Suya - Orientation



Identification. This article refers to data collected about the Suya between 1971 and 1982 and is written in the past tense for that reason, although the group continues to live in the Xingu National Park. The Suya and Tapayuna spoke a dialect of the Northern Gê (or Jê) Branch of the Gê Language Family, whose members were related culturally as well as linguistically. As with many groups, the names by which they were known were bestowed on them by other Indians. The Suya name for themselves was "Me" or "Mekins ji," meaning "the people" or "the people of the wide cleared village places," reflecting the importance to their identity of their large, circular villages.

Location. Many parts of Brazil, including where the Suya lived, were in turmoil during the previous 300 years, as Brazilian settlers penetrated the interior of the country. The Suya said their original homeland was far to the east of their recent village sites on the Rio Suiá-missu near its mouth on the Rio Xingu, an affluent of the Amazon (11° S and 52° W) within the boundaries of the Xingu National Park, Mato Grosso. They said they moved west from their homelands, separated from the Tapayuna near the Rio Arinos on the Rio Tapajós, and then moved eastward again to the Rio Xingu.

Demography. In 1973 approximately ninety Suya and forty-three Tapayuna lived in a single circular village of six thatched houses; 44 percent of this population was under 10 years old. This relatively small population size can be traced to the effects of violence and disease on the groups—both Suya and Tapayuna had been attacked by Brazilians, their villages burned, and their populations ravaged by infectious diseases. The small population resulted in numerous intertribal marriages with other Xingu groups after 1959.

Linguistic Affiliation. Gê is one of the four large language families in Brazil. It is usually divided into three branches: Southern (Xokleng and Kaingaing), Central (Xavante, Xerente, and Paraná), and Northern (Northern Kayapo, Timbira, Apinaye, and Suya).

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