Brazilian Indians

Brazilian Indians. The indigenous peoples of Brazil comprise a large number of different ethnic groups that inhabited the current Brazilian territory before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century .


[ hide ]

  • 1 History
  • 2 Costumes and ornaments of Brazilian Indians
  • 3 Way of life
  • 4 Indigenous art
  • 5 Current situation of Brazilian Indians
  • 6 Sources


Most of the native tribes that inhabited the territory of Brazil around the year 1500 are thought to have descended from the first wave of immigrants, who would have arrived in America around the year 9000 BC during the last ice age, reaching the Amazon basin around the 6000 BC , after having passed the isthmus of Panama .

A second hypothesis is supported by recent discoveries, such as the skeleton of Luzia in Lagoa Santa ( Minas Gerais ) that have evidenced the morphological differentiation between the Asian genotype and the American aboriginal, more similar to that of the indigenous peoples of Africa and Australia . These original inhabitants would later have been displaced by Siberian immigrants, the natives of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego being the last representatives of these aboriginal populations.

Costumes and ornaments of Brazilian Indians

At the time of the discovery of Brazil, the Brazilian natives walked naked. Thus it was that the Portuguese colonizers found them. Costumes and ornaments were generally used in rites and commemorations, as they are until today in various tribes, mainly the most isolated ones.

The clothes were introduced to indigenous customs by the Portuguese colonizer. From the contact with the so-called “civilization”, the Indians were adopting the clothes of the men of the cities.

Currently, the clothing of the Indians is related to the climate, nature, rites and festivals. There are tribes that, even having adopted the use of clothing, their members were naked on special solemnities.

Because Brazil is a tropical country with a hot climate, most of the Indians wear little clothing most of the time. Some tribes, who are on the Brazilian border closest to the currents originating in the Andes mountain range, use a kind of robe, the cushmã, woven by the Indians, in the coldest periods.

The most common clothing for Brazilian Indians “uncivilized” or with little contact with society are the thong, or saiote or the belts that cover their sex, made of animal feathers, plant leaves, between tree shells, seeds or pearls / earrings. The latter, highly appreciated, were always the object of exchange between primitive peoples and the colonizers and travelers. In the thirteenth century , Marco Polo was already distributing them throughout Asia, allowing the Portuguese and Spanish to spread them among the Amerindians.

In some tribes, since the nineteenth century , women wear cotton sheets or bedspreads rolled around the bust, in a garment similar to a tunic. In general, clothing for indigenous people is not associated with moral aspects.

Brazilian Indians wear many ornaments and body paintings. The dressings are made with bird feathers – such as parrots, seagulls, parrots, tucano, guará -, sisal, stones, teeth, nails, claws and beaks of animals, similar. The garments adorned, mainly with feathers, are generally used in special occasions, rites and commemorations.


The Indians survived by hunting, fishing, extraction, and agriculture. Neither did the latter, however, serve to permanently unite a single territory. They settled on the valleys of navigable rivers, where there was fertile land. It remained in place for about four years. After the depletion of the natural resources of the place, migration to another region, a semi – sedentary regime.]

All the indigenous groups had as common characteristics the absence of the concept of material property, since they were not interested in the personal accumulation of wealth; they grouped themselves into nations, tribes, and villages, where they sometimes lived; the set of several geese formed a village, and the set of villages a nation. The work was divided according to sex and age. The family could be monogamous or polygamic.

They bequeathed a strong cultural heritage in food, teaching Europeans to eat manioc, corn, guarana, palm hearts; in the objects, their nets, canoes, traps for hunting and fishing; in vocabulary: in place names like Curitiba, Piauí, etc .; in names of native fruits or animals: cashew, yacaré, abacaxi, tatú … They taught some techniques such as ceramic work and the preparation of flour, and they left habits such as the use of tobacco, or the custom of bathing daily.

Indigenous art

Since the 16th century, various objects made by indigenous peoples were collected by Portuguese kings and nobles as “rare” specimens of “exotic” cultures. Until today, a certain museological conception of indigenous artifacts continues in common sense. For many, these works constitute “handicrafts”, considered a minor art, where the artisan just repeats the same traditional pattern without creating anything new. Such a perspective disregards the fact that production is not extinguished in time or cultural dynamics.

Made for daily or ritual use, the production of decorative elements is not indiscriminate, and may have restrictions according to categories of sex, age and social position. It also requires specific knowledge about the materials used, the right occasions for production, etc.

The ways of manipulating pigments, feathers, vegetable fibers, clay, wood, stone and other materials give uniqueness to Amerindian production, differentiating it from Western art, as well as African or Asian production. Therefore, it is not a question of a single “indigenous art”, but of various “indigenous arts”, since each people has particularities in their way of expressing themselves and giving meaning to their productions. The bases of such expressions transcend the pieces exhibited in museums and fairs (vases, baskets, pumpkins, nets, oars, arrows, benches, masks, sculptures, cloaks …), once the human body is painted, scarified and Perforated; as well as rocky constructions, trees and other natural formations; not counting the crucial presence of dance and music. In all those cases, the aesthetic order is linked to other domains of thought, constituting means of communication –between men, between peoples and between worlds– and ways of conceiving, understanding and reflecting the social order and worldview of the indigenous people. In relations between peoples, artifacts are also traded, including with the “white man.” Lately, trade with the surrounding society has meant an alternative for generating income through the valorization and dissemination of its cultural production. even with the “white man.” Lately, trade with the surrounding society has meant an alternative for generating income through the valorization and dissemination of its cultural production. even with the “white man.” Lately, trade with the surrounding society has meant an alternative for generating income through the valorization and dissemination of its cultural production.

Current situation of Brazilian Indians

The peoples that inhabited the eastern coast, mostly speaking Tupi-Guaraní languages, were decimated, dominated or forced to take refuge in the interior lands to avoid contact. Today, only the Fulniô (from Pernambuco ), the Maxakali (from Minas Gerais ) and the Xokleng (from Santa Catalina) retain their languages. Curiously, their languages ​​are not Tupi, but belong to three different families linked to the Macro-Gê stem.

The Guarani, who live in various states in the South and Southeast of Brazil and who also retain their language, migrated from the West towards the coast in relatively recent years. The other indigenous societies living in the Northeast and Southeast of the country lost their languages ​​and only speak Portuguese, maintaining only, and in some cases, isolated words that they use in rituals and other cultural expressions.

Most of the indigenous societies that managed to preserve their languages ​​currently live in the North, Central-West and South of Brazil. In other regions, they were being expelled as urbanization progressed. Today there are about 460 thousand Indians, distributed in 225 indigenous societies, being about 0.25% of the total Brazilian population. It should be clarified that this demographic data considers only those indigenous people who live in villages, with estimates that, beyond these, there are between 100 and 190 thousand living outside the indigenous lands, including urban areas. There are also 63 references from Indians not yet contacted by the Brazilian government.


Leave a Comment