indigenous Amazonian Indians inhabiting the Xingu River basin in Brazil are not
a single tribe. Although commonly referred to as "Xingu Indians" as if
they were a single tribe, in reality they are composed of many different ethnic
groups including Aweti, Kalapalo, Kamayura, Kapayo, Kuikuro, Maitipu, Nahukwa,
Mehinaku, Suya, Trumai, Waura, and Yawalapiti tribes. Although they are
composed of different tribes speaking different languages, the Xingu Indians
share a common culture and practice the same ceremonies.
The most famous ceremony practiced by the Xingu
Indians is called Kuarup (sometimes spelled Kwarip, Kwarup, or even Quarup) or
the "Ceremony of the Dead." One of the prominent features of this ceremony
is the use of tree trunk logs. These logs symbolize the spirits of the
dead and are decorated with paint and feathers. In fact, the word "kuarup"
actually means "wood" in the Kamayura language. The manner in which these
wooden logs are painted and decorated makes it possible to determine who they
are meant to represent, with those representing chiefs or shamans being more
elaborately decorated. The less important deceased are depicted by smaller
trunks and less elaborate decorations.
The Kuarup ceremony is normally an annual event and every year a different tribe
or village acts as hosts for this most important Xinguano event. The
ceremony includes many dances and rituals, chief among them the ritual of the
flutes. Flutes that measure up to three meters are used and are call
"uruá" in the Kamayura language. Each flute player is usually accompanied
by a young girl with her eyes shut, who places her hand on the flute player's
shoulder and is led by him.
An interesting feature of the various dances performed during the Kuarup is that
the singers usually have archery bows in their left hands and carry a rattle
("maracá-êp") with their other hand. The songs they sing are about the
lives of the deceased and honor the dead. These indigenous Amazonians
actually believe that the spirits of the deceased are present during the
ceremony, and relatives of the deceased mourn over the trunks that represents
their dead family members.
One of the most colorful events is the Huka-Huka wrestling matches between the
men of the hosting village and other communities. Huka-Huka wrestling is
one of the last rituals of the Kuarup and takes place at sunrise on the final day
of the Kuarup. Interestingly, Xingu Indian men are distinguished from
other Amazonian natives by being very muscular and stout; thus they are superbly
adapted to wrestling competition. Many Xingu Indians decorate their bodies
with paintings of animals that are important in their religion and cosmology.
A Huka-Huka match ends when one of the wrestlers is knocked down by the other.
The end of the Kuarup Ceremony of the Dead is
characterized by throwing the decorated Kuarup trunks into a river. The
Kuarup logs float down the river, thus symbolizing the journey of the spirits of
the dead. In addition to being a funeral rite, the Kuarup functions to
reinforce intertribal relationships and does so superbly, continuing to be a
popular intertribal ceremony despite the influence of the outside world.
Kuarup is not the only ceremony practiced by Xingu Indians and another important
ceremony is the rite of passage for adolescent males called "Awawoiá."
During the Awawoiá rite of passage, the boys are isolated and avoid all contact
with females, even their own family. During their Awawoiá initiation into
adulthood, the youths spend much time training for Huka-Huka wrestling. An
adolescent starts the Awawoiá rite at the age of about thirteen and spend two to
five years in isolation and training before emerging as an adult member of Xingu
Please note that it is not possible to enter the
Xingu Indigenous National Park
with commercial tour guides who have recently been banned by the Brazilian
governmment from entering this indigenous
That said, it is still possible to meet the Xingu Indians outside of the park and arrange a rendezvous with them.
If you want to receive more information and resources (magazines, geographic maps, and
articles) on the Xingu Indians and find out how you can meet them, please email me at
The Author, Dr. Margaret Ann Smith, is the an
anthropologist working for the preservation of Amazonian cultures.
For more information, please contact Dr. Smith at