The Canela (Eastern Timbira), I: An Ethnographic Introduction.
By William H.Crocker
Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology,
Number 33, 487 pages, 11 tables, 51 figures, 78 plates, 1990.

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Part V: Canela Structural Patterns


Upon returning to the field in 1978, presumably for the last time, I felt very strongly that I wanted to find some sort of principal focus or organizing principle of the Canela sociocultural system that could be represented in a concise manner. I had, through the years, worked intensively with language, material culture, socialization, demography, kinship, festivals, religion, and other topics, but had not yet searched for some sort of essential aspect of the Canela existence and did not know what form it could take. Was it the specific cultural personality of the Canela, the complex of motivations which drove the people, a specific perceptual paradigm, a representative principal focus, or what else? How could I leave the Canela without understanding some crucial aspects of their uniqueness? If I did, I would not be doing justice to the Canela, to my research, or to the profession of anthropology.

It was easy to ship books to Barra do Corda, so I sent several dozen and spent many autumn evenings of my last field stay reading. A search for unique expressions reflecting deep and basic cognitive patterns emerged—expressions that were related to the particular ways in which the Canela perceived and structured their world of “reality.” I thought these cognitive patterns may be the principal focus I had been seeking.

My greatest debt here is to Lévi-Strauss through Edmund Leach who wrote the following in an assessment of Lévi-Strauss (Leach, 1968:547–548):

The human brain is not in the least like a camera. Our capacity to achieve technological mastery over our surroundings does not derive from any capacity to see things as they actually are, but rather from the fact that the brain is capable of reproducing transformations of structures which occur “out there” in Nature and then responding to them. In other words Lévi-Strauss seems to postulate that the structure and workings of the human brain are analogous to those of a very complicated kind of computer; it is the nature of this computer that it sorts out any information which is fed into it through the sense organs in accordance with the “programme” to which it is adjusted. The result of this sorting process is to present the individual consciousness an impression of an orderly world, but this orderliness of the perceived world is not necessarily closely fitted to the orderliness of Nature, it is an orderliness that has been imposed on the sensory information by the structures built into the computer programme. The “programme” (this is my term, not Lévi-Strauss') is partly an endowment of heredity...that is to say it arises from the intrinsic characteristics of the brain of homo sapiens and partly it is a feed-back from the cultural environment in which the individual has been raised. Particularly important here are the categories of the individual’s ordinary spoken language which have the effect of presenting the speaker’s sense perceptions to himself as an organized system.... The basic bricks out of which cultural order is constructed are verbal categories and La Pensée Sauvage is really an inquiry into just how far the content of such categories is arbitrary and how far it is predetermined by the nature of the real objects which are being categorized.

This assessment, especially its last two sentences, was what directed and motivated my field research in 1978 and 1979; to look for systematized perceptions of, or regularities in, “sociocultural sectors” (Glossary) as related to “the categories of the individual’s ordinary spoken language” and to certain of his “verbal categories,” as defined in the above quotation.



In the search for cognitive patterns, I had the collaboration of the younger Kaapêltùk [I.G.4] (Figure 51), who had translated diaries for me for 12 years and who had clarified and defined difficult terms for the SIL linguistic-missionary, Jack Popjes (Figure 11), for 10 years. With him I could be sure of obtaining the deep meanings and ranges of the semantic fields of almost any Canela expression [I.F.1]. Since early graduate school, I have had a special interest in assessing aspects of a culture’s linguistic forms that are suggestive of some special characteristic of the culture. With our council of research assistants [Pr.2], Kaapêl and I explored the Canela versions of many Western concepts and their related expressions, such as duty, obligation, free will, chance, probability, degrees of certainty, space, time, cosmol­ogy, soul, seasons, years, infinity, human beginnings and endings, and their perceptual ordering of certain sociocultural sectors. None of these concepts were completely articulatory for any research assistant, so they had to be debated in detail, sometimes for days. I found myself interested in returning again and again, however, to the study of the perceptual structuring of sociocultural sectors. Maybe here we could isolate some specific Canela characteristics.

How the Canela perceive and order the color spectrum was one of the first cultural sectors I chose for study. I had learned in 1971 [I.D.2.b] that besides light and dark there were only three Canela colors that could be called “basic” (Berlin and Kay, 1969:5–7): red, buff, and blue-green. Just how the Canela ordered or related these colors to each other was the immediate question. The younger Kaapêltùk, the rest of the research assistant council, and I eventually, after much debate, worked out that red and buff were paired in a complementary (Glossary) manner with each other and that red and buff together (but not merged), or separately, were paired with blue-green in an oppositional (Glossary) manner, in the context of how they saw the Munsell color chip maps. The research assistants during our work together provided the all important set of expressions used for structuring their field of colors.

We learned in these discussions encompassing a wide range of topics that for two items to be culturally paired they must be similar in “nature” (hïï: jeito), that is, have some common denominator held foremost in a particular context. The similarity could be, for example, in shape, composition, construction, position, or weight, depending on the context. When two items are “similar” in some culturally accepted way and seen as being paired, the Canela say these items are aypën katê (related-as a-pair). If these items are seen as paired in a complementary manner, the principal expression they use is ipiprol (in parallel); but if they are seen as paired in opposition to each other, one expression they use to describe the relationship is aypën kunãã-mã (related-as opposing-to: related in an oppositional manner); there are also a number of other expressions. I must emphasize that the Canela “see” two kinds of pairings that might be called oppositional “opposi­tions” and complementary “oppositions” in more conventional language, but I would prefer not to use “oppositions,” in this ambiguous manner, so I use “oppositional pairings” and “complementary pairings.” I also prefer not to use the terms “dualities” and “dyads,” because I want to emphasize that these cultural pairings of elements come from fieldwork and not from some tradition within anthropology. Numerous examples of oppositional and complementary cultural pairings derived from work in the field with Canela research assistants are given below [V.A.3.b]. (For a general categorization of oppositions in the English language see Ogden, 1932.)

The term ipiprol (in parallel) was explained to me by research assistants through the following examples. If two runners, racing down the same or down two closely adjacent radial pathways from the boulevard in the morning contests [II.F.2.b], reach the edge of the plaza at the same time, they have arrived ipiprol (literally, parallel to each other, or “in parallel”). Thus, they have become paired in a complementary manner, or they constitute a complementary pairing, according to Canela thinking. If two runners coming from the circular boulevard in opposite directions, arrive and stop in the plaza, and stand facing each other as in the Ku?khàkaykhàl act of the Pepyê festival (Nimuendajú, 1946:200), they are then said to be aypën kunàà-mã (relationship opposing-in), that is, “paired in opposition” to each other, in this case facing each other.

[V.A.1] Application of Key Terms to “Traditional” Pairings

In order to test these key terms and expressions, my research assistants and I applied them to “traditional” (i.e., articulatory) complementary and oppositional pairs (Nimuendajú, 1946:84) in different “sociocultural sectors” (Glossary). We then found that these expressions “paired in parallel” and “paired in opposition” could be applied consistently to the various examples the research assistants could provide quickly from memory without making a special effort [V.A.3].

