The Enawenê-nawê are a relatively isolated who were first contacted in 1974 and their population is approximately 640. They live in a single large village close to the Iquê river, an affluent of the Juruena, in the northwest of Mato Grosso state, Brazil. The Enawenê-nawê speak an Arawakan language, very close to that spoken by the Paresí. Since the start of the 2000’s their culture has come under severe threat with projects to construct eleven PCHs (small hydroelectric plants) in the region surrounding the Enawenê-nawê indigenous land.


In addition, they are increasingly surrounded by other threats of invasion and are exposed to pollution of their rivers and lands by cattle ranching, mining activities and soya production in areas bordering their territory. 



Village Life

The Enawenê-nawê village is circular in shape and formed by rectangular communal houses and a circular house located more or less in the middle, called Yãkwa, where the flutes are kept. The central clearing is used to perform rituals and play headwall, a traditional Enawenê-nawê sport, with balls made from latex extracted from rubber trees. The houses are made from trunks tied with vines and covered with moriche palm straw. Inside the houses there is a common area formed by a long, wide central corridor that links the two doorways. This space contains large platforms used to dry roasted maize cakes, uncooked manioc cakes and other food.

Each house is occupied by several families connected by kinship relations. Composed of a father, mother, daughters and unmarried sons, each family has its own hearth surrounded by hammocks and a platform on which belongings are stored. The interior of the houses is cool and busting with activities. During the day when its hot outside, the houses provide protection from the heat. At night they are illuminated by resin torches rolled in wild banana leaves and each families fire is alight. 

Their social structure is split into clans. The clans perform important matrimonial, ritual, economic and political functions. Clans are not formed just by people, but also legions of subterranean and celestial spirits, all associated with sets of flutes.

Agriculture & Subsistance

Fishing, gathering and agriculture do not happen at exclusive and separate moments of the annual calendar. they are intersecting and complementary activities, although one of them typically dominates the socio-economic setting for a specific period of the Enawenê-nawê production cycle. The men are responsible for fetching firewood and for felling, burning and planting while women regular weed the cultivated areas, harvest the crops and process the the food. 

The Enawenê-nawê are highly skilled in fishing and use a wide variety of techniques in different locations and periods of the annual river cycle. They fish with hooks, bows and arrows, plant poisons, traps and large dams. No species of fish is absent from the Enawenê-nawê menu, which includes frogspawn. The most common species are piau, wolf fish, matrinchã, peacock bass and the jaú catfish.

The area surrounding a village is a good place for gathering fruits, insects, fungi, honey and other resources. The best locations, however, are those where the Enawenê-nawê make their camps for collective fishing trips and maize swiddens, when the population disperses and the pressure on nearby resources lessens. These activities coincide with the start of the rainy season when resources appear in abundance. During some periods of the year certain resources become more sought after, such as Brazil nuts, bacaba, pequi, moriche palm, and especially honey. Ants, termites and a wide variety of fungi appear frequently in the diet (almost daily) during the rainy season, when they are mixed with manioc bread (beiju) roasted and cooked.

The Enawenê-nawê grow two types of manioc: sweet and bitter. Bitter manioc is preferred due to the wide variety of ways of preparing food from it, including beiju (flatbread), weak beer, porridge and maize soup. Sweet manioc is eaten, usually cooked or roasted. While men are responsible for all the initial agricultural activities as far as planting, thereafter all the remaining tasks are performed by women, such as weeding the swidden, harvesting the ripe crops and replanting.

The Spirit World

The Enawenê-nawê recount that the ancestral peoples from whose ‘remains’ they originate, initially lived inside a rock. Thanks to the help of a woodpecker, who drilled an opening in the rock to the outside world, the peoples spread across the surface of the earth.

Each year they begin a long ritual directed towards the subterranean and celestial beings – the iakayreti and enore nawe, respectively. During this period the Enawene Nawe sing, dance and offer them food in a complex exchange of salt, honey and food, especially fish and manioc. Consequently they organize their work with the aim of producing food for day-to-day consumption and to be offered in rituals.

The Enawenê-nawê cosmos is represented by four levels: above the terrestrial plane where they themselves live is the eno, the habitat of the celestial gods, the enore nawe (female: enolo nawe); below the terrestrial plane is an ample and sinister universe dominated by the iakayreti. Finally above the eno is the fourth and last layer, an infinite, unreachable and lifeless space.

The shaman has the capacity to travel to the celestial plane. This normally occurs through special dreams or trances. Everything begins when, lying in his (or her) hammock between sleep and wakefulness, the shaman (sotayreti) starts to utter phrases in a high pitch, drawing more and more people around him, an occasion when he reveals the threat of illness or death of a person, the worsening or improvement of some affliction, and so on. While in a state of trance, the shaman may also walk agitatedly through the village clearing and the surrounding area, especially a night, making aggressive and tense gestures, almost always armed with a bow and arrow in search of malign spirits, visible only to his eyes. Only the shaman is capable of identifying a iakayreti, which when seen on the clearing or at the rear of the houses immediately flees back into the earth. Very often, though, it may be struck, but never killed, by a shaman, who immediately announces the deed, displaying a broken arrow and proudly describing the attack.


Date accessed 01.04.15

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