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The Xavante (also Shavante, Chavante, Akuen, A'uwe, Akwe, Awen, or Akwen) are an indigenous people, comprising some 9,600 individuals (2000 est.) within the territory of eastern Mato Grosso state in Brazil. They speak the Xavante language, part of the Jé language family.
They were enslaved in the 17th century, after which they have tried to avoid contact. A temporary coexistence with westernized society in the 19th century in the state of Goiás, was followed by withdrawal to Mato Grosso (between 1830–1860). They were re-"discovered" during the 1930s. From 1946 to 1957, they were brought under dictator Getúlio Vargas’s National Integration Program, and experienced massacres and disease. Due to this history, they have a distrust of White or Portuguese men. Today they are still wary of any approach of non-Xavante, called "waradzu".
The Xavante leader Mário Juruna was the first indigenous Brazilian to become a federal representative.
The Xavante, like other indigenous tribes, were treated badly by the "white man" beginning in the 1960s, the Xavante were moved from their homeland in Mato Grosso to a southern, malnourished area of Brazil. There, thousands of Indians died due to disease, famine and warfare. Within the last decade, the Xavante have been relocated back to their original lands. Unfortunately, due to landgrabbing and squatters, the land was destroyed. Lush forest was burned to create sparse wasteland and pasture.
Recently, John Carter, has aided the Xavante by donating 100 head of cattle to the tribe. He continually stands up for the people and is currently on friendly terms with the chief and the members. While their condition is still dire, surviving off of only rice and what little vegetables they can grow on their land, the Brazilian government is finally stepping in to help out the Xavante people.
The people are renowned as beautiful and prideful. They may be most famous for their dualistic societal structure. Two clans, the Âwawẽ and Po'reza'õno compose the culture, and marriage is not allowed between members of the same clan. An example of inter-clan relationships are the traditional log races, where the two clans compete in a race to carry palm tree trunks weighing as much as 80 kg to a defined point.
The Xavante are also known for their complex initiation rituals for young males, such as when small wooden sticks are inserted in the earlobes at the age of fourteen. As time passes, the size of these adornments is increased for the rest of their lives.
In 1996 the Brazilian heavy metal band Sepultura stayed and recorded with the Xavante people, who featured on their album Roots. A small number of Xavante even travelled to São Paulo to partake in Sepultura's Barulho Contra Fome (Noise Against Hunger) concert in 1998 that marked the start of their tour for their follow-up album, Against where their presence was featured in the music video for the song "Choke".
- Seth Garfield, Indigenous Struggle at the Heart of Brazil: State Policy, Frontier Expansion, and the Xavante Indians, 1937–1988, Duke University Press, 2001: ISBN 0-8223-2665-5