The Kalapalo Indians

The Kalapalo Indians of Central Brazil are one of a few surviving indigenous
cultures that is uniquely protected by a national reserve in lowland South
America. Through no effort of there own, they have been isolated artificially
from Brazilian social and economic influences that reach almost every other
Indian tribe in Brazil. This unusual situation has made it possible for the
Kalapalos culture to be undisturbed by the outside world and the surrounding
tribes. Much of Kalapalo life is run through a central concept or an ideal of
behavior, called ifutisu. This is an infinite ideological concept that is
represented in many ways in social life and ideal organization among the

The area in which the Kalapalo live is in the northeastern Mato Grosso state
called Upper Xingu Basin. There are four unintelligible languages by groups in
this region. This makes the Upper Xingu Basin linguistically diverse, but with
many of the groups still sharing the same social and ideological features. It is
very difficult to trace back the origins of Kalapalo life because of the
integration of the many different and culturally diverse groups in the Upper
Xingu Basin. So, many of systems of kinship classification, marriage practices,
ceremonial organizations, status allocation, and religious beliefs are
consistent with cultural rules and social practices and not with the original
system. Many of the modern local groups can only reconstruct their own history
which is in limited detail, these systems cant be isolated completely from the
existing society.

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The two most important social units in Upper Xingu society are the village and
the household groups. Both the village and household can be considered corporate
in that both control rights to territorial resources, acts as a unit when
performing certain economic and ceremonial activities. Members of a household
group are obligated to pass out food which they collect amongst themselves. Even
when one cannot supply food a Kalapalo is assured of a share because everyone is
treated with the same kind of respect. Despite this corporate organization,
membership in villages and households is constantly changing, and there is much
movement of people between group to group.

The Kalapalo society is a system wherein social units, such as the village
groups and households exist only because of the individual who decides to live
in these systems and choose to cooperate with one another. This is very
different from other non-western societies whereas the individual acquire the
responsibility to join in social units, by birth or other means of relationship
to and with each other regardless of the identity of the individual themselves.

The Kalapalo social organization is characterized by a flexible group membership
and significant differences in the classification of individuals with certain
groups. The choices for the Kalapalo to join groups is based on the personal
relationship between one another instead of certain clan membership, religious
beliefs, or ancestry.

The Kalapalo have an attitude towards cleanliness which encompasses all aspects
of life such as; food, houses, belongings, and physical appearance. During the
time of the year when manioc is being ready to be planted or when it is
harvesting time, it is not uncommon to find them bathing three or four times a
daily. The Kalapalos attitude towards cleanliness approaches the excessive

The Kalapalo believe in generosity and peaceful behavior toward every one they
encounter. They reject all acts of aggression and violent expression and find it
inappropriate for human beings. Instead the Kalapalo embrace an ideal of non-
violence which includes suppression of anger and a passive tolerance of behavior.

In Kalapalo society people are incorporated into a cycle of reciprocity and
generosity . The idea of sharing takes place only along the lines of prior
relations; such as kinship, friendship, or membership of the same household.

The residence of the Upper Xingu Basin are settled agriculturists, fisherman and
hunting. The Upper Xingu Basin is characterized by its two seasons: The dry
season which falls on the months of May and September, where intensive
subsistence activity begins. New gardens are prepared and manioc is harvested.

Also fishing is done at this time for the rivers are low and the water is clear.

The rainy season occurs during the months of October through early April, where
a decrease subsistence activities begins. The rainy season welcomes the ripening
of new various species of wild fruits. During this time river are flooded and
the Kalapalo must depend on little game hunted, stored food and insects
collected. Kalapalo technology is very primitive. With the restricted absence of
metal and stone tools. The Kalapalo make the best of bone, tooth, and wooden
implements or tools. Manioc is a rooted crop which is the major subsistence item
for the Kalapalo.

Kinship relationship are deemed to be the most important of social ties by the
Kalapalo. Kinship for a Kalapalo is an all-pervasive bond which extends into
almost every part of their life, such as religion, economic, political and
familiar relationship are all deeply influenced by kinship. The Kalapalo trace
relationships through either parents regardless of sex. Second, a kindred is
usually defined ego-centered: persons classed in such a unit are considered
related to a specific individual. This is what the Kalapalo call otomo concept
which is similar to the anthropologists concept of kindred. The Kalapalo
distinguished material and paternal filiation by making use of different symbols.

