Gorotire

ETHNONYMS: Caiapó, Cayapó, Goroti, Gradahó, Gradau, Kaiapó, Kayapó-Gorotire, Mebengokre


The Gorotire are a branch of the Northern Kayapó and are speakers of a northern Gê language. Around 3,500 Gorotire, including a number of subgroups, live in thirteen villages, most of them on reservations, scattered over a large area in the south of the Brazilian state of Pará, from the vicinity of the Rio Fresco, an eastern tributary of the Xingu, to the upper Rio Iriri. Some also live in the northern part of the Xingu Indian Park on the upper Xingu. All these groups are the result of continuous fissions that began around the beginning of the twentieth century. Thus, "Gorotire" may refer to the original group, to the totality of subdivisions that resulted from fissions of this group, or, more specifically, to a large community called "Gorotire Village" on the Kayapó reservation in Pará. The present subdivisions are Mekragnotí, Kararâo, A'Ukre, Gorotire, Kikretum, Kokraimoro, and Kuben-Krãn-Kein in Para and Metuktire (Txukarramãe) in Mato Grosso.

The Northern Kayapó did not have regular contact with outsiders until around the middle of the nineteenth century. In the early nineteenth century there were sporadic clashes along the lower Rio Tocantins between settlers and a Kayapó group that then migrated to the west of the Araguaia to escape Whites. A Kayapó group living along the Araguaia, which became known as the Pau d'Arco Kayapó, began to trade with settlers, obtaining firearms that they used to attack other Kayapó groups, including the Xikrin to the north and the Gorotire further west. A Dominican mission was founded for this group around 1890, but the mission soon became a frontier settlement that brought epidemic diseases and interethnic conflict; within fifty years the Pau d'Arco Kayapó were extinct. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Gorotire Kayapó were still one large group living in a village called "Pyka-tô-ti," meaning "the great village" or "the beautiful village," near an eastern tributary of the Xingu. The Gorotire were not in direct contact with Whites at this time, but indirect contact probably exposed them to disease, which, by leading to unexplained deaths, exacerbated tensions within the group.

A series of fissions and dispersions began, which led to the present subdivisions. In the first major split, blamed on a fight over adultery, one group that became known as the "Mekragnotí" moved west toward the Rio Iriri, but the Gorotire remained in the vicinity of the old village. Fighting was intense during this period, as the Kayapó clashed with rubber and gold seekers; raided farms for firearms, tools, and other goods; and took captives from Whites and from other Indians. Fear of reprisals following a raid increased dispersion and nomadism. Villages moved frequently, among sites up to 200 kilometers distant from one another. In 1935 the Kuben-Krãn-Kein separated from the Gorotire, and the Gorotire made peaceful contact with Whites. At the time of contact they were already using manufactured goods and rifles but were weakened and reduced in population by disease; of the group of 356 only 85 were left after six months. During the period after their separation from the Gorotire, the Mekragnotí underwent a similar process of fissioning and recombination; informants have recalled twenty-one splits, defined as the fission of a village or the separation of an important group for at least a year. In 1953 Claudio Villas Boas of the Indian Protection Service (SPI) contacted three Mekragnotí groups and persuaded them to gather to receive presents of trade goods. Although he wanted them to remain together near the Xingu, only one-half stayed; an epidemic convinced others to return to isolation. Those that stayed became known as the Mektutire (Txukarramãe).

In the 1980s Gorotire relations with outsiders entered a new phase when gold prospectors invaded their reservation. At first, the Gorotire raided the miners' camp and tried to force them out but ended by signing a contract that gives the community a share in the mine's profits. The Gorotire also receive revenue from lumber companies that cut hardwoods on the reservation. The Gorotire have spent part of these revenues on trucks, a light plane, electricity, and building a new village of brick houses. New wealth has also provided their leaders with funds to go to Brasilia and abroad to argue the cause of Indian rights over land and other resources. Although they have adopted a number of elements of Western material culture, the Kayapó have by no means abandoned their own identity. They use modern means of communication to strengthen internal cohesion, such as shortwave radio to link the villages; they also have used video cameras to record traditional ceremonies. The Kayapó have become aware of the interest of the media in external aspects of their culture, such as ceremonial dress and ritual performances, and have become adept at using them as political resources in the struggle to defend their communities against appropriation and assimilation.

When they lived east of their present locations, the Kayapó habitat was savanna; some now live in tropical forest, but most inhabit transitional environments where forest and savanna meet. Their traditional staple was sweet potatoes, but their crop repertoire includes both sweet and bitter manioc, maize, yams, taro, and kupá ( Cissus gongylodes ), an original domesticate of the Gê peoples. Some also now plant dry rice. The Gorotire plant their principal crops in new fields for two or three years but also plant fruit trees from which they continue to harvest for a number of years; they also collect useful plants in the forest and transplant them into old gardens.

