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Fire ants

Photograph by Maurício Torres

Cosmology and History



By Jairo Saw





“Munduruku” is the name given to our people by the Parintintin, and means “fire ants,” since, just like the ants, our ancestors always went out together on their warfare expeditions.


The warfare expeditions could last several years and aimed to conquer enemies and bring “trophy heads” back home – these were decapitated and embalmed heads of our enemies that produced a magical effect, guaranteeing agricultural fertility and bountiful hunting, as well as abundance of resources and protection. They also served as a badge of honour for our warriors, by showing their skill in battle.


The art of Munduruku warfare is strongly inspired by the figure of the tortoise. Their myths tell of its cleverness and its collective spirit made it overcome the most feared of enemies.


Nowadays, to overcome threats to our people’s existence, we must use our wisdom. The enemies of indigenous peoples, just like the big snake, encircle them and try to break their bones and asphyxiate them. But the tortoise has taught us how to defeat these enemies.


One of the main things the Munduruku need to use is their knowledge of the art of war. If today we fight against the snake, it does not mean we will cut off its head, but we will deploy means to weaken this enemy.


The tortoise is a quiet animal, that has a special kind of wisdom. It uses a silent strategy so that the enemy cannot realise what it is planning. Even when this enemy is strong and big, the tortoise can win using its wisdom. It is good at the art of perception, and at investigating its rival’s weaknesses.


If the pariwat (whites) use their laws, we must also use our laws, and our knowledge. These tell us that just as the tortoises, joined together, the Munduruku have never lost a battle. The tortoise is a symbol of resistance that we base ourselves on today to fight for our rights.


Teachings from the forest


To the Munduruku people, animals always teach something. Each type of animal possesses different knowledge, abilities and virtues. Their behaviour, singing and habits offer a true education.


A bird considered to be very wise is the thrush (koropsare). It teaches us to understand and interpret speech and dreams. The beauty of its song impresses other birds, and its speech draws admiration and respect from other people (species).


In its turn, the hummingbird is the bird of speed. It brings speed of thought and also of movement in the forest. Its skills are passed on to the good and fast hunters.


Munduruku knowledge comes from the forest and animals. The messages we receive, telling of good or bad news, arrive to us through them. But not everyone can understand their speech, because they live in a different world.


All animals are in a different world. We see them as animals, but among themselves, they see one another as people. Because they were people who were taken to the animal world by the creator of all things, Karosakaybu.


Men transform themselves into animals just as women decided to live in the kingdom of waters.


Women transformed themselves into fish and children became birds.


These were the world’s first inhabitants. From this time, the first inhabitants of the world transformed themselves into animals.


The animals can see our world and the world they are in. That is why dogs bark at almost invisible presences. All animals are shamans.


The animals can only be seen by us as humans when we dream. In dreams, they appear as people and warn about the consequences we will suffer if we mistreat the forest.


Because of this, we know that animals always want to tell us something. But only those who can interpret their speech can understand.

Foto: Maurício Torres

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