Table 5.1. The decimal system invented by the Salesian missionaries for the Xavante in the
1960s, using traditional Xavante numbers from 1 to 6.
Name in Xavante
mitsi (alone, on its own)
maparané (the two of us together)
tsi'umdatõ ( tsi , alone, implying it is an odd number)
maparané tsiuiwanã (2 groups of 2)
imrotõ ( imro , partner; tõ without)
imropö ( imro partner; pö with)
wede ( wede stick, tree)
tomai'ã da'rã ( tomai'ã small dot, on da'rã one's head)
tomai'ã wedena (small dot, with a wedena stick falling from it)
mitsi tomai'ã ( mitsi 1, tomai'ã small dot)
mitsi mitsi (1, 1)
mitsi maparané ( maparané 2), etc.
maparané tomai'ã (2, small dot)
maparané mitsi (2,1), etc.
tsiumdatõ tomai'ã (3, small dot), etc.
maparané tsiuiwanã tomai'ã (4, small dot), etc.
mitsi tomai'ã dzaihu (1, small dot, dzahu twice)
mitsi tomai'ã mitsi (1, small dot, 1), etc.
maparané tomai'ã dzaihu (2, small dot, twice), etc.
mitsi tomai'ã dzahu duré (1, small dot, twice, duré more), etc.
Lino Tsere'a, a 15-year-old Xavante student, seemed puzzled. He could not tell
me whether 900 was higher than 185. Lino read 185 in the following way:
1 - mitsi (lonely self)
8 - tomai'ã da'rã i (tomai'a small dot; on da'rã one's head)
5 - imrotõ (without a mate).
Lino read 900 as follows:
9 - tomai'ã wedena ( tomai'a small dot; [with a] wedena stick falling from it)
0 - tomai'ã
0 - tomai'ã .