Kuarup: The Feast of the Dead in the Upper Xingú
By Robert L. Carneiro
American Museum of Natural History

Photo: Diego de Azqueta Bernar.©copyright Diego de Azqueta Bernar


When Karl von den Steinen discovered the Upper Xingú Basin in l884, he found some l5 Indian villages living there peacefully with one another.

Despite their diverse origins -they represented tour different language stocks -the various Xinguano villages had, over the years, developed an effective system of intervillage cooperation. This cooperation was based on trading , on intermarriage, and perhaps most important of all, on intervillage ceremonies.

Chief among these ceremonies is one which still flourishes today and which as some to be known by its Kamayurá name of Kuarup. The Kuarup is a ceremony held annually, on a more or les s rotating basis, in one of the remaining villages of the " Upper Xingu. lts stated purpose is to commemorate certain deceased members of the host village by cutting and decorating a wooden post, the Kuarup , to represent each of them. Kuarup is held late in the dry season in one of the villages, and is attended by members of most, if not all, of the others.

In this paper I will describe the Kuarup ceremony as I witnessed it in the Kamayurá village, and again, two days later, in the . Kalapalo village, in August 1975. I observed the Kuarup while studying and living among the Kuikuru, and my understanding of this ceremony reflects their interpretation as well as my observations. I have not made use in this account of the description and interpretation of Kuarup by other students, except in footnotes, which serve to amplify or clarify my account, while still preserving a clear distinction between what I saw and learned in the field myself, and what others saw and learned.

Before describing the actual ceremony, though, it is necessary to present Some of its background. To begin with, Kuarup does not commemorate just any person. Among the Kuikuru, the only enea entitled to be so commemorated are persona classified as aneti. And all other Xinguanos have a status corresponding to this as well (see Agostinho 1974:27). Roughly speaking, an aneti is a chief or a member of a chieflyline. Just who is and who is not aneti, though, is not always clearcut. Some individuals are recognized as aneti by everyone, but about others, informants disagreed. When I pointed out this discrepancy, informants usually said that only a person himself really knows whether he is or is not aneti.

My hunch is that a few centuries ago, during pre-contact times, an aneti was a member of a privileged social class, and that one acquired the status of aneti -as one still does today- through heredity. lnheritance of the status of aneti is bilateral. One may be an anetl through bis father or bis mother. The fact that this status is transmitted bilaterally rather than patrilineally or matrilineally, strengthens the likelihood that it is a vestige of a system of social classes rather than of sibs or moieties.

Although true social classes do not now exist among the Kuikuru, it is evident that an aneti has higher social standing than a non-anetl, or kamaga. (2) Thus, only an anetl may occupy the position of village chief, and only an aneti may direct the intravillage trading game, ulukí. Moreover, when an anetl dies, he or she is buried more elaborately than a nonaneti.

For the latter, a bale is dug in the ground and the body, wrapped in a hammock, is lowered into it. The body is then covered with a mat and the bale filled up with earth. For an anetl, though, two holes are dug about l0 feet apart and then connected by a tunnel. Next, a post is fixed into the bottom of each bale and a hammock, running through the tunnel, is strung between the posts. The body of the aneti is placed in this hammock, the two entrances to the tunnel are covered with mats, and the holes are filled in.

An aneti's formal burial, though, does not end the observances for him. After the grave has been filled, there is another ceremony in which its location is marked by placing directly above it Some 80 to l00 short posts which are set clase together in the ground. These posts outline the hourglass shape of the grave. The posts are half buried so that they protrude a foot or so above the ground. This hourglass-shaped fence, called a tafite by the Kuikuru, is left in place for a few weeks, after which the posts are pulled out and thrown away.

The posts which are placed in a grave to support an anetl's hammock, as well as those used to make the tafite fence over the grave, are always cut from the same species of tree. This tree is called uengifi by the Kuikuru. And it is uengifi wood that is algo used to make the posts used to commemorate deceased anetis in the intervillage feast of the dead. The Kamayurá name for this tree is Kuarup, and it is this name that has come to denote the entire ceremony of which the memorial posts are the focus.

Uengifi or Kuarup wood plays an important social and mythological role in the Upper Xingú.(3) The Kuikuru say that the uengifi tree is chief of all the trees in the forest, so it is only fitting that the wood of this tree should be associated with village chiefs. Thus, when the Kuikuru are building a tajife, or chief's house, uengifi wood is always used for the center posts.

An elaborate Kuikuru myth, shared by the other tribes of the Upper Xingú, helps to explain why urngifi wood is accorded such special status. A brief synopsis of the relevant parts of this myth are presented in Appendix I.

Some months after the burial of a Kuikuru aneti, a mourning ceremony for him takes place called egitse. This ceremony is held in the Kuikuru village itself, and no other village is invited to attend. The egitse ceremony, which may last a week or more, is normally held in November, during the rainy season, the time of the piquí harvest, since the fruit of this tree is used to make the drink served during this commemoration.

Several features of this intramural egitse algo forro part of the large intertribal egitse, or Kuarup, which is held during August or September of the ensuing dry season. These features include a plaintive and haunting mourning gong called fofogi, the playing of gourd rattles, ritual smoking by the shamans, a rhythmic singing dance called augufí, a spirited dance performed while playing atana flutes, and huka-huka wrestling.

The domestic egitse algo involves the same formal organization used to put on all Kuikuru ceremonies, including an intertribal Kuarup: an oto or owner (in the case of egitse, the nearest male kin of the deceased aneti), who is formally asked to allow the ceremony to be held by one or more tajope, petitioners (all of them aneti in the case of egitse) , who, a long with their wives, do most of the work of arranging the ceremony. Tajope are especially in charge of preparing food and drink for the ceremony, which the oto or owner provides.

One feature of the intertribal Kuarup, though, is conspicuously absent from the domestic egitse -the Kuarup post, which represent and memorialize the dead aneti.

Despite the performance of this intramural egitse, the Kuikuru (as well as all other Xinguanos) believe that a deceased anetl should be commemorated again in a special ceremony involving all or most of the other villages of the Upper Xingu.(4)

A dead aneti is commemorated only once in an intervillage Kuarup, but when that commemoration takes place may vary considerably. It may occur the year following his (5) death, or it may be delayed 20 years or more. In l975, the Kuikuru were talking of holding a Kuarup the following year for aman named Juafiká, who had died in l954, and who, in the ensuing 2l years, had never been commemorated (6).

