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The Kaingang


Kaingang means "people", and it is the name of one of the largest indigenous groups in Brazil. During the 19th century, they were known as "Bugre" or "Coroado", and as "Guayaná" during the 17th century and before. During the 18th century they were fought with difficulty by the colonial government which tried to occupy the fields of Guarapuava, something only achieved in the early 19th century due to fierce indigenous resistence. Kaingang territory extended from south of the Tietê river throughout the Southern Brazilian Highlands, including the province of Misiones in Argentina. This huge territory seems to have been achieved only recently, after the 19th century, through battles and conquests of previous Xokleng ("Botocudo", as formerly known) territory, as recorded in sources from the 19th century.

Kaingang villages seem to have relied on some form of agriculture in the past, though that did not prevent mobility - hunting and gathering of pine nuts still playing an important role in the subsistence of the group. Kaingang economy could be characterized as bimodal, in a similar way as the Kayapó or Xavante. The Kaingang of Misiones are perhaps the best example: after planting their maize crops in the lowlands, the village dispersed and spent the winter in the highlands living on hunting and gathering pine nuts. In spring, they returned to their former village for harvest. Maize was used to make the alcoholic beverage called kife, having thus a symbollic value as well.

In the past, the Kaingang followed the Jê pattern of matri-uxorilocal residence, men going to reside in their wives' houses. Despite that and other resemblances, the Kaingang never built ring villages - this being solely a north and central Jê feature. Neither is there anything that resembles a men's house or the age classes. The most conspicuous supra-household institution among the Kaingang are the exogamous moieties - to which the best parallel is offered by the Xavante. The Kaingang kinship terminology is also close to that of the Xavante, belonging to the Dravidian type. This happens because the Kaingang, like their central brazilian relatives, make the moiety system coincide perfectly with the kinship system. Let's see in detail how this works. Every Kaingang community is divided in two moieties - kamé and kairukré - inherited from the father's line. Since marriage is prescribed with a person of the opposite moiety, the cross-cousins (whose moiety is the same as ego's mother, and thus suitable for marriage) are preferred couples. Voilà the Dravidian equation. In fact, every man in the same generation as ego and belonging to the opposite moiety is called iambré (brother-in-law), and every man one generation older than ego belonging to the opposite moiety is called kakré (father-in-law), since they are indeed potential relatives-in-law.

The dual principle pervades Kaingang thought and social relations: a shaman always prays for the souls of the opposite moiety during the burial rituals, for instance. Each moiety has a pattern of body painting (stripes for the kamé, circles for the kairukré) and basket weaving. All the universe is divided between these moieties - cardinal directions, species of animals and plants, etc. Besides the patrilineal moieties, a child is assigned to a ritual moiety of his parents' preference during mortuary rituals. This set of moieties is not inherited and has only ritual functions.

Each patrilineal moiety has a set of names. When a person dies, his name cannot be used again until the proper mortuary ritual is performed. This is the most important ritual among the Kaingang, and is called kikikoi. During the ritual, people drink an alcoholic beverage made of honey (the kiki), and it used to be the only occasion when people appeared painted with the patterns of their moieties. Unlike other Jê groups, there does not seem to be any rule in the transmission of names. There is, however, a distinction between "ugly names" (jiji korég) and "beautiful names" (jiji há), ugly names being sometimes preferred to protect children from the spirits of the dead. Some names make their owners suitable for special roles during the burial rites (the pei names). Thus, the association between certain names and certain ritual roles is a common Jê feature that is also present among the Kaingang.

Unlike any other Jê group, the Kaingang were organized, during the 19th century, in chiefdoms. Every village in a region had its pã'i (chief), a role that sometimes was mixed with that of kujà (shaman). However, the chiefs of a region were all subordinated to a single pã'i mág (main chief). The main chiefs kept alliances and rivalries throughout the highlands, chiefs in the brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul being aware of what their argentinian neighbours were doing. The role of main chief was inherited through the male line, but the subordinate chiefs were appointed by the main chief. When a main chief died, all the villages under his control gathered to rise a burial mound. The chief is still an important character in present day Kaingang villages, but the regional organization in chiefdoms has been lost.

Rosa, R. R. G. (2005) Os kujà são diferentes: um estudo tecnológico do complexo xamânico dos Kaingang da Terra Indígena Votouro. PhD dissertation, UFRGS.
Silva, S. B. (2001) Etnoarqueologia dos grafismos Kaingang: um modelo para a compreensão das sociedades Proto-Jê meridionais. PhD dissertation, USP.
Veiga, J. (2000) Cosmologia e práticas rituais Kaingang. PhD dissertation, Unicamp.

See more references at the Bibliografia Macro-Jê Online.