[V.A.2] Principles behind Complementary and Oppositional Pairings

We eventually developed what appeared to us to be principles which lie behind complementary and oppositional pairing, which are the following. Canela associate complementary pairing with things that are mutually facilitating (ipiprol) or that mutually generate a product, or a result (aypën katsúwa: related toward). Also, in the simplest portrayal, the complementary pair may be just positioned together in parallel, facing in the same direction (ipiprol).

In contrast, while the Canela associate oppositional pairing mostly with the expression aypën kunãã-mã, which refers specifically to items that are physically opposite or facing each other and contentious, they also use other oppositional terms. These oppositional terms refer to words that describe hostility (aypën kurê: related, angry), intended destruction (aypën kura prãm: related, to-kill wanting), or even healthy competition (aypën kuytên pram: related, to-struggle wanting), and there are still a number of other terms. Thus, while the term aypën kunãã-mã applies to contentious situational opposition, a number of other expressions apply to various sorts of non-cooperative, but mutual orientations. Nevertheless, any two items have to be aypën katê (related, paired) in relationship to each other, that is, seen as “paired,” when they are also perceived as being either complementary or oppositional, or they cannot be seen as cultural pairings.

The relationships between the expressions discussed so far in this chapter are presented directly below. They are not hierarchical. Many other expressions can be used to express paired opposition, but the two expressions listed below for complementarity are the principal ones.

Paired (aypën katê)




ipiprol (in parallel)

aypën kunãã-mã (confrontational)

aypën katsúwa (related to, toward a result)

aypën kurê (hostile)


aypën kura prãm (want to kill)


aypën kuytên prãm (to struggle)


Obviously, items in Canela sociocultural sectors can be related to each other in ways that are not perceived as being paired. In fact, most items in Canela thought are related but not paired. For instance, the expression aypën yĩĩkhyê (rela­tionship uneven) refers to items that are related (aypën) but not in balance with each other because of their different weights. Therefore, they are not seen as paired. An example of this unpaired relationship given by research assistants was a pair of identical but unevenly loaded packing baskets tied across the back of a donkey so that the heavier one rides lower than the other. These two baskets are not in a katê (paired) relationship with each other in this context where the “nature” (hĩĩ) being considered is weight. There are two of them, and they are similar in shape, materials, and construction; but here, because of the concern they are causing (one riding danger­ously low), they are seen as not being in balance because of their difference in weight. Thus, they are not paired. However, these same baskets would be seen as culturally paired in several other contexts, if similarity in shape, size, composition, construction, or function were the situational emphasis.

Items that are not opposite each other, do not face the same way, or cannot be paired in some other cultural manner, are said to be i?-khay-nã (it-off-condition); that is, they are in an odd relationship or even in no relationship with each other at all. The no-relationship situation obviously is the American “apples and pears” one, but these are hard to find. An example of the odd relationship given by research assistants is if a person is going along a trail, she or he is on it and “in parallel” with it. But if the person steps off the trail, walking away from it for a while, somebody might say that she or he is going along off the trail (i?-khay-nã to mõ: he-off-condition with goes). Obviously, from a cultural point of view, he should be on the trail.

The expression i?khay nã also implies social or cultural incorrectness and is frequently heard in this context. It is the simple Canela word for “wrong,” implying a cultural infraction, not a moral one. If an adolescent nephew jokes with his advising-uncle, which he should not do, although he may joke with other uncles [II.D.1.b.(2),(3)], a bystander might say i?-khay nã (he-off condition: he is wrong). Obviously, the nephew and the person off the trail still have relationships with the uncle and the trail, respectively, but these relationships are not seen as culturally paired in this context.

Numerous other expressions exist for the relationship, or the nonrelationship, of items that are not seen as pairs in a particular context. However, these expressions are not pertinent here, so I am reserving their presentation for a later publication. This limited number of nonpaired expressions was presented here to demonstrate the complexity of the Canela relational situation as expressed through key expressions, and to make the point that cultural pairings, whether complementary or opposi­tional, are only one kind of relationship through which the Canela structure their world.

[V.A.3] Application of Principles to Other Sectors

There are some obvious examples of pairings (dualism) (Glossary) that Canela research assistants can quickly point out. Some of these examples are discussed by Nimuendajú (1946:84), such as east/west, sun/moon, day/night, dry season/rainy season, fire/firewood, earth/water, red/black. J. Melatti (1979a:46–50) also gives us a number of his Krahó examples, which presumably come from both his research assistants and from his analyses (phrases in brackets are mine).

Wakmëye [like Red Regeneration Season] Katamye [like Black season]
day night
dry season        wet season
east west
cleared central space of the village outer circle of the village
light-colored palm leaves dark palm leaves
vertical stripes in body painting horizontal stripes
Khoirumpekëtsë [like Upper plaza moiety] Haramrumpekëtxë [Lower one]
Khöikateye [like Upper age-set moiety] Harãkateye [Lower one]
Hëk [like Falcons in Pepkahàk] Krókrók [no similar society]
Tép [like Fish festival] Teré [like Otters]
men women
plaza [center of village] houses [periphery]
living dead



However, the paired Canela items that are “traditional” and, therefore, articulatory are relatively few. The study of the paired items that research assistants could articulate in these early stages of the study would not take the scholar very far into the structuring of the various “sociocultural sectors” (Glossary). Consequently, for this sort of study to be of significance, it was necessary to work with groups of research assistants until they could articulate the principles behind the traditional examples very easily. The next step was to apply these principles to other sociocultural sectors, looking for pairings of both the complementary and the oppositional kinds.

At first, this kind of research ran strongly against the feelings of the younger Kaapêltùk because I had trained him to give me only traditional information (mam më nkêtyê më nkaakaa tsà khôt: early pl. uncle their breath thing following: according to the ancestors’ beliefs), that is, what the Canela “folk” do say their ancestors did say about specific topics. He objected, strongly insisting that I was asking him for material that was not traditional and therefore not correct (i?khay-nã) from his ancestors’ point of view (see [Epigraph]). I told him that we still were using his ancestors’ ancient principles, if not what they said, but that now we were applying these same principles to other topics that had not been talked about by them. I further explained that because we were using their principles, these new materials were just as much in keeping with his ancestors’ way of “breathing” as the old materials. He accepted this explanation and helped teach the procedure to the other research assistants.

Thus I started with six old research assistants (old in age and in length of time with me) and Kaapêl on a new course that included the study and identification of complementary and oppositional pairings in many sociocultural sectors. I worked with two groups separately. There were the weekday four and the Saturday two, the second group serving as a check on the first. Kaapêl attended both groups as the ultimate communicator [I.E.2]. He helped keep them on track in their debating, most of which I could follow. Then he discussed the results with me in Canela and Portuguese [Pr.2].


We worked through both the winter and spring months of 1979 on these matters as well as on related materials connected with key words and concepts, and then continued the same work in the early fall. The search for cultural pairings was rarely carried out just by itself but almost always as part of the study of key words and concepts. The topic of cultural pairings (dualities) was usually brought up at the end of the study of a particular concept, as a means for improving our understanding of the materials.

This particular field procedure was like leading a thirsty horse to an unknown water trough. Talking about any of these concepts was not the custom of my research assistants, so they could not teach me very much about these matters on their own initiative. They had probably not thought about most of these concepts ever, and certainly had not verbalized them. However, when I led my research assistants to these concepts, they debated them well with considerable interest and often gave me illustrative examples of their own choosing.