Since the Kuarup is an intervillage ceremony, with one village hosting as many as 7 or 8 others, and since usually more than half the persona in a village attend a Kuarup, the host village can expect the arrival of several hundred visitors. And since the hosta must provide food and drink for their guests during the two days of the ceremony, planning for a Kuarup begins months in advance. Indeed, shortly after participating in the Kuarup ceremonies in the Kamayurá and Kalapalo villages in August, l975, the Kuikuru started planning to host a Kuarup themselves the following year.

As I have said, the egitse or Kuarup ceremony of the Kuikuru has an owner or oto, and one or more petitioners, tajope, who ceremonially request the oto to allow the performance of a Kuarup ceremony in honor of bis deceased relative. Such a request is made formally in the village plaza in front of the menta house, and is not necessarily agreed to.

The tajope for Kuarup may have held that position for years, but the oto changes from one occasion to the next, since the only anea eligible to serve in that capacity are those who have a deceased but as yet uncommemorated aneti kinsman. In the ritual asking for a Kuarup that I witnessed in the Kuikuru village in September, l975, a man named Mafukakumá was asked by the principal tajope to allow his dead uncle, Juafiká, to be ommemorated the following year. By assenting to the request, Mafukakumá became the principal oto of the Kuikuru Kuarup for l976, and assumed all the responsibilities involved. Another man, Tugupé, agreed to serve as a secondary oto. Tugupé's young son had been killed by a harpy eagle ayear or two earlier, but be had previously declined to hold a Kuarup for him, claiming lack of food. Now he had finally decided to do so.

It is the closest adult male relative of a deceased aneti who assumes responsibility for becoming oto of his Kuarup. By giving bis permission for the feast to be held, he takes on the obligation of organizing the entire ceremony and providing food and drink for it. Having enough manioc in bis gardens is thus a major prerequisite for a manis willingness to sponsor a Kuarup.

Besides Juafiká and Tugupé´s young son, it was expected that two other deceased Kuikuru aneti would be commemorated in l976. So, as things stood when I left the field in October, l975, it looked as if 4 persona would be commemorated by the Kuikuru the following year.

In addition to the regular Kuarup, the Kuikuru planned to hold another ceremony, called tipoño, in conjunction with it. During this ceremony all boys, from infanta to about 10 years old, who had not had their ears pierced, would undergo that operation. Moreover, they would also have their llames changed.

The decision to hold a Kuarup does not rest solely with the nearest kin of a dead aneti. All the men in the village are, in an informal way, involved in it. Before any decision has been made, they talk over the pros and cons of holding a Kuarup, and if there is strong feeling in favor, they express this to the tajope. The tajope then ritually conveys this desire to the would-be oto in the formal request just described.

he fruit of the piquí tree, Caryocar brasiliensis, which I mentioned as figuring prominently in the intramural egitse, is also important in the intervillage Kuarup. This fruit ripens in November and December, and is harvested in great numbers at that time. In anticipation of holding a Kuarup the following year, the Kuikuru boil large quantities of piquí right after gathering the fruit, and store the boiled pulp in leaf-lined baskets at the bottom of the lake. Here it will keep without rotting until needed for the Kuarup ceremony 8 months hence. Piquí seeds, which make a very tasty morsel and playa ritual part in the Kuarup ceremony, are algo carefully stored away in special small baskets for the following year.

Although it is the oto of Kuarup who must provide the stores of manioc needed to provision the feast, it is the tajope, as l have said, who oversee the preparation and distribution of food and drink to the assembled guests. Among the Kuikuru, the head tajope of Kuarup usually names other tajope to help him. To be a tajope of this ceremony, just as to be an oto of it, one must have the status of anetl.

Holding a Kuarup requires careful planning within the village as well as clase coordination with all the other villages expected to attend. As we shall see in a moment, a failure to coordinate between the Kalapalo and the Kamayurá,each of whom was to hold a Kuarup in l975, occasioned great confusion and aroused much resentment as the time for that ceremony drew near.

August, during which it never rains, and September, which is mostly dry, are the months for Kuarup, and as they approach, the pace of preparations quickens. Besides preparing large amounts of food and drink, the host village must formally invite the other villages to attend, and must carve, implant,and decorate the Kuarup post themselves.

While the manioc and piquí to be served at a Kuarup may be processed and stored months before, fish must be caught just prior to the arrival of the guests, for even with thorough roasting, they will last no more than 5 days. A fish poisoning expedition, directed by the oto of Kuarup, is carried out a couple of days before the guests arrive to ensure a bigger catch than individual fishermen, using bows and arrows, could provide.(7)

It is important that the host village have ample food on hand because the visitors bring 'little food with them, relying on their bosta to feed them during the two days of the ceremony.

A few days before the Kuarup, the tajope, with other men to help them, go out to cut a uengifi [Kuarup] tree for the memorial post. The posts l saw ranged from 18 inches to 13 inches in diameter at the top.(8) They are cut about 6 feet long, but once set into the ground they protrude only about 4 feet above the surface. No particular number of posts is required for a Kuarup ceremony. l have known Kuarups to be held with as few as 2 post and as many as 6.

After being cut, the post are brought back to the village and placed in holes in the ground, prior to decoration.(9) Once firmly in place, the Kuarup post are ready to be painted. Beginning about a foot or so clown fromm the top, an are a of the post about 16 inches wide is stripped of its bark, and this surface is painted with a geometric design executed in black and white, the white being obtained from clay and the black from a mixture of genipapo and charcoal. A vertical red bar painted with urucú runa clown opposite Birles of this decoration. Each post is painted differently, there being a variety of named designa to choose from. Any design can be used to decorate a post, whether the post is commemorating a male or a female. After painting, the post are implanted in holes in the ground in front of the men's house, where they will be decorated further.

Just above and below the painted zone on the Kuarup post are tied anywhere from 2 to 4 men's cotton waistbands. These waistbands are put on a post whether the post is meant to commemorate aman or a woman. If the closest relative of the deceased anetl does not ha ve enough cotton for a waistband, he may borrow Some from another mano. The lender thereby gains the right to mourn the person commemorated by that post on the night of the ceremony.

