Bakairi - Orientation



Identification. The Bakairi are a group of Brazilian Indians who speak a Carib language. They consider themselves Indians on the basis of language, occupation of a reservation given to them in 1918, and cultural traditions that set them off from Brazilians. They distinguish between non-Indians, or Karaiwa, and Bakairi. Included in the Karaiwa category are Brazilians and non-Brazilians, or Alemao. In the Bakairi category, they refer to Santaneiros, who prefer to speak Portuguese, marry non-Indians, and deviate from prescribed Bakairi traditions, and Xinguanos, who follow traditional customs.


Location. The Bakairi live in the municipality of Paranatinga in the central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso on an Indian reservation administered by the Fundação Nacional do Indio (National Indian Foundation, FUNAI). Although it is located only 120 kilometers from the village of Paranatinga, the reservation is isolated, with roads so poor that it takes from eight hours to two days to travel the distance, depending on the rains. Cuiabá, the capital of Mato Grosso, lies 530 kilometers from the reservation. It takes from eighteen hours to two days to reach this city. The Indians live in a single village, situated at the intersection of the Paranatinga, Azul, and Vermelho rivers, which provide water for drinking, bathing, and washing clothes. Gallery forests, where gardens are cultivated, line their banks. The rivers cover about 1 percent of the reservation's 50,000 hectares, whereas gallery forests make up about 14 percent. Cerrado, a type of dry prairie, constitutes the remaining 85 percent of the reservation. The climate is hot and semihumid. There are rainy and dry seasons. The rains come between the months of November and March. The dry season takes place between the months of May and September.


Demography. The Bakairi reservation is inhabited by 288 people. Two hundred and fifty-nine live in the village, and the rest are dispersed in distant homesteads. About 47 percent of the population is male and about 53 percent is female. The structure of the population is rectangular, which may indicate that artificial population control mechanisms have been in place. The population is growing at the rate of 3.47 percent annually. The northern Mato Grosso area in which the reservation is located is sparsely populated by Brazilian, German, and Italian ranchers and farmers. Large agro-businesses have penetrated the region. Population density is estimated at 0.5 persons per square kilometer.


Linguistic Affiliation. A Cariban language, Bakairi belongs to one of the four major linguistic families of lowland South America. Many men and several women also speak Portuguese.

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