ETHNONYMS: Haarat, Wakaraü

The Tupari inhabit the headwater region of the Rio Branco, a right tributary of the Rio Guaporé in the state of Rondônia, Brazil. They speak a language of Tupían affiliation and refer to themselves as "Haarat." Their population prior to the invasion of their territory by rubber collectors in 1920 is estimated to have been 2,000. Subsequent assimilation into mestizo society and outbreaks of epidemic disease caused a sharp demographic decline. Modern population estimates suggest that 56 Tupari survive near the Pororoca Post and perhaps many more in little-explored upstream areas on the Rio Branco. In the process of acute acculturation, much of their traditional culture has been severely altered or lost.

Before contact with the Western world the Tupari constructed beehive-style communal houses that sheltered 150 or more occupants; each house constituted an autonomous settlement. Built around a central post, the houses were covered with palm thatch and measured 11 meters in height and 21 meters in diameter. Inside, between twenty and thirty nuclear families occupied juxtaposed spaces along the roof, which rose from the ground at an acute angle. The family compartments were not separated by dividers, nor were there any other wall-like partitions in the house. Single roundhouse communities of this kind were located at a distance of 10 to 15 kilometers from each other.

The traditional Tupari diet relied mainly on swidden horticulture. During its first year, a new garden plot was planted with maize, yams, peanuts, beans, bananas, sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, and urucú. Manioc was planted during the second year. The preparation of a garden entailed communal work in which both men and women participated. Men cleared and burned the plot. The tasks of cultivation and harvesting were accomplished jointly by men and women, that of transporting the crops by women. Crops were stored on covered platforms near the communal house or on shelves above the family quarters within the dwelling. Roots, mushrooms, and the wild fruits of palms and other trees were gathered to supplement the garden crops; the Tupari did not, however, eat palm shoots.

Hunting provided an important part of the diet. Although large game animals like tapir, deer, and peccaries were rare in their territory, the Tupari often hunted different kinds of monkeys, especially spider monkeys, which were plentiful. Large birds were shot from behind blinds in trees or on the ground. Caimans, tortoises, and snakes were also eaten. The men hunted with bows and arrows, basketry contraptions, cudgels, and machetes. Armadillos were smoked out of their burrows.

The characteristically shallow rivers and streams of the tribal habitat contain only small species of fish, and fishing was of little importance to the Tupari. Herring-sized fish were mainly caught in the dry season. Women took them from drained pools with their bare hands. Men caught them by applying various kinds of barbasco poisons, by setting fish baskets in weirs and dams, and by shooting them with bows and arrows. Fish hooks were adopted from Brazilian settlers.

The Tupari kept dogs and a few chickens and ducks. The meat and eggs of the domesticated fowl were eaten. A notable feature of the Tupari economy was the raising of the grubs of a certain forest fly ( Cyphomyia cyanea ) as food. The dregs of maize, manioc, and/or other root-crop beer were placed into the lower part of a severed hollow section of the jaracatiá tree, measuring about 110 to 120 centimeters in length and 30 to 40 centimeters in diameter. Attracted by the odor of the fermenting dregs, the flies laid their eggs in the moist sediments. Within a few days the bottom of the tube crawled with a multitude of 1.5centimeter-long grubs that were gathered and eaten raw or toasted to accompany a meal of roasted maize. Palm-borer grubs were also gathered and eaten.

Women prepared food in earthen cooking pots and by toasting; they also brewed large quantities of chicha beer. Men grilled meat, and sometimes fish, on barbecues. Steaming food in leaf wrappers was done by men and women alike. Women fetched firewood and water and were generally in charge of carrying loads.

Tupari men built houses, storage structures, and bridges and were responsible for clearing and maintaining roads. They manufactured stools, mortars and pestles, bows and arrows, and fire drills, as well as other wooden utensils such as spindles, weaving accessories, and combs. Using twisted palm fronds, bamboo strands, and similar basic materials, they produced mats, baskets, sieves, and fire fans. Hammock ropes and bowstrings were also made by the men. Women were the potters and made undecorated earthenware of different shapes and sizes. They also spun cotton and twisted tucum -palm fiber ( Astrocaryum sp.) for cordage. Women made hammocks, baby slings, and decorative arm and leg bands of cotton; they also used tucum fiber in the production of carrying nets.

The basic social and economic unit of Tupari society was the nuclear family. Some twenty to thirty nuclear families occupied fixed family spaces in the communal house and—in the absence of organizations such as sibs, phratries, moieties, or clans—Tupari life of the mid-1900s evolved within bilateral kindreds with only a weak and conditional unilinear emphasis. Elder members of the group, however, recalled the existence in former times of several named subtribal groups (sibs?) to which individual local communities were said to have belonged.

The kinship system of the Tupari was of the Omaha type, featuring a cousin terminology that classed patrilateral cross cousins with sister's children, matrilateral male cross cousins with mother's brother, and matrilateral female cross cousins with the mother and the mother's sister. Parallel cousins were classed with siblings. Marriage could be either endogamous or exogamous, depending on the availability of marriageable partners; interethnic marriages were permissible. A father usually chose a bride for his son and discussed a prospective marriage with the bride's parents. Initial uxorilocal residence was superseded by virilocal residence after the young couple had established a household of their own and had prepared a garden. The groom gave the father of his first wife a gift of weapons and body ornaments. No bride-price was required to seal polygynous unions; divorce was frequent.

