What is Xingu?

Xingu has many connotations. There exists a Xingu Indigenous Park, which is legal Indigenous land (established in 1961) and Xingu peoples live there (for centuries). The park is in the north east of the state of Mato Grosso, in the south of the Amazon biome. We wrote about biomes too, read here. The park’s official purposes are to protect the environment and the several tribes of Xingu indigenous peoples in that area.

It covers 2,642,003 hectares (6,528,530 acres), with savannah and drier semi-deciduous forests in the south transitioning to Amazon rain forest in the north. There is a rainy season between November and April. The headwaters of the Xingu River are in the southern region of the park… so Xingu is also a river.

Xingu is people, place, river, spirit.

Many ethnicities have and currently inhabit the Xingu area, they have many cultural similarities despite their different ethnologies. Xingu people represent fifteen tribes and all four of Brazil’s indigenous language groups. What do they share? Similar customs, belief systems, rituals and ceremonies are practiced by Xingu people.

Peoples of XINGU: the Aweti, Kalapalo, Kamaiurá, Kayapó, Kuikuro, Matipu, Mehinako, Nahukuá, Suyá, Trumai, Wauja and Yawalapiti.

Kuarup party and dance

The Past

The Upper Xingu region was heavily populated prior to European and African contact. Densely populated settlements developed from 1200 to 1600 CE. (Hackenberger, Michael J. et al. “Amazonia 1492: Pristine Forest or Cultural Parkland?” Science Magazine. 25 July 2003) Ancient roads and bridges linked communities that were often surrounded by ditches or moats. The villages were pre-planned and featured circular plazas. Archaeologists have unearthed 19 villages so far. (Wren, Kathleen. “Lost cities of the Amazon revealed.”MSNBC: Science Mysteries.)

Kuikuro oral history has passed down that European slavers arrived in the Xingu region around 1750. Xinuguano population was estimated in the tens of thousands but was dramatically reduced by diseases and slavery caused by Europeans. In the centuries since the penetration of the Europeans into South America, the Xingu fled from different regions to escape modernisation and cultural assimilation. (Control and marginalization are not tolerated by the Xingu people.)

By the end of the 19th century, about 3,000 natives lived at the Alto Xingu, where their current political status has kept them protected against European intruders. By the mid twentieth century this number had been further reduced by foreign epidemic diseases such as flu, measles, smallpox and malaria to less than 1,000. Tragically, only an estimated 500 Xingu peoples were alive in the 1950s.

The Brazilian Villas-Bôas brothers visited the area beginning in 1946, and pushed for the creation of the “Parque Indígena do Xingu” (the park), eventually established in 1961. Their story is told in a film, Xingu. The number of Xingu living there in 32 settlements has risen again to over 3000 inhabitants, half of them younger than 15 years.

Check out our unique products from the Xingu at our online store- TheFOB.com


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I am a first generation Brazilian! I was born and raised in the megalopolis of São Paulo, while my parents are U.S. Americans from Michigan. I loved the idea of being a real dual citizen and I decided to go study Comparative Cultures and Politics at Michigan State University. My topics of interest and focus included, social and international development, environmental sustainability, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, the arts and education. Brazil has my heart, so eventually I moved home after graduation. I am a passionate activist for social equality, mental health and love. I have worked with education and development not-for-profit programs, research and writing, film, healing techniques and now with art, culture, sustainability and fair-trade at TheFOB.