Production

Edited by Tania Murray Li

Volume 5: Indigenous Environmental Knowledge and its Transformations

Critical Anthropological Perspectives

Edited by Roy Ellen, Peter Parkes and Alan Bicker

Volume 6: Kayapó Ethnoecology and Culture

Darrell A. Posey, edited by Kristina Plenderleith

Kayapó Ethnoecology and Culture

Darrell A. Posey Edited by Kristina Plenderleith

London and New York

First published 2002 by Routledge 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group

This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2004.

© 2002 Taylor & Francis Books Ltd All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders for their permission to reprint material in this book.The publishers would be grateful to hear from any copyright holder who is not here acknowledged and will undertake to rectify any errors or omissions in future editions of this book.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Posey, Darrell Addison Kayapó ethnoecology and culture / Darrell A. Posey; edited by Kristina Plenderleith.

p. cm. – (Studies in environmental anthropology) Includes bibliographical references and index.

1. Cayapo Indians – Ethnobotany. 2. Cayapo Indians – Ethnobiology. 3.

Cayapo Indians – Agriculture. 4. Indigenous peoples – Ecology – Brazil – Gorotire. 5. Gorotire (Brazil) – Social life and customs. 6. Gorotire (Brazil) – Environmental conditions. I. Plenderleith, Kristina II.Title. III Series.

F2520.1.C45 P58 2002 630'.89'984–dc21 2001058583 ISBN 0-203-22019-6 Master e-book ISBN ISBN 0-203-27519-5 (Adobe eReader Format) ISBN 0–415–27791–4 (Print Edition)


List of figures List of tables Preface Foreword Acknowledgements


Kayapó history and culture

1 The science of the M˜ebêngôkre 2 Contact before contact: typology of post-Colombian interaction with the Northern Kayapó of the Amazon 3 Environmental and social implications of pre- and post-contact situations on Brazilian Indians 4 Time, space, and the interface of divergent cultures: the Kayapó Indians of the Amazon face the future 5 The Kayapó origin of night 6 The journey to become a shaman: a narrative of sacred transition of the Kayapó Indians of Brazil


Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

7 Report from Gorotire: will Kayapó traditions survive?

8 Indigenous knowledge and development: an ideological bridge to the future 9 Wasps, warriors and fearless men: ethnoentomology of the Kayapó Indians of Central Brazil

















vi Contents 10 Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system: patterns in classification of arthropods by the Kayapó Indians of Brazil 11 Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees (Meliponinae, Apidae, Hymenoptera) by the Kayapó Indians of Gorotire, Pará, Brazil with JO ~ 12 Keeping of stingless bees by the Kayapó Indians of Brazil 13 Ethnopharmacological search for antiviral compounds: treatment of gastrointestinal disorders by Kayapó medical specialists with ELAINE ELISABETSKY 14 Use of contraceptive and related plants by the Kayapó Indians (Brazil) with ELAINE ELISABETSKY


Kayapó land management

15 Preliminary results on soil management techniques of the Kayapó Indians with SUSANNA B. HECHT 16 Indigenous soil management in the Latin American tropics: some implications of ethnopedology for the Amazon Basin with SUSANNA B. HECHT 17 The keepers of the forest 18 Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems: the case of the Kayapó Indians of the Brazilian Amazon 19 The continuum of Kayapó resource management


Continuing adaptation by the Kayapó

20 From warclubs to words 21 The Kayapó Indian protests against Amazonian dams: successes, alliances, and unending battles















Appendix: management of a tropical scrub savanna by the Gorotire Kayapó of Brazil Notes Glossary Bibliography Index

Contents vii
























Location of principal Kayapó villages.

Schematic views of


, showing variations in micro ecological zones that allow for maximum diversity of useful plant concentrations in these ‘forest islands’.

Schematic of new field (


), showing planting and cultivation zones.

Model of village fission of the Northern Kayapó.

Kayapó model of the world showing parallel earth and sky disks in a circular universe.

Spatial model of the Kayapó world.

The idealized Kayapó village (



Idealized cross-section of Kayapó forest ecological zones and subzones near Gorotire.

Ecological zones surrounding the village of Gorotire as perceived by the Kayapó.

Trek from Kub˜en-kra˜-kein village to abandoned village site (Pyka-toˆ-ti) showing resource islands and campsites associated with forest fields.

Insect sequences and complexes (based on drawings by Ir˜a Kayapó).

A drawing by Ir˜a Kayapó of the wasp nest (

amuh ˜ur ˜ukwa


Cross-section of a wasp nest (drawing by Ir˜a Kayapó).

Organization of BOL categories into four morphological sequences, only one of which is named (



Subdivisions of



Subdivisions of


showing some subclass overlap between








(indicated by dotted lines).

Two possible models of set relationships between







95 97 99 100 5 72 87 91 91 6 8 22 36 36 37 62 63













Category relationships within flies and kin (



Idealized hierarchical model showing superordinate and subordinate levels.

Reproduction of a drawing by Pedro Kayapó (made in Gorotire in 1979) showing the external form and internal structure of



Trigona amazonensis


Nests of Meliponinae focal species recognized by the Kayapó.

Schematic structures of


nests with Kayapó nomenclature.

Types of Meliponinae entrance tubes recognized by the Kayapó with their respective ‘focal species’.

Ontogenetic stages of Meliponinae (represented in this figure by

Melipona compressipes fasciculata



) recognized by the Kayapó.

Major morphological structures recognized and named by the Kayapó.

An overview of the


, showing major symbolic components.

A lateral view of the


, showing the symbolic relationships between earth (


) and sky (




formation: planting zones.

Ethnoecological units on the



Figures ix 104 109 114 116 117 118 119 122 136 137 210 212

























Major ecological zones recognized by the Kayapó61 Selected soil–plant–animal relationships in the selected ecozone (


) 64 Partial list of gathered food plants of the Kayapó67 Major cultivated plants of the Kayapó68 Folk varieties of major Kayapó cultigens 69 Semi-domesticated (manipulated) bee species utilized by the Kayapó73 Principal species of Apidae utilized by the Kayapó Indians Arthropod groups Levels of correspondence for insects A list of affixes used in the description of various


specimens Subgroupings of


(Orthoptera) with analogous 75 84 85 98 scientific classifications Subgroupings of


Species of meliponine bees encountered in the vicinity of Gorotire during the current study Bee species semi-domesticated by the Kayapó Indians Plant species used to treat

hàk kanê


tep kanê

Plant species used to treat diarrhoea Plants used as

m˜em`y rerek djà


kukryt kanê

; 101 107 114 130 143 146

m˜e tu jaro djà

; and

me kra ket djà

Uses of related species by Kayapó and other groups Kayapó natural vegetation classification Dominant soil orders of the study area 152 161 169 170 Agriculture formations of the Kayapó171 Fertility elements of planting additions used by the Kayapó173 Means and standard deviation of fertility elements in Kayapó garden planting zones 177








Main soil constraints in the Amazon under native vegetation Kayapó and Yurimaguas agricultural systems Comparison of the structure of Kayapó, colonist and livestock production systems Production of proteins per hectare of Kayapó, colonist and livestock systems over time Changes in soil fertility elements in Kayapó, colonist and livestock systems


planting zones in relation to corresponding ecological units A partial list of tree species planted by the Kayapó Indians Tables xi 183 186 188 189 191 211 214


Darrell Posey died from cancer in March 2001 at the age of 53, in mid-career. He had been living in Oxford since 1993, teaching in the University, and travelling extensively throughout the world to attend conferences, teach and give lectures.

At his home on Boar’s Hill he received almost incessant requests for copies of his articles, and had been considering gathering together some of his more important papers for re-publication. It was a suggestion from Roy Ellen and Laura Rival that he actually do this for the Studies in Environmental Anthropology series which finally prompted him to act. In preparing material for the new MSc Programme in Ethnobotany at Kent they had discovered just how much of a challenge finding his scattered and sometimes inaccessible original papers could be. This is perhaps to be expected of someone who was more concerned with making an impact on the world than with ensuring that his output was bibliographically tidy.

It was in this context that Darrell and I discussed how best to present the papers he had written during his career, or two careers as it seemed to me, and it soon became obvious that his ethnobiological work with the Kayapó, whilst it directed the way his career would develop, could be regarded as a complete entity in itself. The development of his work for traditional resource rights after the Rio Summit was a new direction that grew out of his experiences in Brazil and meet ings with indigenous peoples from throughout the world. This phase of his career was in turn reaching a natural closure as he turned once again to the inextricable link revealed to him by the Kayapó between human well-being and our natural environment.

Darrell was less sure than I was of this natural break because his involvement with the ethnosciences and indigenous knowledge systems carried on throughout his life. To him his career had been a continuing path, but he felt that his past work was all too familiar to him and he could not look at it impartially, so he gave me


to proceed with the selection, which we subsequently discussed with Mark Simon.

This book therefore concentrates on the early part of Darrell’s career, his years in Brazil, when his entomological research and interest in anthropology came face to face with the complexity and differentness of Kayapó culture – the interweav ing of spiritual and practical. It was the time also when he was confronted with the

Preface xiii impact of the twentieth century on peoples like the Kayapó, and on their land scape, and of their response to the changes. Chapter 20 in this book vividly describes Darrell’s reaction to this experience.

To describe this book as ‘ethnobiology’ seems inadequate as it begs the ques tion of where the division lies between the corporeal and the spiritual, between humans and all other life, and that is not even a question for the Kayapó. This is reflected in the first section, ‘Kayapó history and culture’. For the Kayapó there is no division between their history, culture and knowledge systems: the divisions are Western categorizations, and the English language cannot embrace this unity in a single word or concept.

Darrell and I selected these articles as being among those he felt best repre sented the important features of his work in Brazil. His corpus is far larger, written in both English and Portuguese, and there is still the work of the Kayapó Project to be written up, but he considered these previously published papers as being among ‘the best’ at the time of our choice. This, however, didn’t stop him continuing to make new suggestions as long as he could, and it is so sad that he will not be able to make use of this book as a teaching aid.

Kristina Plenderleith


Professor Brent Berlin

One measure of a person’s impact on a field is how one answers this question: ‘Has (

name of individual

) significantly influenced the way I conduct my work?’.

If the name of the individual in question happened to be Darrell Posey, few ethno biologists practising their art today could answer with anything other than, as the cliché goes, ‘a resounding yes’. It is certain that our practice of modern ethnobi ology is, in many respects, a practice of the ethnobiology of Posey’s vision. This is a remarkable accomplishment.

This impact is most directly seen in how we now approach the people with whom we plan to carry out our research. (A more accurate way of stating it, as Posey might have been quick to say, is ‘…with whom we plan to study’, in the sense of ‘become active apprentices’). No ethnobiologist (or scientist of any dis cipline, for that matter) can contemplate fieldwork with indigenous peoples today without having thought carefully about the intellectual property implications of their research. That this should be so is due, in large part, to Posey’s enormous influence on the international debates surrounding sustained economic develop ment, indigenous intellectual property rights, and global biodiversity as a result of the Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992, an event that will change history forever and one in which Posey played a significant role.

Posey’s concerns for the environment and indigenous knowledge grew out of his efforts to establish the International Society for Ethnobiology in 1988, and his role in developing the Declaration of Belém, a document for the conduct of eth nobiological research that forms the foundation of that Society’s current code of ethics. Since that time, he became the world’s leading advocate for traditional resource rights and was recognized by both academics and professionals in inter national agencies as the foremost spokesperson for policy matters relating to environment and development in indigenous regions of the world.

If all of us have been marked by Posey’s efforts to make ethnobiologists acutely aware of the environmental/political implications of their work, perhaps fewer of us are as directly aware of Posey’s seminal and original ethnobiological work in Brazil. The publication of the present volume, one that includes examples of some of his important early ethnobiological writings will go far in making this segment of his important career more widely known.

Foreword xv Posey established himself as one of the pioneers in modern ethnobiological research with his original fieldwork among the Kayapó of the Brazilian Amazon.

From the outset, he approached Kayapó knowledge of the natural world from an ecologically holistic perspective (perhaps, one might speculate, due to his training at the University of Georgia and the teachings of ecologist Eugene Odum). He was concerned with describing in detail the knowledge systems the Kayapó had developed in nurturing their lands – ethnobotany, ethnozoology, ethnomedicine and ethnopharmacology, ethnopedology, ethnoforestry, ethnoastronomy, and eth noagriculture –


in the broadest sense of the term. Some of these topics he explored with exquisite detail. His treatment of Kayapó knowledge of ‘stingless’ bees (reproduced here in a piece written in collaboration with João Maria Franco de Camargo) focuses on indigenous entomological classification that includes factors relating to habitat, preferred substrate or niche, external nest form, texture, material and shape of entrance structure, flight patterns, defence behaviour, size, form and colour of adults, and smell of bees, to mention the most salient. It has the flavour of old-timey Batesian natural history and is a delight to read.

One of Posey’s most important theoretical and controversial contributions in ethnobiology/ethnoecology, reproduced here as ‘Indigenous management of trop ical forest ecosystems: the case of the Kayapó Indians of the Brazilian Amazon’, is his proposal concerning the significance of the modification and deliberate management of the Brazilian forest landscape by traditional peoples.

His Kayapó studies show that this historically mobile society (and, by implica tion, numerous other indigenous peoples) literally developed ‘forest gardens’ in the Brazilian outback by transplanting particularly desirable species in areas that they would likely visit at future dates, providing them with a series of productive but disjunct gardens available at differing seasons and over a number of years.

Over time, he argued, this practice would have major effects on forest compo sition, biodiversity and, from the human perspective, ability to survive in extremely difficult environments. The implications of this proposal were radical: here we see for the first time direct links between


of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. It allowed him to then argue that so-called


ecosys tems were better thought of as



anthropogenic landscapes

– landscapes managed as entire systems, perhaps for millennia.

It is now well known that Posey’s work in Brazil brought him, almost unavoid ably, into the general arena of the growing conflict of orthodox industrial development schemes for the Amazon and traditional indigenous uses of the earth as attested by his Kayapó research. Confronting the Brazilian government, and at times placing himself in personal danger, he became more and more involved in biodiversity conservation activities, at a time when the term


was just beginning to be heard.

These then were two faces of Darrell Posey. Many of us knew the Posey who founded the Working Group on Traditional Resource Rights at the Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society, and whose publications are considered

xvi Foreword as essential reading by all persons working in the area, especially

Traditional Resource Rights

(1996) and

Beyond Intellectual Property Rights,

written with Graham Dutfield (1996), and

Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity

(1999), a hefty volume that will become the standard ‘biocultural diversity hand book’ for researchers, policy makers and government leaders. With

Kayapó Ethnoecology and Culture

we are given the opportunity to see an earlier face of Darrell Posey, that of devoted fieldworker and ethnobiologist/ethnoecologist to the Kayapó. Together, the faces appear as the portrait of one of the most important figures of the new century’s

environmental anthropology

. We are indebted to Kristina Plenderleith and Routledge for making this portrait possible.

Brent Berlin Athens, Georgia 10 October 2000 (508 years after Cristobal Colon’s first arrival in the New World)


On behalf of Darrell Posey the editor and publishers would like to thank the fol lowing people and organizations: The co-authors and publishers for permission to reproduce Chapters 11, 13, 14, 15, 16 and Appendix: Dr João Maria Franco de Camargo and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Chapter 11); Dr Elaine Elisabetsky and the Ciba Foundation (Chapter 13); Dr Elaine Elisabetsky and the Society of Ethnobiology (Chapter 14); Dr Susanna Hecht and the New York Botanical Garden (Chapter 15); Dr Susanna Hecht and CNPq/Museu Goeldi (Chapter 16); and Dr Anthony Anderson and the New York Botanical Garden (Appendix).

Funding and support was received from The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, New York (Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10); the Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois (Chapters 2, 3 and 8); the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Chapters 2, 3 and 8); the Conselho Nacional de Pesquisas, Belém, Brazil (Chapters 9, 12 and 14); the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas de Amazonia, Manaus, Brazil (Chapter 9); the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi (Chapters 8 and 9); the Fundação Nacional do Indio, Brazil (Chapters 8 and 9 and Appendix); the World Wildlife Fund – US (Chapters 14, 18 and Appendix); and the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (Chapter 18 and Appendix).

Help with transportation and communications and supplies were received from: Força Aérea Brasileira (Chapters 4 and 18); VOTEC (Chapter 18) and the Unevangelized Field Missions (Chapter 18).

Friends and colleagues who supported and worked with Darrell Posey included: Anthony Anderson, William Balée, Eva Banner, Beptopoop, Luciane dos Santos Costa, William Denevan, Henry F. Dobyns, John Eddins, Elaine Elisabetsky, John Frechione, Anne Gély, Jeffrey Golliher, Gerhard Gottsberger, Susanna Hecht, Gina Holloman, Carol Jones, Warwick Kerr, Kwyrà-kà, Peter MacBeath, Carmen Chavez McClendon, Emílio Moran, Paulinho Paiakan, Ghillean Prance, Ionara Siqueira Rodrigues, Carlos Rosário, Maria Aparecida Correia dos Santos, John Singleton, Micky Stout, Helen Hornbeck Tanner, Lylianne Theodoro, Dan Usner, José Uté. Thanks to Dr John Frechione for prepa ration of the maps, figures and artwork in Chapter 8.

xviii Acknowledgements The Projecto Kayapó was an interdisciplinary project to study the ethnobiol ogy of the Kayapó Indians. It was financed by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico and the World Wildlife Fund – US.

Project work was conducted by the Laboratório de Etnobiologia, Universidade Federal do Maranhão, São Luis, Maranhão, Brazil.

Part 1 Kayapó history and culture

Chapter 1

The science of the M˜ebêngôkre 1

When I arrived in the village of Gorotire in 1977, the Kayapó were still best known for their savageness and their distinctive stretched lips. The last group of these Amazonian Indians had been ‘pacified’ less than ten years before. The lip disk, sign of a valiant warrior, was in decline, but older men still wore their ‘big lips’ with pride.

One night shortly after my arrival, I was invited to sit with the ‘big lips’ in the Men’s House for the elders’ council. The Brazilian government was finally demarcating the Kayapó lands to protect Indian territory from land speculators, and the leaders of the Kayapó villages had been assembled to discuss how to defend their domain against encroaching plantations. The chiefs were meeting together for the first time in peace and cooperation.

As a newcomer to Kayapó society, I was awed by the formal oratory of the elders. How could four-inch wide lip disks be manipulated so artistically and with such authority? I marvelled even more at the ease and naturalness with which two great warriors drank their coffee and ate their manioc bread over their built-in plates. Big lips, formal oratory, strange language, along with colourful dances and ceremonies, together formed an exotic filter over the people I had come to study.

It took six months of living with them before I could see through this filter and begin to realize that the Kayapó were people, too, with all the frailties and attrib utes that characterize the human creature: Kayapós fight and quarrel; they complain; they can be petty and selfish, and even lie. They love their families; cry for their dead; sacrifice for their children; work hard to provide for their house holds; and delight in joking and conversing.

The Kayapó year begins in the low-water season with agricultural activities that continue until the maturation of the corn. The harvest period follows. The fall of wild fruits attracts animals, precipitating the hunting season, which coincides with the time of the high water. Then there is a short period of heightened leisure and family activities, which ends when the water level in the river lowers again.

Fishing intensifies, and a new year begins.

The different times of the year are celebrated with seasonal ceremonies, which are of great importance to the social identity of the group as well as to daily life.

4 Kayapó history and culture These ritual ceremonies are closely tied to the agricultural, hunting and fishing cycles of the Amazonian environment. The people observe specific rituals before and after each trip to hunt or collect plants. Festivals celebrate the maize and man ioc seasons as well as the hunting seasons for land turtle, tapir, anteater and other game animals. Each ceremony requires certain foods and other natural objects, which means an organized trek to find the needed materials.

The bestowing of ‘beautiful names’ on the youngest generations is perhaps the most important social event in the Kayapó society. Some of my most enjoyable times with the Kayapó are during their treks to get game and fish needed to feed the dancers for the ceremonies. Long days are spent camped along the sandy river beaches, watching the strings of yellow and white butterflies as they hover over the waters, or in a dugout on the river, listening to the tucunare fish as they flop among the rocks near the cataracts, or watching the crane fly, always just in front of the boat as we edged along quietly in hopes of surprising a tapir or deer drink ing along the river banks.

People who do not know the tropics always say to me, ‘But you must miss the seasons’. Little do they know that among the Indians the seasons of the Amazon are not four, but dozens and dozens.

As an anthropologist trained in entomology, I went to live among the Kayapó to study their knowledge of and beliefs concerning the natural environment. The Kayapó, one of the various subgroups of the great M˜ebêngôkre nation (people from the water’s source), inhabit a vast area spreading across the states of Pará and Mato Grosso in Brazil. The Northern Kayapó occupy a two-million hectare Indian reserve in Pará. Gorotire is one of seven northern Kayapó villages located in the Reserva Indígena Kayapó located on the broad, flat campo next to the Rio Fresco (7 o 48´S, 51 o 7´W).

One of the most significant questions facing Amazonian countries today is how large populations can be supported in and around the Amazon Basin without destruction of the natural resource base. The biological knowledge held by Amerindians has customarily been considered irrelevant, because aboriginal pop ulations were thought to have been sparse and scattered. Recent investigations, however, suggest that the size of these populations has been grossly underesti mated. Archaeological and geographical data confirm historical accounts of the existence of large population centres in Amazonia.

Although the present number of the M˜ebêngôkre is relatively small, the evi dence suggests that they and other Amerindians have profoundly influenced the Amazonian environment. Landscapes long regarded as ‘natural’ have in fact been extensively managed by the M˜ebêngôkre for millennia. In their management of the tropical forest, they have developed a social and agricultural system that is vastly better adapted to the fragile ecosystem than anything the ‘civilizados’ have attained even today in the same environment. As numerical estimates of Amerindian populations at the time of European discovery continue to increase, indigenous systems of ecological knowledge like those of the M˜ebêngôkre are becoming more and more relevant to modern development planning.

The science of the M˜ebêngôkre 5

Figure 1.1

Location of principal Kayapó villages.

The knowledge of the M˜ebêngôkre Indians is an integrated system of beliefs and practices. In addition to the information shared generally, there is specialized knowledge held by a few. Each village has its specialists in soils, plants, animals, crops, medicines and rituals. But each M˜ebêngôkre believes that he or she has the ability to survive alone in the forest indefinitely. This offers great personal secu rity and permeates the fabric of everyday life.

A complete M˜ebêngôkre view of nature is difficult to convey because of its underlying cultural complexity. It is possible, however, to identify categories of indigenous knowledge that indicate new research directions, even shortcuts, for Western science, as well as alternatives to the destruction of Amazonia.


The M˜ebêngôkre identify specific plants and animals as occurring within particu lar ecological zones. They have a well-developed knowledge of animal behaviour and also know which plants are associated with particular animals. Plant types in turn are associated with soil types. Each ecological zone represents a system of interactions among plants, animals, soil and the M˜ebêngôkre themselves.

The M˜ebêngôkre recognize ecosystems that lie on a continuum between the poles of forest and savanna. They have names, for example, for as many as nine

6 Kayapó history and culture different types of savanna – savanna with few trees, savanna with many forest patches, savanna with scrub, and so on. But the M˜ebêngôkre concentrate less on the differences between zones than on the similarities that cut across them.

Marginal or open spots within the forest, for example, can have microenvironmen tal conditions similar to those in the savanna. The M˜ebêngôkre take advantage of these similarities to exchange and spread useful species between zones by trans planting seeds, cuttings, tubers and saplings. Thus there is much interchange between what we tend to see as distinctly different ecological systems.

M˜ebêngôkre agriculture focuses upon the zones intermediate between forest and savanna types, because it is in these areas that maximal biological diversity occurs. Villages too are often sited in these transition zones. The M˜ebêngôkre not only recognize the richness of ‘ecotones’, but they actually create them. They exploit secondary forest areas and create special concentrations of plants in forest fields, rock outcroppings, trailsides and elsewhere.

The creation of forest islands, or


, demonstrates to what extent the M˜ebêngôkre can alter and manage ecosystems to increase biological diversity.


begin as small mounds of vegetation, about one to two metres round, created by transporting organic matter obtained from termite nests and ant nests to open areas in the field. Slight depressions are usually sought out because they are more

Figure 1.2

Schematic views of


, showing variations in microecological zones that allow for maximum diversity of useful plant concentrations in these ‘forest islands’.

The science of the M˜ebêngôkre 7 likely to retain moisture. Seeds or seedlings are planted in these piles of organic material. The


are usually formed in August and September, during the first rains of the wet season, and then nurtured by the Indians as they pass along the savanna trails.



grow, they begin to look like up-turned hats, with higher vegetation in the centre and lower herbs growing in the shaded borders. The Indians usually cut down the highest trees in the centre to create a doughnut-hole centre that lets the light into older


. Thus a full-grown


has an architecture that creates zones that vary in shade, light and humidity. These islands become important sources of medicinal and edible plants, as well as places of rest. Palms, which have a variety of uses, figure prominently in


, as do shade trees. Even vines that produce drinkable water are transplanted here. However,


look so ‘nat ural’ that until recently scientists did not recognize that they were in fact human artefacts. According to informants, of a total of 120 species inventoried in ten


, about 75 per cent could have been planted.

Such ecological engineering requires detailed knowledge of soil fertility, microclimatic variations and species’ niches, as well as the interrelationships among species that are introduced into these human-made communities. The eat ing habits of deer and tapir are well known to the Indians, and their favourite foods are propagated in forest islands. In this sense,


must be viewed as both agroforestry plots and hunting reserves.

The M˜ebêngôkre are aware that some species developed more vigorously when planted together. They frequently speak of plants that are ‘good friends’ or ‘good neighbours’. One of the first of these ‘neighbours complexes’ I was able to investigate was the


, or ‘banana neighbours’. Among the plants that thrive near bananas are some of the


(‘child want not’) plants, which are very important in regulating fertility among the M˜ebêngôkre.

The M˜ebêngôkre characterize such synergistic plant groups in terms of ‘plant energy’. These groups can include dozens of species and require complex patterns of cultivation. Thus a M˜ebêngôkre garden is created by carefully combining dif ferent ‘plant energies’ just as an artist blends colours to produce a work of art.

Indian fields thrive on diversity within the plots.

This diversity is quite ordered to the Indian eye, with careful matchings between plant varieties and microenvironmental conditions. Apparently random fields turn out to have five more or less concentric zones, each with preferred varieties of cultivars and different cultivation strategies. M˜ebêngôkre fields look very untidy to Westerners used to nice ‘clean’ fields with orderly, symmetrical rows.


A survey of M˜ebêngôkre soil taxonomy shows sophisticated horizontal and verti cal distinctions based on texture, colour, drainage qualities, friability and stratification. Soil qualities are frequently related to indicator plant species that

8 Kayapó history and culture

Figure 1.3

Schematic of new field (


), showing planting and cultivation zones.

allow Indians to predict floral and faunal components associated with specific soil types, each of which is managed differently according to individual characteris tics. Sweet potatoes, for instance, like hotter soils and thrive in the centre of fields where shade from the margins rarely penetrates. The plants must be well aerated, however, or soil compaction will smother the root system. Much hand work is nec essary to turn over the soils, take out larger tubers and replant smaller ones.

The M˜ebêngôkre use various types of ground cover such as vegetation, logs, leaves, straw and bark to affect moisture, shade and temperature of local soils.

Holes are sometimes filled with organic matter, refuse and ash to produce highly concentrated pockets of rich soil. Old banana leaves, stalks, rice straw and other organic matter are piled and sometimes burned in selected parts of fields to create additional local variations.

The M˜ebêngôkre have dozens of types of plant ash, each said to have certain qualities preferred by specific cultivars. The ash is usually prepared from the vines, shucks, stalks and leaves of plants that have been cut or uprooted during harvesting or weeding. Sometimes piles of organic matter are made, with the different vari eties carefully separated and allowed to dry in the sun until they will give a complete burn. The ashes are then distributed to the appropriate part of the field.


Like other tribes, the M˜ebêngôkre conscientiously study animal anatomy, giving special attention to stomach contents of game animals. They are also astute observers of many aspects of animal behaviour. The M˜ebêngôkre encourage their children to learn the behaviour patterns and feeding habits of different animal species, which are considered to have their own ‘personalities’.

The science of the M˜ebêngôkre 9 Part of this knowledge is gained through the rearing of pets. In a survey done with Kent Redford, we found over sixty species of birds, reptiles, snakes, amphib ians, mammals – even spiders – being raised in the village.

M˜ebêngôkre use a precise knowledge of insect behaviour to control agricultural pests. For example, nests of ‘smelly ants’ –

mrum kudj`a



) – are delib erately placed by the Indians in gardens and on fruit trees that are infested with leaf-cutting ants (


spp.). The pheromones of the ‘smelly ants’ repel the leaf-cut ters. These protective ants are also highly prized for their medicinal properties and are frequently crushed and their robust aromatic scents inhaled to open up the sinuses.

The Indians cultivate several plants containing extra-floral nectaries, often on the leaves or stems, which attract predatory ants to serve as ‘bodyguards’ for the plant. They also plant banana trees to form a living wall around their fields because predatory wasps nest preferentially under the leaves.

Stingless bees (Meliponinae) are one of the most valued insect resources.

During the dry season, groups of men frequently go off for days to find honey, which they often drink at the collection site. Beeswax is brought back to the vil lage to be burnt in ceremonies and used in many artefacts.

One of my knowledgeable and patient teachers, the shaman Kwyrà-kà, was a great expert on stingless bees. When I went with him and his son Irã upriver to hunt, we spent most of our time searching for honey. His son had learned to draw at the missionary school and loved to sketch the bees’ nests. I was originally trained in entomology, and realized what a goldmine of information these two Indians possessed about the behaviour of what our scientists still considered little known species.

Ethnomedicine and ethnopharmacology

Almost every M˜ebêngôkre household has its complement of common medicinal plants, many of which are domesticates or semi-domesticates. Shamans specialize in the treatment of particular diseases. Diarrhoea and dysentery remain the major killers in the humid tropics. The M˜ebêngôkre classify over 50 types of diarrhoea/dysentery, each of which is treated with specific medicines. Folk cate gories can be more elaborate and detailed than their Western counterparts.

Ethnopharmacologists and physicians frequently forget that disease categories, like all intellectually perceived phenomena, are culturally classified and not universal.


M˜ebêngôkre plant classification is based on each plant’s pharmacological proper ties – that is, for which diseases they can serve as a cure. The shaman Beptopoop was the first M˜ebêngôkre to show me how rare medicinal plants could be brought from distant areas and transplanted to places near one’s home trails, or in medici nal rock gardens. He specialized in curing the bites and stings of snakes, lizards

10 Kayapó history and culture and scorpions, and knew the minutest details of their behaviour. I got a feeling for the sophistication of Kayapó plant knowledge when he showed me how to graft a prized species for treating scorpion stings onto more common stock that grew near his favourite forest trail.

Indian plant categories cut across morphologically-based botanical groupings.

Nevertheless, these taxonomies often exhibit a high degree of correlation with Western botanical classification.

In addition to the discovery of medicinal plants, ethnobotany can establish new uses for known species and document the uses of unknown ones. ‘Kupa’ (

Cissus gongylodes

), for instance, is an edible domesticate known only to the M˜ebêngôkre and some of their relatives. An estimated 250 plants have been col lected that are used for their fruits alone.

Ethnoagriculture and agroforestry

Indigenous agriculture begins with a forest opening into which useful species are introduced, and ends with a mature forest of concentrated resources, including game animals. The cycle is repeated when the old-field forests develop canopies too high and dense for efficient production and are cleared again.

Agricultural plots are designed to be productive throughout this reforestation cycle. Contrary to persistent beliefs about indigenous slash/burn agriculture, fields are


abandoned within a few years of initial clearing and planting. On the contrary, old fields offer an important concentration of diverse resources long after primary cultivars have disappeared. M˜ebêngôkre ‘new fields’, for example, peak in production of principal domes ticated crops in two or three years, but continue to bear produce for many years: sweet potatoes for four to five years; yams and taro for five to six years; papaya for five or more years. The M˜ebêngôkre consistently revisit old fields seeking these lingering riches.

Fields take on new life as plants in the natural reforestation sequence begin to appear. These plants soon constitute a type of forest for which the Kayapó have a spe cial name that means mature old fields. Such fields provide a wide range of useful products, and are especially valuable for their concentrations of medicinal plants.

Old fields also attract wildlife to their abundant low leafy plants. Intentional dispersal of old fields and systematic hunting extends human influence over the forest by providing, in effect, large ‘game farms’ near human population centres.

M˜ebêngôkre do not make a clear distinction between fields and forest nor between wild and domesticated species. Gathered plants are transplanted, concen trated in spots near trails and campsites, to produce ‘forest fields’. The sides of trails themselves are planting zones. It is not uncommon to find trails composed of four-metre-wide cleared strips of forest.

The processes of domestication, frequently assumed to be historical, are still occurring in indigenous groups like the M˜ebêngôkre. With the team members of the Kayapó Project, we have collected literally hundreds of plant varieties that

The science of the M˜ebêngôkre 11 have been systematically selected by the M˜ebêngôkre and planted in human-mod ified ecological systems. It is fair to conclude that similar activities have gone and continue to go on throughout the Amazon among native peoples. Thus plant species are probably being led toward domestication as you read this chapter.

New directions

It is always easy to interest people in the exotic side of Indian life – big lips, strange customs – as I tried to do in the beginning of this chapter. But behind this colourful filter are lessons that our own society desperately needs. M˜ebêngôkre ecological adaptations and agricultural strategies offer new models for resource management of the Amazon. Past efforts to develop the Amazon have been such clear failures that the necessity for new directions is obvious.

Changes must begin by treating Indians and caboclos not as problems in devel opment to be overcome or planned for, but rather as active participants in the process, whose ideas are integrated into new, more socially and ecologically ratio nal strategies of change. If indigenous experience were taken seriously by modern science and incorporated into research and development programmes, the Indians would be recognized as a diligent, intelligent and practical people who have adapted successfully for thousands of years in the Amazon, and they would par ticipate, with the respect and esteem they deserve, in the construction of a modern Brazil.

One important question remains unanswered, and this is one of the most diffi cult. How do we compensate native peoples for their knowledge? How do we legally recognize the intellectual property rights of native peoples? Unless we find the answer, we will be a part of just another colonial invasion to mine and exploit the last knowers of the secrets of the Neotropics.

12 Kayapó history and culture

A Song of the Spirit

I suspect that one of the greatest values of anthropological field work is the clarity of one’s own cultural constructs laid bare by totally new cultural and geographical surroundings. This makes anthropologists poets of humanity, and their ethnographic contributions the epics of humankind.

I shall never forget my first ‘epic’ journey with the Kayapó: a trek to raid a settlement of Brazilians that had encroached on Indian lands. It was only a month since I had arrived in the Kayapó village and I knew nothing of their concepts of time. What I thought was to be a three-day journey turned out to be an eleven-day expedition, during most of which there was ritual fasting and running through the forest.

After four days travelling down river to a base camp, and one day of run ning through the forest, I had to turn back, weak from not eating, exhausted from running, and dehydrated to the point that my throat was too sore to swallow even a tablespoon of water. I had fallen back from the long file of running Kayapó and found myself thoroughly lost in a jungle I knew noth ing about.

After a night of lonely trauma I was rescued by three old men who had turned back due to illness. With care and concern they led me back to the river. Every step was painful, every move exasperating. I had wanted to stay with the Indians throughout their raid. I had wanted to be the poet to the bit ter end. But the idealism of an unseasoned fieldworker was crushed by the reality of physical and cultural limits. Exhausted, humiliated, disappointed, I reluctantly returned with my guides to our dugout. From its berth along the Rio Fresco we set out to the base camp upriver. My only solace was that I had not been left alone in the jungle and that I was at least alive to try again to be a Kayapó.

It had only taken an hour to float downstream from the camp, but the currents upriver were strong. We were all weak and tired. Paddling a dugout against the swirling water of an Amazonian tributary is not easy. Then the storm came.

The winds blew from the west, perpendicular to our course. Then the lightning came, heralded by tremendous tremors of thunder. We kept close to the sides of the river, where lightning would strike the tall trees and not our tiny craft. At times I could not see the front of the dugout from my van tage only a few feet to the rear. New waves of rain moved across the great forest canopy like the roar of a freight train. The chill of each deluge crept deeper and deeper into my bones.

Then, like the charge of the storm itself, I felt the majesty of nature. I knew that I was seeing a world that the Kayapó knew, appreciated, and sought inspiration from. The misery left. The fear dissipated. What was left

The science of the M˜ebêngôkre 13 was the realization that as at no other time in my life I was a creature of the universe, not separated by culture nor physiology from my dugout compan ions. They had no fear, for they felt the intensity of life that lay all around.

Into my head came this song: Paddle, paddle on we go; Till we can row no more.

Lightning, strike at every stroke; Still we cannot give up hope.

Tis a beauty rich and rare; A creation only men would dare.

Yet we go with glistening speed; Shelter is one of man’s needs.

Lightning, thunder, wind and rain; Will I see this sight again.

Nature at her perfect hour; Casting before us her very power.

The words flowed forth with a tune that emerged from the midst of the whirling storm. What bad poetry it seems now. What a wonderful song it seemed then. I sang it later for my Kayapó rescuers. They recognized it at once . ‘It is your Spirit Song,’ they said. ‘Everyone must have a Spirit Song.

You are now one of us.’ I still feel that song with its amateurish words is the first of my epic poetry. It is the beginning of my own attempt to record the ethnographic poetry of humankind. It is not a Kayapó song, nor does it have Kayapó words or form. It was conceived under the oneness of great cultural and physical stress. It is a song of the spirit and it is the same spirit as the Kayapó’s: it is the spirit of the human struggle to survive and understand the meaning of existence as a part of the grandness of nature.

Chapter 2

Contact before contact: typology of post-Colombian interaction with the Northern Kayapó of the Amazon 1 Introduction

Studies suggest that aboriginal populations in the New World tropics were con siderably larger than previously assumed (Dobyns 1966; Denevan 1976; Lathrop 1968; Hemming 1978). Indigenous agricultural and ecological management sys tems have likewise been shown to be more sophisticated and productive than expected, and, consequently, to offer a higher aboriginal population potential (Posey and Hecht 1988; Barbira-Scazzocchio 1981; Moran 1981a). Other prevail ing misconceptions have also been undermined; for example, it is no longer accepted that indigenous agricultural systems were simple and poorly developed or ‘marginal’ (Meggers 1971; Goodland and Irwin 1975); nor that all tropical eco logical zones are insufficiently fertile to support substantial human populations (Moran 1979, 1981a; Smith 1980).

My own research, for example, has pointed out that scientists have grossly underestimated the importance of gathered products and obscure sources of pro tein like insects and nuts (Posey 1978, 1987b). Completely overlooked are extensive categories of semi-domesticated plants and animals, the wide-range uti lization of secondary reforestation vegetation in so-called ‘abandoned fields’, and a complex system of ‘nomadic agriculture’ in manipulated ‘forest fields’ (Posey 1983e, 1986b).

2 Thus it is evident that the long-standing debates concerning ‘car rying capacity’ and ‘protein capture’ are far from over as new data continue to support higher and higher figures for potential aboriginal and historical indige nous populations.

3 Existing indigenous peoples in Brazil offer a tremendous source of information about tropical ecology, ecological zones, complex plant–animal–human relation ships or ‘co-evolutionary complexes’, as well as a myriad of plants and animals for potential large-scale exploitation (Posey 1986b, 1987b, 1988). In other words, the indigenous ‘experts’, whose cultures reflect thousands of years of adaptation to and information about Amazonia, may hold the urgently needed key that will allow for new strategies for sustained productivity and development in the Amazon with out the senseless ecological and social destruction that is now underway. Why not development of the Amazon based on indigenous ecological knowledge?

Contact before contact 15 This basic suggestion is always met with a powerful retort: ‘nice idea, but what can Indians who live in villages of 200 to 300 tell us that is relevant? Today there must be planning for towns much larger!’ In response, ethnohistorical research about the nature of aboriginal populations and, specifically, the nature of ‘contact’ with Europeans, is critical.

‘Initial contact’ is frequently assumed to be the first recorded episode of actual face-to-face interaction. A mistaken corollary is that what was observed during initial contact was a virgin, pristine Indian population, living in an isolated soci ety free from European influence. Descriptions of social and political organization, rituals and artefacts, as well as population estimates, are made based upon this assumption. My work with the Gorotire Kayapó of Brazil, with whom ‘initial contact’ was made only in 1936 (Ribeiro 1970), soon revealed, however, that considerable interaction had already occurred with Europeans well prior to 1936 (Verswijver 1986: 41). By the time the first observer arrived to describe the Gorotire Kayapó, they were, in fact, greatly weakened due to devas tating depopulation that provoked the formation of mutually hostile splinter groups. This chapter explores some of the mechanisms whereby European influ ence was felt prior to presumed ‘initial contact’. A model of social/cultural degradation and schismatic group hostility is offered for the northern Kayapó within this century.

Contact and history

The Kayapó are part of the Macro-Jê peoples (Greenberg 1960) that stretched in a great interior crescent from near Belém in the Amazon Basin to Ilhéus on the South Atlantic coast of Brazil. The southern Kayapó branch that extends to Santa Catarina was encountered by the Portuguese shortly after Cabral discovered Brazil in 1500.

4 Numerous wars were waged with these southern Kayapó by the early colonists. The royal governors of São Paulo sent forth the colonial militia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to subdue the ferocious and hostile Kayapó ‘hordes’. They met with considerable success, and by 1720 a reasonably safe caravan route was opened to connect Cuiabá, the centre of the interior gold trade, with the coast.

5 Although the southern Kayapó had been partially subdued by the colonial mili tia, more northerly Kayapó groups eluded Portuguese guns and were successful in carrying out numerous and regular raids on the gold caravans (Hemming 1978: 385, 397, 399, 405–6). The northern Kayapó became famous for their hostility, daring raids and barbarous manner of bludgeoning to death their victims (Sick 1960: 205; Wagley 1977: 39–40, 287; Baldus 1960: 399). Because of their reputa tion for violence, and because they lived north of the principal interior corridor of the Portuguese colony, the northern Kayapó did not have sustained relationships with Europeans until the nineteenth century (Nimuendajú 1932). Frei Gil Vilanova, a Dominican, was the first man to have sustained friendly relations with a band of northern Kayapó located along the Araguaia River.

6 He established the

16 Kayapó history and culture Mission of Santa Anna Nova in 1860 and watched helplessly as this band of Pau d’Arco Kayapó, as they were called, died off due to successive epidemics (Krause 1911). When Coudreau arrived at the Mission in 1896, he found 5,000 Pau d’Arco Kayapó living in four villages, the largest of which had approximately 1,500 inhabitants (Coudreau 1897a). These population estimates have been routinely dis missed as being exaggerated. However, Coudreau was observing a population already with over 30 years of contact with European diseases, and probably only observed a portion of the original Pau d’Arco population that had survived various waves of epidemics described by Frei Vilanova. This Kayapó group had insuffi cient immunity against European diseases and became extinct only 50 years after Coudreau’s visit (Dobyns 1966: 413–14; Vellard 1956: 78–9).


It is necessary to emphasize the overriding effects of European diseases upon indigenous populations. The effects of our ‘childhood’ diseases like mumps, measles, whooping cough and flu were disastrous (cf. McNeill 1976; Davis 1977; Crosby 1972). It is not uncommon to find 85 to 90 per cent of any given Indian group destroyed by a single epidemic (Dobyns 1966; Hemming 1978: 139, 492; Myers 1974; Sweet 1974: 78–80, 579–82). A rough calculation shows that 85 per cent of the indigenous populations died from European diseases the first genera tion after ‘initial contact’.

7 In one epidemic of measles in a northern Kayapó village (Kokrajmoro), 34 per cent of an inoculated population died within two weeks, and that included everyone over the age of 40, except two old women (Earl Trapp, personal communication; FUNAI archives). This particular epidemic took place in a village that had been officially contacted for nearly 20 years! One can only imagine what effects such epidemics had upon uninoculated populations.

The immediate effect upon this particular Kayapó village was that there was no one to tend the crops nor even gather ripened produce. The village was weakened to the point that, had it not been for emergency medical aid from a missionary team, the entire group would have disappeared. The group did survive, but cul tural and social systems came virtually to a halt because cultural transmission generally takes place between grandparents and grandchildren. There were no grandparents left, not a single elder male, to instruct in the essential rituals to insure healthy crops, nor anyone to perform the rituals of naming that perpetuate the uniquely Kayapó inheritance system. Furthermore, since ceremonial activities are highly differentiated with specialized roles being performed by specific lin eages, entire ceremonies and rituals disappeared with the death of senior lineage members. The village fell instantly into the throes of chaotic deculturation.

8 Not just the previously mentioned viral diseases are important in the epidemio logical history of the Amazonian Indian. Typhus, yellow fever and malaria are also written into the historical records (Dobyns 1966; McNeill 1976: 176–207; Crosby 1972: 73–121). Indians seem to have a greater resistance to these diseases than do Europeans, indicating that they have had a longer time to develop resistance.

9 Yet

Contact before contact 17 these diseases are said not to be endemic to Amazonia. One is left to conclude that these diseases often arrived centuries before the first outsider, white or black, actu ally set foot in the village.

Diseases can be analysed by the ways they are transmitted. This essentially epi demiological approach reveals that diseases do not always have to have direct human carriers, since epidemics can well precede initial face-to-face contact (Crosby 1972: 51).

Contact before contact

From an epidemiological perspective, ‘contact’ situations can be separated into three categories based on the nature of interaction between Indians and Europeans: 1 2 3 ‘Indirect contact’ (in which no human agent or carrier is responsible for dis ease transmission); ‘Intermediate contact’ (in which disease transmission takes place via a few individuals who selectively spread diseases from social groups they either represent or visit); ‘Direct contact’ (in which diseases are transmitted through direct face-to-face contact between groups of people).

Indirect contact

‘Silent exchange’

The Kayapó claim they used to trade with the Arara Indians before the Arara moved further to the north-west. They were bitter enemies of the Araras, however, and loathed their cannibalistic tendencies. Nonetheless, the Kayapó prized the yellow feathers of a water bird found in the Arara’s area and traded parrot feathers and eagle down for these coveted feathers. This prehistoric practice was said to have been done by leaving bamboo tubes filled with feathers, and closed up with beeswax, in designated camp sites; the Arara would reciprocate by leaving ibis feathers. Feathers alone are capable of carrying lice, as well as viral and bacterial organisms, that cause fatal disease. The Arara are known to have been in contact with the Portuguese and were exposed to European diseases in the early nine teenth century (Hemming 1978: 426–37; Bernardino da Souza 1874: 65–7, 130–1). Thus, contamination of Kayapó groups could have occurred via the Arara and similar groups through these trade exchanges.

Insect vectors and animal reservoirs

Yellow fever can be carried in primate reservoirs (Pavlovsky 1966; Hull 1963; Dunn 1965). Monkeys were, and remain today, one of the important trade commodities

18 Kayapó history and culture between the Kayapó and other Indian groups or with Europeans. Also, plague has been reported as early as 1536 in Brazil (Dobyns 1966; Ashburn 1947) and may have spread to the interior along established trade routes that dealt in pelt exchange, the furs being vehicles for the flea vectors. Typhus is likewise trans ported (Posey 1978, 1980). Thus, human carriers are not necessary for the immediate spread of disease, if these maladies have already been introduced into animal populations from human sources.

Myers (1981a) and Lyon (1981) have begun to trace what was an extensive and well-developed network of trade routes throughout the Americas. There is now evidence that highland Andean and lowland Amazonian regions were connected by trade routes that also interlaced the coastal regions of Brazil with internal com mercial systems.

Intermediate contact

Trade exchanges

1 2 3 With Europeans: The Txucahamai Kayapó were already in possession of numerous European trade goods when they were first contacted by the Villas Boas brothers in 1968 (Villas-Boas 1968).

10 Friendly contacts and exchanges by Europeans with the northern Kayapó groups were recorded in 1810, 1896 and 1908, and certainly included disease transmission as well.

11 ‘Go-betweens’: Runaway Indian slaves as well as ‘trade specialists’ from the aboriginal population centres of Brazil often served as ‘go-betweens’ in trad ing between the Portuguese and ‘wild’ Indians.

12 It is not certain if the Kayapó traded in this manner, but their vast territory extended to areas along the Araguaia, Tocantins, Xingu and Tapajós Rivers, all of which were acces sible to this type of trade. These travellers penetrated deep into Amazonia and carried contagious diseases to many indigenous groups for which no contact was recorded for decades, even centuries, after these initial encounters.

Trade with other Indians: The Kayapó continue to trade among village groups today and traded with other Indians in the past – notably the Karajá, the Mundurucu, the Araras, the Xikrin and the Tapirapé (cf. Wagley 1977: 215, 29–31, 101; Bernardino de Souza 1874: 231). The principal trade items were: feathers, beads, monkeys, skins and pelts, reeds for arrows, and various types of palm fibre for weaving. These items are conducive to the transmis sion of viral and bacterial diseases.

13 Based on oral tradition, the Kayapó were tied into a vast network of Jê, Tupi, Carib, Arawak, Karajá and Guarani trade routes. These aboriginal networks extended into the Amazon and its major tributaries to the north of the Kayapó (Myers 1981a); other networks ran along the Plata and Paraguay River Basins (Lyon 1981) and perhaps extended into the Xingu Basin in the heart of Kayapó lands.

Contact before contact 19


The early Bishops of Belém employed and otherwise encouraged a group of boat captains (‘regatões’) to explore the hinterlands. These ‘regatões’ traded with Indians in an effort to ensure good relations and to learn the Indian languages.

They penetrated deep into the river tributaries of Amazonia. They were expected to return to the Bishop with their reports, then to serve as interpreters and guides for subsequent voyages to convert the Indians. These people are known to have reached the Araguaia and lower Xingu, well within the range of traditional Kayapó treks.



The quest for rubber and cacao led the legendary ‘sertanistas’ and ‘seringueiros’ deep into the interior of the Amazon Basin. The Kayapó tell of the intrusion of many of these outsiders (


). However, few of the rubber-tappers and cacao gatherers lived to tell about the inhospitable Kayapó.

15 Neither did Colonel Fawcett, for that matter.

Runaway slaves

The Portuguese were plagued constantly with runaway slaves – both black and Indian.

16 It is impossible to know if any such runaways made it as far into the inte rior as the modern-day northern Kayapó, but there is considerable evidence of varied genetic mixture in modern Kayapó cultures (Black 1977).

Por tuguese exploration

1 2 3 For gold and gems: In the early seventeenth century the Portuguese began their search for gold in the Mato Grosso interior. Rich supplies were found near Cuiabá and a caravan route was established to connect the mines with the coast. These routes penetrated the southern edge of the Kayapó country and resulted in some friendly, but mostly hostile, interactions between the Indians and the fortune-hunters (Henderson 1821: 241, 453; Ayres de Cazal 1817: 330; Magalhães 1922:101).

Wars against Indians: The colonial government sent various armies forth to subdue the Kayapó. Most of the raids were carried out against southern Kayapó groups. The Portuguese militia penetrated into northern Mato Grosso, however, which was northern Kayapó territory in historic times (Hemming 1978: 407–8). Although friendly contact was not common, pris oners were taken, and even sporadic contact was sufficient to contaminate Indian warriors.

Religious expeditions: In 1810, Dom João Ferreira, Treasurer of the Cathedral of São Paulo, contacted the Kayapó at the great rapids of Urubú-Punga. There

20 Kayapó history and culture was a friendly exchange that lasted several days. Dom João even took several Kayapó back with him to São Paulo (Ayres de Cazal 1817; Henderson 1821: 453). We do not know if these ‘hostages’ were ever returned.

Direct contact

Raids for material objects

The Kayapó were well known for their raids on other Indian groups as well as ‘civilizados’ in order to take such things as baskets, masks, pets, feathers, guns, metal tools and ornaments (Coudreau 1897:197; Posey 1983e).

Raids for hostages

The Kayapó have an ancient tradition of raiding for hostages (Henderson 1821: 210). They take small children, whom they know they can raise as culturally Kayapó. Approximately 15 per cent of the modern village of Gorotire is com posed of such individuals (Posey 1979b). Genetic research with the Kayapó groups confirms the ancient nature of this practice (Black

et al.

n.d.; Salzano

et al.


Warfare for revenge

The Kayapó are famed for their ferocious nature. They made war against the Portuguese as soon as the Portuguese had penetrated the areas near the Araguaia, Tocantins, Xingu and even the Tapajós River (Vidal 1977:13–15). Similar wars were waged against Indian neighbours, both Kayapó and non-Kayapó (Verswijver 1978, 1986). These were frequently provoked by killings of Kayapó by a ‘civi lizado’ or another Indian, although accusations of sorcery (


) against other tribes or groups were usually sufficient to stir the Kayapó to revenge (Turner 1966).

Although not a complete typology, this hopefully serves to illustrate that the Kayapó were in contact with Europeans and European diseases – both directly and indirectly – in a variety of ways long before ‘initial’ contact. A specific epi demiological profile is impossible. Given the oral history of the Kayapó, the model of village and group dispersal, and knowledge of epidemic disease devas tation, one can certainly conclude that the aboriginal Kayapó culture was quite different from what was described at ‘first contact’.

Disease and dispersal

Since 1977 the author has collected oral tradition about Kayapó society, social structure and concepts of history. Their tradition is laden with examples of fights, fissions and sorcery, most of which were associated with epidemics of diseases (


or fever, and

jarop ratx

or flu).

Contact before contact 21 Present-day northern Kayapó groups lived in one ancestral village at the begin ning of this century. This village of Pyka-tô-ti (sometimes just called the ‘Great’ or ‘Beautiful Village’,


) was said to have had ‘streets’, and so many houses that one could only know one’s relatives and followers of one’s chief.

There were two men’s houses, each headed by a ‘strong chief ’ (


) and subdivided into many subgroups with their own chiefs. Complementary female chiefs and organizations mirrored those of the men (Verswijver 1986; Posey 1986b).

Figure 2.1A represents the composition of Pyka-tô-ti as a permanent village with trekking groups dispersing to different geographical areas. Pyka-tô-ti was probably intact until about 1900.

When all


(the Kayapó autonym) lived in this village, the men would leave the village for six to eight weeks or longer to carry out raids on other Indians or ‘civilizados’ (


). The men would return to the village with cap tives, valuable feathers and booty, and with abundant meat for the festivals and ceremonies that inevitably followed (and often prompted) such treks. Pyka-tô-ti would swell with inhabitants during these ceremonial periods, often utilizing structures in all three of its concentric circles. When I visited the Pyka-tô-ti site in 1978, only the outline of the circular village was still visible; the diameter of the outer circle was 1,050 metres. A population of perhaps 3,500 to 5,000 has been estimated (Posey 1979a).

17 Due to sorcery (


) and disease (


), some of the chiefs left the Great Village with their followers to live a short distance away because they feared the spirits (


) of the many who had died from disease epidemics: ‘the land had become bad’ (

arap pyka punu

) and haunted by danger ous spirits (

karõn punu

). Some of the original population of Pyka-tô-ti remained in the village, however, to maintain their fields. The various dispersed groups returned to the Great Village for some important annual and name-giving cere monies (see Figure 2.1B).

Eventually (probably by 1919), Pyka-tô-ti was totally abandoned. The fission groups formed their own villages, not yet totally separated ceremonially. Kayapó informants explain that various village groups would reconvene at the old village site at appointed times to re-enact jointly the important ceremonies (see Figure 2.1C). Schismatic groups joined together in various combinations, in order to bring together the scattered specialists necessary for the effecting of complex rit uals (see Figure 2.1D).

18 Finally, by the time Horace Banner had contacted the Gorotire Kayapó group in 1936, the village had broken up completely and dispersed into mutually hostile subgroups scattered in various directions from the ancestral Pyka-tô-ti (see Figure 2.1E). What he and later ‘sertanistas’ (those who contact Indians) saw was a frag mented and disintegrated remnant of what had until recently been a populous, highly organized aboriginal society. Banner spoke fluent Kayapó and understood the chaotic state of ‘his’ Indians. His journals are filled with numerous accounts of intergroup raids, counter-raids, fear and preparation for raids. Numerous mas sacres of reprisal for death from illness ‘caused’ by rival lineage or village groups

22 Kayapó history and culture


Main village intact and organized under 'strong' chiefs, with numerous trekking group (a, b, c, d, e, f, g) under subchiefs.

g f a e b d c


the main village remains permanently occupied. Some subgroups, however, have formed separate villages (a,c,e) and return to the ancestral village for ceremonial purposes only.

g f a b e d c


The main village is abandoned, except for periodic reunions of some subgroups for ceremonial purposes.

g f a e b d c


The ancestral village is totally abandoned. Certain subgroups reunite temporarily for ceremonial purposes at other sites.

g f a e b d c


Village subgroups disperse and mutual hostility prevents reunions. Further fission occurs (h, i, j, k, l, m).

g f a e d c b

Figure 2.1

Model of village fission of the Northern Kayapó.

Contact before contact 23 reinforced anxiety of hostility from former neighbours and ceremonial compatri ots.

19 Apprehension of reprisals continues today, as two or three groups of ‘non-contacted’ Kayapó still flee their ‘pacified’ relatives for fear of these old hostilities.

The principal force that led to the disintegration of traditional Kayapó society was European disease. Surges of disease and mortality in a Kayapó village, such as Gorotire, still lead to accusations of sorcery (


). Turner (1966), Verswijver (1978, 1986) and Bamberger (1967: 35–9) have documented specific cases where individual Kayapó are accused of causing a disease outbreak. The accused must either flee the village with family and loyal relatives or face being killed. If one insists on innocence, then the accused and perhaps his extended kin group may choose to fight (

aben tàk

) the accuser, and the accuser’s extended kin. The losers in this dramatic, stylized, and deadly serious battle must leave the village. Thus major chunks of a village population were split due to accusations of


and fled from their hostile home village.

An important cultural mechanism that affects site occupation is fear of spirits (


). The Kayapó traditionally abandon a house if multiple deaths occur dur ing a short period of time.

20 An entire village site will be abandoned if many deaths occur as, for example, during an epidemic. Village, missionary and Indian bureau records show that a death rate of 60 per cent or more was common in Kayapó populations after settlement onto Indian posts.

Dispersal in the wake of epidemics is a very adaptive mechanism for social animals. Frequently we fail to recognize this in human populations because we do not understand the cultural mechanism for such dispersal. With the Kayapó, how ever, the evidence is convincing as shown by this model of fission.

Increased intragroup hostility occurred after disintegration of Pyka-tô-ti, mak ing the Kayapó appear much more hostile and warlike to outsiders than they in fact had been prior to their decimation by epidemics. Older survivors today remember Pyka-tô-ti and speak of days before there was much sickness, when the Kayapó lived in peace with their neighbours. Today, they feel shame (

piá àm

) because of deaths due to warfare and intergroup hostility.



Aboriginal population densities have been considerably underestimated because of scholars’ failures to properly assess the effect of European diseases on Amerindian peoples. Likewise assumptions that observations made at ‘initial contact’ reflect Indian societies unaffected by European influence ignore the various ways through which foreign trade items and diseases can anticipate face-to-face contact. For the Kayapó, European artefacts and epidemics arrived decades before the first mis sionaries made their first observations. Trade networks, warfare, raids, missionaries and explorers all introduce elements of change into the hinterlands.

Indirect, intermediate and direct contact in the Amazon Basin are the basis for a typology of contact perhaps generalizable to other parts of the Americas.

24 Kayapó history and culture Oral tradition, historical documents and archaeological remains combine to provide a model for cultural disintegration. Rapid depopulation due to epidemics thrust the Kayapó society into chaos. Political structures disintegrated, social rules collapsed, and ceremonial life disappeared as death took away knowledge able elders with specialized ceremonial roles. The ancient village of Pyka-tô-ti fragmented through various stages into mutually hostile groups. Accusations of witchcraft flourished because of unexplainable deaths from unknown diseases and created enemies from neighbours. Beliefs in spirits led to abandonment of houses or whole villages due to spiritual contamination by the dead.

The Kayapó thus appeared to outsiders unaccustomed to Kayapó history and culture (and with few communication skills to learn otherwise) to be unduly war like and nomadic. This skewed impression of their true ‘aboriginal nature’ has coloured perceptions of the Kayapó and other indigenous peoples ever since.

We will never know the actual indigenous population density of the Americas nor the true nature of aboriginal societies, but a more accurate picture of pre Colombian America is possible. We must dismiss the misconception that ‘initial contact’ accounts reflect pristine aboriginal populations and be prepared to re evaluate historical and ethnographical accounts to reflect Indian societies already in the throes of societal devastation and chaos.

Chapter 3

Environmental and social implications of pre- and post contact situations on Brazilian Indians 1

Modern indigenous societies probably bear little resemblance to their pre-contact antecedents. Drastic depopulation due to European diseases and dominance left only remnants of aboriginal societies. The Northern Kayapó, for example, once lived in large villages with a complex age-grade and lineage organization. As a result of epidemics prior to first recorded face-to-face ‘contact’ with the whites, large groups split into small, dispersed villages. This dispersion had significant effects on regional flora and fauna, as well as provoking major social changes.

Since many of these modifications are recent, old village sites can still be located and excavated, thereby giving unique opportunities to combine ethnohistory, archaeology, ethnography and ethnoecology to trace and document dramatic changes in indigenous populations during the transition from pre- to post-contact times. The Kayapó case provides an excellent opportunity to test many of the the ories that are proposed for a new Amazonian synthesis.

Impact of dispersion and deculturation

Sociocultural reduction

The dispersal of Kayapó groups led to the immediate collapse of the traditional


(East-West Men’s House) system. Two


(great chiefs) were inadequate to coordinate the several scattered subgroups, leaving former subchiefs to assume responsibility. Since the break up of Pyka-tô-ti, the Kayapó have not been able to establish a single village with both Men’s Houses, or agree upon who, in modern times, should be the



Individual villages were associated with either the Eastern or Western


, except for Gorotire which became an ‘attraction post’ (posto de atraição) or FUNAI post to entice Kayapó groups to make peaceful contact with the whites.

