Marubo Marubo Indians




Marubo Tribe


f all the tribes that inhabit the Javarí River Valley of Brazil and Peru, the Marubo Indians are the largest and most powerful. The Marubo were the first indigenous people in the Javarí to make contact with outsiders at the turn of the 20th century. Consequently, to the detriment of other tribes in the Valley, they were the first to get access to weapons such as shotguns. To this day the Marubo Indians dominate all the other tribes in the Javarí. For example, when I first sought access to the Matis Indians, it was necessary for me to first contact the Marubo cacique (chief) who subsequently gave me permission to visit the Matis.

The Marubo language is a member of the Pano family which includes other native languages such as Matis, Korubo, Matsés (Mayoruna), and Shipibo. Generally, young Marubo men speak some Portuguese. However, women rarely speak any Portuguese and have little or no contact with outsiders. Since the entire Javarí Valley area was originally a part of Peru and pioneered by Peruvian rubber tappers, older people tend to speak some Spanish.

Marubo NativeThe impact of the rubber trade in the early 20th century was devastating to the Marubo. Most became involved in the rubber industry, and were locked into debt by the rubber barons. Worse, the rubber trade caused traditional communities to become fragmented. Rubber collecting required that each family lived solitarily to gather their rubber. Collecting rubber took precedence over the religious and cultural traditions of the community. By the time the rubber boom collapsed in 1938, the rubber trade had reduced the Marubo people and their culture to near extinction.

Interestingly, in the Marubo religion, new life forms are said to originate from the transformation or aggregation of parts of dead and destroyed organisms. To make an analogy, present day Marubo society appears to have resulted from the rebirth of Marubo families destroyed and fragmented by the rubber trade. However, this process of scattering and transformation may not be new to the Marubo and may well go back into prehistoric times, because the influence of the Marubo language and names is very evident in many other Pano tribes.

Marubo IndiansUntil the 1970s, the Javarí Valley was a wild and lawless area. The Matsés (not to be confused with the Matis) or Mayoruna people were well-known for abducting women from other tribes. One famous incident took place in the 1960s when a group of Marubos were collecting tortoise eggs on a beach on the Curuçá River. The Mayoruna killed the men and kidnapped the women. This raid provoked a reprisal from the Marubo. The Marubo obtained firearms through their contact with whites and undertook an expedition that decimated an entire village of Mayorunas. By the 1970s it was necessary for the Brazilian government to enter the area and end the cycle of abductions and reprisals. Through interventions by whites, many of the abducted women were returned to the Marubo, although some had died and some chose to remain, having been assimilated into Mayoruna society.

Rites of passage ceremonies per se do not exist in the Marubo culture as compared to the Ticunas. However, men are not permitted to use tobacco snuff and ayahuasca until they have attained an age of about thirty years. Prior to this age, young Marubo men are limited to serving the needs of older men. There is a distinct division of labor between man and women, with men responsible for clearing the forest for plantations, hunting, making canoes, and carving drums. In addition, shamanism and traditional medicine are all male tasks.

MarubosIn contrast, women are responsible for harvesting crops, cooking, creating pottery, and weaving hammocks. Marubo women spend much of their time making beads from snail shells. These beads are used to create the nose ornaments that characterize the Marubo. In addition, gastropod shell beads are used to make necklaces, chest bands, and the pendant crowns that are distinctive elements of Marubo attire. All body painting, whether for ceremonies or merely esthetic, is performed by women.

In present day, shotguns are used in place of traditional blowguns or bows and arrows. The primary game species are two varieties of monkeys, the wooly monkey (Lagothrix logothricha) and the spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth). Curiously, other species of primates are considered inedible. They also hunt the queixada (Tayassu pecari, a peccary that is native to the Amazon), the collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) and the tapir (Tapirus terrestris)

Marubo IndigenousAlthough lines and hooks are sometimes used, fishing is typically done using a plant mixture called “huaca.” Huaca is processed by adding the plant (Lonchocarpus floribundus) to clay and fermenting the mixture. When dissolved in a body of water such as a lake, huaca depletes the oxygen and the fish float to the surface and are harvested.

The Marubo practice various ceremonies and rituals, one of the most interesting being the Ceremony of Áco.  Áco begins with the transportation of a giant log from the forest to the “maloca” (big house). The log is not dragged on the ground as one might suspect. Instead it is carried on the shoulders of the men. It is a difficult task and the men use sticks to support themselves as they make the strenuous journey. While the men are transporting the log, the women flirt and tease prospective mates by tickling them. In the maloca, the log is carved into a drum by the men, while the women dance and sing, praying to their dead ancestors for success in hunting and bountiful harvests.
Marubo IndiansIf you would like to learn how you can meet the Marubo and find out how you can help them preserve their culture, please contact me at For more information about other Amazon Indians, please visit Documentary films of my expeditions with the Matis are
available on video.

The author, Dr. Dan James Pantone, is the editor of Amazon-Indians and an ecologist currently working with the Movement in the Amazon for Tribal Subsistence and Economic Sustainability (MATSES), a non-profit association that is helping indigenous people so that they themselves can preserve their culture and lands in a sustainable and independent manner.


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