The members of a village community recognized a chief who distinguished himself by exceptional intelligence, generosity, diligence, and vigor. He had to excel as an effective speaker within his community and vis-à-vis outsiders and needed to succeed in mustering the voluntary labor required to prepare his many fields. This enabled him to provide large quantities of food and beer for ritual celebrations and secular festivities. The office of the chief passed from father to son only if the aspirant possessed the requisite personal qualities. In former times local headmen functioned as war chiefs, but paramount chiefs over various local communities were absent.

The Tupari believed in the existence of supernatural beings who inhabited heaven and earth in human and in animal forms. In addition, various parts of the human body continued to exist after death as distinct spiritual entities or souls. Tupari cosmology featured a three-tiered universe consisting of the cosmic vault, the earth, and the netherworld. The celestial upper level was inhabited by primordial spirits in animal form. The terrestrial middle level was visualized in the form of a flat dish with a raised rim that supported the celestial vault. The latter was held up by an imaginary infrastructure of vertical poles similar to the ones that supported the thatch of the communal house. The poles of the sky vault were held together by the embrace of Patsíare, one of the primordial spirits. The center of the earth was occupied by the Tupari, who were surrounded at some distance from the center by other ethnic groups and primordial spirits in human form. The inhabited earth extended to its upturned rim, but there was no ocean within or beyond that ambit. Encircling the earth was an enormous serpent. The lower level of the netherworld was populated by half-human and half-animal creatures from which humankind originated, and the occupants of the lower plain were believed to be individuals who had failed to leave the netherworld at the time of human origin, when spirit guides led ancestral ethnic groups to their habitats on earth. The primordial spirits of both the sky world and the earth interfered variously in humankind's daily affairs. Their interventions, however, were benevolent and stood in sharp contrast to the mostly evil actions of certain souls of the dead. On their visits to the spirit world, shamans learned the particular song of each primordial spirit and passed them on to the members of their respective communities.

Whereas both male and female supernatural shamans were believed to officiate among the primordial spirits, only men practiced shamanism among humans, and the shaman's office was not hereditary. A local community had one or more fully installed shamans, and often a shaman functioned simultaneously as chief. Prior to becoming recognized as a full-fledged shaman a neophyte was subjected to an initiation ceremony. By inhaling parica ( Piptadenia sp.) and tobacco snuffs he entered into a state of trance and met the ancestral shamans of his group. Shamans functioned as priestly intermediaries between the natural and the supernatural worlds: they cured illnesses resulting from spirit intrusion by sucking, blowing, and gesticulating; they acted as sorcerers; and they controlled the weather. Through lengthy rituals and curing séances, shamans perpetuated the religious traditions of their people and assisted them in their efforts to secure a tolerable existence in the hereafter.

Music played a major role in Tupari life. Individually or in small groups, either mixed or sex-segregated, the Tupari sang for their own pleasure. Shamans chanted solo in ritual contexts. Antiphonal singing by one or two lead singers alternating with a mixed chorus accompanied certain dances at secular drinking festivals. On other festive occasions, male music masters played clarinets and women sang. Some dances were conducted separately by male or female participants, whereas others were performed by men, women, and children together. Additional musical instruments played for personal enjoyment, as dance accompaniment, or shamanic music included composite trumpets of various kinds, flutes, panpipes, rattles, and rattle strings.

Sickness and death were believed to be the result of sorcery or natural causation. The Tupari buried the dead either inside the communal house or outside the village. A chief was invariably buried indoors and his house was burned, along with his personal belongings and stores of maize and peanuts. Commoners were buried inside the house if it was old and about to be abandoned anyway. Several hours after death, the corpse was carried in its hammock to a shallow grave that had been excavated by members of the deceased's family. The corpse was placed in the grave faceup in prone position and with down-turned hands laid on its lower abdomen. The head and feet were propped up by slipping ceramic bowls under them. The face was shielded with a receptacle made of palm stipule, and the entire body was covered with straw mats and banana leaves. Pepper pods were placed on this cover to protect the dead from evil spirits. The dead person's personal belongings were destroyed and either placed inside or burned on top of the grave. Women were buried with their body ornaments, broken pots, and carrying nets; similarly, men's ornaments and stone axes accompanied them into the grave. Throughout this burial process the female relatives of the deceased kept up a mournful wailing. Shamans did not become ritually involved with a dying person or in any mortuary practices. Only days after the interment did they initiate a cycle of shamanic rites to further the deceased's accommodation in the other world.


Caspar, Franz (1956). Tupari. London: G. Bell & Sons.

Caspar, Franz (1975). Die Tuparí, ein Indianerstamm in Westbrasilien. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Snethlage, Emil Heinrich (1937). Atiko y Meine Erlebnisse bei den Indianern des Guaporé. Berlin: Klinkhardt & Bierman.

Stoddard, Theodore L., ed. (1967). Indians of Brazil in the Twentieth Century. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Cross-Cultural Research.


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