Marajoara

02
  • Environment and Geography

    The Marajoara culture developed on the islands at the mouth of the Amazon River, especially on Gran Isla de Marajó, just offshore of the Brazilian mainland. This tropical island had extensive open areas and soil that was not well suited to agriculture.

  • Economy

    The Marajoara built up “artificial hills” along the riverbanks and lakesides they inhabited, managing to control the flow of water. They relied on this system in their intensive farming practices, rotating crop location according to the season: In the dry season, they grew their produce in the low lying areas in between the “hills”, while in the rainy season they planted on the hillsides to avoid flooding their crops.

  • Art

    Artistically, the Marajorara are most well known for their ceramics. They may have also produced other art forms such as featherwork and woodwork, but these would have perished over time in the humid climate. Their ceramic vessels came in a variety of shapes and sizes, but only some were decorated. Those were covered with white paint then fine red and black geometric motifs were drawn, resembling animals and humans. They also decorated their pieces with pastillaje and incisions, creating complex geometric designs in which the outlines of animal bodies, feline heads and humans can sometimes be discerned. They also made ceramic figurines of people, who were often seated. Other ceramic pieces included spindles for weaving, spoons (some decorated with animal heads), small stools (some decorated with human faces), bird-shaped whistles and weights for fishing nets.

  • Social Organization

    Little is known about Marajorara society. The huge variety of crafts and the attention to detail with which they were manufactured and decorated suggest that these groups were expert craftspeople, reflecting a society that had achieved some degree of social and political complexity.

  • Religion and Funerary Practices

    The Marajoaras deposited the bones of their dead in ceramic urns, of which they had three different kinds: human shaped urns, cylindrical urns, and globe-shaped ones. They covered the mouths of these urns with other clay pieces shaped like jugs. Inside, they placed smaller ceramic pieces to protect the bones. The few grave goods that have been found consist of animal bones painted red, stone or animal tooth necklaces, stone axes, miniature painted ceramic jugs and, most commonly, tangas, clay items used to cover the pubic area.

  • Settlement Pattern

    The Marajoara people built artificial mounds of different sizes, using the smallest of these, which measured up to 5 m high, as foundations for their dwellings. The largest were up to 10 m high and some 200 m long, and were used for ceremonial purposes, especially as burial grounds.

  • History

    At the zenith of the Marajoara culture, the Island of Marajó was the most important human occupation in the entire Amazon region, although almost nothing is known about its origins or fate. Today, however, its influence on certain inland indigenous groups has been noted, especially in the ceramic designs of the Shipibo Conibo people who inhabit the upper Amazon basin.

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