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The men stopped abruptly short of the village plaza area and dropped their baskets full of krwytire fish (Hoplias sp.) on the ground.  They were returning from a ceremonial fishing and hunting expedition and energetically stood beside the result of the three-week stay upriver.  Huge hand-woven baskets brimmed with palm wrapped smoked krwytire, which, as the main festival food, were destined to be mixed with manioc flour, smoked, and served at the ceremonial feast.  This particular dry season the Kayapó village was putting on Bemp, one of the biggest ceremonies that take place — so the catch was large.  A buzz in the background dimmed as women and children gathered in the doors and on their porches to watch the upcoming procession.  When the time was right, several young men hoisted the weighty baskets up and, in a single file line, marched directly to the men’s house at the center of the village.  The mid-morning sun was hot, the ground red and dusty, and the baskets cumbersome, but the bringing of the fish signaled the beginning of the festivities. Bemp was about to begin.


The Kayapó

This book is about Bemp, an important naming ceremony for the Kayapó.   The Kayapó are a Central Brazilian indigenous group and are well known for their beautiful and complicated ceremonies.[i]  These ceremonies take place in the Kayapó’s homeland, an indigenous reserve called the Kayapó Indigenous Territories.  The territory spans more than 10 million hectares and is covered with neotropical forest and naturally occurring savannah environments.  From satellite photographs it looks like a slightly misshapen green heart veined with winding muddy rivers.  Conservation biologists like the area because it is full of biodiverse and red-listed species, like the blue macaw and the large river otter.[ii]  The Kayapó like the area because it is home, but also because the resources contained within it allow them to continue to rely on the environment for their social, dietary, economic, and ceremonial needs. 

Fifteen Kayapó communities with an estimated total population of 6,000 are staggered across this reserve, but new ones are formed every five years or so. The Kayapó create their villages near small to large rivers, they build their houses in a big circle (or the closest they can get to a circle), clear and maintain an inner plaza area, and always construct a centrally located men’s house.  From an aerial perspective, the villages look like sliced cross-sections of the manioc plant — round disks in the middle of the forest.  The men’s house in the center of the village is a large structure, which is used heavily on a daily basis by the men as a type of community building, but women and children sometimes use it too.  Men move into their wives' homes once they are married, and houses contain several families.  The circular plaza are of the village is the cosmological center of the Kayapó world, where the production and reproduction of life happens.[iii]  Those areas beyond the village center are increasingly foreign, unknown, and dangerous.[iv]

Just outside of the household area, the Kayapó plant fruit trees and create agricultural fields full of manioc, sweet potatoes, bananas, papayas, corn, beans, watermelons, and other foods.  They clear hunting trails and connect new trails to old ones.  They find the best fishing spots and learn the river.  They build seasonal bridges, construct firewood storage areas, and create other useful structures.  All of these activities ensure that the community can hunt, fish, forage, practice swidden agriculture and perform their ceremonies in order to survive.

Each village also has a school, pharmacy, and airstrip built and supported by the federal National Indian agency (FUNAI), the federal health agency (FUNASA), and local municipal governments. However, these buildings have not always been part of Kayapó villages. Governmental intervention with the Kayapó began in the nineteenth century but later intensified.  The Kayapó have had systematic and persistent contact with outsiders since the twentieth century, which has led to them to settle in and eventually gain rights to their current territory.  Although governmental aid has been sporadic, it has allowed the slow trickle of medical staff and supplies, teachers, and air flights in an out of each village.  Families use and visit the pharmacy often and send their kids to the school.  The men’s house is equipped with a solar panel, dish, TV, and two-way radio.  Some homes have solar panels and radios too.  Sometimes the community watches movies together in the men’s house at night, and on other nights the warriors tell stories in the men’s house while women and children tell their own by household fires.

Villagers have participated in the regional cash economy at least since the twentieth century. Nevertheless, households do not have many venues to earn cash, and when they do, they buy basic food, clothing and subsistence items.  The men wear board shorts and Havianas.  The women favor simple patterned cotton dresses with two front pockets and flip-flops.  They buy salt, coffee, sugar, and rice to supplement their diet and hammocks and mosquito nets to string up in their houses.  They purchase fish hooks, line, machetes, and axes to carry out their subsistence duties and soccer balls and other equipment to keep their recreational teams going.

