Traditional games and sport among the brazilian indians

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Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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The study of traditional games and sport among the Indians requires knowledge of their culture and of their biocultural adaptation to the environment. Some kind of typology for intercultural comparison and for longitudinal study might be used but above all these games and sports should be studied with regard to their ritual symbols. In addition, one has to consider the difficulty of showing the impact of predominantly Spanish and Portuguese influences, practices and customs in South America. Some foreign games were incorporated into the local culture and disseminated in the area; some of them were eradicated. And also the natives might perceive their play activities in different ways when compared with other Indian groups and culture, which means that the same game can have a different meaning and be used in a different context. The purpose of this study is to give an overview to the traditional games and sport practices among Brazilian Indians.


This study is based on two sources of information: literature review and ethnographic research studies conducted under the supervision of the author among the Brazilian lands of the Kamayurá, Kadiwéu and Kaingang.


The games usually consist of a description of a series of contests in which the demiurge, the first man, the cultural hero overcomes some opponent, a foe of the human race, by exercising superior cunning, skill or magic. The puberty ritual in the Kamayura Indians reflects the importance of the fight, called Uka Uka, to build up the person, to reach the ideal type of Kamayura. This group lives in a more traditional way, in an isolate land in Xingu. The Kadiweu and Kaingang Indians have contact with urban areas. But one still can see the influence of the myth of creation in the games and sport practice among them. The covenant with the divinity is the fundament of the Kadiweu warrior spirit and, therefore, it defines "the ideal type of person" recognized by their culture, i.e. "the great warrior". The Kaingang Indians have decreased the traditional games practice in the last century and increased the football practice in the last 70th years. The football has been an international factor with the "world of the white people" and contributed for the identity and the ethnical affirmation/distinction of the group.

Discussion and Conclusion

Games and sport reflect the principle values of social organization. They are one of the ways of building up the physical and psychosocial strength of human beings in order to be able to adapt to social life and to their environment. We can still see the influence of the myth of creation in different the Indian groups, living in different stage of their culture. It is possible that the revival of traditional games and the sport practice may give the group strength, a sense of belonging, an identity, physical culture, and the recognition of alterity, difference and diversity.


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