We are the Kaxuyana

Who are the people living in the Amazon? This is the first part of a series dedicated to the people involved in our supported projects, without whom the rainforests would never be possible to protect in the long run.

This time you can learn more about the Kaxuyana.

The full series can be reached from this site.

I am from the Kaxuyana people. Why do we call ourselves ‘Kaxuyana’? It means inhabitant of the Kaxuru (Cachorro) river. Our identity is linked to this place, nowhere else. Our name alone tells you this. Over the last 40 years our name has been pronounced in another place. Now we want to put our name in the right place! I left here when I was already and adult, and I can say, with much pride, that here is our land. Our dream was hidden for a long time, now we are showing it. I was brought here like a dog on a leash. But I never forgot my plan to return. The only thing was I depended on my children for this, since I became old during all this time. If we hadn’t thought about returning, it would never have been possible. Without ideas, we don’t do anything, but with ideas we are able to do things and guide our children. This we can do. For a time we lost this fortune possessed by our parents, but now we want to recuperate it for our own children.” (Benedito Kaxuyana, September 2008)

Kaxuyana kvinna liten

Bild: Mikael Stenberg, 2016

The Kaxuyana people were removed from their original lands in 1968, when missionaries persuaded the entire tribe to leave this area and move to the lands of Tiriyó, a savannah region near Suriname (reference below). After 30 years of exile, the Kaxuyana returned and today they find themselves back next to the ‘Kaxuru’ river, the place that gave rise to their own name ‘Kaxuyana’, in the west of Pará state.

Like many indigenous groups, their people had suffered a lot from contact with non-indigenous population, not the least due to diseases transmitted during contact. In the 1920’s a wave of deaths swept through this population following a measles epidemic introduced by the Brazil nut harvesters. According to the German anthropologist Frikel “the sick Indians with high fevers tried to refresh their blood by bathing in cold water. As a result they very often caught pneumonia, meaning certain death. The number of deaths was enormous. The Indians were swept by panic. It was a tragedy!”

After this epidemic the group numbered 80 to 90 people, including men, women and a few children. Only 6 to 8 people over the age of 30 survived. The group increased but collapsed again in the 1960s to less than 100. Since then their population has grown again, and are estimated to be around 350 (2010).

Reference: Kaxuyana - Indigenous Peoples in Brazil (Oct 24 2021)

Kaxuyana dans liten

Bild: Mikael Stenberg, 2016


Regnskogsföreningen and Ecam initiated a project with Kaxuyana in 2013. The project provided support to the Kaxuyana people for the reconstruction of their cultural identity, uniqueness and diversity, as well as for the protection of the part of the Carib corridor that forms their territory - approximately two million hectares of rainforest in the state of Pará.

The Kaxuyana and neighbouring communities scored a significant victory in 2015 in having their traditional lands identified by the government, formally initiating the so-called “demarcation process”. However, the current administration has put a halt to all advances in the demarcation processes. The Kaxuyana traditional lands, although officially recognized, are hence still vulnerable as the complete demarcation process has not yet been completed and the government is seeking to undue recent demarcations especially those for Indigenous or Quilomboia communities who were not actively living on their traditional lands at the time of the adoption of the 1988 constitution. This is the case of many indigenous groups who like the Kaxuvana were forcibly removed from their traditional lands by the government or missionary groups and only started returning in the 1990's and 2000's. This is known as the "Marco Temporal" rule which states that traditional communities not occupying their traditional lands at the time of the l988 constitution have no rights to their ancestral lands. This rule has not stood up in recent court decisions but continues to be supported by the current administration (reference: Ecam application to Regnskogsföreningen 2020).

The Kaxuyana continue as a main partner of Regnskogsföreningen’s projects.

Mythology is an important part of culture and the way we look at the world. You can learn more about Kaxuyana mythology from the site Kaxuyana - Indigenous Peoples in Brazil, where they describe that “Kaxuyana mythology generally focuses on primeval events and deeds, the creator heroes of today’s Kaxuyana and the beings existing at the origin of time, beings from whom the ancestors of the Kaxuyana took some of their cultural goods, such as paint designs, or learnt songs and spells. Thus today’s Kaxuyana say that their ancestors took the first designs from the snake Marmarwimë. After a while they took new paint designs from the snake Wes-peme. And later still they took more designs from another snake: Uhrere, a serpent that lived in the forest rather than at the bottom of the river like the others.”