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The Panará

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The Panará are the last descendents of the legendary Southern Kayapó, once thought to be extinct. From the 18th century on, reports written by travelers who faced the dangerous river route from São Paulo to Mato Grosso always mention attacks to the expeditions by the fierce Southern Kayapó indians. As an easier route through land was discovered, the Kayapó retreated and "peaceful" contact started. By the 19th century, only a couple Kayapó villages still existed in Minas Gerais and São Paulo. It was thought that no Southern Kayapó had survived the 20th century, but the language and culture of the Panará, previously known as Kren-Akarore and first contacted in the 1970s, match the old descriptions. It is probable that they are the descendents of a Southern Kayapó group who migrated west to escape the colonial pressure, finally reaching the Xingu National Park in recent years.

Like other Jê-speaking groups, the Panará build ring villages, with a complete circle of houses around a central plaza which, ideally, would contain two men's houses (one for each moiety, like the Kayapó-Mebengokre ideal). The position of the houses in the circle is determined by belonging to one of four exogamous clans: kuosi to the west, kwasot to the north, kwakjat to the east, and kreno to the south. These clans are matrilineal, and the uxorilocal residence rule implies that men move to the other side of the village when they marry, while women spend their whole lives in the same house. Before moving to his wife's house, a man lives in the men's house where he was initiated to one of the age classes.

Apart from the clans, the Panará villages are divided in ritual moieties, whose men's houses would also be positioned in the central plaza according to cardinal principles: the kjatantêra moiety to the east, the sotantêra moiety to the west. The plaza is thus a male space, since the moieties and their houses are associated to men: a woman is assigned to the moiety of her husband, and children usually belong to their father's moiety (until marriage). Panará moieties do not regulate marriages, unlike the clans, and are not hierarchically divided, unlike the age classes. Age classes are a common institution among Jê groups, and they are also prominent among the Panará: men from the same age class group to form teams during competitions and also for collective work.

The Jê pattern which associates the house circle to women, blood relatives and private life, and the central plaza to men, ceremonial ties and public life is thus present in the Panará villages. However, the constant pressure by the national society has led to village fission processes, usually between moieties, resulting in small villages of only one moiety (indeed, a very similar situation occurred among the Kayapó farther north).

Ewart, E. (2003) "Lines and circles: images of time in a Panará village". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9:261-279.

See more references at the Bibliografia Macro-Jê Online.

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