Xikrin - Orientation



Identification. In the oldest literature, these Indians are referred to as "Diore," "Chicri," or "Purukarôt." Their self-denomination, however, is "Putkarôt." "Xikrin" was a name given them by Whites, but nowadays they rarely identify themselves as such. The Xikrin are a subgroup of the Kayapó, the westernmost representatives of the Northern Gê. The name "Kayapó" comes from the Tupí kaia (monkey) and po (similar to), but the Gê to whom it is applied never called themselves by this name. All Kayapó call themselves "Mebengnôkre," that is, "people of the big water." Modern Kayapó give no explanation for this name, but originally it may have referred to the Rio Araguaia, whose course was apparently an important geographical boundary separating the ancestral Kayapó from the ancestors of the present-day Apinayé. Today, however, each of the fifteen Kayapó groups is autonomous and has its own name.

Location. The Kayapó occupy a vast area of central Brazil between the Tocantins and Xingu rivers, in southeastern Pará. The territory of the Xikrin is located in the municipality of Marabá, near Provincia Mineral de Caraiás. One group of Xikrin inhabits a village on the left side of the Rio Cateté, 6° 15′20″ S and 50°47′25" W, 30 kilometers above the confluence of this river with the Itacaiunas. The other Xikrin group lives on the bank of the Rio Bacajá, an affluent of the Xingu to the south of Altamira.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language spoken by the Xikrin is Kayapó, which belongs to the Gê Language Family. The language most nearly related to Kayapó is Apinayé, with barely a 20 percent difference in their vocabulary. For the Kayapó, who are divided into autonomous groups, language is the most comprehensive characteristic of ethnic identity, leading to the recognition that they share a common culture. There are, however, slight dialectal differences between the various groups. The degree of ability to speak Portuguese varies a great deal among the Kayapó, depending on the length of contact and the degree of isolation in which each group finds itself.

Demography. The total population of the fifteen Kayapó groups is approximately 3,000. The Cateté Xikrin number 390 and the Bacajá group 170. All Kayapó groups show a steady demographic growth. At the time of contact, toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Kayapó lost a large part of their population. Between 1940 and 1960 there was renewed shock because of epidemics transmitted by pioneers entering the forest in search of natural resources. In 1964 the Cateté Xikrin barely numbered 100 individuals, but thereafter the group recuperated thanks to missionary activity and the presence of the Fundação Nacional do Indio (National Indian Foundation, FUNAI).


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