Gorotire became filled with representatives of all the Kayapó subgroups and, con sequently, became a microcosm of Kayapó beliefs and practices. A single Men’s House was established in Gorotire, but, in fact, its members come from both Eastern and Western traditions. This can be illustrated by the burial practices of peoples from the different Men’s Houses. The Eastern House buries with the head

26 Kayapó history and culture facing east; the Western House buries facing west. In Gorotire, however, burials occur in both orientations (Kwyrà-kà Kayapó, personal communication).

As a result of its diverse mixture, Gorotire shows great variations in the myths, songs, stories and rituals that are presented in the village. Debates over which ver sion is the

djyjarejn kumrenx

(true tradition) are frequent. These variations reflect the special knowledge held by individuals and family groups that, at the time of break up, were differentially distributed by chance and historical occurrences.

Kayapó ceremonies and festivals are characterized by the complex integration of many specialized ritual parts ‘owned’ by


(inheritance groups) (Lea 1988). If the


is without a representative in any given village, the festival that requires that specialized missing part cannot be performed. In some cases, entire festivals have died out due to lack of surviving ritual specialists to perform essential parts. The We-we (butterfly) Festival is such an example. Kayapó elders can name many festivals that are no longer practised for this reason. Thus, dispersal of Kayapó groups led to a reduction of festivals due to the lack of a critical mass and necessary ritual specialists to carry out the ceremonies. The same process must have occurred in other areas of knowledge and practice, result ing in cultural fragmentation and reduction.

One can speculate on the preponderance of ple of this reduction process.

Bep Bep

names as one possible exam names are given during the Bemp Festival and were once thought to be the highest status names of the Kayapó. But while other naming ceremonies became more difficult or impossible to perform,


remained relatively easy to perform due to the survival of


result, the name


‘knowers’. As a is now very common, and, although it is still considered a

idjy mex

(Beautiful Name), it no longer connotes such a high status. The clearest evidence of knowledge reduction is with Kayapó shamans and traditional medicine knowers. They have special powers and deal with physical and spiritual illnesses (Chapters 6 and 14). Most of the

wayanga kumrenx

(true shamans) died or were killed due to epidemics and inter- or intragroup fights. In their place came the apprentices, ‘weak’ shamans, and those with little experi ence. By default, the title of ‘


’ fell onto those who in past generations would have been considered unprepared, or undesirable, for such an important role.

The deculturation/disintegration process stimulated the appearance of many


(plant knowers), who do not claim to deal with spirits, but only with the curative properties of certain plants. These ‘knowers’ specialize in cer tain families of plants (Chapters 6 and 14) and the diseases they cure. In the village of Gorotire, over 25 per cent of the population claims to be a

m˜ekute pidjà-mari

. One can hypothesize that the abundance of such specialists was stimulated by the loss of ‘true shamans’ and, as a result, loss of medical advice during a time of increased illness.

Contact with FUNAI and missionaries provoked other changes that resulted in the creation of alternative social structures and loss of traditional Kayapó ways. In Gorotire, for example, the mission church has its own organization centred

Environmental and social implications 27 around the Indian pastor and church leaders. The church structure sometimes competes with the chiefs for power, attention and resources, creating conflict between the


(Christians) and the rest of the community. On two occasions over the past 50 years, the missionaries have been expelled from Gorotire, always to be invited back because of their access to merchandise, transport and medi cines. The Brazilian FUNAI has favoured male leaders as the spokespersons for the villages. Consequently, female chiefs have disappeared and those males that speak Portuguese have climbed to positions of greatest importance. Most modern male chiefs do not even know the ceremonial language, or


, for which their office was named


, or ‘giver of the



Both the missionaries and FUNAI encouraged the Kayapó to wear clothes. But Kayapó themselves decided to abandon some of their most characteristic tradi tions, such as the

amuh m˜etôrô

(Wasp Dance), in which warriors are repeatedly stung by wasps during a ceremonial ‘fight’. The

tep djwa

(fish tooth), a gourd pad dle embedded with very sharp fish teeth and used for scarification of young boys who misbehaved, was also discarded. Use of large ear spools and lip plugs also died out. All of these losses were due to the same reason: the Kayapó felt

piá àm

(ashamed) of such practices because of the way they were viewed by the whites.

Nomadic agriculture

With the dispersal of Kayapó subgroups, useful biological species and natural resource management strategies also spread. Agricultural plots could be main tained for permanent and semi-permanent villages like Pyka-tô-ti, but nomadic groups depend more heavily upon other types of management such as trailside plantings and ‘forest fields’. Trail systems were extensive in the Kayapó area, and their margins served as areas for planting, transplanting and spreading numerous semi-domesticated plant species used for food, medicine, building materials, dyes, scents, insect repellents and so on. Forest fields were made either by felling large trees in the forest or by utilizing


(natural forest openings) into which seeds, cuttings, seedlings and tubers of useful species were introduced.

These concentrations of useful resources required little or no human care after planting.

Special ‘war gardens’ (usually known as

krãi kam puru

) were planted in forested hills near trails, villages or campsites (Gottsberger and Posey, in prepara tion; Posey 1983c, 1985b). These secret gardens not only served as emergency sources for food, but also as germplasm banks where stocks of useful species could always be found if necessary.

The strategy of producing hidden ‘resource islands’ extended to the production of


, or islands of resources in the campo-cerrado (Anderson and Posey 1987, 1989; Posey and Gottsberger, in preparation).


were produced by introduc ing colonizing plants into small mounds of enriched planting material in the savanna. These plantings grew and were further moulded to provide forest ‘islands’ filled with requisite species for human and animal survival.

28 Kayapó history and culture Trailside plantings, forest fields, war gardens and


form part of an ancient Kayapó ‘nomadic agriculture’ system (Posey 1983c, 1985b). The system allowed warriors to have food sources during long treks and war raids. Other Kayapó used them on extended family treks and during journeys to distant villages. This sys tem gave the Kayapó needed flexibility during periods when agricultural plots were abandoned or inaccessible due to enemy activity. As soon as feasible, Kayapó groups would re-establish their regular agricultural plots. As long as intra- and intergroup raids existed, however, dependence on agriculture remained difficult. The prevalence of


(fields) probably shrunk and grew as a function of warfare and peace. Today, with no open hostilities remaining, ‘nomadic agri culture’ has been all but abandoned: only a few older people can describe the system in detail. In contrast, agriculture is flourishing in all Kayapó villages.

Ecological and biological consequences

Dispersal of Kayapó groups meant the dispersal of domesticated and semi domesticated species traditionally exploited by the Kayapó (for a partial list see Posey 1984c; Anderson and Posey 1985; Posey and Gottsberger, in preparation).

Possibly, with the greater range of the Kayapó groups, the number of varieties or species drastically increased as new plants were encountered. Certainly many varieties traditionally used by different family groups were carried wherever its members went.

Informant Kwyrà-kà told of his treks between the Araguaia and Tapajós Rivers as a young warrior. He described a special basket used by the old men to carry roots, seeds and cuttings for planting along the trails or at home villages.

Transportation of germplasm was one of the major functions of any trek; tribal elders alone were entrusted with this important task.

Near Gorotire village, Anderson and Posey (1985, 1989) found that useful species from an area the size of Western Europe had been concentrated into a ten hectare


study area. In recent years, Chief Pombo (


) was seen many times wandering off into the old fields and


of Gorotire to snatch up cuttings for his new village downstream. Plants remain one of the most common gifts exchanged between Kayapó visitors from different villages. Establishment of new villages always means the establishment of a stock of necessary plants from the parent villages.

Cognitive maps by Kayapó informants show that brazil nut, babaçu, açaí and bacaba groves are associated with ancestral villages and campsites. Planting these trees is part of an ancient tradition and often marks sites of human occupation.

Such trees are but a few of the most easily recognizable markers of habitation sites. Shaman Beptopoop took an English film crew and me to film old village sites near Conceição do Araguaya in 1988.

2 He had little difficulty locating the sites by interpreting the vegetation, though the sites had been abandoned for approximately 50 years. Archaeobotany has been under-utilized by scientists to locate, characterize and interpret prehistoric and historic Indian sites. Yet, in most

Environmental and social implications 29 cases, diagnostic plants can be identified easily by informants and surveyed with traditional botanical collection methods. Aerial, or even satellite, images can also be used once the botanical diagnostic profile has been completed for old village, camp and field sites.

As periodically used campsites turned into permanent villages, forest areas used for agriculture also began to be transformed into


(old fields). Old fields are important links in the overall Kayapó management process, since they are filled with semi-domesticated species as well as animals that are attracted to their low, bushy vegetation.


are difficult to detect except by the trained eye and are frequently confused with ‘natural forest’. Probably much of what has been con sidered ‘natural’ in the Amazon is, in fact, modified by prehistorical and historical Amerind populations (Posey 1985b; Balée 1989a, 1989b). Although some efforts have been made to map and locate secondary growth and old fields with satellite imagery, little published data is available.

Likewise, soil management methods led to improvements in agricultural soils and the formation of ‘terra preta dos índios’. The extensive accumulation of these rich, anthropogenic soils (anthrosols) is most important along the banks of the Amazon River (Smith 1980). Similar processes also occurred in interfluvial areas, such as with the Kayapó (Hecht and Posey 1989, 1990). As scattered vil lages grew and peace allowed for the flourishing of agricultural activities, more land came under cultivation and consequently more soils were affected.

The past meets the future: steps to the new synthesis

A new scientific synthesis

Given the richness of oral tradition and memory of elders who actually lived in old villages such as Pyka-tô-ti, the Kayapó offer a unique opportunity to compare oral tradition with archaeological and ethnobiological information. Since 1982, the Kayapó Project has accumulated extensive data on ethnobiological aspects of Kayapó culture, including extensive soil, botanical and zoological collections.

Ethnoecological, ethnopedological, ethnomedical, ethnopharmacological and agricultural studies, as well as classic sociopolitical research, make the Kayapó one of the best documented Amazonian indigenous groups. It is, therefore, possi ble to correlate archaeological theory and subsistence models with living and historic populations.

For example, comparative soil analyses can show how modern soil modifica tions led to the formation of ‘terra preta dos índios’. Likewise, old camp and village sites, as well as trail systems, can be mapped and located using living infor mants, and checked with botanical indicator species also provided by the Kayapó. In some cases, myth and legend can be correlated with historical events to provide ethnohistorical markers. For example, the Kayapó myth of the origin of agriculture offers a unique opportunity to correlate celestial markers with actual astronomical dates. According to the myth, agriculture was given to the ancestors

30 Kayapó history and culture by the daughter of the rain, Nhak-pôk-ti, represented by the planet Venus. This event occurred when Venus appeared in the midday sky during a total eclipse of the sun. The exact position is recorded as being in the south-east quadrant of an area defined by the east-west path of the sun and moon, cut at approximately a 90-degree angle by the Milky Way. Using astronomical data, it is possible to cal culate dates in the past when this event could have occurred (Campos and Posey 1990). This date, in turn, can be correlated with archaeological evidence from the actual site. A new scientific synthesis for Amazonia depends upon interdisciplinary research and, in turn, the correlation of that research with oral tradition and actual ethnographic practice.

A new indigenous synthesis

The Kayapó themselves are trying to reconstruct and restructure their own soci ety. They still speak frequently about the building of a


with two Men’s Houses. There is a great desire to build up the Kayapó population to compensate for losses during the decades of epidemics and warfare.

Two recent events show how the old structures of Kayapó society have been adapted for modern use: the first was in 1988 during the demonstration of Kayapó warriors against the prosecution of two of their chiefs, who had gone to the World Bank to oppose construction of dams on their Xingu River lands (cf. Chapter 4).

Traditional war oratory and dances were used by the demonstrators as they closed some of the main arteries in Belém, the regional capital. Representatives of most Kayapó subgroups were present and were organized with remarkable precision and control under village leaders and special war chiefs. The event showed how the Kayapó were not only capable of effectively reintegrating their society, but also of adapting their organization and culture to manipulate the mass media that covered the demonstration.

Shortly thereafter (February 1989), an even larger media event was held in Altamira, Pará, the proposed site of the dams. The ‘Altamira Encounter’ was one of the most significant events in the history of the environmental and indigenous movements. The Kayapó were able to mobilize representatives of many indige nous peoples from all over the Americas to discuss with human rights and environmental leaders a unified strategy to protect natural ecosystems and native peoples (Posey 1989a, 1989b).

For the Kayapó themselves, it was the first time that so many from dispersed groups were able to meet peacefully together. It was, in a sense, a modern re creation of Pyka-tô-ti. After so many decades of separation and differences, it was amazing to see how easily and efficiently the subgroups could reintegrate to form a unified and highly organized social event. The complex model of Pyka-tô-ti organization had been long abandoned, but not in the least forgotten.

Environmental and social implications 31


Aboriginal population densities have been considerably underestimated because of failures to assess properly the effect of European diseases on Amerindian peo ples. Likewise assumptions that observations made at ‘initial contact’ reflect Indian societies unaffected by European influence ignore the various effects that foreign trade items and diseases can have prior to face-to-face contact. For the Northern Kayapó, European artefacts and epidemics arrived decades (if not cen turies) before missionaries made their first observations. Trade networks, warfare, raids, missionaries and explorers all introduced elements of change into the hin terlands (see previous chapter). Indirect, intermediate and direct contact in the Amazon Basin form a typology of contact perhaps generally applicable to other parts of the Americas.

Oral tradition, historical documents and archaeological remains combine to provide a model for cultural disintegration and reintegration. Rapid depopulation due to epidemics thrust the Kayapó society into chaos. Political structures disinte grated, social rules collapsed, and ceremonial life disappeared as death took away knowledgeable elders with specialized ceremonial roles. The ancient village of Pyka-tô-ti fragmented through various stages into mutually hostile groups.

Accusations of witchcraft flourished because of unexplainable deaths from unknown diseases and created enemies from neighbours; beliefs in spirits led to abandonment of houses or whole villages due to spiritual contamination by the dead. The Kayapó thus appeared to outsiders, unaccustomed to Kayapó history and culture, to be unduly warlike and nomadic. This skewed impression has coloured perceptions of the Kayapó and other indigenous peoples ever since.

Cultural degradation led to the disappearance of ‘true’ shamans and the rise of many ‘weak’ shamans and ‘plant knowers’ who appeared to fill a needed gap in medical care. Similar reductions occurred in other areas of ceremonial and cul tural knowledge.

Agriculture was less evident in the direct contact period due to increased nomadic warfare activity. A much greater dependence on ‘semi-domesticated’ products of ‘nomadic agriculture’ was necessary. These products escaped European eyes because they fell between the paradigms of hunters-gatherers and agriculturalists, leaving the scientific data inadequate for the evaluation of indige nous diet. ‘War gardens’, ‘forest fields’, trailsides and


went unnoticed, since they fell outside the Western concept of natural resource management.

Consequently, many areas of Amazonia considered to be ‘natural’ are probably products of aboriginal and historic human presence. Agricultural plots began to thrive again only when relatively peaceful times were restored. This led to a decreased dependency on semi-domesticated foods and decline of the war adapted ‘nomadic agricultural’ system.

It is clear that, although demographic and cultural degradation was rapid and severe, the Kayapó society resisted in remarkably strong ways. Specialized knowl edge, elaborate rituals and a complex system of inter- and intragroup organization

32 Kayapó history and culture allowed the Kayapó not only to survive in the whites’ world, but to take a leader ship role in it, as the Altamira Encounter proved. A conscious new synthesis of Kayapó society by the Kayapó themselves already includes the abstract notion that they are conservers of nature and that their traditional knowledge is important for the future of Amazonia. Perhaps this means that the Kayapó will be one of the first indigenous groups to work together with scientific specialists to provide the true Amazonian synthesis: one in which Indian knowledge and Western scientific data can be used together to interpret the past, analyse the present and prepare for the future.

Chapter 4

Time, space and the interface of divergent cultures: the Kayapó Indians of the Amazon face the future 1 Introduction

The Brazilian Amazon captures much of the mystery of life, not only because of its vastness, complexity of plant and animal species and exotic indigenous peoples, but also because of its impenetrability. It is the last terrestrial frontier that defies mod ern technology and remains a challenge to the ingenuity of Western society. In the wake of sophisticated and enormous so-called ‘development’ projects for the Amazon lies a lengthy chronology of ecological destruction. It is not just deforesta tion that has resulted, but irreversible ‘desertification’ and related environmental degradation with which the world must now reckon (Eckholm and Brown 1977; Goodland and Irwin 1975; USDA 1978; USDFA 1980). It has become obvious that there is little option but to re-evaluate the course of ‘progress’ for the Amazon and look for alternative strategies as a basis for future development.

The Amazon has popularly been called a ‘counterfeit paradise’ and a ‘green hell’. But to Indians, like the Northern Kayapó, it is ‘just plain home’ and has been for millennia. Aboriginal Indian populations are now believed to have been quite dense, yet minimal environmental destruction resulted from their strategies of exploitation (Dobyns 1966; Denevan 1976). It is in the cultures of the Kayapó and other surviving indigenous peoples that I propose we can find the secrets to new strategies for the reasonable development of the Amazon without the irrevo cable destruction of its plants, animals and peoples.

The Kayapó Indians of southern Pará and northern Mato Grosso are one of Brazil’s major indigenous groups. The first permanent contact with the Kayapó was not until 1937 (Banner n.d. 1963, 1975).

2 Subsequently other Kayapó groups have been settled into villages with a FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio) post and medical services (Verswijver 1978). The tribe remains, however, geographi cally remote and relatively unacculturated. The Kayapó have been fortunate in this respect, for their understanding of ‘civilizados’ has been allowed to proceed slowly, without the sudden disruption of their ecological and cultural system (Posey 1979b). They remain today a proud people, who flourish because of an ecologically sound and diversified utilization of their Amazonian ecosystem (Bamberger 1967; Posey 1979c).

34 Kayapó history and culture Yet huge cattle ranches, plantations and mineral developments are lapping at their very doorstep. The recent Cumarú gold rush and confusion over tribal boundaries has led to cultural conflict, deep resentment and even bloodshed (ARC 1980; Anon 1980).

3 There are plans for a road that would cut through their ‘reserva indígena’ and the westward frontier now gnaws at their tribal lands.

Suddenly the Kayapó are face-to-face with the unrelenting tentacles of technol ogy and society.

The purpose of this essay is to explore briefly the world view of the Kayapó, to reveal their sense of being in the world, and how this world view affects their exploitation of the environment as well as how the Kayapó are disadvantaged in dealing with Western society and technology. Ironically this patently practical matter must be dealt with at the most abstract level of temporal and spatial con cepts. I shall argue that it is in the divergent notions of lineal versus non-lineal time and space that the nature of ‘cultural interface’ is revealed most clearly.

On time and space

Time for Western civilization is refined to the point of having attributes of a substance or a commodity: we measure it, waste it, consume it, treasure it.

Space is inextricably correlated with time, for in our all-encompassing meta physical plan, space is plotted on two transecting axes in a three-dimensional expanse, the third dimension being formed by the lineal movements of time (Whorf 1950). Time flows from past to present and extends into the future. This lineality allows us to pinpoint events in time and space, and to add the historical dimension upon which technological civilizations evaluate the present and pre dict the future.

Can any of us imagine not saving for the future, not planning ahead, not ‘mak ing hay while the sun shines’. Indeed, our cultural commitment to the lineality of time and space permeates the very fabric of our minds so that we cannot con sciously imagine that life could exist without such constructs. After all, our biology, mathematics, physics and history have all validated the canonical laws of our scientific metaphysics. Sorokin pointed out the link between the development of mathematics and lineal time and the emergence of definite social develop ments connected with urbanization and industrialization (Sorokin 1943). Too few people, however, realize that science itself is a lineal, evolutionary product of classical Western philosophy and cultural traditions.

Benjamin Whorf, after studying the Hopi Indians, grasped the nature of a real ity not built upon lineal constructs. He wrote: ‘Just as it is possible to have any number of geometrics other than Euclidean which give an equally perfect account of space configurations, so it is possible to have descriptions of the universe, all equally, that do not contain our familiar constructs of time and space’ (Whorf 1950). Beidelman also mused that ‘we should no more be surprised at the alien or exotic features of primitive time reckoning than at the features of other people’s corresponding social organization or religious beliefs’ (Beidelman 1963).

Time, space, and the interface of divergent cultures 35 The Kayapó recognize three types of time, which can be called: 1) ecological time, 2) structural time, and 3) macro-time (Evans-Pritchard 1939). The first two types correspond to our own Western notions of time: 1 2 3 ‘Ecological time’ corresponds to the natural yearly ecological and agricul tural cycles. For the Kayapó, ecological time is divided into two seasons: the dry season, and the wet season. Further subdivisions are correlated with moon phases and stages of crop maturity (Posey 1979e).

‘Structural time’ is reckoned by human life cycles and is marked by periodic rites of passage. The Kayapó segment their population into six male age grades and five female age grades. Individuals pass from one age grade to another as they grow older and such changes are marked by specific cere monies at more or less regular time intervals (Vidal 1977; Dreyfus 1963; Bamberger 1976).

‘Macro-time’ brings us to the level of greatest abstraction and cultural diver gence. It is at this abstract level that Kayapó notions of time and space drastically diverge from our own. To the Western mind, time is a precisely defined unit that can be measured in seconds, milliseconds, or even microseconds. But at this level of abstraction, for the Kayapó neither time nor space is measurable, or even definable. They become forces that are dynamic rather than cinematic, i.e. erupting and emerging manifestations of dynamic energy with no definite direction or unified motion. The integrity of time and space disappears, or rather blends, into a motion that is without defined direction, yet eternal and omnipresent (Lukesch 1976; Wilbert 1978).

4 I have labelled this realm of time and space as being maximally abstract, yet to the Kayapó this dimension is vibrant, scintillating, and shim mering with the mysterious energy of all that is life. This realm is at the very essence of all that was, is now, or will be Kayapó (Lukesch 1978; Wilbert 1978; Vidal 1977; Posey 1982d).

5 Portions of this dynamic force are encap sulated as spirits of all living things. The Kayapó see themselves as an integral part of a world, whose natural components are all manifestations of the same energy. Not just people have spirits (


), but animals do as well, and plants act as balancing agents between these two spiritual realms. For this reason, the Kayapó have a profound respect for nature. Indeed, the health and well-being of individual and tribe is viewed as a proper ‘balance’ between all natural forces (Lukesch 1976).

6 The balance between the various encapsulated ‘spirits’ of nature is symbolized by the circle (see Figure 4.1). The universe is described in myths as being circular, with floating parallel disks forming layers of the universe circumscribed by the greater outer circle (Lukesch 1976; Wilbert 1978). One of the parallel disks is the earth, which is likewise divided into concentric rings, the Men’s House (


) being the centre of the circle, surrounded by the village, a transition zone, the for est and the outermost circle being the area of non-Indians (Snyder 1964; T. Turner 1965; Bamberger 1967) (see Figure 4.2).

36 Kayapó history and culture

Figure 4.1

Kayapó model of the world showing parallel earth and sky disks in a circular universe.

Figure 4.2

Spatial model of the Kayapó world.The centre (


) is the Men’s Mouse (


); houses (


) are the domain of less socialized women; the transitional zone (


) delineates the social space of the village from the unsocialized forest (



Kayapó villages, with their great circular rings of matrilateral extended house holds, are social manifestations of the circle (Vidal 1977; da Matta 1976) (see Figure 4.3). Hunting treks proceed in circular paths; hunting camps are arranged around circular sleeping and dancing areas. Kayapó fields are also circular niches carved out of the dense plant and animal realm of the jungle (Vidal 1977;

Time, space, and the interface of divergent cultures 37

Figure 4.3

The idealized Kayapó village (



Bamberger 1967; Posey 1979c).

7 Graves and graveyards are also circular.

8 It has even been argued that the Kayapó social structure and kinship orders are circular in their organization (T. Turner 1965, 1979: 180–1, 190). Thus the circle encom passes a definite reality and represents the cyclical essence of encapsulated units of time and space.

The principal natural manifestations of the circle are the sun and moon. The sun is circular and is believed to travel in a circular path across the earth, then up and around the sky layer above in order to reappear the next day (see Figure 4.1).

The moon travels on the same path, and the phases of the moon are images of the

38 Kayapó history and culture abstract forces that compose time and space, for the moon itself changes and even seems to disappear, but nonetheless remains the moon (Wilbert 1978).

To the Kayapó, a human being is an illusion much like the moon. Each Kayapó has a human form or body (


), but the encapsulated energy that makes the body living is in the form of a circular ball (


). The body only holds the spherical spirit, which is tenuously bound to its container. During periods of unconsciousness due to illness or injury, the spirit has a tendency to leave the body and wander about. While the spirit is outside the body, other spirits can invade the body or, if the spirit is lost, the body will die (Vidal 1977: 210–11).

Thus out-of-body experiences are risky and frightening to most Kayapó.

Shamans are called in during these periods of unconsciousness because they are experts on out-of-body experience. To become a shaman, in fact, the spirit must leave the body and pass through a severe illness (always characterized by ‘strong’ fevers,

kanê tytx

) and find its way to the spiritual realm that is the core of dynamic energy. The shaman’s spirit learns many secrets about the nature of the relationship between the world of the living and the spiritual world. When the spirit of the shaman returns from its journey and re-enters the body, the shaman is reborn as a wise man who knows much about the universe (Posey 1982d).

9 Shamans are experts on tribal rituals and ceremonies because these communal events focus the activities of other Kayapó toward understanding the spiritual realm known to the shaman. Ceremonies become the link between the cyclical world of the Kayapó and the dynamic, timeless-spaceless spiritual realm.

The Kayapó have an elaborate and complex ceremonial repertoire. Ceremony is a

raison d’être

for the Kayapó, for they believe that without the performance of the prescribed rituals, the world would collapse: crops would not grow, children would not be born, the sun and moon would cease to travel across the sky.

Ceremonies are what maintain the balance of nature and are essential to gener ate the energy necessary to continue the ecological and structural time cycles. An important mechanism for producing this energy is through dancing, always accompanied by singing. Men are the principal dancers and singers. They dance in pairs, following a circular path around the village plaza, or arm-in-arm swaying back and forth in circular or semi-circular lines. The dance steps are simple and the music monotonous and repetitive to the Western ear, yet harmonious and vaguely melodic (Dreyfus 1963).

Singing and dancing often begin at sundown and continue until sunrise, sometimes extending for seven or more consecutive nights (Turner 1965).

10 The combination of little sleep, and methodical, repetitious metre and tone of the music often leads participants into ‘elevated states of being’ (consciousness) (Hillgard 1977; Golliher 1981).

11 It is during these elevated states that many Kayapó become aware of the non-lineal realm of dynamic power that unifies all time and space, and links the cycles of ecological and structural time with the centre of Kayapó non-lineal being.

12 These experiences serve like a series of plugs that tap into a central power source to carry energy to the rituals, whose purpose is to ensure the cyclical movement of time. This energy is transferred, or

Time, space, and the interface of divergent cultures 39 is manifest, symbolically, through sexual intercourse. Intercourse is almost always associated with ceremonial activity (Posey 1979b), and is often actually incorporated directly into the ritual itself (T. Turner 1965). The Kayapó believe that strong children are born because of multiple sexual experiences. Even when pregnancy is well-advanced, intercourse continues to ensure the growth of a healthy foetus (Bamberger 1967; Dreyfus 1963).

Women say they rarely experience elevated states through dance or music, but do so during childbirth. This is highly symbolic since the altered state experience is a direct tie between the dynamic realm of being and the encapsulating birth event.

Death becomes nothing more than the return of a spirit to the dynamic realm.

Birth and death, therefore, are really much the same since they merely represent structural transition between the cyclical world of the living Kayapó and the non lineal dynamic realm of all being. It is little wonder that spirits of the dead are often encountered during elevated state experiences. The average Kayapó, however, is extremely frightened of such encounters. These spirits are potentially harmful since they can inhabit one’s body permanently while one’s own spirit is temporarily sepa rated from the body during ritual dancing or illness (Lukesch 1976).

Spirit forms are dealt with by shamans. Shamans have the ability to go into ‘deeper’ or ‘stronger’ elevated (or altered) 13 states of consciousness, and they are powerful enough to do so alone (i.e. without the necessary group rituals) and at any time they choose. They are able to manipulate the encapsulated human or ani mal spirits to cause or cure illness, talk to the spirits of the dead, or foretell the future. Shamans are the principal keepers of ritual knowledge and secrets: they are the specialists who know how to perform the essential rites that perpetuate the cycles of the Kayapó world. They manipulate the highly ordered rituals to induce elevated states, and are embodiments of the relationships between lineally seg mented cycles and the non-lineal realm of time and space.

What relationship does this esoteric topic have with the practical world of the Kayapó? That is, how does the Kayapó view of time and space affect their chances for survival in the face of encroaching Western civilization?

Because of their belief in a timeless-spaceless, perpetual realm of dynamic force, the Kayapó appear to have little concern for the protracted future. They have little interest in ‘saving’, ‘storing’ or ‘guarding’. They are greatly disadvan taged because of the lineal constructs of our mathematics and science, have no use for interpreting two-dimensional drawings, are puzzled by maps, find no rea son to count past eight, and find no logic in earning wages or being punctual.

Since their ultimate concept of space is also one with no definite limits, they have conflicting notions of private space and do not adhere to basic Western tenets of individual land ownership. They do not operate with a concept of money, have no laws concerning land purchase, and find as alien the relationship between land boundaries and individual social rights.

More seriously, they do not understand the underlying concepts of develop ment and progress that are so basic to the cultures they combat. They do not see themselves apart from the rest of the natural world, and, therefore, see no reason

40 Kayapó history and culture to develop strategies to subdue it. They are


on a lineal course through time and space that will, with the proper sacrifice and perseverance, make them masters over nature.

The Kayapó live in a circular, cyclical world, whose ideals are harmony and balance. Man, along with plants and animals, are manifestations of encapsulated units of the same energy. The world changes, but dynamically, not cinematically.

All life is inextricably interrelated and exploitation by man of other life forms must not take place at the cost of the natural balance. This cyclical view is para doxically the ultimate in long-range ecological planning, for the Kayapó system operates to ensure that there will be air, water, animals, trees and sources of energy for the future.


The interface between Western and Kayapó Indian cultures seems to be in the concept of ‘macro-time’. This maximally abstract level of world view is expressed through divergent notions of time and space. Western technological society places high value on a metaphysical model that allows for a lineal pro gression of time from a definite past into a hypothetical, but manipulatable, future. Upon these basic principles rest the charter for the expansion of modern technology.

Expansion has proceeded in recent decades at incredibly rapid rates in places like the Brazilian Amazon due to an abundance of natural resources. This ‘progress’ has occurred, however, at the expense of environmental stability and threatens the future of the Amazon, indigenous peoples like the Kayapó, and per haps the ecological balance of the entire world.

The Kayapó see the processes of the universe and life as cyclical. Plants, ani mals and people are all manifestations of the same dynamic energy. The Kayapó strive for a harmony with other elements of the universe and sickness occurs when the balance between man and nature is upset.

The overall balance between natural forces is maintained by performance of a complex cycle of rituals and ceremonies. These include singing and dancing and involve all Kayapó. Each individual, therefore, is directly involved in maintaining the harmony of life, and is an agent in the perpetuation of ecological stability and the well-being of self and society.

Higher levels of abstraction for the Kayapó are in the spiritual world rather than in planning for a lineal future. The shamans are the intellectual leaders and are the ritual specialists specifically concerned with orchestrating the mainte nance of balance in the cyclical Kayapó world. Thus Kayapó leaders are not chartered to direct the exploitation of natural resources, but rather to manage and maintain them.

The Kayapó world view is ultimately a model for long-range ecological plan ning since it is based upon the preservation of species and natural resources.

Indigenous systems of ecology, like that of the Kayapó, have evolved through mil-

Time, space, and the interface of divergent cultures 41 lennia of adaptation and experimentation and form a valuable human resource.

The study of folk ecological systems (which I call ‘folk ecology’) offers impor tant sources of information about the Amazon and long-range strategies for human survival.


As Western technological society begins to face the world-wide shortage of nat ural resources, it is being forced to redefine its own basic constructs of time and space. Mushrooming social problems, overpopulation and famine, scarcity of land, water, minerals and even oxygen, leave little choice but to re-evaluate the social consequences of ‘progress’, ‘development’ and ‘expansion’. The theories of Western ecology that emerged in the 1960s offered an intellectual basis for ‘a new balance’ between man, his technology and nature. There is now a popularized thrust to re-establish man as an integral part of the natural world. Could it be that only now modern society is coming to grips with a natural reality that the Kayapó discovered millennia ago? The Kayapó may not be well adapted to survival in the short-range future against encroaching Western civilization, but one can only wonder if what they do know about the universe is not central to the future long term survival of humanity.

The stakes are high, not only for the indigenous populations that remain and are threatened with extinction, but for the whole of humanity. It seems inconceiv able that we could lose for ever the knowledge of the environment and working systems of ecology that are encompassed in each and every indigenous culture.

Yet one by one these indigenous cultural and philosophical systems have disap peared until now, in the decade of the 1980s, the world is left with but a precious handful of indigenous peoples. The wisdom of millennia of acquired human expe rience in the Amazon is vanishing before the world’s eyes, paradoxically at the very time when the future is at best dubious for now dominant Western techno logical society.

Brazil is fortunate in her endowment with this richness of natural and human resources. Hopefully the upcoming decades will provide an avenue of mutual respect such that indigenous peoples can interact with the national culture without the destruction of the former and to the benefit of the human struggle for survival.

Chapter 5

The Kayapó origin of night 1

Folk literature of the Kayapó, like that of other Jê-speaking tribes, is rich and diverse. Certain stories and songs belong to specific families or lineages and are inherited (


), but most are part of the public domain and are told by the Kayapó in public places.

The truly public folk literature is generally recited by the men in the famed Kayapó Men’s House (


) (Lukesch 1976; Vidal 1977; Wilbert 1978). Animated oratory is commonplace and great prestige is attached to those who can recite the traditional stories with finesse and style.

The following narrative was recorded (transcribed from a tape) at Posto Gorotire, the largest of the Northern Kayapó villages, on 8 July 1978. It was related in the Men’s House and in the presence of several (six or eight)


(men of the senior or elder age grade) by Beptopoop, also a


and a shaman. It is a favourite story to be told to children by older men, but is one of the central Kayapó myths and can be heard in many cultural contexts (Banner 1957).

The Kayapó Origin of Night

Long ago there was only daylight. There was only daylight; darkness was not. Then a boy, maybe an Indian [but an enemy], the son of Nhyborway, called Joipekrõ, was captured. He was captured and brought to here, where there was only daylight.

Everyone was suspicious of one another because in daylight no one could go about with another’s wife. So Joipekrõ said, ‘You listen to me.

You should not lie to one another. You should not be suspicious of one another. Someone should go to my father, Nhyborway; he has darkness.

Bring back some night from his house. Far away my father’s land has darkness.

‘Is that so?’ someone asks.

‘Yes. It is true. There is real darkness. My father knows about darkness /night.’

The Kayapó origin of night 43 They knew [had heard] there was a keeper of night. [So they believed Joipekrõ.] Joipekrõ told them about the path to his father’s house. ‘Far away on the road are many worthless people [non-Indians]. I will tell you all about them.

You just keep on the road to my father’s house. My father has put darkness in a gourd. He keeps darkness in a large gourd in his house. He will give you some when you arrive. You can take out some darkness and you can sleep in it. Listen to me. There are many worthless people on the road: the buzzard people, the big-throat people, the penis-belt people, the ibis people. Just ask them the way. The worthless people will show you the way.’ So they went to seek the road to Nhyborway’s. The worthless people showed them the main path and kept them from following the side [wrong] paths.

It was nearly dark when they arrived. It was dusk; it was just getting dark; it was the edge of darkness. It was almost dark.

So they called to Nhyborway. ‘What?’ he answered. They called to him again: ‘Nhyborway!’ Again he answered: ‘Where is my child? What have you done with my child? Where is Joipekrõ?’ ‘Your child is away, far away, in our land. We are following your child’s directions.’ ‘Come here and tell me about my son. Is he still alive? I miss him. Bring him to me,’ [says Nhyborway].

[Someone replies] ‘Far away your child is alive and with us [our peo ple].’ ‘Why didn’t you bring my child to see me? Long ago they took my child.

I still miss him.’ ‘Well, I’ll tell you about your child, Nhyborway. Joipekrõ sent us here and we have arrived.’ Just hearing the name of his son caused him [Nhyborway] to wail.

‘Your son spoke to us about your darkness. We have come for it. We want to take it to our land and sleep in it. In our land, way over there, there is just light. In only light we sleep and wake up. There is not darkness at all.’ ‘I will give you darkness to take to my child,’ [said Nhyborway]. ‘You must not touch it! There is something bad in it that will hurt you. It stings.

No, you must not touch it! You must take it to my child; he will take it out so it will not sting. No, do not touch it!’ They spoke nicely to Nhyborway [to show that they agreed with his instructions], but they lied. They did not speak the truth to Nhyborway; ‘No, no, no, we will not take out the darkness; we will not touch it. Only your child, Joipekrõ, will take it out.’

44 Kayapó history and culture They went back on the path to their land. They returned with the gourd filled with darkness. Nhyborway had filled the gourd with darkness. They carried it back to Joipekrõ.

They slept in the light and awoke and went on and on. They went again and slept in the light and awoke and went on. They had nearly arrived at the village. Then one who spoke falsely said: ‘Oh! What are we taking this darkness back for. We must take some out now and sleep in it!’ ‘No!’ [replied the truthful ones]. ‘There’s something bad that hurts in the darkness.’ ‘That is a lie. It is not true,’ [answered the untruthful one].

‘No, we will break it open and ruin the darkness. It will hurt us.’ ‘It is a lie.’ Our ancestors always had those who spoke falsely. Always, even long ago, our ancestors spoke unreliably.

The wicked, unreliable one untied the gourd. Immediately there was darkness. He was frightened and threw the gourd far away. The darkness escaped. They could not put it back into the gourd. A scorpion escaped too and stung him. He cried aloud in great pain.

‘Do away with him,’ [someone of them said]. ‘He let out the darkness and turned out the scorpions to hurt us. Do away with him. Cast him away!’ Someone went to him, took his arm, and threw him out. He was thrown up and became a bird. He became the night hawk that cries like one in pain.

He became the night hawk that brings evil and pain. His call is not like other birds.

He [the unreliable man] only wanted a little darkness, but it all escaped.

He was untruthful and brought the sting of the scorpion to us.

Look! That is the story. It is an old story. It is a story of our ancestors, who wanted to sleep in the darkness. Nhyborway’s child, Joipekrõ, made it available. And now we go sleeping in it. Long ago there was only light. Our ancestors slept and woke up in light. Then Joipekrõ brought darkness from his father. It was in a gourd and it is still with us.


The missionary, Horace Banner, was the first white man to establish prolonged, friendly contact with the Kayapó in 1939. He was amazed to find that the Kayapó believed that the world was in perpetual light in the ancient days and darkness had to be introduced into it. This opposition to the Western view that light was brought into the world of darkness fascinated Banner. He saw this as evidence that the Indians had indeed ‘fallen’ into darkness through the dark forces of the devil and sin. The question of which was first, darkness or light,

The Kayapó origin of night 45 continues to be a pivotal philosophical dilemma for the small indigenous Christian church in Gorotire. This is indicative of one of the basic contradictions in Kayapó and Western culture.

The Kayapó believe that in the ancient days they lived in the skies (there are various sky layers). It was in the sky (


) that they learned to organize them selves into villages and social and political units. At some later point in time, part of the Kayapó found their way down a cotton rope to the present world. Some Kayapó remained in the skies and their campfires (stars) can still be seen as evi dence of this (Lukesch 1976). The Origin of Night myth, however, refers to the early Kayapó who descended to the earth.

Elements of the myth reflect traditional Kayapó values and concepts.

Nhyborway, for example, is the man sought out in this narrative for the secret of night. Within the Kayapó culture there are many ritualist specialists. There are dozens of types of ‘curers’ (

pidjô màri

), as well as shamans (


) who ‘know’ forces that are utilized to discern the future and manipulate the present.

Even today the Kayapó will make long journeys to consult a shaman who has the reputation of being especially powerful. Thus the mythological journey to visit Nhyborway is paralleled in modern culture by those who travel long distances to consult wise and powerful



The son of Nhyborway, Joipekrõ, is a captive of the Kayapó. The Kayapó have a long-standing reputation for their raids to take hostages (Wagley 1977, Chapter 2). In the modern village of Gorotire, well over one per cent of the adult popula tion is composed of individuals taken as children in raids. The Kayapó take great interest in the cultures of their captives and know a variety of songs and stories from other non-Jê speaking tribes (e.g. Karajá, Mundurucú, Parakana, etc.). Thus, there is an ancient tradition reflected in this narrative, not only of taking hostages, but also of learning from the captives. It is significant to note that raiding and the taking of hostages is really a type of cultural exchange and leads to rather compli cated alliances that can shift over time. In this case, Joipekrõ serves as the guide to the secrets of night possessed by his father.

In the quest for secrets of night, the Kayapó voyagers were too eager. They do not do as they are told and they ‘let out’ the night from the gourd. As a result, too much night escapes and along with it the danger and curses of the night. These ‘evils’ are represented by the scorpion.

The Kayapó of today are not fond of the night. They seldom go out into the night and are horrified if caught alone in the darkness. There are some practical reasons for this, since night does bring out the nocturnal scorpions, snakes and jaguar that are indeed deadly. Darkness is also associated with death, and many sounds of the night (e.g. the night hawk and certain crickets) are thought to come directly from dead ancestors. The worst thing about the night is that it is uncon trollable and the jungle and savanna habitats so familiar to the Kayapó blend into an unknown mass of darkness. Night is the unsocialized part of the Kayapó world. This is somewhat compensated for by ceremonial dancing and singing, which often lasts the entire night. According to the narrative, night was sought

46 Kayapó history and culture for sleeping and for the anonymity of darkness for extra-marital sexual activity.

Kayapó ceremonies often incorporate communal sexual activities, and birth pat terns are tied to seasonal variations in the ceremonial calendar (T. Turner 1965; Posey 1979b).

Thus, night is good for it facilitates sleep and is a time for the ceremonial life.

The curses of night came only because men did not do as they were instructed and were overly anxious and greedy. Patience and generosity are highly valued char acteristics in the Kayapó culture and these traits are surely reinforced by this important myth.

The myth of the Origin of Night, therefore, reflects a variety of historical and current social practices. In addition the myth is clearly instructive by setting out certain values and warning against the dangers of greed and breaking established social norms.

Chapter 6

The journey to become a shaman: a narrative of sacred transition of the Kayapó Indians of Brazil 1

When the Europeans came to the Americas they sought native leaders similar to those of European states and political groups. The early chronicles often refer to indigenous ‘kings’ and ‘captains’, and ‘princes’. Europeans expected to find political leaders with powers over their subjects as great as the leaders of their own nations. In some of the higher cultures of Latin America like the Aztec and Inca, the conquistadores were not disappointed. But for the bulk of the Americas what they found were weak indigenous political leaders whose power, if any, came from leadership by example rather than by force. Leaders who did not overtly influence the actions of war and politics were completely ignored.

If powerful political leaders did not appear to exist in a tribe, the Europeans often appointed one. This process continues today with Brazil’s indigenous peo ples, where government officials and missionaries demand that ‘someone be in charge’ to facilitate dealing with tribal groups. An Indian may be appointed ‘chief ’ by a Brazilian because he speaks Portuguese, or even formal elections may be held to ‘choose the tribal leader properly’.

The European bias toward political leadership left obscure a group of leaders that have traditionally been extremely powerful, the shaman. Shamanism is gener ally viewed by Europeans as a hoax, a grand scheme by clever individuals to exploit others. At best shamans are viewed as magicians: at worst, as charlatans who prey upon society.

Regardless of how shamans have been viewed by Europeans, however, they are one of the most influential groups in indigenous cultures of the Americas. Their power is not overtly political, but rather a pervasive influence that comes through specialized knowledge and unique mystical experiences. They are seen as people with spiritual gifts who have control over the natural forces of the universe. Since all things, animate and inanimate, are part of the Indian universe, then shamans have powers that affect all things.

I had an opportunity in 1977–78 to study with two of the most powerful and famous shamans of the Northern Kayapó tribe, Beptopoop and Kwyrà-kà. Many people aspire to be shamans, but only a few are successful and even fewer ever become truly powerful and famous. The most powerful shamans can manipulate animals’ spirits as well as ancestral ghosts and superhuman powers. The famed

48 Kayapó history and culture shamans are also masters of ceremonial lore, rituals and mythology. They are the wise men of the tribe, not only because of their abilities to manipulate natural forces, but also because of their wealth of cultural knowledge. The two


(shaman) with whom I studied, Beptopoop and Kwyrà-kà, are perhaps the most influential men in the village of Gorotire. Their fame transcends Gorotire, however, for Indians from remote villages travel great distances to consult them even today.

To become a


, a Kayapó must first experience the separation of his spirit (


) from his body (

). This occurs during fevers (


) caused by ill ness or severe injuries. The Kayapó have an elaborate classification of fevers and the basis of the taxonomy is at the root of Kayapó concepts of energy balance and spiritual being.

During the ‘fever’, a person is shown the spiritual pathway out of the body and offered a mystical journey to knowledge. This ‘calling’ to be a


may be accepted or refused. The journey is perilous and many aspiring




route because their spirits never find the way back to the body. Most Kayapó are frightened of the prospect of an out-of-body experience and consequently few choose to follow the lore of spiritual enlightenment.

The following narrative describes the shamanistic experience. It was related to me by Beptopoop in August 1978. Beptopoop chose to tell me about the journey of the


in the privacy of his home and only after I had spent several months learning about the natures of ‘fevers’ and the powers of the



The Journey of the Wayanga

2 Listen! Those who become sick from strong fevers lie in death’s position; they lie as though they are dead. The truly great ones, the truly strong per son who is a


[shaman], shows the sick how to leave their bodies.

They leave through their insides [pointing to the stomach], through their stomachs. They pass through their insides [their stomachs] and come to be in the form of a stone. Their bodies lie as in death, but beyond they are then transformed into an armadillo.

As an armadillo they assume good, strong health and they pass through to the other side, over there [pointing to the east]. They come out way over there. Then they become a bat and fly – ko, ko, ko, ko, ko … [the noise of flying]. Then they go further beyond in the form of a dove. They fly like a dove – ku, ku, ku, ku … [the sound of a dove in flight]. They join the other


and all go together.

‘Where will we go? What is the way?’ ‘Go to the east, way over there.’ Ku, ku, ku, ku … [the sound of flight].

And way over there is a spider’s web. They just go there and there is a spider’s web. Some go round and round near the spider’s web and [until] they just sit permanently [stop].

The journey to become a shaman 49 The true and ancient shamans must teach them how to fly through the web. But those who have not been shown how, try to break through the web and the web grabs their wings thusly [the narrator wraps his arms around his shoulders]. They just hang in the web and die. Their bodies are carried by their relatives and are buried without waiting, for the spider’s web has entangled them, wrapped up their wings, and they are dead.

Those who have been caused to know themselves, however, go round the spider web. They sit on the mountain seat of the shamans and sing like the dove – tu, tu, tu, tu … These people are the doves and call like the doves and fly like doves – tu, tu, tu, tu … ku, ku, ku, ku, ku … They acquire the knowledge of the ancestors. They speak to the spirits of all the animals and of the ancestors. They know [all].

Then they return [to their bodies]. They return to their homes – kwo, kwo, kwo, kwo … They enter and they breathe.

And they say: ‘He arrived! He arrived! He arrived! He arrived!’ And the women all wail: ‘ayayikakraykyerekune.’ 3 When they are quiet from wailing, they ask ‘What happened?’ ‘You were dead and we have made a grave for you. What happened?’ ‘Do not bury me’ [he says]. ‘I am still alive; I am a


. I am now one who can cure; I am one who smokes the powerful pipe. I know how to go through my body and under my head. I am a


.’ He immediately entered himself and sat straight up.

‘He has become alive. He has become alive again. He has become a




The out-of-body experience is always essentially the same for all


. The spirit (


) concentrates into a ball of energy and passes through the belly (the navel area) where it assumes what the Kayapó describe as an armadillo-like shape. The


moves along the ground like an armadillo, that is it wanders about searching for the right path to the east. Not all shamans have spirits that take the form of an armadillo. Some say their spirits are like balls of fire that are thrown toward the east in the way that a stone can be hurled through the air.

4 The body (

) that is left behind is considered dead during the flight of the spirit. The Kayapó often consider a person dead before Western medicine would pronounce biological death. The Kayapó begin to wail in the ceremonial manner for the dead, while the living relatives refuse food and drink to the sick person who may be pleading for sustenance. Graves are sometimes even prepared for the ‘dead’ person. This distinction between social death and biological death is very

50 Kayapó history and culture disconcerting for the Western observer, who may be frantically trying to aid the sick person in the midst of screeching death wails and obstinate Kayapó kinsmen.

While the body is left behind in this ‘limbo’, the spirit continues its wander ings to the east. At the eastern edge of the earth, there is a great spider web. It separates the world of reality from the vast chasm of darkness that is farther beyond.

Passing through the web is symbolic of passing through death into the realm of spirits.

To pass through the web, the


must turn first into a bat or a dove. Both bats and doves are known to be good fliers. Bats are especially good navigators in darkness and the shaman who knows about nature knows how to become like a bat. Doves likewise are keen navigators and are masters at flying through tangled masses of trees and limbs. It is the sound of the bat and the dove, however, that are symbolically the most important. The ‘ku, ku, ku’ of the dove’s flight and the ‘ko, ko, ko’ of the bat’s wings are the closest natural correlates to the sounds experi enced during the shamanistic ‘flight’ through the web of darkness. As the spirit struggles in the chasm of darkness, a waffling sound of intermittent vibrations carries the


into the realm of spirits. The Kayapó describe this transition from life to death as sounding like the flight of the dove or the bat.

For those who are caught in the spider’s web, the spirit is captured forever; there is no escape. The body left behind in the village must be buried, often ‘with out waiting’ as the text mentions. This explains why a person who may still show signs of life to the Western observer are presumed to be and treated as dead by the Kayapó.



are those who are truly strong spiritually and, as a result, are self-assured and wise. They have been ‘caused to know themselves’, and according to the text, have learned the secrets of the universe through the shaman istic journey into and out of death. They have become brave and wise by facing themselves in their purest essence through separating from their bodies and expe riencing the sacred flight to the other realm.

A truly powerful


encounters all the spirits of the universe, including those of ancient shamans, powerful animals and superhuman energies.

5 There is a hierarchy of animal spirits that is too complex to describe here, but no


returns from his journey without encountering at least one of these forces. These spirits impart to him their secrets and the


will continue to commune with his unique pantheon of spirits as long as he lives. Each spirit is associated with a disease, and the


will specialize in the cure (or in some cases the causation) of the diseases that correspond to his spiritual knowledge. A


’s spirits are available for consultation and divination any time. Each ani mal spirit speaks its own language, which the shaman learns during his flight and continues to use throughout his life to ‘talk’ with his spirits.

The re-entry of the shaman into his body (

) after the shamanistic journey is symbolized again by the sound of the dove, ‘ko, ko, ko …’. The spirit returns under the head and beneath the body, through the base of the spine and finally

The journey to become a shaman 51 refills the corpse. Normal breathing resumes and the fever passes. The


returns from his journey and rejoins the world of the living.

Shamans sometimes relate in great detail their journeys, recounting their sen sations and encounters with spiritual powers. Generally, however, the experience is intensely personal, and only a few of the shaman’s closest relatives or aspiring shamans are privileged to hear the account of the flight. The last part of the myth deals with the re-entry and the


’s first encounter with his family. He exhorts the family not to bury him because he is not dead. He announces that he is alive. His flight to the spiritual world is finished and he is a



The shamanistic journey is a narration of sacred transition between life and death. It deals with the central epistemological nature of the human spirit and the body. Death is what separates these two tenuously attached parts of one’s being.

But death is transitory: it is an obstacle as fragile as the web of a spider, provided one has the wisdom of the shaman. It is the shaman’s understanding of the nature of death that makes him wise; it is his symbolic rebirth that makes him powerful.

Part II Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Chapter 7

Report from Gorotire: will Kayapó traditions survive?


During my month of trekking with the Kayapó Indians of Central Brazil, I became accustomed to waking up in the pre-dawn chill to the sounds of the birds and frogs that serve as a natural alarm clock for the Indians. On this morning, I looked out from our camp onto the Rio Fresco, distant tributary to the great Amazon. The water was enshrouded in layers and swirls of surrealistic fog.

The idyllic tranquillity was broken by the sharp crack of rifle fire. Someone had killed a tapir that was drinking from an


, or stream. The sound fright ened a harpy eagle from its perch. We watched in awe as the majestic bird, symbol of shamanistic knowledge for the Kayapó, circled and soared out of sight. For the Indians this was an ominous sighting: a sign that it was time to return to the vil lage of Gorotire.

The trek was a revelation for me. I gathered detailed data on 56 species of sting less bees recognized by the Kayapó.

2 The honey, wax and pollen are used for food and medicine. Each time the Indians opened a beehive they would return a part of the brood comb to the hive, carefully closing the nest so the colony could re-estab lish itself. Such wildlife management practices, although little documented, are widespread in many indigenous groups.

I also learned about the importance to the Kayapó economy of collecting use ful plants to be replanted near campsites. Concentrating natural resources at human-use areas assures that needed foods and medicines are always available for future generations.

I also counted hundreds and hundreds of açaí and bacaba palms recently planted by the Indians to create ‘resource islands’ in the forest, and saw enormous groves of brazil nut trees that the Kayapó had named in honour of the ancestors who planted them. Who would have guessed that Amazonian Indians had planted so extensively? How much of what scientists have considered ‘natural’ is, in fact, a product of ancient and modern indigenous manipulation? Thoughts of trying to document the Kayapó’s knowledge of nature overwhelmed me.

No anthropologist could carry to the field adequate training in botany, zoology, entomology, agronomy, ornithology, linguistics


anthropology to complete the task successfully. I felt entirely inadequate. There was only one solution: find a team of scientific specialists willing to work on an interdisciplinary ethnobiology project.

56 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project To my surprise, 16 highly trained and dedicated researchers expressed interest in my endeavour – all of them eager to dig into the first multidisciplinary project ever to attempt to document in detail indigenous knowledge in so many areas of expertise. Seed funding soon came from the Brazilian Council for Science and Technology, and then came a crucial grant from the [then] World Wildlife Fund.

Some members of the Kayapó Project joined me in collecting new species of insects, birds, mammals and reptiles, along with indigenous knowledge on the use of each species. We began an inventory of fish, emphasizing the ecological control mechanisms set in motion by the Kayapó belief in a mythological animal called the


. Project biologists have pointed out that the ecological productivity of river life in the region depends upon these small fish. Thus, fear of the


serves to protect the natural productivity of the riverine ecological system.

The Kayapó also maintain this productivity by planting fruit-bearing trees and shrubs along the banks of rivers and streams; the fruits, which fall into the water, are known to attract fish. The


palm (

Astrocaryum tucuma

) is even planted in flood basins during the dry season in anticipation of high waters: small fish thrive among the palm’s protective, thorny shoots when the river rises.

In addition, the project team has studied long-term ecological management techniques for secondary forest. For the Kayapó, secondary forest emerges when their gardens of major seed and root crops start to decline in productivity and fruit trees and medicinal shrubs begin to dominate. A Kayapó garden is never aban doned: old fields are highly concentrated areas of managed secondary forest full of medicinal, edible and other useful species planted by the Indians. Equally important, the Indians plant food species to attract useful game species.

Management of old fields and secondary forests by the Kayapó produces, in effect, game-farms and orchards in a long-term, integrated, floral and faunal con servation scheme.

To our surprise, we have discovered that the Kayapó actually


forest in the campo-cerrado (savanna). Using a special planting medium composed of crushed termite and ant nests mixed with organic mulch, the Indians have devel oped planting techniques that allow them to concentrate valuable natural resources in areas relatively devoid of useful species. Small vegetative patches (


) cultivated by the Indians grow into major for est groves within a few human generations. One recent survey of 120 plant species collected from a mature


showed that 98 per cent were used by the Kayapó, and that over 75 per cent of the species were, in fact, brought by the Indians to be planted in the


. When we mapped the origins of these introduced species, we discovered that the Indians had amassed a collection of selected plant varieties from an area the size of Europe. Such practices amaze scientists because they show just how little we know of the true nature of Amazonian ecological systems in rela tion to aboriginal and historical human occupation. There are many lessons to be learned from the Kayapó, as well as other Indian and folk groups who have devel oped their own conservation methods over many generations. Sadly, however, the Kayapó way of life may not last another five years. Gold miners and lumber cutters

Report from Gorotire: will Kayapó traditions survive?

57 are literally invading the village of Gorotire, threatening the cultural identity and ecological basis of traditional Kayapó society.

Project scientists, through the various fields of specialized Western science, are trying to document the richness and invaluable knowledge of this tribe. Our underlying goal is to restore the Indians’ faith in their own tribal knowledge and conservation practices, and to substantiate for government and economic leaders what human and biological riches are being lost – forever – in Amazonia.

Already we have seen renewed confidence in traditional practices within the tribe, and glimmers of interest in our research results from young scientists and even a few government and economic leaders. Ultimately, we hope that the Kayapó study will incorporate these indigenous strategies into new models of conservation that can be used to maintain biological diversity in other regions of Amazonia and the humid tropics.

Chapter 8

Indigenous knowledge and development: an ideological bridge to the future 1 Introduction

The Amazon Basin constitutes the largest tract of tropical rainforest, over 557 million hectares (UNESCO/FAO/UNEP 1978: 22), and is one of the most species diverse regions in the world (Goodland and Irwin 1977; Sioli 1981: 264–5). Yet extinction due to deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate. Gottlieb (1981: 23) estimates that 90 per cent of the natural inventory of organisms will vanish into extinction before even basic descriptions can be made.

Extinction is only one of the devastating ecological effects of deforestation.

Erosion starts the vicious cycle of soil compaction, destruction of the nutrient cycle and flooding (Moran 1981b; Rosenblat 1954: 323). Water pollution soon results with associated changes in water turbidity and pH that reduce or destroy aquatic life (Schubart 1977; Lovejoy and Schubart 1981: 21). Widespread defor estation may also significantly alter rainfall patterns (Sioli 1981: 233–62), and threaten the delicate carbon dioxide balance of the atmosphere (Pimentel 1979; Sioli 1981: 262). Tropical forest ecosystems have been shown to be very fragile and prone to collapse if disturbed (Farnworth and Golley 1974). This collapse is often irreversible (Goodland 1980) and contributes to the growing global threat of soil impoverishment (Hecht 1982c; Moran 1981a: 4; Eckholm and Brown 1977; Sioli 1981: 264).

The greatest tragedy of Amazonia is perhaps the human one. Peasants, with few exceptions (Parker n.d.; Moran 1974; Ross 1978; Smith 1981) are ignored in Amazonian studies as though they were cultureless creatures of an economic illu sion. Yet they have borne the brunt of development, being pushed from their lands as ‘squatters’ and forced into dependency in favelas or towns (Barbira Scazzocchio 1981: ix; Wood and Schmink 1979). American Indians reflect most vividly the tragic human cost of Amazonian development. The Indian population in Brazil has dropped from millions at the time of contact to less than 150,000 (0.1 per cent of the population) today (Ramos 1981: 222): in this century alone at least 87 Indian groups have become extinct solely in Brazil (Ribeiro 1970: 238).

One has only to read Davis’ poignant account of the

Victims of the Miracle

(Davis 1977) to grasp the impact of development on native peoples.

Indigenous knowledge and development 59 With the extinction of each indigenous group, the world loses millennia of accu mulated knowledge about life in and adaptation to tropical ecosystems. This priceless information is forfeited with hardly a blink of the eye: the march of devel opment cannot wait long enough to even find out what it is that it is about to destroy.

For millennia, Indians have survived in Amazonia. Their understanding of eco logical zones, plant–human–animal relationships, and natural resource management has evolved through countless generations of trial and experimenta tion. Incredibly little is known about indigenous perceptions of ecology and utilization of natural resources, but Western science should now be sophisticated enough to approach this problem with much-needed success.

It is suggested in this chapter that indigenous cultures form a valuable human resource that offers a rich and untapped source of information about the natural resources of the Amazon Basin. If the knowledge of indigenous peoples can be applied to technological know-how, then a new path for ecologically sound devel opment of the Amazon will have been found.

2 Likewise, if technological civilization begins to realize the richness and com plexity of indigenous knowledge, then Indians can be viewed as intelligent, valuable people, rather than just exotic footnotes to history. This, it is argued, is an ‘ideological bridge’ whereby Indians can prosper in a modern multi-ethnic soci ety with the dignity they need and the respect they deserve.

This essay on folk ecological knowledge is primarily based upon data collected during fieldwork with the Northern Kayapó Indians in 1977–78.

A preliminary

Knowledge of indigenous groups about ecological systems has generally been considered as irrelevant because aboriginal populations are sparse. Recent esti mates, however, suggest that aboriginal populations have been vastly underestimated (Dobyns 1966; Denevan 1976). Archaeological and geographical data (Lathrop 1968; Lathrop 1970; Smith 1980; Myers 1974) seem to confirm historical accounts (Acuña 1859; Carvajal 1934) of large population centres in the fertile várzea of Amazonia. There is also evidence of sizeable villages in the higher savanna regions of the Amazon Basin (Posey 1979a).

European diseases swept with unimaginable speed through aboriginal popula tions with devastating effects. Dobyns (1966: 414) proposes a 20:1 depopulation ratio from initial contact with Europeans. Records of death rates as high as 70–80 per cent are common from a single viral epidemic (Myers 1973, 1974, 1981a).

Initial contact with the Kayapó was effected principally because the Indians were too weak from disease to resist Europeans (Horace Banner, unpublished journal).

The first Kayapó band shrunk from 350 to 85 during the first six months after ini tial contact with Europeans (Banner, unpublished journal). European diseases continue today to take a large toll despite preventative inoculation; it is not uncommon for an inoculated indigenous group to lose 30–40 per cent of its mem bers due to an epidemic (ARC 1981).

