The Kalapalo Indians of Central Brazil are one of a few surviving indigenous cultures that are uniquely protected by a national reserve in lowland South America. Through no effort of there own, they have been isolated artificially from Brazilian social and economic influences that reach almost every other Indian tribe in Brazil. This unusual situation has made it possible for the Kalapalos culture to be undisturbed by the outside world and the surrounding tribes. Much of Kalapalo life is run through a central concept or an idea of behavior, called ifutisu.
This is an infinite ideological concept that is represented in many ways in social life and ideal organization among the Kalapalo. The area in which the Kalapalo live is in the northeastern Mato Grosso state called Upper Xingu Basin. There are four unintelligible languages by groups in this region. This makes the Upper Xingu Basin linguistically diverse, but with many of the groups still sharing the same social and ideological features. It is very difficult to trace back the origins of Kalapalo life because of the integration of the many different and culturally diverse groups in the Upper Xingu Basin.
So, many of systems of kinship classification, marriage practices, ceremonial organizations, status allocation, and religious beliefs are consistent with cultural rules and social practices and not with the original system. Many of the modern local groups can only reconstruct their own history which is in limited detail, these systems can be isolated completely from the existing society. The two most important social units in Upper Xingu society are the village and the household groups.
Both the village and household can be considered corporate in that both control rights to territorial resources, acts as a unit when performing certain economic and ceremonial activities. Members of a household group are obligated to pass out food which they collect amongst themselves. Even when one cannot supply food a Kalapalo is assured of a share because everyone is treated with the same kind of respect. Despite this corporate organization, membership in villages and households is constantly changing, and there is much movement of people between the group to group.
The Kalapalo society is a system wherein social units, such as the village groups and households exist only because of the individual who decides to live in these systems and choose to cooperate with one another. This is very different from other non-western societies whereas the individual acquires the responsibility to join in social units, by birth or other means of relationship to and with each other regardless of the identity of the individual themselves. The Kalapalo social organization is characterized by flexible group membership and significant differences in the classification of individuals with certain groups.
The choices for the Kalapalo to join groups is based on the personal relationship between one another instead of certain clan membership, religious beliefs, or ancestry. The Kalapalo have an attitude towards cleanliness which encompasses all aspects of life such as; food, houses, belongings, and physical appearance. During the time of the year when manioc is being ready to be planted or when it is harvesting time, it is not uncommon to find them bathing three or four times daily. The Kalapalos attitude towards cleanliness approaches the excessive side.
The Kalapalo believe in generosity and peaceful behavior toward everyone they encounter. They reject all acts of aggression and violent expression and find it inappropriate for human beings. Instead, the Kalapalo embrace an ideal of non-violence which includes suppression of anger and a passive tolerance of behavior. In Kalapalo society people are incorporated into a cycle of reciprocity and generosity. The idea of sharing takes place only along the lines of prior relations; such as kinship, friendship, or membership of the same household.
The residence of the Upper Xingu Basin has settled agriculturists, fisherman, and hunting. The Upper Xingu Basin is characterized by its two seasons: The dry season which falls on the months of May and September, where intensive subsistence activity begins. New gardens are prepared and manioc is harvested. Also, fishing is done at this time for the rivers are low and the water is clear. The rainy season occurs during the months of October through early April, where a decrease subsistence activity begins.
The rainy season welcomes the ripening of new various species of wild fruits. During this time river are flooded and the Kalapalo must depend on little game hunted, stored food and insects collected. Kalapalo technology is very primitive. With the restricted absence of metal and stone tools. The Kalapalo make the best of bone, tooth, and wooden implements or tools. Manioc is a rooted crop which is the major subsistence item for the Kalapalo. Kinship relationship is deemed to be the most important of social ties by the Kalapalo.
Kinship for a Kalapalo is an all-pervasive bond which extends into almost every part of their life, such as religion, economic, political and familial relationship are all deeply influenced by kinship. The Kalapalo trace relationships through either parent regardless of sex. Second, a kindred is usually defined ego-centered: persons classed in such a unit are considered related to a specific individual. This is what the Kalapalo call Otomo concept which is similar to the anthropologist’s concept of kindred.
The Kalapalo distinguished material and paternal filiation by making use of different symbols. These symbols define the sexual relationship between parents as different from other kinds of sexual relations. The parents of a child don’t have to be married to be declared its mother and father. What is important is knowing who the parents are since it is very important to establish the child’s Otomo relationships. Kalapalo marriage takes one of two forms. The first is an arranged marriage, which involves a girl being engaged before puberty and to an older man.
This type of marriage is marked by the giving of bridewealth, which is the payment to the girl’s parents and their siblings by the parents of the husband to be. The second form of marriage involves people who are lovers and takes place after the death or divorce of a spouse. The Kalapalo seek to establish the first of the two marriages, which is the arranged marriage on the basis of past relationships of kinship or affinity. The reason why arranged marriages are important is that they create alliances between persons who have prior kinship connections.
Also, many of the men and women take on different types of marriage such as polyandry and polygamy. Although the Kalapalo does not have or define a position of leadership, there are certain individuals whose actions have designated them into leadership roles. Kalapalo leaders are people who constantly expand and reinforce social ties. By doing this it demonstrates their ability to influence a large group of individuals and thus gains a certain amount of respect and prestige. The Kalapalo have a number of special statuses, each with certain duties and obligations to perform services, with this comes payment or rewards for duties or services are done.
Some of these special statuses are anew village mediators between households and village groups. Oto sponsors of ceremonies, if are a ceremonial specialist, who perform the ceremonies and then teaches others about the ceremony. Fuat is curers and diviners, persons with unusual skills in healing others. The Kalapalo do not speak of these status roles in terms of leadership but believe that a leader is a person who has achieved many great statuses and who thus stand apart from the rest of the community.