More on the Xavante People

Buriti log race. Image: Carlos García Paret

The Xavante call themselves A’uwê Uptabi (“the real people”) and belong to the Macro-Ge linguistic branch, from the Ge language family. Traditionally, they are a hunting, fishing and gathering society. Their main rituals include: oi’ó, dahono, darini, wa’ía, among others. The Xavante produce handicrafts with buriti, cotton, wood and some seeds. Despite the threats to their territorial sovereignty, their culture has extreme vitality, being passed on from generation to generation through language, rituals and ceremonies.

Among their sport activities is the uiwede (“buriti log race”), a relay race in which two teams of different generations run for about 8 km, passing on a buriti palm log of about 80 kg from shoulder to shoulder, until they reach the courtyard of the village.

In Maraiwatsede, the Xavante society is divided into two halves, and each corresponds to a clan. The community also groups together into eight age classes. These groups are: Nodzö’u (corn), Anorowa (manure), Tsadaro (sun), Ai’rere (a small palm), Hötora (a fish species), Tirowa (tick), Ẽtepá (long stone) and Abare ‘u (a pequi palm).

The Ho, or “house of the teenagers” – as the Xavante usually translate it to non-Indians – is the basis of the age classes system of the Xavante society. This is where every male member of society (when they are “wapté”) will spend five years of his life, along with other boys of the same age, learning the codes of their culture and skills necessary for men, before being initiated into adulthood. The wapténhõno ritual is the most important one for the Xavante, as it marks the passage of boys to adulthood. It is also the longest, lasting about five months during the dry season.

This training is the responsibility of the Danhohui’wa, or “godfathers,” who are members of the same half, but from two age classes higher. The adjacent age classes, both the upper (older), and the lower (younger), belong to the opposite half. The relationship between individuals of the same half is characterized by friendship and cooperation, different from the relationship that takes place with members of the opposite half, marked by hostility and competition.
Belonging to a half is important during the Uiwede (buriti logs race). In this ritual, the two halves demonstrate, by a log run of about 8 km, their strength and resistance, qualities highly appreciated by them. All men of all age classes group together in their correspondent half to take turns in carrying the logs to the center of the village, where the competition ends. There are also log races for women, who carry a log a little lighter, about 60kg, while that of the men can weigh up to 80kg.

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