A handsome arrangement of harpy eagle and macaw tail feathers, resembling a headdress, is placed against the back of the Kuarup post, near the top. Fluffs of unspun cotton are placed on top of the post if the person represented was a man.(10) As far as l know, this is the only sex difference shown on a Kuarup post (but see Llullier dos Santos [1956:113, 115]).(11)

At the Kamayurá Kuarup l noted that an old pot bottom had be en placed on top of each post. This was done, a Kamayurá told me, " so the water inside the posts will not escape." My Kuikuru informant later said that only the Kamayurá do this, and could give no reason for it. (12)

At both the Kamayurá and Kalapalo Kuarups, l saw on the ground in front of each Kuarup post, two piles of thick discs,apparently made of mud. These discs, of which there were 5 or 6 to a pile, were arranged so that each disc was a bit smaller than the one below it. The Kuikuru call these discs, but they say they do not use them in their own Kuarup. My informant added something l could not fully understand about the first una having been made by Itsagitsegu, the mother of the Sun, and that they later turned to stone. Today they are made of mud, possibly because stone is almost unavailable in the Upper Xingú.(13)

When the host village is nearly ready for the ceremony, it sends out messengers to formally invite other villages to attend. The Kuikuru call a Kuarup messenger etiñe, but he is more commonly known by the Kamayurá term pariat. It is the principal oto of the Kuarup who selects the pariats. Usually, two of them are picked to go to each village.(14) The pariats paint their hair with urucú and their bodies with charcoal, and don snail shell necklaces, bark ankle wrappings, and cotton armbands.

As they near the village they are to invite, the pariats hoot loudly so the villagers will know their arrival is imminent and can prepare to receive them. When the pariats enter the village, they first stand in the center of the plaza, each carrying a stick, and look down at the ground. The principal pariat chants ritually and there is a response from Some of the men in the village, who are not necessarily aneti. Then an aneti takes each pariat by the wrist and has him sit on a carved wooden stool in front of the men's house. Here the pariats remain, looking down solemnly, replying now and then to the questions or comments of the assembled villagers.

After some 20 minutes, the pariats' armbands and ankle wrappings are taken from them and they are led to one of the houses.(15) Here they may lie in a hammock and rest until they are ready to leave for home sometime later in the day. (16)

During my stay in the Kuikuru village something unusual occurred involving visiting messengers. Within two hours of the arrival of the Kalapalo pariats, the Kamayurá pariats unexpected lyappeared. The Kalapalo and Kamayurá had each decided to hold a Kuarup that year, but had not ironed out the detalla of which village would hold its Kuarup first. And now suddenly one set of messengers had arrived on the heels of the other with what amounted to competing invitations.

Long and animated conversations ensued between the Kuikuru and the Kamayurá pariats about the scheduling of the two Kuarups, and only after Some sort of understanding was reached were the Kamayurá asked to Bit and was drink brought to them.

Meanwhile, the Kalapalo pariats, who were lying in hammocks in one of the houses while their Kamayurá counterparts were presenting their case in the plaza, were growing more and more incensed. They maintained that the Kalapalo had made very extensive preparations for their Kuarup, having caught a large quantity of fish, whereas the Kamayurá had barely laid up any provisions at all. How, then, could the Kamayurá demand to be first?

Originally, l learned, the Kamayurá had agreed to delay their Kuarup until after the Kalapalo had held theirs, but then the principal oto of the Kamayurá Kuarup had changed his mind and decided to go ahead and hold his ceremony earlier anyway. So upset were the Kalapalo pariats about the whole thing that they left the Kuikuru village abruptly.l7 The Kamayurá pariats were, in turn, sent on their way by the Kuikuru, who were only slightly less bothered by the misunderstanding than the Kalapalo.

A large contingent of people -usually well over half the village- leaves to attend a Kuarup. Generally they depart a day or two after receiving the invitation. Since villages in the Upper Xingú are fairly far apart, a couple of days' travel is involved. Visitors take some provisions for the trip, but once they arrive at their destination, it is their host's responsibility to feed them.

During the afternoon of the day appointed for a Kuarup, the visitors begin arriving at the host village. They do not enter the village directly, but first camp in the torear on the outskirts, each visiting group establishing its own camp, separate from the others. The pariats who invited a particular village are supposed to greet the contingent from that village at its campsite and to bring it food and drink.(18) The visitors now settle in, and as dusk approaches, begin painting themselves for the Kuarup ceremony later that evening.

Having alluded to the confusion and resentment caused by the failure of the Kamayurá and Kalapalo to agree on the scheduling of their respective Kuarups, let me now finish the story. When the Kuikuru arrived at the FUNAI post Leonardo Villas Boas, en route to the Kuarup ceremonies, most of the other village contingents were there too. They all camped at the Post for the night, which gave them an opportunity to reopen the question of whether the Kamayurá or the Kalapalo should hold their Kuarup first. After much intense discussion, it was again decided that the Kamayurá, whose village was only a couple of hours' walking distance from the Post, should be the first to hold their Kuarup. The discussion then turned to the question of how many days should elapse between the two Kuarups. The Kamayurá, Waurá, and Auetí wanted to have it take place 3 days later, while the Kalapalo, Kuikuru, and Mehinaku wanted it held 2 days later. The latter three, after first yielding the point, ultimately won out. So it was that the Kamayurá Kuarup took place on August 25th and the Kalapalo Kuarup on August 27th.

After camping overnight at Posto Leonardo on August 24th, the tribes broke camp the next day and headed on foot for the Kamayurá village.

l have noted that one of the argumenta raised by the Kalapalo in favor of holding their Kuarup first was that the Kamayurá hardly merited the honor, not having prepared adequately to feed all the expected guests. And this turned out to be true. The supply of fish and beijú the Kamayurá had on hand proved to be small, and quickly ran out.

The Kuikuru grumbled about this. They were especially displeased the morning after the ceremony, when a Kuikuru woman began to menstruate. Following their custom, they threw out all the food and drink in their camp, and then found that the Kamayurá could not readily replace it. (Had they drunk the “contaminated” mingau, the Kuikuru said, their wrestlers would have lost their matches).

Two days later, while the Kuikuru were encamped near the Kalapalo village the afternoon preceding the second Kuarup, l saw a number of Kalapalo fishermen heading toward their village, each one carrying the fish he had just caught, seemingly intent on showing up the Kamayurá.