60 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project The social and cultural effects of such devastation have been underestimated by scholars. Accounts of eyewitnesses at ‘first contact’ with Indian groups are taken to be representative of the groups’ true aboriginal states. In fact, however, diseases travelled well in advance of the first observers (Dobyns 1966; Myers 1981b). A detailed typology of contact has been worked out to illustrate the vari ous cultural and social mechanisms whereby diseases were transmitted in Amazonia through trade, raiding, warfare and treks prior to direct contact (Chapter 2, this volume).

Humans are not always necessary for disease transmission; trade items – like pelts, feathers, woven goods – are excellent carriers of deadly organisms. Insects and animals also serve as vectors and reservoirs of diseases like malaria, yellow fever, typhus and plague (Posey 1976a).

Myers (1981a) has sketched part of the extensive aboriginal trade networks that were operative in pre-Colombian Amazonia. Lyon (1981) has shown how these trade routes connected the lowlands of Amazonia with the highland civiliza tions of the Andes. These trade routes served as a network of disease transmission, with easily transported bacterial and viral diseases accompanying trade items deep into the hinterland long before the first face-to-face contact with Europeans. The first white man to visit the Kayapó, for example, found them already in possession of European clothes, guns, glass beads, axes, pans and European diseases (Banner, unpublished journal). It would thus appear that scholars seriously need to re-evaluate ethnohistorical documents in light of a more sophisticated understanding of the nature of ‘con tact’ and the associated transmission of devastating diseases. As estimates of aboriginal populations continue to increase, so does the relevance of indigenous ecological knowledge systems to modern development plans. If the size of Indian populations has been seriously underestimated, then the potential application of aboriginal ecological knowledge has likewise been seriously underestimated by ecologists and development planners.

Lessons from the Kayapó

Kayapó Indian knowledge is an integrated system of belief and practice. There is much shared knowledge in a Kayapó village, although there are many specialists as well (Posey 1979c) who are experts on soils, plants, animals, crops, medicines and rituals. But each Kayapó believes that he or she has the ability to survive alone in the forest indefinitely. This belief offers great personal security and per meates the fabric of everyday life. It is difficult to represent a complete Kayapó ecological view, for this operates within such an intricate network of cultural assumptions. This chapter proposes to be practical and deals with easily delin eated categories of indigenous knowledge that suggest fields of research for Western science.

Indigenous knowledge and development 61


Ethnoecology can be defined as indigenous perceptions of ‘natural’ divisions in the biological worlds and plant–animal–human relationships within each division.

These cognitively defined ecological categories do not exist in isolation, thus eth noecology must also deal with the perceptions of interrelatedness between ‘natural’ divisions.

Recognition of ‘ecological zones’

A great obstacle to understanding Amazonia has been the tendency to generalize about its ecology and to ignore its highly variable ‘ecological zones’ (Moran 1981a). Scientists still suffer from lack of data about the complexities of ecosys tems in this enormous region. The Amazon is too often viewed as just one homogenous ‘counterfeit paradise’ or ‘green hell’ (Mahar 1978; Goodland and Irwin 1975).

The Kayapó Indians, however, see their environment in an expanded series of ‘ecological zones’ and ‘subzones’. The three principal divisions are:




(mountains) and

(grass (forest).

3 There are, however, major subdivisions within each zone and further differentiations too complicated to deal with in this chapter.

One illustrative set of subcategories of forest types (




, and


) are represented graphically in Figure 8.1.


is subdivided based on vegetative response to flood levels of the Rio Fresco. Suitable farmland is selected from terra firme lands that do not flood (


), although some fields are carved from


which floods every seven to ten years. The richer alluvial soils of


(including much black soil called


) provide sufficient

Table 8.1

Major ecological zones recognized by the Kayapó* 1 2 3


a b a b c d (grassland, savanna)

Kapôt-kein Kapôt-kemepti

c d

Kapôt-kam-bôiprek Pykati’ô’krãi Krãi



bà-kamrek bà-êpt


bà-katí (pi’y-kô) bà-ràràra

short grass lands savanna with tree stands high grass lands savanna with intermittent trees gallery (riverine) forest dense jungle (selva) high forest forest with intermittent openings *This is only a partial typology of ecological zones; there are various subtypes not enumerated. In folk taxonomy, the Kayapó also use ‘transitional categories’ (cf. Posey 1981) that are interzonal.

62 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Figure 8.1

Idealized cross-section of Kayapó forest ecological zones and subzones near Gorotire.

yield increases to chance the periodic, but unpredictable, crop destruction due to flooding. The Kayapó chiefs’ communal fields, as well as the women’s collective fields (Posey 1979e) are usually planted in


to minimize total crop loss for any one family group.

The Kayapó folk taxonomic system reflects a high propensity for ‘transitional’ ecological categories that grade 4 between two or more semantic (named) divisions or ecological zones (Posey 198lc: 168–75). Kayapó village sites are, in fact, pur posefully selected to rest in these transitional zones and, therefore, close to a variety of ecological zones. The distinct advantage to such sites is that the Kayapó are in the midst of maximum species diversity, with each zone providing natural products and attracting different game species at different times of the year (Bamberger 1967). Location of the Kayapó village of Gorotire is represented in Figure 8.2 and is surrounded by a variety of ecological zones.

Each ecological zone has associated with it specific plants and animals. The Kayapó have a well-developed knowledge of animal behaviour and know which plants are associated with particular animals. In turn, plant types are associated with soil types. Each ecological zone, therefore, is an integrated system of inter actions between plants, animals, the earth – and, of course, the Kayapó. Table 8.2

summarizes selected systemic relationships in


, which is forest with intermittent openings and penetration of sunlight. These same relationships hold for abandoned fields (


) which the Kayapó see as replicating the natural openings in the


forest. Knowledge of such systemic relationships allows the Kayapó to select agricultural lands from vegetative types as well as to formulate hunting and gathering strategies based on ripening of fruits that attract game animals.

Indigenous knowledge and development 63

Figure 8.2

Ecological zones surrounding the village of Gorotire as perceived by the Kayapó.

Folk ethology

Recent studies (Parker n.d.; Smith 1981; Posey 1981d; Posey 1983a; Moran 1981a) have emphasized the considerable knowledge about animal behaviour that exists in folk and indigenous cultures of Amazonia. The Kayapó have an intricate knowledge of animal behaviour, even of animals as small as wasps and ants (Posey 1979c; Posey 1981d; Posey 1983b). There is much to be learned about animal behaviour, for example, from hunting strategies. As Carneiro noted for the Amahuaca, ‘every significant detail of the life habits of animals is part of an Amahuaca hunter’s knowledge, including the sound of its cry, its preferred foods, its excrement, its scents, the teeth marks it makes on fruit, etc.’ (Carneiro 1974: 126).

64 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Table 8.2

Selected soil–plant–animal relationships in the selected ecozone (



Preferred Particular ‘soil’

animal ass’n* Plants associated with zone man Use of plant animal Kayapó name

1, 2 1, 2 3 3 2, 3 2, 3 1, 2, 3 1 3 1 1, 2, 3 1, 3 1, 2 1, 3 2 2 2, 3 2, 3 A,B,C,D,E F F – – C, F C, D A,B,C,D – A,B,C,D H F A,C,D,F H,F – F – C,D,F ✝ Soil Types: 1 = black (


) 2 = red (


) 3 = yellow (



Humiria balsamifera Psidium guineense Zingiberaceae Peschiera Catasetum


Bignoniaceae Cissampelos Piperaceae Amasonia




Oenocarpus distichus Macrostaychia Monotagma





Cecropia leucocoma Polypodiaceae Clarisia ilicifolia Centrosema carajaense Cassia hoffmanseggii

eat fruit eat fruit use root for tea; smoke leaves use for paint – medicinal – medicinal fish bait fish bait prophylaxis eat fruit use wood grind leaves; eat roots eat fruit – medicinal medicinal fish poison medicinal *Animals: A = white-lipped peccary (porção) B = white paca (paca branca) C = agouti (cutia branca) D = tortoise (jaboti) eat fruit eat fruit + leaves eat leaves eat leaves eat fruit eat fruit – eat fruit ?

eat leaves; eat roots eat fruit + leaves eat fruit + leaves – eat leaves – eat fruit + leaves

bã-rerek kamokãtytx madn-tu pita-teka pitu ngra-kanê tep-kanê màkrê-kanê pidjô-rã kamêrê




kukrytmyka k˜uryre kônôkô atw`yra’ô’ tôn-kanê pidjô-nirê akrô pidjô-kakrit

E = red paca (paca vermelha) F = red agouti (cutia vermelha) G = deer (veado) H = tapir (anta) Note Identifications made by Dr Susanna Hecht, Department of Geography, UCLA.

Plant–animal–human relationships can be symbolically represented in rituals and ceremonies (Rappaport 1971; Reichel-Dolmatoff 1974, 1976, 1978). T. Turner (1965) describes various ceremonies that utilize specific plants during Kayapó rit uals, thus ceremonial cycles can function to regulate exploitation of different resources and ecological zones. Research into the relationships between natural objects and ceremonial importance is underway and will undoubtedly be fruitful in

Indigenous knowledge and development 65 understanding indigenous perceptions of ecological relatedness and symbolic annual cycles.

Another significant field of investigation is that of ‘co-evolutionary complexes’, i.e. plant and animal communities that have evolved simultaneously through chang ing environmental conditions in biological evolutionary history (Gilbert and Raven 1975; Pimentel and Goodman 1978). Such complexes are generally complicated and difficult to discover. The Kayapó recognize certain ‘co-evolutionary com plexes’ that are encoded for cultural transmission through myths. Myths often seem nonsense to the casual outside observer. Myths may serve, however, as valuable sources of highly symbolic information about important social and environmental relationships. Take, for example, the following Kayapó myth:

Why Women Paint their Faces with Ant Parts

The trails of the fire ant (


) are long. They are ferocious (


) like men. But the little red ant of our fields (


) is gentle like women; they are not aggressive (


). Their trails meander like the bean vines on the maize. The little red ant is the relative/friend of the manioc. This is why women use the little red ant to mix with urucu to paint their faces in the maize festival. The little red ant is the guardian of our fields and is our relative/friend.

5 The principal theme of this myth is that a certain ant (


) is the friend of the fields and the women, who are the cultivators in Kayapó culture. The myth begins to make sense when we understand the co-evolutionary complex – of maize, beans, manioc and the ant.

Manioc produces an extra-floral nectary that attracts the ants to the young manioc plant.

6 The ants use their mandibles to trim their way to the nectar, cutting away any bean vines that would prevent the new fragile manioc stems from grow ing. The twining bean vines are, therefore, kept from climbing on the manioc and are left with the maize plants as their natural trellis. The maize can shoot up undamaged by the bean vines, while the bean plant itself furnishes valuable nitro gen needed by the maize. The ants are the natural manipulators of nature and facilitate the horticultural activities of the women.

Unfortunately myth has not seriously been studied as a transmitter of encoded eco logical knowledge. This example, however, provides evidence to necessitate a serious approach to myth analysis for biological information and ecosystemic relationships.

Perception of resources

Within specific ecological zones the Kayapó have an extensive and varied inven tory of utilizable natural resources. Based on indigenous environmental perceptions, the following categories are discernible.

66 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

(a) Wild plants

Although the array of wild plants collected by Amazonian Indians is known to be extensive, taxonomic and chemical-nutritional data remain scanty. The Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia (INPA), in Manaus, and the Laboratório de Etnobiologia, in Maranhão, have projects underway to systematically gather data on wild plants utilized by indigenous groups of Amazonia. Wild food resources are somewhat better known (Cavalcante 1972, 1974) than medicinal plants, which are regrettably overlooked due to the difficulty and expense of evaluating medici nal properties, and a general disregard by Western science for folk medicine.

Chemical and nutritional analyses exist for less than one per cent of the plants collected by Indians of Amazonia (Kerr, personal communication). An estimated 250 plants have been collected that are utilized by the Kayapó for their fruits alone, plus hundreds of others for their nuts, tubers and drupes. The list of plants with medicinal value is overwhelmingly vast. An exemplary list of plants gathered by the Kayapó for food can be found in Table 8.3.


(b) Domesticated plants

The Kayapó have a large inventory of aboriginal cultigens. A list of major culti vated plants is found in Table 8.4 (see also Chapter 17). There are numerous varieties of major cultigens that the Indians say are aboriginal (Table 8.5) and which are little-known outside the Kayapó region. The Kayapó cultigens alone offer much information about plant genetic variation and a significant genetic pool for botanic research and experimentation.

One domesticate of great interest is kupa (

C. gongylodes

). It is a fast-growing plant that has considerable vitamin, mineral and nutrition value (Kerr, Posey

et al.

1978: 704). Sixty-five per cent of the plant is edible, and chemical analyses of the stems give the following values per 100 gram sample: 77.56 per cent water; 1.2

per cent protein; 1.0 per cent fat; 1.4 per cent ash; 18.84 per cent carbohydrates (89.2 calories). The vitamin content (based on gas chromatography) is A, B 1 , B 2 , B 6 , C, D 2 , D 3 , E. There are wild and semi-domesticated varieties of the plant also, which offer insightful new data into the process of plant domestication in Amazonia.


( The Kayapó also have several domesticated medicinal plants, including

madn Zingiber




is believed to be an effective medicine against intestinal parasites, one of the principal health problems of the Kayapó (Posey 1979b) and tropical peoples in general.

Another important domesticate is urucu (

Bixa orellana

). The red seeds of urucu are used to colour and flavour foods and are the principal ingredient of Kayapó body paint. Red body paint is an indispensable part of indigenous body adornment throughout Amazonia, but body paint also has a practical value – I found urucu to be an effective natural insect repellent with a significant reduction (as much as 84 per cent) in insect bites when painted on the body (Posey 1979e).

Indigenous knowledge and development 67

Table 8.3

Partial list of gathered food plants of the Kayapó*

Kayapó name pidjo-rã norã kubenkrã pidjôko pidjô-ti ñejaka ronkà pidjo-bà pidjo-tyk rõtu pidjo-bàti pidjo-kamrek idjy-kryre pitú kryry-re konoko môyt pidjô kakut bàdjum Portuguese Scientific name name Seasonality Part(s) eaten

açaí bacaba cacaubraba cajá Castanha do-Pará cupuaçu babaçu

Euterpe oleracea Oenocarpus distichus Theobroma speciosum Spondias lutea excelsa Bertholletia excelsa Theobroma grandiflorum Orbignya speciosa

June–November Fruit; heart September–December Fruit; leaves (used for making salt) December–January March–May December–March December–March All year Fruit Drupe Nut Fruit frutão genipapo nájá

Pouteria pariry Genipa americana Maximiliana regia

December–March All year August–February Nut; leaves (used for making salt) Fruit Fruit (eaten and used as base for body paint); leaves (dried and smoked) Fruit piqui uxi fruta de-campo orquídea de-campo

Caryocar villosum Endopleura uchi Psidium guineense Catasetum


December–February November–March January–February January–March Drupe Drupe Flower False bulb biro ingá jatobá – –

Monotagma Myrcia





Cassia hoffmanseggii

All year August–October July January–April July–August Tuber Fruit Fruit Fruit Fruit *Note Identifications based on Cavalcante (1972, 1974).

One can only guess at the vastness of the domesticated plant inventories of Amazonian Indians. As has been recognized by some scientists (Williams 1960; NAS 1975), many of these plants offer promising economic value and can be exploited on a large-scale basis.

68 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Table 8.4

Major cultivated plants of the Kayapó

Portuguese name

abacaxi abóbora algodão araia arroz 2 banana batata-doce cana 2 cará cupá babão fava 2 feijão feijão guandú inhame macaxeira mandioca melancia 2 milho tabaco urucú ?


English name of folk varieties


Kayapó name Scientific name

pineapple squash cotton arrowroot rice banana sweet potato sugar cane ?

kupa broad bean bean bush bean yam cassava manioc water-melon corn tobacco urucu ?


akrañitu katere kadjatkà môp-jabi’ê ba`y-gogo tyryti yàt kadjwati môp-kaàk kupá màt krwàt’`y màt-kwat màt-kwat’`y môp kwyrà-djài kwyry katekaàk ba`y cariño p`y madn-tu kàtembaré Ananas comosus Cucurbita


Gossypium arboreum Maranta arundinacea Oryza sativa Musa


Ipomoea batatas Saccharum officinarum Maranta


Cissus gongylodes Vicia faba Phaseolus vulgaris Canjanus indicus Dioscorea


Manihot esculenta Manihot esculenta Citrullus vulgaris Zea mays Nicotiana tabacum Bixa orellana Zingiber Carica papaya Use Number

food food cloth food food food food food food food food food food food 2 17 food 6 3 food, medicine 11 3 6 4 2 4 3 8 4 6 6 13 16 4 food food smoke body paint medicine food, medicine 4 8 3 6 ?

4 1 See Table 8.5.

2 Recent introduction; other cultigens the Kayapó say are aboriginal.

3 The unique variation of speciation in manioc makes the determination of exact taxonomy difficult for our own science and causes variation in folk taxonomy as well (see Kerr and Clement 1980).

(c) ‘Nomadic agriculture’

As previously stated, Kayapó taxonomic patterns show a propensity for


clas sifying the natural world into neatly defined categories, but rather to rely heavily on ‘graded’ categories of transition. The unclear distinctions between domesti cated and wild plants is an excellent example of how categories blend one into the other.

During hunting treks 9 the men may be away from the village for two to four weeks. They carry little food with them, relying instead on natural ‘resource islands’ along the established forest trails. The Kayapó have a vast network (thou sands of kilometres) of trails interlacing villages, hunting grounds, gardens, old

Indigenous knowledge and development 69

Table 8.5

Folk varieties of major Kayapó cultigens



tek ày diagôt

1 2

djô kakô-kukrê ti

1 3

tekà kamrek tú


tekà ngra ngra ti


ô’taben prôre







1 9


1 10 11

teka ngàite takre keti

1 12 13

prikamdjô noi poti kaàk re









2 4

kwyrà-pa 2














my-myt-kàre Kayapó











3 6


Banana (




branquinho peruwara roxa roxa-branca rangideira comprida papo São Tomé nasazinho anoa naja bahia


1 raw raw flour, roasted cooked, flour, roasted flour, roasted flour, roasted raw, roasted raw, cooked raw, cooked raw, cooked, roasted raw, cooked, roasted raw raw

Manioc (

Manihot esculenta

): Kwyry


gerio mandioca amarela mandioca preta mandioca vermelha


1 sun-dried flour toasted flour (farinha) toasted flour (farinha) toasted flour (farinha) toasted flour (farinha) tapioca sun-dried flour toasted flour toasted flour tapioca sun-dried flour

Corn (maize) (

Zea mays

): Bày


milho amarelo milho vermelho pipoca


1 roasted, boiled, flour roasted, boiled, flour roasted, boiled, flour roasted, boiled, flour roasted roasted, boiled, flour

70 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Table 8.5 Continued Kayapó




bày-noi-bê-tire Portuguese Utilization

1 roasted, boiled, flour roasted, boiled, flour

Macaxeira, sweet manioc (

Manihot esculenta

): Kroyrà-djài








4 4


4 5


4 6




macaxeira macaxeira macaxeira macaxeira macaxeira macaxeira


1 roasted, flour roasted, flour roasted, flour roasted, flour raw, roasted, flour roasted, flour

Sweet potatoes (

Ipomoea batatas

) and taro (

Colocasia esculenta











4 4


4 5






4 8


4 9




11 12

yàt-tykre yàt-krê-jaka

13 14

yàt-apàri yàt-krê-rã

15 16

yàt-krê-ngra yàt-tu-kà



batata-amarela batata branca batata encarnada

Yam (


sp.): Môp






5 2










sucuru sucuru osso

Indigenous knowledge and development 71

Table 8.5 Continued Kayapó



5 7


5 8


5 9


10 11

môp-màri môp-djà-djô

12 13

môp-tykre môp-djô-re

14 15

môp-ka-prorô môp-kà-kamrô

7 16 17

môp-ñere pàt-parikàre Portuguese

osso branco branco espinha braba 6 ossinha
















Urucu (

Bixa orellana

): Py


urucú urucú urucú urucú urucú urucú 1 Post-contact introduction 2 Recently imported varieties; others are pre-contact varieties 3 Recently introduced; other varieties very ancient 4 Post-contact introductions 5 Introduced varieties; others are said to be aboriginal 6 Semi-domesticated variety 7 Bears from 10 to 40 years


1 all varieties aboriginal fields, and natural resource islands. Food supplies, therefore, are hardly left to chance. To further ensure food sources, however, the Kayapó also create ‘forest fields’ of semi-domesticated plants. These plants are collected during the day’s travels along trails and hunting reconnoitres into the forest. The plants are then replanted near established forest campsites.

There are at least 54 species of plants used by the Kayapó in these forest fields.

Many are tuberous monocots similar to those described by Maybury-Lewis (1974: 334) for the Shavante. All grow naturally in


(forest with inter mittent openings and penetration of sunlight), which the Kayapó see as a natural

72 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project counterpart of their human-made fields. Replanting is done, usually before or after defecation, adjacent to campsites, which are always in transitional ecological zones. Figure 8.3 indicates the route of a trek I made in 1978 to the ancient Kayapó village of Pyka-tõ-ti (Posey 1979a). The map (based on a drawing by a Kayapó informant) shows natural ‘resource islands’ as well as ‘forest fields’ cre ated by the Kayapó.

Elsewhere (Posey 1982f) I have described this system of ecological exploita tion as ‘nomadic agriculture’ to emphasize the special adaptation of forest fields to the semi-nomadic system of the Kayapó. The tendency of Western science to analyse only those data that fit into neat categories tends to underestimate or miss

Figure 8.3

Trek from Kube˜n-krã-kein village to abandoned village site (Pyka-tô-ti) showing resource islands and campsites associated with forest fields.

Indigenous knowledge and development 73 entirely the importance of transitional categories of ecological exploitation. This transitional system probably is much more widespread in Amazonia than expected and underlines the inadequacies of existing subsistence typologies and carrying capacity theories.

(d) Manipulated animal species

Another area of ‘transitional’ knowledge for the Kayapó is semi-domesticated animals. These are perhaps best called ‘manipulated species’ to emphasize the Indians’ intentional manipulation of animal behaviour.

The larvae of beetles (Scarabaeidae and Buprestidae), for example, are utilized by various tribes in the lowland tropics (Chagnon 1968; Posey 1978; Posey 1980).

The adult beetle lays eggs in the refuse of dead banana plants and old palm trees.

The Indians intentionally stack the remains of banana and palm plants near vil lages, fields and campsites to attract the adult beetles. After some months (depending on species and region, as well as season of the year), the eggs develop into grubs ‘as big as mice’ (Chagnon 1968) that are tasty and nutritious. Indians know the life cycle of the beetle and can predict when to collect the mature grubs.

The Kayapó recognize 54 folk species of stingless bees (Meliponinae) and two additional species of stinging bees (both subspecies of

Apis mellifera

). All these species are classified by distinctive honeys and waxes (Posey 1983a, Chapter 12, this volume). Honey is a prized food, while beeswaxes are used as treatments for burns, cures for diseases, disinfectants of wounds and adhesives for artefacts.

Six species of stingless bees are ‘kept’ by the Kayapó (see Table 8.6). The Indians know that if a portion of the brood comb with the queen bee is returned to

Table 8.6

Semi-domesticated (manipulated) bee species utilized by the Kayapó

Kayapó name



* +


* +




) *


* * ∆




* +


mehnôrã-kamrek mehnôrã-tyk Scientific name Apis mellifera Melipona seminigra



(Moure Ms.)

Melipona rufiventris flavolineata


Melipona compressipes afinis

Moure Ms.



(sm) or



Trigona amalthea


Trigona dallatorreana


Trigona cilipes pellucida


Scaura longula

(Lep.) Key: + Those species whose nests are taken to the village.

∆ Species that are encouraged to build nests in dry posts in the houses.

* These species are systematically raided in subsequent seasons.

74 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project the tree after the honey is taken, certain species of bees will return to re-establish the colony. Thus hives of these six species can be systematically raided seasonally.

Nests of two other species (Table 8.7) are gathered in the forest and brought with the complete bee swarm back to the village.

10 The nests are then mounted on a house top and guarded until the Indians feel the time is optimal to take the honey.

The Kayapó also know two species of bees (

Trigona cilipes


Scaura longula

) that prefer to nest in dry logs in open areas. These species often colonize the dried timbers of Kayapó houses and their nests are left undisturbed until honey production is maximal.

Two other stingless bee species are intentionally attracted to Kayapó fields.

One species (

Trigona fulviventris

Guérin) prefers to nest in earthen walls; the other (

Trigona fuscipennis

) nests in rotten logs. The Kayapó either dig a hole in their field clearings, or utilize a hole already dug by armadillo. Into this hole they put rotting logs. Bees are thereby attracted to the fields and are associated with increased crop yield. Utilization by the Kayapó of major stingless bee species is summarized in Table 8.7 (see also Chapter 12).

The Kayapó also manipulate the movement of game animals by intentionally dispersing agricultural fields at variable distances from the village. Vegetation of the natural reforestation cycle in abandoned fields attracts and supports hunted species. The use of abandoned fields, therefore, helps to ensure an easily available source of game.

Management of ‘abandoned fields’

A great misconception about traditional indigenous agriculture is that fields are totally abandoned after a few years.

11 In this ‘slash and burn’ system, new fields are created each year in forested areas and the principal production from domesti cated plants culminates in two to three years. However, fields are


abandoned after this period as commonly believed.

Kayapó ‘abandoned’ fields, for example, continue to produce harvests of yams and taro for five to six years, bananas for 12–15 years, urucu for 20 or more, and kupa for at least 30 years. Of great importance is the Kayapó’s use of ‘abandoned’ fields (


) to gather plants and plant products produced in the natural refor estation sequence. A representative inventory of these plants can be found in Table 8.3. Research is currently underway to determine a more complete botani cal inventory in ‘abandoned field’ sites in Amazonia.

Old fields also produce a variety of foods that attract wildlife such as porco do-mato, coati, deer, paca, agouti and others (Table 8.2). Many birds, particularly sparrows, macaws and parrots, are also attracted to old fields and are hunted in the relatively open capoeira areas. Young Kayapó boys are nearly self-sufficient in protein intake, and small birds are a major dietary resource (Posey 1979c; Posey 1979e). The Kayapó are aware of the attractiveness of old fields to wildlife popu lations and purposefully disperse their fields great distances from their villages.

Thus game is attracted in artificially high densities, improving yields from hunt-

78 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project ing efforts. The Kayapó men hunt while the women tend the gardens, making longer hunting treks less necessary to acquire meat. The Kayapó thus do not have a clear-cut demarcation between fields and for est, nor between wild and domesticated. Rather they have a more general system for classification of ecological resources that forms a continuum between wild and domestic ones, all of which figure in integrated management strategies.

Adaptations of indigenous agriculture

Slash/burn agriculture has too often been considered primitive and inefficient.

Scientists now recognize that indigenous agriculture is more complicated and bet ter adapted to tropical conditions than previously assumed (Lovejoy and Schubart 1981). Indian fields, for example, minimize the time that soils are left exposed to the destructive heat of direct sunlight and the compounding force of tropical rains (Vickers 1976). Vegetative cover is maintained at various heights to ensure the protection of soils from rapid erosion and leaching (Schubart 1977).

Indigenous agriculture also depends heavily on native plants that have been shown to be adapted to localized climatic conditions (Alvim 1981). Native plants have also been shown to be more efficient in their utilization of micronutrients and less dependent on ‘essential’ nutrients of the temperate zones soils.

Although some large fields have been reported (Frechione 1981), indigenous agriculture generally relies on small dispersed fields. The geographic dispersal minimizes the epizootic growth of insect pests as well as plant diseases (Pimentel

et al.

1978; Posey 1979a). Thus expensive and ecologically dangerous pesticides are unnecessary for productive slash/burn agriculture. Field dispersal, as previ ously indicated, also stimulates wildlife populations. Perhaps most importantly, indigenous agricultural systems always include ‘natural corridors’ between field sites. These natural corridors form valuable ecological refuges for plant and ani mal species (Gomez-Pompa

et al.

1972; Lovejoy and Schubart 1981). Thus species are not only protected from extinction, but are reserved close at hand for re-establishment in ‘abandoned’ fields during reforestation.

Indian agriculture must, therefore, be viewed as a system developed to mini mize problems of crop pests, while preserving soil potential and productivity.

Most importantly, the system allows for natural refuges for plants and animals that ensure success in long-term ecological planning.

Natural harmony and tribal rituals

Each indigenous culture has a ‘belief system’ that functions to establish a rela tionship between humans and the environment. Cycles of rituals and ceremonies have been shown to function as regulators of natural resources (Rappaport 1967, 1971). It is still difficult, however, to demonstrate direct rela tionships between social systems and ecological resource management.

Attempts have been made to relate food taboos with resource protection

Indigenous knowledge and development 79 (McDonald 1977; Ross 1978) and to correlate ritual cycles with natural season ality (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1976).

The Kayapó belief system is based upon an ubiquitous belief in energy balance (Posey 1982e) similar to that described for the Desana Indians (Reichel Dolmatoff 1978). All living objects are endowed with this universal energy and, therefore, all life is to be revered and protected. Energy is encapsulated in living forms, but leaves the physical form (whether plant, animal or human) at death, and is guarded as ghosts and spirits thereafter. Eventually spirit energy is recon stituted into new life.

12 The whole energy transformation process takes a conceptually long period of time that cannot be precisely measured or expressed by the Kayapó; nonetheless, there is a sense of ‘natural’ rate of plant and animal exploitation that, if exceeded, will upset the energy transformation process and thereby upset the natural energy balance.

The Kayapó have specific rituals before and after each trek to hunt or collect plants in order to placate those spirits that will be dispossessed from their physi cal forms through death. The annual ecological cycles are likewise ritually punctuated to mark the maize and manioc seasons. Other festivals celebrate the hunting ‘seasons’ for land turtle, tapir, anteater and other game animals. The onset of the rainy season is marked by the appearance in the gallery forests of troops of monkeys, which is symbolically commemorated by a festival with dancers in monkey masks.

Each Kayapó ceremony requires a specific array of natural objects for the completion of the associated ritual (a particular type of feather, plant or beeswax, for example). This requires an organized trek to procure the needed materials, which leads the Kayapó to different ‘resource islands’ over a vast area. Since needed materials vary with each ritual, the ritual cycle causes the Kayapó to sys tematically exploit different ecological zones associated with diverse ‘resource islands’.

Without the natural ritual cycle, life would cease to perpetuate itself for the Kayapó. All ceremonies and rituals that are essential for the transformation of life-giving energy are controlled by tribal elders, chiefs and shamans. Thus eco logical management is entrusted to the highest level of Kayapó leadership and given utmost priority.

The Kayapó theory of illness also operates on a concept of energy balance.

Sickness results when this balance is destroyed by over-killing or over-collecting plants and animals, or through eating taboo foods. Refusal to participate in neces sary rituals and ceremonies can also destroy the healthy balance. Thus each individual has an intimate stake in maintaining ‘ecological’ health, although the general ecological control mechanism is the ritual cycle that is controlled and managed by tribal leaders.

80 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

A concluding plan for the future

● ● ● The above general outline suggests various fields of research based on indigenous models of ecology in the Amazon Basin. Although many Indian societies are already extinct, and most of those remaining face imminent destruction, there is still time to protect these people and to salvage knowledge about the Amazon from surviving indigenous systems. Research must proceed, however, with the utmost urgency and commitment, for with the disappearance of each indigenous group the world loses an accumulated wealth of millennia of human experience and adaptation.

Based on ecological lessons learned from the Kayapó Indians of Brazil, I have proposed that Western science systematically collect data in the following cate gories of indigenous knowledge: ● ● ● ● ● concepts of ecological zoning and perceptions of resources within each eco logical zone; knowledge of animal behaviour and plant–animal–human relationships in various ecological zones; use of transitional categories of ‘natural’ ecological divisions; classification and description of domesticated plant species; classification and description of wild and semi-domesticated plant species, including focused studies of ‘resource islands’, ‘forest fields’ and the whole system of ‘nomadic agriculture’; manipulation of wild and semi-domesticated animal species as an integral part of ecological management; adaptation of slash/burn agriculture and the range of variations of the system in Amazonia; strategies of long-term exploitation and management of abandoned fields and secondary forests; recognition of ecological and evolutionary interrela tionships expressed in myth, ritual and ceremony.

Although scientific knowledge of indigenous ecological systems is still at a fledg ling stage, there are already clear lessons to be learned from Amazonian Indians.

Based on what has already been learned from the Kayapó Indians, the following recommendations can be made for a more ecologically sound programme of development for Amazonia: ● ● ● ● Recognition of specific ecological zones and variations in associated biotic communities and soil types, coupled with localized agricultural adaptation.

Greater dependency on native plants which are better adapted to climate and soil conditions of Amazonia.

Maximized use of vegetative cover to protect fragile tropical soils, and diver sified planting to utilize naturally evolved biological communities.

Use of long-term strategies to utilize ‘abandoned’ fields left to fallow. This would include use of semi-domesticated plants and manipulated animal

Indigenous knowledge and development 81 ● ● ● species, as well as wild species, in an overall management scheme including crop rotation.

Limiting the size of fields to prevent epizootic surges of insect and disease pests, thereby reducing the dependency on costly and ecologically dangerous chemical products.

Use of ‘natural corridors’ between fields to serve as natural refuges for ani mal and plant life. This would not only preserve biological diversity, but also would ensure rapid reforestation and preservation of Amazonia’s rich ecolog ical systems.

Final lessons from the Indians would be to suggest that science must relate its environmental theories in such a way as to show the relevance of ecological balance to each and every individual, thus giving everyone a stake in its con servation.

Furthermore, self-sufficiency and independence of communities should be the underlying goal of all development projects, with self-reliance being the funda mental philosophy. Then and only then can development proceed with sustained benefits for the population as a whole without exploitative resource destruction for short-term benefit for the few.

The ideological bridge

If Indians are to participate with freedom and cultural integrity in a multi-ethnic, technologically-centred modern Brazil, then they must be respected for the strengths and accomplishments of their societies. This chapter attempts to show that indigenous knowledge of the Amazon is a valuable human resource, and an untapped source of information about natural resources. Indigenous ecological systems and agricultural strategies offer new models for the scientific develop ment of the Amazon without the irreversible destruction that characterizes present efforts. If indigenous knowledge is taken seriously by modern science and incor porated into research and development programmes, Indians will be appreciated for what they are – ingenious, intelligent and practical people, who have success fully survived thousands of years in Amazonia. This approach provides an ‘ideological bridge’ whereby indigenous peoples can participate in the building of a modern Brazil with the esteem and respect they deserve. Moreover, it is clear that indigenous peoples and their systems of ecological management must be pro tected in order to develop with maximum freedom through processes established by their own cultural and social rules.

Chapter 9

Wasps, warriors and fearless men: ethnoentomology of the Kayapó Indians of Central Brazil 1 Introduction

Most of the data analysed in this chapter were collected in the Kayapó village of Gorotire, which was the base camp for this 14-month project because of its acces sibility and the presence of some bilingual (Kayapó and Portuguese) Indians.

Gorotire was originally established as an ‘attraction’ village that was well-stocked with medicines and trade items to ‘attract’ unpacified Kayapó groups. As a result, the Gorotire population is a heterogeneous group. Nearly 20 per cent of the vil lage are Xikrin (a related Northern Kayapó group), one per cent are non-Kayapó (originally children captured during raids and raised as Kayapó), and ten per cent have immigrated to Gorotire from other Kayapó groups within the past five years.

This lends to Gorotire a ‘syncretic’ air: the tribal elders are often heard arguing over whose version of a story or ceremony is the ‘proper’ one. Thus it should not be assumed that Gorotire is a village that agrees even upon its own lore and mythology. Certain aspects of Kayapó culture, however, are more rigidly defined, or, if variation does occur, it is in a highly predictable manner. This chapter deals with cultural phenomena that conform to this pattern: the principles underlying the Kayapó entomological classification system.

Ecological profile

The Kayapó have traditionally been considered ‘marginal’ peoples poorly adapted to their environment (Steward and Faron 1959). They have been pic tured as exiles from savannas and inadequately adjusted to the region of Central Brazil (Levi-Strauss 1958). Bamberger (1967) refuted this misconception by pointing out that sociological factors, not ecological limitations, were responsi ble for the size of Kayapó villages. The Kayapó are abundantly adapted to the diversity of the campomato ecosystems in which they are found and dietary essentials are obtained with minimal effort and time (Posey 1979c). There is evidence that aboriginally the Gorotire population was eight to ten times larger than today (Posey 1979a). The great amount of time spent in the presentation of intricate and time-consuming artefact production, plus frequent performances

Wasps, warriors and fearless men 83 of elaborate rituals and ceremonials, hardly seems to reflect a group pushed to the brink of marginal survival.

Kayapó villages have traditionally been located near both campo and mato.

This allows exploitation of various ecosystem types and maximizes the potential for utilization of natural products and game. This diversity has given the Kayapó a greatly varied diet that requires minimal effort. To the east of Gorotire there are vast expanses of ‘campo cerrado’ and ‘cerradão’, and in other directions lie decid uous forest, ‘mato de segunda classe’, whilst ‘gallery forest’ is found along the Rio Fresco (see Cole 1960 and Hueck 1966 for a discussion of these ecological types).

Elevation at Gorotire is approximately 1,000 metres. There is a marked dry season (May to August), with hot, windy days and cool nights. The peak of the rainy season is in February, when the Rio Fresco reaches its maximum. Annual rainfall is approximately 1,700 millimetres.


Research was at first limited to work with the six men and three women who spoke Portuguese. Although an attempt to learn and utilize Kayapó was made from the onset of the project, it was seven months before eliciting could be carried out in the indigenous language. The type of data gathered reflects these stages of the project.

One of the first tasks begun was to establish an insect collection. Frequent field trips were taken for the sole purpose of collecting as many different organ isms as possible in categories the Indians loosely grouped together.

Four to five Indians accompanied the researcher on collecting forays. The researcher began the process by capturing a large grasshopper. The Indian assis tants responded by capturing dozens and dozens of other grasshoppers. The researcher attempted to widen the selective process by capturing a dragonfly. The Kayapó assistants responded with dozens upon dozens of captured dragonflies.

The researcher continued to try to widen the parameters of ‘acceptable’ things by pointing out butterflies, then beetles, and finally cicadas. ‘Are these relatives?’ the researcher asked, pointing to the insects already collected and those still uncap tured, in an effort to determine if a notion of relatedness existed. ‘Yes,’ responded the Kayapó assistants. ‘Then capture all of the relatives of these (pointing to insects already collected) you can!’ The result was hundreds and hundreds of the same insects, depending upon the frequency of certain insects at the time. It was impossible to explain to the assistants why 300 of the same thing was unneces sary. But eventually the range of ‘relatives of insects’ (consistently called ‘


’) expanded in what was assumed to be a reflection of native ideas of relatedness.

After three months of this type of collecting, it appeared the lateral expansion of the category was completed. The category included all insects, scorpions, spiders, ticks, centipedes, millipedes, crayfish and pseudoscorpions. The category


has a one-to-one correspondence with the scientific category of phylum Arthropoda.

84 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project As the collection progressed, it became apparent that most organisms were grouped into very generalized categories. If there were no consistent subgroup ings (i.e. no named or unnamed differentiations) the specimens in that group were boxed and sent to the Museu Goeldi for classification and storage in the Museu collections.

2 If any evidence of subdivisions did exist, however, the specimens were retained in the village for further study.

In the village, informants were asked to: a) name each specimen, and b) group those specimens that were the same (


) or similar (


). In this manner, it was determined that covert (unnamed) groupings exist that correspond in a one-to one fashion with the scientific class Arthropoda. Further subgroupings were few, except for the covert category corresponding to the scientific class Insecta. Eighteen subclasses (‘forms’) were found in this category (Table 9.1).

Each specimen was numbered and each number was recorded in a master note book. This notebook contained essential field data on the specimen, plus a sketch or field identification notation if possible. If appropriate, entries were also made regarding the cultural use of the insect or any peculiar circumstances under which the specimen was collected. (Often Indians would bring a specimen to be exam ined because they thought it interesting, unusual or particularly significant.) Groupings of insects were tabulated initially for six men and three women; the maximal number of insects utilized in these sorting experiments was 635.

Informants conducted the grouping activities on three different occasions, each time with actual insect specimens. The identification number of each specimen grouped was recorded for each category.

‘Informant error’ was treated as problematic since patterns in ‘error’ were soon evident and eventually predictable. Based on these data, four types of ‘forms’ were identified (see Table 9.2): ●

Focal form:

those consistently labelled and grouped in the same way and considered ‘typical’ of the category. These forms are best illustrated as ‘fuzzy

Table 9.1

Arthropod groups


Arachnoidea (a) Scorpionida (b) Pseudo-scorpionida (c) Phalangida (d) Aranea (e) Acarina Crustacea Diploda Chilopoda Insecta

Common name

scorpions pseudoscorpions harvesters spiders mites/ticks crawfish millipedes centipedes insects

Kayapó name makre makkryre hehpati heh ten maj morokreruti kekek

(covert) } }

mak heh Correlation

1:1 1:1 1:1 1:1 1:1 1:1 1:1 1:1 1:1

Wasps, warriors and fearless men 85

Table 9.2

Levels of correspondence for insects

BOL categories


Focal forms:



2 3

ipoi kapo

4 5

krytkan˜et wewe

6 7

kanenet kokot

8 9

pure kopre

10 11 12 13

rorote mrum amuh mehn

Collective forms:



Aberrant forms:



Transitional forms:

16 17 18

kapoti kungont mehnkamamuh Common name

beetle true bug cockroach grasshopper, cricket butterfly, moth dragonfly leafhopper, cicada fly fly termite ant social wasp bee minute insects earwig giant roach, mantid solitary bee and wasp honey wasp

Correspondence levels

order (Coleoptera) order (Hemiptera) (family: Blattidae) order (Orthoptera) (various orders) order (Odonata) order (Homoptera) order (Diptera) order (Diptera) order (Isoptera) (family: Formicidae) (family: various) (family:Apidae) (various) order (Dermaptera) order (Dictyoptera) (various) (Genus:


) 1 BOL (Basic Object Level categories) 2 Correlations stated in relation to correspondences at the scientific level of Order (# indicates an overdifferentiation; – is underdifferentiation).


2 1:1 # # # 1:1 1:1 # 1:1 – 1:1 1:1 1:1 1:1 1:1 # # # ● ● ● sets’ (cf. Gardner 1976; Kempton 1978) with certain members being more focal and others being more peripheral.

Transitional forms

: those consistently ‘mislabelled’ between two cate gories. These forms are viewed as being ‘like’ two groups that are contiguous categories in a morphological sequence.

Aberrant forms:

those consistently labelled in one category, but given a special name because of unusual morphological characteristics.

Collective forms:

those consistently given the same name and grouped together, although informants


those consistently labelled and grouped in the s point out members of a collective class may not ‘really’ be the same. In the one collective form discussed in the chapter, small flies (


), mem bers of the category were considered too small to have significant morphological features and were illustrated with small dots.

86 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project Utilizing tabulated responses and informant sorting responses, it was possible to link 18 named groupings into a more generalized pattern. These groupings seem to best coincide with the criteria of ‘Basic Object Level’ (BOL) categories (cf.

Dougherty 1978; Rosch

et al.

1976). Informant drawings and statements showed that the underlying patterns of these subordinate groupings were based on recog nition of gross morphological features.


Patterns in folk entomological classification

For the Kayapó all things are divided into four categories: i) things that move and grow, i.e. animals; ii) things that grow but do not move, i.e. plants; iii) things that neither move nor grow, i.e. minerals; and, iv) humans, creatures that are akin to all animals, yet unique and more powerful than most animals because of their social organization.

It is the covert (unnamed) category of ‘animal’ with which this chapter is par ticularly concerned. All animals are subdivided into two named groups: those with ‘flesh’ (called by the name ‘


’), and those with ‘shells’ and no flesh (called ‘


’). This latter group, animals with shells and no flesh, coincides with the scientific phylum Arthropoda. Further folk subdivisions correlate with the five scientific classes of Arthropoda (Table 9.1).

Although the folk grouping that corresponds with ‘insects’ is covert, there is a 1:1 relationship with the scientific class Insecta. There are four morphological ‘sequences’ within this grouping (Figure 9.1). The term ‘morphological sequence’ refers to a continuum of traits that unite a series of Basic Object Level categories. The sequence may be an uninterrupted continuum with overlapping members between contiguous categories along the continuum; or there may be interruptions in the continuum. To bridge this gap, named transitional forms may occur to produce intermediate categories (Table 9.2).

Sequence 1

Let us look at ‘Sequence 1’ (Figure 9.1) as an example. There is a continuum of gross morphological form from the ovate ‘polar form’ to the oblong ‘polar form’.

Within this sequence can be found two distinct complexes: COMPLEX A This includes that part of the overall sequence from beetles (


) to hemipterans (


) to roaches (


). All forms in this complex have leathery outer wings or protective wing covers; their general form ranges from ovate to oblong.

Considerable ambiguity occurs between these three forms – that is, certain beetles are consistently classified as




, but never is there overlap between

Wasps, warriors and fearless men 87

Figure 9.1

Insect sequences and complexes (based on drawings by Irã Kayapó).




. Likewise many


are classified as


, but also as


. No


, therefore, are co-classified with


. The earwig


is an aberrant form. It is consistently classified as a type of


, but is singled out because of its morphological distinctiveness (mainly because it has rudimentary wings and ‘pincers’ on its abdomen) and given a special monomial label.

88 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project The overall sequence is interrupted with the transition from




, i.e. from cockroaches to grasshoppers, although the morphological form continues toward elongation. This break is clearly due to the presence of large wings that become sufficiently conspicuous to define the perimeters of the animal’s shape.

There is a transitional group,


or giant cockroaches, that bridges this gap.

The large wings and elongated bodies of this group cause them to be co-classified with




. This transitional form has a distinctive name and coin cides with the scientific family Blattidae.

COMPLEX B The sequence (‘Sequence 1’) continues the second complex (Complex B). In Complex B we have three overlapping genera: grasshoppers (


), butter flies (


) and dragonflies (


). The polar form is the dragonfly, whose form is distinctive because of its extremely elongated abdomen and four wings.

Sequence 2

This sequence consists of a single complex called


. The continuum within the complex is one of smallness to largeness – the leafhoppers being considered the ‘children’ of the larger cicadas. There is something of a form sequence from the slightly rounded leafhoppers to the ovate cicadas, but this is insignificant to most informants.

Sequence 3

This sequence consists of a single complex of flies. It includes two object level categories: tiny flies (


) and mosquitoes (


), biting flies and pium. There is, as is expected, overlapping between contiguous categories and minor morpho logical form gradation from


(tiny flies, which are drawn as small dots) and more slender mosquitoes.

Sequence 4

This sequence is composed of three distinct object level categories in Complex A: termites (


), ants (


) and wasps (


). Complex B is composed of the single category honey bees (


). The break in the morphological sequence comes between wasps and bees. This is attributable to the anomalous nature of bees, for they are the only shelled animal


with major economic benefit.

There are intermediate forms to bridge this functional gap. These intermediate forms are bees that make no honey and are solitary


, and social wasps that do produce wax and honey (



This is the only named sequence, being called ‘


’. This name refers to the social nature of these insects; the name is also used to label the immature forms

Wasps, warriors and fearless men 89 (larvae and pupae) that the Indians say are carried about like children in the insects’ ‘villages’ (or


). The


or social insects are seen to be in a special relationship to man because of their communal nature. All


colonies (


) are thought to have a chief (


) and be organized into family units just like the Kayapó. They are known to have warriors and the sounds of their move ments are likened to Kayapó movements and singing.

The Kayapó are aware that some


really live alone – that is, there are solitary forms. But they see these as socially aberrant types that used to live in a ‘village’ but for some reason now live alone. Solitary bees and wasps are like certain Kayapó who go off alone maybe for years on spirit quests, or are like shamans, who are solitary by nature. These insects are associated with the manipulation of spirits and are important ingredients in the concoctions of shamans. In short, their anomalous nature in relation to other social Hymenoptera and Isoptera make them important tools in the manipulation of natural powers by shamans. These aberrant forms are labelled with primary lexemes, although they are consistently classified as a subgroup of the category


, social wasps.

Except for ‘Sequence 4’ (termites, ants, bees and wasps), specific taxa are few for insects; subspecies are even fewer. Affixes denoting colour, texture, size (or age), or some other general feature are frequently attached to the primary (1 o ) lex emic label of the generic category. An informant may choose any of a number to describe a specimen. Thus,


means big, black beetle and the label may apply to any one of many beetles that are big and black. But the same beetle might also be called


, big-headed beetle, if it were black and also had a big head. Occasionally a descriptive (or secondary lexeme) label may be reserved for a particular, limited set of insects. Within the beetle category is such an example,


or dung beetles (Scarabidae). Each insect group (BOL category) has a ‘father’ (


). The ‘father’ is usually the largest member of the group. The ‘father’ of the


is the impressive rhinoceros beetle (


, Scarabaeidae). It is called the


and is also considered the ‘chief ’ (


) of all insects (really all



There are, however, only a few examples of this specific naming in Kayapó insect classification – except, as I have said, within


‘Sequence 4’, the social insects. There are 32 subgroupings of ants (


); 48 subgroupings of wasps (


); and 57 subgroupings of bees (


). These specific and subspecific groups are generally labelled with secondary (2 o ) lexemes. But why does this spe cialized classification occur within the sequence



The importance of bees is obvious: they are sources of honey and wax. But of what significance are wasps and ants? Already we know these animals are like man because they live in societies like the Kayapó: they have villages, chiefs and warriors. But so do termites, yet there are only four subdivisions of termites (


). This is certainly not due to a paucity of termite types in the Kayapó area.

To understand this situation, we must understand one of the most significant of Kayapó myths: the story of the ancient fight with the giant rhinoceros beetle, the


. In ancient times the Kayapó lived in the sky with other animals.

90 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project The Kayapó were then like other animals and Indians could understand animal languages. But in these ancient days, the Kayapó were weak and did not live in villages or have societies. Indians were not more powerful than other animals and certain animals, especially the beetles (


) under the leadership of their ‘chief ’, the


, waged war against men. In the ancient days, in the sky, the Kayapó learned to organize themselves into groups and live in villages like the


(wasps and ants). Then in a great battle in those ancient times, the valiant and fearless warriors of the Kayapó defeated the


. That defeat established man as a creature more powerful than other animals because of two things: i) the power came from the social organization, and ii) the great strength and valiance of the Indian warriors that had also come from the wasps.

The Kayapó had learned the wasps’ secrets by carefully observing the behaviour of wasps and had learned of their ‘power’ that could be obtained through their potent stings. The venom of the wasps had been the secret; the aggressive, fearless attacks of the wasps had been the model for Indian warriors.

Today, on regular occasions the Kayapó commemorate the acquisition of these secrets and their victory over the


. They are constantly searching for the nest of the most powerful and aggressive wasp (the



Polistes testacolor

). When a nest is found that is sufficiently large (usually 1.5 metres long, 0.5 metres in diameter), scaffolding is erected (by night when the wasps are inactive) to prepare for a re-enactment of the ancient event.

In the numbing cold of a grey pre-dawn haze, the entire village goes solemnly to the site. The warriors dance at the foot of the scaffolding and sing of the secret strength they received from the wasps to defeat the giant beetle. The women wail ceremonially in high-pitched, emotional gasps as the warriors, two-by-two, ascend the platform to strike with their bare hands the massive hive. Over and over again they strike the hive to receive the stings of the wasps until they are semi-conscious from the venomous pain.

This ceremony is one of the most important to the Kayapó: it is a re-affirma tion of their humanity, a statement of their place in the universe, and a communion with the past. Time and space collapses to provide the unity of being – the continuity of life, history, identity and knowledge.

The wasp’s nest itself is a symbolic statement of this unity. Its three-dimen sional shape illustrates the relationships between the polar forms of the classification morphology – the ovate and elongate forms (Figure 9.2). A cross sectional view – or view from above or below (Figure 9.3) – shows the circular form; a lateral view shows the elongate form. The nest is a graphic study of the relationship between these shapes.

Even more importantly, the general structure of the hive itself serves as a model of the universe (Figure 9.3). The hive is divided into parallel ‘plates’ that seem to float just like the layers of the universe. The Kayapó say that today they live on one of the middle plates. But in ancient days, they believe they lived on another plate above the sky. Some Kayapó still live on an upper plate, the tribal elders say, and their campfires are the stars in the sky.

Wasps, warriors and fearless men 91

Figure 9.2

A drawing by Irã Kayapó of the wasp nest (

amuh ˜ur˜ukwa


Figure 9.3

Cross-section of a wasp nest (drawing by Irã Kayapó).

92 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project And below? From the lower plates come the ‘worthless men’ (non-Kayapó,


). Many


still live below, though most have already ascended to ‘this earth layer’ through a termite mound.

Termites are in alliance with ‘worthless people’ and termites themselves are worthless. They are weak (


) and cowardly (


) and, although they appear to live like Indians and social insects, they are neither brave (


) nor strong (


) like wasps or Kayapó warriors. No Indian would, therefore, find value in studying termites (


). They are subgrouped only according to whether they are white, red or black – the skin colours of non-Kayapó ‘worthless people’. (A fourth subgrouping labels the termite that lives in the mound through which came the


.) And what of ants? They are more like men than even wasps because they walk and hunt on the ground. The Kayapó believe that ants too have special powers because of their stings. But the power received from ants is more useful in man’s hunting ally – the dog. Ants are used in many concoctions to make a hunting dog unafraid to keep his nose to the ground and to make him aggressive. Some ants are seen as excellent hunters, so often man and dog are adorned for the hunt with the sacred red urucu paint mixed with ant parts. To be good hunters, therefore, the Kayapó must know ants, just as they must know wasps to be brave and fearless warriors.


In conclusion, I believe ethnomethodology can lead the ethnographer into fields of investigation along natural (


) paths. Folk taxonomies are in and of them selves cultural statements, but it appears that these taxonomies may reflect deeper cultural patterns.

This analysis indicates that insects are encoded at a ‘Basic Object Level’ with the predominating characteristic being gross morphology (shape) that grades from the ovate form to the elongate form. These two ‘polar forms’, and the rela tionships between these forms, become an underlying principle for Kayapó folk entomological classification as well as a spatial and structural theme in the belief system. It is therefore suggested that the correlations between a) basic shapes and forms, b) belief system patterns, and c) classification principles, may be more closely integrated than previously expected. It appears that belief systems can play an important role in classification patterns and that such patterns can, in turn, offer an emic guide to cultural realities of perception.

Chapter 10

Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system: patterns in classification of arthropods by the Kayapó Indians of Brazil 1 Introduction

Papers by Hayes (1982) and Hunn (1982) have attempted to provide a utilitarian/ adaptionist framework for folk biological classification studies. Hunn (1982: 830) outlines a fundamental contradiction between a utilitarian ‘natural core model’ and the traditional, formal hierarchy model of Berlin (1973, 1976) and Berlin

et al.

(1966, 1973). Hunn correctly points out that ethnobiologists have woefully ignored the practical, utilitarian aspects of folk classification: he is, however, unnecessarily polemic in his critique of hierarchical models.

This chapter presents data to suggest that there is no ‘fundamental contradic tion’ between hierarchical and utilitarian models, but rather confusion between


of classification and


for classification. All societies classify some natural phenomena utilizing processes of culturally influenced categoriza tion (cognitive categories) organized in logical patterns distinctive to that society (taxonomic structures). These processes can be studied as cognitive/perceptual phenomena (e.g. Hunn 1976; Kay 1971; Rosch 1978) or as classificatory/logical phenomena (e.g. Berlin 1972, 1973, 1976; Brown 1977, 1979). The latter inevitably demonstrates hierarchical characteristics of ethnotaxonomic rank.

Description and analysis of classification processes, however, do not explain


in any given society certain natural domains are classified and named while others are not. This question is best investigated from the utilitarian/adaptionist approach.

Data in this chapter show a correlation between the degree of subordinate dif ferentiation (i.e. differentiation below the Basic Object Level and utilitarian significance. Superordinate categories (i.e. groupings above the Basic Object Level) are of two types: (i) named categories that appear to be indicators of episte mological (symbolic or mythological) significance, and (ii) generally unnamed (covert) categories that reflect ‘chaining’ (i.e. loose groupings based on perceived similarities in morphology, behaviour or use). Utilitarian significance is therefore encoded at the subordinate level, while symbolic importance of a domain is sig nalled by named superordinate categories. Thus, hierarchical structures in the Kayapó taxonomic system are indicative of ‘utility’, either practical or symbolic.

94 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Basic Object Level forms and morphological sequences

Data analysed in this chapter were collected in Gorotire, the largest of the north ern Kayapó villages in the Brazilian State of Pará. Consult Posey (1979e) for a detailed description of research design and methods used for folk taxonomic and ethnoentomological investigations. The most psychologically salient of the taxonomic units in the Kayapó ethno biological classification system are Basic Object Level (BOL) categories. BOL categories reflect ‘natural discontinuities’ in nature (cf. Hunn 1975, 1976, 1977) by classifying natural units characterized by variations in morphological forms.

Other characteristics – such as colour, sound, smell, texture, movement, etc. – may be simultaneously encoded, but general shape or form is the fundamental cri terion for BOL discrimination.

Four morphological sequences are found for

Mry kati mry kati

in the Kayapó system.

(‘false flesh’, or ‘no meat’) is an animal type of


(‘unimportant thing’ or ‘stuff ’ in American slang).

Mry kati

could also be considered a type of

mry kaigo

(‘empty meat’). The term ‘morphological sequence’ describes a contin uum of morphological traits that unites a series of BOL categories. The sequence may be an uninterrupted continuum with overlapping members between contigu ous BOL categories or there may be interruptions in the continuum marked by an unusual (aberrant) morphological feature. Figure 10.1 illustrates the morphologi cal sequences for the Kayapó system of Arthropod classification (numbers refer to BOL categories in Table 9.2 and text, page 85).

The Kayapó system shows four types of BOL categories. Named ‘undifferen tiated utilitarian categories’ are also sometimes found that group animals of the same BOL category into a collective class because of their similar utilitarian sig nificance.


, literally ‘house beetles’, is an example in which all house ‘pests’ receive the same name, although morphologically they are said to be different.

Subordinate taxonomic groupings

Groupings subordinate to BOL categories are subject to distinctive processes of characterization. Through what Hunn (1976: 512) calls ‘attribute reduction’, cer tain of the nebulously encoded criteria of Basic Object Level categories are selected out as distinctive features for subgroupings. These criteria often predict co-occurring sets of features (e.g. presence of hard wing covers always co-occurs with presence of wings; the presence of scaly wings always co-occurs with the presence of fuzzy-elongated abdomen, etc.). This type of ‘feature redundancy’ is referred to as ‘configurational recoding’ (cf. Hunn 1976: 513; Bruner

et al.

1956: 47). These criteria can be expressed in a limited number of componential features and are more easily expressed verbally by the Kayapó than are the BOL characteristics.

Morphological sequence Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system 95 A B C D (nhy/˜ny) BOL level 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 16 8 9 14 10 11 12 13 18

Figure 10.1

Organization of BOL categories into four morphological sequences, only one of which is named (



The degree to which a Basic Object Level category is subject to subgroupings indicates the following: (i) the importance of that particular set of organisms to the culture as a whole, or (ii) the particular importance of that set of organisms to cultural ‘specialists’.

Specialized knowledge is acquired in two ways: (i) from relatives as a part of one’s

nê kretx

(inheritance), or (ii) from another ‘specialist’ through apprentice ship. In a materialistic sense the Kayapó are egalitarian, but only in a materialistic sense. The ‘secrets’ or rights one inherits as part of one’s

nê kretx

do much to determine one’s status. This specialized information usually deals with rights to perform certain songs, dances or rituals. But one’s

nê kretx

might also include specialized knowledge about curing or witchcraft.

There are many types of shamans for the Kayapó. Some are more powerful than others, depending partially upon the degree of specialized knowledge.

Shamans are able to ‘talk to’ certain animal spirits (


). Some animal spirits are considered to be more powerful than others. The more powerful the shaman, the more powerful the animal spirit to which he can speak. It is through ‘talking to’ animal spirits (

mry kar˜on kaban

) that a shaman can cause or cure illnesses, predict the future, or talk to the spirits of ancestors. Only the most powerful shamans can talk to all animals.

2 This means that knowledge about animals is specialized and, as a result, the subordinate classification system of animals is specialized.

Two major problems are evident in eliciting subordinate insect classification systems: (i) understanding the totality of the subordinate groupings would require investigating the knowledge of each shaman, and (ii) much of this specialized knowledge is highly secretive in nature.

A third factor must also be considered. There is a large group of men and women who also are ‘curers’ (


). These people specialize in the treat ment of a number of native diseases. Their cures are effected through concoctions of plants and animal parts; no manipulation of animal spirits is utilized. There are dozens of these in any village. My partial inventory of such curers in Gorotire alone yielded a list of 154 individual specialists, which was over 25 per cent of the popula tion. Thus, the elaboration of subordinate classification that follows reflects my very limited knowledge of the total Kayapó system of specialized insect classification.

96 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project The categories that do show exceptional internal differentiation, either by spe cialists or by society as a whole, inevitably represent categories of great cultural significance to the Kayapó. Category specialization (internal differentiations) has been shown to be a useful methodological tool and provides an emic guide to sig nificant cultural phenomena (Posey Chapter 9, this volume).

Following are the BOL categories with a brief outline of the subordinate taxo nomic groupings that characterize each category.