While I had not been trained in anthropological theory to expect triads before my arrival in 1957, I had learned through experience and observation among the Canela since then that triadic patterns were frequent expressions of Canela social and mental forms. Since the Gê literature stressed dualism, I was surprised to find triads so frequently. Thus, when we expanded our search for complementary and oppositional pairings into other sociocultural sectors, I brought conspicuous triads to my group every now and then. Thus, early along this course we studied the obvious triadic formation of men’s festival societies [III.C.6] in contrast to dyadic plaza group moieties (social forms) [III.C.5]. We also examined the conspicuous triadic patterns of certain combinations of consanguineal (Figure 20) and affinal terms (Figure 28) in contrast to the dyadic patterns of certain combinations of affinal avoidance terms (mental forms) (Figure 28). We also discussed the relationships between the three “basic” colors identified through a previous analysis of Munsell color chip maps [I.D.2.b].

Immediately following the study of colors, I moved on to the study of shapes and their dimensions [V.A.5.a.(1).(b)] which lasted about two weeks. After identifying a number of dimensional and descriptive terms through studying many examples, I asked near the end of the study, as usual, if any of the terms were in parallel with any others and was told that hayoo (which I believed was “roundness”) was in parallel with i?po (which I believed was “flatness”). Of course, they gave me other examples of paired complementarity and opposition, but the relationship between “roundness” and “flatness” was the most interesting one. The next question had to be about what these two concepts were in opposition with, if anything, and the answer was irùù, or “long,” which again was puzzling. How could roundness be in parallel with flatness and both be in opposition with length? I felt like proceeding quickly with the research to find out.

I eventually worked through to learning that for a 3-dimensional object like a stick, the 2-dimensions of the cross-section were in opposition with the length. And for a “2-dimensional” object like a piece of writing paper, the two corners of a short edge were paired in complementarity and then paired again in opposition with the length of the paper. However, for a cubic tin of crackers none of its dimensions were in opposition with each other, because its three dimensions were similar. Now, I was beginning to become aware of something new to me and pursued it with fascination. I squared the piece of writing paper with scissors to find that again no dimensions were in opposition with each other. From here the realization soon came that near-equal dimensions were in opposition with an unequal dimension, whether the object had three or “two” dimensions. Also, the mystery of why hayoo and i?po were paired in complementarity became clear. Objects of near-equal dimensions, whether of two or three dimensions, are seen as being in parallel, whether a ball, a cube, or a pyramid. I also soon discovered that hayoo denotes the third dimension besides meaning “round” (and spherical) and that i?po denotes the second dimension besides meaning “flat.”

I know the above analysis leaves many questions unanswered, such as how the Canela consider objects with three different dimensional measurements—none are paired—but such questions are beyond the scope of this presentation; they will be described and discussed in a later publication.

Basic materials for the dyads and triads presented with the examples in [V.A.5] were collected in the field in this manner, while studying festivals, and key words and concepts, with my research assistant council. The three basic categorizations and their subcategories, including their terms, however, were devised here in Washington, D.C. Readers tell me they wonder if I imposed my ideas and the concept of the triad on my research assistants. I answer that I could not have imagined the complexity and the so very different characteristics of the Canela views of shapes and their dimensions, and of time and its three different “todays” [V.A.5.a.(1).(a)] [Ap.5] (Figure 12). The question of whether these triads are really complex dyads is moot, and awaits further analysis. However, this question is moot (for me) only for the category of fixed triads [V.A.5.a]. A pertinant comment by Levi-Strauss (1973:274) on eastern Brazilian social organization, which includes the Canela, gave me considerable encouragement: “Behind the dualism we perceive a more fundamental organization which is asymetrical and triadic.” Moreover, Levi-Strauss brings up this question of dualism and triadism in another place (1963:147–151) in the context of the Canela (Eastern Timbira).


The following are a few of our (mine and my research assistants) numerous oppositional (x) pairings copied from my field notes and translated. However, a number of them change from opposition to complementary with a change in their context. For instance, a man and his nephew are paired oppositionally when the nephew is an adolescent but in complemetarity when the nephew is older and they are carrying out similar roles (MB and MMB) for their female kin’s hearth unit [III.E.2.e.(1)].


uncle x adolescent nephew


the elders x the adolescents

(Figures 14, 15)

the women x the men


kin x affines


the village x the jungle


the village x the hostile tribe


ordinary hunter x game


Indian x disease


Indian x pollutions


the Indian x the ghost


the alive x the dead


urucu x ghost


macaw feather x ghost


the good x the bad


God x Satan


the strong x the weak


the euphoric x the weak


the generous x the stingy


the workers x the lazy


those who have food staples x those who have none


those who hear/obey x those who do not hear/obey


the tame x the wild


those not thinking bad thoughts x the angry


cooked x raw


bland x salty


sweet x bitter


penis x menstrual blood


red x blue-green


light color x very dark


round x long


spherical x long


ripe fruit x unripe fruit


wet x dry


winter X summer


east X west


the helpful x the hostile


the Indian x the civilizado


Upper age-sets x Lower age-sets


the Reds x the Blacks


Upper plaza groups x Lower plaza groups


Wetheads x Dryheads


Falcons x Ducks


Masks x Agoutis


sweet potatoes x meat


sweet potatoes x squash


sweet potatoes x corn


yams x corn


peanuts x most garden foods



The following are complementary (+) pairings, taken directly from the fieldnotes of my work with my research assistant council on this topic.


wife + husband


restrictions kin + other kin


uterine sister + uterine brother

(Figure 38)

name-exchange sister + brother


uncle + adult nephew


 “seeing” hunter + game


curer + ghost


snake-bite curer + meat


Indian + fire


fire + wood


fire + cooked meat


ancient Canela tribe + certain other Timbira tribes


Visiting Chief + hostile tribe


Sun + Moon


summer + winter through time


day + night through time


God + earth through time


planter + planted seed through time


Indian + civilizado in recent times


village + gardens


streams + with thickets


manioc/rice + meat


manioc/rice + peanuts


manioc/rice + all foods


red + buff


urucu + charcoal body paint


internee + his restrictions


Indian + his helping devices


Formal Friend + his Formal Friend


Informal Friend + his Informal Friend


horse + rider/owner


Falcons + Pepkahàk


Masks + Jaguars older

Upper age-set + younger Upper age-set


older Lower age-set + younger Lower age-set


self-following + order-following




[V.A.4] The System of Combined Pairings

Two basic kinds of Canela “pairings” (Glossary) exist, one grounded in facilitation and the other based on oppostion. (In more conventional language, there are both oppositional “oppositions” and complementary “oppositions.”) Both kinds of pairings are a two-way process and are found separately in the various sociocultural sectors, as projected onto or as perceived in the existence of the physical world.20

Many of the cultural pairings are of the simple in-parallel or in-opposition form, i.e., in pairs, but the Canela often combine pairs into more complex relationships in the form of triads (diagram 1). Triads involve three pairings, which are the relationships (the sides of triads) among three elements (items), the points of triads. (The Canela do not draw such triads in the sand.) While all the elements, their relationships, and their operations were discussed with Canela research assistants and were understood and agreed to by them, the abstraction of most of these materials into the form of triads is my reconstruction and was done in the field except for one case [V.A.5.a.(1).(a)]. I am aware that other levels of abstraction exist, which are often used by other anthropologists (Murphy, 1971:113–114), but I am leaving these materials at their ethnographic level.