All Kayapó groups have been seminomadic until recently, and most of them still spend part of the year "on trek," that is, making hunting trips from their base village, often with the entire community traveling as a unit. Sometimes only the men go out, or the village may split into several groups. When on trek, they travel slowly from camp to camp, the men spending most of their time hunting while women care for the children, gather wild fruits, and collect materials for the camp shelters. They do not depend entirely on wild foods, however; they carry with them manioc, bananas, and other food from the village gardens or collected from forest gardens that they plant along trails for this purpose.

At present, men hunt with rifles and shotguns. Preferred game species are peccaries, armadillos, coatis, deer, and anteaters. Roasted tortoises are an obligatory dish at all festivals. In preparation for a feast, a group of men goes out to collect tortoises—when they return, each man is carrying by a tumpline slung from his forehead a tall rack to which live tortoises are tied; they may bring as many as 200 of the animals. Fishing has become more important than it was previously, especially for Gorotire Village on the Rio Fresco. The villagers fish with bows and arrows and harpoons as well as with hook and line and with nets that were introduced by missionaries. Age grades organize collective fishing parties that use timbó (rotenone) as a fish poison. Gold mining has polluted the Rio Fresco near Gorotire Village, however, and mercury, which is used in processing ore, has been found in the fish that the Indians take from the river. The Kayapó distinguish over fifty different varieties of bees, which they value not only for honey but also for wax, which is used for medicinal purposes and as an adhesive.

Gorotire villages consist of houses surrounding a public space, with a men's house in the center. If the village increases in size, another ring of houses may be added outside the first. The "great villages" of the past had up to three concentric circles of houses and a population of several thousand. The traditional Kayapó house was constructed by placing two parallel rows of flexible saplings and tying them together at their tops to form an arch to which palm fronds were attached. Such houses are no longer built in the villages, but similar structures are built as shelters while on trek. Present-day Gorotire village houses are like rural Brazilian houses built of wattle and daub with palm-thatch roofs. The Kayapó do not use hammocks for sleeping; they make their beds from layers of palm leaves and mats on the floor of the house or on platforms.

Gorotire social organization is based on a number of different groups: extended family households, age grades, men's societies, men's houses, and villages. There are also a number of dyadic social ties formed by both real and fictive kin relationships, ceremonial friendships, and naming relationships. The Gorotire calculate kinship bilaterally, but because of depopulation and village fissions, people often do not have many kin in the same village. As a result, fictive kin, acquired in various ways, have an important role in ceremonials.

The Kayapó are monogamous, and postmarital residence is matrilocal. At around the age of 8 a Gorotire boy leaves his parents' house to live in the men's house. He is inducted into the men's house by a pair of "ceremonial parents" who also sponsor his initiation. After initiation, he may marry but will not move into his wife's household until after the birth of his first child. At this time, a special ceremony marks his advancement from the young men's age grade to the fathers' age grade. Both men and women pass through different age grades throughout their lives. Although the Kayapó are monogamous, extramarital affairs are common. Some women do not marry but spend their lives as unmarried women who, nevertheless, have children.

Most Gorotire villages have two men's societies and two women's societies, although the number may vary. Formerly, some villages had two men's houses, each with one or more men's societies. When a man's first child is born he must decide which men's society he will join. He is free to choose, but there is a tendency for a man to join the society of his wife's father. A woman usually joins the women's society corresponding to her husband's group. Many activities are organized by the men's societies. Each group has its own chief and appointed place in the men's house, and cooperates in communal labor such as house building and on ceremonial hunting trips. In the past, men's societies sometimes became powerful political factions, and villages might split according to men's societies.

The Kayapó conceive of the cosmos in terms of circles. Floating parallel disks—the upper world, the earth, and the underworld—constitute the universe. In the beginning people lived in the upper world, but when a hunter was digging out the burrow of an armadillo he made a hole in the sky, and saw the wonderful world below. Pursuing the armadillo, the hunter fell through the hole in the sky to the earth, but a great wind blew him back to heaven, where he told the other people what he had seen. Then the two chiefs of the village in the sky thought about how all the people might go down to earth. They told everybody to bring all the bow cords, necklaces, and wristbands they had and tie them all together so that the people might climb down. Twice they tried and twice the rope was too short. Accordingly, they found more things to tie together, and the third time it was long enough. They all descended to earth except a few who were afraid. Then a little boy cut the rope, and those who had stayed behind had to remain in the sky, where they became the stars.

According to the Gorotire view, each human being has a bodily form, but the energy that makes the body live is its spirit. During periods of unconsciousness owing to illness or injury, the spirit may leave the body and wander about. This is a dangerous state, but to become a shaman one must have an experience in which the spirit leaves the body and, transformed into a bird, flies east, avoids entanglement in a magical spider's web, and reaches the spiritual world where it acquires knowledge from the spirits of the animals and the ancestors. Shamans are experts in tribal rituals and ceremonies which, according to Kayapó belief, must be performed to keep the world in place.


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NANCY M. FLOWERS

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