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The Munduruku

A people of warrior tradition, the Munduruku culturally dominated the region of the Tapajós Valley, which in the first stages of contact and during the 19th century it was known as Mundurukânia. Today, its contemporary wars are aimed at guaranteeing the integrity of its territory, threatened by the pressures of illegal activities in the gold extraction areas, by hydroelectric projects and the construction of a large waterway in the Tapajós.

( Apurina Tribe )

Name and language

They are located in different regions and territories in the states of Pará (southeast, canal and tributaries of the Tapajós River, in the municipalities of Santarém, Itaituba, Jacareacanga), Amazonas (east, Canumã River, municipality of Nova Olinda; and close to the Transamazon , Borba municipality), Mato Grosso (North, Peixes river region, municipality and Juara). They generally inhabit forest regions, on the banks of navigable rivers, and the traditional villages of the region of origin are in the so-called “Tapajós fields”, classified between the sheets inside the Amazon jungle. The is mainly concentrated in the Indigenous Land of the same name , with most of the villages located on the Cururu River, a tributary of the Tapajós. More recent data on its population distribution and the situation of its lands can be found alongside in “Inhabited Land”.

Location and population

This indigenous people belongs to the Munduruku linguistic family, from the Tupi trunk. His self-name is Wuy jugu and, according to the knowledge spread orally among some elders, the designation Munduruku, as they are known since the end of the 18th century, was the way in which they were called by the Parintintins, a rival town that was located in the region between the right bank of the Tapajós River and the Madeira River. This denomination has the meaning “red ants”, alluding to the warriors who attacked rival territories en masse. The socio-linguistic situation is quite diversified, as a consequence of the different moments in the history of contact with the colonization fronts, and because of the dispersion in different geographical spaces occupied by this people. The population located in the small villages on the banks of the Tapajós River is mostly bilingual. In the Sai Cinza village, villages of the Cururu, Kabitutu and other tributaries of the Tapajós, children, women and the elderly speak most of the time only their mother tongue. There are also cases in which their language is going through a process of disuse, with an almost exclusive domain of Portuguese, and children and young people do not fully speak Munduruku, such as the villages of Mangue and Praia do Indio, located on the outskirts of the city of Itaituba, and in the communities of the Coatá-Laranjal Indigenous Land, in the Amazon.

( Katukina Tribe )

Contact history

Their most traditional territory is the interior fields of the upper Tapajós River. In the myth of origin, Karosakaybo created the Munduruku in the Wakopadi village, located in the central fields, near the headwaters of the Krepori River, a place located today near the eastern limit of the land demarcated in 2001. The first news about the contact of the colonizing fronts dates back to the second half of the 18th century, being the first written reference, made by the vicar José Monteiro de Noronha, in 1768, who called them “Maturucu”, when they were seen on the banks of the Maués River, a tributary of the Madeira River, former Captaincy of the Negro River – current State of the Amazonas -, where there are currently communities of this ethnic group whose history of contact and relations with the national society presents different aspects of the communities, located in the upper Tapajós region. Today, most of the population of the Madeira river basin lives in the Coatá-Laranjal Indigenous Land, which had physical demarcation work also completed in 2001. There are also records of communities outside the demarcated territories, along the Trans-Amazon highway, near the municipality of Humaitá, in the Amazon. . In the region of the lower Tapajós river, near Santarém, in recent years some communities in the process of affirming their ethnic identity have recognized themselves as Munduruku. The territorial expansion of this indigenous people caused different contact histories, and it is better understood in the approach made in the historiography when the Munduruku are presented as a boldly warrior nation, which carried out great excursions from the Madeira River to the Tocantins, with the purpose, among others, to obtain as trophies the heads of the enemies that were mummified and to which magical powers were attributed. The Munduruku dominated the Tapajós Valley by war and culturally since the end of the 18th century, a region known secularly as Mundurukânia, where they remain to this day, either in officially recognized lands, or living in small communities near rivers such as , Mamãeanã, São Luís and Pimental, the latter located just an hour’s drive from the stern of the municipality of Itaituba.

