WHEN 1 + 1 ≠ 2
Making Mathematics in Central Brazil
Squatting on the white sandbanks of the Xingu River, Chief Carandine Juruna
carefully sorts out the bamboo arrows he has just exchanged for pottery with the
upriver Kayabi. As he sets aside the different fish, game, and bird-hunting weapons,
according to specific arrowheads, the 60-year-old man makes sure each household
that contributed with animal-shaped clay pots receives its share of goods. Large
families are privileged in the quality and number of arrows they get, and so are good
hunters, hard-working pottery makers, elders, and the Juruna to whom the Kayabi
were previously indebted. 1
Figure 1.1. Yanawa Juruna. Xingu Indigenous Park, 1990.
The Juruna nod approvingly as their leader distributes the arrows, commenting on
the quality of the bamboo, feathers, wax, and tree-bark ties employed by the Kayabi.
The transmission of wealth is only one element of a much broader and enduring
contract between the Juruna and the Kayabi. It embodies and records the entire
credit structure of the community, including symbolic, interpersonal, economic,