The Araweté are a Tupi-Guarani people of hunters and terra firme forest gatherers which moved forty years ago from the headsprings of the Bacajá river to the Xingu river, in the state of Pará, Brazil. The Araweté claim to live "on the edge of the earth:" their tradition tells of successive movements from some Eastern spot (the center of the earth), always fleeing from more powerful enemies.
The Araweté were 278 individuals in 2000, more than twice as many as surveyed by The Brazilian Federal Agency for Indian Affairs (Funai)'s first census (120 individuals) made in March 1977, when 36% of the population contacted a year earlier died of attacks from the Parakanã and, mainly, of diseases caught during contact with whites. Now they number is an aproximate 450 persons.
Village LifeUnlike their Eastern Amazonian neighbors, the Araweté's primary crop is not manioc but a rapidly maturing maize.
The Araweté possess a very simple material culture within the Tupi-Guarani horizon. This can be partially explained by their state of constant alert and flight from foes in the past few decades and partially by contact trauma. In its simplicity itself, the material culture of the Araweté does not allow for approximation to any other particular Tupi-Guarani group. The absolute prevalence of maize cultivation compared to cassava also sets the Araweté apart from other Amazonian Tupi-Guarani.
The men carry a thick beard, which they grow in a goatee; they go naked except for a length of string tied to their foreskins. The women wear an outfit made of four tube-like pieces (waistband, skirt, an armsling-blouse and a headcloth) woven from native cotton and dyed with urucum. They wear earrings made from arara feathers fashioned in flower-like arrangements, pendantifs of iñã beadstrings, as well as necklaces made of the same bead. The men wear the selfsame earrings, however shorter.
Their hair is cut straight across the forehead to the ears, whence it grows to the back of the neck of the men and the shoulder blades of the women.The basic color and dye of the Araweté is the blood-red urucum, with which they cover their hair and bodies, anointing themselves uniformly. They may, however, draw a single horizontal line across their faces at the eyebrow level; one along their noses and one line each from their ears to the corner of their mouths. This pattern is also used in their festive decoration, when it is drawn in perfumed resin and covered with the minuscule bright blue plumage of the cotinga bird. The harpy’s plumes are glued to their hair.
The Spirit World
The shaman aray rattle is an inverted cone braided with arumã strips, covered with cotton twine until only the upper part is visible -- the base of the cone. A cotton boll is stretched around the base as a collar, into it four or five red arara feathers are inserted, giving the object the seeming of a flaming torch. Pieces of ground snail’s shell are inserted inside the braided cone. The aray gives forth a continuous, rasping sound; it is used by shamans to counterpoint the Mai chants and to perform a series of mystical and therapeutic operations: to bring the gods and the souls of the dead back to earth to participate in feasts; to show the way to sick people’s lost souls and to aid in the treatment of wounds and poisonous bites.
The aray once ready, cannot be used by women; a very powerful instrument, it evokes the Mai, who can break the neck of the woman who dared call them. In this society, only men are shaman.
The aray is the only object made by males which cannot be inherited by anyone; following the death of its owner, it must be burned. Endowed with deep symbolic values, it is a personal, non-transferable object.
Date accessed 01.04.15
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