The Kayapó protect their homes and their land with the help of the federal government and environmental organizations.  They keep a watchful eye on their territorial borders, which are threatened by ranching, mining, and agricultural interests.  The goal is to maintain their territory and ensure that they can continue to carry out their subsistence and ceremonial life.  Village life is harsh but rewarding.  But it is the ceremonies that are the pulse of the village, bringing people together every dry and wet season to celebrate beauty, social relationships, and past and future generations.

These photographs are from Aukre; a village nestled in the northeast portion of the Kayapó territories, and is located on the Riozinho river.  Founded in the late 1970s, the community has grown to over three hundred and fifty residents.   As you will see in this book, ceremonial affairs require the coordination and hard work of the entire community to pull off, specific skills to craft ceremonial regalia, and specific knowledge and endurance to carry out the dances.

What is in a Name?

Anthropologists tell us that Central Brazilian indigenous groups have distinctive ceremonies that are at once complicated and beautiful.  The Kayapó and other Central Brazilian indigenous groups are well known for these ceremonies and the body adornment that accompanies them.  Out of all the ceremonies that the Kayapó perform, naming ceremonies are the most elaborate and time consuming.  Simply put, a naming ceremony is a well-planned festival event where elder community members bestow beautiful, or great, names upon Kayapó children.[v]  Bemp is one of them, and, as it came to pass, the one the community of Aukre performed this particular dry season.  The planning and preparations for the main ceremonial events, which take place over three to four days, start months earlier.  Food has to be harvested and caught, ceremonial dress prepared and cleaned, songs learned and relearned, dances practiced — all so that when the final days of the ceremony arrives the dance sequences unfurl in a staccato of events that replicate Bemp festivals from years past.  Over the years, an observer might notice the small changes in each Bemp, as each ceremony accommodates the creativity of present generations.  The result is a stunning sequence of performances that celebrates the beauty and organization of the community.  Although the ultimate goal is to bestow beautiful, great names on several children in the community, it is a community-wide effort to successfully perform the naming ceremony.

Beautiful names are one of the most prestigious honors a child can receive.  The Kayapó collect several different types of names and distinctions over the course of their life.[vi]  Once a child is born, an elderly family member that is neither the child’s mother nor father will give the child several names.  These are normally nicknames but can be unofficial beautiful names.  Each individual might have five or more names, but will commonly go by just one of them.  Mothers are responsible for remembering all these names as the child advances through different stages of adulthood. 

Before a child becomes an adolescent, their parents can decide to sponsor a naming ceremony in order to give the child a beautiful name.  If a naming ceremony is performed, the child will formally own their beautiful names or are given new ones.  The names that are bestowed upon the youth carry with them naming lineages and histories from within the community.  There are other benefits that come with the names.  Some are associated with certain ceremonial privileges, like wearing particular ceremonial decorations in future festivals, or with restrictions, like carrying out food taboos.  And, if you have a beautiful name, you are connected, in a way, to other community members that received their name in that particular ceremony as well.  In this way, “names. . .are many things” and contain within them coded information about social life.[vii]

Bemp refers to a name that is reserved for men.  There are names for women too, but they are given at other name ceremonies.  Boys who are the name-recipients in Bemp festivals all will receive names with the prefix Bep, and oftentimes receive more than one name.  Bep names are composed of two parts.  One part is the great or beautiful prefix and the other is the common part.[viii]  For instance, a child might receive the name of Bep-kaikwa or Bep-neronro.[ix] Both parts of the name are important, but the Bep part is like verbal road map.  It is a word that immediately cues the listener that this name is a great name and that it was given in the dry season during the Bemp ceremony.  The individual with this name will distinguish himself in future ceremonies by wearing the ritual objects that are associated with Bemp names or practicing certain ritual observances.