– beetles and kin

The Kayapó use the term ‘relative’ (


) with variable degrees of inclu siveness. All


are in some degree of relatedness one to the other. Thus

màrà õmbikwa

, relatives of beetles, are grouped together because of general features of relatedness. Each grouping of


is thought to have a ‘father’ (


). The father is generally distinguishable as the largest specimen of the group; for most BOL categories no particular organism is consistently labelled as


. For the category


, however, the rhinoceros beetle (


sp.) is specifically thought of as the father of all


and, indeed, of all things with shells and no flesh. The rhinoceros beetle is one of the bulkiest insects found in the tropics and sometimes reaches over 15 centimetres in length; its distinctive large ‘horns’ make it one of the most morphologically distinctive insects. The Kayapó call this beetle the


, the beetle with teeth on its head. The


cannot be considered a separate class of


, but rather is a distinctive representative of the subclass


. All Scarabaeidae collected in Gorotire were classified as





(also called


, or ‘big màrà’) are subdivided further into two groupings: (i)


, and (ii)


. The ‘-


’ affix denotes ‘large ness’; thus, the


are the large scarabs (of which the


is the most notable example). The


are the smaller scarabs and are some times said to be ‘children’ of the larger



The category


has ten major subdivisions that follow to some extent the subdivisions of the scientific order Coleoptera (Figure 10.2).

1 2


are characterized as having shiny, tough black shells and well defined wings underneath. The shape of the scarab is distinctive and inevitably the key non-verbalized basis for this subgrouping. When consul tants are asked how the


differ from other beetles, they emphasized that


are found around dung. The collection of


made in Gorotire yielded only specimens of the superfamily Scarabaeidae (families including Passalidae, Lucanidae, Scarabaeidae). Some small scarabs col lected were co-classified with the folk taxon




are beetles characterized as living on, in or under water. The name of this group means ‘water beetles’ and includes the scientific families Dytiscidae and Gyrinidae. The fact that these beetles can swim, as well as

Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system 97 màrà mojngo mingugu ngôi-kam-màrà pyka-kam-màrà ngrot kàràràti mingugu mingugu-ti

Figure 10.2

Subdivisions of



3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 walk and fly seems to pose no problems of anomaly for the Kayapó, who are nonetheless fascinated by such abilities.


are ground-dwelling beetles as the name implies (


– of the earth). Beetles in this category are believed to be carnivorous because they are frequently found near carrion. Specimens from the following scien tific families were collected as part of this folk taxon: Rhysodidae, Carabidae, Tenebrionidae, Cleridae, Cucujoidae, Cerambycidae and Chrysomelidae.


are beetles classified as being somewhat elongated and having shiny shells. The


are said to live in tree bark and include all the Buprestidae or wood borers.


are weevils. These beetles are said to live on trees and shrubs. Their elongated snout serves as the diagnostic feature for this folk subclass, which coincides with the scientific families Curculionidae and Brenthidae.


are elongated beetles that coincide with the scientific families Elateridae and Lampyridae (click beetles and fireflies). The name means light-coloured, translucent, glowing, or shiny-winged beetles.


is an ‘undifferentiated utilitarian category’ of beetles that live in the house and attack stored products. Most of these beetles are Dermestidae, but various other household insects are also lumped into this category.


is yet another undifferentiated category that includes a wide variety of beetles, including representatives of families Bostrichidae, Lyctidae and Dermestidae.


are the small, rounded and colourful insects we call ‘lady bee tles’. The name literally means ‘turtle image’ beetles; this group consists mostly of small coccinellids (Coccinellidae). These are principal crop pests and are sorted by female informants into a variety of covert subclasses based upon their preferred plant hosts.


are the hairy rove and carrion beetles. The name means ‘ugly’ or ‘repulsive’ beetles, referring to their attraction to dead and decaying animals.

These beetles are sometimes co-classified with


(Hemiptera) because of

98 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project their poorly developed wings and elongated bodies. The scientific families of Silphidae and Staphylinidae are represented in this category.

Continuous category set overlap occurs mostly with the blister beetles (Meloidae and Mordellidae), which are co-classified with


(mostly Hemiptera). The rea son for this appears to be the soft wing covers (

, or


) that more closely resemble wings of


than the hard ‘shells’ of true beetles. Except for the


(rhinoceros beetle), there is little evidence of any particular use for beetles, nor any special symbolic or ceremonial signifi cance. The palm weevil (

Rhynchophorus ferrugineus

) is given a special name,


. The larvae of this large beetle is said to have been an impor tant food of the ancient Kayapó and is still eaten by some children and old people.

These larvae reach a considerable size (three or four ounces) and have excellent food value. A large green metallic wood borer (Buprestidae) is also given a spe cial name,


. The


of this beetle is commonly used in the tropical lowlands for decorative purposes.

3 A series of descriptive affixes is used in conjunction with the name


to describe a certain specimen. These refer to colour, shape, size or texture and are used only as loose descriptive labels. Examples of name combinations are found in Table 10.1.


– true bugs and kin


are seen as having shells (

) or wing covers that are not so tough (


) as most of the beetles (


). The


are thought to live and feed on leaves of plants. The most typical of the


are stink bugs (Pentatomidae) that are said to cause one’s eyes to burn (

me nô kang rô

) and are called

ipoi kumrenx

, the ‘true’



Table 10.1

A list of affixes used in the description of various





’ ‘


’ ‘


’ ‘


’ ‘


’ ‘


’ Common examples:


diminutive tiny small large child (small) short shell

màrà-tyk-ti màrà-pri-tire màrà-kamrek-ti Affix


’ ‘


’ ‘


’ ‘


’ ‘


’ ‘


’ large, black beetle medium-size beetle big, red beetle


jet black red bluish/greenish black white/grey shiny

Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system 99 1 2 3 4 There are four subgroupings of


(Figure 10.3):




are ‘true’


. The Kayapó have little to do with these insects because of the fear of being blinded by them. Shamans utilize

ipoi kumrenx

in various concoctions to induce or cure blindness and burning eyes.

Informants easily recognized and grouped Pentatomidae specimens into this grouping on the basis of gross morphology, insisting that all insects in this group could cause harm to the eyes.




are ‘false’


. These do not cause the eyes to burn, but are said to inflict painful bites. The ridged thorax of these


is the generalized mor phological feature that characterizes the group. These are the Reduviidae or assassin bugs.


are the giant water bugs (Belostomatidae). Indians believe the

ipoi tikà

can cause paralysis of anyone bitten by it. It is feared and avoided, except by shamans who utilize it in their crafts.


is an undifferentiated category that includes other Hemiptera as well as a few Coleoptera (families Meloidae and Mordellidae).

The following descriptive affixes were elicited for


: ‘-


’ (white), ‘-

ngrãn grã

’ (light colour), ‘-


’ (black), ‘-


’ (red) ‘-


’ (small), ‘-


’ (large). Only the giant water beetle (


) is given any specific polylexemic distinction.


– cockroaches and kin

Cockroaches, mantids, walking sticks, crickets and grasshoppers are generally grouped into the scientific order Orthoptera, though some authors prefer to place cockroaches and mantids into a separate order Dictyoptera. Regardless of which system is preferred, entomologists agree that these insect groups are closely related. The Kayapó likewise view these insects as closely related, and utilize three BOL groupings to distribute them: (i)


, (ii)


, and (iii)


(mantids, grasshoppers and crickets).




should perhaps be viewed as two subgroupings of


; that is, as




) and


as in Figure 10.4A. Informants consistently ma`ra` kapo ipoi ipoire ipoi-kumrenx ipoi-ka 'a`k ipoitika`

Figure 10.3

Subdivisions of


showing some subclass overlap between








(indicated by dotted lines).

100 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

A Kapoti as a subset of kapo B Kapoti as a BOL category

kapo (kumrenx) kapoti kapo kapoti krytkanet

Figure 10.4

Two possible models of set relationships between









at a level of contrast with




; therefore


is probably best treated as a separate Basic Object Level category rather than a sub class of


(as in Figure 10.4B). The grouping


includes all insects of the suborder Blattaria, except for the extremely large winged forms of family Blattidae.



, earwig (Dermaptera) is seen as a special type (aberrant form) of


. It is shaped like a


, but does not have the same type of wings or abdomen. The


are associated with dark, damp places and are believed to be an omen of illness or death.


whenever too many


are associated with spirits of the dead and are seen in a house, it is assumed to be a sign of spirits in the house. The Kayapó traditionally abandon and burn a house after several deaths have occurred because of fear of spirits returning to their old homes.


– a transitional form

Little can be said about the


, except that they are some of the largest insects encountered in the Kayapó area. Large cockroaches of the scientific suborder Blattodea are grouped with pyranus beetles (Prioninae) in this category. The bod ies of the


are like those of the


, except that their impressively large wings cause them to be considered as relatives of




are ground into a powder and used by various shamans to cause or cure illness and blindness. Specimens of this group are hoarded by shamans to prepare various concoctions.

– grasshoppers and kin

Grasshoppers are one of the most numerous forms of life in the Kayapó area, especially in the grasslands and transitional forest. Eight major subdivisions can be described within the category


(Table 10.2).


Moi ‘ô’ ja ‘àrà

are the katydids or long-horned grasshoppers (Tettigoniidae).

An extremely large species occurs in the area and is given the special name


. Its legs are used to treat aching or weak joints. The spiny part of the back legs are removed and scratched over the afflicted joints, some times until blood is drawn. Contact with the strong legs of the

moi ‘ô’ ja ‘àrà

is believed to impart its strength to the user. The name means ‘leaf-like’

kry tkan˜et

, referring to its protective coloration and leaf imitative wing veination.

Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system 101

Table 10.2

Subgroupings of


(Orthoptera) with analogous scientific classifications


i) ii) iii) iv)

moi ‘ô’ ja ‘àrà chyrê-chyrê pàt-karoñ wêjaputchô

v) vi) vii) viii)

ngra-rêrêmex krytkañére krytkañet-ka-àk krytkañet-kumrenx Common names

katydid grasshopper mantis walking stick mole cricket cricket grouse locust ‘locust’

Scientific taxons

Tettigoniidae Acrididae Mantodea Phasmatidae (or Cheleutoptera) Gryllotalpidae Gryllidae Tetrigidae Acrididae 2 3 4 5 6 7


are the large grasshoppers of the family Acrididae. During the dry season these huge insects appear in great abundance. It is said that in the ancient days the Kayapó ate these as delicacies, but there is no evidence that they are still eaten today. Legs of the


are utilized for curing in the same man ner as the legs of the

moi ‘ô’ ja ‘àrà

. The large rib vein of the upper wing is also removed from the rest of the wing and used in shamanistic ceremonies that are intended to cause or cure paralysis of victims. The name of this category is derived from the clicking flight sound made by a focal member of the category.


are the mantids (Mantodea), some of which reach six inches or more in length. The name means ‘anteater image’ and refers to the similarity perceived between the front legs of the mantis and those of the giant anteater.

Indians say the mantis holds its prey in the same manner as the




are the walking sticks (Phasmatidae or Cheleutoptera). The Kayapó say contact with these can cause blindness and shamans use the ground-up parts of certain species to inflict blindness. In many ways the walking stick is aberrant morphologically, particularly because of its wings.

The body, head and legs, say the Kayapó, are those of


. I do not know the meaning of the name for this class.


are the mole crickets (Gryllotalpidae). Their name means ‘pretty paca’ and refers to their similarity in shape and coloration to the rodent ‘paca’. Because these crickets are heard and seen at night, they are associated with death and ghosts and are harbingers of disaster.


are the true crickets (Gryllidae). These are distinguished by the Kayapó because of their songs and their distinctive wings. Crickets are com mon in Indian fields and are associated with good crops and abundant rains.

They are favoured fish-bait for Indian boys, who spend hours chasing them for that purpose.


are the grouse locusts (Tetrigidae). The morphological form of these is distinctive and easily recognized by the Kayapó as being ‘false’



102 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project 8


are the true locusts (Acrididae). There are five unnamed (covert) subdivisions of this group: (i) those found in the grasslands (


); (ii) those found in the transitional forest (


); (iii) those found in the high forest (


); (iv) those found near rivers (


); (v) those found in or on the ground (



No generic or specific scientific determinations were made for these subgroup ings. It is interesting to note, however, that the Indians recognize certain forms (morphological types) as more ‘typical’ of the various ecological zones. There are five ecological zones recognized by the Kayapó that correspond to the five group ings of


listed above under 8. Informants made minimal grouping ‘error’ in sorting


despite the specimens being ‘out of ecological context’.

The noted acridologist, Uvarov (1978: 371–444), has attempted to group grasshoppers and crickets into ‘life forms’ based on generalized morphological adaptations to particular ecosystems or ‘life zones’. Five basic ‘life zones’ recog nized by Uvarov are: (i) ‘terricoles’, those living on the ground and feeding on herbs; (ii) ‘aquacoles’, those living in or on the water; (iii) ‘arboricoles’, those liv ing on trees and woody shrubs; (iv) ‘herbicoles’, those living in dense thickets of shrubs and herbs; and (v) ‘grammicoles’, those living in grasslands. This attempt to account for phylogenetic relationships between morphological adaptation and the functional success of a species associated with ecological zones appears to coincide with the Kayapó system.

The term ‘life form’ as used by Uvarov is confusing for ethnobiologists because of the current use of the same term as a general folk taxonomic unit.

Perhaps ‘ecoform’ would be a less ambiguous word that could be adopted by eth nobiology. Whatever the term, I believe ethnobiologists need to follow lines of investigation that analyse native perceptions of adaptive associations between species morphology and ecosystem.


– butterflies and kin

The Basic Object Level category


could be considered as a collective form.

Six orders of insects are subsumed under this one label: Neuroptera, Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Mecoptera, Trichoptera and Lepidoptera. The focus of the entire category is the giant morpho butterfly (Morphinae).

Seven folk subgroupings occur within the basic category so that in the overall scheme the under-specialized category


becomes a focal category differentiated by the degree of morphological feature recognition. The subdivisions are as follows: 1




) are butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera). Wing scales are the distinguishing characteristic, and scales are used by shamans to treat diseases of lethargy. A covert differentiation within this category is found between night-flying and day-flying species. Moths and other night-fliers are consid ered omens of death or illness.

Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system 103 2 3 4 5 6 7


are the mayflies (Ephemeroptera). The suffix ‘-


often used loosely as a descriptive affix. In this case, however,


labels a specific subclass of


. Although these appear at night, the Kayapó do not find them disturbing; on the contrary, they are always a sign of abundant fish and good fishing.


are the stoneflies (Plecoptera). The suffix ‘-


’ denotes a translucent quality of the wing. This subclass defines the particular set of Plecoptera.


are the ‘false


’. This category coincides with the scientific Order Mecoptera, scorpionflies.


are the caddis flies (Trichoptera). The name refers to the affinity of this set of organisms for the water and areas surrounding lakes and rivers.


are the fish flies and Dobson flies (Corydalidae). The name liter ally means ‘worm head’ and refers to the sometimes elongated thorax and head of the family.

Pi ´ô-ja-àrà

are the lacewings and kin (all Neuroptera, except Corydalidae).

The name literally means ‘leaf wings’ and is descriptive of the delicate, trans parent veined wings for which the order is named.

Though generally oblivious to insect life cycles, the Kayapó are aware of the stages of metamorphosis of Lepidoptera. The eggs they call ‘


’; the larvae ‘


’; the cocoon or chrysalis ‘


’ (‘child cover’).

The stinging larvae of various unidentified Lepidoptera are incorporated into the rituals prescribed for warriors and are smashed on the bare chests of the young men. The intense pain is believed to impart strength and remove fear.

Often the ordeal leaves scars on the chest that are sported proudly as though they were battle scars.


– cicadas and kin

There are only two basic subdivisions of


. The focus of the entire category is the large annual cicada (Cicadidae). The two subgroupings follow: 1 2




) are the ‘true’


. This category coincides perfectly with the scientific family Cicadidae. The principal vein of the cicada’s front wing is used by shamans in sorcery.


are the ‘tiny’


. This category includes the treehoppers (Membracidae), froghoppers (Cercopidae), leafhoppers (Cicadellidae) and the plant hoppers (Fulgoridae). I know of no special use or significance of this subgroup.

The usual variety of non-fixed descriptive suffixes are evident: e.g. -


(painted), -


(small), -


(large), -




(light-coloured), -


(black), and so on.

104 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project






– flies and kin

The third sequence has three closely related Basic Object Level categories:






. The category


is a collective one containing a myr iad of small insects too small to be distinguished morphologically by the unaided eye. I did not make a collection of the insects in this category so I can only guess at the vastness of its inclusiveness.

The category


is likewise a very nebulous category. Within this group are all flies (Diptera), except those contained in the category


. All forms are known to have only two wings. There are no further subgroupings.

The category


is subdivided into three groups, all of which are blood-suck ing and biting species: 1 2 3




) are small blood-sucking flies. This includes the punkies (Ceratopogonidae), midges (Chironomidae) and black flies (Simuliidae). The Kayapó distinguish four types of

pure kumrenx

: (a)

putykre putire

big ones; (c)


black ones; (b) spotted-headed ones; and (d)


red-headed ones. Distinctions among the four are not only morphological but also biological, i.e. where they are found and the viciousness of the bites.


are the mosquitoes (Culicidae). There are four subdivisions of


: (i)


whitish ones with very painful bites; (ii)


greyish ones found in the forest along trails; (iii)


open areas; and (iv)


reddish ones found in black ones found in the forest.


are the deer and horseflies (Tabanidae). There are no further sub divisions of this category.

The overall relationship between




is represented by line diagrams in Figure 10.5.


kopre pumnuti

(Tabanidae) are seen as being morphologically more similar to than


. Their fierce biting habits, however, cause Indians to place them in the category with other blood-sucking and biting species. There are more detailed subclassifications of mosquitoes and pium, but collections and analyses are yet to be made.

(kopre) ngôire pure kopre pure pute pumnuti

Figure 10.5

Category relationships within flies and kin (



Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system 105


– termites and kin

Termites (Isoptera) are abundant in the Kayapó area, although the Kayapó pay rel atively little attention to them. Four major subdivisions of


are found: 1 2 3 4


are termites that build nests in trees. These are the ‘black’ ter mites and are associated with the origins of black people on the earth.


are termites that nest in the wood of houses. These ‘red headed’ termites are associated with the origins of other Indians (non-Kayapó) in the world.


are termites that nest in the ground. These are the ‘white’ ter mites that are associated with the origins of Europeans in the world.


are termites that build large, greyish mounds. Termite mounds are numerous, especially on the campos, and all non-Kayapó (


) emerged from the underworld to the earth through these mounds.

Whereas the Kayapó have a fascination and even admiration for other social insects, the termites are thought of as useless and helpless. They are weak and non-aggressive and therefore no more ‘true’


(social insects) than


(non-Indians) are ‘true’ people. True people (the Kayapó) originated above in the sky; not from below in the ground as did non-Indians.

Termite nests are used in house construction, since their comb construction serves as an ideal natural insulation. Nests of


are also used as fertil izers, or mixed with organic mulch to create fertile planting mounds in savanna areas. On numerous occasions I observed the Kayapó eating the textured nest of ground-dwelling termites and ants. No explanation was offered other than in the ancient days the Kayapó say they ate this in place of farinha (toasted manioc flour). Geophagy is not commonly reported in indigenous cultures, but was cer tainly common with the Kayapó and is evident today to some extent.

5 6 7 1 2 3 4


– ants and kin

Ants (Formicidae) are a source of great interest to the Kayapó (see Chapter 9, this volume). Their social nature is thought to be similar to that of the Kayapó and, consequently, their ethology is important in classification. The major basis for subgroupings of ants is the type and location of their nests (


). The follow ing covert (unnamed) groupings were found: Ants with nests in the ground.

Ants with nests above ground (mound building).

Ants with nests inside tree trunks.

Ants with nests outside tree trunks (have visible nests attached to the tree trunk).

Ants with nests inside tree limbs.

Ants with nests attached to tree limbs or leaves.

Ants that live with termites.

106 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project 8 9 Ants that live with bees.

Ants that live alone (solitary forms).

The last grouping of solitary ants is often co-classified with wasps (


). These are called ‘velvet ants’ (Mutillidae), which are in fact wasps of the superfamily Scoliidae. A large ant with conspicuous winged males is likewise co-classified with


(Isoptera). These two examples represent set overlap between contigu ous categories (







Ants are often spoken of in terms of their ‘power’, or ability to inflict pain. The more potent the sting, the more powerful the ant. Some shamans specialize in ‘talking to’ powerful ant species and claim to manipulate their spirits to cause harm. The shamans have a special classification of ants based on the power of ant spirits (


), which is difficult to categorize in concrete terms. To date, 64 dif ferent ant folk species have been collected and described.

The abdomen of the ‘saúva’ (



Atta sexdens

L.) is the only ant eaten.

Its fat and juicy abdomen is mixed with manioc flour and baked, or whole ants may be roasted in banana leaves.

Stinging ants are often collected by the Kayapó men. Ant bodies are pounded into a paste with red urucu (

Bixa orellana

) and painted on hunting dogs. This is supposed to cause the dogs to keep their noses to the ground and to hunt with the determination of the ants.


sp. ants are thought to have a smell that repels saúva and their nests are actively distributed near fields and gardens to produce a protective barrier against saúva. Their nests are also planted with yams and taro to increase tuber yields (see Chapter 18).


– wasps and kin

Non-honey producing wasps and stinging bees are grouped into the category


. Subgroupings of


seem to be based on nest type (


). Variation in identification of wasps ‘out of environmental context’ was found to be very high. Consultants were later brought to the Museu Goeldi to identify 120 wasp nests. Identification of wasp nests, however, was consistent with identifications made in the field, indicating that the Kayapó pay more attention to wasp nest con struction than to wasp morphology.

The principal dichotomy within the Basic Object Level category


is between (i) social species, and (ii) solitary species (those that do not live in


). Subgroupings of each of these are outlined in Table 10.3.

Most social wasps are used in some form of hunting magic. Most commonly, wasp parts are mixed with urucu (

Bixa orellana

) and painted on the warrior.

Certain wasp nests are even used to rub over the noses of hunting dogs to make them brave (


). To date, 85 folk species of wasps have been identified and described.

Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system 107

Table 10.3

Subgroupings of

amuh Subgrouping

1 Solitary amuh a










f g

pyka-õ-ñy amuhre

i h





2 Social amuh a









Common names

ichneuman fly spider wasp sand wasp mud daubers thread-waisted wasps potter wasps an undifferentiated category of various families, including Symphyta velvet ant solitary bees social bees honey wasps social wasps

Scientific correlate

Ichneumonidae Pompilidae Sphecidae: Larrinae Sphecidae: Nyssoninae Sphecidae: Sphecinae Vespidae: Eumenidae Scoliidae, Mutillidae Xylocapinae Apidae: Apinae



Vespidae 1


is cogrouped with





is a transitional class between






is a transitional class between honey-producing bees and wasps.


– honey-producing bees and kin

Thus far, 56 folk species of stingless bees (Meliponinae) have been discovered for the Kayapó corresponding to 66 scientific species (Posey 1983a). Of this number, 11 species are considered to be semi-domesticated (see Chapter 12).

Bees are grouped into 15 ‘families’ in addition to the 56 folk species. Criteria for determining these differentiations are complex and include the following: 1 2 Ethological characteristics: (i) flight patterns (how the bees fly when entering the nest); (ii) aggressive behaviour when the nest is disturbed (aggressive or docile); (iii) sound produced by bees in flight or by nocturnal behaviour inside nest; (iv) places bees visit, including types of flowers, dead animals, faeces, sand banks, dirt, etc.

Nest structure and ecological niche: (i) substrate preferred (e.g. tree hollows, ant nests, termite mounds, inside earth, large trees, etc. In the case of trees, external nest form and position of the entrance structure is also important); (ii) ecological zone preferred (flood forest, humid forest, savanna, etc.); (iii) form, texture, colour and smell of the entrance structure (e.g. earth, resin, cerumen, vegetable fibres, etc.); and (iv) form and texture of the batumen.

108 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project 3 4 Morphological and biochemical characters: (i) shape of the bee’s body; (ii) colours of the bee; (iii) designs or markings on body; (iv) size and colour of wings; (v) size of the bee; (vi) smell of the bee (either its natural smell or when the bee is crushed); (vii) secretions produced for defence.

Economic factors: (a) quality of honey; (b) quantity of honey; (c) quality of resins; (d) quality of wax and cerumen; (e) suitability of pollen for food; (f) suitability of larvae/pupae for food.

As this list of taxonomic characters indicates, the Kayapó also have a detailed knowledge of Meliponinae morphology, nest architecture, ontogeny and behav iour. Technologies and strategies for raiding nests and rearing bees are also well-developed (see Posey and Camargo 1984). The Kayapó use bee waxes, batu men, resin, pupae and larvae for a variety of purposes (Posey 1983f).

Superordinate groupings

Of the 18 BOL categories found in the Kayapó system of Arthropod classifica tion, only three show extensive differentiation at subordinate levels (


, wasps, with 85 folk species;


, ants, with 64 folk species; and


, bees, with 56 folk species). Following the hypothesis that such differentiation is indicative of emically significant cultural phenomena (cf. Posey 1983d), one would predict bees, wasps and ants to be of particular importance to the Kayapó.

An additional indicator of the importance of these BOL categories is the named superordinate grouping of all social Hymenoptera,




), which includes all











) is the only named, superordinate category in the entire domain of


(animals with shells and no flesh).

The phenomenon is explained by the epistemological importance of social insects to the Kayapó belief system. The Indians say that their social organization was conceived by an ancient shaman who specialized in the study of social Hymenoptera. Hoping to organize his defenceless, dispersed people against attacks from the wild beasts and enemies, the shaman had the idea to organize the Kayapó like




). This idea came while observing a hive of wasps (


) suc cessfully defending themselves against an eagle (


) hundreds of times larger.

Thus the Kayapó have long been interested in social insects as ‘natural models’.

There are still specialists who study




) and the importance of social insects is symbolically represented in art, music and, most dramatically, ritual (see Chapter 12). The named category




), therefore, encodes epistemological significance in the Kayapó culture and is an indicator of symbolic cultural significance.

In addition to the named, superordinate category of




), numerous loose, nebulous groupings can be found. These ‘cross-cut’ (cf. Gardner 1976) BOL cat egories recognize a variety of other characteristics held in common with other animals (Figure 10.6).

Any given organism might be grouped with other organisms in numerous ways. A frog might be grouped with a water beetle because both are amphibious.

Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system 109

Figure 10.6

Idealized hierarchical model showing superordinate and subordinate levels.

A turtle, an armadillo, and a lady beetle might be grouped together because all three have round, humped shells. A caterpillar might be grouped with a snake because it is long and wriggles on the ground. Stinging caterpillars might also be grouped with wasps and ants because of the nature of their stings. A flying ant might be classified with a certain hawk because both appear at the same time of the year (the hawk is migratory; the emergence of the winged ant seasonal). A type of cricket might be classified with a tapir because its front feet are seen as similar in form.

The list can go on and on. In observations of superordinate groupings, I have observed four types of ‘cross-cutting’ mechanisms. Animals are grouped on the basis of: 1 2 3 4 Similar function (e.g. edibility, medicinal value, ceremonial importance, etc.).

Behavioural characteristics (e.g. nocturnal animals, crepuscular animals, swimmers, etc.).

Habitat (e.g. water animals, forest animals, ground-dwellers, etc.).

Special cultural concerns. This type of grouping deserves some further explanation.

One of the major ways the Kayapó group animals is by the ‘power’ of their ‘spir its’ (


). This is an extremely difficult typology to analyse and describe, for the concepts of animal ‘power’ and ‘spirit’ are exceedingly complex. An animal’s ‘power’ is determined by the facility of the


in inflicting or curing illness.

Every animal species has a ‘spirit’ and, theoretically, every animal can affect the human ‘spirit’ by causing or curing illness. Only the shamans, who ‘talk to’ the animal spirits, can cure a patient of the disease provoked by the spirit of that ani mal. Therefore, the ranking of animals based upon the ‘power’ of their ‘spirits’ is tantamount to ranking the power and prestige of shamans.

Superficially certain groupings seem nonsensical. For example, the Kayapó group certain lizards, some snakes, grubs and small rodents into one category.

This grouping appeared to defy reason until tribal elders were heard telling of the ancient days before the Kayapó had corn and manioc. The list of animals eaten in

110 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project ancient times coincided with this grouping and is best glossed as ‘animals of potential use’ and offers a ‘back-up’ or emergency system that is encoded in the classification system and passed from generation to generation. Mythological principles of today can become facts of survival tomorrow.

Concluding remarks

Classification of


(Arthropods) by the Gorotire Kayapó offers several interesting insights into the overall patterns of folk biological classification. The 18 BOL categories grouped in morphological sequences show very little hierar chical differentiation except for the social insects (






), which are the only representatives to receive a named, superordinate grouping





Certain BOL categories, especially


(Orthopterans) seem to be distin guished based upon perceived phylogenetic relationships between animal morphological form and ecological adaptation or niche. These ‘ecoforms’ merit study and offer ethnobiologists additional integrative paradigms for research.

Specialization of Kayapó knowledge points to the difficulty of an overall eval uation of any complete biological/natural taxonomic system. This problem is accentuated when trying to determine the ‘utilitarian’ value of any given domain.

The Kayapó data suggest that elaboration or differentiation of named subordi nate (lower in hierarchical rank than BOL categories) categories, whether in the general knowledge system or only known by a few ‘specialists’, is an accurate indicator of ‘utility’ and cultural significance. No attempt has been made to deter mine if degree of difference is in direct proportion to significance or utility, but such a hypothesis seems feasible and deserves testing. Highly differentiated cate gories recognized by the society as a whole should be the strongest indicator of cultural utility or significance.

‘Utility’ is difficult to assess since it does not always include the obvious qualities of food, shelter or medicine. In the case of




) social insects, for example, only bees have the obvious utilitarian value of producing food, medi cine and useful raw materials. Ants are utilitarian in the sense that they have qualities that are desirable to impart to hunting dogs via medicinal mixtures painted on the dogs. Wasps are important in a more abstract way as ‘natural mod els’ for Kayapó society, although certainly avoidance of stinging species may be considered utilitarian and influence classification. Such avoidance, however, is not the sole reason for wasp classification since only a small percentage are aggressive.

The Kayapó data also suggest that categories of great symbolic or epistemo logical significance are not only differentiated and named at the subordinate level (usually only by ‘specialists’), but are also labelled in superordinate groupings (groupings of greater set inclusion than BOL categories). One can hypothesize, therefore, that the named superordinate groupings are indicators of symbolically significant domains.

Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system 111 Kayapó classification of insects and related Arthropods is characterized by classification of ‘natural discontinuities’ in nature that produce morphologically determined Basic Object Level (BOL) categories. Organization of BOL cate gories is seen as a continuum of overlapping or contiguous sets called ‘morphological sequences’. Hierarchical structures emerge when any BOL cate gory (or sequence) is of utilitarian and/or symbolic significance. Named subordinate differentiation is an indicator of ‘utility’; named superordinate group ings are indicators of symbolic significance.

Thus parts of the folk taxonomic system that exhibit greater hierarchical qual ities reflect recognition of ‘utility’ in its broadest sense (practical and symbolic).

This resolves the apparent ‘contradiction’ between utilitarian and hierarchical models by pointing out the difference between


(essentially hierarchical) and


(essentially utilitarian) in folk taxonomy. Both are at work in any folk classification system and neither excludes the other in importance nor in explana tory potential.

Chapter 11

Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees (Meliponinae, Apidae, Hymenoptera) by the Kayapó Indians of Gorotire, Pará, Brazil 1 Introduction

In his initial research Posey (1983f) recorded 56 named folk species of stingless bees that are recognized and classified by the Kayapó Indians, of which nine species are considered ‘semi-domesticated’ or ‘manipulated’ by the Indians.

Many of these meliponine bees are of economic importance to the Kayapó. Wax, cerumen and resin are used for artefacts; honey, pollen, and larvae are used for food; pupae are used for food and medicine; and pollen and bee parts are impor tant in medicinal preparations (Posey 1983f). Even non-utilitarian species are known and classified by the Kayapó, who consider all social insects to be of epis temological importance. The Indians believe that an ancient shaman (


), who studied social Hymenoptera behaviour, taught their ancestors how to live, work, and defend themselves like social insects (see Chapter 12). This ‘natural model’ for society is symbolically represented by the nests of


spp. wasps (


) and ceremonially manifested in a special meliponine beeswax (cerumen) hat called

m˜e kutôm

(Posey 1983g, 1983d).

This chapter presents additional data on the complex knowledge of the Kayapó Indians documenting further the folk science of these extraordinary experts on Amazonian biology and ecology. Our intent is not to compare our science with theirs, but rather to show how our own science can be enriched, and how insight ful hypotheses can be generated through the study of ethnobiology.

Material and methods

Previous research by Posey (1981a, 1983f, Chapter 12 this volume) was con ducted in 1977–79 during 14 months of field research with the Kayapó. During that period, data were collected while accompanying the Indians to forests, savan nas, and gardens during annual ceremonial and seasonal cycles. Two bee ‘experts’ served as principal cultural consultants, Kwyrà-kà and his son Irã.

During the field period that resulted in this report (21 days during the months of August and September 1983), the original consultants were used and earlier materials were cross-checked by the oldest shaman of Gorotire, Beptopoop.

Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees 113 Although Posey’s previous fieldwork had met with few problems in acquiring data on bees, the presence of Camargo created unexpected complications. The Indians feared that his desire to collect bees would lead to the disturbance or destruction of their valued nests. Thus, it initially appeared that there had been a drastic drop in beekeeping, beekeepers, and bee nests in Gorotire since 1977–1979. However, this did not prove to be the case. In 1983, the Kayapó were simply distrustful of our curiosity about their stingless bees, and reluctant to pro vide information or show us their nests.

Eventually, when we realized the source of complication, we were able to explain more specifically our intent and assure our hosts that their bee colonies would not be destroyed by our scientific efforts. Thereby, we were able to gain access to considerably more data, and receive more cooperative responses to our inquiries.

A ‘generative methodology’ for eliciting was utilized; that is, formal question ing was held to an absolute minimum so as not to introduce our scientific paradigms into indigenous thought, thereby prejudicing responses. We simply communicated our interest in bees and let our consultants lead us to nests and tell us what they wished regarding bees and bee behaviour. When questions were nec essary, the most general formulations possible were utilized: for example, ‘Tell us about the bee’s nest,’ or ‘Tell us about bee flight,’ and so on. The two major infor mants are fluent in Portuguese and routine conversation was carried out in that language. When consultants found difficulty in explaining any subject in Portuguese, communication shifted to Kayapó. New terms or concepts were recorded in the indigenous language and initial discussions of a new subject were carried out in Kayapó.

In addition to the collection of biological materials, drawings of bee nests were made in the field. Internal architecture was sketched and photographed if nests were opened by the Indians. Ethnographic notation occurred during all phases of the field study. Drawings in this chapter are based on information provided by Kayapó consultants.

Figure 11.1 is a replica of a drawing done in 1979 by Pedro Kayapó, a young Indian man (


) from Gorotire. Species encountered during this period of field research are listed in Table 11.1. Numbers preceding the species list refer to collection numbers in the Gorotire Kayapó collection now under the care of Professor João M. F. Camargo and stored at the Departamento de Biologia, Universidade de São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo, Brazil.


Taxonomic categories

Bees (social Apidae) are grouped along with other social insects as




), which is the only superordinate (suprageneric) category found for Arthropoda (Posey 1984d). Adults of social insect colonies are denominated


– thus ants

114 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Figure 11.1

Reproduction of a drawing by Pedro Kayapó (made in Gorotire in 1979) show ing the external form and internal structure of



Trigona amazonensis


Table 11.1

Species of meliponine bees encountered in the vicinity of Gorotire during the current study

Collection numbers

(303c) (304c) (305c) (306c) and (308c) (307c) (309c) (310c) (31lc) (312c) (313c)

Scientific name Tetragona clavipes






Melipona seminigra pernigra

Moure & Kerr [

Scaptotrigona nigrohirta

Moure Ms.]

Scaptotrigona polystica


Melipona melanoventer


Melipona rufiventris flavolineata


Tetragonisca angustula angustula


Tetragona dorsalis




Trigona fulviventris


Kayapó name ikài-kà mytire, myre-ti, my-ti udjy imrê ñy kamrek imrê-ti menhirê ujdjà ngài kumrenx my krwàt tôtn my djô

Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees 115 are called


, bees are called


, wasps are called


, and termites are called



Apis mellifera



) is often classified with wasps (


) rather than stingless bees (


) because of its powerful sting. On the other hand, wasps that produce honey (


spp.) are often classified with bees rather than wasps because of their honey production.

Nests of social insects are given the same name as Kayapó houses,



Likewise, traditional circular villages are said by the Kayapó to take the cross sectional form of conical nests of wasps and bees (see Chapter 9).

Nests of Meliponinae (

mehn nhy ˜ur˜ukwa


● ● ● ●

External characteristics

Nests of Meliponinae are grouped by the Indians according to external structures perceived as ‘natural discontinuities’ or ‘natural’ morphological groupings (Hunn 1976). Although these groups are not linguistically labelled, their saliency as covert (unnamed) categories is easily demonstrated through field recognition and informant responses. Each nest-form group is typified by a ‘focal species’ that has idealized qualities characterizing the set. Each set may be identified or referred to by the name of the focal species (as described in Posey 1984d).

Figure 11.1 illustrates the external form and internal structure of the focal species



Trigona amazonensis

). Similar drawings by various Indians were used to construct the basic focal forms of the major nest categories summa rized in Figure 11.2. These focal forms are as follows: ● ● ● ● ● ● A B C D E F G H I J



Trigona amazonensis

) constructs nests attached externally to large tree trunks or boulders


ant (



Trigona cilipes

) usually constructs nests in arboreal spp.) colonies or termite (


sp.) nests



Trigona branneri

) prefers externally attached nests on vari ous palm species



Scaptotrigona nigrohirta

) constructs nests in natural openings in tree trunks and builds entrance tubes of soft wax and resin (this is the largest category, encompassing a variety of genera and the species)

Myti-re Djô

( (



cupira Trigona fulviventris

) builds in arboreal termite nests ) prefers subterranean nests, often found in ter mite nests

Puka-kam-mehn Mykrwàt


Trigona recursa

) a subterranean nest-building species (

Tetragonisca angustula

) usually found in hollow trunks of dead trees lying on the ground

Ngài kumrenx


Melipona rufiventris flavolineata

) found in open tree hollows, with an entrance tube hidden inside




sp.) found in hollow vines or bamboo.

116 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Figure 11.2

Nests of Meliponinae focal species recognized by the Kayapó.

A limited number of species is found in any given habitat. Certain species are habi tat specific, that is, found only in savanna, or flood forest, or high forest, and so forth.

Thus when an Indian enters a specific habitat, he already knows which species might be found, thereby facilitating visual scanning for morphological nest types.

Internal nest structure – architecture and entrance structure

Terminology for structures of Meliponinae nests (


) is quite complete. Two types of nests, based on internal structure, are recognized by the Kayapó: nests

Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees 117 with horizontal, parallel combs (Figure 11.1); and nests with dispersed caches of combs (Figure 11.3). Figure 11.3 shows the principal architectural structures with associated Kayapó names. A glossary of Kayapó terms and their English or scien tific equivalents is found on page 254.

For the Indians, entrance structures (


) of meliponine nests are important diagnostic characters because each stingless bee species produces a specific structure. Shape, size, composition, colour, position and smell of the


are all characteristics used by the Indians for field identification. Figure 11.4 shows the major


focal categories. These are covert categories, but as with nest forms, they are frequently identified by referring to the name of the focal species that typifies the category.

Figure 11.3

Schematic structures of




(honey pot), nests with Kayapó nomenclature:


(pollen pot),

apynh-kra-dj`a abu

(batu (brood cell),

kra kuni

(brood comb),






(lower batumen with drainage channels),


(pot opening),


(entrance structure),


(shell of nest).


(entrance gallery),



118 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Figure 11.4

Types of Meliponinae entrance tubes recognized by the Kayapó with their respective ‘focal species’: (A)



Scaptotrigona nigrohirta

), (B)

imrê ti



), (C)



Tetragona truncata

), (D)



Melipona seminigra pernigra

), (E)



M. melanoventer

), (F)

ng`ai kumrenx


M. rufiventris flavolineata


Ontogeny, life cycle, and castes of



The Kayapó believe that bees, like Indians, have a life cycle associated with the social space of their villages (


) and houses (


). A bee’s life begins in ‘a growing up thing’ called


or ‘child sleeping place’ (

kra-no-ro djà

) (see Figure 11.5). Combs are called


and are filled with various stages of life, including the egg (


). According to the Indians, however, bees do not have ‘true eggs’ (


) because they have no hard shell (


Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees 119

Figure 11.5

Ontogenetic stages of Meliponinae (represented in this figure by

Melipona compressipes fasciculata, ngài-re

) recognized by the Kayapó:


(brood cell); (larva of 2 o


(egg, egg liquid);


(larva of 1 instar);


(pre-defecant larva);


o instar);


(post-defecant larva);




pupa with movement; (unpigmented pupa);

nhy-pô-nu kra-arup-ka-toro

(imago, emerging adult); (pigmented


(newly emerged adult).

Instead, bee eggs are composed of a liquid deposited in the cell. This liquid is called


(egg liquid) and becomes ‘new (bee) children’,


, that in turn grow into ‘small children’,


. Subsequent stages of larval develop ment are denominated by the Indians as follows:


(‘round, thick children’ that occupy the whole cell – known scientifically as pre-defecating larvae); and


(‘old children’ that stand up vertically in the cell – known scientifically as post-defecating larvae). When the shells (

) of the ‘children’ (


) harden (

arup tytx

), the bee child is thought to be fully grown and is called


(‘tough’, or, in this context, ‘grown children’ – scientifically known as pre-pupae). When the bee child takes on the appearance and size of an adult, it is called a


(‘grown child’ that still cannot walk or move like an adult [



This is the primary pupa, just prior to eclosion. When the grown child begins to walk like an adult (


) after leaving its cell, the bee is known as

120 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project


. Newly emerged adults are called


bees) or


(unpigmented or ‘white’ (‘weak bees’). As pigmentation begins to appear in the newly emerged adults, they are then called


(‘small’ or ‘callow’ bees).

According to informants, adult bees have different activities and functions in the nest and are given different names. These types, based upon behavioural dif ferences, are: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Mehn akrê

– ‘warrior bees’ that defend the nest (aggressive bee species have more warriors than non-aggressive species).


– ‘scout bees’ that search for food, water or mud, as well as for new nest locations should the colony need to move or divide; these also help guard the nest and alert the ‘warriors’ should there be any threat of danger.


– ‘worker bees’ that collect pollen (


), nectar (

rã kangô

), and resins (


), as well as other materials necessary for the colony.


– this is the ‘principal chief ’, who lives in the centre of the comb. He is always larger than the rest and is said to eat differently than other bees (he eats pollen,


, and honey,


, whereas other bees eat only honey). He is responsible for coordinating and ordering all of the activities of the colony. In times of danger, he always hides in the interior of the nest at a safe distance from the brood comb. (The


corresponds to the physogastric queen known to our science.)


– these are the subchiefs whose duty it is to transmit the orders of the principal chief. Each of these (there may be several to many, depending on the size of the nest) is in charge of a group of bees made up of individuals from each of the categories (or ‘castes’). (These correspond to virgin queens in bee biology literature.)


– these are the wives of the chiefs and are in charge of the egg-laying and care of children. These bees remain close to the combs and have a slightly enlarged abdomen, thereby giving the impression that they are larger than other worker bees. (Scientifically these are known as nurse bees.)


– these are the young children of the chiefs. They receive special food and are always found in the periphery of the comb.

(These are queen larvae and pupae.)

Food and feeding

Pollen (



The Indians say that pollen


is collected from selected flowers (depending on bee species’ preferences) and carried to the nests (


) where it is stored in special pots (


). To obtain the


, bees rotate their back legs (


) near the flower, sometimes having previously put resin (


) on their legs to assist in securing the pollen grains to the body (


). The process of obtain-

Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees 121 ing and carrying pollen to the hive is called

mêtê kam ami tê o wai ri

. When the


actually reaches the hive, it is mixed with drops of water from the bee’s mouth and stored in the


; the pollen now receives another name,


, signifying its transformation by the water mixture.


is the food for larvae (


) in general; a special mixture with honey (


) is used to feed the chiefs and their children. Pollen of some species is eaten by the Kayapó (see Chapter 12).

Honey (


) Mehn-kangô

is formed from nectar of flowers (


, or ‘flower water’). It is carried by the bees in their mouths to be stored in special pots,

mehn ê-krê

. The Indians say that honeys from different flowers have different tastes and consistencies and must be mixed by the bees to produce a uniform honey (

mehn kangô-aben-kôt

). Watery honey is said to be new honey, not yet properly mixed.

When a proper mixture is completed, the honey is said to be ‘ready’ or ‘already good’ (


) and the openings to the honey pots (


) are closed with cerumen (


). Honey is the principal food of adult bees (



Honeys of many species are valued as human food and as medicinals; some hon eys are dangerous and can cause stomach ache and diarrhoea (see Chapter 12). Some bee species (for example,



T. clavipes

) are said to throw out their old honey at the end of the dry season to make room for the new honey of the wet season. This honey; or any honey that is considered old or acid (fermented), is called


(‘honey that serves for nothing’).

Bee morphology

Morphological structures of bees receive names that, for the most part, are analo gous to parts of the human body. Some names, however, are used specifically for insect morphology. Figure 11.6 shows most of the major morphological structures named by the Kayapó. Names were given in the field when Kayapó collaborators were shown live specimens.

Family groupings and specific determinations

The superordinate (suprageneric) grouping of social insects (


) and various covert (unnamed) categories with focal species based on idealized nest and entrance structure morphology have already been discussed. Data are incomplete to outline fully the Kayapó notion of relatedness between folk species of bees.

However, several groupings made by the Indians (


) can be elaborated – for example,


(corresponding to the genus




(corre sponding to the genus


), and


(various genera related in a system as yet undescribed). Family groupings and specific determinations are based on the following characteristics.

122 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Figure 11.6

Major morphological structures recognized and named by the Kayapó:




(small, hind wing),



ara-kratx ara-

(wing joint),


(head), (antenna),

kaing`ar`a no-k`a-i

(simple eyes, ocelli), (segments of antenna),

inhot no

(compound eye), (end point – distal),

h˜i-ja-krê-ô kuk˜o

(base of antenna), mandible),



˜o-to-pra wai-kr˜a

(proboscis), (labrum),

˜o-to wa

(mandible), (tongue),

mut wa-nhot

(teeth of (prothorax),


(thorax/mesotherax), abdomen).


(front legs),

(back legs),




(point of 1 2

Ethological characteristics

(i) Flight patterns (how the bees fly when entering the nest); (ii) degree of aggressive behaviour when the nest is disturbed (aggressive to docile); (iii) sound produced by bees in flight or by nocturnal behaviour inside nest; (iv) places bees visit, including types of flowers, dead animals, faeces, sand banks, mud and other sites.

Nest structure and habitat niche

(i) Substrate preferred (for example tree hollows, ant nests, termite mounds, inside earth, large trees; in the case of tree nests, nest form and position of the entrance structure is also important); (ii) preferred habitat (flood forest,

Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees 123 3 4 humid forest, savanna); (iii) form, texture, colour, and size of the entrance structure; (iv) material utilized to construct the entrance structure (for exam ple mud, resin, cerumen, vegetable fibbers, excrement); and (v) form and texture of the batumen (nest cavity boundaries or covering).

Morphological and biochemical characters

(i) Shape of the bee’s body; (ii) colours of the bee; (iii) designs or markings on body; (iv) size and colour of wings; (v) size of the bee; (vi) smell of the bee (either its naturally occurring smell or when the bee is crushed); (vii) secretions produced for defence.

Economic factors

(i) Quality of honey; (ii) quantity of honey; (iii) quality of resins; (iv) quality of wax and cerumen; (v) suitability of pollen for food; (vi) suitability of lar vae/pupae for food.




) are grouped into one family because of a liquid produced from glands in the mandibles for the purpose of protection. This liquid blisters and burns the human skin after a period of about 24 hours, unless introduced subcutaneously, when blisters appear immediately. Texture and form of the nest entrance is also a unifying characteristic of this group, which makes long slen der slits lightly lined with cerumen, as in nest entrances. It is interesting to note, however, that

Partamona vicina

is named


(the ‘big false


’) because it is similar in size and colour to other


. It is also a very aggressive species, although it exudes no defence liquid. At the superordi nate level,


may only be grouped in covert categories, because no named groupings seem to unite the genus despite similarity in morphology.

Apis mellifera

is sometimes grouped with


because of its size and colour, although it is also frequently grouped with wasps (


) because of its sting. Other ‘functional’ groupings include aggressiveness, as well as honey or cerumen types.

Arboreal nesting


are always grouped together as

ku-krãi ku-krãi-re


T. dallatorreana

, and



T. amazonensis

). (for example,




) are grouped into the same family on the basis of similarity in honey, ceru men, and, principally, by their similar smells.

Summar y of species collected

The species described below were collected in Gorotire in 1983. They are pre sented with a summary of important diagnostic characteristics utilized by the Kayapó. (Note: these are some of the species most commonly mentioned by the Indians; other species can be found in Posey 1983a:156). Order of characteristics is: (a) flight pattern when entering nest; (b) preferred habitat; (c) nest site; (d) smell of the bee; (e) form, texture, smell and material utilized for entrance struc ture; (f) size and colour of body and wings; (g) defence behaviour.

124 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project Tetragona clavipes



, ‘

blade of knife


a) b) c) d) e) f) g) Smooth, circular flight before entering nest forest where light penetrates ( tree hollows (usually high up) characteristic smell


large entrance tube of cerumen /


yellow body, large wings, lightly coloured ) not aggressive (do not attack or bite); deposit resins.

Observations: throws out old honey at the end of the dry season to prepare for new, wet season honey.






, ‘big penis’)

a) b) c) d) e) f) g) Rapid flight, direct entrance/exit pattern savanna and forest termite nests (


smell not distinctive earth and resins ,


black body, white wings very aggressive (bites and attacks).

) Observations: quantity of honey small, but very important for medicine.

Melipona seminigra pernigra



, ‘witchcraft’)

a) b) c) d) e) f) g) No information (not discussed by the Indians) high forest (


no information not aggressive.

) hollows of big trees entrance tube long, made of mud and resins big bee with black thorax (


) Observations: this is a ‘semi-domesticated’ species that returns to the nest when a portion of the brood comb with honey and pollen pots are left in the old hive; this bee is also kept near the house simply to observe as a curiosity; honey is good year-round; bees are used in witchcraft.

Trigona amazonensis



, ‘like a mountain ridge’)

a) b) c) d) No information high forest and mountains (


) attached externally to tall trees and large rocks no information

Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees 125 e) f) g) large lower structure made of same material as nest cover large black body, clear wings very aggressive (attacks and bites).

Observations: honey of large quantity and good taste, taken mostly in the dry sea son; bees are crushed and mixed with urucu (


) to paint dogs so they will be aggressive and have no fear of hunting (


). Fire, smoke and


(see following section) used to extract honey and wax. Honey pots are placed over banana leaves and mashed to release honey. Larvae and pupae are crushed and rubbed on hunting dogs to make them strong (



Scaptotrigona nigrohirta

name) (


, ‘red imrê’ – a Kayapó proper

a) b) c) d) e) f) g) No information várzea forest (


) and light-penetrating forest hollows of medium to large trees distinctive smell tube of yellow cerumen when new; turns dark when old yellow body, white wings very aggressive (attacks and bites); attacks other bees by biting their wings.

Observations: honey good all year; combs with larvae are utilized for food and said to taste like ‘cookies’; pollen also eaten, but only if yellow, which indicates it is sweet; it is believed that this bee has more than one principal chief (

benad jwyrà-ratx

); cerumen is used to make the ceremonial hat,


. Method of bee’s aggressiveness, attacking others by breaking their wings, may be related to Kayapó idea of

aben ta`k

(traditional ceremonial sword fight aimed at breaking long bones of arm); only descendants of chiefs said to receive the proper name of



Scaptotrigona polystica

ceremonial name) (


, ‘

big imrê

’ – a family of bees and Kayapó

a) b) c) d) e) f) g) No information várzea forest (


) hollows of medium to large trees characteristic smell long, tough black entrance tube, pointed downward next to the trunk black body, clear wings not aggressive (


) Observations: large amounts of honey taken in dry season; lesser amounts of honey taken in wet season; cerumen used to attach feathers and coat cotton thread, as well as to make


; for other qualities, see



126 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project Melipona melanoventer



, ‘vagina’)

a) b) c) d) e) f) g) No information várzea forest ( no information thorax (


not aggressive.


) hollows of medium to large trees shaped like a vagina; made of earth and clay; opening for one bee only ) yellow Observations: produce a very distinctive noise at night that helps to locate and identify the bee; both honey and pollen are eaten; one of the ‘semi-domesticated’ species.

Melipona rufiventris flavolineata



, ‘true bees)


,’ a family of

a) b) c) d) e) f) g) Direct flight when entering light-penetrating forest (




) tree hollows close to the ground (always less than one metre), frequently in dead tree trunks strong smell; easily detectable when colony is swarming (


); odour trail of swarm followed by Indians to locate new bee colony mud (


) and bark fibbers ( yellow body not aggressive.


); hidden inside tree hollow Observations: honey very sweet and taken all year; ‘semi-domesticated’ in village and old gardens (




); distinctive sound at night used to locate hive; bees followed from sides of rivers and igarapés when collecting water, mud, and other materials.

Tetragona dorsalis


tôtn m`yre

, ‘penis of armadillo’)

a) b) c) d) e) f) g) Circular, smooth flight before backing off to enter in a direct flight high forest (


) hollows of trees distinct smell from resins carried by bees small entrance tube of resin; strong smell from resin; shaped like penis of armadillo yellow body, white wings not aggressive.

Observations: honey good all year; bees produce distinct noise when swarming; odour trails of swarm followed by Indians to locate new nest; when new nest is located, Indians wait five to ten years before opening to take honey; division of

Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees 127 nest by bees occurs only in wet season; smoke from strong-smelling resins (col lected by bees) used to purify houses and body to expel spirits and sickness; resins burned as incense; cerumen and batumen also burned and smoke inhaled to cure ‘dizziness’ or ‘craziness’ (


). Nest located in forest by listening for call of a bird ( near nests.






) known to prey upon adult bees Tetragonisca angustula angustula



, ‘ridged long penis’)

a) b) c) d) e) f) g) Slow flight, circles, then retreats before entering in direct flight pattern widespread, prefers light-penetrating forest hollows of dead trees lying on ground no information thin tube of yellow cerumen small, yellow not aggressive (



Observations: honey highly appreciated and taken all year; larvae and pollen eaten; sound of colony at night not loud, but distinctive; bees caught in rain hide under leaves for protection; if they cannot return to hive at night they die; worker bees fly in straight lines from resources to nest and can be followed to find nest; ‘semi-domesticated’ near houses and old gardens; resin used to attach arrow points.

Trigona fulviventris



, significance of name unknown)

a) No information b) margin of forest (


) and savanna (


) c) subterranean, often in termite nests (


) d) no information e) black tube with pieces of bark fibre f) black g) not aggressive.

Observations: honey taken all year, but of small amount; wax used for artefacts and to produce medicinal smoke.

Collection, exploitation and social significance of Meliponinae

Honey, cerumen and other products associated with Meliponinae are important economic elements in Kayapó society (Posey 1983f, Chapter 12 this volume).

One of the principal reasons men give for going to hunt is to procure honey.

Bee specialists in Gorotire are all shamans (


), which is not surprising because it was the ancient shamans who conceived the ‘natural model’ for Kayapó social organization based upon social Hymenoptera studies (Posey 1981a,

128 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project 1983d). One of the shamans’ secrets of finding bees is to walk at night listening for the distinctive sounds of colonies ventilating their nests. Most Indians are afraid to leave the village at night for fear of spirits (


); shamans, however, do not fear


. They mentally mark, spatially and temporally, the nests heard at night, then return in the day to observe the colonies. Of the colonies described in this chapter (see preceding section), seven were located during night hunting trips. Indians also locate nests by observing flight patterns of bees returning from collection visits at river and stream margins. Indians have been observed (by Posey) running quickly behind a bee to locate its colony. Trails of odour (

mehn nhy-pry

) of bee swarms are followed as though they were trails of game, such as wild pig or tapir. Bees are believed always to fly upwind toward their nest when leaving a food or water source. An Indian may observe for hours the flight pat terns and activities of bees near flowers or margins of water.

Presence of a bee’s nest, once found by a Kayapó individual, is generally announced in some public place (the Men’s House,


, or river landing,

ngô kà

) so as to advise others of its discovery and intent by the finder to exploit the colony at some future time. This is done by describing the nest’s habitat and geographical location, as well as identifying the bee itself. The finder then has usufruct rights to the colony. If another person raids the claimed colony, misunderstanding and anger can result. Tirades against poachers are sometimes heard in the Men’s House. Usufruct claims are strongest when bee colonies are located in the old gar dens (




) of the finder.

A variety of technologies is used to exploit colonies, depending on the nest site, habitat and aggressiveness of the species. Nests of non-aggressive species (


) are simply opened with axes when the tree is not too large nor the nest too high. With large trees, or extremely high nests, the Indians build a special platform with ladders to get to the colony. This platform can be quite elaborate, with several stages, all carefully constructed from poles tied together with vines.

In large trees or trees of very hard wood, holes are opened only large enough to insert the hand and arm to pull out the brood and honey pots. Nests high in trees of less than one metre circumference are taken by cutting down the tree. The opening in the forest produced by the fallen tree (


) is later utilized for planting medicinal and food plants (see Posey 1983c, 1983e, 1984a). These forest openings also attract game and birds for hunting. Thus exploitation of bees fig ures prominently in the overall system of forest management practised by the Kayapó and leads to the diversification of floral and faunal species that occur in the forest (Posey l984a).

Aggressive bees (


), such as

Trigona amazonensis


Oxytrigona tataira


Apis mellifera

, are taken with fire and smoke. Dry leaves of palms and wild banana are attached to long limbs and are set on fire. The burning, smoking mass is held near the entrance of the nest to expel the bees. Sometimes trees are then felled and fires built near the opening of the nest.

Another effective method of expelling aggressive bees is to put the shaving of a highly toxic vine called



Tanaecium nocturnum

) into the nest

Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees 129 opening (Kerr and Posey 1985). In a short time (one to four minutes) the volatile components of the vine stun or kill enough bees so that the nest can be safely opened. Leaves of the same plant are chewed, and the saliva–plant mixture is passed over the body to prevent stings or bites from the bees. The Indians say that the use of


is only to stun the bees, not to kill the colony; thus it is left in the colony for only a short time.

We had the opportunity to observe the use of


by Kwyrà-kà with

Melipona rufiventris flavolineata

. After a small ball (10 centimetres diameter) of the shaving was put into the opened nest, bees began to die in only one and a half minutes. Within four minutes the entire colony was dispersed or dead.

Nests of some species, including

M. seminigra pernigra


M. melanoventer


M. rufiventris flavolineata


Scaptotrigona nigrohirta


S. polystica

, are exploited year after year in the fields and forests. This is possible because after opening the colonies and taking a portion of its contents, parts of the brood comb, honey, pollen and cerumen are returned to the nest. The Kayapó say this is to keep Bepkôrôrôti happy. Bepkôrôrôti is the spirit of an ancient shaman who becomes angry if food is not shared (he has a particular penchant for honey) and will send lightning and thunder to destroy those who are greedy (see Chapter 12). Thus, Bepkôrôrôti not only functions to encourage sharing in the tribe, but he also becomes the protector of bees and ensures the preservation of bee colonies.

Nests of other species, for example

Tetragonisca angustula


Trigona dallator reana


T. cilipes

, are taken to the village in their natural substrates or put into special baskets called


that are made of banana and wild banana leaves.

We observed one colony of

T. angustula

being carried to the house of Kwyrà-kà in a


to be ‘kept’ (


) in a cool, dark place in his house in Gorotire.

‘Semi-domesticated’ bees are considered 11.2.


species and are listed in Table

General observations and notes

The Indians recognize many ecological relationships between bees and other ecosystem components. Plants that produce flowers that attract bees are left to grow, or are even planted, in gardens and alongside forest trails. The Kayapó say that when there are many bees, there are abundant crops. The relationship between bees and crop production, as well as the folk concept of pollination, is yet to be studied in detail.

Relationships of bees with other animals are also recognized. For example,



is known to frequently nest with an ant called


(still unidentified);

Trigona cilipes kudjà



likes to nest with another ant called


sp.). Certain bees are also frequently found cohabiting in the same tree or nest site, including

Scaptotrigona polystica


T. clavipes


S. nigrohirta





T. truncata

. Other bee species are always found alone, such as


compressipes fasciculata


M. rufiventris flavolineata


T. angustula


M. seminigra

130 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Table 11.2

Bee species semi-domesticated by the Kayapó Indians

Kayapó name imrê-ti imrê-ñy-kamrek ku-krãi-re mehnô-rã-kamrek mehnô-rã-tyk menhire-ujdà


my-krwàt ngài-kumrenx ngài-pêrê’`y ngài re


udjy Scientific name Scaptotrigona polystica


Scaptotrigona nigrohirta

Moure Ms.

Trigona dallatorreana


Trigona cilipes pellucida


Scaura longula


Melipona melanoventer


Tetragonisca angustula angustula


Melipona rufiventris flavolineata


Apis mellifera


Melipona compressipes




Melipona seminigra pernigra

Moure and Kerr *These names represent revisions (corrections) in names used in previous publications (that is, Posey 1983f,Table 3; and Posey 1983b,Table 2).



M. melanoventer

. Two wasps are known to be predators of bees; these are




(identifications not yet made).

Certain bees of the


family (

Lestromelitta limão

Prov.) are known by the Indians to rob honey, pollen and other nest materials from other colonies. Some species of




( are likewise known to pillage nests of other bees. A

Bombus transversalis

), is famous as a robber of pollen (Weaver 1978). The mammal called





Eira barbara

) is despised because it destroys the nests of the semi-domesticated species when searching for its favourite food, honey. The small bird






) helps the Indians locate bee hives because it sings when successful in its attack on adult bees.

