search catalogue

Documentation of Kanamari


Language Kanamari
Depositor Stefan Dienst
Affiliation Goethe University, Frankfurt
Location Brazil
Collection ID 0158
Grant ID IPF0154
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

A collection of audio and video recordings of traditional stories, songs and ceremonies relating to the Kanamari lifestyle, their origins and the contact they have had with surrounding communities.


Group represented

Kanamari of the Juruá and Jutaí rivers. The Kanamari are an indigenous people of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, with separate groups living on the Jutaí, Itacoaí and Japurá rivers, as well as the Juruá River and several of its tributaries. The project’s fieldwork location, Flecheira, is a village on the Itucumã River, a right tributary of the Tarauacá River, which is in turn a right tributary of the Juruá River. The geographical coordinates of the village are 7°3’30″S 69°41’30” W.

The Kanamari people are one of four ethnic groups whose languages are usually classified as belonging to the Katukinan family. The three other groups are the Katukina, the Tsohom-Dyapa, and the Katawishi. Kanamari and Katukina are so similar that Queixalós (2005: 177), who has done fieldwork on both, considers them to be dialects of a single language. The Tsohom-Dyapa, whose name means ‘tucano clan’ in Kanamari, were only recently contacted and no data are available on their language. But since they are reportedly able to communicate with the Kanamari, they presumably speak a dialect of the same language, as well. This leaves Katawishi as the only other language of the Katukinan family. Katawishi is only known from two (partially divergent) wordlists. The speakers of this language who lived in contact with Brazilian society have been absorbed by it and their language has disappeared. An uncontacted group of Katawishi is believed to survive near the Purus river in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, but it is not known if they actually speak the language documented in the wordlists.

Portuguese is the language of the surrounding non-indigenous population. The only other surviving indigenous groups of the middle Juruá River region are the Kulina and the Deni, whose languages belong to the Arawan family and are closely related to each other, but unrelated to Kanamari. The only language of communication between the Kanamari and neighbouring indigenous and non-indigenous communities is Portuguese.

The Kanamari number about 2000 altogether. This is presumably also the number of first language speakers since language loss has not been reported from any Kanamari village. A handful of non-indigenous people living in the village Beija-Flor on the Itucumã River with their Kanamari spouses have acquired some knowledge of the language.The Kanamari exclusively use their own language among themselves, but traditional ceremonial contexts are vanishing and school classes are not regularly held, so that Kanamari is mainly the language of everyday family and village life.The language is still learnt by children of Kanamari couples as their first language. It is also the dominant language of children with a non-indigenous parent in the village Beija-Flor on the Itucumã River. In theory, indigenous children should receive bilingual schooling, learning how to read and write both their mother tongue and Portuguese, but the teaching in many indigenous villages in Brazil is notoriously poor and many Kanamari teens are illiterate.


Language information

Kanamari (knm) is a language of the Katukinan family spoken by 2,000 people in Brazil’s Amazon region (7°3’30″S 69°41’30″W). This documentation will include audio and video recordings, especially of threatened traditional events, with transcriptions and annotations, and a Kanamari-Portuguese-English dictionary. The data will be archived with ELAR and the Goeldi Museum in Belém, Brazil. The project will provide a phonetic description and a phonological analysis of the language, necessary for an adequate orthography, much desired by the speakers, who will be trained in this orthography, which will also be used for the transcription of the recordings.


Special characteristics

Kanamari is an ergative language whose syntax is of great typological interest. Transitive verbs occur in three different constructions, depending on whether they are used with a specific object, with a non-specific object or without an overt object. According to Queixalós (2007), the subject of a transitive verb is a part of the verb phrase whereas the object is outside the verb phrase. This makes Kanamari a counter-example to syntactic theories which assume that it is universally the object that is inside the verb phrase.


Collection contents

This collection consists of video and audio recordings of the Kanamari language spoken in the Brazilian state of Amazonas and a trilingual Toolbox dictionary. There are transcriptions and Portuguese translations of over 60 recordings and additional English translations of 16. The recordings include various types of narratives and songs, including ayahuasca ceremony songs which are partly in the Kulina language.


Collection history

From the depositor:’Most of the project was carried out on the Itucumã river, where three Kanamari villages are located. I paid a first visit to the village of Flecheira in 2004 in order to introduce myself to the community and propose to do research on their language. The Kanamari very much welcomed my proposal and I did fieldwork in Flecheira in 2006 and 2007 in a project on linguistic contact between Kanamari and Kulina. Since then, I’ve kept in touch with the community while working on other projects in Brazil. I visited Flecheira in February 2008 and in March 2009. On each occasion, the people of Flecheira and the neighbouring villages expressed their wish that I continue to work on their language. At a meeting held during my last visit, all the adults present signed a statement to that effect.

The consent of the community is a prerequisite for obtaining a research permit from Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI. Upon invitation, I worked for FUNAI from August 2008 to February 2009 and I’m familiar with the application procedure from my previous research. I obtained a new research permit before the proposed starting date of the documentation project.

Traditional Kanamari culture is in fast decline and the people welcome the opportunity to document their ancient way of life. The recordings will be made available to the community on DVD or CD. This will probably enhance the interest of the younger generations in their own culture and may help to slow its demise. Video cameras are already well established among some indigenous peoples of Brazil as a means of documenting and preserving their traditional lifestyle. I will train interested members of the community in the use of audio and video recorders to allow this practice to take root among the Kanamari, too. After training, many of the recordings for the project will be made by members of the community, giving an inside perspective rather than that of an outside observer’.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Dienst, Stefan. 2011. Documentation of Kanamari.  Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

Powered by Preservica
© Copyright 2023