Diagram 1


Three categories of triads are identified: fixed, modifying, and generating [V.A.5.a,b,c] (although other Canela categories surely exist, as do still different categories for other tribal sociocultural systems).

In the first category [V.A.5.a], the characteristics of the three pairings involved with each other are fixed. This category includes two subcategories: inanimate and animate. Fixed inanimate sets of three pairings are conceived of as fixed in space or time and are stationary (static) in their relationships with each other. They are unchangeable, existing as they are “forever” (nõ?nü?ti mã), the Canela say. Examples are physical dimensions of objects, certain aspects of time, and the way the principal Wè?tè season festivals are related to each other [IV.A.3.c.(1),(2),(3)]. In the last example, the Khêêtúwayê, Pepyê, and Pepkahàk festivals are in a complementary relationship, each with each other, and they are all three paired, separately and together, in an oppositional relationship with the Fish festival [IV.A.3.c.(4)]. They can be seen solely as complementary and oppositional dyads, but the Canela portray them also as triads, with the complementary pairings not being merged.

In the second subcategory [V.A.5.a.(2)], other sets of three pairings are fixed and animate in the sense that the elements involved have potential or real movement, including expres­sion of emotions, in their relationships with each other, so that they are dynamically cooperating or competing. However, their positions and their basic conditions vis-à-vis each other do not change (do not become modified). Some of these triads, such as corporate festival societies and moieties, exist “forever,” like the examples in the fixed inanimate category. For instance, in the Masks’ festival the Mask, Jaguar, and Agouti men’s societies [III.C.6] vie with each other, with the Masks and Jaguars cooperating (+) with each other in their joint antagonism (x) toward the Agoutis. In the daily acts [IV.A.3.c.(5).(a)], the Jaguars harass the Agoutis while the Masks stand by encouraging the Jaguars. In log races, the Jaguars race the Agoutis while the Masks make masks in their hut out in the cerrado. The Jaguars and Masks do not merge.

Other fixed animate triads exist for a certain length of time and then become dissolved, being fixed only over a certain period, e.g., the relationships between certain affines being terminated upon the death of one of them. For instance, a woman’s father and her brother work together (+) to control (x) (1) their “out”-man-in-law (son/brother-in-law) [III.E.3.a.(1),(2)] for a number of years until the death or separation of the people central to the relationship [V.A.5.c.(1)].21 The animate and inanimate triads that are subsumed under the fixed category are composed of two oppositional pairings and one complementary pairing. The nature of this composition explains why no permanent changes take place for fixed triads over a certain period of time. One complementary pairing in these contexts among the Canela does not ameliorate, mediate, transform, obviate, or eliminate (that is, modify) the differences between two oppositional pairings. It takes two complementary pairings to modify one oppositional pairing.

Diagram 2 shows the differing structures of two out of three of the major categories of Canela triads, with their principal subcategories.

Diagram 2

In the second category [V.A.5.b], still other sets of three pairings are modifying in the sense that the opposition between the one pair of oppositional elements (A x B, above on the right) is resolved, or mediated, in some way by the complementarity of the two other complementary pairs of elements involved (A + C) and (B + C) (both on the right above). For instance, the antagonism between a ghost (A) and a Canela (B) (an oppositional pairing) may be resolved by a shaman’s intercession (C), because a shaman can be separately in parallel with a ghost (C + A) (a complementary pairing) as well as in parallel with a Canela (C + B) (another complementary pairing). In this case, a “bridge” (hapàà) of two complementary pairings (three “positive” elements) becomes formed (A + B + C); that is, since (C + A) is complementary, and (C + B) is complementary, then C’s mediating makes (A + B) complementary.

Hapàà is an important expression. It is a set of more than two items in parallel. For instance, a set of four items in parallel is composed of three pairs: the first item paired with the second, the second item with the third, and the third item with the fourth. When illustrating this point, the Canela usually describe their footbridges as më hapàà [II.A.3.b.(2)], which often are made of three or more poles laid across a stream. Each pole is tied to its adjacent pole, forming a pair. As the cords coupling the poles overlap, the first pole is connected indirectly to the last one: a hapàà (bridge). This coupled, overlapping “construction” is crucially important to understanding the relation­ship between how certain sets of pairings are connected [V.A.5.b.(1).(b)].

The modifying category is divided into at least three subcategories [V.A.5.b.(1),(2),(3)], characterized by the opera­tion of the triad’s “third element” (C): (1) mediating elements, (2) protecting devices, or (3) transforming states, which are used to bring about changes. There should be additional categories that I have not yet identified.

In still a third category, triads are called generating [IV.A.5.c] in the sense that two elements produce the third, their result or product. The three elements of the triad are basically complementary in their relationship (pairings) with each other to start with. The third element is essentially a result of the first two elements’ cooperation rather than being in opposition with them (as with fixed triads), and the third element is not the meliorator of the first two elements (as with modifying triads). For instance, while research assistants use ipiprol (in parallel) for the relationship between the parents, they do not use it for the parents’ separate relationships with their new baby. They prefer a different kind of complementary expression aypën katsúwa (related toward) to talk about this special relationship because of its inequality. For example, a woman and a man, when married, or as parents, are paired in a complementary and equal relationship (ipiprol) with each other; and also, they are paired, separately but not equally, in an aypën katsúwa relationship with the child (C) they have generated (their product: g), which forms, nevertheless, a complementary (+) relationship. Diagram 3 represents the structural differences between the three principal kinds of Canela triads.

Diagram 3

Apparently, three oppositional pairings [V.A.5.c.(4)] do not combine to form triads. In the abstract, “the good” and “the bad” do not have a modifying third element and do not form a product in Canela thinking; neither do God and Satan. There is no belief in an evil result, such as a “bad seed” offspring. However, both these examples may be acculturative. Conceptually, it should be reassuring and important to realize that with three sides to a triangle and two kinds of sides (+ and x), the four possible combinations of structures are represented in these categorizations: (1) two oppositional sides and one complementary one (fixed), (2) one oppositional side and two complementary ones (modifying), (3) three complementary sides (generating), and (4) three oppositional sides (nontriad forming).


Canela research assistants are very clear about the point that all triads can also be broken down into sets of complementary or oppositional dyadic pairings. Red and blue-green can be taken alone as an oppositional pairing for the Canela. Masks and Jaguars can be taken alone as a complementary pairing from an animate triad, but only in the context of the Mask and Closing Wè?tè festivals. A ghost and a Canela can be taken alone as an oppositional pairing from a modifying triad in Canela life in general, while a shaman (in a shamanic condition) and a ghost can be taken alone from the same triad as a complementary pairing. The same can be held for a shaman (also only in a shamanic condition) and a Canela. Triads only need to be invoked when some relationship needs to be modified, such as when a ghost and a nonshamanic Canela (necessarily oppositional) need to be paired in a complementary manner in order to work together without the ghost injuring or killing the Canela. Similarly, in general, women are in opposition with men, but the institutions of marriage, name-exchange for “siblings,” and blood identity for uterine siblings form the third element of the triad, modifying the opposition into complementarity.

