collectivities impose obligations of exchange and contract upon each other....
What they exchange is not solely property and wealth, movable and immovable
goods, and things economically useful. In particular, such exchanges are acts
of politeness: banquets, rituals, military services, women, children, dances,
festivals, and fairs, in which the economic transaction is only one element, and
in which the passing on of wealth is only one feature of a much more general
and enduring contract.” [Mauss 1990:5] 10
As I pass on the gourd of caxiri to a Juruna elder, I ask him if the Juruna have always
been this polite and generous towards their neighbors.
Oh no, no! We used to invite the Kayapó to drink with us, and when they were
really drunk we'd kill them! We did that to other Indians, too. Sometimes we
wanted their women or children; sometimes we were interested in something
else. So we'd ask them over for a caxiri. But now that we live all together in
this park, we have to get along, to be friends. [Axinxin Juruna, January 1982]
The gift exchange is not “disinterested” or purely “symbolic” (that is devoid of any
material or concrete effect). Although the circulation of caxiri cannot be measured
by the yardstick of monetary profit, its symbolic interests “never cease to conform to
economic calculations even when it gives every appearance of disinterestedness by
departing from the logic of interested calculation (in the narrow sense) and playing
for stakes that are non-material and not easily quantifiable (Bourdieu 1991:177).
Suyá and Kayabi gift exchanges often involve the circulation of food among
neighboring populations. Among the Suyá the circulation of “goods and resources,
where the goods may be intangibles and the resources symbolic” (Seeger 1981:181)
is usually undertaken by the meropakande (a village controller), who is primarily
known for fairness that transcends his kinship ties. Food is never stored or put away;
it must circulate. Suyá ceremonies are thus characterized by the frequent public
distributions of food in the central village plaza (Seeger 1987:13).
Norms for the circulation of food among Kayabi villages are described by Travassos
(1984:45-49) as part of a broader system that involves local Kayabi villages, other
Xingu nations, and outsiders. Every household offers each visitor entering a Kayabi
village a gourd full of fermented beverage, “one of the main symbols of hospitality...
The beverage is carried in huge pots which are lent to the visitors; the host later uses
the return of the pot as an excuse to return the initial visit.” Within a newly formed
social arena where alliances among the different tribes are more valued than former
hostilities, even the Kayapó-Metuktire are now included in the Kayabi's ceremonial
gift exchanges, as well as Upper (southern) Xingu peoples whose sorcerers are
feared and to whom “one cannot deny anything because sorcerers are revengeful
and powerful” (Travassos 1984:49).
These intertribal alliances also place Xingu peoples within the Brazilian
Indigenous Movement, whose important accomplishments include constitutional
rights and international human rights to education in both Portuguese and in native
languages, and the official possession of traditional ancestral territories.