ETHNONYMS: Arauirá, Boe

The approximately 700 (1987) Bororo speak a Gê language and live in central Mato Grosso, Brazil, in three clusters of nine villages. Bororo culture is in a state of considerable flux, with frequent population movements, abandonment of villages and establishment of new ones, and integration into the regional economy. Although some Bororo seek to maintain as much as possible of their traditional culture, regular contact with Brazilians has meant assimilation for many Bororo who are no longer counted among the 700 listed above.

At contact, the Bororo numbered perhaps as many as 15,000 and, among anthropologists, were once classified as the Eastern and Western Bororo. The aboriginal territory of the Eastern Bororo extended from about 14° to 19° S and 51° to 59° W, a large part of what is now known as north-central Mato Grosso. The extent of the territory of the Western Bororo in what is now Paraguay is unknown, and through acculturation they ceased to exist as a distinct group by the 1930s. Beginning in the late 1700s, gold and diamond prospectors entered Bororo territory; they were later followed by Salesian missionaries, the Indian Protection Service, and Brazilian settlers in the late 1800s. These outside influences led to some 150 years of warfare, disease, and dislocation that decimated the Bororo population from a maximum of perhaps 15,000 at first contact to only 500 in the 1960s. At the same time, much of the traditional social structure survived into the mid-twentieth century, making the Bororo the frequent subject of anthropological study.

The traditional economy was based on hunting, fishing, gathering, and horticulture. Men hunted with bows and arrows for peccaries, jaguars, tapir, rabbits, and various species of monkeys and birds. Men also fished with bows and arrows, weirs, nets, and poisons. Women did most of the collecting and also grew maize, manioc, tobacco, rice, cotton, and gourds. These activites are still practiced to a limited extent, although settlement and development of the traditional Bororo territory has limited resources and restricted access to them. Commercial fishing, large-scale agriculture, and industry are now all found in the region and the Bororo have become involved as farmers, wage laborers, producers of items for the tourist trade, and as the consumers of commercial goods such as clothing, tools and equipment, and food.

Traditional Bororo social organization was complex and centered on the village community and subdivisions therein. In the most general sense, the Bororo today divide themselves in most villages into exogamous matri-moieties, which live respectively on the north and south sides of the village. Each moiety is further divided into matri-sibs named for animals or plants. Each clan had special prerogatives, prerogatives that led to differences in wealth. These social divisions are played out in the physical arrangement of the community. Thatched houses are arranged in a circle around a central clearing, in which the men's house is built. Households belonging to a given moiety are located along one-half of the circle; those of the other moiety occupy the other half. Within the moiety areas, households of each sib are aggregated together. Each household is a matrilineage. Kinship terminology was traditonally of the Crow type.

Traditionally, there were two achievable statuses—shaman and headman. Shamans were both curers and practitioners of witchcraft; their activities involved contact with the dead. Each lineage had its own headman, who led by influence rather than coercion. Evidently, each lineage head was responsible for some specific village activity, such as deciding where to hunt or where to relocate the village. Leadership was apparently achieved on the basis of knowledge.

Under the long influence of the Salesian missionaries, the traditional religion has essentially disappeared. More recently, the missionaries have been actively involved in helping preserve surviving elements of the tradtional culture.


Albisetti, César, and Ángelo J. Venturelli (1962-1976). Enciclopédia bororo. 3 vols. Campo Grande: Museu Regional Dom Bosco.

Colbacchini, Antonio (1919). A tribu dos boróros. Rio de Janeiro: Papelada Americana.

Crocker, Christopher (1985). Vital Souls: Bororo Cosmology, Natural Symbolism, and Shamanism. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Fabian, Stephen M. (1992). Space-Time of the Bororo of Brazil Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Wilbert, Johannes, and Karin Simoneau, eds. (1983). Folk Literature of the Bororo Indians. Los Angeles: University of California, Latin American Center.

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