As the visitara gather in their respective encampments outside the host village, the early stages of the Kuarup ceremony are taking place inside it. Around the Kuarup post, now fully decorated, the close relatives of the persona being memorialized begin their ritual wailing. On and off ,this wailing will continue through the night.

Late in the afternoon, the formal greeting of the visiting tribes begins. Each pariat goes out to the encampment of the village he invited, carrying a pot full of mingau for them to drink. Then he takes an anetí of that village by the hand and leads him into the village. The rest of the men fromm that village follow in single file. The pariats seat the visiting anetls on wooden stools placed in front of the Kuarup posts and address them ritually. The pariats then give each aneti a large beijú cake full of roast fish, the whole being tucked inside a large manioc strainer called a tuafi. Traditionally, this is the time to recount the myth of the Kuarup. Then the visiting contingent fromm that village leaves and returns to its campsite. The next contingent is then led in, and so on until each visiting village has been greeted.

At dusk or a little later, the pace of the intravillage portion of the ceremony steps up. The near relatives of the deceased, both men and women, take turna wailing in front of the Kuarup post, doing so for about 10 minutes at a time. Sometimes the wailing is ritualistic and perfunctory, sometimes it appears heartfelt. Women, who seem to wail with more feeling than men, Bit on mata in front of the post while they do so. As part of the ritual, male kin of the deceased play gourd rattles near the post, leaning on their bows with their left hand.(19) The men alBo dance what the Kuikuru call augufí, one of the major dances of Kuarup.

As dark approaches, a tire is lighted in front of each Kuarup, usually by a woman closely related to the deceased.(20) Long, straight pieces of split pindaíba firewood (21) are brought in and placed on the ground with one end resting on an old pot bottom "so the earth will not burn." I

The village shamans draw their stools up near the post, light their cigarettes from one of the Kuarup tires, and alternately smoke and chant.

The Kuikuru believe that the souls of the dead, known as añá, live in a village located in the sky. On the evening of a Kuarup, after night falla, the añá of those anetl who are being commemorated come clown from the sky and enter the Kuarup post dedicated to them. (22)

There is considerable ambivalence about this. While the memory of a deceased anetl is cherished enough to hold a ceremony for it, his soul (like that of any other dead person) is considered extremely dangerous and is greatly feared. Indeed, seeing a dead personls soul makes a living person crazed, and the shock is likely to kill him in 5 days. Thus, the souls of commemorated anetl and any others which might be in attendance, must be very careful during their stay in the village to remain discreetly hidden from view.

During the Kuarup ceremony the souls of dead anetl are never actually invoked or propitiated, but they are thought of solicitously, and the reason tires are built in front of the Kuarup post is to keep the souls who are temporarily residing within them fromm getting cold.(23) One Kamayurá told me that without the fire, the mamaé (añá) of a Kuarup post would shiver fromm the cold, just as living people do. During the evening, a shaman will occasionally blow tobacco smoke on top of a Kuarup post, again for protective reasons, since withoutthis the Kuarup post would cry, and sickness and death would later befall the residents of the village.

Not long after 7 p.m., when darkness has descended, the intertribal part of the Kuarup ceremony begins in earnest. Suddenly, hooting is heard fromm outside the village. The residents of the village hect in response and await the entry

of the first contingent of visitara. When, by renewed hooting, this contingent indicates that it is on its way, several men fromm the host village enter one of the houses. Here some of them grab sprigs of leaves, some atana flutes, while others make torches fromm dry palm leaves. They then frIe out of the house and encircle the Kuarup posts and the fires in front of them. After a while they stop circling, and while standing in place, begin stomping on the right foot. Then they fall back to the area of the Kuarup post, huddling closely under a light shed roofed over with a mat of palm leaf stems which has been built over the Kuarup posts.(24) Thus the way is cleared for the entry of the first contingent of visitars.

The tribe which first encamped on the outskirts of the host village is the one to enter first, the other visitara following, later, in the arder of their encampment. Each village is supposed to send in a large contingent-more than 50 men and older boya, if the village is large. The visitars enter in single file, each man carrying something in his hand- a stick, a big leaf, an arrow, an ataja flute, etc.

Most important, though, several men carry 5-foot lengths of split pindaíba firewood which a pariat has earlier deposited at their campsite for this purpose.

The visitars enter, hooting and stomping, and circle the post for a while before bunching closely around the Kuarup fires. They then remove the burning lengths of pindaíba, which they carry off, replacing the old firewood with the new pindaíba they have brought in. The new fire is lighted from the remaining embers of the old one. Their role for the evening now over, the first contingent of visitars leaves the village and returns to its campsite.

A few minutes later, the contingent of visitors from the next village ritually hoots and entera. They repeat the same procedure, including removing the old tires and rekindling the new. One after another, the visiting delegations fromm each village enter and do the same, until every tribe has had an opportunity to commemorate the dead aneti in this way.

Things do not always proceed by the book, however. When,in the early evening, the Kuikuru contingent first entered the Kamayurá village during the latter´s Kuarup, it consisted almost entirely of boys, some of them less than 10 years oId. One of the smaller boys had been placed inside an improvised cage which several of the other boys were carrying by means of a coolie yoke. Moreover, their demeanor was clearly jocular rather than ceremonial. Then, later that night, when the Kuikuru contingent reentered the Kamayurá village to remove and replace the fires, only three persona were carrying firewood,and two of them were boys. This was a clear breach of etiquette, which requires that a large contingent, comprising mostly men, should be sent into the host village to remove and replenish the Kuarup fires.

Only later did l learn what lay behind all this. It turned out that this was no mere carelessness on the Kuikuru's part,but a premeditated act. Four years earlier, when the Kuarup had been held in the Kuikuru village, the visiting Kamayurá had sent only two men, covered frivolously with burití leaves, to exchange the firewood ot the Kuarup tires, and the Kuikuru, taking this as an affront, had been waiting all this time to pay them back. (For a brief account of earlier ill feeling between the Kuikuru and the Kamayurá connected with Kuarup, see Agostinho [1974:77].)

After the last contingent of visitors has exchanged the firewood and retired from the scene, the host villagers do not go to sleep, but remain awake the rest of the night, some wailing when they feel inclined, some dancing around the posts, and Some replenishing the Kuarup tires as needed.

