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A Tupi woman
The Tupi people (also known as Tupinambá) were one of the main ethnic groups of Brazilian indigenous people. Scholars believe they first settled in the Amazon rainforest, but 2,900 years ago they started to spread southward and gradually occupied the Atlantic coast.


The Tupi people inhabited almost all of Brazil's coast when the Portuguese first arrived there. In 1500, their population was estimated at 1 million people, nearly the same population of Portugalmarker at that time. They were divided into dozens of tribes, living in each tribe from 300 to 2,000 people. Examples of tribes are: Tupiniquim, Tupinambá, Potiguara, Tabajara, Caetés, Temiminó, Tamoios. The Tupi knew agriculture therefore exceed a Palaeolithic condition. They grew cassava, corn, sweet potatoes, beans, peanuts, tobacco, squash, cotton and many others. The Tupi often fought against the other tribes of the region or even among themselves, because there was not a unified Tupi identity. Despite the fact that they were a single ethnic group that spoke a common tongue, the Tupi were divided into several tribes which were constantly engaged in war with one another. In these wars the Tupi normally tried to capture their enemies to later kill them in cannibalistic rituals, instead of just killing them in battle.

Cannibalism was part of their ritual after a war. The warriors captured from other Tupi tribes were eaten as they believed they were absorbing their strength. The practice of cannibalism among the Tupi was known in Europe by Hans Staden, a German soldier and mariner who was captured by the Tupi. Staden was taken three times to be eaten in a cannibal ritual, but the Indians refused to eat him, because he cried and asked for leniency. According to Darcy Ribeiro, the Tupinambá "did not eat cowards". Back to Europe, Staden published a book about his experience among the Brazilian Indians, which was published in 1557.

European colonization

From the sixteenth century onward the Tupi, like other natives from the region, were assimilated, enslaved or simply exterminated by Portuguesemarker settlers and Bandeirantes (colonial Brazilmarker scouts), nearly leading to their complete annihilation, with the exception of a few isolated communities. The remnants of these tribes are today confined to Indian reservations or acculturated to some degree into the dominant society..

Race-mixing and Cunhadismo

Many indigenous peoples were important for the formation of the Brazilian people, but the main group was the Tupi. When the Portuguese explorers arrived in Brazil in the 16th century, the Tupi were the first Amerindian group to have contact with them. Soon, a process of miscegenation between Portuguese settlers and indigenous women started. The Portuguese colonists rarely brought women, making the Indian women the "breeding matrix of the Brazilian people". When the first Europeans arrived, the phenomenon of "cunhadismo" (from Portuguese cunhado, "brother in law") began to spread by the colony. Cunhadismo was an old Indian tradition of incorporating strangers to their community. The Indians offered the Portuguese an Indian girl as wife. Once he agreed, he formed a bond of kinship with all the Indians of the tribe. Polygyny, a common practice among South American Indians, was quickly adopted by European settlers. This way, a single European man could have dozens of Indian wives (temericós)..
Cunhadismo was used as recruitment of labour. The Portuguese could have many temericós and thus a huge number of Indian relatives who were induced to work for him, especially to cut pau-brasil and take it to the ships on the coast. In the process, a large mixed-race (mameluco) population was formed, which in fact occupied Brazil. Without the practice of cunhadismo, the Portuguese colonization was impractical. The number of Portuguese men in Brazil was very small and even smaller for Portuguese women. This proliferation of mixed-race people in the belly of Indian women is what provided the occupation of the territory and the consolidation of the Portuguese presence in the region..

Influence in Brazil

Although the Tupi population was exterminated because of slavery or because of European diseases to which they had no resistance, a large population of maternal Tupi ancestry occupied much of the Brazilian territory, taking the ancient traditions to several points of the country. Darcy Ribeiro wrote that the features of the first Brazilians were much more Tupi than Portuguese, and even the language that they spoke was a Tupi-based language, named Nheengatu or Língua geral, a lingua franca in Brazil until the 18th century. The region of São Paulomarker was the biggest in the proliferation of Mamelucos, who in the 17th century under the name of Bandeirantes, spread throughout the Brazilian territory, from the Amazon rainforest to the extreme South. They were responsible for the major expansion of the Iberiamarker culture in the interior of Brazil. They acculturated the Indian tribes who lived isolated, and took the language of the colonizer, which was not Portuguese yet, but Nheengatu itself, to the most inhospitable corners of the colony. Interestingly, the Nheengatu is still spoken in certain regions of the Amazon, although the Tupi-speaking Indians did not live there. The Nheengatu language, as in other regions of the country, was introduced there by Bandeirantes from São Paulo in the 17th century. The way of life of the Old Paulistas could almost be confused with the Indians. In family only Nheengatu was spoken. Agriculture, hunting, fishing and gathering of fruits were also based on Indian traditions. What differentiated the Tupi from the Old Paulistas were the use of clothes, salt, metal tools, weapons and other European items..
When these areas of large Tupi influence started to be integrated in the market economy, the Brazilian society, gradually, started to lose its Tupi characteristics . The Portuguese language became dominant and Língua Geral virtually disappeared. The rustic Indian techniques of productions were replaced by European ones, in order to elevate the capacity of exportation. From Tupi, Brazilian Portuguese absorbed many words. Some examples of Portuguese words that came from Tupi are: mingau, mirim, soco, cutucar, tiquinho, perereca, tatu. The names of several local fauna (such as arara ("macaw"), jacaré ("South American alligator"), tucano ("toucan") and flora (mandioca ("manioc"), abacaxi ("pineapple"), are also derived from the Tupi language. A number of places and cities in modern Brazil are named in Tupi (Itaquaquecetubamarker, Pindamonhangabamarker, Caruarumarker, Ipanemamarker). Anthroponyms include Ubirajara, Ubiratã, Moema, Jussara, Jurema, Janaína. Tupi surnames do exist, but they do not imply any real Tupi ancestry; rather they were adopted as a manner to display Brazilian nationalism.

The tupinambá tribe is fictitiously portrayed in Nelson Pereira dos Santos' satirical 1971 film, How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman (Como Era Gostoso o Meu Francês).

The Guarani are a different native group which inhabits southern Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and northern Argentina and speaks the distinct Guaraní language, but it is usually thought to be the same language group as Tupi.

See also

External links


  1. Saída dos tupi-guaranis da Amazônia pode ter ocorrido há 2.900 anos
  2. Darcy Ribeiro - O Povo Brasileiro, Vol. 07, 1997 (1997), pp. 28 to 33; 72 to 75 and 95 to 101."
  4. Cabral, Sérgio. Antonio Carlos Jobim: uma Biografia. Petrópolis, Lumiar, 1997. P. 39.

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