The Trumai people live in the Xingu reserve, in the central area of Brazil. The reserve – which can be subdivided into two big areas, Upper and Lower Xingu – is officially recognized and protected by the Brazilian government. The area is administrated by the federal organization named FUNAI, Fundação Nacional do Índio, which deals with issues related to indigenous people in the entire country (www.funai.gov.br)
There are several indigenous groups living in the reserve. The languages spoken by these groups belong to the four major stocks of Brazilian languages: Tupi, Arawak, Cariban, and Ge. The Trumai language does not belong to any of these stocks nor to other small Brazilian linguistic families. Genetically speaking, Trumai is considered an isolate language.
The Trumai people live mainly in three villages in the reserve: Terra Preta, Boa Esperança, and Steinen. There are also Trumai families living in other places inside the reserve, and in the towns of Canarana and Vera, cities close to the Xingu reserve.
Although the Trumai population has more than 100 individuals, the number of people who effectively speak the language is smaller. There are several historical explanations for the decreasing number of speakers. Nowadays the majority of the young members of the community can still understand Trumai, but many of them use Brazilian Portuguese – the official language of Brazil – in their communicative interactions. In the Trumai community, there are also individuals who speak other languages of the Xingu reserve (e.g. Kamayurá, Aweti, Suyá, and Waurá); these individuals joined the group via intertribal marriage.
In the last years, access to the cities close to the reserve became easier, and as a consequence trips to these cities have become more and more frequent. The intensified contact with life in the cities is producing many changes in the Xingu reserve, such as the introduction of western clothes, radio, TV, industrialized food, etc. The use of the Portuguese language is also becoming heavier. Eventually, these changes will have serious effects on the culture of the groups of the reserve.
The Trumai people are already aware of this fact, and they feel that it is necessary to take some actions in order to protect their linguistic and cultural knowledge. With the loss of a language and its repertoire of myths, chants, and oral practices, a whole view of the world is gone, as well as its lexical, grammatical, and discursive manifestations. To preserve a language is a most important task, which the Trumai people value very much. They care about their traditions, and they are interested in documenting and maintaining them. The aim of the present project is to provide the Trumai speakers with an opportunity of conducting such documentation, building an archive with a variety of materials, so that in the future many people can get in touch with the richness of the Trumai language and culture.
“Clearing and preparing the field for planting manioc” – drawing made by Tawalu Trumai. © 1996-2003 by the Trumai community
This drawing, made by Karuwaya Trumai, is one of the beautiful illustrations found in the educational materials of the Trumai people. © 1996-2003 by the Trumai community
Trumai men can catch fish through the use of arrows; they have excellent aiming skills. Here we see arrows that can be used to catch fish. They have a very sharp tip. The lower end is decorated with bird feathers. © 2002-2004 by Raquel Guirardello-Damian.
The Trumai people sometimes bake fish directly on the fire. Afterwards they are eaten with manioc bread, which is called t’ak in Trumai.
© 2002-2003 by Raquel Guirardello-Damian.