The feast of the dead, properly speaking, ends early the next morning. As dawn breaks, the fires are extinguished andthe coals and ashes are buried in the ground. Burial is considered essential; the coals and ashes cannot simply be scattered. It is the tajope´s job to bury the remains of the fires, and when this is done, the principal oto of the Kuarup may at last retire to bis house for some rest.

The souls of the aneti who have been commemorated on this occasion are now free to leave and return to their village in the afterworld, although they need not do so.

The commemorative part of Kuarup being over, the next major event of the feast is intertribal wrestling.(25) Indeed, it seems likely that the excitement and competition of the wrestling provides the real incentive for visiting tribes to attend a Kuarup. (26) As a matter of fact, according to my informant, even the souls of dead aneti may linger in the village after the Kuarup fires have been extinguished in order to watch the wrestling themselves.

Great anticipation precedes this wrestling. Even though the event is not a systematic elimination tournament, it citen happens that someone emerges fromm the day's matches as the generally recognized wrestling champion of the Upper Xingú ( 27) This recognition brlngs a man great an lastlng acclaim, and is much sought after. Thus, as early as two weeks before the Kamayurá Kuarup, one Kuikuru told me that he had already discontinued sexual relations with his wife in order not to weaken himself for the coming matches.

The night before Kuarup wrestling, the outstanding wrestlers of each tribe are not supposed to go to sleep. Were they to do so, it is said, they would risk having bad dreams, which would portend defeat. For the same reason, wrestlers refrain from eating fish the morning before the matches,drinking only mingau.

Wrestlers may spend the time preceding the matches rubbing Themselves with plquí oil.(28) This is the bests done uslng a crescent-shaped ornament made from the claws of the giant armadillo, considered by the Kuikuru to be the champion wrestler of the animal kingdom. (29) Another way to gain strength for wrestling, the Kuikuru say, is by rubbing on the resin of the tali tree, and if anaconda fat is available, this is good too, since the anaconda, like the giant armadillo, is a great wrestler.

By 6 o'clock in the morning, the wrestlers are busy in their campsites, painting themselves with charcoal, piquí oil,and urucú. The designs painted on the body are merely decorative; they provide no magical help.30 Men algo don cotton knee guards and bark ankle wrappings, standard equipment for a wrestler.

The visiting wrestlers are now fully primed, and show their eagerness for the matches to start by shouting and hooting. Around 7 o'clock, the principal pariat goes out to the campsite of the tribe he invited and leads their contingent into the village. Each pariat conducts a visiting chief into the plaza and sits him clown on a stool in an area designated for that tribe. The non-wrestlers -principally the women and infants- follow their chief and take their places behind him in the plaza.

The visiting wrestlers do not go directly to the plaza but instead to one of the houses for their final preparations.When they emerge,they circle the Kuarup posts, stomping and hooting, for a few minutes and then break up and individually straggle back to the same house. From here they will reemerge when the wrestling begins.

The principal oto of Kuarup is in charge of the wrestling. After the preliminary appearances by the wrestlers of each visiting tribe, he ritually calls the 6 best wrestlers of the host village, in order of their ability, to come forth.(3l) The leading wrestler of the host village, who appears first, stamps his feet a few times and then gets down on the ground on his hands and knees, with his head down. One by one, the first-string wrestlers of the host village are summoned, and after stamping, assume the same position,forming a line facing the tribe they will wrestle first. This is the same tribe that was the first to replace the Kuarup fires the night before. (32)

The leading wrestlers of the visiting team do not line up as did the host wrestlers. Instead, as his turn comes, each visiting wrestler simply steps forward and prepares to engage his opponent. As the match between the Number Une wrestlers begins, the two mea face each other, extending the left arm forward and pulling the right arm back. In this posture, they circle each other clockwise, each one stamping his right foot vigorously. While circling, the wrestlers alternately grunt hu - ha - hu - ha, in imitation of the growls of the jaguar.(33) After a few seconds of this, they clasp right hands, grab each other around the back of the neck with their left hand, and begin wrestling.

Space does not allow a detailed description of Upper Xingú wrestling. Suffice it to say that it is like Graeco-Roman wrestling in that the wrestlers try to stay on their feet, or at least on their knees, and do not sprawl, grapple, and thrash around on the ground. A "fall" is registered when a wrestler manages to grab the back of his opponent's thigh, this being considered enough of an advantage to able to throw him on bis back. To actually do so, though, is demeaning to an opponent, and not done unless there is bad blood between the two men, or, especially, when a brash teenager challenges an established atar and needs to be taught a lesson.(34)

Whenever two wrestlers lose their holds on each other, the match immediately ends, even if they have been wrestling for onlya few seconds. One can citen see on the faces of such wrestlers a strong desire to continue the match, but the rule is never violated.(35)

While the best pair of wrestlers of the opposing teams are wrestling, they have the arena entirely to themselves. All eyes are on them and partisans fromm both sides shout words of encouragement. When the Number One wrestlers finish their match, the Number Two wrestlers step forward and begin wrestling. Again, they wrestle alone, with everyone watching, until their match ends. This procedure continues until the first-string wrestlers fromm each side have competed against their opposite numbers.

The designated order of appearance for the leading wrestlers of a visiting village is determined by the man who has been appointeá chieí of Kuarup by an aneti of that village. Although the order of wrestling is meant to reflect it relative ability it is not always exactly the same. Thus, the Kuikuru's Number One and Two wrestlers at the Kamayurá Kuarup reversed their arder of wrestling at the Kalapalo Kuarup two days later. Moreover, l was told that if a top wrestler has a bad dream just prior to the matches and is afraid he will lose, he may cede bis place to another.

After the leading wrestlers from both Birles have wrestled, things change a bit. Now it is the turn of the lesser wrestlers to go at each other. But instead of each pair of men wrestling alone, as before, there may now be 5 or 6 pairs wrestling at once. The competition thus becomes diffuse, with little of the drama it enjoyed before, and no clear focus of attention. Still later, the boys of the two competing villages start to wrestle, beginning with the older ones, but eventually working clown to tots as young as 3 or 4.

