Monday, December 19, 2011

Kuarup – The Brazilian Indians’ Day of the Dead

The Parque Indigena do Xingu, the largest area ever set aside for the exclusive use of native peoples anywhere in the world, is situated in the heart of Brazil’s Mato Grosso State and is about the size of Belgium. Fifteen different tribes live there. At last count, they added up to about 5,500 people.

Each tribe has its own unique language, or dialect, and each has its own ethnology. But there are some belief systems, rituals and ceremonies which are shared. The greatest of these is the Kuarup (sometimes spelled Quarup).

It’s an event that brings the tribes together, once each year, to honor their dead. And it’s one, big party.

The Indians, you see, believe that the spirits of the departed wouldn’t want to see the loved ones they’ve left behind unhappy. So the surviving family members smile and laugh...

...sing and dance... music...

...and practice sports.

They don’t mourn. They celebrate renewal and regeneration.

One of the central events is the presentation of the young girls who have experienced their first menstruation since the previous Kuarup.

It’s the Indian equivalent of a debutante ball.

Everyone, not just the girls, puts on their best clothes.

Everyone wears bright colors.

Each of the dead from the previous year is personified by a trunk cut from the sacred Kam´ywá tree.

The trunks are decorated for the occasion...

...and placed in front of the burial sites.

The white paint is juice from the jenipampo fruit.

The decorated trunks are referred to as Kuarups. (Hence the name given to the ceremony.)

Few outsiders have ever witnessed a Kuarup, because the Brazilian government has always made it extremely difficult to get permission to visit the Xingu Reservation.

That appears to be changing.
And I don't like it.

To me, it’s tantamount to gate-crashing a funeral.

Leighton - Monday


  1. A really interesting post.
    I don´t like gate-crashing at a funeral either. What is most important to me is not what the government feels about it, however, but what the Xingu want.

    Merry Christmas, Leighton!

  2. I think you misspelled jenipapo... jenipampo sounds very wrong :)

  3. Thank you Anonymous.
    You are, of course, quite right.
    Jenipampo not only SOUNDS very wrong, it IS very wrong.
    The correct word is jenipapo (genipa americana) and I have no idea how I managed to misspell it.
    Thank you very much for the correction.

  4. amazing post. so, how do you get permission to witness and photograph it?

    1. skitilica,

      It is discouraged, but you might get permission if you are a working anthropologist, or have some other academic specialty that is applicable.You write to the FUNAI, the Brazilian National Indian Foundation, a branch of the government in Brasilia.

  5. and when is it happening this year?

    1. DD:
      There is no fixed date. They do one every time the tribe's paje (should have an accent on the final "e" - and he is their shaman) thinks they should - or anytime the Indians feel threatened and in need of extra help.