Since 1969, when the Paiter were “officially” contacted, their relations with non-Indians have produced profound changes in their society. These changes, however, have not extinguished their warrior spirit, which has motivated the struggle of these people for the recognition and integrity of their territory. In their recent history, this has been terribly threatened by the violence of the Polonoroeste program, the corruption and omission of government agencies, the invasion by unauthorized individuals, including lumbermen and miners.
Struggling as they can against these adverse conditions, the Paiter seek to maintain the vitality of their cultural traditions, in which society is understood through a division into halves, in such a way that the social segments, productive activities and ritual life constitute expressions of dualism between the village and the forest, the garden and hunting, work and festival – with the exchange fests of offerings and the work parties associated with them being the high points of exchange and alternation between these halves.
Traditionally the Suruí Paiter lived in communal houses divided internally according to family groups. Today, the situation has changed a great deal; however, in order to better understand social organization, we will illustrate how traditionally houses were organized.
The houses are long, shaped in the form of an ellipse, measuring about 25 by 8 meters, with a single door on the more narrow part. They are tall constructions, in the shape of a Gothic arch, and may be as high as 8 meters. The frame is of wood and is covered with thatch. Treebark, half a meter high, forms the base of the wall that protects the house from rain, the rest being of thatch.
At the entrance there is a space for common use, where, among other objects of household use, there are large ceramic pots, belonging to each woman of the house and which are used to make various kinds of soup and ceremonial drink called "i", made from corn. On the days when the women cook together, squatting, with long bamboo spoons, one can hear in the early morning the sound of the mortar, where the corn is being pounded for soup or flour. Also, every day the women make the regular movement, on foot, of bending the trunk up and down and holding the heavy pestle.
Agriculture & Subsistance
The Paiter have a great knowledge of agriculture and family gardens are cultivated by groups of brothers, in which a variety of products such as corn, manioc, potatoes, yams, beans, rice, bananas, peanuts, papaya, as well as cotton and tobacco are cultivated. The system of planting is swidden, each garden being abandoned after two years of use.
With regard to the sexual division of labor, traditionally it is up to the men to cut down the forests for the garden and to make arrows; while the women spin, make ceramics and baskets, cook, harvest and take care of the children. Men and women plant and fish.
They dedicate themselves to the gathering of fruits, honey, larvae, palm cabbage and other products of the forest. After 1981, on becoming the owners of the coffee plantations of the invaders who were expelled from their territory, they went on to sell coffee on the market. The financial income is used to buy products today considered indispensable, such as clothes, tools and food.
They are good hunters and fishers. The hunt can last hours, or a whole day, or days, or even weeks. The women like to go together and at times they take the children. Women and children wait at designated places while the men go off on the hunt properly speaking. There are various techniques of hunting, like traps and hiding-places, where the hunter imitates the sound of several animals until they respond to his calls. Hunting is preferentially done with firearms, for they claim that bamboo is difficult to find these days. After the hunt, the meat, the smoked fish and the fruits are distributed according to the degree of kinshi
The Spirit World
As in many societies in which shamanism has a central role in social life, questions related to health and sickness have an intrinsic relation to the supernatural universe. There are various categories of spirits that make men get sick, and there are also those that, when invoked, can avoid sicknesses or make then stay away. There are narratives associated with each one of these beings.
According to Suruí cosmology, souls should cross over a trail full of dangers. For example, a giant vulture devours them; a stone crushes them; excrement of an immense lizard buries them; a woman or man with unusually large sexual organs frightens the men or women (respectively) that approach; among many other torments. The courageous people are able to cross over the trail and arrive at an eternal and secure dwelling, together with all those who were shamans. The cowards or those who committed incest die a second time, or go on living in the villages of the useless souls. One should not pronounce the names of the dead, so that his/her soul does not come back to haunt the living, and so that he/she makes the final crossing in peace.
Information Referenced from the Instituto Socioambiental | Povos Indígenas no Brasil
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