( Puyanawa Tribe )

Social organization

Munduruku society has a social organization based on the existence of two exogamic halves, which are identified as the red half and the white half. Currently, there are about 38 more known clans, which are divided between the two halves, where not only kinship relationships originate, but also different meanings in the relationship with the daily life of the village, with the world of nature and of the sacred . In the organization of Munduruku society, the offspring is patrilineal, that is, the children inherit the father’s clan, but the rule of residence is matrilocal, conditioning the newly married young man to live in the father-in-law’s house, to whom he must lend his collaboration in the tasks of planting, fishing, hunting and all other activities related to the maintenance of the house, including accompanying the family in the extraction and collection work in the rubber and chestnut areas. Generally, this period of residence corresponds to the first years of marriage, until the birth of the second child; after this phase the husband provides the construction of the house for his family. In recent years, in some families and villages, productive activities include work in gold extraction areas, generally carried out in the region of the Kaburuá and Tropas rivers, with the exploitation of small caves. But this need has been threatened by the inclusion of indigenous elders in receiving INSS social benefits. This caused some transformations in the role of provider and source of income within families. The benefits received are generally socialized, with special attention to the grandchildren , being that most of the times they contribute to the acquisition of products that were previously only accessible through rubber extraction work and other activities of exploitation of natural resources.

Cultural aspects

From the contact with the economic fronts and non-indigenous institutions (mission and SPI), various aspects of cultural life underwent transformations. Being a warrior people, several significant cultural expressions were related to war activities, which had a symbolic character of weight for the constitution of man and society. The displacements of the traditional villages to the banks of the rivers, forming small population centers, also contributed to the disappearance of the men’s house, an important unit in the traditional village, and to the permanence of some rituals of a collective nature that were related to food provision activities, divided between the dry season (April to September) and the rainy season (October to March). Among these rituals was that of the “Mother of the Jungle”, performed at the beginning of the rainy season, with the aim of obtaining permission for hunting activities, protection in forays into the jungle and good results in hunting. Some elements of this activity are still present, or were recreated with new meanings, especially in the relationship of respect for the hunted animals, in the daily practices of the hunter to obtain game and in the food rules. They maintain some cultural practices related to fishing, an activity of greater intensity in the summer, among which are the games that precede fishing with ‘timbó’, a root that, after being crushed, is used in the rivers to facilitate the capture of fish. fish. Generally, the day before the “tingüejada”, the root of the timbo is crushed on logs, where it is beat rhythmically with pieces of sticks by the men. Women, especially young women, collect the ‘urucú’ or the sap in the form of white rubber from a bush called ‘sorva’, and go on to chase the men, in order to pass these products on their faces and hair; they flee and a game is set up throughout the village. This is a way to cheer up the fish and get bountiful on the next day’s catch.

Material culture

In material culture, baskets and braiding stand out, which are male activities, allowing the man to make the ‘Iço’ – the basket with which women carry fruits and plantation products -, colanders and other utensils for domestic use made with natural fibers. Drawings with urucu are engraved on the baskets, which identify the husband’s clan . Thus, for example, the cloths to carry children that are made by women with the fiber extracted from a tree, identify, with the natural color red or white, the exogamous half to which the child belongs. Some men and especially women are excellent in making necklaces with zoomorphic figures (fish, turtles, jungle cat, caiman, etc.) sculpted with the seeds of inajá and tucumã.


Ceramics, a feminine activity par excellence, has almost disappeared, with some women in the Kaburuá and Kato villages who still master traditional techniques. There is information that among the Munduruku of the Coatá indigenous land, in the state of Amazonas, this practice is more present. The art of weaving, mainly cotton nets, is also in disuse, despite having a considerable number of adult and old women who have the knowledge of the technique, and who sometimes make for sale as handicrafts.

Material culture

Another aspect that deserves to be noted in the process of their organization is the interest they have always had in improving school education. Many of the existing schools arose at the initiative of the communities, and several indigenous teachers acted for years as volunteers, contributing to the literacy and the feeling of commitment of many young people who are today participating in actions of community interest. The training work for the first teachers began in the mid-1970s, with the support of the SIL (International Linguistic Society) and the São Francisco Mission.

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