ETHNONYMS: Guazazara, Tenetehar, Tenetehára

The 7,000 to 10,000 Guajajára speak a language belonging to the Tupí Family and live between the Pindaré and Mearim rivers in the Brazilian state of Maranhão. In 1830 they numbered in excess of 12,000 people and lived in Pará as well as Maranhão.

Some Guajajára lived on the Jesuit mission near Itaqui in the 1650s but left when asked to work on tobacco plantations. An 1850s Brazilian-government plan to convert the Guajajára to Christianity and make them workers resulted in an Indian rebellion in 1860. Following their attack, in which they killed several non-Indians, the Guajajára returned to the forests. The 1890s brought another attempt at pacification, but the proselytizing efforts of the Capuchin missionaries and a measles epidemic caused another rebellion in 1900. A deadly retaliation by non-Indians followed, and Guajajára pacification ensued. With the missionaries encouraging large families, the Guajajára population has climbed steadily. The Guajajára are today largely acculturated and assimilated.

The Guajajára traditionally practiced fairly intensive horticulture, raising bitter and sweet manioc, maize, squashes, cotton, peanuts, and beans; later they adopted bananas and rice, which they grow in large quantities. Gardens are cleared from July through November, burned in late November, and planted in December. The family head owns the garden, but his sons, nephews, and sons-in-law also work on it. Men traditionally did all the work in the gardens, with the exception of cultivating cotton and peanuts, which were women's responsibilities, but by the 1940s men planted and harvested those crops as well. The Guajajára hunt tapir, peccaries, monkeys, agoutis, and several species of birds. They still use bows and arrows, although in the twentieth century they have adopted firearms. The Guajajára fish with hooks and lines purchased from Brazilians, but they also know how to fish with poison.

By the late nineteenth century, the Guajajára had adopted Portuguese architecture, building houses with rectangular lines. Guajajára villages vary greatly in population, from 35 to 800 or more people. The traditional Guajajára village had rows of houses with streets in between. A household typically consists of a matrilineally extended family, although many include only a nulcear family. In houses with several nuclear families, there are no dividing walls, only separate use areas; each family places its hammocks around its own hearth. Tools and housewares are hung from the wall supports. Traditionally, there were also large buildings constructed for ceremonies.

Villages are politically independent and are governed by several men who are themselves the heads of large extended families. In addition, there is one man who is appointed by outside authorities (formerly Jesuit missionaries but later the colonial, imperial, and federal governments) who acts as an intermediary between the people of his village and the outside world.

Traditionally, both boys and girls were isolated for ten days prior to their puberty rituals, which were for both sexes. Sometimes men married preadolescent girls and lived with the girls' families until after their puberty rituals, at which time the marriages were consummated. Otherwise, a father sought a husband for his daughter after her puberty ritual. Polygyny is allowed, but rare. A father-to-be is prohibited by taboo from hunting certain species of animals, for fear that the spirit of the animal will harm the fetus; for example, killing a jaguar is believed to cause the child to be insane. After birth, both parents must observe food taboos until the child is weaned. Traditionally, the dead are buried in the house, and the house is destroyed after two burials have taken place within it.


Gomes, Michael (1977). "The Ethnic Survival of the Tenetehara Indians of Maranhão, Brazil." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Florida.

Wagley, Charles W. (1942). "O estado de extase do page tupí (tenetehara e tapirapé)." Sociologia 4:285-292

Wagley, Charles W. (1943). "Notas sôbre aculturação entre os guajajára." Boletim do Museu Nacional (Rio de Janeiro), n.s., Antropologia, no. 2.

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