Cultural description of the Nambikwara Indians
Cultural description of the Nambikwara Indians
Nambikwara Indians are a group of people
with a surname of Tupi origin. The people remained unknown until the eighteenth
century when General Candidio Mariano da Silva Rondon discovered them in 1907.
The General had been given a commission by the Brazilian government that
allowed him to explore the territories that extended to 1,500 kilometers from
Madeira River to Diamantino village. The exploration was to precede
construction of telegraph line that would connect the federal capital with
outposts of northwest of Brazil. It is during this exploration that first
contact was made with the Nambikwara people (Lévi-Strauss et
The Nambikwara Indians occupied the
region that extended from Papagaio river in the east of Brazil to the northwest
region the is estimated to have ended at the junction of Barão de Melgaço
Rivers and Commemoracão de Floriano. The Nambikwara people have also inhabited
the upper side of River Roosevelt which was formally known as da Duvida (Lévi-Strauss
et al. 1948).
Currently, the Nambikwa people live in
the southwestern parts of the Brazilian Amazon. Their name comes from two
different words. The first being Nambi which means mouth and the second being
Kwara which means a small palm reed that this tribe wears in a hole they drill
on the lower lip. They are mainly known for their skill with nasal flute. The
Nambikwara tribe is also known by others names like the Aleketusu, Cabixi,
Anusu and a spelling variation of Nambiquara. The name Cabixi was used prior
their discovery by Rondon’s exploration of their area. There are many subgroups
within Nambiquara, and each has its name (Lévi-Strauss et al. 1948).
Prior their discovery by Rondon, the
Nambikwara people live off land where they made their living through fishing,
hunting and tending their small gardens. It is during the 1700s that gold
miners disrupting their lives invaded their land. At the time of the first
encounter with the outside world through Rondon, the population of these people
was between 10,000 and 15,000. Their community drastically reduced to 500 due
to cultural shock, violence, and diseases. However, by the time roads were
being constructed through Nambikwara land in the 1980s, the population had
recovered from 500 people to between 1,000 and 2,000 people. The Nambikwara
people live in small organized villages near Juruena and Guapore rivers. Their
main economic activities have been replaced by cattle ranching which takes up
their extensive lands (Lévi-Strauss et al. 1948).
The Nambikwara is divided into three
territories, and each region differs from the other on the grounds of the
indigenous style of habitation. The homes in the Guapore area were large and
elongated while those on the northern side seemed to be conical. The houses in
the Juruena area were semi-spherical in shape and smaller than the rest. The settlement
was as far away from the rivers as one kilometer and was built on top of small
hills. Villages were constructed in a theme such that two houses were
constructed in front of each other and at the center was a central plaza that
separated them. The square acted as the burial site and also a place where
rituals were performed (Lévi-Strauss et al. 1948).
activities among the Nambikwara people
The Nambikwara people are not eager to
have children as their nomadic lifestyle can only allow a woman to carry one
child together with the large basket. The assumption could be used to explain
the drastic reduction of the Nambikwara population. One characteristic of the
Nambikwara children is that they are not involved in playing. Children will be
found manufacturing small objects made from straw by either braiding or rolling
et al. 1948). The children may also be
seen emulating the adults where they are seen involving themselves in small
contests or fights. In most cases, children are seen taking the roles of women
which involves manioc preparation in the morning, taking a bath when it is warm
during the day, retiring in the shade when it is too hot and gathering wood for
the evening fire before it gets dark. Girls learn to weave in the process, walk
around, sleep and laugh when they are still young. Boys, on the other hand, do
not begin to imitate male adults until when they are aged between eight and ten
years. Both genders take part in collecting and harvesting roles with great
enthusiasm. Brothers and sisters may also be seen playing the role of a husband
and a wife but not in the real sense because these kinds of relations are a
taboo in the community.
The children are observed to have very
close relationships with animals and most especially dogs. The tribe in general
treats the animals as a family member and to some extent seem more like a child
in the family. Other animals include hens and cocks. The tribe eats animal
neither do they eat the eggs. The dog accompanies the women when they go
looking for food but does not accompany the men when they go hunting (Lévi-Strauss
et al. 1948).
comparison between the Nambikwara people and the Gusii people.
People from different cultural and
geographical backgrounds are bound to have some differences, but there are also
similarities that can be found. The first similarity is that both cultures have
a village setting where there is a father, mother, children, and grandparents
living together in the same camp (Lévi-Strauss et al.
1948). As a result, they form a proper ground for children to learn through
emulation. The second similarity is that they both teach their children through
involvement where children learn through practice (LeVine et al. 1994).
One difference between the two cultures is
that the Nambikwara people limit the number of children they have by
prohibiting intercourse at certain times and encourage abortion while the Gusii
people do not have a limit of how many children they can have.
The other difference is that the Gusii
people eat the animals they keep like chicken and their eggs. The Nambikwara
people, on the other hand, do not eat them (LeVine et al. 1994). Adding on
this, Gusii people treat their dogs as part of their livestock and use them for
security, but the Nambikwara people treat them as part of the family which
encourages activities like pampering the dogs.