Another interesting phenomenon observed by the Indians is the coexistence of commensal acarines inside the bee colonies. These acarines are called


and are believed to be the property of the bees – each bee has its own


raises (


) just as Indians raise dogs. The


that it are said to eat the trash left by the bees (


) just as village dogs clean up after the Indians.

In relation to the Africanized honey bee ( region. They say that this bee (

ngài-pere’y Apis mellifera

, generally known as the ‘Brazilian bee’), the Kayapó are keenly aware of its presence and effect in the ) arrived during the full moon in February 1966. The Indians report that this bee began to attack and pillage (

y`r wai-djà

) the nests of Meliponinae. Likewise, the


are so aggressive as to attack other bees at flowers, particularly the flowers of



Maximiliana regia

), as well as at water sources near the margins of rivers and streams. Bees that are particularly vulnerable to

Apis mellifera




S. polystica


imrê nhy-kamrek dorsalis

), (

S. nigrohirta my-krwàt

( ),



M. seminigra pernigra Tetragonisca angustula





), among others. Currently the aggressiveness of the


is said to have diminished, thereby allowing the

Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees 131 native bees to gather pollen and nectar peacefully and therefore to produce more honey. The Kayapó do not like the


honey as well as that of the Meliponinae.


honey is usually traded or sold, whereas meliponine honey is kept for local consumption.


The purpose of this study is not to compare indigenous knowledge of Meliponinae with that of Western science, but to report indigenous knowledge to aid our search for new ideas about stingless bees and bee behaviour. To this end, we feel our work, although only in its beginning phases in relationship to the com plexity and sophistication of Kayapó knowledge, has helped to define some important and interesting areas for further biological research.

Characteristics used in Kayapó meliponine taxonomy are indeed similar to that of Western science, although the reliance upon chemical qualities (odours) of species needs to be further investigated. Likewise, bee behavioural groups recog nized by the Indians (






) could represent actual divisions of labour in addition to those currently accounted for by age variations (see Kerr and Neto 1953; Hebling

et al.

1964; Bassindale 1955; Sakagami 1982; Wille 1983).

Research to date documents communication by odour trails only for


, whereas in


sound is thought to be the principal means of communica tion (Lindauer and Kerr 1960; Lindauer 1967; Esch

et al.

1965; Kerr and Fales 1981; Kerr 1960; Kerr

et al.

1963). The Kayapó, however, insist that other bees have trails of odour as well, including

M. rufiventris flavolineata

, which has an especially distinctive odour during swarming. Is there a chemical component in communication and orientation of



Acarine mites that live with Meliponinae are little studied until now (Flechtmann and Camargo 1974; Rosa and Flechtmann 1983; Delfinado-Baker

et al.

1983) and are considered commensal. The Indians, however, believe the species to be symbiotic. Can Indian knowledge give insights into this little-known subject?

Ecological zones and microzones preferred by specific species of Meliponinae is one of the specialities of the Kayapó, but these have not been systematically studied. However, factors affecting the tendency of certain species to share or not share habitats, as observed by the Indians, is of significance to ecological research (Roubik 1979a, l979b, 1983).

Impact of the invasion of the Africanized

Apis mellifera

into new ecological zones is also little known (Roubik 1979b, 1980, 1981, 1983), yet it has been care fully observed by the Kayapó and deserves further study.

Another important subject that must be considered in future research is to what extent the Kayapó knowledge of biology is reflected in their social and cultural systems. Are their beliefs about social bee behaviour (including social division of

132 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project labour, moving of colonies, aggressiveness and attacks, pillaging, defence, differ ential food distribution and other behaviour) really only anthropomorphic explications of observed biological phenomena? Or, as the Kayapó insist, were these social and cultural patterns really intentionally developed based upon ideas and knowledge by an ancient shaman of social insect behaviour? Was Kayapó society created upon an intentional ‘natural model’ or is it simply explained by a ‘natural reality?’ These are questions rarely raised by anthropologists or biolo gists, but should no longer be avoided.

Concluding remarks

This and other published works on Kayapó knowledge of meliponines represent still only superficial treatment of a much larger and more complex body of indigenous information about stingless bees. Further investigation of this knowl edge will have to proceed with care and perseverance to ‘discover’ the more intricate aspects of Kayapó folk science. Frequently the most interesting and revealing cognitive structures and their logical constructions lie submerged in the non-verbal realm of indigenous thought. The noted bee expert of the Gorotire Kayapó, Kwyrà-kà, for example, was able to separate for us quickly and accurately numerous closely related


species, but was unable to verbalize the reasons for such decisions. This is because his knowledge of nature comes from silently observing, rather than verbally analysing. Observations are regis tered in a


manner along with a myriad of information regarding niche, habitat, ecological zone, geographic coordinates and associated elements of the same ecosystem.

Nonliterate societies depend upon symbols transmitted orally for the dissemi nation of knowledge. Myth, therefore, functions as a compact vehicle for the transmission of ecological concepts (Posey 1983e). To understand myth and what it really communicates to the people who understand its symbols, the scientist must understand the symbolic language that generates and interprets the secrets of oral tradition. Until this is done, the ethnobiologist can never evaluate the validity of indigenous ideas about nature. Judgements of ideas as being ‘absurd’, ‘impossible’, ‘mere superstition’ or just ‘quaint, with no true scientific value’, must be purged from the self-proclaimed superiority of ethnocentric western sci ence. In the true spirit of scientific inquiry, however, hypotheses can be generated, stimulated by indigenous ideas, and subsequently tested with proper scientific rigour. In this manner, ethnobiological research offers an unequalled philosophy and methodology for the enrichment and advancement of a world sci ence.

One of the most valuable results of the investigation of Kayapó knowledge of meliponines is the understanding of how stingless bees are seen by the Indians as an integral part of a complex natural system. Clearings produced by trees felled to take honey, for example, serve as garden openings where medicinal and edible plants are planted and transplanted. Fruit trees and leafy vegetation also provide

Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees 133 food for wildlife, with some species actually planted by the Indians to attract desirable game animals (Posey 1985b). Thus management of bees is part of an overall strategy for the conservation and exploitation of secondary forest.

It is precisely this type of integrated knowledge, based upon intricacies of indigenous science, that offers many new ideas for those persons and institutions interested in long-term, ecologically and socially sound plans for development and conservation in the humid tropics (Parker

et al.

1983; Posey, Frechione

et al.

1984). Thus specific studies such as this one on Kayapó knowledge of meliponines represent only initial stages of a truly comprehensive model of eth nobiological research. It is our hope that these notes will help to stimulate other ethnobiological studies that will, in turn, expedite the creation of the larger model, founded upon respect for other scientific systems and the urgency of their sys tematic study.

Chapter 12

Keeping of stingless bees by the Kayapó Indians of Brazil 1 Introduction

Previously I have pointed out the widespread use of insects by indigenous peoples in the lowland tropics of the New World (Posey 1978, 1979e, 1980). Inevitably stingless bees (Meliponinae) are one of the most valued insect resources. Bee keeping for the Maya of Mesoamerica, for example, was an elaborate science (Schwartz 1948). For the Kayapó Indians of the middle Xingu region of Brazil, bee-keeping is not as complicated as that of the Maya; however, knowledge and utilization of stingless bees is well developed.

As an anthropologist with entomological training, I was initially attracted to the role of bees in the Kayapó culture by the elaborate semantic domain of social insects and by the extensive mythological corpus collected about social insects (Posey 1981a). Social communities of Hymenoptera are thought to mirror Kayapó communities; indeed, it is believed that Indians learned how to live as social beings from an ancestral wise man (


), who gained his knowledge from the study of bee, wasp and ant behaviour (Posey 1979c, 1979e). This belief serves as a social charter to the Kayapó to continue their observations of nature in general and of Hymenoptera in particular, and accounts for their reputation as keen ethologists (Posey 1981a, 1981d).

The social and ecological context

The Kayapó recognize three major ecological zones (see Table 8.1, page 61), and native consultants (informants) were able to group stingless bees under these eco logical zones with consistency, reflecting the various habitats frequented by the specific folk species of bees. A morphological taxonomic system also exists (Chapters 9, 10, 11 this book), but the ability of the Indians to identify most bees out of their habitats is unreliable. A few species are widely known by men and women and can even be identified away from their nests (e.g.

Apis mellifera


Melipona rufiventris flavolineata

, and

Trigona dallatorreana

). These are recognized by gen eral morphological features such as body colour, markings and relative size. Out of a village population of approximately 600, I found only two bee ‘experts’ who are

Keeping of stingless bees by the Kayapó Indians of Brazil 135 reasonably consistent in identifying folk species from morphological characteristics alone. Both bee specialists were males. Women know little about bees since the col lection of honey and wax rests within the male social domain.

During the dry season, groups of men often go off for days to procure honey.

Honey is constantly sought on hunting trips and is highly prized. Meat and gath ered foods are generally brought to the village and given to the wife or wife’s mother (the eldest female of the household). She then distributes the meat or pro duce as she pleases among relatives. This is not the case with honey: a man is free to distribute honey as he pleases. Rarely does any honey ever reach the village, however, for it is usually drunk at the collection site.

The Indians make honey containers on the spot from multiple layers of banana leaves. The leaves are folded upward to form a collection vessel. When no honey remains in the vessel, the leaves are licked to glean the last drops that may have escaped through the leaf cracks.

The Kayapó masticate the thick bases of stalks of wild ginger until an absorbent brush-like object is produced. This is dipped into the honey and pulled through the mouth. This is an efficient way for several people to consume honey at the same time. Some Kayapó dispense with any proprieties and drink the honey like water. I have no data on how much honey is consumed by the average Kayapó in a year, however I have seen a single Indian boy drink a half-litre of honey in one sitting.

The Kayapó men like to drink honey until they feel light-headed (Posey 1981d).

Often sections of the nest combs that are filled with larvae, pupae or pollen are also eaten. These have a very light, wafer-like texture and taste and are excellent when eaten with the honey, and are as highly prized as the honey itself (see Table 8.7, page 75). When honey is removed from the hive, a portion of the brood comb and honey is always left behind for Bepkôrôrôti, a powerful shaman who was taken into the sky in a flash of lightning. Functionally this secures the perpetuation of certain species that will return to re-colonize. He resides in the clouds, or rather is the clouds, and sends lightning, thunder and rain. Anyone who does not share with Bepkôrôrôti and his fellow Kayapó risks being struck by lightning.

Honey, wax and bees are associated with the heavens and rains because of Bepkôrôrôti’s penchant for honey. Beeswax is burned to produce a smoke that is believed to attract storm clouds and rains. The smoke is also believed to repel evil spirits, purge houses from lingering ancestral spirits, and protect children from witchcraft.

Beeswax is also used for many Kayapó artefacts. In most cases I was unable to ascertain if the beeswax had special ceremonial importance in artefact produc tion, or if it served purely functional purposes.

Feathers and bow points are cemented into arrows with beeswax. Wax is also used to strengthen and lubricate bow strings. Black wax is used to darken cotton string that is used in making various wooden and bone artefacts (Posey 1979e).

The most impressive article made from beeswax is the


, a hat worn by young men about to receive ceremonial names. The beeswax for these hats is

136 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project inherited and stored as a ball in a hole in the earthen floor of the family’s house.

At the time of a name-giving ceremony, the wax ball is exhumed and formed into the


by a male relative of the boy.

The form of the


is highly symbolic (Figure 12.1). The front point of the


is called the ‘morning sky pole’ (

kàikwa kratx

); the rounded back is the ‘evening sky pole’ (


). These poles represent the beginning and end ing points of the sun’s path across the sky. The two ‘legs’ (


) are equivalent to north and south cardinal directions. There are painted patches on the


that rep resent the idealized geographical relationships between village and fields. The village is the


, or centre circle. The circle also represents the sun. The smaller circle inside the


represents the moon superimposed over the sun.

The painted paths from the sky poles indicate the paths of the sun and moon through the sky (


) and over the earth (



From a side view (Figure 12.2), the


represents another plane and the relationship between sky and earth. The wax hat itself is seen as a floating, some what concave, disc with small ‘feet’ (


). The circle (


) as seen from above is really an elevated hump into which is inserted a thin stick. Onto the stick is woven an arch of bamboo and cotton. Macaw feathers are inserted into the bam boo to produce a radiating arc of red and blue feathers. This represents the sky (


). The Kayapó believe they once lived above the sky and lowered them selves to the earth by means of a woven cotton rope that was dropped through an armadillo hole. The stick represents the cotton string that once brought the Kayapó from the upper world to the earth (Posey l98lb).

It is said that the wax used for the


is the same as that brought by the ancient Kayapó from the sky. It is a direct and highly valued link with the very origins of Kayapó culture. It is the one material continuity the Kayapó of today have with their most ancient ancestors.


The Kayapó recognize six species whose nests can be raided and, if the queen and part of the brood chamber are returned to the nest, the bees will return to re-estab-

Figure 12.1

An overview of the


, showing major symbolic components.

Keeping of stingless bees by the Kayapó Indians of Brazil 137

Figure 12.2

A lateral view of the


, showing the symbolic relationships between earth (


) and sky (



lish the colony. Thus there are trees known by, and in a sense owned by, certain Kayapó men that are consistently raided year after year.

The Kayapó also ‘keep’ several species in or nearby their houses. For example, when nests of certain species of



T. dallatorreana

and one unidentified species) are found in the forest, they are brought back still attached to their limbs and the complete nests erected from an eave of the house. Yet other species (

Trigona amalthea


Melipona rufiventris flavolineata

) are brought with the nest intact in a hollow log and placed at the margin of the forest near the village or field clearing. Other species (

Trigona cilipes


Scaura longula

) tend to prefer building sites in exposed rafters of houses and are allowed to coexist with the household residents. The nests of all of these ‘kept’ species are raided at pre scribed times when the honey cache is known to be optimal.

The Kayapó also encourage the establishment of bee nests in their fields. To do this, they sometimes dig large holes or utilize existing armadillo holes. Into these holes they place logs, which attract several


species (including

T. fuscipen nis


T. fulviventris guinae

Ckll. nests directly in the earthen walls of the hole. The presence of bees is associated by the Kayapó with crop success, although there is no clear notion of pollination

per se

. I do not know about the actual role of pollination by these species.

In my collection of bees from Gorotire, 56 folk species were discerned. J. M. F.

Camargo, Universidade de São Paulo, Riberao Preto, kindly inspected and identi fied the Gorotire collection.

2 He found 66 scientifically recognized species of which 11 were unknown or as yet not described (one species of



138 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project two of


; one of


; two of


; three of


; one of


; and one of



In a normative comparison between folk and scientific species, therefore, we find that there is approximately an 86 per cent correlation. Such high correlative quotients are not uncommon (Berlin 1973; Hunn 1975).

Chapter 13

Ethnopharmacological search for antiviral compounds: treatment of gastrointestinal disorders by Kayapó medical specialists 1

Known antiviral compounds still present significant drawbacks, such as a narrow spectrum of activity, limited therapeutic usefulness and variable degrees of toxicity (Van den Berghe

et al.

1978). On the other hand, the prevalence of virally related diseases is of growing concern; therefore, the development of new and better antiviral compounds is desirable. It has been shown that viruses respond differ ently to plant extracts, and suggested that natural products are preferable to synthetic compounds as sources of new antiviral agents (Van den Berghe

et al.

1978; Vlietinck and Van den Berghe 1991).

The study of flora in general, and medicinal plants in particular, has been consid ered a fruitful approach in the search for new drugs (Svendsen and Scheffer 1982; Samuelson 1989; Farnsworth 1990). Plant collections for drug discovery can follow different approaches, including the random collection of plants, collections guided by chemotaxonomy, and collections based on ethnopharmacological data. Because medical systems as products of particular cultures are enormously varied in terms of health practices and beliefs, detailed ethnography is needed to select plants that may be sources of cross-culturally effective drugs. It is through the correlation of tradi tional therapeutic practices with Western biomedical concepts that species can be selected and scrutinized for particular pharmacological activities (Elisabetsky and Setzer 1985). Selection of species that are claimed by humans to have a given clini cal activity may constitute a valuable short-cut for drug discovery.

Ethnopharmacologically based strategies have been applied to several therapeutic areas, such as cancer (Duke 1986; Cordell

et al.

1991), immunomodulators (Labadie, Van der Nat

et al.

1989), allergy (Elisabetsky and Gély 1987; Wagner 1989), contraceptives (Xiao and Wang 1991), analgesics (Elisabetsky and Castilhos 1990), antimalarial agents (Phillipson and Wright 1991; Brand˜ao

et al.

1992), antidiarrhoeal/antimicrobial compounds (Caceres

et al.

1990; Heinrich

et al.

1992a, 1992b) and antiviral agents (Vlietinck and Van den Berghe 1991).

Gastrointestinal disorders are frequently associated with viral diseases: rotavirus is responsible for at least 50 per cent of infections that lead to acute diar rhoea (Krej 1988). We offer in this chapter an analysis of Kayapó treatment of gastrointestinal disorders, which might be useful for the selection of plant species as potential sources of antiviral compounds.

140 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Intellectual, cultural and scientific property

The authors of this chapter embrace the principles of the Covenant on Intellectual, Cultural and Scientific Property developed by the Global Coalition for Biological and Cultural Diversity (for the full text of the Covenant, see Posey and Dutfield 1996: 175–8. See also Elisabetsky and Posey 1993: 227). The data were obtained with full consent of the Kayapó people. The chapter is published in the spirit of joint partnership with the Kayapó to advance knowledge for the ben efit of all humanity. Any information used from it for commercial or other ends should be properly cited and acknowledged: any commercial benefits that should accrue directly or indirectly should be shared with the Kayapó people.


Research for this chapter was carried out in Gorotire where D. A. Posey has con ducted ethnobiological research since 1977. This chapter is based on a collaborative effort with E. Elisabetsky, who made two trips to the village (one month each) in November 1983 and April 1984. Plant collections during these trips were made by Dr Anthony Anderson; these are currently deposited in the Herbarium of the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, Belém, Pará, Brazil. Additional visits to the village by E. Elisabetsky in 1985 and 1986 provided complementary data and concepts.

Our principal informants were Kwyrà-kà, Beptopoop (two shamans or


) and José Uté and Tereza (noted medicinal plant knowers or

m˜ekute pidjà mari

). Basic ethnobotanical information was collected by E. Elisabetsky and D.A. Posey in the field, with subsequent ethnopharmacological interviews in the project house. Additional sessions were held to discuss the more general con cepts of Kayapó diseases, their symptoms and cures. Both concepts and plants were discussed with these four key informants, as well as with members of the village in general.

Between 1987 and 1989 contacts with Kayapó Indians, both in Belém and at the FUNAI Hospital in Icoaraci, were frequent. Time spent with Paiakan and his family, at that time living in Belém, was used for clarifying concepts on Kayapó life in general and their medical system and practices in particular.

Kayapó medical system

It is beyond the purpose of this chapter to describe fully the intricate medical sys tem and practices of the Kayapó (Bamberger 1967; Elisabetsky and Posey 1988, 1991). Points relevant to understanding medical uses of species dealt with in this chapter are discussed.

Disease epidemics often preceded by months or years what was considered ‘first contact’ with indigenous groups (see Chapter 2). Trade routes and extensive travelling brought remote indigenous peoples into contact with groups already

Ethnopharmacological search for antiviral compounds 141 infected with

kuben kan˜e

(non-Indian diseases) (see Chapter 2). Traders or raiding parties then spread the diseases and/or brought them back to their villages.

‘Permanent contact’ with the Kayapó was not established until 1936. Missionaries and FUNAI (the Brazilian Indian Agency) routinely used Western medical treat ment to secure contact with Indian groups. According to Horace Banner, one of the first Protestant missionaries to live with the Kayapó, the inhabitants of Gorotire had little choice but to establish peaceful relations with the White Man, because they were weak from

kuben kan˜e

and had been reduced to only 250 peo ple; within a year that number had fallen to only 85. Such a demographic collapse obviously had profound effects on all aspects of Kayapó society, especially their health and medical beliefs. Medicines brought into the region by the Unevangelized Fields Missions were attributed with saving entire Kayapó vil lages (such as Kub˜en-krã-kein and Kokrajmoro) in the 1950s. Such ‘miracles’ convinced the Kayapó that


medicine was powerful, although they never abandoned their traditional cures.

The Kayapó are unanimous in insisting that prior to the arrival of

kuben kanê

, Indians died only from old age or accidents, not from diseases. With the arrival of white people, however, deadly new diseases appeared along with a general weak ening (


) of the Indians that permitted their own diseases to become more powerful and deadly. Today, there is generally a clear distinction between what is a non-Indian disease (

kuben kan˜e

) treated with non-Kayapó medicine and what is an Indian disease (

mêbengôkre kan˜e

) treated with traditional medicine.

Sociological considerations

Medical specialization must be viewed within the sociological (


) context of local concepts of life, death, illness and curing (Fabrega 1975). Curers amongst the Kayapó can be classified into two basic categories:

me˜ kute pidjà mari

(medi cinal plant knowers) and


(shaman). The former deal only with non-spiritual diseases, while the latter also manipulate spirits in their curing methods; both cure with a variety of plants and plant concoctions. Our survey of the village in 1984 showed that five per cent of the population were considered as


, with 26 per cent of the population being considered as practitioners in one or more disease specialities.

To understand the nature of the power of the


to cure, one must under stand how a person can become a shaman. This transformation was explained to D.A. Posey by Beptopoop in Gorotire in 1978 (see Chapter 6). A


is capable of leaving his/her body (

) and being transformed into other physical forms. The energy (


) can be stored temporarily in rocks, but inevitably gets transformed into armadillos, doves or bats. The spider’s web represents the barrier between the visible and invisible worlds. Armadillos are persistent animals that know how to burrow under the web; doves are powerful fliers and can break through the barrier; while bats are such skilful fliers that they can manoeuvre through the strands.

142 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project The most powerful shamans can transform themselves into not just one of the animals, but all of them. Once on the other side of the spider’s web, after passing through the endless dark chasm, they enter into the spectral frequency for each animal (


). Some shamans learn the secrets of only one or a few animals and their energies, while others ‘know all’ (in the words of the myth). They have learned about all of the spectral frequencies and their respective animal energies.

Upon return to their bodies, the


begin to ‘work with’ (


) the ani mal energies encountered in their transformations. There are literally dozens of different specialists (Elisabetsky and Posey 1985, 1991). The basis of the ‘work’ is to maintain a balance between animal energies and human energies (see Chapter 4). Eating the meat of, coming in contact with, or even dreaming about animals can cause an imbalance in these energies, as can a well-elaborated list of antisocial actions.


use a great variety of techniques for restoring bal ance, but plants are the most common ‘mediators’ (Elisabetsky and Posey 1991).

Plants have qualities that can either harm or help the balance between human and animal energies – indeed, most Indians say that all plants have curative values.

In any case, the Kayapó respect both plants and animals, because their energies are keys to the health of the Kayapó society. Permission is asked when taking the life of an animal, and songs of appreciation are offered to the spirits of the dead animals. Likewise, annual rituals extol the importance of plants and instill a great sense of respect for their overall role in the socioecological balance (see Chapter 4). The Kayapó have no question about their existence and future health being dependent upon plants and animals and the forces of nature.

Kayapó diseases that include gastrointestinal disorders

Hàk kanê

(bird disease) and

tep kanê

(fish disease) are two major classes of dis eases that include gastrointestinal symptoms as important markers.

Hàk kanê

is associated with dizziness and diarrhoea.

Tep kanê

is associated with diarrhoea, yellow body and generalized pain. Gastrointestinal disorders, with or without diarrhoea, can have both spirit and non-spirit causes. Spirit-related diseases are difficult to evaluate in ethnopharmacological research, because cultural factors are too complex to be easily interpreted. All Kayapó diseases, however, include some treatment practices that lend themselves to field and laboratory evaluation.

For the Kayapó, gastrointestinal disorders can have spirit-based sources trans mitted by the wrong food that is eaten by a child’s father or some other relative.

Food taboos help differentiate age grades and lineage groups. Dietary infringe ments cause a spiritual/social imbalance that, in turn, causes the child to become sick without any direct contact with the relative. Sometimes food can be improp erly hunted, collected, cleaned or prepared and, through eating the food, the person gets sick; a mother can contaminate her child through her milk. All cir cumstances are common with



tep kanê


Whether a disease is spirit related or not is not always obvious to the specialist (

me˜ kutê pidjà mari

). Frequently, the illness is considered to be spirit based when

Ethnopharmacological search for antiviral compounds 143


884 776 893 631 755 873 656 678 690 651 752 760

Table 13.1

Plant species used to treat

hàk kanê


tep kanê


Plant species used to treat

hàk kanê

Species Mandevilla



K. Schum

M. tenuifolia

(Mikan) Wood.










(DC) Sandw.

Protium unifoliolatum




Wulffia baccata


Rourea induta


Sapium poeppigii


Sebastiania corniculata


Coutoubea ramosa



Apocynaceae Apocynaceae Aristolochiaceae Asclepiadaceae Asclepiadaceae Bignoniaceae Burseraceae Combretaceae Compositae Connaraceae Euphorbiaceae Euphorbiaceae Gentianaceae

Part of plant

Flower, leaf Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Leaf, sap Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Leaf Whole plant 667 634 751 923

Olyra latifolia




Desmodium adscandens


Periandra heterophylla


Gramineae Leguminosae Leguminosae Leguminosae 721



Leguminosae Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant 689

Spigelia anthelmia


Loganiaceae Whole plant 1010 662 666 659

Utricularia oliverana


Byrsonima aerugo


Diplopterys pauciflora


Miconia barbigera

DC Lentibulariaceae Malpighiaceae Malpighiaceae Melastomataceae Ashes of whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant 774 675 691 685

Cissampelos tropaeolifolia


Heliconia psittacorum


Ouratea hexasperma




Oxalis barrelieri

Willd. ex Zucc.

Menispermaceae Heliconiaceae Ochnaceae Oxalidaceae Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant


Oral Oral Oral Oral External, oral Oral Oral, sniff External, oral External External External, sniff Sniff, stuff nose External, eye drops, nose drops External External External, oral Drops in eyes, ears, nose, mouth; oral Drops in eyes, ears, nose and mouth; sniff Eye drops, nose drops Oral Oral Oral Drops in eyes, ears, nose and mouth; external, oral External, oral External Eye drops, nose drops, oral External

144 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Table 13.1 Continued No.

775 635 684 949 623 979 754

Species Desmoncus



sp. G.F.W. Mey

Faramea egensis Geophila gracilis



Palicourea quadrifolia

(Rudg.) Steyerm.



Spiranthera odoratissima

St. Hil.


Palmae Rubiaceae Rubiaceae Rubiaceae Rubiaceae Rubiaceae Rutaceae

Part of plant

Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Leaf


Eye drops Eye drops; drops in eyes, ear and mouth Oral Drops in eyes, ears, nose and mouth Eye drops, nose drops, oral Oral Drops in eyes, ears, nose, mouth


897 564 618 524 724 767 766 796 1003 727 655 649 788 731 695 782 745 679 911

Species Ruellia


Annona coriacea


Annona crassifolia


Mandevilla tenuifolia

(Mikan) Wood.

Plant species used to treat

tep kanê


Acanthaceae Annonaceae Annonaceae Apocynaceae

Part of plant

Whole plant Fruit, flower, bark Oral Seeds External Whole plant


External, oral External



Helosis cayenensis


Cleome gulanensis


Vernonia herbacea






Coutoubea ramosa




Sauvagesia erecta


Passiflora alata


Piper snethlagei


Polypodium phyllitidis Psychotria lupulina Anemia oblongifolia Zingiber officinale Xyris






Aristolochiaceae Balanophoraceae Capparidaceae Compositae Euphorbiaceae Gentianaceae Leguminosae Ochnaceae Passifloraceae Piperaceae Polypodiaceae Rubiaceae Schizaeaceae Zingiberaceae Xyridaceae Tuber Whole plant Leaf Tuber Leaf Fruit, stem Whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Leaf Whole plant Whole plant Leaf, whole plant Whole plant Whole plant Oral Oral External, oral External, oral Oral External, oral Oral Oral Drops in eyes, ears, nose and mouth; exter nal, oral External Oral Oral External, oral External, oral sniff Oral

Ethnopharmacological search for antiviral compounds 145 normal cures are unsuccessful or symptoms worsen after treatment.

Simultaneously occurring sicknesses also complicate diagnosis and usually


are called in for evaluation and treatment. A series of


may be consulted before the correct specialist is found.

Kayapó pharmacy

The Kayapó are precise in regard to their traditional pharmacological tech nique and posology. Modes of preparation of medicines include: plants prepared with cold or warm water, plants mixed with cold water then left to boil, plant sap extracted by squeezing, plants heated over fire, plants crushed and mixed with

Genipa americana lana



) and charcoal or with

Bixa orel-

for body painting. The principal ways to administer a medicine are: cold tea, hot tea, topical baths of specific parts or the whole body, external topical application (heated leaf or sap) over affected areas, drops in eyes, nose or ears, rubbing on the face or affected areas, wrapping bark around affected parts of the body, sleeping on top of a plant, sniffing, inhaling the smoke and stuffing in the nose.

Each treatment includes the time of day a medicine will be given, almost always between one and five times daily. Times are indicated by pointing to the sky, with the temporal points being: sunrise, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon and sunset. A specific number of days is prescribed, depending upon the diagno sis by the curer. Most treatments require medication for between one and five days, although some are indicated for ‘use as long as needed’. Dosage is adjusted for each patient, especially infants and children. Certain curers have preferences for modes of preparation and application of their medicines.

Results and discussion

Plants used for

tep kanê

include 19 species, distributed among 18 genera and 18 families (see Table 13.1); most treatments are internal. Plants used for

hàk kanê

include 34 species, distributed among 33 genera and 21 families (see Table 13.1); most of these treatments are also internal. Plants used for diarrhoea include seven species, distributed among six genera and five families (Table 13.2); all species are given orally. All the plants listed are prepared in water.

Several classes of natural substances such as alkaloids (e.g. castanospermine, lycorine and papaverine), polyphenolic compounds, phenolic glycosides, tan nins, lectins, protein polysaccharide complexes, sulphated polysaccharides, mixtures of sugars, proteins and inorganic elements, flavonoids, flavones and saponins are reported to posses antiviral activity (Ieven

et al.

1982; Van Hoof

et al.

1984, 1989; Vlietinck and Van den Berghe 1991). Flavones, a class of flavonoids, are of special interest because they have attractive antiviral mecha nisms of action, a pronounced and broad spectrum of activity and do not show induction of resistance.

146 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Table 13.2

Plant species used to treat diarrhoea 1

Collection Species no.

961 969 537 555 603 617 540

Psittacanthus biternatus Struthanthus marginatus Eugenia punicaefolia Palicourea


crocea Selaginella penniformis Qualea grandiflora Q. multiflora


DC Mart.

Blume (Desr.) Don Schlecht.

(Lam.) Hieron


Loranthaceae Loranthaceae Myrtaceae Rubiaceae Selaginellaceae Vochysiaceae Vochysiaceae

Part of plant

Leaf Whole plant Fruit, root Flower, leaf Sap, whole plant Leaf Leaf 1 All plant extracts are given orally; those of S.


may also be applied externally.

Most genera employed by the Kayapó for the treatment of gastrointestinal dis orders include species that contain classes of compounds relevant to antiviral activity, or are related to species used by other peoples for viral diseases or gas trointestinal troubles. Among medicinal species used by several Amazonian Indians, for instance,

Ruellia colorata

vomitive and


aff. is used by the Kofán as a vermifuge and


is used for diarrhoea, measles and fever (Schultes and Rauffauf 1990). Among the Annonaceae, Heinrich

cata et al.

(1992a, b) report that

Annona muri-

is used in Mexico for diarrhoea; Caceres

et al.

(1990) report that

Annona cherimola


A. muricata


A. reticulata

are used in Guatemala for diarrhoea; and Grenand

et al.

(1987) found that

Annona ambotay


Annona haematantha

are used in French Guyana as febrifuges. Also in French Guyana,

Aristolochia staheli

is used as a febrifuge;

Aristolochia trilobata Aristolochia leprieurii

is used for diarrhoea; and for hepatitis and malaria (Grenand

et al.

1987). Ieven

et al.

(1979) report that

Aristolochia elegans

ial activity against

Escherichia coli

, and

Aristolochia forckelii Staphylococcus aureus

have antibacter and

Pseudomonas aeruginosa


Helosis guyanensis

is used for diarrhoea and dysentery.

Among the Bignoniaceae,

Arrabidea chica

is used by the Tikuna for common conjunctivitis (especially in children), whereas they use

Arrabidea xanthophylla

for serious conjunctivitis (Schultes and Rauffauf 1990). Several


species are used for relieving nasal congestion associated with colds (Schultes and Rauffauf 1990).

Wulffia baccata

is used in Guyana for colds, nausea and as a febrifuge (Grenand

Byrsonima ciliata et al.



species are rich in tannins and is used by the Kubeo for diarrhoea and is said to be very effec tive (Schultes and Rauffauf 1990). Several species of



Eugenia uniflora

) are used in Brazil for diarrhoea; their effect is usually attributed to the high tannin content of many species of this genus.

Eugenia florida


Eugenia patrissi

are used by Indians for treatment of respiratory problems (Schultes and Rauffauf 1990). Heinrich

et al.

(1992b) report antibacterial and antifungal activ-

Ethnopharmacological search for antiviral compounds 147 ity for

Eugenia acapulcensis

, used orally to treat diarrhoea and dysentery by the Mixe in Mexico.

Among the Gentianaceae, Grenand

et al.

(1987) report that

Coutoubea ramosa

is used as a vermifuge and febrifuge.

Miconia barbigera

is used in Guyana to treat dysentery (Grenand

et al.


Cissampelos pareira

is used in Mexico for diarrhoea and dysentery (Heinrich

et al.

1992a) and in Guatemala for diarrhoea, dysentery, stomach pains and worms (Caceres

et al.

report that

Heliconia psittacorum

1990). Ieven has activity against

S. aureus


et al.


E. coli


Pseudomonas aeruginosa

. Very little is known about the chemistry of Ochnaceae, but tannins and flavonoids were reported in


species; Siona for stomach-ache and other

Sauvagesia Sauvagesia erecta

is used by the species are used by the Kofan for stomach pains (Schultes and Rauffauf 1990). According to Grenand

et al.


S. erecta

is used in French Guyana as a febrifuge. Species of Passifloraceae are known to contain alkaloids, phenols and tannins.

Passiflora cumbalensis


Passiflora killipiana

are used for treating fever, whereas

Passiflora phaeocaula todigitata

is used for conjunctivitis and

Passiflora serra-

for eye inflammation (Schultes and Rauffauf 1990). According to Caceres

et al.


Passiflora ligularis

is used for diarrhoea, dysentery, stom ach pains and indigestion in Guatemala.

Passiflora edulis

is active against

Pseudomonas aeruginosa


et al.

l 979) and devoid of antiviral activity (Van den Berghe

cinea et al.

1978). Grenand

et al.

(1987) report the use of

Passiflora coc-

for conjunctivitis and

Passiflora laurifolia

as a vermifuge.

Species of Piperaceae are commonly used in many medical systems. Ethereal oils, mono- and sesquiterpenes, phenyl propanoids, polyphenols, lignans and alka loids were reported to be present in the family and alkaloids are common in the genus



Piper arboretum

is used to treat stomach poisoning;

Piper augustus


Piper caudatum

are used as carminatives; and

Piper macerispicum Piper futuri

is for ‘sick stomach’ for stomach pains (Schultes and Rauffauf 1990).


(Rubiaceae) are little known chemically but alkaloids were found in two Brazilian species:

Faramea anisocalyx

is used to treat food poisoning;

Faramea glandulosa


Faramea saliafolia

Rauffauf 1990).


are used for fever (Schultes and species are known to be bioactive and sometimes highly toxic:

Palicourea buntigii corymbifera

is used for respiratory problems, for persistent cough and chest ailments,

Palicourea Palicourea crocea

as an emetic after food poisoning from fish or meat, and vermifuge (Schultes and Rauffauf 1990).

Palicourea guianensis

as a The genus


is rich in bioactive alkaloids:

Psychotria brachiata

used for problems in breathing,

Psychotria capitata

for severe colds, is

Psychotria egensis

as an emetic,

Psychotria rufescens Psychotria poeppigiana

for dysentery. for pulmonary ailments and

Psychotria lupulina

is reported to yield strong positives in alkaloid tests (Schultes and Rauffauf 1990). From the relatively unknown Vochysiaceae, deoxyflavones were isolated;

Qualea acuminata

is used as a vermifuge (Schultes and Rauffauf 1990).

148 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project Therefore for at least 18 genera there is additional evidence for biological activity and/or related use relevant to Kayapó treatment and usage. Interestingly, for the Kayapó nearly all plants take their names from the diseases they are used to treat. Thus the plant ‘families’ of

tep kanê


hàk kanê

are based not on mor phological characteristics, but rather on functional similarities that cover a wide range of Western taxonomic botanical families.


In the search for plant-derived antiviral agents, the screening of a relatively low number of randomly selected plants has afforded a remarkably high number of active leads in comparison with screening of synthetic compounds. Comparing dif ferent approaches of plant collecting, Vlietinck and Van den Berghe (1991) showed that folk-based collections give a five times higher rate (circa 25 per cent) of active leads, whereas random collections offer fewer leads but more novel compounds.

It is noteworthy that natural substances interfere with a range of viral targets, which can mean that they show mechanisms of action complementary to those of existing antiviral drugs. Because natural products are known to yield prototypic drugs, with innovative mechanisms of action, the end-points of screens must be carefully selected and interpreted in order to avoid false negatives.

In vivo

assays continue to be the stepping-stone between

in vitro

evaluation and human trials.

Too often, the therapeutic ratio of active compounds is inadequate. This may be in part because the concentrations in target tissues are not sufficient under dosing conditions owing to species-specific characteristics of absorption, tissue distribu tion, metabolism and excretion (Vlietinck and Van den Berghe 1991). As a result, election of species claimed by humans to be therapeutically useful in the treat ment of viral conditions might be a very significant gain in the research and development of antiviral drugs.

The Kayapó have great faith in their medicines for treatment of ‘their’ dis eases. They offer us an interesting list of candidates as potential sources of antiviral compounds. The diversity of genera and species included in these lists is unlikely to be obtained by following any chemotaxonomy based strategy. These species should be considered with the seriousness deserving of the original dis coverers, because their medical concepts are still the best guides to biomedical evaluation and understanding of the parameters of their diseases.

Chapter 14

Use of contraceptive and related plants by the Kayapó Indians (Brazil) 1 Introduction

Contraceptive drugs are widely used today, but they still present a series of unde sired side-effects. Safer contraceptives are becoming increasingly important in countries where there is a growing consciousness of the benefits of family plan ning, both in individual and social contexts. Natural products as a whole, and medicinal plants in particular, have historically contributed ‘prototype drugs’ (Malone 1983) to the medical sciences. Such drugs have completely different chemical structures to existing agents, and entirely different medical applications.

The discovery of each new prototype drug has resulted in major changes in med ical practices, and evidence of the interest in plant sources for prototypic contraceptive agents has been provided by a World Health Organization pro gramme devised specifically for this purpose (WHO 1977) and numerous investigations (see Farnsworth

et al.

1975 for review).

Traditional medical systems view illness, curing and human physiology as a series of interrelationships between nature, supernature, society and the individ ual (Fabrega 1975). Research projects aiming to evaluate the pharmacological effects of traditional medicines would have a significantly better success rate if native medical concepts were taken into account in the generation of working hypotheses (Wassen 1979; Davis and Yost 1983; Elisabetsky and Setzer 1985).

If ethnopharmacological information on the use, preparation and posology of ethnomedicines is not carefully analysed from a culturally relativistic perspec tive, then the selection of plants to be evaluated by biomedical methods will inevitably include those used to treat diseases not recognized by western medi cine. This could limit the cross-cultural application of prototype drugs.

The purpose of this chapter is to present ethnopharmacological data on con cepts of fertility and conception held by the Kayapó Indians of Brazil’s Amazon Basin. It is hoped that such data can promote and improve design of scientific investigations aimed to test for cross-cultural effectiveness of drugs affecting fertility.

150 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Chronology and methods

The results reported in this chapter are based on general data on the Kayapó col lected by Posey since 1977, and specific botanical and ethnomedical data were collected during three visits of approximately one month each, by Elisabetsky and Posey in November 1983, March 1984 and October 1985. The botanical field col lections were made with the assistance of Dr Anthony B. Anderson and his assistant Carlos Rosario, Department of Botany, Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, Belém, Pará, where the material is deposited in the Murça Pires Herbarium.

Collection numbers (CN) listed in Table 14.1 refer to the filed numbers of voucher material, and those with an ‘S-’ prefix refer to specimens collected as sterile material.

Ethnopharmacological data were collected from informants during the botani cal survey and collecting trips. Additional ethnographic data were subsequently recorded in the village using dried specimens, which also served to cross-check informants’ responses in the field. At least three informants were consulted for each plant, with additional random information acquired from approximately 40 men and women.

The Kayapó medical system

The Kayapó Indians maintain a complex and active traditional medical system despite several decades of contact with Western missionaries, medical and para medical professionals (Elisabetsky and Posey 1985). They make a distinction between their own diseases (

mêbengôkre kanê

) and those brought by white people (

kuben kan˜e

). Since the introduction of white people’s diseases, to which they have no acquired immunity, their general health has become increasingly poor, and the Kayapó state that this weakness accentuates the negative effects of native diseases. Disease almost caused the complete disappearance of the Kayapó in the middle of the twentieth century (Verswijver 1985; Posey 1987c). The appearance of diseases unknown to the Indians defied native curers, shook their confidence in their traditional medicines, and opened a ready door for Western medicine. Today, both traditional and Western systems have their own niches in Kayapó society.

Within the traditional Kayapó system there are two major classes of diseases: those caused by spirits (


) and those of non-spiritual origin (

karõn ket


These appear to correspond to what Foster (1976) calls naturalistic/personalistic diseases. In general, spiritual diseases are regarded as more difficult to treat and, therefore, more dangerous. As with other aspects of Kayapó classification, sys tems boundaries are frequently obscured by overlapping elements (Posey 1983c); thus, a disease may have both physical and spiritual causes.

The Kayapó recognize two major kinds of medical professionals:


, the ‘true shamans’, who are able to deal with physical as well as spiritual diseases; and the

me˜ kutê pidjà mari

(literally, ‘the ones who know medicines’), who pre scribe medicines for diseases caused by non-spiritual agents. Both are paid for

Use of contraceptive and related plants by the Kayapó Indians 151 their services. Most


are specialized, i.e. each shaman has specific knowledge about a certain disease family or families. The spiritual aspect of this knowledge is acquired through a shamanistic flight into spiritual realms, where the shaman ‘becomes a friend’ with a certain animal(s) spirit(s) to which he learns to ‘speak’ (

mry karõn kaben

) (see Chapter 6). Some shamans are specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of non-spiritual conditions or diseases, such as shaman Aibi of Gorotire who specializes in fertility modification, which may or may not include spiritual elements.

Kayapó pharmacotechnique

Today it should seem obvious to us, that, as Evans-Pritchard long ago pointed out (1937: 448), ‘medicines are not natural objects but human artifacts’. Thus, modes of preparation of medicines are extremely important for complete ethnopharma cological analysis (Elisabetsky and Setzer 1985). Native curers can describe in detail these procedures when explaining plant collections and their therapeutic preparations.

There are many traditional ways to prepare remedies, each of which signifi cantly alters the quality and quantity of the active principles absorbed. The principal method of preparation used by the Kayapó includes water extraction, which varies with the temperature chosen, from cold (


) to warm (

kangro ngri

) to hot (


). The time needed for the extraction can vary from a few minutes to three or more days. Preparations are determined to be ready when colour, smell and taste are judged to be correct. Examples of various methods of preparation can be found in Table 14.1. It is interesting to note that tubers, bulbs, false bulbs and leaves may be consumed in their natural states, and leaf sap is frequently squeezed out for consumption in its pure, fresh form.

For fertility-related remedies the Kayapó use teas, baths, the ingestion of crude plant parts, sleeping on leaves (e.g.


sp.), wrapping body parts with vines (e.g.

Bauhinia guianensis

), and rubbing or massaging plant parts onto the body, usually on the stomach (e.g.

Hippeastrum equestre






Helicteres guazumaefolia


Zornia virgata

). Topical treatments can also take the form of body paints, made from mixtures of plant ashes or charcoals and masti cated green fruits of

Genipa americana

varieties. When curing is desired, medicinal plant(s) are added to this mixture. Banner (1961) reports that another body paint, made from

Bixa orellana

seeds, is believed to give protection from the evil influences of spirits (

m˜e karõn


Plants used to manipulate sexual activities

Sexual activity among the Kayapó is regarded as a natural and desired part of life.

At an early age children engage in sexual games and often paint their bodies with designs of enlarged sexual organs. Rules regarding sexual activity and taboos are complex, and vary between sex and age-grade groups (see T. Turner 1965; J.B.

Use of contraceptive and related plants by the Kayapó Indians 155 Turner 1965; Vidal 1974). Although infringement of these rules can lead to con flict, sexual fidelity seems to be more a matter of individual choice than strict social requirement. As stated by Kwyrà-kà: ‘There are those men who do not like their women to be with someone else; there are the ones who do not bother. There are some women who do not like their men to be with other women; there are those who do not bother. Those who don’t mind stay together. Those who mind break apart.’ Many Indians get married, separate and remarry several times. Some Indian men, specially chiefs, may have several sexual partners. During the advanced stages of pregnancy, a woman ceases to have sexual intercourse. After this point, her husband is permitted to seek another woman for sexual activities known as

prõn kaàk

, or ‘false wife’ (T. Turner 1965). Some women, known as

menire kuprã

, choose not to have a husband, but prefer to be sexual partners of several men of a men’s society (Verswijver 1985).

Menire kuprã

have been described by Werner (1984) as sexual specialists, paid for their services. According to informant Paiakan, however,

menire kuprã

refers to adult women who have never married, have separated from their husbands, or have become widows.

Special places in the forest are reserved for courtship and love-making. Islands of forest in the campo-cerrado, called


, for example, are used for this pur pose (Posey 1984b). Traditionally, group sex (


) is included in certain ceremonial events (see T. Turner 1965; Verswijver 1985). Basically, plants used to manipulate sexual activities are divided into two groups: (a) those that stimulate male activity, called

m˜em`y tyx djà

(literally, ‘the penis hard stuff ’) and (b) those that diminish male performance, called

m˜em`y rerek djà

(literally, ‘the penis weak stuff ’). The latter were described by informant Kudjare as medicines that women give to men ‘when a man does not allow the woman to sleep’.

As J.B. Turner (1965: 60) noted, and our fieldwork confirms, payment for sex ual medicines often involves ‘exorbitant fees’ (

pajnh rax

). Knowledge of sexually manipulative plants is frequently secret and is said to be controlled by men.

Knowledge of these plants is usually guarded and highly valued. Table 14.1 lists plant species used as

m˜em`y rerek djà


Plants used to control menstruation

It is assumed that a girl has had sexual experience before her first period. Since the bride is very often a teenager, the Kayapó would not distinguish between blood from the first menses and blood from first sexual intercourse. During men strual periods women do not go to their plantations, but remain near rivers and streams and bathe frequently. According to J.B. Turner (1965: 63), Kayapó women seem to have quite irregular menses, ‘for many women pass months with out a period’. However, in contrast to Turner’s conclusion that the Kayapó do not look upon menstruation as ‘a normal organic function, but rather as a disease’, we found menstruation to be regarded as a normal part of female physiology (

menire kamrô

). If the menstrual period is heavy, with abnormally profuse flow (menor rhagia) and painful spasms, it is considered to be a disease. Depending upon the

156 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project intensity of the episode, the following names are used:

kukryt kanê

(literally ‘the tapir disease’) or

kamrô kanê

(literally, ‘the blood disease’).

Kukryt kanê

is the stronger, recurrent form of the two, considered the more difficult to treat. Women with this disease can suffer debilitating pain, weakness and very intense bleeding.

It is common in the Kayapó medical system to name diseases after animals (Elisabetsky and Posey 1985). In this case the Kayapó say that the strong blood flux is similar to the jet-like nature of the tapir’s urine stream. Since Kayapó con traceptives are said to ‘dry the women’s body’, leading to no menstruation, milk or pregnancy, this may account for Turner’s observation of irregular menses.

Referring to Kayapó contraceptives, Banner (1961: 13) states that ‘it is at least possible that these interrupt the menstrual cycle’.

Plants used to restore menstrual flux to normal levels or to stop it entirely, and eliminate pain, are listed in Table 14.1. It is interesting to note that two of the

kukryt kanê

plants are also considered contraceptives (


, see Table 14.1). Use of the same plants varies depending upon the part of the plant used and the dose. It is interesting to note that compounds used in some Western contra ceptive pills may also be used, depending on dosage, to control menstrual cycles.

Thus, there is an interesting parallel between Kayapó and Western fertility man agement methods.

Plants used to promote fertility

The relation between sexual acts and pregnancy is not easily defined for the Kayapó. On the one hand, contraceptive plants (


) are thought to have sufficient force to protect a woman from pregnancy despite having had sex with one or more men. As one chief said in testimony to the plant’s effectiveness, ‘a woman can go with as many men as she wants and will not get pregnant’. On the other hand, some plants (

m˜e tu jaro djà

) are considered to be sufficiently effective to cause pregnancy even without having any sexual relations whatsoever. In this case, according to informant Uté, the plant itself is the ‘source’ of the child. This is corroborated by another informant, Pykatire, who offered the following obser vation: ‘Just look at my son. Isn’t he beautiful? Now, look at me. See, the reason he is beautiful like this is because my wife was treated with the plant and, there fore, he is the plant’s son.’ It may be difficult for a woman to get pregnant when her body is considered dirty. The following cleansing treatment was described by shaman Kwyrà-Kà: ‘The husband should go to the forest to collect and prepare the medicines (

m˜e tu jaro

) to be used. Early in the morning, both husband and wife should go together to a stream and there the man covers the wife’s body with river mud mixed with already prepared medicines. The waters of the river are then allowed to wash away the mixture covering the woman’s body along with the dirtiness that is pre venting her from getting pregnant. The best season for this treatment is after the dry season, when small rivers start to receive new clean water. At night the hus band should sleep with an eye on his sleeping wife. Whenever he ‘sees’ that she

Use of contraceptive and related plants by the Kayapó Indians 157 is dreaming, he should wake her up and listen to her report. If she has been dreaming of a child, then she is already pregnant.’ Dreams are frequently used by the Kayapó to predict events and diagnose dis eases. Dreams in this case are thought to be provoked by qualities inherent in the

m˜e tu jaro djà

. This belief is related to the Kayapó idea of energy (


) that must be ‘sung’ into a woman to create a child (

opex djà mengrere

). According to the informant Pykatire, it is the singing of the shamans that transfers the


of the plant spirit (


) into the woman. These special shamans are called

me kute m˜e tu jaro mari

and are said to have special plants that determine the sex of chil dren. Plants used to ‘produce’ male children are called

mekra my djà

; plants for female children are called

mekra nire djà


Table 14.1 lists plants used as fertility medicines, some of which are specific as to the sex of the child (

Hippeastrum equestre guazumaefolia

for male children).


for female children; cf.

scabra Helicteres

is a general fertility medicine that does not affect sex determination. All the listed medicines are applied topically.

Plants used during pregnancy

Plants known as

meprire kin djà

are slept on or bathed with in order to ensure the birth of healthy and strong children. One such plant,

Piper marginatum

Jacq., is said to produce children with desirable jet-black hair (

ka krã tyk


Table 14.1 lists some of these plants.

Helicteres guazumaefolia

Pilger, accord ing to shaman Beptopoop, is also used to ensure male children; the same plant collected on another occasion (CN 646) was said by the same shaman to be used as post-partum medicine.

Plants used during and after labour

Birthing ideally takes place in the home and in the presence of the woman’s close female relatives. Only under certain circumstances, such as when the child is in an abnormal position, is a male shaman (

m˜e kra-o pôx djà mari

) allowed to be present. At the onset of labour pains the woman’s relatives massage her stomach with

Bixa orel lana

leaves. A mixture of the seeds of

Dipterix cumaru

and the apex of the operculum of the fruits of

Bertolletia excelsa

HBK are used to prepare a tea that is then drunk.

If control of post-partum bleeding is necessary this is achieved through the use of the heated seed of

Bixa orellana


When a child is born, latex of the




(Muell.-Arg) Woodson (CN 561) is used to paint a stripe between the eyes, over the nose and as a collar. This is said to protect the new born child from diseases that will result if his father kills a snake. The stem of the

Helicteres guazumaefolia

(CN 646) is then wound about the mother’s wrist to make her sleep. The wrist is the preferred location because ‘it stays near the face’. Medicines used in this way are said to be so strong that just smelling them is enough.

158 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project

Plants used as contraceptives and abortives

Contraceptive plants are known as

m˜e kra ket djà

(‘the no child stuff ’); abortives are called

m˜e pari djà

(‘killing stuff ’). It is important to emphasize that

m˜e kra ket djà

is not a single plant, but rather a group of plants considered to have the same therapeutic properties. It is common in the Kayapó system of plant classification to find large family groupings based upon related therapeutic effects (Posey 1987c).

Dreyfus (1963) reports only externally applied contraceptives, whereas Banner (1961) reports the use of oral contraceptives as well. Neither author provides sci entific names of plants used. J.B. Turner (1965: 60) reports the use of the pseudobulb of the orchid

Rodriguesia secunda

(Dunsterville and Garay 1979), which is crushed and rubbed over the woman’s body. Based upon our specimen (CN 536) however, this orchid has been determined to be

lucidum Epistephium


(Martius and Eichler, 1896), and is used both topically and orally.

Contraceptives are said to be taken only once in order to ‘never have children’.

According to some, but not all, specialists,

m˜e tu jaro djà

(‘fertility medicine’) can be subsequently taken to reverse the effects of the contraceptives. This is said to be very hard to attain.

If undesired pregnancy occurs, a woman may take

m˜e pari djà

to abort the pregnancy. This latter practice appears to be most common among young women who have never had children (

m˜e kurerere

) and has already been reported by Banner (1961). Although male specialists collect and prepare fertility-related drugs, women recognized our drying specimens and confirmed multiple use. One unconfirmed report indicates that collective abortion occurs before festivals, ‘in order to allow the woman to dance freely’. The only positively identified speci men used as an abortive is

Tanaecium vulgare



), which is drunk in a single dose as a strong tea. It is known that this species contains cyanogenic alkaloids (Kerr and Posey 1988), which may account for the described action.

It is interesting to note that 59 per cent of the

m˜e kra ket djà

plants described to date fall into only three botanical families: Compositae (33 per cent), Orchidaceae (13 per cent) and Polygalaceae (13 per cent). Out of the 15 collected plants, 12 are orally ingested.

Discussion and conclusion

The Kayapó have great faith in the effectiveness of their fertility and contracep tive medicines. It is interesting to note that in 1979, according to Indian Bureau (FUNAI) and missionary census, the Kayapó women had an average of only 2.3

children (Posey 1979b). During this period, the Gorotire Kayapó had a general policy of limiting reproduction because several old shamans had had visions that the Kayapó lands would be overtaken by ranchers; therefore, it was not desirable to raise children under such conditions. In the mid-1980s, promise of land demar cation and protection of indigenous rights generated new hope and a change in the

Use of contraceptive and related plants by the Kayapó Indians 159 village elders’ policy toward an increase in children. Today, for example, women are discouraged from using

m˜e kra ket djà

. According to a missionary census done in 1985, 20–30-year-old women have on average 5.2 children.

These data are inadequate to generate sophisticated demographic analyses.

Furthermore, various historical factors have influenced fertility rates, including pacification, inter-village migration, and complex changes in nutritional and social patterns (Werner 1983; Verswijver 1985). As Newman (1986: 11) points out ‘determinants of fertility behaviour often derive from values or perceptions that have little to do with conception and contraception themselves’. As Kayapó concepts relating sexual acts to procreation are culturally complex, evaluation of the effectiveness of fertility-related medicines is further complicated.

However, the variety of plants used for fertility control by the Kayapó, their detailed knowledge about preparation, administration and dosage, and their faith in the effectiveness of these methods, are sufficient to justify evaluation proce dures. Since the screening process is expensive and time consuming, it is necessary to optimize selection for both species and methods to achieve the high est possible success rate.

Natural products research aimed at the discovery of new therapeutic com pounds has two main instruments available for this selection: chemotaxonomy and ethnopharmacology (Elisabetsky and Gély 1987). Chemotaxonomy indicates plant families with a higher likelihood of containing certain classes of com pounds, and is specially useful in the discovery of new sources of known (or closely related) compounds. Ethnopharmacology identifies species through infor mation provided by native users, perhaps pointing out sources of prototypic compounds.

Some uncertainties inherent to ethnopharmacological data may be minimized by comparing uses of the same plant species by various ethnic groups. If several species from a given plant genus or family are used by different ethnic groups for related therapeutic effects, these plants are probably more likely to have relevant pharmacological actions. In other words, if the same species is used for the same purpose by several groups, these species have a higher likelihood of cross-cultural effectiveness.

The analysis of preparation methods and routes of administration can give insights to better plant selection. For instance, taking into account that water-sol uble compounds are poorly absorbed through skin, it can be suggested that topical treatments are effective only if the mode of preparation is such that the remedy contains absorbable compounds. In this context, a leaf that is heated and applied to an affected area or a massage with a medicinal oil, is more likely to be effective than a bath with a cold-water preparation. Cold baths could be effective if there is a volatile active compound that might be inhaled.

Table 14.2 shows those Kayapó plants (or related species) that are similarly used by other societies. It is noteworthy that 48 per cent of the species used by the Kayapó as medicines to interfere with sex or fertility are also used by other cul tures for related purposes.

160 Ethnobiology and the Kayapó Project As for the fertility promoting plants, it should be noted that all species collected to date are used topically. Moreover, the whole concept of fertility promotion, along with treatment description, suggest that these are culturally bound medi cines. Species of


are used by other groups as treatments for venereal diseases and also fertility promoters.

Mandevilla vellutina

has shown anti-inflam matory and bradykinin-antagonist activities (Calixto

et al.

1985, 1987).

Regarding the contraceptives, it is noteworthy that


Steyerm and

Polygala longicaulis Polygala monyicola


H.B.K. are used by both Kayapó and Chinese for the same purpose.

P. longicaulis

seems especially interesting since it is used orally. Another relevant aspect of these two species is that they come from cerrado (savanna) rather than forest. Our field data suggest that the savanna plants are the most popular contraceptives in Gorotire. Werner (1983: 239) reports that the Mekranoti Kayapó state that contraceptives obtained from the forest are not effective; they ‘insisted, however, that certain contraceptives found in the cerrado regions of Brazil were effective’. It is conceivable that the difficult environment of the cerrado leads these species to metabolic pathways that generate biologi cally active compounds (Janzen 1974).

Eupatorium squalidum

DC is used orally as a contraceptive by Kayapó.

E. inu laefolum

is used as a contraceptive in Paraguay;

E. laevigatum


E. macrocephalum

are used in Argentina as abortives and

E. polyanthum

is used in the same region as emmenagogue.

Vernonia herbaceae

, another Composite, is also used orally, either to control menstruation or as a contraceptive, with different modes of preparation.


E. squalidum


V. herbaceae

are found in cerrado.

The orchid

Epistephium lucidum

Cogn. deserves mention, since it is used orally and is elsewhere reported for other Kayapó groups (Turner 1965). It appears to be the most popular in Gorotire. We were unable to identify the species of


used orally by the Kayapó. Nonetheless, the genus seems to be interesting since




C. longiflora


C. racemosa

are all used as emmenagogues in Argentina. The latter is also reported in the region as an abortive.

Hyptis crenata

is used orally by Kayapó. In Argentina,

H. floribunda


H. mutabilis

are used as abortives. All of these species are found in the cerrado.

Therefore, the most promising of the Kayapó contraceptives for ethnopharma cological research are those belonging to the genera








, and the orchid

E. lucidum

. Since these contraceptives are said to have permanent effects, screening experiments should check for possible actions upon the pituitary gland.

The relationships between ethnomedical practices and remedies with physiologi cal processes can perhaps be better understood through spirit (


) relationships.

What has generally been ignored as being ‘non-scientific’ can, after all, be a highly codified and symbolic manner of recognizing – and streamlining for the sake of efficient oral transmission of cultural information – a wide range of related observa tions through accumulated years of cultural history by native groups. Studies of such symbolic systems requires a long-term commitment to learning language and cul ture, but may in the long run offer the greatest breakthroughs in medical knowledge.

Part III Kayapó land management

Chapter 15

Preliminary results on soil management techniques of the Kayapó Indians 1 Amazon soils issues in context

The grisly history of the Amazon is one of conquest, disease, slavery, persecution and displacement of the natives, leading to dizzying demographic collapses (cf.

Hemming 1987). More than just colourful rituals and quaint folkways were lost in the attrition and extinction of native populations. The science constituting the material base of these societies was often partially or completely destroyed, including their soil knowledge and management techniques. The Kayapó cer tainly suffered from contact, but they were never formally dominated or enslaved (Bamberger 1967). To the contrary, they routinely terrorized other groups of the upper Xingu and Araguaia River Basins. They have been able to maintain and reproduce their sciences of agronomy and pedology thereby providing hints of forms of intensive agriculture which might have permitted the growth of larger regional populations.

This study addresses two theoretical issues in current Amazonian anthropol ogy: the soil limitation hypothesis in its various incarnations (Gross 1983; Meggers 1957, 1971; Roosevelt 1980), and the significance of concentric ring agriculture (Beckerman 1984; Stocks 1983) which is found in several Amazonian groups (Candoshi, Bari, various Jê groups such as the Kreen Akrore, Xikrin, Mekronotí and Kayapó among others). The data we present are preliminary, and at this stage we make no final claims, but suggest that the topic of indigenous soil management can recast the substance of these debates.