However, oppositions found in inanimate and animate triads, by definition, do not need to be altered or modified. Their contexts do not require this. Thus, while triads do not need to be used (although they may be recognized) among inanimate and animate sociocultural sectors (dualities may be sufficient), triads do need to be used where modification is to be portrayed in sociocultural sectors. Nevertheless, the ordering and generating of many sociocultural sectors is much better elucidated by means of inanimate, animate and generating triads even though dualities could be utilized. For instance, Canela realtionships such as Pepkahàk versus Fish festivals, Falcon versus Duck men’s societies, and meat with rice can be portrayed as dyads, as can greater representations such as women versus men, wife with husband, and mother with child, if only temporarily. However, most of the inanimate, animate, and generating examples described below are better portrayed as triads (maybe a special Canela characteristic), an exception being the three kinds of avoidance affines [V.A.5.b.(1).(a)] (Figure 28). Moreover, it is notable that in the inanimate-fixed category, where the laws of the physical world least affect the conceptual organization of the elements of sociocultural sectors and their relationships with each other, the systems are portrayed by the Canela as triadic [V.A.5.a].



Canela characteristically manifest the three categories of combined pairings described above throughout their varying basic “perceptual/empirical” structuring [V.A.4], supported by key expressions of the language. The following examples, constitute a sample of the many complementary and oppositional pairings collected from only a few of the many existing Canela sociocultural sectors. These categories constitute a provisionary arrangement and interpretation of the data, which may be modified and superseded when other researchers provide additional data.


[V.A.5.a.(1)] Inanimate Examples

[V.A.5.a.(1).(a)] “today” as a unit of time

The Canela word for “today” (ita-khãm) does not have the same referents as the 24-hour Western today. From the point of view of the individual speaker and from the time of day in which she or he is speaking, from sunrise to sunset, ita-khãm (today) refers to a 36-hour period including three blocks of time: (1) from sunset to sunrise of the past night, (2) from sunrise to sunset of the daytime in which the speaker is speaking, and (3) from sunset to sunrise of the coming night. (For detailed discussion of these relation­ships, see [II.E.2], [Ap.5], and Figure 12.)

When the speaker is speaking during the daytime, from sunrise to sunset, she or he uses ita-khãm (daytime’s “today”), but when the speaker is speaking during the nighttime, from sunset to sunrise, she or he is referring to either one or the other of two different 36-hour periods of time, katswa ita-khãm (night’s today), instead of just one 36-hour period of time, as occurs during the daytime. If the individual is speaking before an approximate midnight, she or he is referring to three 12-hour blocks of time: (1) from sunset to sunrise of the nighttime in which the speaker is speaking, (2) from sunrise to sunset of the past daytime, and (3) from sunset to sunrise of the past night. If the individual is speaking after an approximate midnight, she or he is referring to three 12-hour blocks of time, one the same and two different ones from the person speaking before midnight: (1) from sunset to sunrise of the nighttime in which the speaker is speaking, (2) from sunrise to sunset of the coming daytime, and (3) from sunset to sunrise of the coming nighttime.

Thus, as shown in diagram 4, there is one ita-khãm period (i-k) and two different katswa ita-khãm periods (k i-k). The two katswa ita-khãm periods are in parallel with each other and they are each in opposition to the one ita-khãm period. (For a more detailed explanation, see [II.E.2.a], [Ap.5], and Figure 12.)

Diagram 4

[V.A.5.a.(1).(b)] physical dimensions

In shapes, the word hayoo can mean “spherical,” but it pertains more broadly to any object whose three dimensions are approximately the same, whether quite irregular or with smooth planes such as a cube. The expression i?po refers to a two-dimensional object, or to one whose third dimension is perceived by the Canela as being very thin, such as a pad of paper or even a plot of land. The two significant dimensions must be roughly the same (ipipën), as in a circle or a square, or in similar items that are irregular. The synonyms hapyê and irùù mean “long” and pertain to three- or “two-dimensional” objects. While a sphere and a circle, and a cube and a square, are in parallel, these items are in opposition with any similar but elongated object. In other words, as shown in diagram 5, similar, near equi-dimensional objects, whether three or two-dimensional (as are such pyramids and triangles), are in parallel, but they are in opposition with a non-equidimensional object, one of the dimensions of which is considerably longer (hapyê) than the other ones (one), whether three or two dimensions, such as a log or this page. During the Regeneration season, Red racing logs are hayoo and Back ones are irùù.

Diagram 5

[V.A.5.a.(1).(c)] two or three ceremonial units versus one

The Wè?tè festival season is in parallel with the age-set moiety racing system (më hakhrã khãm) [III.C.3]. Both of these annual cycle units are separately and together in opposition to the Regeneration (Më-ipimràk) season, but when together, they are not merged (see diagram 6 and Table 4).

The Khêêtúwaye, Pepyê, and Pepkahàk festivals are each, in pairs, in parallel with each other, and together they form a hapàà (bridge), which is in opposition to the Fish festival. Each of the three internment festivals is separately in opposition to the Fish festival, but the Pepkahàk is most conspicuously in opposition to the Fish festival, as seen in their “wetheaded” versus “dryheaded” emphasis (Glossary). Research assistants excluded the festival of Masks from this kind of structuring because it is of foreign origin (Krahó) [IV.A.3.d]. However, I believe the Masks’ festival should be included in the structuring of the economic food distribution system, with its emphasis on “begging,” generosity, and social leveling [IV.A.3.c.(5).(c)], but I did not attempt such a study with my research assistant council.

[V.A.5.a.(2)]  Animate Category Examples

[V.A.5.a.(2).(a)] positioning in festivals

The positioning of festival societies provides visually conspicuous examples of facilitating and opposing pairs in the festival context. These festival-staged cases may be the easiest to comprehend of all the triadic sets of pairings, “frozen” in time as they are for anyone to examine.

Diagram 6

During festivals, one of the men’s societies is located opposite two or three of the societies across from them. Those societies positioned traditionally on the same side of the plaza are said to be “in parallel” because they help each other (+) in the daily acts and in the races but are not seen to merge except in the terminal phase of the festivals. They are in opposition to the society/societies on the other side of the plaza because they are festival competitors/enemies who harass or race against each other (x). In the Closing Wè?tè and Mask festivals, the cooperating (+) Mask and Jaguar societies are on the eastern side of the plaza, with the Agouti they oppress (x) on the western side (see diagram 7). During the morning daily acts, Jaguars may knock down (x) Agoutis. If a Jaguar catches an Agouti, he may sit on him and may actually rub the Agouti’s face in the sand (x) [IV.A.3.c.(5).(a)]. Furthermore, the Masks do not race with logs in the afternoon, since they are out at their hut weaving masks [IV.A.3.c.(5).(a)]. It is important to emphasize again the Masks and Jaguars do not merge and become one group at any time during the daily acts [IV.A.2], remaining as two groups with the Masks watching the harassment but not joining it.

