Manuscript "A Tapirape Comes of Age"


Material Information

Manuscript "A Tapirape Comes of Age"
Series Title:
General Project Files
Physical Description:
Mixed Material
Wagley, Charles
Charles Wagley ( donor )
Physical Location:
Box: 1
Folder: Manuscript "A Tapirape Comes of Age"


Subjects / Keywords:
Anthropology--United States--History
Galvao, Eduardo Eneas
Gurupa (Para, Brazil)--Photographs
Indians of South America--Brazil
Tapirape Indians
Tapirape Indians--Photographs


General Note:
Folder 5

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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Full Text

Revist:. do '!useu NX.cionnl /Rio de J-neiro/, Year 1, No. 3, ..pril 1945.

Charles WI Aley

The T.pirap4 IndiL-n live in Central Brazilr north of the

T. pir -pc river, a left-h..nd tributary of the ..r-u i. situated in the

extreme south of the state of P-;ri~ They spe k dialect of Tupi-, the mrio't .:idelespre aboriginal tongue in Brazil. In spite

of a great decline in their popul-tion, they still possess a rich

culture .1 tr ditior; which is peculiar to the .n, which ditinguihes

then fr-o ofher tribe-., Their customs and tr-.ditions are transmitted

orally wi';i gre: t c re froir generation to generation. One of the

inmot interesting oznTr therm is the ceremony in which ihe youth

as.une. the status of a groin man. This ch:-nt-e in st tus is -! r-ed

by neri'ly all peoples. Among us, vhler. a young m n re che:: ihe age

of 21, he c n vote, m:.rry, sign docuinenLs, etc.; monL; rii ny primitive

groups, the youth proves -h t he has become an adult by undergoing

torture or achieving succre-. in the hunt.

aon- the T pir;. p, thi:. tri1dition is observed with a festival

of son.: .nd .nce c'.lled "h1 ir-tying," for henceforth the young ;u.n

-ill wear his hair tied at the b ct of the neck in dult fLshion.

Fo-r.ev r- 1 ye r- before the cer&n:ony, the boy keeps hi. body painted

black with genip-.p, wears his hair cropped close to the he.d--"like

a monkey," in the words of the T..ptr pe--,is 3ubjectel to food

restrictions, and has his .:rjns and legs scarified until they bleed

:;o he will "grow strong." .hen he reaches 14 or 15 of -.e,

his f-:iily decide. that the time has c .;:le for him to become an .dult.

*.t the close of the r .Ln season, the time of harvesting .nd

thus of plenty for the tribe, the "hair-tying" ceremony is carried

out. For months beforeh-nd, the youth -llovx his hair to grow until
it comes down to his shoulders, Me -nwhile, mother and aunts weave

there ids (cords) to adorn him, while father nd uncles collect
feathers with rhich they make elaborate orn'o'nents. All T pir-p4

youths become adults through this rite; the tons of important men,
however, and those who were "favorite ::ons" (the T pir:p4 elect

certain children to preferential treatment) are much more richly

attire th:.n the others. The ceremony is costly to the family, and
much time is needed beforehand to gather the necessary materials--
i caw tail fe..thers, short feathers of the blue m: c:.w and parrot,

breast fluff of wild ducks, cotton threads for the orn ment .nd
beads. All these items are valuable to the T-,pirap4, who g uge
their own wealth in those terms.
On the eve of the ritual, the preparations begin, The youth's

body is painted black vith genip-,p. On his face, a bluck line is
drawn under the mouth '.nd a circle under the eyes, ihich are elonl, teL.

v ith a line at the corners. The father or uncles put the last touches

on a l.rge diidem. At dawn on the day of the ceremony, the youth is
led to the large ceremony: 1 house buil. in the center of the Tapir:.p4
vill [;e, .nd his hair is set to -.upr.ort the large nkungit n. (di .le:,)

made of numerous manc:.-, parrot .nd duci, feathers f :.Atenet to a base

of murity p.lm .nd hard v'ood., nd weighing. about 5 kilogr The
hair is trimuned,..nd tied into a roll on the n pe of the neck with a

cord at le:-st 5-meters long)to provide a base for the fastening of
the ..rge diadem. The lover lip is ; dorned -'ith a cer- :ioni 1 quartz
; eabet$ /Tr. cylindrical plug/.

The cere:iony itself begins late in the morning. For 84 hours
the youth d-nces continually, surrounded by his fellow tribesmen and


accompanied by the songs and dances of men and women. He dances ill
at ease, for he is soon tired by the weight and discomfort of the
ornaments. Tapirap4 tradition explains this ritual as a test of

endurance for the young men. According to one legend, a Tapir;-p'

ancestor called Xavanamu and his son Mikanci were captured by an
enemy tribe. Xavanamu was eaten, and his son was forced to dance

under the weight of a large diadem and of the numerous ornaments

which covered his body. At the end of a long day of dancing, Mak:--nci,

who till retained his strength, managed to flee and disappeared into

the woods followed closely by his foes. He vanished on reaching a

large hollow trunk. Nowadays, Tapirap4 youths wear orn ments similar
to those left behind by their ancestor.
In 1941, when we witnessed the "hair-tying" of the youth

Kancinampi6, several Tapirap4 predicted that he would cry "for %he
would get very tired during the night" but the boy stood up v .11 ntly

to the test. It is in another way, however, that men recall their
initiation. One of them said, "When I danced, I was more beautiful

than at any other time." It is true that at no other time of life
does the individual get so much attention and put up such a show with

such rich ornaments, And this during adolescence!
Thus, the Tapirap4 turn this ceremony into an opportunity

for fun w&ich their men recall more or less in the same n-.nner as

our youths recall their first ball.
At the time that follows plantain the young man must work in

the gardens, and henceforth he will participate in the hunt, thus

proving his ability to marry and support a fulnily,

Figure on facing page: Tapirap4 Indian in the coming-of-~ge

- 9 -

so to be assimilated into Brazilian society.

The story of the Tapirap6 is not unique for tribal groups in

Brazil. Not all Brazilian tribes had such explicit and rigid rules

of population regulation but most of them were conscious of the

need to limit family size and they practiced methods toward that

end. All the evidence indicates that the tropical forest population

was not expanding before the arrival of the European, and yet it

had certainly not reached the maximum in terms of their technological

ability to exploit the natural environment. Almost everywhere, suchb---

tribal groups have experienced the terrible consequences of epidemics

from ild Wkrld disease soon after, or even before, direct contact

with Europeans. Their numbers are soon reduced to but a handful of

people who are easily assimilated into the frontier. Obviously, the

opportunity to study these remaining Indian groups of the lowland

tropical forest will not remain open to us for long. Modern medicine,

if it were available in these isolated regions, could delay their

physical disappearance, but the advancing frontier will inevitably

disrupt their social and cultural life. They offer a unique labora-

tory for research for a variety of scientific disciplines, not in

ethnology alone. An example is the recent research by John Neel

and his associates among the Xarante Indians of central Brazil. In

this project, physiologists and geneticists collaborated with the

ethnologist. Through such collaboration among social, biological,