overview & history

The Sateré-Mawé Tribe

Sateré-Mawé girl
Sateré-Mawé girl

They call themselves Sateré-Mawé. The first word, Sateré, means “burning caterpillar”, a reference to their society’s most important clan, which traditionally appoints the the group’s political chief’s successor. The second word, Mawé, means “intelligent and curious parrot” and is not a clan designation.

The Sateré-Mawé are simply called Mawé in the region. They have been called several names, given by chroniclers, pioneers, missionaries and naturalists: Mavoz, Malrié, Mangnés, Mangnês, Jaquezes, Magnazes, Mahués, Magnés, Mauris, Mawés, Maragná, Mahué, Magneses, Orapium.

Sateré-Mawé live in the region of the mid Amazon river, on the border of the States of Amazonas and Pará. With a total area of 788,528 hectares, their territory is located in the municipalities of Maués, Barreirinha, Parintins, Itaituba e Aveiro, situated in both States.

According to a Funai estimate (Fundação Nacional do Índio – National Foundation for the Indian, the official organ for Indian policy in Brazil), the Sateré-Mawé were 4,710 in 1987. Since then, a considerable growth in population has occured, where in 2014 the estimated total population was 13,350 Sateré-Mawé inhabiting 73 villages.



According to oral traditions shared by tribe elders, Sateré-Mawé ancestors lived in the vast area located between the Madeira and Tapajós rivers, the Tupinambaranas Islands on the Amazon river in the north and the Tapajós headwaters in the south.

The Sateré-Mawé refer to their place of origin, where their mythical heroes live, by the name of Noçoquém. It is located on the left bank of the Tapajós, in a rocky region of dense forest, “where the rocks speak”.

The Sateré-Mawé had their first contact with white men when Jesuits founded the Tupinambaranas Mission, in 1669. According to Bettendorf, in 1698 the Andirá received Father João Valladão as missionary. In 1692, after they killed a few white men, the colonial government declared “just war” (legal, justified) against them, which was partially avoided by the Indians because, informed in advance, most of them ran away, so that only a few offered resistance.

Sateré-Mawé community
Sateré-Mawé community

From the time of contact with white men – and even before that, due to the wars against the Munduruku and Parintintim – the Sateré-Mawé’s ancestral territory has been considerably reduced. When Amazonia’s most important insurrection against the cabanagem (the central government after the independence of Brazil) erupted in 1835, the Munduruku, the Mawé (from the Tapajós and Madeira rivers) and the Mura (from the Madeira river), along with the indigenous groups of the Negro River joined the Cabanos rebels, and surrendered only in 1839. Epidemics and atrocious persecution against the indigenous groups that sided with the insurgents devastated huge areas of the Amazon Region, either forcing these Indians out of their traditional territories or reducing their numbers.

Travellers’ reports confirm that there has indeed been a territorial reduction as of the 18th century, and mention the area between the rivers Marmelos, Sucunduri, Abacaxis, Parauari, Amana and Mariacuã as the Sateré-Mawé’s traditional territory. These reports confirm also that the cities of Maués and Parintins, in the State of Amazonas, and Itaituba, in Pará, were built atop Sateré-Mawé sites, which coincide with passages of this people’s oral history.

Thinking in terms of macro-territory, the occupation of the Amazon region by the “civilizados” (civilized) –the word the Sateré-Mawé use to designate all those who are neither Sateré-Mawé nor do they belong to another Indian group (i.e. caboclos, or mestiços, white men, foreigners) – has significantly reduced their traditional territory. First it was military as well as the Jesuit and Carmelite missions; later came the economic cycle of forest products; next, rubber extraction; and finally the expansion of the cities of Maués, Barreirinha, Parintins and Itaituba into their hinterland, with the establishment of farms, the extraction of pau-rosa (rosewood) and the opening of mineral prospecting fields, as well as the control of the Indian’s economy through the regatões (merchants that ply the rivers of the Amazon Region).

Medicinal paraphernalia
Medicinal paraphernalia

In 1978, when the demarcation process of the Sateré-Mawé territory began, the villages, sites, roças, cemeteries and the territories used for hunting, fishing, gathering and roaming were located between and in the vicinity of the Marau, Miriti, Urupadi, Manjuru and Andirá rivers. The Sateré-Mawé considered that area theirs, although they were aware that it was no more than a small portion of what had been their traditional territory. For them, a privileged part of their territory had been kept.

It should also be pointed out that as of the 1970s, the migratory movement towards Manaus increased. In 1981, the anthropologist Jorge Osvaldo Romano counted 88 Sateré-Mawé living in poor neighborhoods of the city’s outskirts. By the end of the 1990s, the number had grown significantly, and some 500 Sateré-Mawé lived in different housing projects in Manaus’ western edge. This urban population lives, in most cases, from the sale of arts and crafts to tourists.



continue to language & traditions