Kayapo’s Constitutionally Recognized Land

Guardians of the rainforest

In South East Amazonia, right at the front-lines deforestation lays a huge area of pristine rainforest guarded by the Kayapo. Their lands conserve the last remaining large, intact block of native forest in the southeastern Amazon, and maintain the connectivity of this ecoregion with the western Amazon. They confer incalculable benefits to protection of biodiversity, mitigation of climate change and preservation of the crucial role of Amazonian forests in producing rainfall over a much larger geographic scale.

Against all odds, these Indigenous Peoples have managed to secure, constitutionally recognized, territorial rights over their vast ancestral land.


It’s incredibly challenging to fathom the vastness of the Kayapo’s territory.

Spanning more than 100,000 km2, Kayapo’s land is larger than many countries around the world.

Land of water

The Kayapo people refer to themselves as “Mebengokre” in their native language, which roughly translates to “the people of the big water”. Kayapo’s territory is located on the Central Brazilian plateau, a region  characterized by numerous river valleys and small hills. The area is marked by large rivers that are fed by countless pools and creeks.

In Central Brazil, the year divides into two seasons: the dry season (‘winter’), which extends from May to October, and the rainy season (‘summer’), which runs from November to April. The dry season is characterized by hot and windy days, cool nights and the almost total absence of mosquitoes. This is certainly the most pleasant time of year and the Kayapo often refer to it as ‘good weather.’ In contrast, the rainy season is characterized by torrential rains, the inundation of most of the rivers and creeks and by the annoying presence of a large number of mosquitoes and other types of insects. When evoking this time of year, the Kayapo refer to it simply as ‘rainy weather.’

The annual rainfall index is sizeable, varying between 1,900 mm in the north-east of the territory, and about 2,500 mm in the south-east – to give an idea, Belgium, often taken to be a rainy country, has an annual rainfall index of approximately 1,000 mm.  Source : Gustaaf Verswijver

XIngu River. Photo: John Meinser

The mighty Xingu river and its main tributary, the Iriri river flow undisturbed through Kayapo’s indigenous land. Their waters are teeming with life and provide the Kayapo with their main source of protein. The ecological importance of the Xingu and Iriri rivers cannot be overstated, as these rivers harbor a diverse array of fish and other aquatic animals. Seasonal fluctuations in their levels flood the soil of the rainforest with mineral-rich sediments, fertilizing the land and providing sustenance for the rich fauna of the region.

Kayapo territories are large enough to protect large scale ecological processes. For example, very large areas are required to maintain tropical tree species because individuals of species are usually very sparsely distributed.

Kayapo’s Amazonian Sanctuary

Kayapo lands remain reasonably undisturbed. Large-bodied game species (including large cracids, lowland tapir, and white-lipped peccary), which are preferred by local peoples throughout the Amazon, are abundant within the hunting range of Kayapo communities. Protected lands in the region safeguard a full complement of disturbance-sensitive wildlife along with an entire vegetation transition from open savanna (cerrado) to close-canopy forests, along with endangered and threatened species.

Most tropical tree species depend on co-evolved animal vectors for pollination and seed dispersal across large inter-individual distances – small areas do not contain enough individuals or viable animal vector populations for regeneration over the long term. The intricate web of interdependence among Amazonian species requires large areas for these ecosystems to function and persist.