These symbols define the sexual relation between parents as different from other
kinds of sexual relations. The parents of a child doesnt have to be married to
be declared its mother and father. What is importance is knowing who the
parents are, since it is very important to establish the childs otomo

Kalapalo marriage takes one of two forms. The first is an arranged marriage,
which involves a girl being engaged before puberty and to a older man. This type
of marriage is marked by the giving of bridewealth, which is the payment to the
girls parents and their siblings by the parents of the husband to be. The
second form of marriage involves people who are lovers and takes place after the
death or divorce of a spouse. The Kalapalo seek to establish the first of the
two marriages, which is the arranged marriage on the basis of past relationships
of kinship or affinity. The reason why arranged marriages are important is
because the create alliances between persons who have prior kinship connections.

Also many of the men and women take on different types of marriage such as
polyandry and polygymy.

Although the Kalapalo do not have or define position of leadership, there are
certain individuals whose actions have designated them into leadership roles.

Kalapalo leaders are people who constantly expand and reinforce social ties. By
doing this it demonstrates their ability to influence a large group of
individuals and thus gains a certain amount of respect and prestige. The
Kalapalo have a number of special statuses, each with certain duties and
obligations to perform services, with this comes payment or rewards for duties
or services done. Some of these special statuses are anetaw village mediators
between households and village groups. Oto sponsors of ceremonies, ifi are
ceremonial specialist, who preform the ceremonies and then teaches others about
the ceremony. Fuati are curers and diviners, persons with unusual skills in
healing others. The Kalapalo do not speak of these status roles in terms of
leadership but believe that a leader is a person who has achieved many great
statuses and who thus stand apart from the rest of the community. The Structure
of Kinship in a Tribal Society
This research will focus on the topic of the structure of kinship in a tribal
society, particularly on the kinship connection which structures many areas of
social tribal life. From political alliances formed between tribes, to access of
certain resources, to a status role in tribal groups, and even as important as
life and death. The references include.

Keesing, Roger M. 1975. Kin Groups and Social Structures. Holt, Rinehart,
& Winston: New York.

This book examines the decent groups, the nature of alliance system and
the internal complexity and diversity of actual societies. Through kinship and
kin groups and there social structures. This source has been helpful in my
research because explains the formal principles of kin group organization, it
also shows the kin groups in evolutionary and ecological perspective. The book
also explains the difference between kin groups and social structures and at the
same time explains how kin groups play roles in certain social structures and
vies versa .

Goody, Jack. 1971. Kinship. Cox & Wyman Ltd.: Great Britain. Langara GN 480 G6
This book examines the complex kin networks of many tribal societies and
shows the vital role in safeguarding social and cultural stability. It also
examines the traditional kinship system, kin groups and marriage alliance. This
source has been helpful to my research because it has explains certain
structure roles and how they affect certain societies. It is also helpful
because it explores the formations of alliances through marriage. Finally this
book show the collection of kin groups and the relationship to social and
cultural stability.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1969. The Elementary Structures of Kinship.

Becon Press.: Boston. Langara GN 480 .L413
This book examines the principle of kinship, nature of exogamy. The
theory of kinship which includes Malinowskis theory and its contradiction.

Historical analysis, social structures, incest and the connection to marriage.

This source has been helpful to my research because it has shown the elementary
structures and theories of kinship. It has also given many kin terms and there
explanations. Finally it tries to explain the significance of social structures
and there relationship between kin groups.

Schusky, Ernest L. 1965. Manual for Kinship Analysis. Holt, Rinehart &
Winston.: New York. Langara GN 480S35
This book examines the beliefs and ideal behavior of a people and their
actual behaviors by understanding kinship practices. It also examines the
theory of kinship and the development of functional anthropology. This book also
includes the theories and perspectives of Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown. This
book has been helpful in my research because it has broken down the kinship
system and other kinship classifications. It analyze the kinship structure and
the kin groups through simple explanatory graphs.

Category: Biographies


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