Soil limitation hypothesis

The limitations of soil fertility on crop productivity and agricultural potential have been used in the anthropological literature to argue that in pre-Columbian Amazonia there were low human population densities in the uplands, and to explain a variety of social and cultural features of some Amazon populations (Carneiro 1970), ranging from trekking, migration dynamics and particular ritu als, to the absence of complex states (cf. Gross 1975, 1983; Meggers 1957, 1971; Roosevelt 1980). The evidence of large populations, complex social organization

166 Kayapó land management and large chiefdoms indicated by the riverine Santarém and Marajó cultures are explained by Meggers as an outcome of Andean migration rather than the result of a flourishing local culture.

Roosevelt’s (1980) work incorporates several points of Meggers’s analysis (1957), but argues that on the floodplains, complex cultures were not the result of Andean migrations, but developed in response to better soils. The decisive feature for cultural development was that the relatively nutrient rich várzea (floodplain) soil permitted the cultivation of maize, a far more nutritionally complete (and storable) foodstuff than upland staples. The types of surpluses that could be pro duced in the floodplain environment with intensive maize cultivation, and the structural and managerial complexity necessary to organize, store and distribute the harvest, allowed the development of complex societies based in the várzeas with hegemony or tribute exaction over upland hinterland areas. Roosevelt’s hypothesis remains essentially an environmental determinist position (or at least an environmental possibilist one, viz. Ellen 1983). Her model, however, under estimates the agricultural potential of the uplands by oversimplifying the nature of the agricultural base of Amazonian upland environments, and ignoring the diversity of agriculture, cultivars and agricultural techniques which may have been able to support far larger populations. It assumes, like virtually all other environmental models, that soils are static, immutable features of nature, instead of highly malleable ecosystem attributes.

Whether upland populations were as depauperate as Meggers (1957) and oth ers claim (cf. Chagnon 1973; Chagnon and Hames 1979; Gross 1975, 1982) is the subject of some debate (cf. Bamberger 1979; Beckerman 1979; Denevan 1976).

Recent studies of subsistence patterns of upland non-native and indigenous popu lations (cf. Almeida 1988; Anderson and Anderson 1983; Denevan

et al.

1984; Posey 1984a, 1985c; Schwartzman 1988) and ethnohistorical data, suggest that indigenous populations could have been far larger than original estimates. In the terra firme of the Upper Amazon, the Jivaraon uprising in 1599 talks of the mobi lization of more than 25,000 warriors (Harner 1984). In the case of the Kayapó, both the chronicle records and ethnohistorical reports indicate settlements num bering in the thousands (Bamberger 1979; Coudreau 1897b).

1 2 3 4

Concentric ring agriculture

The rationale behind segmented planting patterns such as concentric ring swid dens has also been a subject of speculation. Stocks (1983) advanced four hypotheses to explain this agricultural architecture: It minimized shading and thus reduced plant diseases It maximized the dispersal of a single crop to reduce pest/disease problems It located plants most vulnerable to insect predation furthest from the forest It placed the most nitrogen-demanding crops closest to nutrients in leaf fall from the surrounding forest.

Preliminary results on soil management techniques 167 Beckerman (1984), expanding from point (3), suggests that this concentric struc ture limits incursions of mammalian pests. We present an alternate hypothesis that argues that soil-crop management, particularly the manipulation of fertility gradi ents within the swidden, may be another rationale for this type of agronomic structure.

Current settlement

In the contemporary context, soil nutrient decline is viewed as one of the central forces behind deforestation processes. When productivity declines, both small scale farmers and large-scale ranchers seek new areas to clear in order to maintain production (Nicolaides

et al.

1985; Sanchez

et al.

1982). Soil factors, and the related carrying capacity issues, are often viewed as major causes in colonist fail ure (Fearnside 1986, 1987; Maxwell 1982; Moran 1981a). The underlying factors pushing deforestation and colonist attrition are a good deal more complex than soil dynamics (cf. Browder 1987; Coy 1987; Hecht 1985; Hecht

et al.

1988; Mahar 1979), but declines in productivity certainly contribute to land use insta bility. In an attempt to reduce ‘soil driven’ deforestation, national and international research organizations working in Amazonia have devoted a large proportion of their budgets to soil research as a response to the problems of main taining soil fertility after forest has been converted to other land uses. The approach adopted by such organizations has tended to focus on the use of pur chased inputs to maintain production, whilst ignoring indigenous knowledge systems.

Human agency and soil properties

The human modification of the soil base of agriculture for both good and ill is a characteristic of human agricultural history. In Latin America several land tech niques that have important effects on soil properties and agricultural productivity are well documented. The raised-field agriculture of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia (Denevan 1976; Erickson 1988); the chinampas of Mexico; and irrigation and ter race systems of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia (Treacy 1988) are but a few of the larger infrastructure systems that substantially modified soil bases for local production systems. These kinds of agricultural infrastructures have often persisted long after the cultures that produced them disappeared. These structures were physical, and have analogues in our own cultures. They have been far more visible to researchers than ‘soft technologies’ such as mulching systems, successional manipulations, soil protection and tillage practices, and burning techniques which were incorpo rated into indigenous agricultural systems. These techniques, along with the genetic materials of the cultivars, the knowledge of how they are integrated into agricultural systems, and their effect on local environments, constitute an agro nomic ‘tool kit’ whose subtler aspects have often been overlooked by many agricultural analysts. The relative ‘invisibility’ of such agricultural technologies

168 Kayapó land management should not cloud the recognition of their sophistication, or their importance in maintaining and sustaining agricultural systems.

The preliminary results we present in this chapter indicate that land manipula tion by the Kayapó is far more complex than has been generally recognized in the literature. This is expressed in the types of soil manipulation practised, and their outcomes on soil properties. We feel that indigenous soil management is an under-researched area with enormous implications for understanding native Amazonian settlement and for developing stable land-use systems for the region.


Researchers in ethnobiology have demonstrated that indigenous and traditional communities possess an impressively comprehensive, and scientifically accurate knowledge of their environments (Alcorn 1983; Berlin and Berlin 1983; Berlin

et al.

1974; Conklin 1957; Moran 1981a; Posey 1984a, 1985c). Systematic emic analysis of soils or ethnopedology remains extraordinarily under-represented in studies of indigenous science, which is rather surprising given the central role of soil resources in subsistence. Amazonian research reflects this general deficiency although there are several studies that incorporate useful soil insights (Behrens 1988; Flowers

et al.

1982; Gross 1983; Hill and Moran 1983; Johnson 1983; Moran 1981a). This oversight is all the more curious in that edaphic data is a pow erful tool, and the results, if used carefully, can generate powerful comparative analyses because: 1 2 3 Soil properties can be more precisely specified than vegetation processes Edaphic data from one site can illuminate the probabilities of land-use out comes on other sites Soil data are useful instruments for evaluating the effects of land manage ment over time.

In the following section we outline some features of Kayapó subsistence and land management that illustrate the importance of human intervention in manipulating soil fertility for agriculture in upland Amazonia. The changes we document sug gest that the soil limitation hypothesis and explanations of concentric ring agriculture can be usefully informed by analysis of indigenous soil management techniques. Moreover, these results suggest that the principles of Kayapó soil management could provide useful directions for management techniques of value for small farmers.

The Kayapó: site and subsistence

The Gorotire Kayapó inhabit a region in southern Pará on the Rio Fresco that is both vegetationally and geologically heterogeneous. The Kayapó have well-devel oped land differentiation systems based on general geomorphic, soil and

Preliminary results on soil management techniques 169 vegetational features, although vegetation is usually the main topic. Table 15.1

outlines the regional diversity of vegetation formations, and the Kayapó classifi cation. These include discrimination of eight forest types, eight cerrado types, lowland and montane formations, and the transitions between these formations.

The Gorotire Reserve falls within the Grande Carajas formation, and includes geologic materials of acid (granites, andesites and rhyolites) and basaltic origins.

The complex geomorphology and relief (Precambrian shield formations contacting granitic and basaltic extrusions, and recent sedimentary formations) result in a great deal of soil heterogeneity over relatively small distances. Oxisols, ultisols, alfisols, entisols and inceptisols – more than 90 per cent of the soil types found in Amazonia – are located within very short distances of each other. Entisols and inceptisols are usually associated with riparian depositional or hill erosional features, and include both high and low base status forms, depending on the parent material. High base status alfisols, the terra roxa estructurada soils, are found in the reserve. The red oxisols of the area (orthoxes) or latosolos vermelhos of the Brazilian classification system, are often transitional between the alfisols and other ultisol and oxisol for mations. The red oxisols appear to be derived from the Uatuma volcanic material of

Table 15.1

Kayapó natural vegetation classification

Bà-kumrenx Bà-epti Bà-katí Bà-ràràra Bà-krêtí Bà-kam Bà-tyk Bà-kot

Forest – Bà

‘True’ forest Liana forest High forest Forest in which light penetrates to the ground Forest gaps Gallery forest High dark forest Forest transition zone

Kapôt kêin Kapôt kumrenx Kapôt mêtx Kapôt punu Kapôt jajôre Kapôt imôk krê pôk re Kapôt kam imo Kapôt imo noi pok Kapôt no kra Kapôt krã nhi môk

Grassland – Campo



with few trees Open


with numerous forest patches Low grassy


Closed scrubby




with small scrub patches Small open areas surrounded by scrub forest near large


Seasonally inundated

campo Campo

openings on the tops of mountains


forest transition



170 Kayapó land management the Sobreiro formation, and are of moderate fertility. Table 15.2 outlines the domi nant soils of the region. Because of the varying parent materials, relief, and inundation patterns, the soil types have several textural variants and catenas. It is also for this reason that Kayapó soil taxonomy is quite detailed (see Chapter 16).

This environmental background serves as the canvas on which Kayapó subsis tence is painted. The Kayapó site their villages with environmental heterogeneity as an important dimension, and for both philosophical and practical reasons, prefer zones that incorporate many types of ecosystems.


The subsistence base of the Kayapó is outlined in detail in several different sources (cf. Bamberger 1967; Kerr and Posey 1984; Posey 1983e, 1984a). Resource use and management patterns are complicated by the obligations of kin and non-kin sodalities, and mobile and sedentary forms of exploitation, of both animals and plants. The primary sources of carbohydrates in the Kayapó diet are sweet potatoes (

Ipomoea batatas

, Convolvulaceae), manioc (

Manihot esculenta

Kranz., Euphorbiaceae), yams (


, Dioscoreaceae) and various


species (Musaceae). The Kayapó protein resources include fish, mammals, insects, rep tiles, amphibians, birds, brazil nuts (

Bertholletia excelsa

, Lecythidaceae), piquí nuts (

Caryocar villosum

, Caryocaraceae), palm fruits (such as

Orbignya phaler ata

, Palmae), and a variety of minor extractive products, as well as maize and vegetable protein derived from various legumes in the cultivation systems.

Table 15.2

Dominant soil orders of the study area

USDA classification

Oxisols Haplorthoxes Eutrothox Ultisols Hapudults Plinthudults Transition ultisols Alfisols (paleudalfs, hapudalfs) Inceptisols (dystropepts, humaquents) Entisols Tropaquents

Brazilian classification Latosolo vermelho Latosol vermelho distrofico Latosol vermelho Podzolico vermelho-amarelo Podzolicos vermelho-amarelo distrofico (argilloso) Podzolicos vermelho-amarelo alico (cascalhente) Terra roxa estructurada distrofico Terra roxa estructurada eutrofico Cambisol distrofico Solos alluviais Glei pouco humico, Solos alluviais (distrofico. eutrofico) Source:

Field data, Sudam 1979. Reconhecimento Pedologica na Area do São Felix.

Preliminary results on soil management techniques 171 Table 15.3 outlines the activities that the Kayapó classify as agriculture, and which involve conscious manipulation of the flora for human purposes. These activities represent a gradient of intervention from total ecosystem transformation, which occurs in the swidden plot, to transplanting or planting in existing vegeta tion formations, to merely protecting spontaneous, valuable species via weeding, etc. This gradient of manipulation is well documented for Amazonian caboclos at the mouth of the estuary, and for other indigenous groups (Alcorn 1983). These planting processes can also involve soil manipulation. This diversity of agricultural systems relates to the requirements of a society that has members periodically absent from the swidden gardens, and where, for the convenience of trekkers, hunters and travelling war parties, plantings and vegetational manipulation are car ried out at distances (sometimes 100 kilometres or more) from the village to supply medicinals, oils, protein, calories, poisons and ritual plants. Since treks can last for weeks and months, carrying root crops or manioc cakes is not feasible. Far more efficient is ‘ground’ and ‘environmental’ storage. How far flung Kayapó plantings can be is suggested by Werner’s (1983) report that the Mekronotí (Kayapó) frequently raided distant Kayapó plantings for root crops. The nearest Kayapó village in this case was about 150 kilometres away. Moreover, the Gorotire Kayapó themselves report transferring planting material in an area roughly the size of Western Europe (Posey 1985c).

The trekking pattern of the Kayapó has several consequences for the structure of agriculture and resource management. Because men are often periodically absent, ‘nomadic agriculture’ plantings, such as those along trails, in forest gaps, and resource islands, are more likely to be under their aegis, and to be character ized by plantings with long harvest times – such as the starch, kupa (

Cissus gongylodes

, Vitaceae), or brazil nuts – or species with game-attracting qualities.

Other groups of plants are associated with certain age cohorts, kin groups and non-

Table 15.3

Agriculture formations of the Kayapó

Village gardens Forest planting

1 Household gardens 10 Natural ecosystem gaps (


) 2 Swidden plots (


) 3 Successional plots from swiddens 4 Grave sites 11 Manmade gaps 12 Plantations in mature forest (viz.




) 5 Marantaceae gardens on hill slopes 13 Fruit groves ‘in memory of the dead’ (

krãi kam puru


‘Nomadic agriculture’ Cerrado planting

6 Trails between villages and gardens 14 Medicinal, fibre, edible, and varied useful 7 Trails between villages plants in


(forest patches in the savanna and grass lands) 8 Hunting/trekking trails 9 Planting around old camp sites

172 Kayapó land management kin sodalities, so vegetation management requires a more detailed analysis than can be presented here (Anderson and Posey 1989; Appendix, this volume).

‘Ownership’ of agricultural land follows female lines because the women often stay in the village whilst the men are on trek, and there is a rich women’s tradition in the ‘classic’ agronomic disciplines: plant breeding, plant protection, propaga tion, agricultural management, soil science, and specialized horticultural systems such as the Marantaceae gardens (

krãi kam puru


The agriculture of the Kayapó is based on: sweet potatoes (

Ipomoea batatas

) of which they have 22 cultivars; manioc, both sweet and bitter (

Manihot esculenta

Kranz.) of which at least 22 cultivars have been described (Kerr and Posey 1984); some 21 cultivars of yam (


sp.); 21 varieties of maize; and 13 types of


sp. The Kayapó also plant pineapples (three types), squashes (eight types), cotton, arrowroot, rice, two varieties of fava bean (

Vicia faba

, Leguminosae), four varieties of


sp. (Leguminosae), two types of bush bean (


sp., Leguminosae), three kinds of tobacco, four varieties of papaya (


, Caricaceae), and three types of peanuts (


, Leguminosae). At least 46 types of fruit and nut trees are planted. These have specific planting ‘niches’ and are generally planted in the successional agriculture (


), along trails (


), in home gardens (

ki krê bum

), in the forest (

), in forest gaps (

bà kre-tí

), or in various savanna sites (


). Because of the complexity of Kayapó agricultural systems, this chapter concentrates primarily on Kayapó soil management in the swidden plot through the manipulation of site fertility and planting strategy.

Soil fertility management

In much of the literature on indigenous Amazonian swiddens, one has the impres sion that soil properties remain static, however soils are extremely malleable features of ecosystems. Soil characteristics can be modified through management, and these manipulations affect crop productivity and the overall sustainability of production systems. In this section we outline how the Kayapó manipulate and modify soil properties by burning, mulching, direct nutrient additions and fallow ing. These management techniques create a pattern of soil microdiversity that is an important factor in Kayapó cropping patterns both in space and time.

The foremost tool used by the Kayapó for modifying soil properties is fire.

They use fire in a variety of ways ranging from burning savanna, forming the swidden plot, and as a means of soil management


the swidden plot. This ‘in-field burning’ involves setting small localized fires in the swidden plot throughout the cultivation cycle for roughly the first three years of agricultural production. The control of the biomass volume, seasonal timing, diurnal timing, and temperature of the burn can be manipulated, and this influences the solubility, quantity, and timing and quantity of nutrient release. The species burned can fur ther affect fertility characteristics. How important ash is to the range of land-management techniques is suggested by the numerous linguistic descriptors that exist for ash, as well as the large body of songs pertaining to burning. Ash

Preliminary results on soil management techniques 173 also has important ritual and medicinal functions, and there are shamans who spe cialize in burning methods.

While burning is a critical factor in creating in-field microdiversity within Kayapó swidden fields, mulching is also an important activity in crop-soil man agement. Favoured mulches include the leaves of the inaja palm (

Maximiliana maripa

Corr. Serr., Palmae), banana leaves, urucu husks (

Bixa orellana

L., Bixaceae), and some crop residues such as rice straw, bean vines, sweet potato vines and chopped weeds. Some of the mulch materials, mainly the crop residues, are derived from the agricultural field itself. The larger-leaved mulches, such as the palm fronds and banana leaves, often come from outside the field representing a net nutrient input which can compensate for, or exceed, nutrients lost when crops are consumed away from the garden. Mulches protect the soil from raindrop compaction, reduce weed germination, reduce soil temperatures and provide a slow release of nutrients.

Direct nutrient additions applied to particular crops, or mixed into the planting medium of particular trees, are also used by the Kayapó. These direct nutrient addi tions tend to be applied to longer-lived species, such as the various


, long-lived yams, Marantaceae, urucu, genipap (

Genipa americana

, Rubiaceae), pineapple (


sp., Bromeliaceae), and other minor crops that are planted at the perimeter of the swidden garden. The sources of nutrients range from ashes of par ticular species to plants, termite nests, bones,


ant nests and shredded leaf mulches. Table 15.4 shows the chemical content of the more common additions.

The manipulation of fallows by indigenous groups is well documented (Alcorn 1983; Denevan

et al.

1984). This manipulation includes the addition of perennial

Table 15.4

Fertility elements of planting additions used by the Kayapó

Maximiliana Maximiliana Maximiliana Ki Ki Mrum kra ti


Rorot tyk


Rorot tyk


Rorot tyk

+ ash ash ash (field hearths) (field hearths)

Ken po ti

ash (ash from ritual rock outcrop) Planting mix
















OM (%) N (%)






– – 0.48






– 0.43










P (ppm) K (ppm) Ca

163 560 543 547 428 80 52 <1 143 12 8.75


43,012 23,522 11,670 19,510 18,589 1170 2620 43 677 136 215 273

(meq/ 100 g)













Mg (meq/ 100 g)







– 0.51





*Termite mounds.



ant nests.

o Leaves and ant nests.

174 Kayapó land management plants to the annual cropping system, and protection of particular plants when weeding in the earlier stages of the swidden. Nitrogen-fixing leguminous trees such as


species (Leguminosae) are sometimes planted into the fallows, and

Trema micanthra

(Ulmaceae), a non-leguminous nitrogen-fixing plant common in secondary succession, is protected in Kayapó agricultural fields. The manipu lation of successional processes is not limited to the swidden field, and includes natural and manmade forest gaps (

bà-krê tí



plantings, and forest plantings of


(Palmae) and


, among others. Manipulation of secondary successional processes varies substantially, depending on the vegetation forma tion in which it is practised, the particular species that are used, and the purpose of the plantings.

The use of soil microdiversity, either inherent in the site or created through in field burning, nutrient additions or planting patterns within the Kayapó swidden field, permits good productivity in relay planting strategies and fine tuning of soils to crop requirements, or vice versa. While the importance of regional soil diversity for choosing swidden sites has been documented by Moran (1981a), the significance of soil and agronomic microdiversity within Amazonian field gar dens has been mainly a subject of speculation (Stocks 1983). In later sections we show that there are clear soil fertility differences in various planting zones, which reflect coordination between planting and soil parameters. Moreover, nutrient ‘hot spots’ that are richer in bases and micronutrients than the soil of the back ground zone, can be used for planting crops with specific nutrient demands that might be difficult to seed more generally, such as beans, with their higher demand for phosphorus and microelements such as molybdenum.

The swidden plot

The Kayapó engage in ‘concentric ring’ or spatially segmented planting zones in the swidden garden: a central zone, dominated by relay-planted sweet potatoes; a secondary ring, which often begins in maize, and through a complex of relay plantings generally ends in a manioc/sweet potato polycrop; and the external ring which includes yams, kupa, bananas, pineapples, urucu and fruit trees. The plots are roughly circular and about one hectare in size. The Kayapó swidden plots stay in active production for about five years, and continue to produce at lower levels for as long as eleven years. The swidden cycle is about 15 years although this varies with soil type and management choices.

There is a great deal of variability among Kayapó gardens reflecting local resource characteristics (background soil type, relief); household labour availability; hierarchical obligations (communal and ceremonial fields whose surplus is distrib uted by the chief, warrior gardens); personal preferences (such as a fondness for a particular kind of sweet potato, peanuts, beans); ritual obligations (households spon soring naming ceremonies require large amounts of manioc and bananas, or families in which there has been a death, plant a garden devoted only to maize for a death cer emony at the maize harvest time); internal markets (rice is now increasingly grown in

Preliminary results on soil management techniques 175 the early phases of the cropping cycle, intercropped with maize or in pure stands, to trade among households or to sell to local loggers and gold miners). Within the diver sity of improvizations of individual household gardens the pattern of segmented, more or less concentric planting zones remains a common structure.

The architecture of the Kayapó agricultural plot begins in the clearing stage.

Trees are often felled so that they fall with their crowns facing the perimeter of the


. The inner concentric circle receives manipulation and plants well in advance of the burning, and is managed somewhat differently from the rest of the plot. This area is kept relatively free of large slash throughout the cultivation period and is burned often. The second concentric ring includes the boles of large trees as well as some sites of secondary burning of slash, known as


. The practice is ubiquitous in the Amazon Basin and distinct from what we designate as ‘in-field burning’.


operations generally occur at the beginning of form ing a garden, often prior to any planting. In-field burning, however, occurs throughout the first years of the production cycle. This zone will be dominated by short-cycle maize, beans and peanuts, and longer-producing manioc, sweet pota toes, yams and papaya. The final circle is composed primarily of bananas, yams, urucu and pineapples.

(a) The central zone

The central plot in the swidden field is generally devoted to a monoculture of diverse cultivars of sweet potatoes. The crop-soil management here is unique when compared with other indigenous production practices throughout Amazonia, since sweet potatoes are of singular importance in the northern Jê diet and production systems. The sweet potato has the highest solar-energy-fixing efficiency among tropical food crops. It is resistant to drought and extremely tol erant of the hot shadeless conditions that prevail in the centre of a Kayapó garden.

Moreover, very warm temperatures appear to increase total plant production of


(Hahn 1975). It is the first crop planted in any Kayapó swidden because several cultivars are fire tolerant and are planted even before the forest is com pletely felled. This early planting gives time for subterranean plant development before the burn takes place, enabling the sweet potatoes to take advantage of the most soluble fertility elements. In addition, the fires in this central zone probably result in heat disinfection of the planting material (Nielson 1977).

The central plot receives a ‘cool’ burn during the formation of the swidden – compared to the rest of the garden – because the cut biomass at this site is not as great as in the other zones. However, the central part of the plot is subject to intense management and more frequent in-field burning than the other zones of the garden since the area in sweet potato is relay planted and remains in continuous produc tion for as long as four years. Mulching with


, weed and crop residues (which are subsequently burned), and roasting tubers in field hearths (


) also occurs.

These provide additional sources of ash, rich in potassium. After harvesting tubers and replanting, vines are clipped and dried for three to five days, often piled up on

176 Kayapó land management remaining stumps and logs in the central zone, and then burned on site at midday.

This ensures complete combustion, although the fire is considered relatively ‘cool’ because the volume of the dried vines is less than ten kilos per cubic metre. The burning releases nutrients stored in the foliage, and as the central section of the swidden plot is a monoculture and therefore susceptible to pathogens, it effectively fumigates the soil.

Burning dynamics are particularly significant because frequent burns are asso ciated with relatively high levels of potassium in tropical topsoils. The central zone has significantly higher levels of potassium than the other planting rings as Table 15.5 indicates. Sweet potato production correlates with potassium and phosphorous but with the highest positive correlation for potassium (Tsuno and Fusige 1968; Villareal and Griggs 1982). Higher levels of potassium increase the net photosynthetic rate and accelerate the translocation of carbohydrate into the tuberous root (Hahn 1975).

Table 15.5 indicates there are significantly higher nutrient levels of phospho rous, potassium and calcium in the central zone compared to the middle and outer zones, and the forest control, and significantly higher levels of organic matter compared to the second planting zone, but on average slightly less organic matter than the outer ring. The external inputs (mulches and ashes from cooking fires) and the constant recycling of crop nutrients creates a soil microenvironment that is particularly tuned to supplying the fertility elements that correlate most strongly with sweet potato production. The high levels of calcium probably reflect more complete combustion of the remaining slash because of the frequent in-field burning, and the casual spread of ashes from cooking hearths. In addition, the fire frequency may very well help control the spread of disease through soil fumiga tion and the destruction of crop residues where pathogens may breed.

Another important soil manipulation occurs in the sweet potato section of the swidden plot where soil is aerated with a machete. Because sweet potato vines are rather lanky, and because the plot is a relatively pure stand with no vertical differ entiation, the soil in the central part can become compacted. Inadequate aeration in compacted soils inhibits nutrient uptake and favours fungal diseases (Villareal and Griggs 1982). In dry compacted soils, roots tend to lignify more quickly (Hahn 1975). Women cultivate the soil when necessary, breaking up any fine crusts that develop on the soil surface. Given the high levels of soil compaction that often occur in continuously cultivated monocultures in the tropics, the friabil ity of the Kayapó central zone is quite remarkable despite years of cultivation.

The central section of the swidden plot is cleanly weeded, unlike other parts of the


. The monocultural characteristics of the site facilitate manipulations needed for maintaining intensive production of



(b) The second concentric ring

The second ring in the swidden plot is the zone where the largest proportion of forest biomass will be destroyed, because it is here where most of the tree boles

178 Kayapó land management will fall. It is also here where microdiversity, resulting from uneven combustion or uneven distribution of ash, will influence planting strategy the most. This is the zone where

coivara coivara

is practised (although the outer zone often receives more burning) and so there are several extremely rich nutrient sites. The distri bution and size of slash, and the position of


burning mounds, create planting sites that vary in the relative volume of nutrients and in the rates of release.


sites generally have extremely good chemical status but the ele ments will be relatively soluble. Sites near logs will have longer release and moderate fertility. Finally, the places in the plot without additional nutrient inputs from


or proximity to logs will demonstrate ‘background’ post-burn site fertility. This fertility varies according to the basic soil type, as well as burning characteristics.

In terms of overall species diversity, this is where the greatest number of crop species is found over time, including varieties of sweet and bitter manioc, yams, maize, beans, peanuts, papaya, urucu, rice, sugar cane, cotton and tobacco. The planting pattern of these crops, however, is not entirely random, but is linked to the soil microdiversity of the ring, and crops are planted in polycrop relay systems that initially begin with a maize × melons/squashes and mounds of yams and sweet potatoes. Manioc can also be planted immediately, or it can be introduced during ripening or later after the maize harvest. As the cropping succession pro ceeds, the middle zone will be dominated by a manioc × sweet potato intercrop.



areas, high-nutrient and fast-release sites, are given over to either the long-cycle crops that can produce for several years (bush beans, yams) or the most fertility-demanding short-cycle crops of the Kayapó: beans, squashes, watermelons, tobacco and sometimes maize, although maize is usually planted in the second zone after the main swidden burn when the soil is most rich in nutri ents. These are planted in the mounds after the maize seeds have been immersed in the pulp of rhizomes of wild ginger (

Costus warmingii

) at the moment of plant ing, which is said by the Kayapó to improve germination and yields. In the case of beans, the mounds are the sites where nitrogen fixation is least likely to be limited by insufficient levels of phosphorous and microelements, to which rhizobia are particularly sensitive.

Other crops that are relatively nutrient demanding are tobacco and cotton.

These are planted in areas where ash is somewhat richer, and along logs and slash to assure adequate nutrient levels. For tobacco, adequate levels of potassium are particularly important in otherwise very potassium-deficient soils. Relatively minor crops such as peanuts, sugar cane, melons and squashes are planted accord ing to the nutrient demands of the crop.


is planted in intermediate fertility sites similar to those of the yams.

Yams are also planted in the second ring. In this case a site is chosen near an incompletely burned trunk, giving a source of slow nutrient release and providing structural support for the vines. Next, a hole is dug in which crumbled


ant nests are sometimes placed, or in which ashes are mixed with the mounded soil and two varieties of yams per mound are generally planted. Yams are somewhat more

Preliminary results on soil management techniques 179 nutrient demanding than either sweet potatoes or manioc. Since yams produce for several years, their proximity to a slow-release source of nutrients in the form of a tree bole, or worked into the soil in the form of ashes or charcoal, is essential for sustained production. Alternatively, mounding ash later in the crop cycle may also contribute to the long-term production.

Manioc, sweet potatoes and yams are frequently replanted in the swidden plot, but how they are planted may vary. Replanting of yams and sweet potatoes may occur in the


mounds after the cultivation of rice, beans or maize, where residual fer tility is somewhat greater, and in sites where crop residues, mulches and slash are burned. In contrast, manioc is never replanted on sites where yams, sweet potatoes or maize have previously grown, but is replanted into sites where it has already been producing, including replanting into the same hole (Kerr and Posey 1984).

After three or four years, the first and second rings may be reburned for a final replanting and many of the longer-term tree crops such as urucu, mangoes, etc.

are then gradually introduced once the danger of fire is past.

As Table 15.5 indicates, the middle ring is the area where soil fertility levels are lowest for all nutrients. This reflects the basic dominance of manioc. Many of the varieties of indigenous manioc appear to be tolerant of low nutrient levels and higher soil aluminium (Kerr 1986). The more demanding crops, like maize, that appear in this zone take advantage of the initial fertility, or concentrated nutrient pockets, but for the most part, this zone, which generally comprises more than 70 per cent of a garden, has overall lower soil fertility levels, reflecting relatively low nutrient demands of the dominant crop, manioc.

(c) The outer ring

The perimeter of the swidden ring is primarily devoted to


and yams. In this area, nutrients are derived largely from felled forest canopy: leaves, fine branches and some parts of stems. Although much of the slash is relatively fine, burning is often incomplete because of the proximity to living moist vegetation. For this rea son, small


piles are quite common, and the resulting ash is mounded, mixed with soil and planted with yams. Bananas are also often planted into a richer pile of nutrients. Bananas are not the most demanding of Kayapó crops, but they do require some nutrient subsidies during the establishment phase, and over their long produc tion life. Bananas will often be mulched, and ash nutrient additions applied throughout the production cycle. Later, the soils of the zone receive litter from adja cent forest, so there is a long-term nutrient addition that can be significant.

In this outer zone, polyvarietal planting is the norm, with at least two varieties of banana/plantain stocks planted in the same hole. Sugar cane and papaya are interspersed with tree crops like


, genipap, mangoes, etc. in this area of the plot. The planting of kupa also occurs here, where adjacent forest trees can be used to provide structural support for the vine. This zone remains in production for virtually the entire ‘successional’ cycle of the


, and these banana planta tions are cursorily cleaned and managed when collection occurs.

180 Kayapó land management The


/yam ring at the perimeter of the Kayapó plots is not the most fertil ity-demanding of the crops, and runs counter to Stocks’ assertion that high-nutrient-requiring crops are placed in the peripheral ring because they need proximity to the forest for nutrient additions (Stocks 1983). What is more at issue is the length of time that the bananas and yams of Kayapó gardens remain in pro duction. In this case, low-level additions from forest over time (12 years) are more significant, but are also supplemented with direct nutrient additions. For yams, the proximity to peripheral trees provides support for vines.

The nutrient status of soils in the perimeter are shown in Table 15.5. Soils in the outer zone are relatively rich in potassium, calcium and organic matter compared to the second zone. The more intensive use of


, plus some nutrient additions and mulches (particularly to bananas), and the nutrient ‘rain’ in the form of litter from the adjacent forest vegetation, create the nutrient pattern of this zone. What is critical here is that the perimeter is the zone of long-producing perennial crop plants. As well as receiving forest litter, nutrient additions tend to be worked into the planting medium and are applied to specific plants over the production period.


When the Kayapó manage their agricultural plots they must work with a variety of interacting factors including the background soil fertility, the heterogeneous quality of ash and its distribution, crop nutrient requirements, cropping cycles, management requirements, and pest and disease control. In the Kayapó gardens, each concentric ring defines classes of plant-soil management units where soil and fire manipulation, and crop planting and management patterns interact. The soil fertility differences between the planting zones are statistically significant, and reflect a strategy of fine-tuning soils to crop demands. The close linkage between planting practices and surface ash distribution (and manipulation) in Kayapó swidden agriculture may suggest that multicrop planting in swidden gar dens, often described in the literature as random, may in fact be a deliberate pattern associated with in-plot soil fertility gradients.

Burning control and crop-soil management are important considerations in the concentric structure of the swidden fields of the Kayapó, and figure prominently in discussions of the fields with the Kayapó. This does not invalidate the hypotheses suggested by Stocks (1983) or Beckerman (1984), but implies that concentrating crop-soil management in space facilitates practices that may damage other plants, or that are more easily carried out when they are spatially segmented from other crops. In any case, soils are neglected when analysing concentric ring structure.


In the first sections of this chapter we argued that indigenous soil management could inform several research areas in Amazonian agricultural settlement. Soils are mutable features of ecosystems and soil fertility levels can be modified in

Preliminary results on soil management techniques 181 both the short and the long term. Kayapó swiddens produce at high levels for extended periods of time compared with most of the production systems that have been recently introduced into Amazonia. Moreover, the positive results of Kayapó manipulation appear to persist through time (Hecht and Posey – see following chapter). That specific agricultural lands occur on virtually all regional soil types and are passed down the female line suggests that households capitalize their agriculture on the results of intergenerational land improvements. If, as Balée (1987) and Posey (1985c) suggest, forest ecosystems are cultural artefacts, many of the features of soils that underlie these forests are also the outcome of human intervention. Certainly the large extension of ‘Indian black earths’ (terra preta do índio) suggests this is the case (Balée 1987; Smith 1980). We believe that com plex crop-soil management technologies could have existed for intensive upland agriculture. The idea that inherent chemical features of soils determine human population densities becomes meaningless.

Second, we have argued that the concentric ring structure of the Kayapó gar dens correlates with statistically significant differences in soil fertility between planting zones, and that crop-soil management demands could be a useful topic for analysing this cropping pattern.

Finally, we suggest that the principles of Kayapó soil management might be useful for developing low-input cropping systems for other Amazonian farming systems. While the Kayapó systems are complex, their basic techniques – mulching, ash application, and site-crop specific planting strategies – are not.

With the local knowledge of caboclos and agronomists, Kayapó soil management could inform the development of sustainable production systems for non-native Amazonians.

Chapter 16

Indigenous soil management in the Latin American tropics: some implications of ethnopedology for the Amazon Basin 1

During the last 20 years, more than 20 million hectares of lowland forests in the Amazon Basin have been converted to other land uses (INPE 1988). The potential long-term impacts will affect the global carbon balance, atmospheric moisture recycling, hydrological resources and genetic diversity. While these changes are speculative, and the subject of much debate, the most consistently documented impact of deforestation is the degradation of soil resources once the nutrient flush from conversion of forest to pasture or agriculture is over.

The main forms of regional agriculture that follow forest conversion are very unstable, and declining soil fertility is frequently identified as a factor in agri cultural failure (Buschbacker 1986; Hecht 1982a, 1982b, 1985; Fearnside 1980, 1986; Sanchez 1976, 1985; Sanchez

et al.

1982; Sanchez and Benites 1987; Smith 1982). As soil nutrients become exhausted, and the costs of weed ing become more arduous, farmers and ranchers abandon old areas and clear new ones, creating an ever expanding front of forest removal and land degra dation.

This chapter focuses on two main themes. First, it discusses indigenous versus modernization approaches to soil management in Amazonian research and devel opment strategies. Kayapó systems are compared structurally with current regional agricultural strategies. While indigenous systems are complex, the prin ciples that underlie them are not, and native land management models could inform land resource management approaches to a greater extent than they have so far. Finally, the outcomes of Kayapó colonist and livestock systems are com pared in terms of soil fertility and yields.

Amazon soils and research approaches: from transnational to tribal paradigms

The dynamics of agricultural and pasture failure in Amazonia are extremely com plex and are not uniquely determined by soil parameters (Hecht 1985; Hecht 1988b). What is clear, however, is that Amazonian soils for the most part are extremely poor, and soil constraints are severe for many crops grown under cur rent cropping systems. As Table 16.1 indicates, more than 90 per cent of

Indigenous soil management in the Latin American tropics 183 Amazonian soils are deficient in phosphorous and nitrogen; about 75 per cent are deficient in potassium, have serious problems of aluminium toxicity, or have low levels of calcium and magnesium. Only about four per cent of the soils of the Amazon Basin exhibit no major agricultural constraints. The problems inherent in conventional crop-soil management in areas with such poor soils have given the Amazon a reputation for ‘fragility’. This perception ignores the resiliency of many tropical forest formations and overlooks the fact that indigenous Amazonian populations have developed complex systems of agriculture and intensive soil management that have overcome these difficulties.

The dramatic nature of soil degradation after forest conversion is recognized in much of the regional research on tropical agronomy (cf. Falesi 1976; Sanchez 1976; Sanchez

et al

. 1982; Tropsoils 1985; CIAT 1987). Research related to soil management is a central focus for most agronomic research stations in the humid tropics, and indeed more than 60 per cent of the research budgets involve survey ing, mapping and classifying soils, and fertilizer and management trials. This research, along with climatic data and germplasm selection, is viewed as essential for developing the scientific basis for technical transfer of improved crops and cropping systems. In the main, these results argue that soil constraints, considered to be the most critical agronomic limitation, can be overcome by the application of fertilizers and other modern inputs (Sanchez

et al

. 1982; CPATU 1984; CIAT 1987).

One of the arguments used to justify conventional soil research is the idea that if production systems, especially annual production systems, could be stabilized through the use of modern inputs, then migration and deforestation linked to cropping failures would be diminished. Hence the overwhelming preponderance of fertilizer and varietal trials in tropical research stations.

Table 16.1

Main soil constraints in the Amazon under native vegetation

Soil constraint

Phosphorus deficiency Aluminium toxicity Drought stress Low potassium reserves Poor drainage/flood hazard High phosphorus fixation Low cation exchange capacity High erodibility No major limitations Slopes of over 30 per cent Laterite hazard

Hectares (m)

436 353 254 242 116 77 64 39 32 30 21

Per cent of Amazon

90 73 53 50 24 16 13 8 7 6 4


Sanchez and Benites 1987.

184 Kayapó land management

The Yurimaguas model

The most famous Amazonian example of this approach is that developed by Sanchez’ group in Yurimaguas. Following the US Land Grant College model of agronomic research and development, soil and crop management strategies focus on target crops or soil problems, with minimal reference to local knowl edge systems and land-use practices. This kind of approach has generated useful results, but as a strategy it concentrates primarily on what scientists have been able to learn through the application of scientific techniques to rather narrowly defined pedological/agronomic problems. The overriding response to soil man agement problems has emphasized agronomic techniques rooted in temperate zone agricultural intensification models that consist principally of fertilizer applications (Sanchez

et al

. 1982; Sanchez 1985; Sanchez and Benites 1987). By approaching soils issues in this manner, a large body of local knowledge about soil potential and management has been ignored, and the social and economic contexts in which most agriculturalists in the humid tropics must function are often overlooked.

There are a number of reasons why an approach based on soil management which focuses on chemical fertilizers, such as the Yurimaguas model, is open to question. Some of these issues have been outlined elsewhere. For example, Fearnside (1987) examines agronomic issues such as (i) soil nutrient imbalances and micronutrient deficiencies that cannot easily be monitored by most Amazonian peasants; (ii) pest outbreaks that can reduce yields regardless of soil management; (iii) erosion problems; and (iv) physical changes in soil properties.

Institutional factors include: (v) availability of inputs at the proper time; (vi) access to inputs; and (vii) adequate quality of inputs. Finally, market factors such as (viii) adequate return; (ix) affordable transport costs; and (x) affordable credit, are also important. Broader structural questions which impinge on the use of such technologies may include issues such as the very low incomes of most Amazonian inhabitants, about US$1,000 per year or less. The $250–300 per hectare costs for fertilizer represent almost one third of an average household’s income for produc ing commodities whose prices are often controlled, whose marketing is difficult and costly, and whose production in Amazonia is quite risky. While credit is usu ally proposed as the solution to this impasse, only about four per cent of Amazonian peasants receive credit. The inherent riskiness of annual crops often reduces the use of high technology packages (Scott 1978), and the opportunity costs of investment of labour and cash in annual cropping systems limit the adop tion of such crop/soil technologies. The Yurimaguas approach has undergone several modifications over the years and increasingly incorporates practices that demand fewer inputs (Sanchez and Benites 1987).

Some analysts are beginning to argue that tropical land use models should be based on land management methods developed by local populations, presumably more closely integrated into the dynamics of tropical ecological systems and the needs and constraints of local peoples (Altieri 1987). Researchers increasingly

Indigenous soil management in the Latin American tropics 185 recognize the role of native populations in the development of ecologically sound, productive land uses. However, the amount of research on indigenous soil man agement techniques, and how well they perform in the tropics, is a research question that has received little attention in spite of the enormous budgets devoted to tropical pedology and agronomy. One might well ask why research on such a central issue in tropical development has so systematically ignored local knowl edge systems.

The Kayapó model

The characteristics of the Kayapó and Yurimaguas systems are outlined in Table 16.2. This table shows the rich array of techniques and strategies for managing relatively low fertility soils, and the points of intersection between the moderniza tion and traditional models. The Kayapó system includes a soil taxonomy; selection for variety diversity; and complex planting patterns in space, e.g. con centric ring planting (see Chapter 15; Stocks 1983) and intercropping, and time, e.g. continuous planting for certain crops, relay planting and successional strate gies. Several soil conservation practices are incorporated within this physical and temporal structure. These include the use of spatial segregation in planting sys tems; multiple cropping systems; crop rotations; crops with scandent habits; concentrated tillage; direct addition of nutrients as ashes, mulches, residues, dung, and enriched soils; complex co-planting; transferring forest litter; compost ing; and controlled periodic, in-field burning. There are clearly points of similarity in the Yurimaguas and Kayapó systems in the use of crop residua, relay planting, nutrient additions and short fallows. The active ‘arsenal’ of the Kayapó agricultural system is much richer, and requires no purchased inputs.

Researchers should also recognize that there is a complex intellectual system that underlies the native management of soil resources, the ensemble of which is ‘ethnopedology’. Ethnopedology includes the study of native land classification systems, management techniques and their variability, and how practical and the oretical knowledge is developed, expanded, encoded and reproduced.

Land uses reflect some implicit or explicit assessment of the relative capabili ties of soils, and practical techniques ranging from crop selection to soil management to address these capabilities. Folk soil taxonomies are widespread (although generally underinvestigated) and generally correlate well with dis cernible quantitative differences among soil types (Carter 1969; Conklin 1957; Toledo and Barrera-Bassals 1984; Christanty 1987; Behrens 1988; Johnson 1982). Crop genetic selection and experimentation is impressively widespread in Amazonia (cf. Chernela 1986; Boster 1984; Kerr and Posey 1984). An emerging body of ethnobiological work in Amazonia suggests that native populations have developed complex systems of resource management that are ecologically sus tainable, and may generate levels of income that exceed the regional average (Anderson

et al

. 1985; Hecht and Schwartzman 1988; Denevan and Padoch 1988; Clay 1988).

186 Kayapó land management

Table 16.2

Kayapó and Yurimaguas agricultural systems


Soil classification Cleating Yes Slash and burn Crop diversity Medium cycle crops (2–4 year production periods) High Yes Arboreal species Polyvarietal planting Plant structure Monocultures Nutrient inputs Residue return Yes Yes Concentric ring Yes Ashes, mulch, termite nests, litter, palm fronds Rice, maize stalks, banana leaves, vines of yam, sweet potato, manioc peelings

Cultivation practices

Intercropping Planting Mulching Continuous planting In-field burning In-field mulch pits Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Weed control

Manual Fire Mulch Allelopathy Scandent crops Herbicides


Yes Yes Yes Possibly Yes No 5–10 years


Yes Slash and burn Low No Rare No Pure stand Yes Rice and cowpea stover Rarely Yes No No No No Yes No Sometimes No No Yes 1–2 years The study of indigenous soil management has many of the advantages of clas sic soil research: 1 2 Soil properties can be more precisely specified than vegetation processes.

Edaphic data from one area can illuminate the probabilities of land-use out comes on similar sites more clearly than vegetation data.

Indigenous soil management in the Latin American tropics 187 3 Soil data are particularly powerful tools for evaluating and comparing the impact of land management over time.

In addition, insights from millennia of tropical land management experience that have survived the test of time and the vagaries of environment, can contribute to the formulation of new strategies and testable hypotheses. Given the power of this form of analysis, it is rather surprising that so little serious attention has been paid to native land management techniques. If Kayapó techniques can sustain produc tivity on a given site by maintaining soil fertility, or increase output through soil modification and crop management, these could serve as the foundation for sus tainable agricultural models for small-scale farmers in Amazonia.

Comparing Kayapó agriculture with colonist agriculture and livestock in eastern Amazonia

The Gorotire Kayapó inhabit a region characterized by complex geology and geo morphology in southern Pará, Brazil. Lying at the interface between the Precambrian Brazilian shield and more recent metamorphic and sedimentary for mations, several major soil orders are found within short distances. Most Kayapó agriculture is carried out on four main soil types: a high fertility alfisol, a rela tively high fertility ultisol, a low fertility ultisol, and a low fertility oxisol (see Table 15.2, page 170). Because the four soil orders managed by the Kayapó are similar to more than 90 per cent of Amazonian soils, the principles, the techniques and the impacts of Kayapó management could have wide implications for tropical soil management in the Amazon Basin.

The Kayapó designate 14 types of land use as ‘agriculture’ (see Table 15.3, page 171). These various land uses are complex, and include ceremonial planting, reforestation, and resource islands, ‘nomadic agriculture’, as well as swidden plots. The Kayapó practice concentric ring/crop segregation agriculture based on sweet potatoes, manioc, yams and perennials, periodically intercropped with maize, beans, cucurbits, introduced rice, and numerous other minor crops and rit ual plants. Kayapó swiddens stay in active root crop production for about five years, and continue to contribute agricultural produce at reduced levels for as long as 12 years (see Chapter 15). This is an exceptionally long production period that is a function of eight main factors: (i) a mixture of short- and long-cycle cultigens and cultivars; (ii) sequential harvesting and replanting; (iii) root crop cultivars well adapted to fire (including fire tolerant manioc, sweet potatoes, yams, Marantaceae); (iv) systematic, differential, periodic burning within the agricul tural field for the entire production sequence; (v) mulching; (vi) nutrient additions; (vii) agricultural structure; and (viii) manipulated fallows.

Informants indicate that concentric zones facilitate the creation or manipula tion of in-field microvariability that ‘fine tunes’ soil nutrients to crop demands.

Considering the dominant physical and chemical properties of the regional soils, slight lateral changes in those properties can be strongly reflected in the growth

188 Kayapó land management and productivity of most annual and biennial crops. Concentric field architecture permits the use of specific soil nutrient management techniques in a controlled manner. For example, the frequent use of in-field burning throughout the agricul tural cycle requires that particular crops be separated from others to control nutrient additions, and to minimize fire damage. Mulch application, specific nutrient additions and soil aeration can be practised more effectively when crops are spatially segregated.

Comparing land uses in eastern Amazon

The dominant forms of land use in the Amazon are pasture and short-cycle agri culture which are notorious for their lack of sustainability and low rates of economic return (Browder 1988a; Moran 1981a; Hecht 1985; Hecht and Schwartzman 1988; Hecht

et al

. 1988; Fearnside 1980, 1986). The features of Kayapó agriculture are outlined and compared with these two other land uses in Table 16.3. There are significant structural differences in these production sys tems, including: field pattern; crop species diversity; total time in production; use of arboreal species; and harvest patterns. Table 16.3 demonstrates a gradient of management intensity, ecological complexity and declining labour allocation per

Table 16.3

Comparison of the structure of Kayapó, colonist and livestock production systems Clearing Clearing size Planting patterns Cropping zonation Continuous cropping Continuous planting Relay cropping Monocropping Intercropping Polyvarietal crops Arboreal species Cultivated species in field Harvest pattern Soil conservation practices Main crops Labour


Slash and burn About 1 ha Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes 10–12 Continuous Yes Sweet potato, yams, manioc, maize,


, beans, squash 4 md/ha


Slash and burn 2–5 ha Rarely Sometimes Rarely Yes Often Sometimes Rarely Rarely 5–10 Pulsed Rarely Rice, manioc 25 md/ha


Slash and burn Up to 20,000 ha No Yes No No Usually No No Rarely 1–5 Pulsed Rarely Grasses 4.5 md/ha

Indigenous soil management in the Latin American tropics 189

Table 16.4

Production of proteins per hectare of Kayapó, colonist and livestock systems over time

Production system


Five years Ten years

Production of all crops 1 (kg/ha) Protein (kg/ha) 2 61,750 1,248 84,050 1,704


Production of all crops 3 Protein (kg/ha) 21,800 602 N/A N/A


Production (kg/ha) Protein 2, 4 350 105 (63) 700 210 (126) Notes: 1 Estimates based on in-field measurement, area/harvest weights, household harvests, and informant estimates.The crops here include sweet potato, yam, manioc, plantains and bananas, maize, beans, squash, peanuts. Many other minor crops such as


and other tubers, papayas, watermelons, peppers, mangoes, pineapples, are not in the calculation.

2 Protein estimates derived from Wu Leung (1961), Dufour (1988), USDA (1981).

3 Based on average yields of rice, maize and manioc in colonist agriculture in Amazonia.

4 Assumes that virtually the entire animal, including the hide, is consumed. Protein is estimated at roughly 30 per cent of total body weight. If the animal is dressed out, it yields about 60 per cent of its liveweight.This protein yield is indicated in parentheses.

hectare. Because the systems are so different, the production comparison in Table 16.4 focuses on production yields and proteins.

The edible harvest and protein yields for each of the land uses are outlined in Table 16.4 for periods of five and ten years.

2 The Kayapó yields per hectare over five years are roughly 200 per cent higher than colonist systems, and 175 times that of livestock. Colonist agriculture rarely continues beyond five years, hence there is no comparison between the Kayapó and colonist in the ten-year period.

However, animal production is a mere 700 kilos of animal to more than 84 tonnes of Kayapó product.

The data follow the same trends when protein production is analysed. Kayapó protein yields from vegetable sources are roughly double those of colonists, and more than 10 times the protein production for the entire animal. The protein per 100 grams of beef is roughly 30 grams (USDA 1981). If the dressed-out animal (that is, one with hide, bones and offal removed, usually about 40 per cent of live animal weight) is used as the basis of the analysis, the kilos of pure protein pro duced over five years are a scandalous 63 kilos/per hectare. In ten years, using these calculations 1 hectare of pasture has produced less than a tonne of meat, and slightly more than 100 kilos of protein, or roughly five per cent of the protein gen-

190 Kayapó land management erated by the Kayapó system. Incidentally, Kayapó gardens in their later phases become habitat for animals such as agouti, peccaries and deer, and thus producers of animal protein during the fallow (Redford and Richards 1987). This protein production is not taken into account in this study.

The Kayapó system is based on root crops, especially sweet potatoes which are very productive in the tropics. The sheer volume of production assures carbohy drate adequacy and, with minor supplements, protein sufficiency. While these crops are often reviled for their low protein contents (cf. Gross 1975), nutritional studies by Huang (1983) on adult Yami tribesmen show that diets were nutrition ally adequate when subjects ate 2.5 kilos of sweet potatoes a day. Several studies in New Guinea show that protein content varies significantly between cultivars (Hayward and Nakikus 1981), and that intestinal flora of some groups of New Guinean sweet potato eaters may have been able to fix nitrogen (cited in Huang and Lee 1979).

Soil effects

The next issue is what impact this high production has on soil properties compared with colonist and livestock systems. Soil samples were taken on sites with similar soil characteristics, in this case dystrophic paleudalfs. Adjacent forest sites were used as ‘controls’ and samples were collected from areas in the first, fifth and tenth years of production. Sampling areas were roughly 1 hectare in size, and the sam ples were collected randomly. Ten samples were taken per ‘treatment’.

Table 16.5 shows several clear trends. First, pH tends to improve with burn ing, and this effect persists over time in all the systems, mainly as the result of decomposition of larger tree boles. In the Kayapó case, a higher pH is main tained for a longer time, probably due to the continual in-field burning, cooking within the fields themselves, and importing wood for cooking fires. Nitrogen levels are very low in all three systems, but the importance of low nitrogen is less pronounced in Kayapó agriculture because of its emphasis on root crops rather than grains for most of the production cycle. Rice requires about 23 kilos of nitrogen per tonne, while manioc and sweet potato remove 3.7 and 0.3 kilos per tonne respectively, and require little nitrogen for good production (Sanchez 1976). Phosphorous levels are low in all the soils but Kayapó production main tains higher levels of P over time. Potassium is a very labile element, easily leached in tropical conditions, and one which is closely associated with produc tivity in root crops like manioc and sweet potatoes. The use of high K mulches such as


leaves, crop residues and ashes from cooking fires (see Chapter 15, page 173) maintains high K levels to compensate for the production losses. This element stays at levels equal to the first year of production because of these practices. Kayapó soil management techniques also ensure that calcium and magnesium levels are maintained over time in spite of the crop off-take.

Kayapó land management produces more product and protein at less environ mental cost than the livestock or colonist systems. While the labour demands are

Indigenous soil management in the Latin American tropics 191

Table 16.5

Changes in soil fertility elements in Kayapó, colonist and livestock systems

Forest Year One Year Five Year Ten


pH N (per cent) P (ppm) K* Ca* Mg*


pH N (per cent) P (ppm) K* Ca* Mg*


pH N (per cent) P (ppm) K* Ca* Mg* 4.7




























































N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 5.0






*milli-equivalents/100 gm.

Data derived from soil samples taken at Gorotire (Kayapó), Nixdorf cattle ranch near Redenção (livestock), and colonist agriculture of squatters on the Nixdorf Ranch. Colonist and livestock agri culture sampled in 1982.

greater in this system, it does assure the reproduction and subsistence of tropical forest. Tropical soils are difficult, not impossible to manage. The Kayapó have much to teach us about how this can be done.


This chapter emphasizes two main points. First, indigenous knowledge systems, and the agriculture on which they are based, are rich in management techniques for nutrient-poor tropical soils. Second, these systems are better producers of calories and proteins than any of the alternatives without damaging the resource base.

The real question becomes, why do some production systems prevail over oth ers? The livestock story has been the subject of a spate of recent articles (Browder

192 Kayapó land management 1988b; Hecht 1982b, 1985; Hecht

et al

. 1988; Fearnside 1986; Buschbacker 1986), and colonist migrations are the central feature of the Amazon’s twentieth century history. These land uses and the deforestation associated with them are driven by an array of social and economic factors including

inter alia

government policy, credit incentives, land speculation and rural violence. The political economies of accumulation and subsistence associated with the new occupation of the Amazon drive the destructive and low productivity patterns that we see.

These patterns are related to processes that have very little to do with the question of technological adequacy, in spite of the discourse that posits production failure and land degradation as the central driving force behind deforestation. For this reason, neither the Yurimaguas nor indigenous models will be very effective at altering this particular deforestation process.

This does not make exploration of sustainable management systems a trivial exercise. Answers to technological questions about land management in the Amazon could increase production or at least maintain it longer. However, hun dreds of millions of dollars have been funnelled into surveys and experiments which have not made colonists’ agriculture more stable, or livestock more pro ductive. At the same time, the total budget for exploring indigenous Amazonian soil management which is based on locally available inputs, and whose principles are straightforward, cannot have exceeded $40,000. Why this critical source of knowledge has been systematically ignored requires explanations, few of which have to do with the welfare of Amazonian populations.

Finally, the populations which have created the cultivars and sustainable land resource management techniques are under extraordinary pressures. Our society pays for libraries, universities and research facilities of all types. It should be pre pared to protect the producers of the sustainable Amazon land use systems and the cultures that support them. No investment in R and D is likely to have greater return.

Chapter 17

The keepers of the forest 1

Refined over millennia, Amazon Indian agriculture preserves the soils and the ecosystem. But who will preserve the Indians?

I remember my first flight to the remote Kayapó Indian village of Gorotire: six hours in a rumbling old DC-3, seemingly endless green forest and savanna, occa sional clearings for small huts and fields. The overwhelming feeling was of great isolation.

But after only a few weeks in the Kayapó village, I began to realize that the sense of isolation was only an illusion. Just over the ridge was a fazenda (planta tion) of nearly 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) in the process of being stripped of its native vegetation and planted in non-native pasture grasses and crops. Vast clouds of smoke, literally obscuring the sun, rose from the east where the forest was being cleared and timbers burned to make way for mechanized farming. When the wind direction was right, we could even hear the heavy rumble of huge tractors and bulldozers gnawing away at timber and land.

The Amazon Basin is being stripped of its trees in part because of a widely held belief that, while the forests offer lumber and a few useful commodities like guarana and cacao, they offer no native plants suitable for large-scale production, and little information useful for ‘advanced’ Western agriculture.

Yet how do we know that? Current aboriginal cultures are small in number and have only limited agricultural productivity, but centuries ago civilizations in the millions flourished from the mouth of the Amazon deep into the interior, and sweeping even to the foot of the Andes. Because great epidemics of European dis eases rapidly swept away indigenous peoples and their cultures, only sketchy records and archaeological data are left to suggest the vastness of aboriginal pop ulations and their ecological adaptation.

We know very little even of the agricultural systems of the few indigenous peoples who have survived into our modern scientific era. But what we are begin ning to realize is that indigenous agriculture did not just spring up overnight across the Americas, but evolved over millennia of experimentation and refine ment. We have much to learn from the native Americans’ familiarity with soils, plants and ecological systems, if only we take the Indians seriously.

194 Kayapó land management

Fitting the crop to the soil

Although the Kayapó remain nomads for at least part of the year, they are certainly more stationary today than in earlier times and their agriculture has altered percep tibly as a result. While the older Kayapó recall when hunting and gathering were of much greater importance, modern Kayapó rely more extensively on their gardens.

The soils along the Rio Fresco, which are mostly products of weathered basalt, are fertile, at least in comparison to most Amazonian soils. The Kayapó recognize three major soil types:


(black soils),


(red soils) and


(sandy soils).

Specific types of trees and vegetation are associated with each major soil type, and the Indians plant crops according to which do best in a particular soil. Kayapó seeking to stake out a site for cultivation make an effort to select an area that includes all soil types and consequently will support a wide variety of vegetation.

The Kayapó, like other groups in the Brazilian Amazon Basin, plant maize (corn), beans and squash, along with various starchy root crops like manioc (cas sava), taro, yams and sweet potatoes. Other important plants are also grown, such as tobacco, urucu (

Bixa orellana

), cotton, melons and mamão (papaya). A wide variety of bananas always seem to complement these crops.

Kayapó fields average 0.8 hectares, although within a matrilaterally extended household, sisters may choose contiguous sites, producing a combined forest clearing of two, three or more acres.

The men begin to prepare the fields by felling large trees, which carry to the earth in their thunderous crashes myriad smaller trees and vines. Fields are tradi tionally circular in shape and since tree felling begins from the centre of the field site and radiates outward, debris also radiates outward like spokes of a wheel. The bulk of the forest canopy biomass thus ends up near the perimeter of the circle, with corridors of relatively open areas lying between the tangled masses of tree stumps.

Burning in forests

Indigenous agriculture in the American tropics is called ‘slash and burn’ agricul ture, reflecting the manner in which natives slash the trees and underbrush to carve out a field site, and later burn the dried remains to clear the way for plant ing. It is also called ‘shifting’ agriculture because new field sites are cleared annually and newly planted crops shifted to them.

The Kayapó plant in various stages and actually plant a portion of their first crops before they burn their fields. Approximately one-fourth of the root crops (yams, sweet potatoes, taro and manioc) are planted in the open corridors left after the forest is cleared. The young cultigens are already rooted and the manioc is sometimes ankle high before burning occurs.

The Kayapó cut the forest in the middle of the six-month dry season, April to September, which leaves plenty of time for the trees and brush to dry thoroughly

The keepers of the forest 195 before burning. The Kayapó study cloud formations to time their burns carefully, which are begun just before the onset of the season’s rains.

Burning is carefully managed and not a haphazard event. Tribal elders agree upon an appropriate day when winds are minimal and the fields will burn thor oughly but not too quickly. The men begin burning the radiating piles of dried debris in a counter-clockwise fashion. When one pile is nearly consumed by fire, a second is begun.

Burning of a single plot may take most of the day – this protracted burn minimizes the heat produced so that root crops already planted will lose their new greenery but not the viability of their underground root systems. Ash from the burned plant mate rial provides essential nutrients, which can be absorbed by the sprouting crops when the rains begin. These pre-burn crops have the additional advantage of having a head start on weeds, which also flourish on the newly cleared fields.

The crops’ roots protect the fragile tropical soil. In four to six days, after the fire has subsided and the ground has completely cooled, the Kayapó women plant the remainder of their root crops.

The Kayapó plant to make best use of the nutrients made available by the burn.

For example, papaya, bananas, cotton, urucu and tobacco, which require a high quantity of nutrients, are planted on the outer margins of the field, where the ash and nutrient concentrations are highest.

Kayapó fields are left directly exposed to the elements for only a short time.

Maize and manioc, followed by bean, potato and yam vines, shelter the clayey soils from direct exposure to sun and heavy tropical rains.

One or two weeks after the burn, Kayapó men return to the fields to gather up unburned sticks and limbs. These are stacked in piles in various parts of the field and set afire a second time. In the new piles of ash that result, the rest of the high nutrient-requiring plants like beans, squash and melons are planted.

