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The Indigenous Tupi-Guarani peoples from South America are composed of three subgroups:

– the Tupinamba and Guarani. They are scattered along the Atlantic coast and between the mouth of  the Amazon with Río de La Plata,
– the tribes along the Tocantins and Xingu rivers
– the tribes of the regions Tapajoz and Madeira

The association between Tupi and Guarani comes from their similarity regarding the socio-economic life, ritual practices, religious beliefs, and the structure of myths.

The Tupi and the Guarani share the same culture and language. There is no political unity between these tribes. Their relationship is a permanent state of war between themselves or with other Indians whose territory they are trying to conquer.

Tupi-Guarani men

The Tupi-Guarani believe that after death, the souls of great warriors and cannibals join the souls of their ancestors in a heavenly place and live in the company of the gods.

Death liberates two entities: 

– The earthly spectrum. That includes the deceased’s personality, passions, desires, memory, and character 

– The vital breath qualified as a soul word that represents the divine breath, identical to each one’s sacred name, which is individual but impersonal.

Tupi-Guarani Family

The Tupi-Guarani funeral rites are sad and joyful at the same time: they sing, dance, and intone prayers. To protect themselves from a possible danger caused by the deceased, they break all ties with him and exclude him entirely from the group’s memory. Because his place is now part of the cosmos, his possessions are buried or given to others.

Generally, when someone dies, they abandon the village. The deceased’s soul continues to bring various messages from the gods to those left behind. The skeleton represents the main instrument of communication with the divine.


The principal purpose of the funeral rites is to protect the living from the dead: they must be forgotten by the deceased. Another goal is to preserve the entire skeleton. In addition to the bones’ protection ritual, it is essential to avoid body dismemberment. The Tupi- Guarani consider that the vital principle of the deceased is locked in the bones. Through the bones, they can obtain the divine grace and the resurrection (to let flow the « verb » again). The risks and the dangers disappear when the body’s decomposition is complete.

The Guarani bury their dead in large jars of chicha (sweet corn beer), closed by a lid. The Tupi usually bury the body without an envelope, and add a protective element over the head, such as a ceramic container. The corpse may be laid in an urn, a bamboo basket, or kept in an envelope in a fetal position.

After decomposition, the bones are washed and preserved inside the ritual house in a container made of cedar. The family always brings them in case of a relocation.

As long as the process is not completed, several precautions are necessary. For example, they compress the body by wrapping it in clothes, with lianas and ropes, tying the legs, or filling the mouth with cotton.
The purpose of this practice is to ensure that the soul does not return to the body.

Cannibalism scene

Often the prisoners of war are destinated to be eaten after a ritual execution.

His corpse is not treated just like a simple portion of food because this may be interpreted as cannibalism.

During a special ceremony, they practice ritual anthropophagy. The whole community eats the hero’s body to incorporate his courage.

Cannibalism scene

Sources :

Olivier Allard, Passé/Présent des rites funéraires Guarani

Olivier Allard, De l’os, de l’ennemi et du divin. Réflexions sur quelques pratiques funéraires tupi-guarani

Christian Ferrié, Les cannibales de Montaigne à la lumière ethnologique de Clastres

Oswald de Andrade, Suely Rolnik, Manifeste anthropophage / Anthropophagie zombie


Métraux Alfred, La religion des Tupinamba et ses rapports avec celle des autres tribus tupi-guarani

Métraux Alfred, Écrits d’Amazonie. Cosmologies, rituels, guerre et chamanisme

Bernard Grunberg, Les indiens des petites Antilles, Des premiers peuplements aux débuts de la colonisation européenne 

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