The Tapirapé are a Tupi-Guarani people who inhabit the region of the Urubu Branco mountain range in Mato Grosso. As a result of contact with the advancing development fronts from the mid- 20th century, they suffered an intense loss of population, and during this time they became close to the Karajá groups, formerly their enemies. 

After their traditional territory was occupied by cattle ranches, in the 1990s they managed to get official recognition of two indigenous areas, one of them in co-habitation with the Karajá. But in the Urubu Branco indigenous are a they still face problems over land, because of invasions by farmers and prospectors. Today, their population is approximately 655 persons.



Village Life

Tapirapé village consists of houses disposed in a circle around the House of Men, the takara. Up until the 1950s the houses were lived in by extended families. Ideally a Tapirapé family consisted of groups of related women (mother, daughters and granddaughters), representing three generations. However, today the extended family has given way to the nuclear family ( the couple and their children), which is now the norm. The nuclear family, as changes in the terminology of relationships show, is also the most stable kinship unit today.

Besides kinship, another important organisational principle of Tapirapé society are the so called "bird societies", or wyra. These societies, which are exclusively male, are divided into two big "halves", which in their turn are made up of age groups: older men, mature men and young men. A man is linked to his father's bird society and as he grows up he passes into the next age group in his half. The wyra compete as hunting groups, in ceremonial performances, singing, agricultural tasks, house building, etc.

Agricultue & Subsitance

The Tapirapé live in communities that depend mainly on agricultural activities. Their fields provide not only the basis of their subsistence, but also the structure, together with hunting, for their spiritual life.

The economic and religious activities take place in an appropriate place, non-floodable high forest. Only this ecosystem allows for the existence and operationality of the principles along which the village is organised: (1) kinship groups. (2) the bird societies - wyra and (3) the eating groups -Tataopawa. At least since the 19th century the Tapirapé have used territories which combine high forests, good for planting and hunting, close to areas along the banks of the Araguaia river, rich in fishing lakes, and near fields where seasonally they collect a large variety of wild species: nuts, honey and turtle eggs.

Besides its nutritional importance for the group, hunting has a fundamental symbolical importance. Hunting is sociologically important for the Tapirapé, because only the collective hunts allow the bird societies, the wyra, and the eating groups, the tataopawa, to act together. The ritual hunts are the start of the initiation ceremonies for the youths, their most important joint religious ceremony, by means of which they "produce" the new members of Tapirapé society.

The Spirit World

The physical and emotional security of the Tapirapé depends on the power of their shamans. They believe that in order for a woman to have a child, the shaman must deliver the child’s soul to the mother. This is because, in anchunga, the supernatural world of the spirits, there is a finite number of spirits. The spirit, or soul, of the child enters the woman, invoked by the shaman. This means that a woman’s sterility or fertility is explained by the intervention of the shamans.

According to the Tapirapé, the main “reserve” of children’s souls, fundamental for the continuation of the group, is located exactly in the Urubu Branco mountain range, specifically in a big rock wall, from which, during the rainy season, a waterfall appears. It is called Yrywo'ywawa, (the place where the white vulture drinks water). The mountain, home to the white vulture, took its name - Urubu Branco - from the bird.

Considered sacred by the Tapirapé, this place is also home to Tarepiri, a mythological personality who only appears to the shamans who seek him. Tarepiri is seen as the guardian of the Yrywo'ywawa and of Towajaawa ( also known as the Sao Joao mountain, another sacred place, also mentioned as the home of the white vulture). Tarepiri is considered to be the “father of the children from the place where the white vulture drinks”, or Yrywo'ywawa hakawa. Tarepiri defends this place against strangers, but welcomes the shamans.

To guarantee the continuity of births to the group the shamans need to travel in their dreams to Yrywo'ywawa and capture the souls of the children to introduce them into the wombs of the women. Another important guardian of Yrywo'ywawa is Karowara, thunder, who also keeps a large number of children’s souls.

The annual ceremonial cycles of the Tapirapé are composed of the following rituals : they begin with the xepaanogawa (at the end of September, beginning of October) followed by the building of the takara (December), then the ka’o, then the Marakayja (end of February, beginning of March) ending with the Tawa ritual (end of June).

The Marakayja is the biggest and most extensive ritual of the Tapirapé, the high point of the ceremonial cycles: the initiation of the boys and their passage to the category of men. Before the ceremony the Tapirapé go to the region of the Urubu Branco, and guided by their shamans, who they believe control the game, they remain there long enough to obtain the food that will be consumed during the Marakayja ceremony. The teams made up of the halves of the wyra, hunt especially the herds of wild boar, considered an excellent food, competing to see which of the halves will bag the largest amount.

In their dreams the shamans travel to the “house of the boar” located in the mountain called Towaiyawa where they maintain sexual relations with the female boars, to increase the size of the herds. The Marakayja ceremony is then held when enough meat has been obtained.


Information Referenced from the Instituto Socioambiental | Povos Indígenas no Brasil

Date accessed 01.04.15

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