Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The name "Tupinamba" was a collective term applied to a number of Tupi-Guarani speaking tribes in addition to the Tupinamba proper. Information on the Tupinamba is available from the sixteenth century until the mid-eighteenth century, at which time they appear to have become extinct. The Tupinamba were widely dispersed along the Atlantic coast from southern São Paulo to the mouth of the Amazon River. Subsistence was based primarily on agriculture.


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South America --Eastern South America



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

The Tupinamba collection consists of 27 documents, 11 being translations from the French, 7 from the Portuguese, 1 from Latin, and 8 in English. The major time focus of the collection ranges from about 1550 to 1700 A.D. Alfred Métraux, one of the foremost experts on the Tupinamba, provided much of the original document selection on this ethnic group, and most of the translations of eHRAF documents 1-18 in this collection. His works on material culture (Métraux, 1928, no. 19), on Tupí migrations (Métraux, 1927, no. 22), and his culture summary of the Tupinamba (Métraux, 1948, no. 24), provide an excellent background for a study of a now extinct people. The latter study mentioned above which provides a general summary of the entire culture, probably should be read first and then supplemented by the first hand ethnographic accounts presented in eHRAF documents nos. 1-5, and 9. Staden (1928, no. 1) is a very comprehensive account of the culture written by a sailor who was held captive for nine months in 1547. Although Thevet (1878, 1575, nos. 2 and 3) visited Brazil only briefly in 1555, he was an astute observer and collected a wealth of ethnographic data on the Tupinamba during the short time he was in the area. The two documents by Léry (1880, 1906, nos. 4 and 5) also provide much valuable information on Tupinamba culture based on material dating from 1557. Cardim (1906, no.9), written by a Portuguese Jesuit who was a longtime resident of the region, is also a valuable source of information on Tupinamba ethnology for the period of 1580-1600. The other documents in this collection partially reinforce the data in the major studies mentioned above and help to fill in gaps in the material. The researcher should note that none of the original authors contributing information to this collection were trained observers in the modern social science sense and caution should be used in evaluating the data.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary and synopsis were prepared by John Beierle in January 2003.

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