Quarup – The Farewell Ceremony of Great Xingu Warriors

For centuries, in the month of August, the tribes living in the largest indigenous territory in the world, the Xingu National Park in the south of the federal state of Pará, are celebrating the Quarup ceremony.

The ceremony starts with invoking the spirits during a night of weeping and lamenting – Photo: André Coelho-Ag O Globo

Quarup ceremony – Photo Sol Manzutti

The nine ethnic tribes, which adhere to the kamayurá kwaryp mythology and live in some 30 villages located in the Alto Xingu (Canarana region, Gaúcha do Norte and Paranatinga) organise the most famous indigenous ceremony in South America. The Kuarup ceremony is a ritual feast lasting a few days. During the ceremony the Xingu wheep, sing, pay homage to the dead, dance, play their maracas, an instrument made from calabash with mystical goals and at closing of the ceremony fight the huka-huka.

The village of the Yawalapiti Indians in Alto-Xingu – Photo André Coelho-Ag O Globo

The words Kwarup, Quarup or Kuarup are the Portuguese expressions for the original kamayurá kwaryp.

They were only 19 Xingu Indians when the Villas Boas brothers reassembled them, in 1961, now there are nearly 300, a third of them children – Photo André Coelho-Ag O Globo

There are hundreds of indigenous tribes in the Amazon rainforest. The indigenous tribes in all of South America have been torn apart and almost disappeared due to the colonization process, white-man diseases, alcohol, slave labour and war.

Before these disasters the Amazon rainforest was, for a long period of time, a giant refugee for the indigenous population. The rainforest remained almost untouched by the western culture until the first half of last century, when then Brazil’s President Getúlio Vargas organised expeditions known as ‘Brazil’s march to the West’ which were intended to open up the heart of the interior for colonization.

In many ways the expeditions to the West were disastrous for the indigenous people living in the rainforests of the Amazon.

Yawalapiti Indian decorating one of the tree trunks – Photo André Coelho-Ag O Globo

There still are some 50 tribes which don’t have regular contact with the outside world and keep for away from it. Not very much is known about these tribes as they keep going deeper and deeper into the forest as the colonists (gold diggers, wood loggers, cattle breeders and farmers) illegally get closer to where they live. The policy of the Brazilian government towards these groups is to leave them alone, as they wish.

The Quarup is one of the most important traditions for the Xingu Indians, a homage reserved only for the great leaders, warriors or descendants of noble lineage. The Indian mythology tells us that the ritual was initiated when Mavutsinim, the Creator, walked the Earth, and taught his sons that tradition, hence only the descendants of Mavutsinim are entitled to this honour.

This year’s ceremony honoured, besides the Indian male Maipu and the Indian female Tepori, one of the greatest scholars and advocates of indigenous peoples Darcy Ribeiro.

In Quarup, each honouree is represented by a tree trunk (also called quarup) of about 1.60 metres height. The quarups are firmly planted on the floor of the village, and painted and decorated by the families of the dead. The family lights a small fire in front of quarup. In the presence of the quarups, Indians wheep, sing, dance and fight, with the sound of maracas, an instrument made from gourd with mystical goals.

The ceremony goes on for 24 hours uninterrupted – Photo André Coelho-Ag O Globo

Although the principal funeral ritual of the Indians of the Xingu, a gathering of all neighbouring tribes to celebrate life, death, and rebirth, one of its central events is the presentation of all young girls, who have experienced their first menstruation since the last quarup and whose time has come to choose a partner, they tint their bodies and wear many ornaments and dance. It is a festival for the dead.

Yawalapiti girls dancing during the celebration – Photo André Coelho-Ag O Globo

The Kwarup ceremony is typically of the Indian tribes of the Alto-Xingu and takes place in a village where a death of an important relative came about, whose family promotes the ceremony becoming the “master of the ceremony”.

Quarup – Photo Sol Manzutti

Should the ceremony be promoted in more than one village, it is necessary that the “masters” agree on which one will be the first.

The huka-huka fight to end the ceremony – Photo André Coelho-Ag O Globo

The “master of the ceremony” has to feed his guests. There is an abundant distribution of smoked fish and cassava bread, mingau (porridge) and castanha de pequi (Caryocar brasiliense). No one organises the ceremony without plenty of food, otherwise the guests might feel offended or the “master of the ceremony” will be interpreted as a petty person.

A special word about the Villas-Boãs Brothers
Scholars of indigenous affairs and frontiersmen Orlando (1914 – 2002), Claudius (1916 -1998), Leonardo (1918 -1961) and Alvaro (1923 – 1995) Villas Boas, born in São Paulo, are famous for their contacts and protection of the Brazilian Indians. (Note: There is quite some cloud about the correct dates of birth and death of the Villas-Boas brothers).

They were only 19 Xingu Indians when the Villas Boas brothers reassembled them, in 1961, now there are nearly 300, a third of them children.
The Irmãos Villas-Boãs have a very special place in the hearts and history of the Xingu Indians.

Night is falling on the penultimate day of the ceremony – Photo André Coelho-Ag O Globo

The American anthropologist Shelton Davis, analysed the two main models of Indian policy that clashed in Brazil during the second half of the twentieth century, emphasizes that
“.. when the Brazilian National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) was created in 1967, two opposing models of Indian policy existed in Brazil. One of these models, which was radically protectionist in nature, was developed by Orlando, Claudio, and Leonardo Villas Boas in the Xingu National Park. According to this model, Indians tribes should be protected by the federal government from frontier encroachments in closed Indian parks and reserves, and be prepared gradually, as independent ethnic groups, to integrate into the wider society and economy of Brazil. ..”

Camp fire in the early morning hours – Photo André Coelho-Ag O Globo

In his foreword of the book “Xingu: The Indians, Their Myths”, anthropologist Kenneth S. Brecher wrote that:
“It is now almost 30 years since the Villas-Bôas brothers (…) led the expedition known as ‘Brazil’s march to the West’ which was intended to open up the heart of the interior for colonization. They were overwhelmed by the beauty and cultural richness of the network of Xingu tribes which they discovered, and when the expedition disbanded they remained in the jungle to protect the Xinguanos from the land speculators, state senators, diamond prospectors, skin hunters, and rubber gatherers who had followed in their wake. (…) That the Xingu tribes continue to exist, in fact to thrive, is due largely to the extreme dedication, intelligence, cunning, and physical strength of these brothers”. (source: wiki)

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