Waimiri Atroari

The Waimiri-Atroari people inhabit the southeastern part of the Brazilian state of Roraima and northeastern Amazonas. The Waimiri Atroari language, which they call kinja iara, “people's language,” belongs to the Carib linguistic family. All the Waimiri Atroari speak this language, it being the means of communication among themselves and the one used in reading and writing. 

The Waimiri Atroari have long held a special place in the Brazilian imaginary as a warrior people who confronted and killed any outsiders who tried to enter their territory. This image led government authorities to transfer the responsibility for building a highway through their lands to the Brazilian Army, which used repressive military force to control the Indians.

This confrontation culminated in the near extinction of the Kinja people (the name used by the Waimiri Atroari for themselves). The invasion of their lands intensified when a mining company began excavations and when a hydroelectric dam was constructed, which flooded part of their territory. But the Waimiri Atroari faced up to these challenges and negotiated with national Brazilians, so that, today, they enjoy secure reservation boundaries, cultural vigor, and population growth.

 

 

 

Village Life

The phrase mydy taha, literally “big house,” refers to the communal residential structure, built in a circular format, where most of the village members live. The term also designates the space that makes up the village, both the living quarters and its immediate surroundings, including the gardens. The mydy taha is an important space for the Waimiri Atroari, since it serves not only as a settlement but also as a ritual space during their festivities. New villages are founded according to the community's needs, such as an increase in the population, the exhaustion of garden soils, or a scarcity of game.

Mydy taha are located near large rivers and seasonal streams. Each village enjoys economic and political autonomy, since no centralized power exists. The formation of a new village takes place gradually, relying on a prestigious person known as a mydy iapremy, “village master,” to mobilize a set of domestic groups to open up a new space. First, they choose a site within the region destined for the settlement, and then begin work on the gardens. When the crops appear, people start building a large circular communal house, the mydy taha. The structure will house various domestic groups, made up of relatives that include affines (in-laws) and cognates (kin). Each family has its own hearth and specific section.

Agriculture & Subsistance

The economic activities of a village are based on hunting, fishing, agriculture, and gathering wild fruits. Men are responsible for hunting game, which may take place during the day or at nighttime. Both sexes are allowed to fish, and often the whole family may go out fishing. Another activity that is undertaken by everyone in a family is gathering wild fruits. The greatest division of labor occurs in agriculture. Men are the ones who fell trees, burn them, and clear the gardens, while women are the ones who harvest the crops. Both take part in planting the gardens, a collective activity involving all the families, who also collectively divide up the produce. The crops include bitter manioc, sweet manioc, several types of sweet potatoes, yams, and certain fruits.

Besides these garden crops, the Waimiri Atroari menu includes many species of fish and animals, such as tapirs, howler monkeys, coatis, pakas, wild pigs, curassows, and trumpeter birds, among others. Not all animals and fishes may be eaten on a daily basis. Various food restrictions are imposed on individuals at significant points in their lives, such as birth, rites of passage, first menstruation, and purification before and after a war.

The Spirit World

According to the Kinja, all the animals and mythological beings that inhabited the earth in ancient times were human beings, who lived in the midst of their ancestors. One day, it began “raining” stones, and everyone thought the world was going to end. However, one of the houses was supported by a center post made of pau d'arco, a strong kind of wood that withstood the stones' blows. Several families lived together in this house, who gave rise to the ancestors of the current Waimiri Atroari. Thus, the genesis of the Kinja was marked by a division between the time before and the time after the stone “rain.” Nowadays, they say that they are the second-generation descendants of the people who survived the storm, protected by the center post holding up their house.

The ancient Waimiri Atroari are known as Tahkome (male) and Nysakome (female). Tahkome is a term that can also refer to a very distant past (the time of these ancestors), when everyone lived together in a state of equality and all were human, although some had supernatural powers.

According to the Kinja, all the animals and mythological beings that inhabited the earth in ancient times were human beings, who lived in the midst of their ancestors. One day, it began “raining” stones, and everyone thought the world was going to end. However, one of the houses was supported by a center post made of pau d'arco, a strong kind of wood that withstood the stones' blows. Several families lived together in this house, who gave rise to the ancestors of the current Waimiri Atroari. Thus, the genesis of the Kinja was marked by a division between the time before and the time after the stone “rain.” Nowadays, they say that they are the second-generation descendants of the people who survived the storm, protected by the center post holding up their house.

The ancient Waimiri Atroari are known as Tahkome (male) and Nysakome (female). Tahkome is a term that can also refer to a very distant past (the time of these ancestors), when everyone lived together in a state of equality and all were human, although some had supernatural powers.

 

Information Referenced from the Instituto Socioambiental | Povos Indígenas no Brasil

Date accessed 01.04.15

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