Xingu tribes (naming themselves Ukuche) are indigenous peoples of Brazil living on the banks of Xingu river (right inflow of the Amazon river). Xingu people represent fifteen tribes and their population is about 800. As a result of total isolation from external influence for centuries, these tribes having different ethnologies formed a community; they share similar belief systems, rituals and ceremonies. Each tribe occupies a separate village which is pre-planned and featured circular plazas with 5-7 big oval shaped houses (separate for men and women; men's houses are in the middle). Xinguano do not wear clothes (except girls wearing a small triangle at the pubis). Recently, as tourists appear here, women started wearing panties.
Traditional culture of the native people living in Brazil Amazon region includes ritual athletic games and festivals where people compete in variety of sports – from “tug-of-war” to wrestling. The both, men and women participate in them. The games give the Brazilian indigenous people an opportunity to congregate, re-affirming and in some cases rediscovering their traditional skills and values, as well as to be in good physical shape. The most famous sports of Xingu peoples is Huka-Huka wrestling which made them well-known and attracted tourists from all over the world. The pre-wrestling dance Huka-Huka became popular anywhere.
In the male dominated society women invert the situation in the ritual of “Yamurikuma” held in the dry season, in which they wear feather ornaments and ankle rattles which are normally used by the men, perform with weapons making typically male movements. Besides many other activities – unmarried women wrestle Huka-Huka as men do. For Xinguano, top ranking in wrestling is an important element of the tribe proud.
Jungle inhabitants like to test their strength against people from other villages. According the tradition, male visitors are expected to wrestle with anyone in the village when they arrive. If girls are among the guests, local girls can challenge them in turn. Actually, wrestling contests have replaced intertribal wars of the past. Having guests from other villages, local women chant songs that refer to male sexuality and encourage male guests to wrestle against local men.
Huka-Huka is named after the sound wrestlers make as they circle around opponents before wrestling begins: they expel air from their lungs, which better prepares them to the bout, and gives them additional strength. Both strength and agility are required, the object being to grasp the opponent by his or her upper leg or to throw him or her on the ground. Although people in some tribes wrestle standing, others start the contest kneeling on the ground (true Huka-Huka stipulates that starting position). If wrestlers start a bout on the knees they try to stand up to perform a throw from the standing. These rules and traditions, however, are strict just for men – women wrestle in more freestyle manner often leaning heavily on the opponent from kneeling without standing up (see the video clip).
During the events men and women compete in archery, carrying logs, running, swimming and pulling ropes in the “tug-of-war”. The competitions alternate with ritual dancing. The Yamurikuma ritual culminates with wrestling of the Huka-Huka. Women usually don’t hesitate to act bare breasted but for wrestling they usually wear simple decorated bras.
A chief of the ritual sits on a small cot on the area and calls each wrestler by name inviting pairs to the playground. Usually, individual pairs of experienced wrestlers begin. Then several pairs of young wrestlers come out into the playground and compete simultaneously: young boys, then – girls and unmarried women.
Wrestlers stand face to face, hit by right feet against the ground, circle around, make ritual moves and deliver sounds, “Hu! Ha! Hu! Ha!”. A match usually lasts just for seconds and finishes when one of the opponents is thrown down. This fall doesn’t have to occur literally though; sometimes seizing the both opponent’s knees (which would lead to a throw) is enough to designate the victory. The winning athlete opens arms and dances while the loser is singing and imitating a bird.
The athletic rituals not just help the rainforest inhabitants to be in a good physical shape but also represent another way to rouse sexuality; wrestling particularly seems to be the most powerful aphrodisiac for the both genders.
One of prominent ethnographer and anthropologist researching Amazon indigenous tribes answered our question regarding female ritual fights (not literally): “Female fighting as a systematic phenomenon is inherent either in primitive tribal societies or in higher stages of the civilization. Women of the latter category usually seek to be involved in any possible human activity, even in those which are not compatible with their biology, anatomy and physiology. In primitive hunting and nomadic societies, women had more freedom and more points to be able to protect their families while men are out for hunting, pasturage or war. So, physical strength and dexterity were very important for those women. Examples: early Arabs, Mongols, Papuans, Amazon Indians, Bolivian mountaineers, some African tribes, particularly Tuaregs...” Since the answer is not quite political correct, the scientist asked not to mention his name.
We have put a few questions to well-known Russian ethnographer and anthropologist Andrey Matusovsky.
First of all, what particular life style of Xingu tribes determined the Huka-Huka tradition?
In case of the Xingu tribes (Waura, Yawalapiti, Mehinako, Kalapalo, Matipu, Nahukua, Aweti, Kamaiura, Kuikuro, and Trumai) it is their cultural common. As a result of the long last close coexistence, many cultural elements became common, and Huka-Huka is one of them.
What is the purport of these mass female single combat matches?
Now it is just a sport, as for men.
Aren’t women involved in wrestling to attract tourists?
No, this is an old tradition. (In fact, there are quite few touring in Xingu, first tourists appeared only in 2000s.)
Is an absolute winner determined. Are tournaments held like in Olympic sports? How?
You have correctly mentioned that whoever throws the opponent on the ground is the winner. Nowadays, Amazon Olympic games are held in Brazil and Xinguans participate in them with Huka-Huka. It is simple in villages: guests come – wrestling matches are anticipated. I have not seen any special regularities in wrestling matches occurred between Waura and Kamaiura.
What are the main rules and terms?
You have correctly described them on your site.
Who participate (only unmarried women may)?
Whatever I have seen, yes, only unmarried girls.
Are there any special wrestling training conducted? Who tranes girls?
I guess, yes (but I didn’t see and didn’t ask). I know that men have a tutor, a wrestling guru.
Does a victory raise a social status of a girl?
I didn’t obtain more specific but I think it doesn’t. Everyone just knows she is a good wrestler. She might be selected as an experienced fighter when visiting another village. Prestige of the tribe is more important.
Just a general philosophic question to you as an anthropologist. Why women in some tribes participate in such non-traditional female activity as wrestling? What is peculiar about these tribes?
A kind of ritual hostility exists between men and women in Xingu, which become apparent in all their religious-mythological values. There are many ritual taboos for women. You have correctly mentioned on your site that women are allowed to “win back” during a special celebration by mimicking male essence. I guess, the reason why women participate in Huka-Huka should be sought here.
Brief video overview of Andrey Matusovsky's video materials
taken during his expedition to the Indian tribe Waura inhabiting in Brazilian National Park "Xingu" in the Matu-Grosu state.
A part of his author's popular science documentary "Smaller People in the world".
December 2012 (renewal)
Exclusive of Female Single Combat Club"
Indigenous Xingu girls amuse Western female tourists by wrestling with them
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