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Prior to the Europeans arriving in Brazil in 1500, this was a country with a population of between eight and thirteen million people, consisting of approximately 1,000 tribes.  However, Brazil was faced with 500 years of violence, depression, and disease, which wiped out most of the aboriginal population.  Today about 350,000 Brazilian Indians will exist, which are spread out over 200 tribes.

These tribes of the Brazilian Amazon can be found throughout the country.  There are more than 100 different tribal languages spoken, depending on the region.  In addition, these tribes vary dramatically in size, as you will discover.  For example, the Yanomami and Guarani tribes have members ranging in the tens of thousands while there are tribes such as the Kanoe and Akuntsu, which consist of 30 members or less.

The tribes of the Brazilian Amazon also live in varied environments.  Some of the tribes exist in the grassland, some in the beautiful, tropical rainforests, some in semi-desert regions, and some in the scrub.  Because of this, the way of survival is extremely varied.  Another interesting fact about these Indians is that depending on the region where they live and the specific tribe they belong, they have had different experiences with outsiders.

Take the Guarani for instance.  These Indians live in the south where the environment is very dry.  This particular tribe has been connected with the “white people” for over 500 years.  The other end of the spectrum is that the majority of the Brazilian tribes have never encountered outsiders.  Typically, these Brazilian tribes live by hunting, gathering and growing plants to use as both food and for medicinal purposes, and finding other objects such as wood and rocks to create things, some to live with and some to sell.

It has now been 500 years since the European invasion whereby the tribes lost many lives and much of their prized land.  Even today, these Brazilian tribes are being attacked and killed.  Because there is an epidemic of racism in Brazil toward these Indians and them still being considered minors, they fight for everything they have.  Unfortunately, they are deemed “second class” citizens and are not even given the right to be land owners.

While there are many tribes living in Brazil who have little to no outside contact, the tribes that are the most isolated include the Maku and Awa.  The Maku Indians live in the northwest region of Brazil, which is relatively close to the Peruvian border.  Considered a nomadic tribe, the Maku have a trekking lifestyle that sadly, has eroded over the years into more of an agricultural life, caused primarily from influences of Western civilization.  To hunt, the Maku use blowguns made from the Stilt Palm and poison-tipped darts.  Although they hunt for various animals in the rainforest, monkeys is a primary source of food.

The Awa are truly the last of all nomadic tribes in Brazil.  They live in the eastern forests of the Amazon and due to modern changes, are in danger of extinction.  The Awa left a settled life around 1800 due to violent attacks by European invaders.  Today, many of the Indians from the Awa tribe live in established villages set up by the government.  Even so, they still hunt and gather plants to survive.  Interestingly, this band only has about 30 members and when out traveling, they keep the fire embers burning so they can simply start a new fire when they arrive at the new location.

Sadly, the Awa tribe has been the victim of extermination over the past 100 years by ranchers and settlers.  In fact, many of the Indians living today are survivors of horrific massacres, leaving them frightened and traumatized.  To help the Awa people, the Brazilian government set up special territories and collected money but even so, the Indians remain fearful of industrialization.

Other tribes of the Brazilian Amazon include the Kanamari, Kazinawa, Marubo, Makuxi, Matis, Tenharim, Tikuna, Tukano, and Waimiri-Atroari, among others.  The Kanamari is a population of around 650 that live primarily on the rubber and agriculture industries.  When this particular tribe was discovered, they were found to be old but rich in song, dance, and traditions.  Sadly, extreme alcohol has been a leading factor in this tribe’s demise.

The Kaxinawa tribe is a little larger, consisting of more than 2,500 people.  Having migrated from Peru, this tribe also known as Huni Kuin”, translates to “real people”.  The Kaxinawa were first discovered in 1948, living in semi-permanent villages.  Making a living in rubber, they have suffered horrific genocide while being forced into slave labor.  In fact, in 1951, approximately 80% of the tribe was exterminated.

For the Marubo tribe, they too were directly related to rubber trade but heavily in debt with traders, which left them with broken communities.  Each family was required to live on their own, collecting rubber to survive.  When the rubber economy collapsed in 1937, the Marubo declined in numbers even more.  However, the Marubo tribe of Brazil is a leading force of the native movement occurring in this country, fighting hard to stop new highways from being constructed, along with exploration of oil and gas that would destroy even more of their precious land.

The Makuxi survive primarily on farming and hunting.  They live in a hilly region that borders Brazil and Guyana.  In all, there are approximately 24,000 members of this tribe.  The Makuxi each believe they are direct descendants of the Ingariko tribe, which are thought to be the children of the sun who were responsible for leaving their descendents the gift of fire, along with hardship and disease.  The land where this tribe lives is magnificent.  With all four seasons, they can raise cattle, build houses, and enjoy family life.  The only downtime for the Makuxi is in the rainy season, which makes activities very difficult. 

For the Matis tribe, there are only around 120 members still in existence.  They too survive on fishing and hunting.  The Matis tribe is known for wearing facial ornaments that are believed to be mystical homage to the jaguar and for their incredible hunting skills.  In fact, they use blow guns that can be accurate up to 95 feet.  So accurate, the Matis tribe is known for being able to kill in hummingbird in flight.  However, there has been little to no contact with this tribe so there is not much known about their lives.  Although the population had begun to decline, in recent years, there has been a slight increase.

Next is the Tenharim tribe of Brazil, which is also small, around 250 people.  Known as masters in the ability to combine color and textures using small feathers, they also depend on hunting and fishing.  For the Paco Robbanne, they use small bamboo tubes used to crush dried flowers into a very, fine powder.  With this, the flowers are sprinkled onto their bodies after bathing in the river, thus ecological perfume.  They are also known as Boca Negra, which translates to “black mouth” because of the corporal painting designs.

The Tikuna Indian tribe has more than 20,000 members and lives in the Brazilian Amazon rain forest that borders Colombia and Peru.  In all, 70 villages are established in the Alto Solimones area near the Solimones and Santo Antonio do Ica Rivers.  Of all Brazilian tribes, this was one of the first to have been discovered some 400 years ago by conquistadors.  The Tikuna people are very talented, making wood and stone sculptures, bark cloth, baskets, and even masks.  With the fabric, they make canvases on which beautiful paintings are created, doll clothes, masks, and even clothing for the tribal members.

Then there is the Tukano Indians, which live in various regions of Brazil and have a population around 5,500.  Dominated by several religious mission groups and suffering from Malaria and violent attacks, the population went through a very difficult time of survival.  With this tribe, the men will take wives from other groups who keep their native language.  Because of that, the children will often know five or more languages.  As a determined tribe, they create amazing ceramic pieces with two specific design categories.  First is the abstract designs that consist of lines, dots, spirals, triangles, and diamond shapes.  The second are motifs that include birds, lizards, frogs, snakes, fish, bats, and son on.  For a sophisticated look, sometimes the two distinct designs will be combined.

Finally, there is the Waimiri-Atroari tribe of the Brazilian Amazon with a population close to 1,000.  These Indians live very, deep into the Amazon rainforest in the northern region of the country.  First discovered some 300 years ago, when the tribe was first approached, they were a feared people.  However, by 1977, they had surrendered some to the government for the Pan American Highway to be constructed.  The result however was about two-thirds of their population was erased.


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