The second planting is one means by which the Kayapó stagger maturation times, and extend the harvest period. The use of varying soil types also causes variations in ripening times.

Productive old fields

The common assumption that Kayapó slash-and-burn fields are abandoned after a few years’ harvests is incorrect. Cultivated fields furnish produce for two to three years and are then left to return to forest for fallow, but fallowing does not mean that the fields are abandoned. Although the untrained eye sees only the growth of the secondary forest vegetation, the Indian continues to reap an ongoing harvest.

A careful examination of ‘old’ fields, those that are over three years old, shows that fields continue to yield edible produce for years after planting has ended.

Sweet potato and yam, for example, bear in fields four to five years old. Bananas, urucu, and domesticated varieties of a large vine-like plant called kupa (


sp.) commonly continue to bear edible leaves and stalks for 8–12 years, and some 30–40-year-old fields still yield edible kupa.

196 Kayapó land management In fact, the Kayapó use old fields to attract plants that colonize naturally in the reforestation sequence, thus establishing such plants in areas convenient for the Kayapó to use. Many of the spontaneously colonizing plants have important med icinal value to the Kayapó, who have a well-developed knowledge of herbal medicine. Numerous plants also offer small seeds, berries and roots for food.

While some plants offer direct benefits, others function indirectly. Several of the colonizing plants bear fruits that make excellent fish bait; others attract ani mals or useful birds. A leguminous tree that shoots up in fields after five years or so produces berries that attract hundreds of small birds. Young boys climb into the branches of this tree, construct a hunting blind of palm leaves, and wait poised for the kill of any bird that comes to feast on the berries. A single little boy may kill five or six small birds in a day. This is not just play, for little boys must fend for themselves, and they are mostly self-sufficient in protein intake by the age of six.

Abandoned fields as ‘game preserves’

Another of the major misconceptions about slash-and-burn agriculture is that fields are abandoned to fallow after one or two years because the soil loses its fer tility, and weeds and insect pests begin to take over. Loss of fertility of the soil, however, is not the factor that determines that agriculture takes a shifting pattern.

Soil analyses show that the soils are not exhausted after two or even three years. Furthermore, soils are totally rejuvenated after 10–12 years of fallow. Yet no Kayapó field in Gorotire is replanted in less than 15–20 years. Kayapó field plots in most cases are scattered three to four hours’ journey away from the vil lage, although suitable, adequately fallowed, old plots might be only 15–20 minutes away. The Kayapó ordinarily seek to minimize effort and work so that this seems to be a great inconsistency in their cultural pattern.

The Kayapó recognize that the high forest is relatively sparse in animal life, while forest clearings furnish habitat for smaller leafy and bushy plants that attract wildlife. They know that leaving ‘abandoned’ fields to the natural refor estation sequence artificially creates domains that stimulate wildlife populations.

They also know that the more widely their ‘abandoned’ fields are dispersed, the greater the area available to attract game – and the easier the hunting. Dispersed fields also naturally limit viral, fungal and insect crop pests.

This sensitivity to forest succession explains why the Kayapó are willing to let close-by old fields remain fallow. Although it might be easier to replant nearby fields more frequently, it would just mean having to go further away to hunt for game and for the essential gathered products from the secondary forest.

‘Nomadic agriculture’

While today the Kayapó rely most heavily on their gardens, in the days before contact with Western ways (and well within the memory of many living tribes people) they depended more upon wild foods from forest and savanna. Journeys

The keepers of the forest 197 lasted six to eight months; no stored foods whatsoever were carried, and the entire tribe lived off plant products and wild game.

Although ‘settled’ for several decades now, the Kayapó have not deserted their semi-nomadic habits entirely. They spend several months each year in the brazil nut groves living in communal houses; go on frequent collecting and hunting trips; and before major festivals make two- or three-week treks to acquire cere monial game and feathers.

The Kayapó have never left everything on their journeys to chance, however, but have developed an interesting ‘nomadic agriculture’, which they continue to use today.

While routinely scavenging about the forest, the Indians gather dozens of plants, carry them back to the forest campsites or trails, and replant them in nat ural forest clearings. The plants include several types of wild manioc, three varieties of wild yams, a type of bush bean, and three or more wild varieties of kupa.

These ‘forest fields’ are always located near streams, which generally guaran tee a stand of trees. Even in the savanna, where patches of forest are often few and far between, there are areas where collected plants have been replanted to form food depots.

The Kayapó once maintained an extensive system of interlacing trails linking all their vast territory. Most of the ancient trails are now abandoned, but not all, and the Kayapó are still masters of the forest and savanna and travel considerable distances.

I once travelled for five days with four Kayapó men on long-abandoned trails to an ancient village site. Although the trails were overgrown and difficult to fol low, they had been used so much that in some places they were etched six inches into the hard earth. Each night we would stop at a stream in some spot flattened and hardened by years of use. The men would slip off into the forest and soon return with a variety of roots, tubers, stalks and fruits. Food was readily acquired even on parts of the trail known to have been abandoned 40 years before.

It was nearly two months after I began my life with the Kayapó that I realized that not all collected roots, seeds and cuttings ended up in stomachs. For example, a Kayapó would find it natural to replant a portion of what he had foraged near where he defecated. Plant nurture is so much a part of Indian nature that the details of such activities easily escape the ethnographer’s eye.

This peculiar inventory of semi-domesticated plants gives Kayapó subsistence its special nomadic agricultural twist. It is an extremely important natural strategy that is all but unknown to Western science.

New look at domestication

The Indians’ system of manipulating wild plant communities raises some intrigu ing questions for anthropologists, geographers and botanists. Perhaps the most far-reaching question concerns the origins of plant domestication.

198 Kayapó land management There are nearly as many theories on the subject of domestication as there are domesticated plants, but little data. The Kayapó are particularly intriguing because they were semi-nomadic in recent history, follow traditional slash-and burn agriculture, and use both wild plants in the forest fields and domesticated counterparts in the village fields.

The Kayapó way of life seems to suggest that plants once gathered from the forest by nomads and planted in forest fields were eventually adapted to more per manent human care. It implies a gradual development of semi-cultigens, a circumstance that only eventually made a sedentary existence possible. And it contradicts the common notion that the development of agriculture, or at least the intentional manipulation of plants and plant communities, emerged after a seden tary life style had already developed.

There is every evidence to support a belief that agriculture like that of the Kayapó was widespread throughout Amazonia, but unfortunately reliable data is sparse.

The Kayapó situation also raises questions about our current understanding of forest ‘carrying capacity’: how many people a given area of tropical forest can support. The availability of protein is considered the crucial factor limiting human populations. But calculations of protein availability are generally based on sketchy data that reflect only evident sources of food, like permanent or shifting fields, and fish and game. Yet the aboriginal Kayapó population was at least ten times its present size (perhaps reaching 10,000 individuals) and supported itself on semi-domesticates for one half to three quarters of the entire year. Westerners have been overlooking entirely a major system of ecological exploitation.

It is absolutely clear that the agriculture of the Kayapó is hardly that of a ‘mar ginal tribe’. The specialized burning and planting strategies of the Kayapó are sophisticated adaptations to the tropical ecological zones of the Xingu Basin, a complex symbiosis between man, cultigens, soils and pests.

In the still poorly understood world of Amazonia, the Indians are the experts.

Unfortunately, only a scattered handful of traditional indigenous cultures remain and they are disappearing with a rapidity that outruns even Western notions of change.

Agricultural model for the rain forest

The contrast between the Indians’ practices and those of the West are striking. In those areas in the Amazon where Western-style agriculture predominates, mecha nization requires that, for cost-efficiency, huge tracts of land be cleared. But the vast openings that are left exposed for months respond poorly to the destructive effects of sunlight and the compacting force of heavy rains.

Even after planting, the huge monocrop plots protect the soil only poorly and the driving rains carry away precious soil nutrients. Fields are so extensive that once an insect or virus pest makes its way into the single-host crop, the results are swiftly disastrous.

The keepers of the forest 199 The greatest tragedy, however, is that once the forest is cleared in such vast tracts and left exposed, there is little chance of rejuvenation. Even if there is for est close enough to furnish the plants needed for fallow and reforestation, the clay soils have already been turned into brick-like pavement, on which few colonizing plants can make headway. In short, in 10 to 15 years, what was once forest becomes desert. Large farm and ranch owners are forced to move on to virgin for est – field abandonment in a tragically true sense.

How the perceived national political need to develop Amazonia can be recon ciled with the ecological viability of the Basin and its native peoples is a very complex problem. Indeed, it is perhaps one of the major issues facing the world’s scientists and diplomats. Yet the most obvious answers are likely to be found in the simplest and most convenient place: in the people who have lived there for thousands of years.

Chapter 18

Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems: the case of the Kayapó Indians of the Brazilian Amazon 1 Introduction

Indigenous societies have been living in Amazonia for unknown millennia, during which time they developed their own strategies for management of forests and campo-cerrados. Serious investigation of indigenous ethnobiological/ ethnoecological knowledge is rare, but recent studies (Alcorn 1981a; Carneiro 1983; Denevan

et al

. 1984; Frechione 1981; Hames 1979, 1980; Kerr and Posey 1984; Parker

et al

. 1983; and others) show that indigenous knowledge of ecologi cal zones, natural resources, agriculture, aquaculture, forest and game management is far more sophisticated than previously assumed. Furthermore, this knowledge offers new models for development that are both ecologically and socially sound (Posey 1983e; Posey

et al

. 1984).

This chapter presents a general outline of management strategies of the Kayapó Indians of the Brazilian Amazon to illustrate how they utilize, conserve and even create tropical forest patches (


) in campo-cerrado. Secondary for est management is also important, employing Kayapó knowledge of conceptually similar ecological zones to concentrate transplanted (and possibly semi-domesti cated) and planted (principally domesticated) species close to population centres or areas of need. It becomes clear that the Kayapó view forest management as an integrated system of plant communities rather than individual species; likewise, manipulated wildlife and even semi-domesticated bees figure in the overall man agement strategies. The long-term management strategies of the Kayapó, which actually increase biological diversity, offer many fundamental principles that should guide development throughout the humid tropics along a path that is both ecologically and socially sound.

Management and use of campo-cerrado

Kayapó ecozones

Little is known of indigenous campo and cerrado management, although the eco logical diversity of these systems provides a wealth of natural resources for

Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems 201 ● ● ● ● ● Indians like the Kayapó (Posey 1984b). The Kayapó classify campo-cerrado (


) into a variety of folk ecological zones or ‘ecozones’. The term ‘ecozone’ is used in this chapter to refer to ecological zones recognized by indigenous peo ples, i.e. cognitive or emic categories (see Table 15.1, page 169). The Kayapó also recognize the following transitional types of campo-cerrado:

krã-nhinon ã kapôt

: campo at top of mountains

krã-nhi kratx ã kapôt

: campo at base of mountains

kapôt nô kà

: transition zones between savanna and forest

pô’ê kô

: cane breaks

pô’ê te

: very closed forest with cane.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Of specific interest is the Kayapó classification of forest ‘islands’ (


) that occur in campo-cerrado and are frequently managed and exploited by the Indians.

Typological classification is based on size, form and dominant species in the


, although full criteria have not yet been fully worked out. Principal


types are:

apêtê-nu apêt

: newly formed vegetative clumps : small, low vegetative patches

apêtê kryre apêtê ngri apê-ti

: larger forest patch, with small trees and shrubs : forest plot with some trees and large shrubs

apêtê (kumrenx) apêti poire apêti rhynh

: ‘real : oblong

apêtê apê-ti

’ with shade from tall trees : large forest islands with many tall trees (2+ ha) : long corridors of forest (for defence).

In the vicinity of Gorotire, a notable increase in the number of


forest patches/islands in the campo is apparently found in comparison to campo areas distant from the village. This is the direct effect of indigenous influence. Although cursory examination appears to show these


to be natural, closer scrutiny reveals that a sizeable percentage (as much as 75 per cent) is indeed manmade.

A preliminary study of


made with Dr Anthony Anderson (Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi) in November 1983 shows that of the 120 different plant species collected, only two were not considered useful by the Kayapó (see Appendix). It is equally astonishing that more than 75 per cent of the plants col lected in ten sampled forest ‘islands’ were actually claimed to have been planted by the Indians. This amazing fact requires that we rethink what has been previ ously considered ‘natural’ in campo-cerrado environments where there are indigenous populations. Even in areas where Indians have long since disappeared, the hand of human manipulation and management may still be evident.

The creation and uses of


Creation of


in existing


is in itself an interesting process. Compost heaps are prepared from sticks, limbs and leaves. These are allowed to rot, then are

202 Kayapó land management beaten with sticks to produce a mulch which is subsequently taken to a selected spot in the campo and piled onto the ground. Slight depressions in the surface are usually sought out because they are more likely to retain moisture. These depres sions are filled with the mulch, which is mixed with soil from the mounds of a termite called




), and smashed up bits of the nest of an ant called

mrum kudjà



sp.). Living ants and termites are included in the mix ture. The resulting mounds of earth, called


are generally one to two metres in diameter and 50 to 60 centimetres deep. The


are usually formed in August and September, just before the first rains of the wet season, and are then nurtured by the Indians as they pass along the savanna trails to their gar dens (


). Over the years, the


‘grow’ into large


(see Figure 18.1, page 210). How long this process requires is still under study. Perhaps as much as one hectare per ten years is possible since there are


of four hectares in Gorotire, which is known to have been permanently inhabited for at least 40 years. This figure may be high, however, because Gorotire was an ancient campsite long before it became a permanent village.

The Kayapó created


for a variety of reasons. Until fairly recent times, they were still at war with other Kayapó and non-Kayapó groups (principally Shavante, Carajas, Tapirapé and Brazilian). Their post-contact history seemed to be punctuated daily by wars, raids and disease epidemics. The Kayapó prefer vil lage sites in campos:


is considered to be ‘healthier’ than forest (

) because there are fewer diseases. Campo villages, however, are hard to hide and defend.


are utilized as disaster shelters in cases of raids or epidemics when it is safer temporarily to abandon the village. The ideal


, therefore, is one in which all the necessities of life are close at hand to afford self-sufficiency to fam ilies dispersed from their homes during times of emergency. Since epidemics and periods of warfare could be prolonged,


are a valuable resource and security to the Gorotire family.


have been observed being used as refuges during the threat of a measles epidemic as recently as April 1983.

Plants found in Gorotire


are used as food (tubers, roots, fruits, nuts), medicines (for fevers, bleeding, diarrhoea, body aches, dizziness, headaches, toothaches, abortives, and anti-conceptuals), materials for daily life (for baskets, cords, needles to open wounds, bow and arrow wood, insect repellents), firewood, ceremonial items (wrist bands, ear spools, lip plugs), body paint, poisons, shade, and leaves for containers and wrappings. Certain trees (e.g.

Alibertia edulis


Annona crassiflora


Byrsonima crassifolia


Caryocar villosum


Solanum pan iculatum

) are even planted to attract game and birds. Palms (such as

Astrocaryum tucuma


Mauritia vinifera


Maximiliana regia


Oenocarpus distichus


Orbignya martiana

) figure prominently in the inventory because of the variety of uses they afford. Shade trees are also highly valued, and even vines that produce drinkable water are transplanted in




also serve as barriers, parapets and lines of defence for the village.

Warriors could hide in the bush, await their enemies, and then surprise them from their verdant palisades.

Apêti poire


apêti rhynh

are specifically used

Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems 203 for these purposes.

Apêti poire

are manmade forest corridors formed by uniting a chain of



In peace time,


are used as places of rest, to pass the hottest time of the day, to paint bodies of relatives with urucu (

Bixa orellana

) or genipapo (

Genipa americana

), or for supervised play for children. They are also a favoured spot for sexual intercourse. Perhaps because of the latter reason, combined with the con centration of valuable resources in the


, children are discouraged from entering alone into these forest patches. They are told that ghosts (


) hide there and that balls of light of powerful shamans (

wayanga karõn

) appear there in the night. These stories serve to protect the


and are enhanced and perpetu ated by the shamans, who frequently have their medicinal gardens hidden in large



Fire is important in the management of


, but contrary to existing theory, the Kayapó use fire to protect and encourage the forest patches rather than to cre ate larger campos. Campos (


) in range of Gorotire are burned annually. The Indians say the fires produce beautiful effects in the night skies (

kàiwka metx



) and have practical effects: they decrease the population of snakes and scorpions, and prevent excessive growth of the grasses and thorny vines that make walking and hunting in


difficult. Burning is not random. The time for burning is decided by the old people (


) and announced by the chiefs (


). Burning occurs before the ‘birth’ of the August moon (

muturwa katôrô nu

) and before the buds of the piquí tree (

Caryocar villosum

) are too developed. If burning occurs after this time, the highly prized fruit of the piquí (


) will not be abundant. Not all


are burned on the same day, nor even dur ing the same week. When selected


are designated to be burned, the ‘owners’ of the


go out to cut dried grasses and shrubs around their


to produce a fire barrier. They then set the fires and await with branches of palms and banana braba (

Ravenala guyanensis

) to beat out any flames that come too close.

Not all


, however, are protected from fire in this manner, The Indians rec ognize a group of plants that are actually stimulated by burning. Fire stimulates the fruiting or leaf production of some plants, and these plants are said to ‘like’ fire (

xêt okin

) and produce more fruit as a result. Burning of grasslands also tends to make the blooming of most fruit trees more uniform, thereby facilitating polli nation. And, following a burn, grasses produce new growth, which is succulent and attractive to game animals. Only


that have an abundance of fire-liking trees – such as

Byrsonima crassifolia


Astrocaryum tucuma

and two species of


– have their undergrowth burned.



management practice is that of slashing the old leaves of palm trees throughout the year. The Indians say this causes them to have stronger stalks and better leaf growth. Palms are among the first species to be planted to enlarge forest islands.


sp. ants (

mrum kudjà

) are not only used to create soil for the


, but are also highly prized for their abilities to repel saúva leaf-cutting ants (




). The


has a pungent smell that distinguishes it to the

204 Kayapó land management Kayapó, and is apparently the same smell responsible for repelling the saúva.

Colonies of the

mrum kudjà

are broken into small pieces and carried to bits of forests where no colony exists. This transplanted colony will then begin to repli cate and spread their natural protection against leaf-cutter ants.

A sophisticated agriculture

Management of campo and cerrado is more complicated than we yet understand.

For one thing, it is impossible to ascertain the true extent of Indian influence in either forest or campo. Today’s relatively small Kayapó villages are only remnants of ancient villages that were once linked by sizeable and extensive trails (see Chapter 8). Old villages and campsites dot the vast area between the Araguaia and Tapajós Rivers that was the Kayapó domain.

It is probable, moreover, that many tribes throughout Brazil once practised campo and cerrado management. Even in areas where Indians have disappeared, botanical evidence of human manipulation and management is still discernible, and we hope that further research will uncover information on the extent of man agement practices. But even the preliminary data we possess make it obvious that our ideas must be re-evaluated to admit the possibility that aboriginal manage ment and manipulation of these ecosystems have been widespread.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of these new data is the implication for refor estation. The Indian example not only gives us new ideas about how to build forests from scratch, but also how to manage successfully what has been consid ered to be infertile campo and cerrado.

One must also think of how artificial are our own categories and how they have limited our own investigation of human manipulation of nature. For example, while we distinguish between ‘campo’ and ‘forest’, the Indians recognize the many different proportions, types and configurations of campo-cerrado-forest.

And while our categories include such opposing entities as ‘domesticated’ and ‘wild’, to the Indians manmade


are mirrors of forest openings. For example, whilst gallery forests and swampy forests close to Gorotire were cleared to decrease mosquitoes and lower the risk of malaria, nearby, but in another direc tion, forest islands were being formed in campo for protection and the production of useful materials. Thus at the same time clearings were being formed in forests and forests were being created in campos.

Who can say that plants so useful to the Kayapó, so carefully selected, trans planted and nurtured for countless centuries, are truly wild? In campo and cerrado environments, much of the ‘natural’ flora has in fact been planted.

It is time for us to discard our neat categories. We must try to generate new hypotheses, those based on the knowledge, ideas and practices of people who have lived for millennia in the diverse ecozones of Amazonia.

A study of planting sequences and the process of maturation of


is forth coming, but with available data it is obvious that our ideas of ‘natural’ campo-cerrado and forest must be re-evaluated with an eye toward the possibility

Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems 205 of widespread aboriginal management and manipulation of these ecosystems.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the new data is the implication for reforesta tion. The Indian example not only provides new ideas about how to build forests ‘from scratch’, but also how to manage successfully what has been considered to be infertile campo-cerrado.

Management and use of secondary forest

‘Anything-but-abandoned fields’

Contrary to persistent beliefs about indigenous slash and burn agriculture, fields are not abandoned after a few years from initial clearing and planting. Recent studies show that, on the contrary, old fields offer an important concentration of highly diverse natural resources long after primary cultivars have disappeared (Carneiro 1961; Alcorn 1981a; Denevan

et al

. 1984).

Kayapó ‘new fields’ (

puru nu

) peak in production of principal domesticated crops in two or three years but continue to bear produce for many years; e.g. sweet potatoes for four to five years, yams and taro for five to six years, manioc for four to six years, and papaya for five or more years. Some banana varieties continue to bear fruit for 15 to 20 years, urucu (

Bixa orellana

) for 25 years, and kupa (

Cissus gongylodes

) for 40 years. The Kayapó consistently revisit old fields seeking these lingering riches.

Fields take on new life as plants in the natural reforestation sequence begin to appear in maturing fields (


). These plants soon constitute a type of forest called


(mature old fields) and provide a wide range of useful products, includ ing food and medicine, fish and bird baits, thatch, packaging, paints, oils, insect repellents, construction materials, fibres for ropes and cords, body cleansers, and products for craft production – to name but a few.

Old fields are perhaps most important for their concentrations of medicinal plants. Ninety-four per cent of the 368 plants collected from




were of medicinal significance.

Old fields also attract wildlife to their abundant, low, leafy plants (Linares 1976; Hames 1979). High forests, in contrast, are sparse in game. Intentional dis persal of old fields by Indians and management of them by systematic hunting extends the human influence over the forest by providing, in effect, large ‘game farms’ near human population concentrations. A delicate balance is necessary to manage these old fields. Game populations that are too dense can cause severe damage to crops; thus hunting provides meat for food while protecting new fields from excessive destruction. In the Kayapó division of labour, the women work in the fields while their husbands hunt in the surrounding forests.

Game animals are particularly attracted to fruit trees planted by the Kayapó in new and old fields, as well as along trails (see Table 18.2, page 214).

Tree plantings illustrate long-term planning and forest management since many of the trees require many years to bear fruit;

castanha do Pará

(brazil nut),

206 Kayapó land management for example, does not produce its first nuts for 20 years. Fruit and nut-producing trees are also planted to attract birds, and even fish during high water river and


cycles. Most of these trees also provide food important in human subsis tence. Thus old fields should perhaps be called ‘game-farm orchards’ to emphasize their diverse resources (Smith 1977; Posey

et al

. 1984).

Semi- and non-domesticated resources in manipulated old fields

Old fields serve as important repositories of ‘semi-domesticated’ or manipulated plants. The term ‘semi-domesticate’ is used to indicate plants that are intention ally manipulated by the Indians, who knowingly modify the plant’s habitat to stimulate growth.

2 The genetic consequences of this process are still unknown but merit serious study (Kerr and Posey 1984). Relatively open forests are given special names (




) and are known refuges for light-loving plants that also grow well in old fields.

Gathering trips to primary and secondary forests are frequently made to collect appropriate plants for transplanting into old fields.

The Kayapó also see forest areas disturbed by either natural or manmade events as habitats that approximate field clearings. Forest openings (


) caused by trees that have fallen through natural processes (old age and storms) or that have been felled by Indians to raid bee hives create microenvironmental con ditions similar to those of field clearings (Posey 1984a). Likewise, openings due to abandoned camp and village sites, or wide swaths left by trails, are also reserves for plants that thrive in old fields. These areas are visited on gathering trips with the goal of transplanting forest plants to old fields or


, thereby making needed forest products more readily available.


The Kayapó custom of transplanting is only part of a much broader system that has been described (Posey 1982a, 1983e) as ‘nomadic agriculture’ and was undoubtedly once widespread in Amazonian tribes. Until recently, Kayapó groups travelled extensively in the vast areas between the east–west boundaries of the Tocantins and Araguaia Rivers and the north–south limits of the Planalto and the Amazon River. Today the Kayapó still carry out several month-long treks per year, although much of the old network of trails and campsites is now abandoned.

Food and utensils, because of their bulk and weight, are not carried out by the Indians on treks. Food gathering for 150–200 people cannot, however, be left solely to chance. Gathered plants are transplanted into concentrated spots near trails and campsites to produce ‘forest fields’ that make readily available to future passers-by the necessities of life, including: food, cleansing agents, hair and body oils, insect repellents, leaves for cooking, vines that supply drinkable water, house construction materials, and especially medicinals.

Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems 207 Forest-fields intentionally replicate naturally occurring ‘resource islands’ (

), which are areas where specific concentrations of useful plants are found. These resource islands include: brazil nut groves, fruit tree stands, palmito and nut sources, cane breaks, etc.

Dependency on naturally occurring ‘resource islands’ and their manmade ‘for est-field’ counterparts allow Kayapó groups to travel months at a time and great distances without need of domesticated garden produce. Today only remnants of this once vast system remain.

Trailside plantings

In addition to the ‘forest-fields’ near campsites and trails, the sides of trails (

pry kôt

) themselves are planting zones for the Kayapó. It is not uncommon to find trails composed of four-metre-wide cleared strips of forest. It is hard to estimate the extensiveness of aboriginal trails that interconnected distant Kayapó villages; a conservative estimate of existing trails associated with Gorotire (one of 11 modern Kayapó villages) yields 500 kilometres of trails that average 2.5 metres wide. Trailsides are planted with numerous varieties of yams, sweet potatoes, Marantaceae,


, Zingiberaceae, Araceae, and other as yet unidentified edible tubers. Hundreds of medicinal plants and fruit trees also increase the diversity of the planted flora.

In a survey of a three-kilometre trail leading from Gorotire to a nearby garden, the following were observed: (i) 185 planted trees representing at least 15 differ ent species; (ii) approximately 1,500 medicinal plants of an undetermined number of species; and (iii) approximately 5,500 food-producing plants of an undeter mined number of species.

The immediate one- to four-metre-wide swath provided by trail clearing is not the entire effective distance of human activity. An additional factor is the distance away from the trail that the Kayapó choose for defecation/urination. I have mea sured the average distance, a rather culturally fixed proxemic unit, at five metres (or 14 metres in width, considering both sides of the trail and the trail itself).

While squatting to defecate the Kayapó often plant tubers, seeds or nuts they have collected during the day and stored in a fibre pouch or bag. This activity, combined with the natural process of seed transportation through faecal material, makes the overall distance near trails under human influence even more extensive and significant. The effect is further accentuated by the age of the trails: some are uncounted centuries old.

Plantations in forest openings

For the Kayapó, openings in the primary forest are called


and are seen as natural prototypes for gardens. As mentioned, there are two types of


: (i) openings caused by trees or limbs that fall due to old age or storms; and (ii) open ings that are manmade by felling large trees to take honey from bees (Posey

208 Kayapó land management 1983b). Both types of forest openings create new microhabitats and planting zones due to light reaching the forest floor and creating conditions similar to those of garden plots. The idea for planting gardens may have come from the Indians’ study and use of


or may be a logical extension of their manage ment of such forest openings.


are used to transplant domesticates and semi-domesticates like vari eties of manioc, taro, kupa, yams, sweet potatoes, beans and arrowroot. These thrive in such habitats and according to Kayapó agriculturalists, their productivity is significantly increased as the result of this transplantation.

Hill gardens

Another form of agriculture that is related to


plantations is the

krãi kam puru

or ‘hill garden’. Tuberous plants, like Zingiberaceae, Araceae and Marantaceae varieties, are planted in these well-drained, hillside plots. These fields are principally reserved as food sources in case of floods or crop disasters, and are considered as very valuable plant ‘banks’ or reserves. Hill gardens are exclusively kept by old women (


) under the direction of the Kayapó female chief (

m˜enire nhõ m˜eb˜enjadw`yra

), the highest ranking female authority. To form the plantations, old fields of eight to ten years of fallow are cleared of under brush. Pieces of tuber stock are then planted in shallow holes in fertile pockets of soil when the new rains have soaked the soils in September. Little care, other than cutting back of competing vegetation, is required to maintain these fields. Harvest occurs at the onset of the dry season (June), although representative plants are always left behind to preserve the tuber ‘bank’ (reserve).

Plant communities and microzonal planting

Another interesting aspect of Kayapó agriculture is based upon management of plant communities associated with bananas. As banana trees grow in maturing fields, they produce shading and modify soil conditions that produce a special ized microenvironment. The Kayapó know approximately two dozen varieties of edible tubers and numerous medicinal plants that thrive under these conditions and are planted in the banana plantation (


). These plants are called ‘com panions of the banana’ (


) and continue to grow together with the banana until the height of the secondary forest is no longer conducive to the growth of the plant community. When this occurs, shoots of old bananas are trans ferred to new fields, while the ‘companions’ are transplanted to already established plantations of bananas in other maturing fields.

This illustrates not only how Indians exploit the properties of fields in transi tion between new and old (




) but also shows how microenvironmental planting zones are created to modify effects of secondary forest growth. Equally significant is the indigenous conceptualization of plant communities, rather than individual species, as the basis for ecological management. Other plant compan-

Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems 209 ions under investigation by the authors for future publication are papaya, genipap, and urucu, all of which are viewed as foci of other managed plant communities and produce their own unique microzones for planting.

Quintal management

‘Quintal’ is a Portuguese word that describes areas adjacent to homes that are gen erally planted with useful or decorative plants. The idea is more ancient than the European introduction, since the Kayapó too rely on areas near their homes (

ki krê bum

) to grow useful plants. A partial

ki krê bum

survey has produced 86 species (estimate based on tentative identification) of food plants and dozens of additional medicinal plants.

The practice of medicine is highly elaborated for the Kayapó. Almost every household has its complement of common medicinal plants, many of which are domesticates or semi-domesticates. Shamans (


) specialize in different disease treatments, each of which requires specific plants. Dozens of ‘medicine knowers’ (

pidjà mari

) also effect minor cures with their own array of medicinals.

Medicinal plants are often kept in secret forest plantations since their use forms part of the private knowledge of the curer; others are overtly grown in the quintal and only their use is secret. Thus each quintal reflects the medicinal knowledge and specialization (or lack thereof) of its owner.

A major result of quintal management is the formation of topsoil. Some of the richest and most productive soils in Amazonia are those called ‘terra preta dos índios’, produced by Indian manipulation of generally poor Amazonian soils (Smith 1980).


(‘rock gardens’)

One of the most unusual ecozones manipulated by the Kayapó is the


, which is a basaltic outcropping transformed into a special ‘rock garden’. These outcroppings frequently occur in the middle of forests. The area of exposed rock creates open spaces within the forest that become hot and dry when heated by the tropical sun. Environmental conditions in parts of


resemble those of campo-cerrado (


), yet their margins are shaded by the encompassing forest, and water seepage is common from aquifer cracks. Thus a variety of microcli mates are available for exploitation by the Indians, who concentrate plant resources in


through plantings and transplantings from a variety of other ecozones. Frequently forest mulch and rich soils are carried to the outcroppings and placed in existing cracks in the rocks or piled high between stones arranged to form planting containers. Piles of the planting medium provide productive plots for the raising of plants requiring special care and growth conditions. A managed


, in sharp contrast to its barren unmanaged counterpart, looks like a lush Japanese garden. For the Kayapó, stone outcroppings have significance because they have special cosmic energies and are associated with powerful spiritual

210 Kayapó land management forces. Only shamans do not fear these forces. Thus


are mostly used by shamans, who plant some of their most powerful and important medicinals there.

An indigenous model of cognitive integration

In studies of the Kayapó Indian classification, overlapping sets have been des cribed as being in contiguous ‘sequences’ that form ‘continua’ between polar types (Posey, l983a). That is, members of classification units frequently share diagnostic characteristics with members of other contiguous units. Each unit is a ‘focal’ or ‘ideal’ type, which is the member that is most characteristic of the set.

The more any set member differs in characteristics from the ideal type, the more likely it is that the member will co-occur in other sets. Extremes or poles of the continuum represent the maximal divergence possible within the domain, and thereby define the parameters of the higher taxonomic grouping.

One of the most salient of the taxonomic continua in the Kayapó system is that between forest (

) and campo-cerrado (


). The ideal or ‘focal’ type of forest is


(‘true forest’), which is the most productive of the forest types. Trees of at least eight metres in height provide many edible fruits, nuts and seeds as well as useful woods and fibres. A herbaceous understorey is rich in medicinal plants.

The ‘focal’


type is


(‘true campo’), which is open land with knee-high grasses. The landscape is also dotted with patches of forest-like vegetation called




are the link between the poles of the


continuum (Figure 18.1).

They are composed of many sun-tolerant, heat-resistant species that survive in the demanding climate of the campo-cerrado, yet also have many forest species. Thus they unite diagnostic elements of both poles of the continuum.

Different planting zones are found within


as represented in Figure 18.1.


consist of only one planting zone.


(an intermediary form between




) have a relatively shady centre (


), with a sunnier edge (


). True


have a shady centre area (


), an outer edge (


), and an additional shadow zone (


) formed by higher vegetation that shields the

Figure 18.1 Apêtê

formation: planting zones.

Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems 211 zone from morning or evening sun. Note that in the centre of the


is an open ing where light penetrates. This is called the


‘patchiness’ of the


and functions to preserve the to maximize microenvironmental variation. Patchiness helps preserve the biological heterogeneity of larger nected to the open


by trails (






are usually con Large


, or


, have all the planting zones found in an


, plus a darker, middle zone where less light can penetrate (




may be numerous to maintain patchiness and light penetration. Large


are ringed by a bright zone called the


which is a good all-purpose planting zone. Trails (


) con nect


and the


and are frequently wide enough to provide a light margin (


) that also serves as a planting strip.

Variations in planting zones, therefore, seem to be based principally upon variations of shade and light, plus associated variations in temperature and moisture. Planting zones in


are matched with ecological types recognized by the Indians in the forest (see Table 18.1). Plants that grow well in certain for est environments can be predicted to do well in


zonal counterparts. For example, plants found in the dark, damp forest (


) are likely to do well in the


or the


of an


. Plants that thrive in the light-penetrating forest (


) would be planted




. Species found at the margins of the forest or the edges of other


would be transferred to the

ja kà




Plant species are said by the Indians to have been brought for planting or trans planting in Gorotire

apêtê apêtê

from very distant areas. Most species encountered in are common campo species, but the Kayapó say that certain varieties have specific desired qualities (taste for food, texture for wood or fibre, medicinal properties, etc.) and were acquired from Indian groups such as the Tapirape, Karaja, Mundrucu, Assurini, Shavante, Canela, Gavião and Sororo. Thus if stated origins of plant varieties are accepted, Gorotire


are composed of a concen tration of plant varieties brought from an area the size of Europe.

Table 18.1 Apêtê

planting zones in relation to corresponding ecological units

Ecological zones in


nhi-pôk nô-kà ja-kà irã-nô-kà a-tã-r˜i a-kà-kôt

(shady centre) (sunny edge) (shadow zone) (edge of open centre) (darker middle zone) (light-penetrating margin)

Corresponding ecological units recognized by the Kayapó






bà-krêti bà-kôt




bà-krêti kapôt


bà-kôt bà-ràràra




bà-krêti bà-tyk


bà-kamrek bà-ràràra



1 Forest units:


gallery or riverine forest;


forest in which light penetrates to the forest floor;


forest openings;


forest edge;


savanna or scrub savanna;


high dark forest;


forest with large trees and a herbaceous understorey.

212 Kayapó land management Conceptually,


are related to other human-made ecological zones described in this chapter, such as trailsides (


) and field gardens (


), since all are planted with many of the same varieties of useful herbs and fruit trees. Furthermore, old fields are managed in much the same way as


, since long-term management of plant and animal communities is fundamental to the exploitation strategies of both. Old fields (


) for the Kayapó are like


that are surrounded by forest rather than campo.

Other zones that are, conceptually, linked with openings); (ii)

ken-po-ti apêtê

are: (i)


3 (rock gardens); and (iii)

ki krê bum

(forest (quintal or yard).

Given the various ecological zones recognized by the Kayapó, it is possible to construct a more generalized pattern of cognitive relatedness on the


continuum. Figure 18.2 represents the overlapping sets of









(and related cognates),




, and


. Sets with more savanna elements are placed closer to the placed closer to



pole; sets with more forest elements are In this scheme,

apêtê apêtê





are intermediary between poles. Cognitive variants of , occupy the same classification space. That is,


(fields) are considered as types of


, which in turn are inverse models of




(quintals) are likewise related since they unite elements of all ecological zones.

Figure 18.2

Ethnoecological units on the



Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems 213 For the Kayapó the most productive ecological systems are those in secondary forest created through human activity. Whether they are


forest patches in the campo, or


forest resulting from management of old fields, the Kayapó system is built upon the maintenance – or actual increase – in biological diversity. Forest ‘patchiness’ is the principal mechanism for the preservation of diversity, both in the creation of






in the forest. Kayapó resource management, therefore, focuses upon the intermediary forms (




, quintal,


, etc.) between the polar forest and campo-cerrado types because it is in these zones that maximal biological diversity occurs. To put such a statement in more ecological terms, the Indians not only recognize the richness of ‘ecotones’, they create them.

Concluding remarks

Recognition of diagnostic similarities within a contrasting continuum of forest (

) and campo-cerrado (


) allows the Kayapó Indians to manipulate a variety of ecological zones and microclimates through the exchange of botanical materials between units perceived as similar. Fundamental to indigenous management is the reliance upon a wide range of plant and animal resources integrated into long-term exploitation of secondary forest areas and specially created concentrations of resources near areas of need (forest fields, forest openings, rock outcroppings, old fields, trailsides, agricultural plots and hill gardens). Forest patches (


) created by the Indians in campo-cerrado also provide dense concentrations of useful species. Maintenance of, or more usually increase in, biological diversity is the key to successful indigenous conservation and exploitation.

The Kayapó example teaches us that sophisticated management must be based upon recognition of likeness between ecological units: contrast should never obscure similarity in ecological typologies. Furthermore, that secondary forest can, indeed, be maximally productive without endangering the long-term survival of native species nor ecological systems.

Creation of


is likewise of great potential in understanding more about campo-cerrado utilization. Indigenous management of


has far-reaching implications for the study of forestation in savanna areas and reforestation in areas denuded by deforestation.

Presence of extensively managed areas by indigenous peoples emphasizes the necessity for the re-evaluation of concepts about the natural landscape.

‘Naturalness’ of ecological communities can never be assumed without investi gating the human history of the area.

This chapter has merely attempted to outline some of the major principles of Kayapó forest management in an effort to show how indigenous knowledge can help generate alternative philosophies for a more rational system of resource man agement in the humid tropics. The Kayapó are only one of many, small enclaves of native peoples located in remote parts of the world, but the lessons they have learned through millennia of accumulated experience and survival are invaluable to a modern world in much need of rediscovering its ecological and humanistic roots.

Chapter 19

The continuum of Kayapó resource management 1

The principle elements of Kayapó management have been previously described in some detail (Posey 1983c, 1985b, 1987a, 1995, 1997b), and include: (i) overlap ping and interrelated ecological categories that form continua (ii) modification of ‘natural ecosystems’ to create ecotones; (iii) emphasis on long-term ecotone uti lization (chronological ecotones); (iv) concentration on non-domesticated resources; (v) transfer of useful plant varieties between similar ecological zones; (vi) integration of agricultural with forest management cycles. Several options are possible for representing indigenous resource management models. I believe the most inclusive and descriptive representation of the Kayapó system places savanna or grasslands (


) at one end of a continuum as the ‘focal type’ (example that most typifies the category) and forests (

) at the other (opposite focal type) (see Figure 18.2).


types with more forest elements would be represented to the right of the diagram, while

types that are more open and with grassy elements would lie on the continuum diagram to the left, or toward the savanna pole.

This would put


at the conceptual centre of the continuum, since forest elements are introduced into the savanna to produce these anthropogenic zones.

Agricultural plots (


) also lie conceptually near the centre of the continuum, because sun-tolerant vegetation is introduced into managed forest openings.


can be thought of as the conceptual inverse of


: the former concen trates resources in the forest using sun-tolerant species, while the other does the same in the savanna using forest species.

Even though ecological types like high forest (


) or transitional forest (


) are securely located at the forest pole, they are not uniform in their composition. All forests have edges (

), margins (


), and openings caused by fallen – or felled – trees (


) that provide zones of transition between differ ent conceptual zones. Thus, a plant that likes the margins of a high forest might also grow well at the margin of a field (


, or


) or in an


. A plant that likes light gaps provided by forest openings might also like forest edges (


, or


) or old fields (




). Plants from open forest types or forest edges can predictably proliferate along edges of trails or thicker zones of


. Using this logic, the Kayapó can transfer biogenetic materials

218 Kayapó land management between matching microzones so that ecological types are interrelated by their similarities rather than isolated by their differences. These interfaces can be con sidered ecotones, which become the uniting elements of the overall system. There is another interesting dimension to the model that appears when looking diachronically (temporally or historically) across the system. Agricultural clear ings are initially planted with rapidly growing domesticates, but almost immediately thereafter are managed for secondary forest and non-domesticated resource species. This management depends upon planting and transplanting, removal of some varieties, allowing others to grow, encouraging some with fertil izer and ash, and preparing and working the soils to favour useful species.

Management aims to provide long-term supplies of building materials, cere monial objects, medicinals and other useful products, as well as food for humans and animals. The old fields (


) are at least as useful to the Kayapó as agri cultural plots or mature forest.

2 A high percentage (an initial estimate is more than 75 per cent) of plants in this transition have single or multiple uses. When the sec ondary forest grows too high to provide undergrowth as food for animals (and hunting becomes difficult), then the large trees are felled to create more hos pitable conditions for management and/or re-initiation of the agricultural cycle.



are managed to maximize useful species in all stages of the forest succession. When their centres become dark and unproductive, openings (


) are created that allow light to again penetrate the forest and re-initiate a new cycle.

The Kayapó resource management system is, therefore, based on the conser vation and use of transitional forests in which agriculture is only a useful (albeit critical) phase in the long-term process.


exhibit parallel transitional sequences in the campo-cerrado and depend almost exclusively on non-domesti cated resources. The degree to which genetic materials are transferred between similar microzones of different ecological types points to how the Kayapó exploit ecotones that host the highest diversity of plants. Management over time can be thought of as management of chronological ecotones, since management cycles aim to maintain the maximum amount of diversity and the greatest number of ecotones.

Part IV Continuing adaptation by the Kayapó

Chapter 20

From warclubs to words 1

I remember going to visit an abandoned Kayapó village site near Conceição do Araguaia, in July of last year. I was guided there by Beptopoop, a wise and respected shaman and tradition-knower from Gorotire village, and one of my most beloved mentors. The old village had been abandoned for 40 or 50 years, but Beptopoop, who had known the village as a child, was able to show us medi cinal roots, edible tubers, fruits and nuts that had been planted decades earlier by his grandparents. After all those years the forest still reflected the indigenous hands that had moulded it. The forest path, however, soon took us to the other side of the old site. There we encountered, as far as the eye could see, burned vegetation and gigantic charred trees reduced to useless, bleak memorials of the rich and productive forest where Beptopoop’s grandparents once planted their yams, bananas, cotton, beans, squash, corn and pumpkin. Beptopoop exclaimed, waving his arms: ‘Why do the white men burn all of this, destroying it all, and then not even plant anything to feed their children? Do they not know that their children and their children’s children must have food to eat? I am too old to understand any of this!’ When I began my work with the Kayapó Indians in 1977, they were already at odds with ranchers and squatters invading their lands. During my first months in Gorotire I joined 150 warclub- and spear-wielding warriors in a raid to expel workers from a ranch encroaching on the eastern edge of their reserve. I met Paulinho Paiakan and his cousin Kube-i during that raid. Paiakan was 22 years old – strikingly handsome, articulate and interested in everything. He was the son of a famous chief, and, like Kube-i, destined to be a chief himself. I was amazed when he recognized that the instruction manual of the power-saw he took from the raided ranch – and carried through nearly 50 miles of Amazon jungle – was in English. He had studied some English with the missionaries in Gorotire, and he knew how to read and write in both his own language and Portuguese.

As I translated the manual for the first power-saw to arrive in Kayapó land that night so long ago, I realized that, like it or not, I would be a strange, foreign force in an unknown process of adaptation to rapidly changing times. But I never imagined that 12 years later Paiakan, Kube-i and I would be the defen dants in a celebrated case that galvanized Brazil’s environmental and Indian

222 Continuing adaptation by the Kayapó rights movements, providing a focal point for uniting the two major movements to preserve the human and biological richness of the Amazon and the planet.

As a scientist, observer and friend, I watched the Kayapó buy their first air plane to bring elders together from distant villages to re-establish nearly lost rituals. I also witnessed the arrival of the road and the first trucks; the instalment of a satellite antenna in the village plaza; and the arrival of the first baby buggy to wheel about toddlers painted head-to-toe in black and red.

I also watched thousands of gold miners invade Indian lands, and I followed the sharp rise in malaria and other exotic diseases that resulted. I have seen the burning of the Amazon forest for encroaching ranches and farms obscure the sun throughout the entire day. I have seen the traditional diet of natural fruits, nuts, vegetables and game give way to the much less nutritious beans, rice, manioc and coffee. I watched truckload after truckload of huge mahogany logs being shipped out in clouds of Amazon dust. And I have seen village chiefs opening their bank accounts – in Pierre Cardin suits no less – in the nearest frontier town.

Anthropologists tend to be cultural conservatives – purists perhaps. We flinch when we see ‘our people’ lose those distinctive features that made us want to go to the Amazon in the first place. With most of the changes I had to swallow hard and bite my lip. But I tried to not be a paternalistic white man who knows what is best for Indians. I tried to listen more than talk, and to help create the scientific, social and political space for Indians themselves to speak and be heard.

Chapter 21

The Kayapó Indian protests against Amazonian dams: successes, alliances, and unending battles 1

Indians in Brazil have historically been considered, at best, as ‘relatively inca pable’ human beings that must be ‘protected’ as wards of the federal government.

The Brazilian Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Indio–FUNAI) serves as the official organ responsible for Indian affairs. Under past national constitutions FUNAI was considered the only legal institution that could represent or defend native peoples. Land demarcation, sales of mineral rights and lumber, judicial proceedings, even labour contracts and agricultural sales were all conducted by – and legally only by – FUNAI officials.

With decrees such as those made in 1985 by Brazil’s ex-President Figueiredo authorizing the sale of mineral and other natural resource rights even within legally protected Indian reserves, FUNAI and other government officials came under increased pressure to ‘help create the heads’ of the indigenous leaders so they would consent to mining and lumbering on their lands. In many cases, how ever, the Indian leaders were not even consulted on decisions to exploit their natural resources.

Claims of corruption within FUNAI have swollen to a level equal to accusa tions against its predecessor, SPI (Sociedade para Proteçäo do Indio), which was extinguished in 1967 for scandalous dealings. As Manuela Carneiro da Cunha (1987: 13) points out, ‘the Indian question today is centred around disputes over mineral and natural resources on Indian soils and subsoils’. Those who lobby for the exploitation of these resources have the entire capitalist machine in their favour and, consequently, are very powerful. Native peoples, by virtue of their low numbers (approximately one per cent of the Brazilian population) and cultural, social and political differences – as well as being marginalized by a system that officially considers them ‘relatively incapable’ – are markedly disadvantaged in this deadly serious battle.

Much of the general strategy to dominate the ‘Indian question’ depends upon the maintenance of traditional stereotypes of Indians as ‘primitive’ and ‘incapable’.

In a country where paternalism is as much a part of the national fabric as Carnaval, it has been all too easy to mask attempts to thwart native independence movements with rhetoric about ‘helping’ Indians to make decisions about ‘what is best for them’. Rarely have Indian leaders been heard, because, it is said, they could not

224 Continuing adaptation by the Kayapó possibly know enough about white man’s society to make good judgements. Thus, ‘indigenistas’ (non-Indians who supposedly represent Indian interests) are called upon to advise on government decisions. Even FUNAI, the government organ specifically in charge of indigenous affairs, has shockingly few Indians in any of its ranks, but especially few are involved at decision-making levels. This means, of course, that native leaders have been, and continue to be, denied valuable decision making opportunities as well as the experience of working in the governmental system. This conveniently perpetuates the ‘incapable’ Indian myth, since govern ment decision-makers must be persons ‘with experience’.

It is equally important for the strategy of those who wish to exploit Indian lands – especially in Amazonia, which is the refuge of over two-thirds of Brazil’s remaining aborigines – to say that such lands are unproductive and/or unoccu pied. The whole of the Amazon Basin, for example, is considered empty (Moran 1981a: 5) – one great frontier where only a few ‘primitive’ Indians and ‘culture less caboclos’ strugg1e to survive. ‘Indian lands are, in reality, treated as “no-man’s lands”: always considered as the first option for mining, hydroelectric projects, land reform, and development projects in general’ (Carneiro da Cunha 1987: 14). This strategy has been relatively easy to maintain over the years because of the difficulties native peoples and caboclos have to organize and rep resent themselves in a dominant society where minority rights were traditionally never even considered an issue.

Despite major victories by tenacious and energetic Indian-support and defence groups such as CPI (Commission for the Indian), CEDI (Ecumenical Center for Documentation and Information), CIMI (Indigenous Mission Council), and oth ers such as the ABA (Brazilian Anthropological Association), the relatively unified voice for indigenous protection was faint in the halls of power. The eco logical/conservationist movement, with growing political and economic influence in the developed world as well as Brazil, had – until very recently – managed to divorce ecological issues from Indian/human rights. Thus these two major move ments for ‘preserving’ the human and biological richness of the planet were at best disunited, and often at loggerheads.

During the last decades, however, major changes have occurred. Most indige nous organizations have taken strong stands on environmental issues, while conservationists have realized that 98 per cent of the entire biodiversity of the planet is still being preserved by the few remaining native peoples who struggle to survive in it. Luckily, human- and minority-rights issues have also become more and more of an international cause embraced by those nations in economic and cultural vogue. Even the scientific community began to realize that indigenous knowledge is an invaluable human treasure which offers knowledge of plants and animals, and alternative resource management models that can provide solutions to disastrous planetary ecological homogenization.

One significant advance for indigenous and ecological rights came with the proclamation of the new Brazilian Constitution on 5 October 1988. The Articles that treat Indian peoples represent a considerable improvement and are the results

The Kayapó Indian protests against Amazonian dams 225 of perseverance by anthropologists, religious Indian rights groups, and Indian leaders, such as Kayapó chiefs Paiakan and Kube-i, who led no less than four ‘invasions’ of the Constitutional Convention by Kayapó warriors at critical lobby ing and voting times.

Even though Indians continue to be legally considered ‘relatively incapable’, they at least gained the right to seek legal representation and take legal action independent of FUNAI. Furthermore, exploration of subsoil resources can only be authorized with consent of the National Congress. Surface resources are pro tected by equally progressive Articles protecting the environment that call for stiff penalties for careless destruction of natural resources. One of the major tests of the 1988 Constitution was a court case by the Brazilian Justice Ministry against two Kayapó chiefs, myself, and our lawyer, José Carlos Castro.

Initial charges stemmed from a trip to Miami, Florida in January, 1988 by Paiakan, Kube-i and myself to participate in an international symposium on ‘Wise Management of Tropical Forests’, organized at the Florida International University by the university and a number of national and international ecological conservation groups. I delivered a scholarly paper on my ethnobiological research into indigenous natural-resource management systems, and chaired a symposium session on the practical application of scientific research. I also translated for the Kayapó chiefs as they spoke to the general assembly.

Participation of the Kayapó leaders in the international symposium was a logi cal extension of the philosophy of a 12-year multidisciplinary ‘Kayapó Project’ to study traditional ethnobiological knowledge. The Project had already taken Paiakan and Kube-i, and other Indian leaders, to a number of national scientific meetings and symposia. Both Paiakan and Kube-i had accompanied the research teams’ investigations of the plant, animal and ecological knowledge of the Kayapó; both had served as consultants on native strategies of resource manage ment; and both were fluent in the ecological terms that are used in Portuguese to discuss maintenance of biodiversity, conservation of nature and sustained devel opment of renewable resources.

The two Kayapó leaders explained how indigenous peoples preserve biological and ecological diversity, while utilizing the renewable resources available to them in their Amazon homes. They also emphasized the threats from outside forces that they must face daily: mining and mercury pollution; erosion; massive burning of the rainforest; logging roads that penetrate deep into their forests; and mega-pro jects, such as those that call for the construction of huge hydroelectric projects.

Specifically, they voiced their concerns about the Altamira-Xingu Complex that, if approved, would inundate 7.6 million hectares (approximately 15 million acres) of rich river-bottom land – almost all of which belongs to various Indian groups. The US$ 10.6 billion project, the world’s largest, would displace thou sands of Indians from 11 different nations, all of which have already been reduced to a dangerously low number of individuals.

Equally disastrous would be the loss of the knowledge that each group pre serves in its oral tradition about the natural diversity of local ecosystems. Since

226 Continuing adaptation by the Kayapó equivalent ecosystems do not exist outside the Xingu River Basin, their disappear ance would mean there would be no reason to continue the rich oral lore about useful plants and animals of that region. Thousands of years of accumulated knowledge – from 11 very different folk scientific systems – would be lost forever.

Members of the assembly urged Paiakan and Kube-i to take their protests to the World Bank. Representatives of the National Wildlife Federation, and the Environmental Defense Fund members present at the meeting, even offered to pay their expenses to Washington and to organize the visit. The two Kayapó chiefs accepted the invitation, and plans immediately got underway for their trip in the first week of February.

During the chiefs’ exhausting blitz of Washington, they visited four Executive Directors (ED) of the World Bank and the Bank’s technical staff for Brazil.

Although they were met with defensive hostility by the technical staff, the leaders were heard with great interest by the directors. The directors for the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and West Germany seemed disturbed that the Bank’s pro gressive-to-liberal policy on native peoples was not being respected by Bank-supported projects. The policy demands that native peoples be consulted and their decisions respected in order to get World Bank funding. Paiakan and Kube-i assured the directors that neither they, nor any of the indigenous leaders of the Xingu, had ever been consulted or informed about the proposed hydro-electric project. The American ED assured the chiefs that he would continue to vote against the ‘Power-Sector Loan’ to Brazil that would be destined for the Xingu Dam construction. Other EDs were less committed, but assured the Indians they would investigate infringements of Bank rules protecting native peoples and the natural diversity upon which they depend.

Paiakan and Kube-i also met with State Department and Finance Secretary representatives, as well as members of Congress. Congressman John Porter, chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, listened with great interest as the two spoke of their frustration within Brazil at not being heard – and their inability to get facts about mega-projects that uproot native cultures and remove Indians from their lands without their consent.

The Kayapó spoke of personal acquaintances from other indigenous groups such as the Parakanã, Gaviäo and the Atrori-Waimi, all of whom had been expelled from their lands without due compensation – and even without guaran teed land rights (Treece 1987). Everywhere the Kayapó leaders went they asked which countries were financing the disaster that native peoples and the Amazon were experiencing. There were many red faces, but few straight answers.

Paiakan and Kube-i also met with Native American leaders of the North American Indian Congress and Americans for Indian Opportunities, as well as indigenous lawyers that lobby for native rights and represent Indians in legal struggles over land and mineral rights. It appeared to me that they were beginning to see their struggle in a much larger context – and to realize that there exist inter national agreements and a legal infrastructure to support Brazilian Indians in their struggles.

The Kayapó Indian protests against Amazonian dams 227 Upon return to Brazil, we all faced repeated police interrogation. We learned that a special Brazilian ministerial delegation was in Washington at the same time as the Indians. They had gone to renegotiate the Bank power-sector loans that Kube-i and Paiakan were trying to stop. The Brazilian delegation had charged that the loans had been paralyzed because of our visit, which jeopardized Brazil’s eco nomic relations, thereby, ‘provoking an economic crisis in Brazil’. This had, according to the federal police accusation, ‘denigrated Brazil’s image abroad’.

I was specifically charged with having ‘illegally taken Indians out of the coun try’. Not only this, but I had done so – according to the accusations – with premeditated maliciousness to ‘use’ the Indians to denigrate and jeopardize Brazil.

It became very clear through our evidence presented in the preliminary inves tigations, that the Indians had been granted permission to leave the country by FUNAI, which is responsible for its ‘wards’. Furthermore, I pointed out that the federal police itself controls the national frontiers and that no one – especially a foreigner – could have ‘illegally taken’ anyone out of or brought anyone into Brazil without consent and knowledge of the federal police itself.

I also produced documents proving that the invitation to go to Washington, as well as the financing and organization of the visit, had been provided by the inter nationally respected non-governmental groups, National Wildlife Federation and Environmental Defense Fund. Paiakan repeated his denouncements made in Washington and declared his responsibility for what he had said. He even pro duced newspaper articles from Brazil published well before our trip to the United States that quoted him saying exactly the same things as he had said in Washington.

However, such explanations were to no avail. As the federal police investigator told me in my second interrogation: ‘Someone had to be behind those Indians.

They would never have gone to Washington and said those things by themselves’.

That logic is legally supported, since ‘relatively incapable’ wards of the state can not be held responsible for ‘crimes’ committed in Washington. Worse still is that most people believe this outdated view of native peoples.

With no evidence, we were certain that the whole story would end with the pre liminary investigations by the federal police. It seemed indisputable that my role had been as interpreter, and that I had acted totally in a professional and ethical manner as a concerned scientist. The only ‘crimes’ that had been committed, therefore, were that the Kayapó chiefs had voiced the truth of their views and con cerns in centres of international economic and political power.

The Federal Justice Department, however, had other ideas. On 8 August 1988, Paulo Meira, the Federal Prosecutor in Belém, Pará, brought formal charges against me (Process Number 35340-1st Region of Pará State, 3rd Vara) in the fed eral District Court evoking the Law of Foreigners (the same articles as in the original police accusation). Much to everyone’s surprise, the charges (evoking article 129 of the Penal Code) included the two Kayapó chiefs as accomplices to my ‘crimes’. The specific charges were that I had taken Paiakan and Kube-i to

228 Continuing adaptation by the Kayapó Washington, where I had manipulated through my translations their testimonies with the ‘intention of frustrating [sic] the execution of Brazil’s Energy Plan’. The ‘denouncement’ states that the Indians’ testimonies were so effective that ‘at the very least, credit negotiations were suspended until the Indians’ charges could be investigated ... by the entities contacted’.

These charges shocked the national and international community. First and foremost because never before, in nearly 500 years of white-Indian relations in Brazil, had Amerindians been prosecuted as foreigners in their native land.

Shocking as well was the allegation that ‘crimes’ committed outside Brazilian national territory could be prosecuted by Brazilian courts. The attempt to extend Brazilian authority outside the country, as well as to prosecute Amerindians under the Law of Foreigners, was formally protested by the Brazilian Legal Society, OAB (Ordem de Advogados do Brasil), Brazil’s most powerful legal entity (reported in

O Globo

, 16 August 1988).

In a special despatch, OAB’s influential Human Rights Commission called for national and international protests against the federal Justice Department, which was being manipulated by powerful economic interests from southern Brazil.

According to José Carlos Castro, President of the Commission and legal repre sentative for the accused, ‘authoritarian measures were being forced upon the Amazon by powerful economic interests outside the region wanting to exploit its natural resources at any cost’. One such measure, according to Castro, was ‘to use police investigations and judicial procedures to intimidate those trying to defend it from destruction’. He continued alleging that authoritarian decisions are the lifeline of mega-projects, such as the Altamira-Xingu Hydroelectric Complex, which are always decided in secret and without consulting the local people who will be most affected.

OAB’s call for protests began a series of similar measures by the Brazilian Anthropological Association, the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, the International Society of Ethnobiology, Cultural Survival, Survival International, Amnesty International and literally hundreds of non-government groups concerned with ecological conservation, Indian and human rights, and Amazonian issues. Thousands and thousands of irate letters have been sent to José Sarney, President of the Republic, and petitions of support have been circulated around the world. None of this seemed to have any effect on the determination of the government to continue its prosecution.

On 3 August 1988, Paiakan and I were called for the opening testimony for the trial. Nothing more could be said than had been given as testimony in the previous federal police interrogations. In the official dossier of prosecution, we were amazed to learn that the only evidence against us was newspaper clippings from Brazilian newspapers reporting the Indians’ visit to Washington. It became even clearer that the entire case was, as José Carlos Castro had already pointed out, ‘a politically motivated manoeuvre to silence the scientific community and native leaders’ so as not to speak out against mega-projects supported by the authoritar ian government.

The Kayapó Indian protests against Amazonian dams 229 Despite lack of evidence and much public opposition, the case continued on 14 October 1988, when Kube-i was summoned to give his testimony. What was unexpected and unprecedented was that Kube-i did indeed arrive at the court building for the testimony – but with over 400 Kayapó warriors to accompany him. Brazil had never seen such a well-organized show of force by indigenous peoples.

As the amassed warriors blocked one of Belém’s busiest avenues, Paiakan unveiled a large map that he had acquired during his trip to Washington. It was a map, never before seen in public in Brazil, showing the nine dams that were planned for the Xingu River Basin. Paiakan repeated the charges he and Kube-i had made in Washington. This time, their outrage was being reported by journal ists and filmed for broadcast not only in Brazil, but around the world.

Inside the courthouse the judge, Ivan Velasco Nascimento, announced that he would refuse to hear Kube-i’s testimony if the Indian leader did not appear in ‘proper dress’ (shirt and trousers). Kube-i was wearing only shorts and sandals, but was otherwise – by his cultural standards – dressed for the most solemn occa sion in parrot-feather head-dress and black and red body paint.

