The Karajá people live in a 180-mile-long area in central Brazil in the Goiás, Mato Grosso, Pará, and Tocantins provinces. They currently reside in 29 villages in the Araguaia River valley, near lakes and tributaries to the Araguaia and Javaés Rivers, and the Ilha do Bananal. They speak the Karajá language, which is part of the Macro-je language family

They have a long history of contact with non-Indian society. Yet this has not prevented them from maintaining many of their traditional customs such as: their native language, their ceramic dolls, domestic fishing trips, rituals such as the Aruanã Festival and the Big House (Hetohoky) Festival, feather decorations, basketry and craftwork made from wood, as well as body painting such as the distinctive two circles designed on the face. At the same time, they look to spend temporary periods in towns as a way of acquiring the means to fight for their rights such as demarcation and preservation of their lands, and access to healthcare and bilingual education.



Village Life

The village is the basic unit of social and political organization. Decision making is made by male members of the extended families, who discuss their positions in the Aruanã House. Factional rivalry between groups of men disputing political power in the village is common. As a result of contact, one of the village's men is elected 'chief' and is held responsible for tackling political issues with external agents, such as FUNAI, universities, NGOs, state governments and so on.

The Karajá also have an intriguing chiefdom which in the past seems to have had two functions: one ritual, the other social. A child - male or female - was chosen by the ritual chief from among those related to him on his paternal side to be educated as his successor. Today, both the ritual chief and the chosen child still receive the same indigenous names: ióló and deridu.

Agriculture & Subsistance

The community's staple food sources are the fish populations found in the Araguaia river and the lakes. A few mammals are prized as game, while the Karajá display a special preference for capturing macaw parrots, jabiru storks and spoonbills to make feather decorations.

Swiddens are cleared in gallery forest using a slash-burn technique. The ethnographic and historical records cite the cultivation of maize, manioc, potato, banana, watermelon, yam, peanuts and beans. Today, easy access to the town's facilities has reduced these products to maize, banana, manioc and watermelon. The Karajá also exploit wild fruits, such as those of the oiti and pequi trees, and collect wild honey. Sometimes they capture livestock raised in the open on the Ilha do Bananal to consume their meat, though this is not much favoured by older people.

The Spirit World

The Karajá origin myth tells that they used to live in a village at the bottom of the river, where they lived and formed the community of the Berahatxi Mahadu, or the underwater people. Fat and content, they inhabited a cold and confined space. Interested in finding out about the surface world, a young Karajá man found a passage, inysedena, the place of our people's mother (Toral, 1992) in the Ilha do Bananal. Fascinated by the beaches and abundance of the Araguaia river and by the existence of so much space to wander and live in, the youth summoned other Karajá and they ascended to the surface.

Some time later they met sickness and death. They tried to return, but the passage was blocked and guarded by a giant snake at the orders of Koboi, chief of the underwater people. So they decided to spread out up and downriver along the Araguaia. Through the mythological hero Kynyxiwe who loved among them, they came to know about fish and many other good things of the Araguaia. After many adventures, the hero married a young Karajá woman and went to live in the village in the sky, whose people, the Biu Mahadu, taught the Karajá how to make swiddens.

Myths approach highly diverse themes such as (among many others): the origin, extermination and resumption of the Karajá, the origin of agriculture, deer and tobacco, the origin of rain, the origin of the sun and moon, the Aruanã origin myth, the warrior women, and the origin of Whites. Normally these myths are associated with rituals and social themes, such as gender roles, marriage, shamanism and political power, illness and death, kinship, swiddens, fishing trips and contact with the whites.

The Karajá ritual structure is based around two major rituals: the male initiation rite (the Hetohoky), and the Aruanã Festival. These follow annual cycles based on the rise and fall of the Araguaia river level. The many smaller rites include collective fishing with timbó poison, the honey festival, the fish festival, as well as numerous others interspersed in the main Aruanã and Hetohoky rituals.


Information Referenced from the Instituto Socioambiental | Povos Indígenas no Brasil

Date accessed 01.04.15

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