Someone who is related to the recipient gives the child the names at the end of the ceremony.  The only rule is that the name-givers cannot be the child’s biological parents (mother and father) or the same-sex siblings of either parent.[x] So, for example, a mother’s sister or father’s brother cannot pass down a name.  Ideally, those who do pass down their names are the mother’s brother or father’s sister.[xi]  To initiate a Bemp Ceremony a relative of the child expresses their desire to give their name, nominates the parents as sponsors in a community meeting, and have to get approval from the community.  If approved, the parents have to accept sponsorship (mekraremetch).[xii] In one naming ceremony, there can be several parents providing sponsorship.  Normally no more than four sponsors are at a single festival.  Sponsorship is a serious matter to consider.  The parents are responsible for ceremonial preparations, periodically providing food for the community, supplying food for the ceremonial hunting or fishing expeditions, and observing certain restrictions from food and other activities.  They also have the burden of picking the dancers that they will ask to perform for their children.  The ceremonial friends that accept are committed to dancing all day and all night  (the bird dancers) before the final naming act.


Body Painting 

Body painting plays a large role in naming ceremonies.  It is hard not to admire the Kayapó’s art of body painting.  Women are skilled artists and train from a very early age to master body painting for daily and ceremonial activities.  They grow genipapo trees (Genipa americana) and plant urucum (Bixa orellana) for this purpose.  The Kayapó slice the round mossy green fruit of the genipapo in half, scoop out the inner part and mix it with charcoal and a little bit of liquid to make a black paste.  This substance is the paint used for their famous body art and can last up to a week, sometimes even longer.  The newer the paint the stronger the black comes out.  Anthropologist Terence Turner explains, “The painting of the body marks stages and modes of socialization of the body's natural powers: muscular strength and energy, sensory capacities, sexuality, and reproductivity.”[xiii]


Genipapo is painted on the face, the arms (above mid-forearm), the legs (above mid-calf), and the body (below the collarbone).  Facial designs are normally applied with a thin, flat stick, about the size of a small coffee straw, to gain precision and allow for more intricacy.  The main portion of the facial design is applied on both cheeks just below the cheekbone, but other simple designs are also added to other parts of the face.  On ritual occasions, when men paint men, they use their hand to generously cover the lower half of the face and create very simple designs.  Women sometimes paint the body with fine designs similar to those applied to the face.  This process takes several hours to complete a child or a grown man.  Adult women almost never have the fine designs applied to their bodies and men only do on ceremonial occasions.


The majority of genipapo designs are geometric with a base of vertical and horizontal lines that are broken by patterned motifs.[xiv]  These motifs are associated with the flora and fauna of the environment, like the jaguar, the tortoise, or a fish.[xv]  Other designs are stamped on the body from shapes carved out of the genipapo fruit.  However, it is more customary for women decorate most of the body with their right hand.  A women’s right-hand stained with black genipapo is considered a beautiful hand — a by-product of their painting efforts.  Women paint men and each other in this way.  Painting with fingers is much quicker than using a tool, but still takes care and precision.  Finally, for children a special black design made on the top of the head is applied with a charcoal mix to “keep evil spirits away.”[xvi]


The red seeds of the urucum, on the other hand, are mixed with a little liquid to make a bright, oily paint. This paint does not last as long as the genipapo and is applied on the face in thick lines, a band across the eyes, around the mouth, or liberally rubbed on the lower arms, calves, and feet.[xvii]  The urucum washes off after its initial application with a good scrubbing.  Urucum, if used, is the last applied, after the genipapo is dried.


            Body painting is a critical part of any Kayapó ceremony — part of their finest dress, if you will.  The community takes great care to make sure there is always genipapo and urucum around.  Women pride themselves on traditional and creative designs.  The process is intimate, solidifying bonds of kinship and friendship as women map social relationships and symbolic meaning through visual design.[xviii]


Ceremonial Regalia

A naming ceremony would not be complete without the proper ceremonial regalia.  The Kayapó repertoire for ceremonial costume is vast and changes with each festival.  As a basic rule, women make most beaded objects, and men make feathered or fiber-based items.  In these photos you will see a variety of different ceremonial items.  In general, men wear thick beaded armbands that stop just below their biceps, calf bands, necklaces, earrings, anklets, woven belts, beaded or cotton sashes, and feathered adornments, such as headdress or single-feathers around their neck.  Certain ritual objects are associated with names, like the cotton earrings worn by men who hold a great Bemp name.  The belts and slings are made from palm fibers and accented with beads, seeds, and red cotton string.  Hard seeds or tapir hooves dangle and click from woven belts and anklets.  Necklaces are traditionally made “of individually cut and ground bits of mother-of-pearl bound onto a cotton coil stained red or black and often paralleled by additional strands of cotton strung with beads.”[xix]  However, the mother-of-pearl component is increasingly uncommon, and men have started to use large oval shaped plastic beads as replacements or necklaces are crafted out of bunched or single bird feathers.  Men also wear headdresses, mostly made out of macaw or parakeet feathers, but some have started to fashion headdresses out of fibers or colorful plastic straws.  Men sometimes use war clubs (cô and côp) and gourd rattles as props during certain ceremonial dances. In other festivals, men may craft impromptu headdresses from plant materials.  


