People of the Water Hole

We call ourselves the Mẽbêngôkre, a name that can be translated as “People of the Water Hole”. In the past, other Tupi-speaking peoples called us and we became better known as the “Kayapó”, a name that became popular among the Kubẽn (non-indigenous). Nowadays we sometimes call ourselves Kayapó, although Mẽbêngôkre is our self-denomination and the way we prefer to be called. We speak a language from the Jê family and live in villages between 50 to 600 people. We live in a transition region between the cerrado and the Amazon forest, as well as the forest itself.

Our Ceremonies

The Kayapo dedicate a significant portion of their time and energy to organizing and carrying out rituals, often preceded by collective hunting or fishing endeavors. Body painting is an integral aspect of daily life within the village, a tradition upheld by men and women, particularly by women upon becoming mothers. This practice stands as a striking hallmark of our culture, and we take great pride in the beauty of our body art, rituals, and overall artistic expressions.

Kayapo Kokô masks are a direct link to the mystical realm. The dancer wearing the mask conjures the spirits of the ancestors and mythical heroes during important ceremonies. (photo: Simone Giovine)

The Kayapó people engage in a multitude of rituals, each characterized by its unique significance and duration. These rituals can be broadly categorized into three main types: elaborate ceremonies held to affirm personal names, various rites associated with agriculture, hunting, fishing, and occasional events such as solar or lunar eclipses, and rites of passage. The latter, while often solemn, tend to be brief and are seldom accompanied by dances or songs. Their primary purpose is to publicly mark the transition of individuals from one age set to another.

Photo: John Meisner

Photo: Simone Giovine

In Kayapo mythology, Indigenous People, plants, fish, and other animals transform, thus creating an important kinship relationship between humans and nature. These transformations are the stories of great adventures that only elders know how to tell. This cosmology guides their way of understanding and acting in the world and nature.

Our village

We live in a transition region between the cerrado and the Amazon forest, as well as the forest itself. The center of the village – ngàipôk-ri is the center of our cosmological universe. It is there that the Casa dos Guerreiros (Warriors Hourse) – ngà-be is located, a space that welcomes the different organizations of men, as well as being a place of great importance for the political and ritual life of the village.

Traditionally, the center of the village is surrounded by a ring of houses, which is a space led by women and their ceremonial associations, in addition to their daily activities with childcare. As we move further away from the village, we find spaces where children play, the river, our gardens, hunting fields and a vast territory full of biodiversity that our ancestors helped create with sophisticated forestry management techniques.

Kubenkokre village (TI Mekrangnoti)

Our Fight

We actively fight for the guarantee of our traditional rights and territories, granted by the Brazilian Constitution, which guarantees us ownership of our Territory and made us responsible for the conservation of a large area of forests and savannas. Our stewardship directly contributes to the conservation of biodiversity, as well as the maintenance of rainfall and climate throughout the planet.

Female leaders

Kayapo women are renowned for their fearless leadership and unwavering commitment to defending the political interests of their community. They stand as outspoken advocates, boldly championing causes vital to their people’s well-being and rights. With a deep understanding of their culture and a keen awareness of contemporary challenges, Kayapo women emerge as influential figures, driving change and shaping the future of their society. Their resilience, determination, and unwavering spirit inspire not only their own community but also serve as a beacon of strength and empowerment for women worldwide.

"Women build culture. The elder women have a very important role in keeping oral histories alive which they pass on to the children, so we don't lose our language and culture."

O-É Paiakan Kayapo Leader