Who are the Banawá People of Brazil?

  • February 15, 2022      Friendly Borders Staff

Manaus – Little is known about the Banawá people, an indigenous group living in Brazil within the rich forests of the Amazon. Their villages lie along the Banawá River, close to the Juruá and Purus Rivers.

Although they share cultural and linguistic similarities with the Jamamadi people, the Banawá people have their own distinct ethnic and cultural identity worth studying.

Villages of the Banawá People

There are four recognized Banawá villages within the Banawá Indigenous Territory. These villages are on the shores of the Purus River. According to local accounts, the villages are in the (1) Apituã creek, (2) on the lata creek (Wati’lata), (3) Malocas which is on the Sitiari, Cotia, and Yati’fá creeks (or on the Pedra creek), and (4) Abasirimefai, which has several swiddens.

The main village among these four is close to the upper course of the Banawá Creek. It is home to the largest percentage of the Banawá people, accounting for about 70% of the total population. The village leader called Bidu is located at the center of the village.

The other three villages consist of the remaining 30% of the total population. This kind of decentralization was caused by people moving out of the main village. Those who do not practice the socially accepted pattern of the main village tend to move out and settle elsewhere.

Despite having this systemically fixed location for the Banawá, their old traditional accounts state that the people originally moved from one place to another. They did not have permanent or fixed housing. According to the Banawá people’s stories, their ancestors remained within the terra firme between the Purus and Piranha rivers but never had a distinctly fixed village location like they do presently.

Lifestyle and Language

The Banawá indigenous group is also known as Banauá, Banavá, Jafi, and Kitiya. All members show unique attributes that set them apart from neighboring groups, yet they also have similarities with those ethnic communities.

For instance, the natives share the knowledge needed in cultivating the right set of agricultural products suitable for their region. The villagers mostly live by planting staple crops like bananas, peach palms, pineapples, sugarcane, and sweet and bitter manioc. Moreover, the Banawá are excellent night hunters and fishermen.

Aside from the similarities in their lifestyle, the Banawá also share distinct linguistic features with the Jamamadi. However, there are still some differences in how they express their thoughts.

Some studies identify the Banawá language as a subgroup of the Jamamadi due to sharing a wide range of vocabulary and having mutually intelligible languages. However, the Banawá language is categorized as part of the Arawa linguistic family, along with the other inhabitants of the region: the Deni, Himarimã, Kanamati, Kulina, Jamamadi, Jarawara, Paumari, and Sorowaha.

The shared similarities with other indigenous languages are an advantage in terms of inter-group communication. However, the Banawá language has become a growing concern in recent years. They are known to be monolinguals, and as the population decreases through the years, the number of native speakers also declines. The extinction of this indigenous language is imminent, with less than 200 speakers of the language at present.

Image from @Pâmella Moraes instagram.com/

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