Women wear similar ritual items as the men, but do not have the same amount of feathered-based objects nor do they wear the shell necklaces.  Women sport woven slings, beaded sashes, leg bands, cotton belts, and sometimes large headdresses.  Many of the objects worn by men and women during the ceremonies have been crafted for them by one of their relatives or passed down as part of their inherited wealth.  Certain objects are made anew for each festival while others, like beaded objects, are mended and cleaned.  Different parts of the same ceremony call for a different amounts of elaboration in ceremonial regalia.  In this photo essay you will see a wide range of adornments that range from community members bearing a single necklace or ones that are much more ornately dressed.   


Children that are named in this festival have a specific ceremonial outfit.  They wear white rod-like earrings wrapped in fluffy cotton that jut straight of the ears. Their heads are shaved in the traditional Kayapó “V” design and a charcoal design is patterned on their head.  Urucum is painted around their mouth.  A resin is placed on their stomachs, and they are adorned with the white-yellow fluff of parakeets.  They are further dressed with ceremonial necklaces, beaded sashes, armbands decorated with projecting macaw feathers, red cotton waist bands, and woven and beaded wristbands that drip with feathers.   In addition to these elaborate costumes, the bird dancers, the principle dancers for the Bemp finale, will have similar ornamentation.  These dancers are the ceremonial friends of the children name-recipients and are chosen to dance all night.  During this dance, they might reach an “elevated state” because of lack of sleep and the constant, rhythmic chant of the macaw song.[xx] Some dancers might stop to rest throughout the night, but in general, they try to stay focused and in the ritual circle the entire time.



In the months leading up to the final event the central plaza area quivers yellow-orange.  Most villagers avoid the direct sun, and walk along the shaded forest trails that lead to the fields, forest, or the low, exposed river.  The houses are bright with the heat.  Pet macaws cry in nearby mango trees.  Restless children dash across the plaza as the day creeps by. Small weeds pop up in patches across the main dance area. The center of the village lies in waiting.


Several events take place prior to the actual festival.  After the sponsors are picked, they then have several months to periodically provide food for the village.  Women, organized by the ceremonial sponsors, work in the agricultural fields.  They sling their tump-line strap baskets over their head, throw their machetes in and maybe a couple of bananas, bring their small children along, and head out to harvest the heavy root bitter manioc (Manihot esculenta).  Bitter manioc is the staple root necessary to make a fine dried flour.  This flour is eventually mixed with the roasted fish the men catch and smoked again to make a type of flat bread. The bitter manioc has to be processed first, in a several day affair, to get rid of the natural toxins inside of it that requires several stages of soaking, pressing, and drying.  Another bitter manioc product is called farinha, which is another form dried and roasted manioc and makes a perfect snack.  The families prepare farinha for the ceremonial fishing expedition so the men have food while they are out all day hunting and fishing.  While the women are working in the fields, the male sponsors of the ceremony will periodically go out fishing and bring back their catch to the community to keep people fed as they prepare for the festival.  If they are not procuring resources for the festival, families will spend time cleaning or preparing ceremonial regalia for the event.


During this preparatory time, smaller, ritual activities are preformed that are part of the Bemp ceremonial cycle but precede the final ceremony.  These rituals are normally named after birds, animals, fish, and other biophysical elements.  Some households have traditions of performing smaller ceremonies but other short ritual events take place too, like ceremonially gathering certain forest resources.  These types of events and activities keep the community excited and energized about the final ceremony, and continue to remind the younger generations about strength, tradition, endurance, and observance of certain ceremonial passages.


