Archiver > MEXICAN-INDIAN > 2006-03 > 1142137084

From: Dani Brown <>
Subject: Assurini Indians
Date: Sat, 11 Mar 2006 20:18:04 -0800 (PST)

Assurini Indians

Area: Xingu - Para, Brazil (Map)

Other Names: Asurini, Asurinikin, Surini, Awaeté

Population (year 2002): 106 - In 1971, the population
was approximately 100 individuals and in 1982 was 52.
In 1992 the population was 66 Asurini which went up to
72 in 1994. In 1992, the Asurini population 106,
composed of 33 women, 18 men and 55 youths and

Language Root: Asurini, of the family Tupi-Guarani

First Contact: 1971

Economy: Hunting and Fishing

The word Assurini means "Red People". The Assurini
have produced an unusual type of pottery for
generations. At present there are only 10 women left
in the world that can make this particular pottery.
Each design is particular to the individual artist.
The designs are the same that are traditionally used
for their corporal painting. These designs may also be
seen on such things as their bowls made from a gourd
type plant. The geometric designs are a visual system
of autonomy and are a stylization of their natural
environment - Mother Nature. In another aspect, it is
a quick glimpse of their Cosmology view. Each design
has a specific name and may represent an
interpretation of a turtle or jaguar or jabuti. The
high gloss on the pots is a natural tree resin (breu
do jutai), making this a natural varnish. The red
color is an extract of a plant called "urucum". The
pots are fired in an open wood fire, then the resin
crust is applied. The thinness of the pots show
(anthropologically speaking) the exceptional ability
of the Assurini as ceramicists. The pots are produced
to hold liquid food and are painted for pure artistic
personal enjoyment.


The only existing village is located on the right bank
of the Xingu River. Asurini gardens, hunting, fishing,
and gathering places are situated between the banks of
the Xingu and Piranhaquara rivers and the Piaçava
stream. From time to time, they go to the headwaters
of the Xingu, where their ancient villages were
located. Presently, the population is comprised of 33
women, 18 men, and 55 young men and children, totaling
106 individuals. In large part, the demographic
recovery is due to an increase of the infant
population and, consequently, a change in the pattern
of family composition, along with interethnic

Besides hunting, fishing and gathering, agriculture is
the main subsistence activity of the Asurini, and
manioc represents the basic element of their diet. In
their gardens they cultivate various species of
manioc, consumed in different ways, manioc cereal
being the principal product. They also cultivate corn
(for which there are restrictions to be followed in
its planting), yams, sweet potato, tobacco, cotton,
urucum, peanuts, beans, watermelon, bananas. Following
the sexual division of labor, it is up to the men to
prepare the soil (cutting, felling, burning, and
secondary burning) and to the women the planting and

Gathering is an activity that men and women do. The
principal products are fruit and the turtle, one of
the favorite dishes of the Asurini. Hunting is a male
activity with wild pig the preference. Collective
fishing is done in the summer, in the streams, lakes,
and places of the river that permit the use of
traditional techniques, such as plant poison in water
that is naturally dammed-up or through the
construction of earthen dams. The fish are shot with
arrows or gathered in baskets. Completing this
equipment, they use a series of traps and, in the
winter, they generally fish with hooks and nylon line

Asurini material culture includes the following items:
ceramics, weaving, basketry, weapons, body ornaments,
wooden benches and musical instruments (flutes).
Ceramics and weaving (hammocks, slings, headbands and
other ornaments made of cotton) are the women’s tasks.
Ceramic pots serve as recipients to transport and
deposit water, serve food and prepare it over the
fire. In the latter case, these are earthen vessels
which have become black with use. For other uses,
ceramics are decorated with geometric designs.

Ceramics are prepared from a clay that is obtained
from deposits two or three kilometers away from the
village, located near the banks of the Xingu River.
The vessels are made by using the technique of
cording, that is, the overlaying of rolls of clay. The
form of the vessel takes shape from the fusion of the
rolls together and with the help of a spatula made
from a gourd. With this also, the potter does the
initial smoothing of the piece which will later be
complemented during the drying of the piece, using the
fruit of the inajá or a rolling stone. The border of
the vessels is usually shaped with the fingers or by
using a species of lichen that makes it fine and
uniform. After drying, the vessel is initially burned,
being placed near the fire until its surface appears
very dark. Later it is burned in an oxidizing
atmosphere with the barks of different types of trees.

The final touches on the undecorated pieces are made
by applying a layer of a substance contained in the
inner bark of the stalk of a tree, giving them a
reddish-brown color. In the painting of the decorated
pieces, mineral raw material is used, that is, small
stones of three colors: yellow, red and black. These
stones are rubbed onto another larger one, thus
producing the dye. The yellow one is used as a base,
painting the entire external surface of the piece with
this color. The black and red are used in the
elaboration of geometric designs. These are done with
paintbrushes that can be made of small pieces of wood
covered with cotton, palm leaf stems, plant stems or
feather fiber. After finishing the painting, the piece
is left to dry. Afterwards, a layer of resin from the
jatobá tree is passed over the external surface of
the piece, polishing it and fixing the dye.

Besides ceramics, geometric designs also decorate the
gourds (incised), bows and ornaments (traced). From a
vast repertoire of motifs and patterns of designs used
in the decoration of these items of material culture,
there are those that are used to ornament the body,
either by tattoing or painting with genipapo. These
designs are stylizations of elements from nature, as
well as representations of supernatural beings or
symbolic elements, such as Anhynga kwasiat (a mythical
being that gave the design to men) and Taingawa (a
doll used in shamanic rituals and that also means
“image, model, replica of the human being”).

Text from © Instituto Socioambiental. You can find
their web site here:


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