The judge, however, insisted that Kube-i was ‘semi-nude and in costume’, thereby showing ‘disrespect’ for the court. Kube-i was given 20 minutes to appear in proper dress. If he did not do so, declared Judge Nascimento, his testimony would not be heard, and his actions considered as refusal to testify. Kube-i refused to dress as the White Man – and announced his refusal to the assembled press.

The judge and federal prosecutor called a special session of the court to formalize their decision. Our lawyer protested that refusal to hear the chief in his traditional dress was contrary to the newly approved Brazilian Constitution that prohibits racism and considers the denial of minority rights a crime. The spectators in the Court Room, which included representatives of the OAB Human Rights Commission and the international press, were jolted by what was to follow. The judge, echoed by the federa1 prosecutor, stated that their position was the only defensible one because ‘Indians must become acculturated’.

The justice officials also ordered that psychological, psychiatric and anthropo logical tests be administered to Kube-i and Paiakan to ‘determine their level of acculturation ... and to what extent they were aware of their complicity in the "crimes" committed’.

The following day, front-page headlines in Brazil read ‘Indians Offer Solidarity to Their Chief: Testimony of Kube-i Attracts International Press’ (

Correio Braziliense

), ‘Kube-i Stopped From Testifying Because Not Dressed as Whiteman’ (

O Liberal

), ‘Indians Protest Against Government’ (

The State of Säo Paulo

), and ‘Kayapó Protest Takes 400 Indians to the Tribunal’ (

O Globo


International headlines were reported in most European and North and Latin American countries. National and international television carried the story for days.

The struggle of the native peoples of Brazil to preserve their lands and natural resources was suddenly on the lips of even average citizens around the world. If

230 Continuing adaptation by the Kayapó the Kayapó in their protests in Washington against hydro-electric projects had ‘denigrated the image of Brazil’, the government’s insistence to prosecute such ‘crimes’ was eradicating all vestiges of Brazil as a major world democracy that respects human rights and ecological issues.

On 18 October, our lawyer, José Carlos Castro, filed formal charges against the judge under Article 5/Paragraph 41 of the Brazilian Constitution that prohibits racial discrimination. The judge’s refusal to hear Kube-i in traditional dress, as well as his public declarations that Indians must be acculturated, were cited as evi dence. Anthropological and legal experts had been consulted, all of whom agreed that the judge’s statements were not only racist, but a clear call for ‘cultural geno cide’.

Interestingly, under the Constitution, racism is considered a crime for which the accused can be jailed without bond if sufficient evidence is presented. Given that the witnesses were official representatives of OAB and the international press, the situation provoked an amazing stand-off. Castro also filed a formal petition protesting the administration of psychological, psychiatric and anthropo logical tests to the Indians. From a procedural point, if such tests were to be considered necessary, they should be requested by the defence, not the prosecu tion. Furthermore, he stated, such tests are completely unviable since ‘acculturation’ has never been legally defined, nor is even recognized as possible to define by the scientific community.

Castro specifically charged the justice officials with racism and incompetency.

The judge responded by formally charging Castro with ‘injúria’ (disrespect and defamation), thereby provoking yet another judicial case linked to the original.

This charge provoked strong reactions in favour of Castro, who is a character beloved throughout Brazil for his fearless defence of popular causes.

In November Paiakan undertook a trip to eight countries in Europe and North America. The purpose of the Indian leader’s trip was to make citizens in the Developed World aware of the case, and of the devastating effects on native peo ples and their environments that are provoked by projects financed by the banks and governments of their countries.

Paiakan’s trip publicized even further the absurdity of the case, and the urgent need for protection of the rainforest and its peoples against hydro-electric and other mega-projects. His eloquent speech and charismatic manner won many to his side and showed with unquestionable clarity that he was perfectly capable of speaking for himself. It was not necessary for anyone to ‘be behind’ a ‘relatively incapable’ native to tell him what to say, as had been alleged in the indictment.

Despite much national and international pressure, the federal Supreme Court refused in December 1988, to ‘deactivate’ or suspend the case. Continuation of the trial was set for 6 March to hear witnesses for the prosecution: the two Brazilian journalists who covered the Indians’ visit to Washington (Roberto Garcia of

Journal do Brazil

, and Moisés Rabinovich of

O Estado do São Paulo

), the regional superintendent of FUNAI, and the vice-director of the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi – where, according to the original indictment, the two

The Kayapó Indian protests against Amazonian dams 231 Indians and I are employed. In fact, I was a researcher at the museum, but the Indians have never had any official ties with the museum whatsoever.

Defence witnesses were named as: Robert Keating, United States Executive Director of the World Bank; Hon. Representative John Porter, Member of the U.S.

Congress and Chairman of its Human Rights Caucus; Bruce Rich, Environmental Defense Fund; Barbara Bramble, Director of International Programs, National Wildlife Federation; Dr Nelson Papavero, Museum of Zoology of the University of São Paulo; and Dr Elaine Elisabetsky, Director, Laboratory for Ethnopharmacology, Federal University of Pará.

Most observers felt that the trial would never reach the point of such embar rassing hearings taking place. The general feeling was that the police investigation and the federal prosecution were primarily intended to intimidate scientists who opposed financially important mega-projects, and to weaken indigenous leadership. Therefore, since both objectives had horrendously back fired, the case would be ‘quietly closed’.

On 12 February 1989, in the wake of Carnaval, a favourable decision by the Brazilian Supreme Tribunal was handed down based on the

habeus corpus

request. Since this whole complex of cases was profoundly political, the outcome may have been something of a measure of the rapidly changing politics of a pres idential election year – the first direct popular elections for a president Brazil had held in more than two decades. It may also have been an index of the degree to which the military and government leaders were finding it increasingly difficult to convince the Brazilian people that the move to ‘save the Amazon and its peo ples’ was nothing more than an international plot to steal national territory. In this view, Indians are simply being manipulated by internationally motivated powers to weaken their strategic defence of Brazilian ‘patrimony’. This ‘conspiracy’ apparently includes Indians, human-rights groups, environmentalists, drug traf fickers and ethnobiologists.

Interestingly, during Paiakan’s trip to Europe and North America, he was able to raise money for a project that he and Kube-i had dreamt about for many months: a meeting of indigenous leaders from the Xingu River Basin, with Indian leaders from all over Brazil and even other countries, to force public debate over proposed hydro-electric projects.

That meeting, ‘The First Encounter of Native Peoples in the Xingu’, took place from 20 to 25 February 1989 in the tiny Amazon town of Altamira, the centre of the proposed dam project. Over 600 indigenous leaders from throughout the Americas participated. Non-Indian leaders met in parallel sessions to consolidate their network and to give solidarity to the Indians. Together with indigenous lead ers they elaborated an historic document to guide this new alliance of forces. This document’s title was: ‘A Unified Strategy for the Preservation of the Amazon and its Peoples’.

The ‘encounter’ in Altamira was the end of a long, tiring and tedious struggle to bring together native peoples and conservationists to preserve the rapidly dis appearing bio-, eco-, and ethno-diversity of the Amazon – and the planet. The

232 Continuing adaptation by the Kayapó ‘encounter’ was historic for another reason: it was organized by the Indians them selves, who, instead of being represented by non-Indians, had the unusual experience of having to limit time for the non-Indian leaders to express their views. Brazil, despite the efforts of its government and justice department, had suddenly become the centre of an indigenous-led movement to fight ecologically and socially damaging forces that threaten the Amazon.

The Kayapó protest against the Xingu hydro-electric project has been one of the great successes in the environmental and human-rights movement. Not only were the Altamira dams stopped, but the entire hydro-electric project was dropped by the World Bank. Funding from other sources has been impossible, and civil resistance against such mega-projects within Brazil makes such plans politically unviable. The alliance between indigenous peoples and environmentalists contin ues, although solidarity is difficult due to differing social, cultural and economic conditions.

The environmental community in general holds romantic notions about the nature of indigenous peoples. Thus, when economic conditions necessitate that indigenous groups sell timber or take up ranching, they are ‘dropped’ by their allies for not being ‘real Indians’.

A classic example of this attitude occurred during the Earth Summit (the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) in 1992. Brazilian magazines and newspapers splashed the photo of Paulinho Paiakan across their covers, alleging that he had raped the 17-year-old tutor of his daughters, then tried to murder her after ritually drinking her blood. ‘The Savage’ was the headline across Paiakan’s face in Brazil’s major weekly,


. Roberto Smeralti, President of Friends of the Earth Italy, gave an interview saying that neither he nor his group had anything to do with Paiakan because he had been responsible for selling mahogany from his reserve. ‘That’s what happens’, Smeralti is quoted as saying to a reporter of

O Globo

, ‘when Indians leave the forest’. He had, interestingly enough, been responsible a year or so earlier, for organizing a European trip for Paiakan to speak on environmental issues. Steven Cory, Director General of Survival International, went even further. In an interview to

Folha de São Paulo

, he related the alleged rape to a general disorientation of the Kayapó due to outside trade forces linked to a Body Shop trading project with Paiakan’s village.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature in this high-profile event is that none of the environmental or human-rights NGOs that had been responsible for Paiakan’s various trips to North America, Europe and Japan, even bothered to obtain the facts in Paiakan’s case. The alleged victim was 23, had never tutored anyone’s children, and was seen alive and well minutes after the alleged rape in the house of friends. Furthermore, the physician that examined her was being prosecuted by Paiakan because he had sterilized Paiakan’s wife without her consent, and the arresting officer is now in jail for extortion. None of these facts, however, have interested the press, nor most environmentalists.

It seems more crucial to ask why Paiakan was ‘set up’ in this manner. Brazil has a long history of using press scandals for political ends. A few weeks after the

The Kayapó Indian protests against Amazonian dams 233 accusations against Paiakan, Kube-i was charged by the police with murder of a farm worker. The fact that Kube-i was not even in the vicinity of the murder when it occurred did not stop the flow of ‘facts’ about his guilt in the press.

One might ask: but why Paiakan and Kube-i? There are many other Indian leaders to be silenced. Perhaps the collective memory in Brazil is better than we think. It may be no coincidence that the two Kayapó leaders who dealt the Brazilian government one of its most painful stings are now suffering the famous Latin


(vengeance). There is an old Kayapó saying: ‘When you win a battle, become even more prepared; the enemy will always return and always bet ter armed than before!’

Appendix: Management of a tropical scrub savanna by the Gorotire Kayapó of Brazil



1 The science of the M˜ebêngôkre

1 Originally published in


magazine, 187 Great Barrington, MAQ 1230. Summer 1990, pp.16–23.

2 Contact before contact: typology of post-Colombian interaction with the Northern Kayapó of the Amazon


Boletim do Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi

2 Transitional ecological zones form major resource areas for the Kayapó Indians. Within various zones are ‘resource islands’, i.e. areas of high resource concentration. Some resource islands are natural; others are created by the Kayapó, who gather selected useful plants over a wide geographical area and replant them near camp and village sites. This type of species manipulation or semi-domestication forms the basis for ‘nomadic agriculture’ (see Chapter 18).

, Série Antropologico 3(2) 1987:135–54. 3 Understanding of resource utilization by tropical peoples is still rudimentary. The more we know about indigenous and aboriginal subsistence patterns, the less adequate are our data to make pronouncements about potential population growth. Ignorance of ‘nomadic agriculture’, inadequate understanding of gathered products as nutritional sources, and lack of appreciation for the use of ‘abandoned fields’ make totally invalid arguments regarding ‘carrying capacity’ and ‘protein capture’ (e.g. Gross 1975; Ross 1978).

4 ‘The historical relationships between the southern Kayapó (also spelled Caiapó and Cayapó) and the northern Kayapó of this study remain unclear. Cunha Matos originally applied the name ‘Caiapó’ to northern Jê-speakers, but Nimuendajú (1952: 427) established the ethnographic distinction between groups. Both groups speak a Jê language, but Wilbert (1978: 22) and Turner (1966: 2–5) argue that the groups are only remotely related linguistically and culturally. This hardly resolves the matter, however, for oral tradition and historical documents record raiding and wandering of northern Kayapó groups far to the south (Verswijver 1986). It would come as little surprise, therefore, that some of the early manuscripts referring to Kayapó raids on gold caravans do indeed refer to northern rather than southern Kayapó groups.

5 Accounts of meetings with Caiapó are numerous. Hemming (1978) outlines numerous encounters. The best historical sketch of early Portuguese and Caiapó (southern Kayapó) relations is found in Southey’s (1819) nineteenth century history of Brazil. It deserves emphasis here that modern geographical distribution of Kayapó groups does not necessarily coincide with the aboriginal pattern. Mobility of indigenous peoples in the Americas is much greater than previously assumed. The ancestors of the so-called

Notes 247 ‘northern Kayapó’ groups of today were most certainly encountered by the Portuguese colonials along the great gold caravan routes from São Paulo to both Goiás and Cuiabá (cf. Hemming 1978: 405–8).

6 Various authors have surveyed in detail the historical documents specifically related to the northern Kayapó groups (see Dreyfus 1963; Bamberger 1967; Vidal 1977; Verswijver 1986).

7 Some of the most accessible and accurate reports of the status of current Indian tribes comes via the Anthropology Resource Center and Cultural Survival, Inc., Survival International and CEDI (Centro Ecumenice de Documentacio e Informacio).

8 When I visited the village of Kokrajmoro in 1979, one old couple (probably in their late 60s) had been enticed by relatives to move there from another Kayapó village (Kikretum). Their principal function was to instruct the youth of the village about the Kayapó ways. During my 22-days stay in Kokrajmoro, the old man would sit in front of his house every night to sing and tell stories. A considerable portion of the village would sit in concentric semicircles facing the old man ( mortality due to

Plasmodium vivax

as Henderson’s (1821)

History of Brazil m˜e-bêgnet

age grade) and listen attentively. Because of the specialized nature of ceremonial knowledge, however, the old man was only able to repeat that portion of the complete Kayapó ceremonial knowledge that he had inherited from his elder relatives. The number of festivals that could be performed was extremely limited since there were no people alive who knew how to, or had inherited the right to, perform the essential parts of the complex ceremonies.

9 This is a controversial stance since malaria is assumed not to be endemic to the New World by many scholars. My demographic data, however, as well as those of missionaries of the Unevangelized Field Mission (MICEB), bear out that Indian malaria is lower than for whites.

10 Horace Banner in his unpublished account of his first direct contact with the Kayapó also reports that the Gorotire were already in possession of European clothing, guns and beads.

11 See Prince Aldabert’s (1849) accounts of his travels in the Xingu (pp. 310–11), as well (pp. 241–2) for accounts of early contact with the Kayapó.

12 Special ‘go-betweens’ connected the European colonists with remote parts of the interior. ‘Free Indian traders’ are discussed by Magalhães (1922: 150 ff.). Indian ‘go betweens’ are common in historical accounts, e.g. Prince Aldabert (1849: 275–6).

13 Historical accounts of trade by and with the northern Kayapó confirm the extensive aboriginal interaction between Brazilian Indian groups. For example, see Bernardino (1874: 3) for an account of Kayapó–Mundurucu exchanges. Prince Aldabert describes the typical trade items he used in his Xingu expedition (1848: 221, 275–6), which are practically the same as modern trade items.

14 ‘Regatões’ were known as ‘the scourge of the Amazon’ by early residents of Grão Pará.

There was little they would not do for profit at the expense of Indians or colonials (see Henderson, 1821: 132–4).

15 The penetration of most remote areas by rubber-tappers is a staggering record in bravery (or stupidity).

16 The history of Grão Pará and Maranhão is filled with accounts of slave revolts (e.g.

Aldabert, 1849: 267; Magalhães 1922: 149, 151, 165), as well as example of Indians selling other Indians as slaves (e.g. Magalhães 1922: 175; Smith, 1880: 68–9, 592–3).

17 Residents of Gorotire over 60 years of age (of which there were at least 18 in 1979) still remember living in Pyka-tô-ti. Accounts of its size and population are consistent and, although data are sparse, there is sufficient evidence to merit urgent archaeological excavation. Likewise, the

Casa de Pedra

with its rock drawings will be made easily accessible next year by a new road. Excavations at this site could help to resolve questions about the antiquity of Kayapó occupancy of the Xingu valley.

248 Notes 18 This pattern was still preserved in and reinstate disappearing names.


. In 1977–79 several chiefs had followers who lived much of the year in dispersed circular villages near their fields.

During ceremonial periods, however, they convened at the main village site to enact important name-giving and agricultural rituals. Aeroplane travel is now used to bring together dispersed specialists from different groups in order to recreate ‘lost’ rituals 19 In 1980, I spent five months studying the journals, letters and manuscripts of Horace Banner in his private library in Cheshire, England. I am very appreciative to his family, especially his widow ‘Dona Eva’, for the courtesies and assistance so generously bestowed. Accounts in his 1949 and 1950 journals (just prior to contact with the


Kayapó) offer particularly vivid descriptions of fear of attack upon the Gorotire by neighbouring groups.

During my stay with the Gorotire in 1977–78, there were constant rumours of raids by the Kikretum village downriver. Gorotire had split in 1976 when Chief Pombo was expelled and forced to form this new village. Such anxiety seems much more imaginary than real, but nonetheless ‘cold war’ remains an important part of modern Kayapó world view.

20 The Gorotire still abandon a house if several deaths occur in it over a short period of time. For example, two deaths occurred in 1977 in Gorotire, all within a period of three months, causing a house to be abandoned.


Piá àm

is a difficult word to translate from Kayapó. It is a type of ‘shame’ or ‘social distancing’ that comes from breaking social rules. Fighting between kinsmen and lineages produces

piá àm

and ‘much shame’ is spoken of in terms of the hostile relationships that existed.

3 Environmental and social implications of pre- and post-contact situations on Brazilian Indians

1 Extracted from ‘Environmental and Social Implications of Pre- and Post-contact Situations on Brazilian Indians: the Kayapó and a new Amazonian synthesis’. Chapter 12 in Roosevelt 1994: 271–86.

2 The film

Jungle Pharmacy

was produced by Herbert Girardet for TV Trust for the Environment.

4 Time, space, and the interface of divergent cultures: the Kayapó Indians of the Amazon face the future


Revista de Antropologia

(São Paulo) 25:89–104. The original version of this paper was presented at the American Society for Ethnohistory, Annual Meeting, Albany, New York, October 1979, and was written while a Fellow at the Newberry, Chicago, Illinois. 2 The initial contact with the Kayapó was effected by the Reverend Horace Banner of the Unevangelized Fields Mission after earlier disastrous attempts by the legendary ‘Three Freds’. This early history is recorded in three books by Horace Banner – Banner n.d.; 1963; and 1975.

3 Recent developments in the Kayapó’s relations with the ‘outside’ world are monitored by the Anthropological Resource Centre and reported in their


. The recent bloodshed over land rights is reported in

Bulletin 4

, (5 January 1980), 15–17. Also see

Informe Amazônico

, Ano 1, Número 1, September 1980.

4 Anton Lukesch refers to this dynamic quality as ‘metamorphosis’ in Chapter 1 (Lukesch 1976). Many Kayapó myths deal with the nature of transformed/transforming entities, including what Johannes Wilbert categorizes as myths in the genre of ‘origins’ and ‘animal stories’ (Wilbert 1978).

Notes 249 5 The best expression of the nature of the dynamic energy that is central to life for the ( Kayapó is in their beliefs about shamans ( represented by animal ‘spirits’ (

Bemp kar˜on wayanga

). The ). Shamans have experienced first hand the spiritual realm that vibrates and shimmers with energies of all types


can ‘talk’ and ‘commune’ with these energies and can even manipulate some of them to produce observable results in Kayapó society. Myths about Kayapó shamans can be found in Lukesch (Lukesch 1976, especially pages 215, 233, 236–41). The important relationship between physical and spiritual transformation (or ‘metamorphosis’ to use Lukesch’s term) as embodied by the shaman is also reflected in myths recorded in Johannes Wilbert (Wilbert 1978). See ‘The man who turned into the rain’ (p. 117), ‘The spirit man’ (p.

123), ‘The man who made people’ (p. 156), and ‘The talking animals’ (p. 247) to name a few; also see Vidal (1977, 210–12). For a discussion of the ‘flight’ of the shaman from his body through the dynamic realm of the spiritual world, see Chapter 6.

6 The best source of knowledge about the Kayapó concepts of plants and animals is in their myths. In Anton Lukesch’s book (Lukesch 1976) see Chapter 6, for myths describing the relationship between humans and animals, and Chapter 7, for human–plant relationships. On pages 77–80, Lukesch also discusses the ancient notions of balance and harmony that permeate Kayapó thought.

7 See Vidal (1977: 77–80). The ideal field for the Kayapó is a circular one of about 0.6

ha. Contact with ‘civilizados’ has altered the shape and size of Kayapó fields. (See Bamberger 1967: 108–17; also see Posey 1979c).

8 Micky Stout confirms (private correspondence) that the Kayapó see their round graves in symbolic opposition to the square graves of the Brazilian.

9 The spirit ‘flight’ associated with becoming a shaman and its relationship with fevers is discussed in some detail in Chapter 6 of this volume [see f.n. 5 above].

10 The elaborate and complex nature of one of the most famous of Kayapó ceremonies rituals.

) is described in T. Turner 1965, Chapter 4, Section 4: 167–245.

11 The term ‘elevated state’ is used ambiguously in anthropological literature. There is considerable research on the subject, for which a good introduction is in Hillgard (1977).

Suffice it to say that there are various ‘levels’ of elevated states of consciousness. The elevated state described here is one bordering on extreme euphoria or mesmerization.

Dancing and singing do not generally induce ‘deep’ states, but rather the loss of specific temporal and spatial orientations. This ‘state’ is not unlike that which can be effected by modern rock concerts and similar ‘intense’ or ‘heavy’ experiences. The rituals associated with dancing and singing often, but not always, produce elevated states of consciousness for male participants. Not all participants experience elevated states at every ritual every time any more than every Catholic has a ‘religious experience’ at every mass. As Jeffrey Golliher points out (Golliher 1981) Catholics attend mass for a variety of social, political and religious reasons. The idealized goal, however, is to achieve a ‘sacred state’, just as the idealized goal for the Kayapó is to experience the ‘dynamic realm’ through their 12 I do not wish to imply that all dancing and singing ceremonies have as their sole purpose the induction of ‘elevated states’. This is definitely consciousness, the Kayapó shaman (


and smoking (tobacco or genipapo leaves).


the case for the bulk of Kayapó singing and dancing, which can be labelled as simply recreational. For ceremonies that are prolonged and associated with important events in the ecological and structural time cycles, however, ‘elevated states’ become a mark of the seriousness with which the Kayapó view the dancing and singing associated with the event.

13 Whereas dancing and singing for the average Kayapó leads to ‘slight’ elevated states of ) can go into ‘deep’ trance states. The ability to effect such a trance is part of the knowledge attained from the spirit ‘flight’ previously described. Shamanistic trance states are induced through fasting, chanting

250 Notes

5 The Kayapó origin of night


Latin American Indian Literatures

, Fall 1981. Vol. 5(2): 59–63.

6 The journey to become a shaman: a narrative of sacred transition of the Kayapó Indians of Brazil


Latin American Indian Literatures

2 This myth was related in Kayapó to me in Gorotire by Beptopoop in July 1977.

Translation into English was subsequently carried out in Brasilia in October 1979, with the assistance of Mickey Stout, Summer Institute of Linguistics.

3 I am unable to translate the formal language used in wails and certain ceremonies.

4 There are four versions of the myth that I collected in Gorotire. The variations each deal with the nature of the


, Spring 1983. Vol. 7(1): 13–19.

in its initial separation from the body. The variations seem to be the reflection of individual interpretations of the sensation of leaving the body.

5 The Gorotire Kayapó say that none of the strongest of


exist today: the last one, a woman, died in 1965.

7 Report from Gorotire: will Kayapó traditions survive?



, July/August 1985: 3 .

2 Native peoples may categorize species in ways not yet confirmed by science.

8 Indigenous knowledge and development: an ideological bridge to the future


Ciência e Cultura

, 1983 (July), 35 (7): 877–94.

2 It is now accepted that many so-called ‘natural’ landscapes are in fact cultural or anthropogenic landscapes (Posey 1997a), and their link with the conservation of biological diversity has been recognized under the 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (‘The World Heritage Convention’). Since 1992, a new category of World Heritage Site has been created, the ‘Cultural Landscape’, which recognizes ‘the complex interrelationships between man and nature in the construction, formation and evolution of landscapes’ (UNESCO 1996).

3 Linguistic symbols conform to the orthographic form approved by FUNAI. See Stout and Thompson (1974).

4 Grading is a term used to define the cognitive placement of any given object or concept in relation to other relative fixed categories. These relationships are best analysed as ‘fuzzy sets’ (Kempton 1978; Posey 1982d).

5 The

mrum-kamrek-ti mrum-re



men’s hunting magic to make man and dogs strong and aggressive in the chase. The (small, red ant, probably sp.) has a vicious sting and is used for the


sp.) does not sting and is, therefore, considered weak (


paint (mainly with urucu, to her grand-daughter ( ), but is admired by the women for its industrious and organized activity. It is common for the Kayapó to mix bits of insects into their body

Bixa orellana tàb djwa

) in order to acquire the perceived qualities of the insect utilized in the mixture. This story was related by a female head of household ) in Gorotire, July 1978.

6 The attractiveness of extra-floral nectaries to ants is summarized by Bentley (1977).

7 A recent expedition with Dr Gerhard Gottsberger to the Kayapó was very successful in collecting medicinal plants. Plant identifications will soon be published.

Notes 251 8 Species undetermined.


is not, however, the same wild ginger commonly grown by Brazilians (

Zingiber officinalis


9 The Kayapó have relatively stationary villages, but are nonetheless semi-nomadic, spending four to five months per year away from the main village. Kayapó families often spend weeks at a time in their gardens; women go on frequent gathering trips that may last several days: lineage groups spend one to two months in river camps where the primary activity is gathering brazil nuts ( the ecological cycle (Posey 1979e).

1972, 1981).

greater detail in Chapter 6.

Bertholletia excelsa

). Men are the most fond of trekking, spending two to four months hunting prior to the major festivals in 10 When the nests are found in the forest or savanna, the Kayapó climb up to the nest and close the opening to the nest with leaves to prevent the bees from escaping.

11 Usual figures are two to five years for the productive life of slash/burn fields (Alvim 12 The complicated subject of universal energy in the Kayapó belief system is treated in

9 Wasps, warriors and fearless men: ethnoentomology of the Kayapó Indians of Central Brazil


Journal of Ethnobiology

. 1(1): 165–74. May 1981.

2 A collection of nearly 6,000 insect specimens was deposited with the Museu Paraense ‘Emílio Goeldi’ (Belém-Pará), under the supervision of Dr William L. Overal, head of the invertebrate zoology section. I am indebted to Dr Overal for his limitless assistance in identification of both collections.

10 Hierarchy and utility in a folk biological taxonomic system: patterns in classification of arthropods by the Kayapó Indians of Brazil


Journal of Ethnobiology

2 I was told that no shaman in any Kayapó village today had this power. The last shaman, a woman, had died in Gorotire in 1972. The most powerful shamans that exist today are those who speak to the water eel ( 3 See Posey 1987b for fuller ethnoentomology of Brazil.

4 Termites (


4(2): 123–39. December 1984. ) are also included in the superordinate category of that they are not differentiated at the subordinate level as are other members of the group is explained in Chapter 12.






). The fact

11 Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees (Meliponinae, Apidae, Hymenoptera) by the Kayapó Indians of Gorotire, Pará, Brazil

1 Posey, D.A. and de Camargo, J.M.F. 1985. ‘Additional notes on the classification and knowledge of stingless bees (Meliponinae, Apidae, Hymenoptera) by the Kayapó Indians of Gorotire, Pará, Brazil’.

Annals of Carnegie Museum

54(8): 247–74.

12 Keeping of stingless bees by the Kayapó Indians of Brazil

1 Extracted from: Posey, D.A. ‘Keeping of Stingless Bees by the Kayapó Indians of Brazil’. 1983.

Journal of Ethnobiology

3 (1): 63–73.

252 Notes 2 Specimens from the Gorotire collection are now in the possession of J.M.F. Carmargo, Dept. de Biologia, Universidade Federal do Maranhan, 65.000 São Luis, MA (Brazil).

13 Ethnopharmacological search for antiviral compounds: treatment of gastrointestinal disorders by Kayapó medical specialists

1 Extracted from: Elisabetsky, E. and Posey, D.A. 1994.

Ethnobotany and the Search for New Drugs

. Ciba Foundation Symposium 185, Ciba Foundation, London, pp.77–94.

©John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Reproduced with permisson.

14 Use of contraceptive and related plants by the Kayapó Indians (Brazil)

1 Extracted from: Elisabetsky, E. and Posey, D.A. 1989. from Elsevier Science.

Journal of Ethnopharmacology

26: 299–316. Elsevier Scientific Publishers, Ireland Ltd. Reprinted with permission

15 Preliminary results on soil management techniques of the Kayapó Indians

1 Hecht, S.B. and Posey, D.A. 1989 ‘Preliminary Results on Soil Management Techniques of the Kayapó Indians’.

Advances in Economic Botany

7: 174–188.  1989 The New York Botanical Garden.

16 Indigenous soil management in the Latin American tropics: some implications of ethnopedology for the Amazon Basin

1 2 Hecht, S.B. and Posey, D.A. 1990. ‘Indigenous Soil Management in the Latin American Tropics: Some Implications for the Amazon Basin’.

Ethnobiology: Implications and Applications. Proceedings of the First International Congress of Ethnobiology

, Belém 1988: 2:73–86.

The Kayapó data were derived from yield measurements of crops in the field, household harvests, and informant estimates. Because Kayapó planting and harvests are continuous and our field presence was not, the numbers cited are probably underestimates. Colonist production data were derived from field interviews, and estimates from the Conceição de Araguaia IBGE office, as well as generalized estimates on colonist agricultural productivity derived from government and academic literatures (Smith 1982; Moran 1982; Butler 1986; EMBRAPA 1984). Livestock data are derived from field research. The livestock and colonist fieldwork was undertaken 25 km from Redenção in the direction of Gorotire. The Kayapó work has been underway since 1984. The other data were collected in 1982.

17 The keepers of the forest



, 6(1) 1982: pp.18–24.

Notes 253

18 Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems: the case of the Kayapó Indians of the Brazilian Amazon


Agroforestry Systems

. 1985: 3:139–58. With kind permission from Kluwer Academic Publishers.

2 ‘The continuum between agriculture and forestry is filled by the vast number of plant and animal species that are


agricultural domesticates


timber species, but nonetheless provide most of the needs of local communities. Many of these species have been genetically selected, planted, and transplanted to enhance and modify local ecosystems. These are sometimes known as ‘semi-domesticates’ or ‘human modified species’ (Posey 1993), although non-domesticated resources (NDRs) is my preferred term. NDRs have systematically been undervalued and overlooked by scientists, yet provide a vast treasury of useful species for food, medicines, shelter, building materials, dyes, colourings, repellents, fertilizers, and pesticides’ (Posey 1997a).

3 It is interesting to speculate that




are cognitive inverses of


. They form relatively open, sun-penetrating patches of forest, whereas


are relatively shady areas in the


. The result is the same: areas of concentrated plant diversity in ecologically similar conditions. Gardens clearly show zonation (Kerr and Posey 1984), albeit an inside-out version of


planting zones.

19 The continuum of Kayapó resource management

1 This extract first published in ‘Indigenous knowledge, biodiversity, and international rights: learning about forests from the Kayapó Indians of the Brazilian Amazon’.

The Commonwealth Forestry Review

. A.J. Grayson (ed.). Oxford, The Commonwealth Forestry Association, 1997, 76(1): 53–60.

2 These old fields are sometimes erroneously considered as ‘abandoneds’ or ‘fallows’ by scientists, but this gives the false impression that they are unused and only waiting to become useful again for timber or agriculture.

20 From warclubs to words

1 Extracts taken from: ‘From Warclubs to Words’, NACLA, Vol. XXIII, No.1 (May 1989): 13–18.

21 The Kayapó Indian protests against Amazonian dams: successes, alliances, and unending battles

1 McDowell, C. (ed.) 1996.

Understanding impoverishment: the consequences of devel opment-induced displacement

. Refugee and Forced Migration Studies 2. Providence, R.I. and Oxford: Berghahn Books. Reprinted with permission from Berghahn Books.




abem-o-watõ abenkot aben tàk abu abu-krê-kryre ajabamñy akôrãti akrôre akrê amji amjô-kanê amuh




amuh m˜etôrô amuh-poi-ti ãn-jê apêt apêtê apêtê-kryre apêtê






apêtê-ti apêtê ngri apêtê-nu apêti poire apêti rhynh ‘apiêt-ti apynh-kra-djà ara-abatyx ara’i ara-kratx


bee swarm the same to fight batumen lower batumen (with drainage channels) thread-waisted wasps monkey’s comb flower woody vine with poisonous bark aggressive, brave wasp’s nest human disease associated with rats social wasp Wasp Dance ichneuman fly close cell with wax small, low vegetative patches forest patches in savanna larger forest patch, with small trees and shrubs medium-size ‘real apêtê’ with shade from tall trees large forest islands with many tall trees (2+ ha) forest plot with some trees and large shrubs newly formed vegetative clumps oblong apêti long corridors of forest (for defence) mud daubers cell large wing wing vein wing joint

ara ngri-re arup-metx arup-tytx atúkma a-˜u bà bà-êpti bà-kam bà-katí bà-kot bà-krêti bà-kum-renx bà-ràràra bà-tyk benadjwyrà benadjwyrà-nhõ-kra benadjwyrà-pron benadjwyrà-ratx Bemp bemp nhõ djà ben Bep chy`rê-ch`yrê coivara djyjarejn kumrenx eijkwa eijkwa-krê-krê ˜epti hàk kanê heh hehpati h˜i hi˜-ja-krê-ô hi˜-krã-kà ibe ibe-tum ibum idjy mex igarapé imô inhot ipoi ipoi-tikà ipôkre

Glossary 255 small wing good, ready honey already hard (pupae) transitional zone pollen forest liana forest gallery forest high forest forest transition zone clearings, forest gaps ‘true’ forest forest in which light penetrates to the ground high dark forest chief chief ’s child chief ’s wife principal chief new year’s ceremony colourful rays ceremonial language ceremonial name grasshopper secondary burning true tradition mouth, entrance entrance gallery dense forest bird disease spiders, harvesters harvesters abdomen antenna body mature old fields, enriched secondary forest old field thorax beautiful name stream varzea forest distal hemipteran giant water beetle centre

256 Glossary

iprê-re irã-nô-kà kà kadáwanh kaigo kàikwa kàikwa kam àk kaingàrà kaj krit krã kramrek kanê kanenet kanê tytx kangàrà-kanê kangri kangro kangro ngri kanhetire kapo kapôt kapôt imo noi pok kapôt imôk krê pôk re kapôt jajôre kapôt kam imo kapôt kein kapôt krã nhi môk kapôt kumrenx kapôt mêtx kapôt nô kà kapôt punu kapoti kaprã-kan˜e karere karõn, karõ kekek ken-po-ti kikrê kô kokot kopre ki krê bum, kikre bunum krãi kam puru

‘energy’ open centres of apêtê body, shell circular ball of the spirit [only applies to humans?] useless sky harpy eagle segments flower called ‘flor do sarão’ disease, fever dragonfly ‘strong’ fevers ‘bee medicine’; medicinal vine bee basket hot warm stars cockroach savanna, campo campo openings on the tops of mountains small open areas surrounded by scrub forest near large campos open campo with small scrub patches seasonally inundated campo open campo with few trees campo rupestre open campo with numerous forest patches low grassy campo campo forest/savanna transition closed scrubby campo giant cockroach, mantid human disease associated with tortoises earwig spirit centipedes rocky areas with black soil deposited between the rocks houses resource island leafhopper, cicada fly quintal, home garden hill garden

kra kuni kra-ku-pu-djà kra-ngri-re kra-no-ro-djà krã-kam-djware krành krã-nhi kratx ã kapôt krã-nhinon ã kapôt kra-nu kra-pôt kra-pôt ket rã’ã kra-rhyn kra-tum kratx kra-tytx kra-`y-tr`y kri-metx kruk`yt m˜etoro krytkañêre krytkan˜et krytkañet-ka-àk krytkañet




kryx kub˜en kuben-kakrit kuben kan˜e kub`yt kukõ kungont, kungõnt kunõ kun˜um-kan˜e kupu-djà kuroro kw`yra kangô maj maja mak


makre makkryre


mak màrà màrà-krã-ti màrà ombikwa màràtire màrà-tyk-ti

Glossary 257 brood comb cocoon 2nd instar larvae brood chamber rhinoceros beetle hills and mountains campo at base of mountains campo at top of mountains 1st instar larvae unpigmented pupae still pupae pre-defecating larvae post-defecating larvae joint, eastern pre-pupae comb village tapir cricket grasshopper grouse locust ‘locust’ cold Indians ‘civilizados’ non-Kayapó disease brought by white people howler monkey base of antenna solitary bee, wasp resin human disease associated with capybaras involucrum shell of nest manioc or cassava juice crawfish Lit. ‘unimportant things’, animals with ‘shells’ and no ‘flesh’ scorpions pseudoscorpions beetle big-headed beetle relatives of beetles dung beetle big, black beetle

258 Glossary

m˜eb˜enjadw`yra m˜eb˜enjadw`yra rax m˜e-bêgnet




mebengêt M˜ebêngôkre me˜bengôkre kanê me-ê-krê m˜e ˜ingrà kan˜e m˜e kra ket djà m˜e kutê pidjà mari m˜e pari djà mehn mehn-akrê mehn-ê-krê mehnkamamuh mehn-kangô-kaigo mehn-nhy-pry mehnõ-ja’um mehn-ô-kabin-djwynh mehn-ô-petx-djwynh mekraketdjà m˜e kutôm m˜enire nhõ m˜eb˜enjadw`yra menononure mêtê mêtê kam ami tê o wai ri m˜e tôro m˜e-kute-m˜ekane-mari mêx mingugu moi ‘ô’ ja ‘àrà morokreruti mrum mrum-krã-ti mrum kudjà mry mry-kaàk mry kati mut myt

secondary chiefs, giver of the Ben head chiefs older men or women Kayapó autonym. Lit. ‘people from the water’s source’ Kayapó diseases honey pot ‘black’ diarrhoea contraceptive plants. Lit. ‘the no child stuff ’ health specialists who possess knowledge of medical plants abortive plants. Lit. ‘killing stuff ’ bee warrior bees honey storage pot honey wasps fermented / spoiled honey bee odour trail bee trash scout bee worker bee plants for regulating fertility beeswax hat: head-dress which symbolizes the universe of the


female chief, the highest ranking female authority young Indian man rotate leg put resin on leg to carry pollen seasonal ceremonies curers fair weather social bees katydid millipedes ant leaf-cutting ants, saúva (Atta spp.) ‘smelly ants’ (Azteca sp.) animals with ‘flesh’ a ferocious animal Lit. ‘false flesh’ or ‘no meat’, an animal type of


prothorax sun

m`yt-te nekrêtch, nê kretx nekrêx ngà ngô kôt ngôire ngô ngrà ngô tàm ngra-rêrêmex ngrê ngrê-kango ngrôt kr`yre ng`y nhiênh-djà nhôt nhum nhum-ê nhum-ê-krê nhy

(˜ ,

nhy-jaká ny


nhy-ngrire nhy-pônu nhy-rêrêk nhyby-rewãnh no no-kà-i nô-kà õ-krit ombikwa


ombiqua õ-to õ-to-pra pa paja’ô pàt kanê pàt-karo˜n piá àm p˜i-ã-ari-a-djà piã-õm pidjo-rã-kangô p˜i-tum pô’ê kô pô’ê te pry

Glossary 259 sand wasp inherited [songs and stories?], inheritance inheritance group Men’s / Warrior’s House / East–West Men’s House riverbank minute insects, small flies (collective) low water season high water season mole cricket egg egg liquid handful of ashes represented by [representing?] a cluster of seven stars – the Pleiades mud opening to pot; pot opening western stored pollen pollen pot empty pollen pot social insects newly emerged adult small adult emerging adult young, weak adult the ‘owner of the night’ eye (compound) ocelli (simple eye)


margins animal being raised relative, similar tongue tongue cover limb (arm, leg or foot) group sex human disease associated with anteaters mantis shame pillar plant fibre nectar dead trunk cane breaks very closed forest with cane forest trail, path

260 Glossary

prytumre pry kôt pure puru puru m˜etoro puru-no-kà puru nu puru-tum py pyka pyka-kamrek pyka-õ-ñy pyka-ti pyka ti ngrà pyka-tyk pyru-tym rã-kangô rêrêkre riño-krê-kam-màrà rop-krôre-karõn rorote ry tê tê’a-ma ten tep djwa tep kanê te’`y tyryti-ombiqua ture rã tytx ty`ry`ti djô ty`ry`ti-kô ty`ry`ti-kotam udjy ˜ur˜ukwa wa wai-krã wajabore wa-nhot wayanga, wajanga wayanga kumrenx

spider wasp trails in the savanna lined with trees fly swidden plot, fields feast of the fields edge of fields new fields maturing fields anchiote, urucu earth red soils potter wasps sandy soils wide beaches black soils abandoned fields nectar weak palm weevil velvet ant termite long, thin foot affix pollen to leg mites, ticks fish tooth fish disease end of abdomen Lit. ‘banana neighbours’ or plants grown in association with bananas yellow flower strong wild banana fruit banana plantation ‘companions of the banana’ – plants grown in banana plantations sorcery house, village mandible labrium (labrum) non-aggressive, cowardly teeth of mandible shaman true shamans

Glossary 261

wêjaputchô wet kanê wewe wewe jaká `yr-wai-djà

walking stick (Orthopteriod) sickness caused by the scorpion’s sting butterfly white butterflies invasion *

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Abortion 158; collective 158; plants for 158, 160, 161, 162; abortive 202 Age grades 25, 35, 42, 142, 151, 171 Agronomy 55, 165, 183, 184, 185 Altamira 30, 32, 225, 228, 231, 232; Altamira-Xingu complex 225, 228, 229, 232;

see also

hydroelectric projects Amazonian ecology 14, 15, 32, 33, 56; empty wilderness concept 224 Animal behaviour 5, 8, 62, 63, 73, 80, 90, 107, 108, 134 Animal spirits 60, 95, 109;

see also

spirits Anti-aphrodisiacs 155, 161 Antibacterial agents 146, 147 Antiviral agents 139, 145, 146, 148 Ants 9, 63, 65, 115, 129, 203, 204;


202; classification 88, 89, 105–10, 113; nests 6, 56, 76, 122, 173, 178


27, 28, 31, 56, 155, 171–4, 200, 206, 212, 213, 217, 218; creation 6–7, 201–4; emergency refuge 202; inventory 236–45; planting zones 210–11 Aphrodisiacs 155, 161 Armadillo 48–9, 74, 136–7, 141 Ash 8, 172, 173, 175, 176, 178, 179, 180, 181, 185, 190, 195, 218 Banana plants 7, 9, 74, 174, 175, 179, 180, 189, 194, 195, 208, 221 Banner, H. 2, 33, 42, 44, 59, 60, 141, 151, 156, 158 Basic object level (BOL) 85, 86, 89, 110, 111; subordinate 93, 94–108; superordinate 93, 108–9 Bats 48, 49–50, 141 Beans 65, 68, 170, 172, 175, 178, 179, 187, 188, 189, 194, 195, 197, 208, 221, 222 Bees


stingless bees Beeswax 9, 17, 73, 79, 112; Hat 112, 125, 135–137; artifacts 135 Beetles 73, 83, 85, 94; classification 86, 89, 96–8, 99, 100, 108–9; myth 89–90; rhinoceros 89–90, 96, 98 Belief system 4, 5, 39, 60, 78, 79, 92, 108 Bepkôrôrôti 129, 135 Beptopoop 9, 28, 42, 47, 48, 112, 140, 141, 157, 221, 245 Biodiversity xiii, xiv, xv, 6, 57, 81, 200, 211, 213, 218, 224, 225, 231 Birth 39, 46, 157; medicinal plants 157 Body paint 65–8, 106, 151, 202, 203, 214, 215, 222, 229, 236, 240 Brazilian Government; development schemes xiv, 3, 33, 81, 192, 199, 223, 224, 228, 233; new constitution 224, 225, 229;

see also

FUNAI Brazil nuts 28, 55, 170, 171, 197, 205, 207 Burning 167, 172–6, 178–80, 185, 186, 187, 188, 194, 195, 198, 203; coivara/secondary burning 175, 178–180; destructive 193, 221, 222, 225 Butterflies 26, 83, 85, 88, 102–3 Cacao 19, 193, 216 Campo-cerrado 206 174


savanna Captives 21, 42, 45, 82 Carrying capacity 73, 167, 171, 197, 198, Ceremonial fields/plantings 174, 187; animals 109; artefacts 4, 79, 112, 125, 135, 136, 202, 236, 244; feathers 21, 197; fish 4; food 174; game 4, 197 Ceremonies 3, 4, 16, 21, 24, 26, 31, 38, 39, 40, 45, 46, 48, 64, 78–80, 90, 101,

Index 281 Chiefs 3, 21, 25, 27, 47, 62, 79, 155, 174, 203, 221, 222, 225, 226, 227, 229; female chiefs 21, 27, 208 Cicadas 83, 85, 88, 103 Circular universe 35–7, 40, 90, 91 Circular village 21, 38, 115; fission 21–3 Classification 210; 170, 185; ring 176–9 17, 18, 23, 31


201; diseases 150; fevers 48; land 169, 185, 210, 212, 217; plants 80, 158; soils 169,

see also

basic object level; ethnoentomology; stingless bees Cockroaches 85, 88, 99–100 Co-evolutionary complexes 14, 65 Colonist agriculture 15, 167, 182, 187–92 Communal fields 62, 174 Concentric ring agriculture 7, 165, 166–8, 174, 175, 180, 181, 185, 186–8; central zone 175–6; outer ring 179–80; second Conception 149, 159 Conservation xiv, 55–7, 73, 74, 81, 133; bee colonies 129, 135, 136; movement 224, 225, 228, 231; soil 185, 188, 213 Contact; direct 17, 20, 23, 31, 60; indirect 17, 23, 31; initial 15, 16, 18, 20, 23, 24, 31, 33, 59, 60, 140; intermediate Contraception 139, 149–62; contraceptive plants 149, 156, 158, 160–2; social limitation of reproduction 158–9;

see also

Cotton 45, 68, 136, 172, 178, 194, 195, 221 fertility modification Cultivation


domestication Cultural transmission 16, 65, 160;

see also

myths Curers 45, 50, 95, 141, 145, 150, 151, 209 Dancing 3, 4, 27, 30, 36, 38–40, 45, 79, 90, 95, 158 Death 15, 16, 21, 23, 24, 31, 39, 45, 48–51, 59, 79, 100–2; biological death 49–51; social death 49–51 Deculturation 16, 24, 26, 27, 31 Deforestation 33, 58, 167, 182, 183, 192, 193, 213, 221, 225 Demonstration over rites 30, 225, 229 Depopulation 15, 24, 25, 31, 59, 141, 165 Desertification 33, 58, 199 Disease, cure and causation 21, 26, 50, 79, 95, 99, 100, 101, 109, 139, 140, 141, 150; ‘bird’ disease/

hàk kanê

142–5, 148; ‘fish’ disease/ 148, 149, 209

tep kanê

Disease vectors 17, 18, 31, 60; 142–5, 148 Disease, treatment 9, 17, 26, 142, 146,

see also

European diseases Domestication and semi-domestication 10, 11, 14, 27–31, 197, 198, 204; animals 14, 73, 80; bees 73, 107, 112, 124, 126, 127, 129, 130, 137; plants 66, 67, 68, 71, 78, 80, 197–8, 200, 205–7, 209, 218 Doves 48–50, 141 Dreams 142, 157 Earth layers of universe 35–7, 45, 50, 91, 92, 105, 136, 137;

see also

circular universe Ecological control mechanisms 7, 11, 14, 56, 72, 79, 170, 217 Ecological destruction 33, 58–9, 81, 198, 199, 221, 224, 225, 228, 232 Ecological planning 40, 78, 80, 133, 185, 208, 231 Ecological systems i, 4, 6, 11, 184, 213 Ecological time 35, 38; 217, 218;

see also see also

time Ecological zones and subzones 5, 6, 14, 59, 61–5, 72, 79, 80, 83, 102, 107, 131, 132, 134, 198, 200, 201, 204, 209–213, transitional ecological zones Ecotones 6, 213, 217, 218 Ecozones 64, 200, 201, 204, 209 Elders 28, 29, 31, 79, 82, 90, 109, 158, 159, 195, 203, 222 Energy balance 35, 38, 40, 48, 79, 142 Environmentalists 224, 227, 228, 231, 232 Epidemics 16, 17, 20, 21, 23, 25, 31, 59, 140, 193, 202 Erosion 58, 78, 169, 184, 225 Ethnoagriculture xiv, 6, 10, 14, 27–30, 74, 78, 165–7, 170–81, 193, 194, 198, 200, 204, 217;

see also

concentric ring agriculture; nomadic agriculture; slash/burn agriculture Ethnobiology xi, xiii, 29, 53–162, 168, 185, 200, 225, 228, 231 Ethnobotany xiv, 9, 10, 28, 140; classification 158 Ethnoecology 4, 5, 6, 7, 28, 29, 61, 193, 200, 212 Ethnoentomology 82–111; classification 86–9, 92–111;

see also

stingless bees

282 Index Ethnomedicine xiv, 7, 9, 10, 26, 29, 66, 95, 99, 100, 101, 124, 127, 128, 139–48, 149–62, 173, 196 Ethnopedology xiv, 7, 8, 29, 61, 165, 168, 185 Ethnopharmacology xiv, 9, 10, 29, 139–48, 149, 159 Ethology 63, 105;

see also

animal behaviour Exotic diseases 16, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 31, 59, 140, 141, 150, 165, 193, 222 Extinction i, 16, 41, 58, 80, 165 Fallowing 80, 172–4, 185–7, 190, 195, 196, 199, 208 Fertility modification 149, 151, 158, 159; Aibi, 151; cleansing treatment 156; cross-cultural use 159–62; female stimulants 156, 160; male stimulants 155; plants used 152–4, 157, 159; preparation of plants 151, 159; sex determination 157 Fields


new fields; old fields Flies 85, 88, 103, 104 Flood basins 56, 61, 62, 166 Folk ecology 4, 35, 38, 41, 59, 60, 198, 201 Food plants 67, 128, 209, 221; nutrition 207, 213, 217 196, 208

see also

plant management; ethnoagriculture; Forest fields 6, 10, 14, 27, 28, 31, 36, 71, 72, 80, 172, 174, 194, 197, 198, 206, Forest gardens xiv, 56, 68, 132, 172, 174, Forest management xiv, 4, 5, 10, 61, 196–200, 206, 210–12, 217, 218;

see also apêtê

Forest openings 10, 27, 62, 71, 128, 132, 171, 174, 196, 197, 204, 206, 207–9, 211–13, 217, 218 FUNAI ( Fundaçao Nacional Do Indio) 16, 25–7, 33, 140, 141, 158, 223–5, 227, 230; corruption 223; paternalism 223 Game attraction 4, 8, 10, 56, 62, 74, 79, 83, 128, 133, 171, 190, 196–206, 214–16, 236–45; fish bait 56, 64, 101, 196, 206, 244 Gastrointestinal disorders 9, 121, 139, 142, 145–7, 202 Gorotire reserve168–70, 187, 221 Grasshoppers 83, 100–2 Harvest 166, 171–8, 187–9, 195 Hill gardens 208, 213 Honey 9, 55, 73–7, 88, 107–8, 112–13, 121, 124–7, 135, 137 Hunting 1, 4, 7, 10, 36, 62, 63, 78, 194, 196, 205, 218; camps 68, 72, 197, 206; dogs 92, 106, 110, 125; treks 79 Hydroelectric projects 224–32; World Bank involvement 30, 226, 227, 232 Indian rights movement 222–5; acculturation 229, 230; ‘relatively incapable’ status 223–30; support groups 224, 228, 229 Indigenous resource management 6, 27, 31, 33, 40, 55, 59, 64, 78–81, 170, 171, 182, 185, 191, 192, 200, 204, 213, 217, 218, 225;

see also

wildlife management; plant management Informants 28, 29, 84, 86, 89, 97, 113, 134, 140, 150, 155, 156, 187, 245 Inheritance groups 26, 42, 95, 142 Insects 66, 73, 83–111; pests 78, 81, 97, 166, 196; classification forms 84, 85; morphology 86, 92, 94, 96–111; social insects 89, 105–8, 110, 112, 131, 132, 134 Ira Kayapó 9, 91, 112 Jê 15, 18, 42, 45, 165, 175 Kayapó Project xii, xvii, 10, 29, 53–162, 225; land management 185–7; world view 34–41 Knowers; medicine 26, 95, 140, 141, 150, 209; plant 26, 31, 95, 140, 141;

see also

Kube-i 221, 225–7, 229, 231; persecution 233 curers


19, 21, 35, 36, 92, 140 Kwyrà-Kà 9, 26, 28, 47, 48, 112, 129, 132, 140, 155, 245 Land use comparisons 188–92 Lineage


inheritance Lip disk 3, 11, 27 Livestock systems 188–91 Lumber 193, 222–5 Macro-time


Maize 65, 69, 79, 109, 166, 170–9, 187, 194, 195, 221 time

Index 283 Manioc 65, 69, 70, 79, 109, 170, 172, 174, 178, 179, 187, 190, 194, 195, 197, 205, 208 Marriage 155 M˜ebêngôkre 4, 5, 9–11 Medicinal plants 139–48, 150, 196, 203–10, 218, 221; application 143–9, 159; chemistry of 146–8; classification 158; preparation 145, 149, 151, 159;

see also

contraception; ethnomedicine; fertility modification; plant management Mekranoti Kayapó 160, 165, 171 Melons 178, 194, 195 Men’s House 3, 21, 25, 35, 37, 42, 128; Eastern 25, 26; Western 25, 26 Menstruation 155, 156, 160 Microclimate 209, 213 Microenvironment 208, 209, 211, 218 Migration 165, 166, 183 Mining 34, 56, 175, 222–5 Missionaries 16, 19, 23, 26, 27, 31, 44, 140, 150, 158, 159, 221 Moon 37, 38, 136 Mulching 167, 172–80, 181, 185, 187, 188, 190, 202, 209 Museo Goeldi 84, 106, 140, 150, 201, 230, 245 Myths 26, 29, 42–6, 48–51, 56, 65, 80, 82, 89, 90, 110, 132 Naming ceremony 16, 26, 135, 136, 174; beautiful names 4, 26 Natural forces 35, 38–40, 48, 142, 209 New fields 8, 10, 28, 171, 174, 175, 176, 194, 195, 205, 208, 212, 213, 217, 218;

see also

swidden Night, origin of 42–6 Nomadic agriculture i, 14, 27, 28, 31, 68, 72, 80, 171, 187, 194, 196, 197, 206 Non-native expansion 34, 40, 56, 57, 158, 167, 182, 192, 221 Nutrients for crops 166, 167, 172–80, 182, 185, 187, 188, 190, 195; deficiencies 182–4, 191; fertility 167, 172, 176–9 Nutrition 66, 82, 83, 159, 166, 190, 196, 197, 222; carbohydrate staples 170, 190; protein staples 170, 190, 196, 198 Old fields 10, 28, 29, 56, 62, 71, 74, 80, 128, 195, 196, 205, 206, 208, 212, 213, 217, 218 Organic compounds; antiviral 145–8; contraceptive 159–60; soil 176 Out-of-body experiences 38, 48–51, 141 Paiakan 140, 155, 221, 225–32 Palms 55, 56, 170, 203 Papaya 172, 178, 179, 194, 195, 205, 209 Pará 4, 33, 94, 168, 187 Peanuts 172, 174, 178 Pedro Kayapó 113, 114 Pineapple 68, 172, 174 Plant management 28, 55, 56, 67, 68, 80, 166–7, 170–2, 174–81, 185, 212, 218; pests 180, 184, 196, 198; plant diseases 78, 81, 166, 176, 180, 196; plant gathering 67, 79, 194, 196–8, 206;

see also

113 ethnoagriculture Plant variety origins 28, 56, 171, 211 Planting zones; 207, 211


210–11; concentric rings 175–7, 180, 181; fields 174, 175, 208; forest opening 208; trailside 10, Population estimates 4, 14, 23, 31, 33, 58, 59, 82, 158, 159, 165, 166, 193, 198 Portuguese speakers 15, 19, 27, 47, 82, 83, Pregnancy 39, 155, 156 Production yields 189–91 Property rights xiii, xv, 11, 140, 158, 222, 223, 225; denial of 223, 224, 226 Prosecution 225, 227–31; defence witnesses 231 Pykatire 156, 157 Pyka-tô-ti i, 21–4, 30, 31, 72 Quintal 209, 212 Raids 11, 12, 15, 20, 21, 23, 28, 31, 45, 60, 171, 202, 221 Reforestation 10, 14, 74, 78, 81, 187, 195, 196, 198, 204, 205, 213 Relationships, soil-plant-animal-human 59, 61, 62, 64, 78, 80 Resource islands 55, 68, 71, 72, 79, 80, 171, 187, 202, 206–7, 213 Rice 174–5, 178, 179, 187, 190 Rio Fresco 4, 55, 61, 63, 83, 168, 194 Rituals 4, 16, 21, 26, 38–40, 48, 60, 64, 78–80, 83, 95, 108, 142, 165, 173, 174, 187, 222 Rock gardens 209–10, 212, 213

284 Index Savanna zones 5, 6, 56, 61, 100, 160, 169, 172, 197, 200–4, 210–13, 217, 218, 235 Seasons 3, 4, 35, 46, 79, 83, 156, 194, 195, 202, 208 Secondary forest 56, 80, 133, 195, 196, 200, 208, 213, 218 Sexual activity 39, 46, 151, 155, 156, 159, 160, 203 Shaman 9, 26, 31, 38, 40, 42, 45, 47–51, 79, 89, 95, 99, 100, 101, 103, 106, 108, 109, 112, 127, 128, 131, 134, 141, 145, 150, 157, 158, 173, 203, 209, 210, 221 Sky layers 36, 45, 90, 91, 136 Slash/burn agriculture 10, 74, 78, 80, 175, 176, 179, 194, 195, 198, 205 Social organization of Kayapó 86, 90, 108, 112, 132, 134, 165, 166 Soil enrichment 8, 29, 167, 185, 209, 218 Soil fertility 168, 172, 176–80, 182, 185, 187, 191, 194, 196 Soil limitation hypothesis 165–6, 168 Soil management 165–92, 218; research 184, 192 Soil types 61, 62, 80, 166, 168–70, 174, 181, 185, 187, 194, 195; deficiencies 182–3; degradation 182–3, 192; heterogeneity 194; microdiversity 172, 174, 176, 178, 187, 208; topsoil 209 Songs 26, 38, 42, 45, 95, 172 Sorcery 20, 21, 23, 31, 95, 103, 124 Specialists 9, 21, 26, 45, 47–51, 60, 95, 141, 142, 145, 150 Species diversity 58, 62, 81 Spiders web 48–51, 141 Spirit related diseases 142, 150 Spirits 24, 26, 31, 35, 38, 47–51, 79, 89, 95, 100, 109, 141, 150, 151, 160, 209, 210 Squash 172, 178, 194, 195, 221 Stingless bees 9, 55, 73, 74–7, 88, 89, 107–8, 110, 112–38, 200, 206 Stories 26, 42, 45, 82;

see also

myths Structural time Sugar cane 178, 179 Sun 37, 136


Sweet potatoes 8, 10, 70, 170, 172, 174–9, 187, 190, 194, 195, 205, 207, 208 Swiddens 166, 167, 171–81, 187, 212, 213, 217, 218; time

see also

new fields Symbiosis 131, 198 Synergy, plant groups 7, 208, 209; insect groups 105, 106 Taboos; food 142, sexual 151 Termites 6, 56, 88, 89, 92, 105, 115, 173, 202 Time 34–5; ecological time 35, 38; lineal time 34, 40; macro-time 35, 40; structural time 35, 38; western concept 34 Tobacco 172, 178, 194, 195 Trade networks 17, 18, 23, 31, 60, 140, 211 Traditions 55, 221; clothing 229, 230; oral 225, 226;

see also

212, 213, 217 myths Trailside planting 171, 172, 205, 207, 211, Trails 10, 68, 129, 197, 202, 204, 206, 211 Transitional ecological zones 62, 72, 73, 80, 100, 201, 204, 210, 212, 217, 218 Transplanting 6, 9, 10, 71, 72, 171, 197, 198, 200, 204, 206, 208, 209, 213, 217, 218 Tree species, cultivated 214–16 Trekking 11, 21, 28, 36, 55, 60, 72, 79, 165, 171, 197, 206 Tropical rainforest 58, 191, 225, 230 Universe Upland zones 166, 168 Urucu 71, 92, 174, 194, 195, 205, 209;

also see

circular universe body paint Uté, J. 140, 156, 245 Utilitarian classification 93, 94–111; behavioural 93; cultural significance 96, 108, 110; functional 108–9; morphological 93; practical 93, 111; symbolic 93, 108, 110, 111 Vegetative cover 78, 80, 195, 198 War 202 War gardens 27, 31, 174 Warriors 30, 89, 90, 103, 106, 166, 202, 221, 225, 229 Wasps 63, 88–90, 106, 110, 115, 130; dances 27, 90; nests 90, 106

Wayanga see

shaman Western culture 33–41, 44; agriculture 193, 198; ecological theory 41; medicine 139, 141, 149, 150, 156; science 34, 39, 57, 59, 72, 80, 132, 197; technology 41, 59, 184 Wild plants 66, 67, 80 Wildlife management 55, 56, 73, 74, 78,


80, 81, 200, 205, 212, 213, 217, 218 Witchcraft


sorcery Women’s gardens 65, 78, 172, 176, 181, 194, 195, 205, 208 Xikrin 82, 165 Yam 70, 170, 172–74, 178–80, 187, 194, 195, 197, 201, 205, 207, 208, 284 Yurimaguas 184–6, 192 Index 285