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Typical Botocudo Indian from Southeast Brazil, wearing woodplugs
Botocudo (from Portuguese for botoque, a plug, in allusion, to the wooden disks or plugs worn in their lips and ears), is the foreign name for a tribe of South American Indians of eastern Brazilmarker, also known as the Aimorés or Aimborés. They appeared to have no collective tribal name for themselves. Some called themselves Nacnanuk or Nac-poruk, meaning "sons of the soil". The name Botocudo cannot be traced much farther back than the writings of Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied in 1820, who participated in a scientific expedition to Brazil. When the Portuguesemarker adventurer Vasco Fernando Coutinho reached the east coast of Brazil in 1535, he erected a fort at the head of Espírito Santo Bay to defend himself against the Aimorés and other tribes.

Distribution and fate

The original home of the tribe comprised most of the present state of Espírito Santo, and reached inland to the headwaters of Rio Grande (Belmonte) and Rio Doce on the eastern slopes of the Serra do Espinhaço, but the Botocudos were gradually expelled by white colonists westward beyond the Serra dos Aimorésmarker into Minas Geraismarker. It was in the latter district that at the close of the 18th century they came into collision with the whites, who were attracted there by the diamond fields. At the end of the 19th century many Botocudo tribes still existed, numbering between 13,000 and 14,000 individuals. During the earlier frontier wars (1790-1820), however, every effort was made to extirpate them, since they were regarded by the Portuguese as no better than wild beasts. Smallpox was deliberately spread among them; poisoned food was scattered in the forests; by such infamous means, the coast districts about Rio Doce and Belmonte were cleared, and one Portuguese commander boasted that he had either slain with his own hands or ordered to be butchered many hundreds of them. Today, only a few tribes remain, almost all of them in rural villages and Indian reservations.


Chief of the Botocudos, showing tembeiteras (lower lip disks).
The Botocudos were described as being below the medium height, but broad-shouldered and remarkable for the muscular development and depth of their chests. Their arms and legs were, however, soft and fleshy, and their feet and hands small. Their features were broad and flat, with prominent brow, high cheekbones, small bridgeless nose, wide nostrils and slight projection of the jaws. They were longheaded, and their hair coarse, black and lank. Their color was a light yellowish brown, sometimes almost approaching white. The general yellow tint emphasizes their Mongolic appearance, which all travellers have noticed.


The Botocudos were nomadic hunter-gatherers, wandering naked in the woods and living from the forest. Their implements and domestic utensils were all of wood; their only weapons were reed spears and bows and arrows. Their dwellings were rough shelters of leaf and bast, seldom 1,5 m high. Their only musical instrument was a small bamboo nose-flute. They attributed all the blessings of life to the day-fire (Sun) and all evil to night-fire (Moon). At the graves of the dead, they kept fires burning for some days to scare away evil spirits, and, during storms and eclipses, arrows were shot into the sky to drive away demons.

The most conspicuous feature of the Botocudos was the tembeitera, a wooden plug or disk which is worn in the lower lip and the lobe of the ear. This disk, made of the specially light and carefully dried wood of the barriguda tree (Chorisia ventricosa), which was called by the natives themselves embur, whence Augustin Saint-Hilaire suggested that this could be the probable derivation of their name Aimboré (1830). It is worn only in the under-lip, now chiefly by women, but formerly by men also. The operation for preparing the lip begins often as early as the eighth year, when an initial boring is made by a hard pointed stick, and gradually extended by the insertion of larger and larger disks or plugs, sometimes at last as much as 10 cm in diameter. Notwithstanding the lightness of the wood the tembeitera weighs down the lip, which at first sticks out horizontally and at last becomes a mere ring of skin around the wood. Ear-plugs are also worn, of such size as to distend the lobe down to the shoulders. Ornaments of like nature are common in south and even Central America, at least as far north as Hondurasmarker, as described by Christopher Columbus when he discovered this latter country during his fourth voyage (1502). This ornament also named part of the Perumarker seaboard as Costa de la Oreja, from the conspicuously distended ears of the native Chimu. Early Spanishmarker explorers also gave the name Orejones or big-eared to several Amazon tribes.

See also


  • Maximilian von Neuwied. Reise nach Brasilien, Frankfurt, 1820.
  • Henri Hollard.De L'homme et des Races Humaines, Paris, 1853.
  • Augustin Saint-Hillaire. Voyages dans l'intérieur du Brésil '816-1821, Paris, 1830.
  • Charles C. Mann. 1491, Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York, 2005. pg. 152-154.


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