Upper Xingu Material Culture in the Past, Present and Future: Collaborative Documentation of a Multiethnic Tradition in Brazilian Amazonia

By Carlos Fausto | 30 September 2019

The Upper Xingu (Mato Grosso, Brazil) is an area of exceptional ecological, socio-historical and cultural diversity in Amazonia, which is today inhabited by 16 indigenous peoples of distinct origins, totalling around 6,000 people. Nine of these groups compose a plurilingual and multi-ethnic regional cultural system, directly descended from ancestral pre-Columbian societies in the region. Present in Upper Xingu are speakers from the 4 main linguistic groupings of the South American lowlands. Our project involves two of these peoples – the Kuikuro (Carib family) and the Wauja (Arawak family) – with whom we have over twenty years of experience in research, documentation and shared cultural production. With the advance of the economic frontier, the region has seen rapid environmental and cultural changes, affecting the availability of raw materials and the intergenerational transmission of knowledge. Our objectives are to: a) document two major categories of material culture: pottery and woven objects (in a broad sense); b) study museum collections in Brazil and abroad; c) produce a multimedia database, associating practical knowledge (knowhow and modes-of-use), meta-discourses on artefacts (narratives, categories, denominations), and a cartography of natural resources; d) revalorize and stimulate the transmission of this knowledge between generations; e) propose actions to protect this knowledge, as well as the sources of raw materials needed for its maintenance. As in earlier projects, we shall work in close partnership with communities, stimulating indigenous inclusion and action by training local researchers and valorising the ‘masters’ of this knowledge, men and women considered specialists in artefact production.


PI: Carlos Fausto, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil
Collaborators: Aristoteles Barcelos Neto, Bruna Franchetto, Michael Heckenberger