When the first-string wrestlers have recovered from their exertion, a different phase of the matches begins. Now the time has come for the lesser wrestlers to challenge the great ones, and they are urged to do so by their parents and by the oto of Kuarup. Even a callow youth may challenge the leading wrestler of the opposing village, hoping to win bis spurs with a dramatic upset, or at least a strong performance.

When the matches between the first visiting village and their hosts are ayer, the visitors retire from the arena, their wrestling done for the day. (36) Such is not the case with the host wrestlers, however, who must prepare to meet the next contingent of wrestlers, and the next one after that, until they have wrestled with men from all the visiting villages.

Since the winners of each match are not bracketed together in the next round, it is hard for anyone to claim the championship of the Upper Xingú. Only if the best wrestler of the host village can defeat every opponent he faces can this occur. And this would be hard for him to accomplish since bis opponents always start fresh while he grows more and more tired with every match. However, allowing for this disadvantage to host wrestlers, the quality of the performances can still be pretty well assessed, and a consensus may emerge as to who has shown himself to be the best wrestler in the Upper Xingú that year.(37)

In the wrestling matches that took place in the Kamayurá village, Aritana, the Kamayurá champion, and considered perhaps the best wrestler in the Upper Xingú, was defeated by a Kalapalo named Sindú, who was wrestling for the Kuikuru, since he had married into their village. Sindú was a mediocre wrestler at best, and bis victory over Aritana was considered a stunning upset. So much so that a special explanation for it had to be found. Thus, within hours, the story was making the rounds that the reason Aritana had lost was that he had had sexual relations with bis wife the night before.

Upper Xingú wrestling is an extraordinarily vigorous sport. Wrestlers are very strongly muscled and supremely well conditioned, and in almost every match put forth their maximum effort.(38) Yet, despite the intensity of the competition, good feeling generally prevails between opponents. Although they may come fromm 6 or 8 different villages, the restlers all know each other, and Some may even be good friends. It is not uncommon, therefore, to see two men par each other on the back, or even embrace, after a hard-fought match. Onlyoccasionally will wrestlers paw at each other as they break off, as if the antagonism between them was great enough to make them want to 39 continue fighting.

When the men of the host village have finished meeting the last of the visitors, the wrestling ends. By this time it is somewhere between 9 and 10 in the morning.

The remaining events of the feast are much less dramatic. Several men now begin playing flutes which the Kuikuru call atana,(40) which measure up to 9 feet in length and are played in pairs. Over the next two or three hours, many ataja players from the visiting villages will have a chance to perform. As the flute playera await their turn, the chief of their village may be heard chanting formally in the plaza in front of bis group of fellow villagers

Doing a simple dance step as they go, the paired ataja players proceed around the village, entering each house in turn, dancing around the center post, and emerging again through the plaza door. Young women may participate in this dance by placing their left hand on the shoulder of an ataja . player and striding in unison with him as he goes from house to house.

Females play another role during the last hours of the Kuarup. It is the practice in the Upper Xingú to seclude a pubescent girl for ayear or more inside her house, and just at the end of a Kuarup ceremony is considered an auspicious time for her to come out of seclusion. She is then at her most marriageable, and her parents are anxious to show her off to all the young bucks who have come for the festivities.

While secluded, a pubescent girl does not see the sun, so when she emerges a year later, her skin is very light. Moreover, all that time she has refrained from cutting her hair, so her bangs now cover her face, perhaps clown to her chin. In addition, a pubescent girl wears very tight cotton wrappings around her knees, which make her calves bulge enormously a sign of beauty in a Xinguano girl.

While the ataja flutes are being played around them, the pubescent girls come out of their houses and are painted very carefully in lozenge designs with genipapo. With one hand on the shoulder of the the owner of Kuarup, they proceed to the village plaza, where their knee bands are ritually removed by a man from another village, who is entitled to keep them.

Following this, each girl heads back to her house. Later, the girls may be returned to seclusion, but at least they have had a chance to display their charms and announce their availability to all the eligible males present.

As almost the last ritual of the Kuarup ceremony, the pubescent girls give piquí seeds to the oto of Kuarup from each visiting village.(41) The latter, along with several other men of bis village, go fishing and give their catch to their hosts in the plaza. Later, the principal owner of Kuarup from the host village gives beijú cakes to members of each of the visiting tribes.

While the flute playing continues, visiting men seek out their friends in the host village and receive presents from them.(42) Gift giving of a more formal kind occurs as well. The chief of each visiting tribe calls over the principal pariat who invited bis village to the Kuarup and gives him a present -a shell waistband, a feather headdress, a pot, or something else of value- for all the food the pariat has brought them during their visit. Later, when that same tribe is about to leave, the pariat asks the departing chief what he wants in return. lf the visiting chief says a pot, for example, the pariat goes back to the principal owner of Kuarup with this request. lf the request can be metan the spot, the owner says yes, and the pot is given to the chief before he leaves. Sometimes, though, as l observed at the Kalapalo Kuarup, the return gift may be delayed. Thus, when the Kuikuru chief asked for a shell waistband, the pariat replied, "Wait I´ll finish making one and take it to you".

Once this last ritual iS completed, nothing remains to detain the visitara any longer. When they leave, around noon, the feast of the dead is over. The principal owner of the ceremony then orders the Kuarup post to be pulled out of the ground and thrown foto a nearby river or lake.(43) Whatever souls may have tarried around the village, can now ascend into the sky and return to the village of the dead.


Stepping back from the details of its performance, what can we say about the role of Kuarup in the culture of the Upper Xingú? lt seems to me quite clear that while Kuarup is ostensibly put on for the benefit of the souls of the deceased, it is really the living who most profit by it.

To begin with, the souls of dead anet"i do not really need to be commemorated. No one ever told me that barro would befall them if they were not commemorated. lndeed, that some aneti have gone more than 20 years without ommemoration, with no reported ill effects, is proof of this. The fact is that during the Kuarup ceremony the souls of deceased aneti -the supposed guests of honor- actually play a rather subordinate role. They are not worshiped, propitiated, or even invoked. They are merely remembered and made comfortable. In fact, as people were quick to point out to me, during the entire ceremony deceased anetis souls were supposed to remain discreetly inside the Kuarup post. Under no circumstances were they to create problema for the living by suddenly appearing before them.

We can also argue that if dead souls were really thought to need commemoration, this could be done perfectly well by one village alone. There would be no need to involve other villages. And, as we have seen, the Kuikuru take care of this perfectly well with their intramural egitse.

