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The Kalapalo Indians Essay, Research Paper

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

Kalapalo?s 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 can?t be isolated completely from the

existing society.

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 Kalapalo?s 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 it?s 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 anthropologist?s 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 doesn?t have to be married to

be declared it?s mother and father. What is importance is knowing who the

parents are, since it is very important to establish the child?s 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

girl?s 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 Malinowski?s theory and it?s 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.

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