Xavante (A’uwẽ) ceremonial foods: Maize and wild starchy root vegetables

WELCH, James R. - Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The indigenous Xavante (A’uwẽ) people of Central Brazil consider certain game meats, garden produce, and collected foods to be especially appropriate gifts in certain ceremonial contexts. Although they also may be eaten on other occasions, these are highly esteemed as gifts due to their mythological connotations, extraordinary healthfulness, and association with traditionalist values. In this paper I look at how Xavante produce, utilize, and understand maize and wild starchy root vegetables, which are some of the most highly esteemed plant foods among members of this ethnic group. Xavante families cultivate maize in relatively small quantities and direct most of the yield to the preparation of large loaves, which are commonly given as gifts on such occasions as ceremonial parenthood rites, marriage arrangement proposals, incorporation into age sets, rites of passage into adulthood, and spiritual rituals. Maize production was a key factor in scheduling the annual trekking cycle and continues to structure the annual ceremonial calendar. Wild starchy root vegetables (roots, tubers, and rhizomes), also given as presents at such conspicuous moments as incorporation into age sets and spiritual rituals, are considered the intellectual property of women, who collect them and protect the secrets of their identification. Xavante consider these two traditional plant foods central symbols of their ethnic identity and strategic dietary mechanisms for maintaining bodily and spiritual health.