So the souls of aneti cannot be said to gain very much from Kuarup, while their living relatives gain a lot. Once a year, people are provided with an opportunity to come together and interact closely with members of all other villages of the regíon. On this occasion, they can reaffirm the social, ceremonial, sportive, and economic ties that traditionally bind all Upper Xingú villages. Thus, like so many other ceremonies of the Upper Xingú, Kuarup is ostensibly religious but more fundamentally socio-secular. Its function is to promete intertribal solidarity. And one must reckon this function as successfully achieved, for the Upper Xingú, though consisting of autonomous villages which at times have their animosities, ranks as one of the most remarkable examples of peaceful coexistence in the primitive world.


1. Those familiar with Pedro Agostinho's exhaustive and definitive study, Kwarip, Mito e Ritual no Alto Xingu (1974), may find it uperfluous, even presumptuous, for me to attempt another account of this ceremony. Still, perhaps there is Some value in having a simplified, condensed, and independent version of Kuarup available in print.

2. Kamaga is not a native Kuikuru term, but seems to derive from the Portuguese word, 'camarada,' meaning people in general, as distinct from their leaders. However, although much leas used than kamag_, there is a native Kuikuru term for non-aneti.

3.I have been unable to find the botanical identification of the tree known as uengifi to the Kuikuru and Kuarup to the Kamayurá.

However, to their Kuarup of 1966, the Kamayurá invited only the Kalapalo, Waurá, and Mehinaku (Agostinho 1974:77). According to Lhullier dos Santos (l956:115), the Trunai do not engage in Kuarup.

5."His" is used here generically. A commemorated aneti may be of either sex or any age. All that matters is that he or she is genealogically entitled to that status.

A brother, Taliku, who had died in the same measles epidemic as Juafiká, algo remained uncommemorated, and there were still no plana to do so, although it was said that eventually his Kuarup would take place. Jorge Ferreira (1957:62) records the case of a Yawalapití man named Kanato who was forced by circumstances to wait 19 years to commemorate his father in a Kuarup.

7. In the Yawalapiti Kuarup witnessed by Ferreira (l957:64) in l956, that village mounted a fish poisoning expedition of 28 men and boya which caught almost 500 kilos of fish.

8. Evidently, all Kuarup post are cut fromm the same tree. The lowest segment of the trunk, which is naturally the thickest, is used for the post commemorating the most important aneti, with the least prominent aneti having the thinnest post, cut from the topmost segment (Ferreira 1957:64). The Kuikuru name for the Kuarup post itself is tita.

9.Agostinho (1974:69) says that the posts are brought back to the vicinity of the village and decorated out of sight of the women. They may be soaked in water immediately after cutting to prevent them fromm splitting. He also says (1974:89) that the Kamayurá, Waurá, and Mehinaku decorate the Kuarup posts in temporary holes outside the village, while the Kuikuru, Kalapalo, and Nafukuá-Matipú decorate them inside the men´s house.

10. When asked why this cotton was put on the Kuarup post, my informant could say only, "because that is what Taoguiñi [the Sun] did at the first Kuarup" despite the fact that the first Kuarup was for a woman, the mother of the Sun and Moon, and not a man.

11. Agostinho (1974:90) says that the Kuarup post for the most important person being commemorated is placed in the center of the array of posts, and those for the less important, to either side.

12.The Kamayurá told Agostinho (1974:95) that the pot bottom keeps the heat of the day fromm making gap exude fromm the top of the post. would die. Were this to happen, the owner of Kuarup woul die.

13. Agostinho (1974) seems not to mentían these mud discs.

14. Since, according to Ferreira (1957:64), pariats may not wrestle against members of the village they invite, this fact is taken into account in making pariat assignments.

15.At the Kuarup witnessed by Ferreira (1957:64), the Kamayurá chief, Tamapú, took off the ornaments of the visiting pariats, and was entitled to keep them.

16.According to Agostinho (1974:85), if an invited village accepts the invitation, they paint the pariats in a special way with piquí oil and urucú.

17.When the Yawalapití pariats invited the Kamayurá to their Kuarup in 1956, there was ataja flute playing in the plaza (Ferreira 1957:24). That this did not occur in the Kuikuru village in 1975 may well have reflected the tension that reigned.

18. The pariat is responsible for selecting the campsite for the village he invites, and for clearing the undergrowth there (Agostinho l974:86,97).

19.At the Yawalapití Kuarup of 1956, before the visiting tribes arrived, those Yawalapití in mourning for deceased anetl ended their mourning by being publicly washed and having their hair cut (Ferreira 1957:64).

20. The coals to light the first Kuarup fire are brought from the house of the principal owner of the ceremony (Agostinho 1974:96).

21. Agostinho (1974:96,97) states that the firewood used for this comes from split tafite post, that have been saved for this purpose. But this was not the case in the two Kuarups l witnessed.

22. The souls of non-aneti may apparently also come clown to earth to watch the festivities.

23. However, the reason given by Agostinho (1974:96) for keeping a tire burning in front of the Kuarup post all night is in order to prevent them from becoming transformed into mama'e, spirits.

24. The Yawalapití told Ferreira (1957:65) that the shed was built to prevent the night dew from falling on the spirits inside the posts and lIincommodingll them. Agostinho (1974:95) says it is also meant to protect the Kuarup posts from the sun during the day.

25. Formerly, my informants said, the best foot racers of each village would be summoned by their chiefs to race against each other at Kuarup, but this custom has long since been discontinued.

26. Ellen Basso (1973:143) writes that the Kalapalo "often refer to their active participation in an intervillage ceremony as 'going to wrestle.' " And Pedro Agostinho (1974:102) observes, "Socially and individually, the wrestling is the center of interest of all the feast."

27. The Kuikuru word for a champion wrestler is kindofo, but this term seems to apply to the champion wrestler of any village rather than exclusively to the best wrestler in the whole Upper Xingú. One informant told me that the Kuikuru had not had a really great wrestler for a long time. The last one was Atafijá, who was tall and stout, and who was killed by lightning more than 30 years ago.

28. Wrestlers rub piquí oil especially on their joints, to "warm them up" (Agostinho 1974:129).

29. The day of the Yawalapití Kuarup of 1956, the wrestlers of the host village had themselves striated with fish-tooth scrapers for greater strength, and then rubbed hot pepper juice into the cuts (Ferreira 1957:64).

