The Kalapalo Indians

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  • Topic: Marriage, Kinship, Tribe
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  • Published : October 8, 1999
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The Kalapalo Indians

The Kalapalo Indians of Central Brazil are one of a few surviving indigenous cultures that is uniquely protected by a national reserve in lowland South America. Through no effort of there own, they have been isolated artificially from Brazilian social and economic influences that reach almost every other Indian tribe in Brazil. This unusual situation has made it possible for the Kalapalo's culture to be undisturbed by the outside world and the surrounding tribes. Much of Kalapalo life is run through a central concept or an ideal of behavior, called ifutisu. This is an infinite ideological concept that is represented in many ways in social life and ideal organization among the Kalapalo.

The area in which the Kalapalo live is in the northeastern Mato Grosso state called Upper Xingu Basin. There are four unintelligible languages by groups in this region. This makes the Upper Xingu Basin linguistically diverse, but with many of the groups still sharing the same social and ideological features. It is very difficult to trace back the origins of Kalapalo life because of the integration of the many different and culturally diverse groups in the Upper Xingu Basin. So, many of systems of kinship classification, marriage practices, ceremonial organizations, status allocation, and religious beliefs are consistent with cultural rules and social practices and not with the original system. Many of the modern local groups can only reconstruct their own history which is in limited detail, these systems can't be isolated completely from the existing society.

The two most important social units in Upper Xingu society are the village and the household groups. Both the village and household can be considered corporate in that both control rights to territorial resources, acts as a unit when performing certain economic and ceremonial activities. Members of a household group are obligated to pass out food which they collect amongst themselves. Even when one cannot supply food a Kalapalo is assured of a share because everyone is treated with the same kind of respect. Despite this corporate organization, membership in villages and households is constantly changing, and there is much movement of people between group to group.

The Kalapalo society is a system wherein social units, such as the village groups and households exist only because of the individual who decides to live in these systems and choose to cooperate with one another. This is very different from other non-western societies whereas the individual acquire the responsibility to join in social units, by birth or other means of relationship to and with each other regardless of the identity of the individual themselves. The Kalapalo social organization is characterized by a flexible group membership and significannot

differences in the classification of individuals with certain groups. The choices for the Kalapalo to join groups is based on the personal relationship between one another instead of certain clan membership, religious beliefs, or ancestry.

The Kalapalo have an attitude towards cleanliness which encompasses all aspects of life such as; food, houses, belongings, and physical appearance. During the time of the year when manioc is being ready to be planted or when it is harvesting time, it is not uncommon to find them bathing three or four times a daily. The Kalapalo's attitude towards cleanliness approaches the excessive side.

The Kalapalo believe in generosity and peaceful behavior toward every one they encounter. They reject all acts of aggression and violent expression and find it inappropriate for human beings. Instead the Kalapalo embrace an ideal of non- violence which includes suppression of anger and a passive tolerance of behavior. In Kalapalo society people are incorporated into a cycle of reciprocity and generosity . The idea of sharing takes place only along the lines of prior relations; such as kinship, friendship, or...
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