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