Ceremonial Expedition

Once the preparations are finalized, the chiefs decide the right time for the ceremonial fishing and hunting expedition.  The women give the men food for their trip.  Young and elder men pile in canoes with a small amount of provisions and head to the designated ceremonial fishing spot.  The men make camp.  Some men will go to hunt to provide food for the camp, and others fish for the ceremony.  Depending on their success, the men will stay there a short as a week or as long as a month.  Most times it falls somewhere in the middle.


While the men are away, the female sponsors organize the women in the community for their own preparatory gathering.  In groups, the women seek out firewood and go out to split slender logs of firewood and dig up rocks for the large ki (hearths) required to roast all the fish.  They finish making all the manioc flour.  The women also go and gather wild banana leaves — the wrappings that will contain the fish.  They head out in groups in short morning or afternoon excursions for the necessary items.  Others might help to clean and weed the plaza for the big event.  They scramble to finish the ceremonial preparations.



            The final sequence of ceremonial events takes place once the men return from the fishing and hunting expedition and culminates after a four-day period with the naming act.  This section describes the highlights of the festival Bemp and the many different smaller rituals that occur, but does not include everything that happens during a Bemp ceremony.


Day 1 The Return


Two men chanting

            When men return to the village from the ceremonial hunt, they present the sponsors of the festival the harvested fish, which marks the beginning of a cascade of ceremonial events.  Almost immediately after the fish are presented, a pair of adult men decorated with urucum painted on their mouths and feet, armbands, earrings, slings, necklaces, beaded sashes, and two white feathers as a headdress will chant loudly and briskly dance across the village plaza.  Each man’s arm is raised, as if shadowing their eyes from the glaring sun, and continue to sing and cross the plaza area.   Their dance is methodical and simple, like the other Kayapó dances, but they keep in step and follow a symbolic path across the plaza area.


Men's ceremony

            As it nears noon, the other men will have refreshed themselves from their journey and gather in the men’s house in the center of the village. At this time, the ceremonial painting with the genipapo hasn’t started.  The men are moving from a transitional natural zone of the ceremonial expedition to the socialized space of the village center and the lack of body painting reflects this liminal state.  When it is the right time, they quickly exit the men’s house one after another until they all are in a paired file in the village center.  Some men wear short headdresses, other have a single red or yellow feathers on. Flashes of bright bold colors break the brown stage of the plaza area. The men all step into file and dance quickly, with the white-feathered men in the front, chanting loudly, all with one arm shading their face.  During the second or third movement, two young women, who leave procession almost as quickly as they joined it, momentarily join the dancing men.  Next, the two white-feathered men excuse themselves from the line of dancing, leaving the remainder of the procession to finish their course across the plaza area.  The eventually end in the men's house where this portion of the ceremony concludes.


Day 2 Feast Preparation and Tree Harvest


Fish Preparation

            Early on the second day the female festival sponsors, with the help of several women, prepare the festival food.  In the early morning cold they gather behind the houses to make the hearths.  Older women bark at younger ones, guiding them in the process.  They unwrap the wild banana leaves from their bundles and carefully set them aside for the fish.  Firewood heavily clunks together as it is systematically piled, and rocks are placed on top.  The fire is lit and warmth and smoke soon fills the area.  The women finish with the hearths while others de-spine all the fish and soak them in water and salt, place them with manioc flour in the collected banana leaves, and then, with the crunching of folded leaves, close each leaf wrapped package.  Once the packages are assembled, they removed the hot rocks from the now smoking fire piles, placed the packages in the center on top of the warm ashes, covered with the bundles rocks, more wild banana leaves, plastic, and finally assorted pieces of wood to weigh it down.  They rest while the ceremonial food cooks.


Men and Trees

            While some groups of women tend to the food, others paint the men in the early hours of the morning.  The men then head for the trails behind the village in two groups— one group of older men and one group of younger men.  They are searching for a particular type of tree for the festival.  This tree, what the Kayapó call awry, shows up at different times in the festival, and they harvest several of them for Bemp.  At this moment, they are looking for the trees that they will erect on either side of the men’s house.  Because it is a festival tree, the men will harvest the tree with special care in order to not allow it to touch the ground.  They first cut the larger roots and carefully lowered down the tree with thick vines.  The men have to be careful not to drop the tree or disturb the leaves or trunk.   The younger group and the older group arrived outside the village at the same time where hide them near but not in the village.  There is a certain amount of magico-religious tradition associated with these trees and if they are handled improperly they can cause great illness or even death to those that committed the transgression.  These twin trees are casually called the “Bemp” trees.


