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Native South Americans of Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay

Updated on February 17, 2022
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

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A modern Tupi chief.
A modern Tupi chief. | Source

One Thousand Tribes in Brazil

At least a thousand different tribes of Native South American have lived in Brazil.

Before Spanish and Portuguese explorers landed in the Caribbean Islands, Florida, Mexico, Central America and South America around 1500, these thousand separate tribal groups or lived in Brazil alone, but many more inhabited the surrounding lands.

This long-time indigenous population included upwards of 13,000,000 people or more, but in the early 21st Century, there were fewer than 400,000 remaining in official government counts.

Original Hispanic Exploration


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Florida, USA

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Central America:
Central America

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Union of Indigenous Nations

In 1979, the Union of Indigenous Nations was established as the first national indigenous organization in Brazil, directed solely by South American Indians, without interference from the national government or the Catholic Church. After 1988, new language was added to the Brazilian Constitution to support indigenous peoples.

Brazilian Indigenous People
Brazilian Indigenous People | Source

The federal government of Brazil sent soldiers into some of the native lands to eject illegal logging operations, thus saving parts of the Amazon rain forest.

The Guarani Forced Westward in the 1600s

Sao Paulo:
São Paulo, State of São Paulo, Brazil

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Site of slave trade of Guarani people after European arrival.

Gran Chaco:
Gran Chaco, Bolivia

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Substantial group of Guarani

Pilcomayo River:
Pilcomayo River

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Guarani Settlement

Andes Moutains:

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Guarani Settlement

Brazilian Indigenous Warriors

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Indigenous Brazil: Major Groups

As reported by Survival International, the major native nations of indigenous Brazilian people have been reduced to the following list:

  • Awa-Guaja
  • Guarani - about 80,000 and the largest group in Brazil as well as elsewhere on the continent. They live in seven different states. Paraguay is another major homeland for these people, with far fewer numbers than found in Brazil.
  • Kanamari, Kaxinawa
  • Maku/Mauxi
  • Matis (not "Meti"s) - These people's magic animal is the jaguar and they use the drug curare as a weapon, a paralyzing drug. It is weaker doses of curare used in the Louisiana Delta and the Caribbean that first gave rise to "zombies."
  • Tenharim, Terena, Tikuna, Tukano, Tupi
  • Waimiri-Atroari
  • Yanomami

Some Tribes Remain Isolated

According to the Brazilian government, at least 50 tribes of native Brazilians have never met a Caucasian.

Yanomami Girl in traditional attire and decorative accessories.
Yanomami Girl in traditional attire and decorative accessories. | Source

Lesser-Known Brazilian Tribal Groups

  • Amanye, Atikum
  • Baniwa, Botocudo, Bara
  • Enawene-Nawe
  • Kadiweu, Kaingang, Kamayura, Karaja, Kayapo, Kubeo, Kaxinawa, Kokama, Korubo, Kulina-Madiha
  • Mbya, Makuxi, Matses, Mayoruna, Munduruku, Mura
  • Nambikwara
  • Ofayé
  • Pai Tavytera, Panara, Pankararu, Pataxo, Piraha, Paiter, Potiguara
  • Satere Mawe, Surui do Para
  • Tapirape, Tremembe
  • Waorani, Wapixana, Wauja, Witoto
  • Xakriaba, Xavante, Xukuru

Federal Native Reserves

Kayapo Brazil:
R. Tv. Kayapo - Região Central, Foz do Iguaçu - PR, 85856-240, Brazil

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Xikrin, Brazil:
R. Xikrin, Parauapebas - PA, 68515-000, Brazil

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Parakana, Brazil:
R. Parakanã, Canaã dos Carajás - PA, Brazil

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Mae Maria, Brazil:
Mãe Maria, Várzea Grande - MT, Brazil

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Sororo, Brazil:
Rio Sororó, Pará, Brazil

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Alto Turiaco:
EM Alto da Alegria - Alto da Alegria, S-N - Povoado, Turiaçu - MA, 65278-000, Brazil

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Caru, Brazil:
São João do Carú, MA, Brazil

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Araribóia, Vila Valério - ES, Brazil

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Brazilian Fish Dance of Joy


Seventeen Tribes

Paraguay's original native peoples are thought to have been divided into at least 17 to 19 different tribal groups.

These tribes represented only six separate language families, meaning that many of these tribes were related, perhaps in subgroups of two or three tribes or more.

The ancient Brazilian thousand tribes likely mixed with Paraquay and Uruguay peoples, especially after the oncoming influx of Spanish and Portuguese explorers and settlers who drove the indigenous groups westward together.

Most of the Paraguay Natives Live in Gran Chaco

Chaco Paraguay:
Alto Paraguay Department, Paraguay

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Gran Chaco:
Gran Chaco, Bolivia

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Paraguay indigenous peoples include at least five language groups:

  • Guarani of the same people in Brazil and Bolivia (Ache, Ave, Mbya, Pai Tavytera, Nandeva, and Guarani Occidental)
  • Maskoy (Toba Maskoy, Enlhet Norte, Enxet Sur, Sanapana, Angaite, and Guane)
  • Mataco Mataguayo (Nivacle, Maka, and Manjui)
  • Zamuco (Ayoreo, Yvytoso, and Tomaraho)
  • Guaicuru (Qom)

In 2015, the Xakmok Kasek tribe was legally allowed to return to their land in Paraguay after 30 years in exile.



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Charrua People
Charrua People | Source

The sole indigenous inhabitants living in Uruguay before Spanish and Portuguese settlers advanced on them were a single tribe Known as the Charrua Indians.

The Charrua comprised a small nation of people that had been driven south by another tribe, the Guarani Indians of Paraguay and Brazil. The Charrua were likely forced into the northwestern part of the continent abutting Uruguay, because the Guarani were widespread in territory, especially throughout Brazil and Bolivia.

The Charruan language is related to those of other nations, including the Yaró, Guenoa, Bohane, and Minuan peoples.

A Spanish cattle breed, berrenda en colorado.
A Spanish cattle breed, berrenda en colorado. | Source


The Charrua were determined to keep their land in Uruguay and not to be displaced again. The Spanish advanced into Uruguay in the early 16th century, but the Charrua resisted relocation. They possessed no treasures - no gold or silver - so the Spanish coexisted with them.

These Europeans introduced the natives to cattle and horses and the Spanish kept the Portuguese in Brazil, so the Charrua may have been saved from destruction that would result by additional settlers advancing.

Spanish Mustangs.
Spanish Mustangs. | Source


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2008 Patty Inglish MS


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