30. But the host wrestlers may use a mild form of magic to weaken opposing wrestlers, Agostinho (1974:131) learned.

31. Although the number was 6 in the two Kuarup wrestling competitions l witnessed, it may be less. In the Yawalapití Kuarup wrestling seen by Ferreira (1957:65) in 1956, the number was 4.

32. According to another version l heard, after the best wrestlers from the host village have aligned themselves on the ground, the owner of Kuarup asks them, "Whom do we wrestle first?", and when they indicate their choice, he walks ayer and invites the best wrestlers of that village to come forward.

33. The commonly used name for Upper Xingú wrestling, huka-huka, is a somewhat less accurate rendition than hu - ha ­ hu - ha of the sounds the wrestlers make as they imitate the the jaguar.

34. According to Ferreira (1957:65), the father of a wrestler who scores a particularly impressive win may claim some object from the father or close kinsman of the loser.

l overheard one Kamayurá complain that Kuikuru wrestlers wore so much piquí oil on their bodies that it was difficult to get a good hold on them.

36. It is because the wrestlers of the visiting villages do not compete against one another that it is not really possible, during Kuarup, to determine an undisputed Upper Xingú wrestling champion.

37. The successful wrestlers in these matches may take and keep the decorations from the Kuarup posts (Agostinho 1974:102).

38 As a result, injuries, including serious ones, are not uncommon. In the Kuarup wrestling sessions l witnessed, two men suffered very painful injuries (one of them an eye injury, the other probably an internal one), which left them writhing in agony on the ground. During the Kuarup wrestling seen by Ferreira (1957:65) in the Yawalapití village, the injuries sustained were: two broken shoulder blades, a deep gash over one eyebrow, two teeth knocked out, and a sprained wrist.

39 Nevertheless, Agostinho (1974:99,132,133) sees Kuarup wrestling as an occasion to work off tensions and animosities that exist between individuals, and even groups, and thus as a kind of safety valve of the Upper Xingú.

40. The more common Upper Xingú llame for these instruments is uruá (Ferreira 1957:64). Although commonly referred to as a flute (Agostinho 1974:110) ataja is really a kind of clarinet or bassoon, since it is a reed instrument.

41. Had there be en only pubescent boys in seclusion, l was told, they would have given the piqui seeds to the visitors.

42. Around 9 a.m. during the Kalapalo Kuarup, immediately after wrestling had ended, one Kuikuru told me that because they had already been away from their village for 5 days, they might not stay on to trade. "The women are hungry for fish," he added. But they stayed and traded nonetheless.

43. l did not witness this myself, but in the Yawalapití Kuarup observed by Ferreira (l957:65), the visiting chiefs, before leaving, went up to the Kuarup post and removed all adornments from them, to which, it was said, they were entitled. Agostinho (1974:102,107), on the other hand, after saying that successful wrestlers can take and keep these decorations, also says they are removed and put away by their owners just prior to the pulling out and throwing away of the post.


The wood of the uengifi tree was used by Kuantiji, a Kuikuru culture hero, to carve two of the six girls he sent off as wives to Nitsuejgi, the chief of the jaguars. And of the six, only Itsajitsegu and Ajafukuagu, the two who were carved from uejgifi, survived the hazardous journey and reached their destination.

As wife of the jaguar chief, Itsajitsegu bore him twin sons, who became the Sun and the Moon. But the twins were born posthumously, Itsajitsegu having been killed late in her pregnancy by her mother in law. Not until Sun and Moon were several years old did they learn how their mother had died and where her body had been placed. They then managed to bring their mother back to life, but she soon died again, this time for good.

As Itsagjitsegu lay near death the first time, she had sent word to her father, Kwantlgl, and he had rushed to her sirle. But when he arrived, she was already dead. Kwantiji seems to have stayed on in the jaguar village, and when Itsajitsegu was resuscitated and then died for the last time, he and the Sun devised a burial ceremony to properly dispose of her remains. This ceremony involved cutting two uejgífi post and placing them in the grave in the manner done today for anetis. Thus, the details of how an aneti is now buried are said to hark back to the burial of the mother of the Sun and Moon early in mythological times. (Whenever l asked an informant the reason for some feature ofthe Kuarup ceremony for which he could give me no specific explanation, he would usually say, “That's the way it was done at the first egitse [Kuarup])."

This Kuikuru myth accounts for the initial burial practices for an anetl, but not for the subsequent commemoration of deceased anetis with Kuarup posts and the associated ceremony. However, the Kamayurá have a specific myth which does account for the origin of Kuarup. According to this myth (Villas Boas 1974:55-57), it was the original intent of the Kamayurá culture hero, Mavutsinim, for the dead to come back to life. To help bring this about, he cut three posts of Kuarup wood and planted them in the village plaza. Prompted by singing and the playing of gourd rattles, the wooden posts began to show signs of life. They had almost turned into living people when aman who had had sexual relations with bis wife the night before disobeyed Mavutsinimls injunction and carne out of bis house to look upon the now nearly human posts. Immediately, they became wooden posts again, and Mavutsinim, angered at having been disobeyed, decreed that henceforth dead people would stay dead, and that the ritual of the Kuarup posts would rema in ceremonial only, and would not lead to a resurrection.


Agostinho, Pedro l974 Kwarip, Mito e Ritual no Alto Xingu. Editora Pedagógica e Universitária Ltda., Sao Paulo. Basso, Ellen
  l973 The Kalapalo lndians of Central Brazil. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, lnc. New York. Carneiro, Robert L.
  l977 "Recent Observations on Shamanism and Witchcraft Among the Kuikuru lndians of Central Brazil." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 293, pp. 215-228.
Ferreira, Jorge l957 "Kuarup” o Cruzeiro (Rio de Janeiro) , Vol. 29, No. 15, pp. 58-71.
Llullier dos Santos, Yolanda 1956 "A Festa do Kuarüp Entre os Índios do Alto-Xingú. " Revista de Antropologia (Sao Paulo) Vol. 4, pp. 111-116.
Villas Boas, Orlando and Cluadio 1974 Xingú, os índios, seus mitos. Zahar Editores, Rio de Janeiro.