Food Distribution

            Two hours after placing the fish packages in the fire and when the men have returned from their expedition, the women assemble and used the woven baskets from the fishing expedition to load all the food.  In pairs, to carry the fish to different households where it is eaten.


Assembling Structures

            Late in the afternoon, the men cover the outside of the warrior’s house with palm leaves.  One community member likened this to building a nest for the dancers as the men piled leaf upon leaf –- leaving only slanted light coming in and little visibility from the outside.  Once the house was covered, the men performed a ceremony where they initiate a call and response dance.  This festival lasted for only an hour and ends quickly.  After this festival, the men assembled structures on either side of the warrior’s house that would provide the support for the festival trees (awry), which they will erect the next day.


Day 3 Tree Competition and Afternoon Festival

Tree competition

The third day of festivities starts early. While it is still dusk a male leader circles the plaza announcing the competition between the older and younger men to carry the trees to the opposite side of the warrior’s house.  In the dusky, smoky early morning light, women and children gathered around a fire in a corner of the village, close to where the two ritual trees lay in waiting.  The men divided into two groups, once again, and sing in a circle preparing for the competition.  The men will race each other and see which group can raise their ceremonial tree next to the men’s house first.  While the men are still singing the women and children wander out to the plaza to find a good spot to watch the competition.  The men, readied, lifted the trees up and battle each other across the plaza.  Immediately after the trees are erected, the wining team, the younger group, splits off and dances to celebrate their victory.  The elder group joins them once they are finished with their task.  These trees will remain in the village center long after the ceremony is complete to commemorate Bemp.


Joint Tree Harvest

            After this portion of the festival, there is a small break for the community to rest and prepare for the afternoon.  Women maintain their households, gather water, wash dishes and clothes, and bathe.  Later in the afternoon the men go to harvest another ceremonial tree.  This time all the men go together in one big group, weave palm frond headdresses, collect more palm fronds to completely cover the men’s house, and gather a ceremonial tree.  They returned with fronds in on their heads and hide the tree, once again, at the edge of the community. 


Village festival

            Late in the day, for the first time, the entire community joins the dancing festivities.  The men start off alone, singing in the warrior’s house and then move out into the plaza.  The community —younger children, old women, and young women — all painted and dressed in ceremonial regalia join the men.  An excitement clings in the thirsty air, some dancers smile as they sing and others giggle with enthusiasm.  The men and women dance around each other in a sort visual pull and tug.  Small children teeter as they follow the adults but most step with precision.  Others seem tired from the work.   This dance does not last long as the families have to go back to their homes to prepare for the finale, but some men stayed.  These men sing all evening in a low drone that echoes throughout the night.  The culmination of the ceremony is upon them.


Day 4 The Macaw Dancers

War Club Dance

This mid-afternoon festival is distinct from previous days.  The men form a single-file line, strikingly without too much ritual attire, and have war-clubs or guns as props.  They file around the village solemnly, without singing, the only sound their belts and anklets clicking and clanking.  They stop in front of four houses.  At each house one warrior arrives, loudly knocks on the door, and takes a child and five to seven adult women, already decorated in full ceremonial regalia, in the line.  The men snake around the village until the line is complete with four children and an associated entourage of women.  The entire group fervently files into the forest.  There, crunching against dried piles of leaves and resting on fallen tree trunks, the women and children sit in a circle around a large rubber tree. One set of men ceremoniously guards the women, and the other set rubs the latex in the hair of others.  Afterwards the chiefs paints red urucum over everyone’s heads – its bright oil staining a red crown on their black hair.  They group returns to the village and looks forward to the bird dancers – the most spectacular segment of the ceremony.


In the afternoon, men are out industriously working in the plaza as they carve a circular track for the macaw dancers on one side of the village.  The bird dancers will later “fly” counterclockwise in this circle.  Indeed, the Kayapó word for festival (metoro), means flying since their dance mimics a bird in flight.[xxi] A team of men set up lights and a generator in the center for the all night dance and place three lean-tos made of fronds for the children name-recipients to camp out for the night.


