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Trumai Pitek, Emily

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“The Trumai are one of several indigenous peoples of central Brazil, living in small, ethnically based communities widely dispersed in a region that formed the headwaters of the Xingu River, one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon (Adem, 2010).” This entry is based on ethnographic information obtained by anthropologist Buell Quain during his 1938 stay at the Trumai village of Vanivani, along the Kuluene River. The Trumai population was already diminishing by the time of Quain’s visit; he recorded that the village contained four households and a total population of 43 individuals. The village was led by a chieftain who received varying levels of respect from the community. His primary responsibilities were to give daily speeches and coordinate communal projects. Two sub-chiefs were present, and had the sole function of taking office if the chieftain was away from the village. It was possible for a chief to also be a shaman, but at the time of Quain’s visit the chieftain was only able to employ the shamanistic art of curing, which was a skill most adult males could perform. A shaman is distinguished by having the special powers of locating enemy war parties and the ability to see the afterworld. Supernatural beings (ghosts and various nonhuman spirits) are present, and are the main characters of many Trumai legends/stories, but do not have direct causal efficacy in the earthly realm. Rain (Ka’wizu) was the only being mentioned to interact with the world, and was said to be the agent of rain and storms. A variety of ceremonies were also present during Quain’s visit, with the most important being the ole (manioc) ceremony, which is associated with crop fertility. Religion and the supernatural realm generally do not appear to be of major concern/importance in the daily lives of the Trumai, and many practices and ceremonies have been lost to memory. Murphy and Quain (1955:101) note that “in the case of the Trumai, disinterest in the religious sphere was closely related to disinterest in other aspects of their culture.” Just 10 years after Quain’s visit the Trumai population shrunk to 25, which is hypothesized to be the result of introduced diseases and low birth rate. Note that this entry considers the Trumai religious group to be coterminous with Trumai society.

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