Diagram 7 and 8

In the Pepkahàk festival (diagram 8), the dominating Pepkahàk and Falcon societies (+), and on certain occasions the Tàmhàk (+) and during others the Clowns (+), are all on the eastern side, while the always losing (x) Duck society is on the western side. Only the Pepkahàk perform in the daily act [IV.A.3.c.(3).(b)] (Plate 44c), and only the Falcons (Glossary) race the Ducks (Glossary) since the Pepkahàk (Glossary) are interned. During the terminal part of the festival the Pepkahàk join the Falcons and Clowns to have several log races against the Ducks.

With the plaza groups, the symmetry appears balanced in the Khêêtúwayê festival. In the Pepyê festival the Dwarf Parrots of the Lower moiety lead (+) during the processions, and the groups of the Upper moiety follow (x), so research assistants say the Lower moiety is superior. However, in the Fish festival the Upper moiety dominates (x) the Lower moiety because the eastern Otters prevail. The plaza moieties are each composed of three groups (Figure 17), which merge for certain occasions during the festivities. The pattern of two groups against one does not exist for plaza moieties.

In all the above cases, I have reported what the research assistants of the council have worked out with me, not my interpretations, with one exception. The material and parameters of the two nighttime-todays versus the one daytime-today were worked out with research assistants in the field, but I noticed the two against one relationship only when in Washington, D.C.


[VA.5.b.(1)] In Resolutions through Mediating Elements

In resolutions of conflicts through mediating elements, the opposing parties, through an intermediary institution or through a bridging person/situation, cease to be in conflict and begin to cooperate.

[V.A.5.b.(1).(a)] institutions

Generally, women are in opposition to men as demonstrated in the beginning of the Opening Wè?tè festival [IV.A.3.a], but when joined by the institution of marriage, a wife and husband are then in parallel with each other. They are also in parallel because they continuously cooperate, and because their “blood” (kaprô: blood, or more figuratively, “substance”; Da Matta, 1976:102) has become similar through sexual intercourse over time [III.F.11.a] (Figures 39, 44).

Full (uterine) brothers and sisters are born in parallel because of their “identical” blood (Figure 38). Distantly related “siblings” can also be considered to be in parallel after they have agreed to put one of their own names on a child of their own sex but of the other sibling [III.E.4.a] (Figure 37). Such name-exchange “siblings” (maybe distant cousins) are in this same institutional mediating category and are always helping each other, so they are said to be in parallel.

In earlier times, young warriors, new to the status of being a proven war leader (hààprãl), were at first quite realistically seen as being in a hostile (competitive) relationship with the two or three older war leaders who governed the tribe [IV.C.1.d.(1).(c)]. Thus, by tradition, a new young war leader who had just returned from his first successful raid had to speak to the old war leaders using the formal term of address, hààpin (Formal Friend) (Glossary), a traditional institution, which automatically transformed their relationship into a complemen­tary paired one, based on the traditionally required mutual respect and cooperation [IV.C.1.c.(6)].

These relationships of first being in opposition and then in parallel through the facilitation of a mediating institution are expressed in diagram 9.

[V.A.5.b.(1).(b)] bridges

The Eastern Timbira Indians (mëhĩĩ) are in opposition to ghosts (më karõ), but a shaman (kay) and a ghost can comprehend (aypën pal) each other. Thus, while

Diagram 9

Indians and shamans are in parallel, shamans and ghosts are also in parallel, with the result that Indians, shamans, and ghosts form a bridge (hapãã): all three categories of persons are in parallel. Consequently, problems between Indians and ghosts can be resolved through the mediation of shamans [IV.D.1].

The uncut virgin forests (a?kuuni) (nature) and a Canela village (khrĩ) (called society by Seeger, 1981:22) are in opposition to each other (aypën kunãã-mã). A village, however, is in parallel with its gardens (pul), which support it through providing food, and the gardens are in parallel with thickets (a?khêt), which, when cut down, nourish the gardens. The thickets (secondary growth), in turn, are in parallel with the virgin forests because they are contiguous and mixed so that a village (society) comes to be in parallel with the forests through the mediation of the gardens and thickets: a hapàà (bridge) of four parallel items.

Quite similarly, some enemy tribes (khrĩ-tsà-re: tribe-hurtful-dim.) could be transformed into friendly ones, by the first tribe's making one member of the second tribe a Tàmhàk, i.e., a Visiting Chief (Glossary) [IV.C.1.d.(1).(a)] of the first tribe. Then the second tribe would do the same with a member of the first tribe. These two Visiting Chiefs were then seen as being a complementary pair with respect to each other as they also were with their own people, and consequently a "bridge" of four positively related human entities was formed: a me hapàà (the first tribe + the second tribe's Visiting Chief + the first tribe's Visiting Chief + the second tribe).

These relationships of first being in opposition and then in parallel through the facilitation of intermediary mediating bridging are expressed in diagram 10.

[V.A.5.b.(2)] Resolutions by Protecting Devices

In the case of protecting devices as the third element, the opposition is resolved (modification takes place) through

Diagram 10

preventing the two hostile forces from coming together or through the elimination of one of the hostile forces. These two opposing forces do not become neutralized or in parallel with each other as in the case of mediation (diagram 10), but modification does occur.

In festival roles, for example, each pubertal male Pepyê initiate (Plate 42a,d,e) is said to be in parallel with the restrictions (Glossary) he maintains during the ceremonial period of about three months. He is in opposition to the dangerous body "pollutions" believed to be contracted through eating "bad" (carregado: full, over-loaded, heavy) foods, especially meat juices (hĩĩ kakô ?khên: meat's juice bad) and by engaging in sexual relations [IV.D.3.f]. Maintaining such restrictions protects the youth from such pollutions (W. Crocker, 1982:154).

Red paint inhibits ghosts from snatching away the soul resulting in the death of the red painted Khêêtúwayê initiate, who is singing songs of the ghosts in the plaza [IV.A.3.c.(1).(b)] (Plate 41c), thus protecting the initiate.

Formal Friends of the members of the Pepkahàk festival troop break up a wasps' nest and kill the escaping wasps making it impossible for the Pepkahàk troop to get stung, thus protecting them.

The intervention of a protecting device, preventing the coming together of two opposing elements or the elimination of one of the hostile elements, is expressed in diagram 11.

Diagram 11

[V.A.5.b.(3)] Resolutions in Transforming Conditions

In transforming conditions either or both elements of an oppositional pair go through a profound change of state (shamanic, psychic, life-to-death, raw-to-cooked) with extreme modifications.

[V.A.5.b.(3).(a)] transformation of form

In full transformations, the item, when later transformed, is perceived to be in opposition with its initial state before its transformation, i.e., its modification. An example is raw meat and cooked meat which are very much in opposition, representing nature and culture (Levi-Strauss, 1969:64), respectively. The Canela see fire and wood as catalytic devices and as being in parallel with raw meat. Fire and chopped wood, as uses of civilization, are also perceived as being in parallel with cooked meat. Thus, fire and wood are transforming agents. Raw meat and cooked meat, however, are the same piece of meat, and so, a transformation from one state to another has taken place. Full transformation differs from mediation in that the items paired in opposition are really the same item except for a change in state (diagram 12).

Diagram 12

[V.A.5.b.(3).(b)] transformation in consciousness

Here, the transformative device, the third element of the modifying category of combined pairings, is in parallel with the first element only, enabling the first element sometimes to be in parallel with the second element with which it ordinarily is in opposition. This state of being temporarily in parallel enables the first element to eliminate the second element: a modification.