Macaw Dancers

The finale begins with a group of men and women singing near the dancer’s circle while the macaw dancers finish their preparations.  The rest of the community murmurs in anticipation, and compliments the bird dancers, as they are the most beautiful part of the festival.  These bird dancers are adorned with genipapo paint, red urucum neatly painted over their mouths and have a freshly shaved “V” on the top of their head.  Their hair is oiled hair, long strings of beads are coiled tightly around their forearms, and wrist bracelets, sashes of beads, calf bands, ankle bands, feathered adornments, ritual earrings are piled on top.  Finally, a single red macaw feather shoots up from their heads, like a flame, from a simple palm band.  Five groups of macaw dancers will dance in the ceremonial circle all night.   They are the ceremonial friends of the name-recipients and have the task of dancing like birds.  They outstretch their arms and sing with a repetitious "ah-ah-ah" to mimic the macaw.  The group will sing and dance like this from dusk to dawn as they rhythmically move around the circle.


            Several things take place when the bird dancers begin. Families bring out tents and blankets and set up camp outside the dancing circle, hoping to stay warm through the cool dry season evening.  Sometime in the middle of the night, they will paint their faces and ritually cut their hair.  The festival sponsor continues to provide the tireless bird dancers with food and water.   The children name-recipients, in full ceremonial regalia, sit in lean-tos, watching the performance all night as they move in and out of sleep.  This part of the festival is the most beautiful and the most dangerous as nighttime is a time when a person is susceptible to spirits or other elements that cause illness.[xxii]


Day Five Naming

            On the final morning, just before dawn, the bird dancers, exhausted from the night but still moving together, increase the rapidly of their songs and loudness of their voices in a climax to finish.  They exit the ritual circle and several men carry a tree trunk in the center of the circle.  Other smaller logs are strategically placed in front of houses and around the dancing area.  Two black bird dancers appear, one man and one women, and dance around the central log with some of the macaw dancers. The festival sponsors, finally painted after several months of exclusion, ritually dance in front of the men’s house to mark the end of the festival.  The children go inside the houses and are named at this time.  The festival, after long months of preparation and several days of hard work, finally, concludes.


Final Thoughts

            This short written piece only tells a small part of the story about the Bemp festival.   Naming festivals, like this one, animates the entire community – reinforcing social bonds and allowing different generations to demonstrate their skills in dancing, singing, and ceremonial preparation.  Naming ceremonies, then, are the arenas in which all the complicated social ties are mobilized, highlighted, and reified through the process of preparing for and performing ceremonies. One dancer summed up the way the village felt about ceremonies, “Ceremonies contain the happiness of the village.” Yet, ceremonies are a visual and performative medium and hard to capture in written form.  Hopefully this short written piece will provide a small glimpse into the Kayapó worldview, and this photo essay will tell more of the story, that because of its reliance on text, remains partial and incomplete.


I grateful to the entire community of Aukre for generously sharing their lives and homes with me.  I would also like to extend my thanks Barbara Zimmerman and Adriano Jerozomlinski for their support.


[i]   (Fisher 2003: 117)

[ii]  (Zimmerman et al. 2001)

[iii]  (Fisher 2003; Gordon 2006; Verwisjver 1992)

[iv]  (Turner 1995)

[v]   (Bamberger 1974)

[vi]   (Bamberger 1974; Fisher 2003)

[vii]  (Vom Bruck and Bodenhorn 2006:25)

[viii] (Bamberger 1974). 

[ix]  These names are fictitious examples of how a Bep name is structured and do not represent real Kayapó names.

[x]   (Verswijver 1992:77)

[xi]   (Bamberger 1974:365, 372)

[xii]   (Bamberger 1974:367)

[xiii]  (Turner 1995:151)

[xiv] (Vidal and Giananni 1995)

[xv] (Vidal and Gianni 1995:35)

[xvi]  (Vidal and Gianni 1995:37)

[xvii]  (Turner 1995)

[xviii] (Turner 1995; Vidal and Gianni 1995)

[xix](Turner 1995:158)

[xx]  (Posey 2002: 38)

[xxi]   (Turner 1995:160)

[xxii]  (Posey 1985:39)

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