An example can be found in the relationship between an Eastern Timbira Indian (mëhïï) and a wild animal (prùù-re), representing society and nature, respectively (Seeger, 1981:34). They are believed to be in opposition with each other. A Canela man can be a hunter, and a hunter and his gun (katõk) are in parallel, research assistants say. More importantly, a hunter is also in parallel with his hunting restrictions (ipiyakri-tsà), as well as with certain vision facilitating “medicines.” Dutiful observance of these restrictions, and the taking of such medicines, transforms a man into a clear-seeing condition (into-kapôk: eyes lit-up) when he, consequently, is in parallel with game animals. It is said that when a hunter is in the state of being into kapôk, a deer (kaarà) will like him and even seek him out, with the obvious result that the hunter can shoot his quarry close at hand (diagram 13).

Diagram 13


[V.A.5.b.(4)]  Resolvable/Unresolvable Situations

Formerly, some situations in intertribal existence were not resolvable. Some tribes needed to become friendly to make alliances for survival, and so exchanged Visiting Chiefs [IV.C.1.d.(1).(a)], but these relationships were not very effective. There were always some hostile tribes in the Canela aboriginal existence, however, and such tribes lived in a perpetual state of opposition to each other (më ?kurê tswèn: they angry at-the-core: fundamentally hostile) [IV.C.1.c.(2)]; that is, no hapàà could be culturally constructed to bridge their traditional hostility (diagram 14).

Diagram 14


[V.A.5.c.(1)] Kin (Product) or Affines (Opposition)

The triadic paradigm (diagram 15) is supported by the fact that there are two parallel basic terms for “parent” (nàà and päm: mother and father) and one (a product) for “child” (khra). Similarly, there are two basic terms for “grandparent” (tùy and kêt: grandmother [aunt] and grandfather [uncle], or female ancestor and male ancestor), and one for grandchild (tàmtswè, or descendant [niece/nephew]) [III.E.2.b] (Figure 20). With affinal terms, for women born within the consanguineal family there are two terms in parallel (pree, preekêy: “in”-sister-in-law, mother-in-law) in opposition to the one reciprocal term outside the family but married into it (tswèy: “out”-sister-in-law or daughter-in-law) [III.E.3.a.(1),(2),(3)] (Figure 28). Turning to men who are in the consanguineal family there are two parallel terms (pree, preekêt: “in”-brother-in-law, father-in-law) in opposition to the one reciprocal term outside the family but married into it (piyõyê: “out”-brother-in-law,

Diagram 15

son-in-law). Besides the opposite-sex, same-generation classificatory spouse categories, this leaves mainly the opposite-sex, adjacent-generation “avoidance” affines for which there are two (nonparallel) male terms (wawê, khrã?tumyê: son-in-law, father-in-law) each in opposition to the one reciprocal female term (pãn: mother-in-law, daughter-in-law) [III.E.3.a.(4)] (Figure 28). No triad is formed here.

[V.A.5.c.(2)] Plaza versus Circle of Houses

A famous example of pairing (dualism) is the circular village plaza (kàà) and circle of houses (ikhre) surrounding it (diagram 16). Canela research assistants say that these two categories are in parallel because they “raise” (to aypa) children (a product) with each other’s help. Some specialists of Northern Gê-speaking Indians, however, see the village plaza and its ring of houses as being in oppositional opposition with each other, which is true in a limited synchronic context, just like women and men who are not related consanguineally or affinally. When, however, as the Canela explain, we see these pairs diachronically—working together cooperatively over time to produce products (aypën katsúwa), the fact that there are two different kinds of dualism (aypën kunãã mã and aypën katsúwa/ipiprol) becomes more obvious.

Diagram 16


[V.A.5.c.(3)]  “Universals”

Similar to the plaza and houses, the Canela see the problem of continuity in life in long-term diachronic terms (diagram 17), as found in their generating triads. Thus, when a woman as a farmer, in parallel with the soil of her garden, plants a seed to grow crops, the matured results are a product (p or +), not an element in paired opposition (x). Similarly, they say in modern times that God is in parallel with the earth to raise children, or Indian people (a product).

Diagram 17


[V.A.5.c.(4)] Absolute Opposition

The good (impey) is categorically in opposition to the bad (i?khên), according to research assistants, and never in parallel with each other [III.B.1.g]. Similarly, in modern times, God is in opposition with Satan, and they are never thought of as working together, even diachronically (Glossary: “Folk Catholicism”). Light (white) and dark (black) are also said to always be in opposition (diagram 18).

Diagram 18



The use of key terms [V.A.1] to identify perceived structures, or to represent the organization of sociocultural sectors, is an important device in this analysis of Canela “sociocultural sectors” (Glossary) and in the representations of dualism and triads. More examples of the use of such key terms or expressions follow to demonstrate the efficacy of this semantic structural approach, generally, and thereby to support the analysis specifically.

[V.B.1] Conceptualization of Time

The nature of time among lowland South American tribes has been extensively debated (Kaplan, 1977), but further clarification of this topic is warranted. The Canela have at least two kinds of time: (1) cyclical (amyi-yakhyê), and (2) linear (aypën khôt, as in Western civilization).


The Canela use the expression amyi-yakhyê (self turning-back-and-back: switching back and forth through time (t: cycling) to describe the movement of families that are continually shifting their base of operations between their village house and their farm hut, as is necessary in Canela life [II.E]. They also describe the movements of men’s name-sets by the term amyi yakhyê: their transmission through the generations (g) between a man’s longhouse and the longhouse in which he marries (diagram 19; Figure 36). (Sun and Moon move across the sky and back under the land in cyclical time.)

Diagram 19


In contrast to movement between village and farm, the following dualities are paired synchronically in opposition with each other: [V.A.5.c.(2)] climatic seasons (wet and dry), festival seasons (Më-ipimràk and Wè?tè), and ancestors (the females and the males). However, when the Canela choose to see these relationships diachronically, they are in parallel but do not have products. These pairs are described as moving together out of the past and approaching the speaker (aypên të: hither move). They then pass the speaker in the present and move on into the future (amu të: away move) (Figure 40). These seasons and ancestors, instead of cycling, are described as “following” each other (aypën khôt: related, following), pair by pair in file. Each pairing of two seasons is a different set of two elements (a new one), unlike the cyclical movement involving the same people switching between village and farm, or the same name-set switching between houses of birth and procreation generation after generation. This movement of a line of different items is the sequential world of time, and research assistants found it easy to draw this sequence in the sand during meetings. Even festivals, repeated year after year, are seen as separate items each year, following each other: linear time. (Research assistants already expressed time by making these kinds of linear drawings so that they easily extended this method to express kinship-reckoning while working for me.)

A further expression of linear time occurs in the term for “year,” which is pul (farm) [II.C.1.b] (Table 3). Because the Canela clear new land for a single crop each year [II.C.3.a], these “farms” are conceptualized as single elements following each other (aypën khôt) in a line. Thus, pairing is not an essential aspect of sequential time, which is paired or single depending on the nature of the items involved, e.g., seasons (two) or farms (one). No triads are formed in this aypën khôt linear time, which has no oppositions and no products.


Another kind of time was explained when presenting generating triads: aypën katsúwa time, in which a women with a man produces and raises a child over a relatively long period of time. The village circle of houses (women) cooperating with the plaza (men) to secure the future of the tribe (the product) follows the same pattern [V.A.5.c.(1),(2),(3)]. In aypën katsúwa time, the same three elements (whether individuals, groups, societies, or entities) are continuously renewing and adjusting their relationships over a long period of time (growing) without really changing the structure of their relationships, as the triad progresses along in linear time until the dissolution of the triad (often by death), or in some cases, in Canela conceptualization, lasting “forever” (plaza with houses and progeny).



The younger Kaapêltùk, the research assistant council, and I spent a number of days studying “chance” as a concept. They were familiar with the word for “accident” in Portuguese (acidente), but this term could be applied only to an automobile accident. I tried to apply it to events concurring by accident (chance), but this concept was not acceptable. For these research assistants, everything that occurred had to have an antecedent cause or set of preceding causes, and the cause or causes could not be random placement or timing: elements or events coming together coincidentally. Thus, because of the lack of a key expression in the semantic area for “chance,” I concluded that there is no such Canela concept, at least not in the Western sense. This observation is supported by the limited degree to which chance enters into any of their sports and games [II.F.3], and into their life in general.

I have reported on the study of chance undertaken in the field (spring, 1979) to show that the study of key expressions, as an analytical approach, can reveal both positive and negative evidence, that is, the presence or absence of concepts.

[V.B.3] Sectors Characterized by Set of Data-tested Systematized Perceptions

The Canela sociocultural system is characterized by a certain set of combined “pairings” (Glossary). These pairings reflect the organization of a considerable number of the principal “sociocultural sectors” (Glossary) of the overall system. This organized patterning was reconstructed for study by applying the meaning of certain key linguistic expressions [V.A.1] to various sociocultural sectors. These key expressions delineate and describe the culturally systematized perceptions of Canela reality: sociocultural, natural, and supernatural.

These characterizations enhance our understanding of the Canela world and of how the Canela resolve their problems. The structurally more rigid side of their world is organized by dualism, as so many researchers have written for the Gê-speaking tribes (e.g., Maybury-Lewis, 1979). For the Canela, this structuring can be seen in terms of either complementary or oppositional dualism. Dualities are often combined, forming a triad: two pairings of oppositional elements and one pairing of complementary ones. The Canela world is more dynamic, however, than this kind of dualism allows, because it is structured for change, modification, and problem solving.

When one sees the Canela world from this more dynamic, operational perspective, one focuses on the modifying triads instead of the fixed ones [V.A.4], and these modifying relationships (the elements of which necessarily change with respect to each other) have two pairings of complementary elements and one pairing of oppositional elements. The one element shared by the two complementary pairings (the “third element”) brings about the mediating, nullifying, eliminating, or transforming, and thus the resolving of the differences between the two elements of the one problematic (oppositional) pairing.

Even when an enemy (civilizados) is too numerous or well instated to be eliminated [In.4.c], the Canela may still resolve the conflict according to modifying patterns like the ones described above. To mediate a tribal difference with a backlander, for instance, the chief or the tribal council characteristically sends him a Canela who is his friend. If the difference cannot be mediated, they use a protective device, such as evasion or denial, to shield themselves from the dangers of the problem. If the difference necessarily must be resolved, they may go further and transform themselves into “friends” of the backlander, at least temporarily, and do something for him, appeasing him. Thus, the Canela are characterized by a considerable range of flexibility, with an emphasis on somehow solving almost every problem. This range is partly reflected in the variety of diagrammatic solutions presented above. Thus, Canela institutions and values are principally characterized as being focused on maintaining harmony for the group [III.D.3.e.(1)] and satisfaction for the individual [III.D.3.f].

[V.B.4] Triads and Canela Problem Resolution

I can understand that oppositional dualities represent the Central Gê, the Suyá, the Kayapó, and maybe even the Western Timbira (Apinayé) view of life. For the Shavante, this may be because of their sharp division between the “We” and the “They” (Maybury-Lewis, 1967:298–300, 307): two unresolved sides, and their high incidence of quarrels, hostility, and factionalism. They may prefer life relatively unresolved. Maybury-Lewis compares the relative presence or absence of factionalism, bellicosity, institutionalized aggression, men’s houses, and “strain and ambiguity in the male role” among the Central Gê, Kayapó, and Timbira, and he comments on the comparative harmony of the Timbira societies (Maybury-Lewis, 1967:305–309), which lack or have less of these social elements. The Suyá are like the Central Gê and Kayapó in that they have men’s houses and a higher level of factionalism and bellicosity (Seeger, 1981:90, 231) than the Eastern Timbira.

The relative harmony of the Eastern Timbira may be associated with their relatively greater cultural need to see mediation or amelioration in most situations. I have often felt the strength of the Canela compulsion to quickly resolve most community-disturbing situations. I was thoroughly impressed by the rapidity with which they resolved one case of witchcraft accusation [III.D.3.c.(5)]. Their festivals and social forms reflect this compelling need through triads instead of dualities, because triads as a pattern, especially in the modifying configurations, make the resolution of problems more feasible and likely. While the Canela do not ameliorate the aggression of the Clowns in the Fish festival [IV.A.3.c.(4).(c)], because the Clowns are operating largely outside the established system [III.B.1.d.(3)], it must be expected that they would mediate the hostility between the Wetheads and Dryheads and the Jaguars and Agoutis in these two establishment-oriented festivals: the Pepkahàk and the Closing We?tè [IV.A.3.c.(3),e]. Hostility in the first example is mitigated through a formal occasion for extramarital relations (institutional modifying) [II.B.1.c.(1)], and in the second example through the intermingling of the two men’s societies and their singing together facing the same direction (institutional modifying) [V.A.5.b.(1).(a)], which symbolizes unity in festivals.

Unresolvable hostilities appear to occur mostly outside the tribal village, such as among certain enemy tribes in early times, between two rival village chiefs in the late 1950s [III.D.1.g.(1).(b)], or in folk Catholicism of the 1970s [V.A.5.c.(4)]. Within the village, especially in the plaza [III.D.1.c.(1).(b)], disputes are resolved quickly within the group context and not on the individual level [III.B.1.c.(3)], and major traditional structural oppositions are overcome in particular institutional ways. For instance, the opposed sexes get married, come off the same umbilicus (uterine siblings) in birth (Figure 38), and minimize their distance through name exchange between “siblings” [III.E.4.a]. The opposition of adjacent generations seen in uncles disciplining adolescent nephews [III.A.3.b.(1).(d)] is reversed much later when uncles work with adult nephews to govern the households of their female kin.

Returning to the festivals, I sense that Canela individuals would walk away from these life stabilizing ceremonials feeling personally unsatisfied if they did not see these pageants’ principal hostilities resolved before their ending acts. The Festival of Oranges [IV.A.3.f.(5)] may dramatize the most conspicuous example of the amelioration of a structural opposition. Here the opposition portrayed is between women and men, and it includes a mock attack and several role reversing acts. At the end, the antagonism is shown as resolved by the women and the men marching and singing along side each other, literally in parallel with each other [V.A.1], facing in the same direction (Plate 54b). Then they turn and face west together, unified, and shout hostile phrases at hypothetical enemy tribes (Plate 54a).

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