search catalogue

Documentation and description of Karo, Brazil


Language Karo
Depositor Nilson Gabas Jr.
Location Brazil
Collection ID 0206
Grant ID FTG0009
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection aims to document and continue the description of Karo, a Tupian language spoken by approximately 130 Arara Indians in the Amazon region of Brazil. Although Karo is still the first language acquired by children, the small number of its speakers places Karo in danger of extinction.


Group represented

The collection contains materials from the Arara people living on the Arara reservation, the Área Indígena Igarapé de Lourdes, in I’tâ Tap and Pay Kap, the two villages where the Arara live.

The Arara traditionally lived in a vast region that ranges from the Tarumã River to the Machadinho River. Part of this area now became the Indigenous Reservation where they presently live, together with their traditional enemies, the Gavião (Hawk) Indians, speakers of a cousin language.

The Arara are probably among the few groups of Rondônia who underwent a process of tribalisation. Short after their first contact, in mid 50’s, many died from diseases, and the remainder rapidly became involved in rubber gathering, working for different farmers of the region. It was only in the mid-60’s that an employee of the Bureau of Indian Affairs invited the Arara to live in a reservation set aside for them and the Gavião Indians. They accepted and live there until now.

In 1987, when Nilson Gabas Jr. started to work with the Arara community, they had recently moved from a village close to the Gavião’s village to a new one, called I’tâ Tap. At that time, they were 96. Recently, due to a conflict among two of the Arara chiefs, part of the community moved away to form a new village, called Pay Kap. Approximately 90 Indians live in the first village, and the remaining 40 Indians live at Pay Kap.

The degree of endangerment of the language is relatively high. Although the language is still passed on to children, Portuguese is learned by everyone, and traditional kinship terms are not in use by younger generations. Portuguese is also the only language spoken by ten of the Arara Indians, including the chief of the second village. During the rubber extraction period, these Indians were raised by non-Indian families and did not have a chance to learn Karo. Speakers of both villages are in close contact with the neighbouring farmers, and Portuguese is the contact language for commerce and trading. Of the approximately 120 actual speakers of both villages, there are only six elder speakers who possess and maintain the traditional knowledge of the Karo language and culture. One of these speakers, sr. Cícero Arara, is a very well-known and respected shaman, already in his 70’s, and is willing to pass his knowledge through the methodology of video and audio recordings designed for this collection.

Only recently an orthography was designed for the language. In 2001, the Nilson Gabas Jr. developed an orthography specifically for the Arara, which is now starting to be implemented in the schools of both villages by Indian professors, with the help of Nilson Gabas Jr. Traditionally, only Portuguese, Mathematics and Sciences were taught in these schools, where approximately two dozen Indians can be considered literate in Portuguese. Only two Indians, Sebastião Arara and Rute Arara, the primary consultants for this collection and currently professors hired by the State Education Office, are literate in Karo. Sebastião Arara, Rute Arara and the overall community are highly aware of the necessity to have records of their traditional knowledge, and that if nothing is done shortly, a great deal of their tradition will disappear when these few speakers pass away.


Language information

Karo (Tupian, Ramarama branch) is a language spoken in the Igarapé de Lourdes Indian Reservation, in the Amazon region, State of Rondônia, Brazil, by nearly 130 Arara Indians. The Arara share their reservation with the Gavião Indians, speakers of Gavião, a cousin language.

Karo is spoken as a first language by language learners, with Portuguese being the second language. Alternate names for Karo are Arára, Arára de Rondonia, Arára do Jiparaná, Arara-Karo, Itanga, Itogapuc, Itogapúk, Ntogapid, Ntogapig, Ramarama, Uruku, Urukú.

Karo belongs to the Ramarama branch of the Tupi family. As is the case with a significant part of the Brazilian Indian languages, almost nothing was known about Karo beyond small wordlists and no systematic linguistic research had been done previously with the language until 1987, when Nilson Gabas Jr. started his research. As results of the research, a few articles, book chapters and three books were published, dealing with different aspects of the language. In 1999, a grammar of the language was written as a Ph.D. dissertation at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


Collection contents

When completed, the collection will include

  • audio and video recordings of the few cultural activities still performed by the Arara (traditional singing, feasts and ceremonies as well as daily affairs, tricks for animal hunting, animal and bird calls, and manufacture making
  • recordings of narratives (myths, folktales, dialogues, re-telling of events, etc.)
  • transcriptions and translations into Portuguese of the narratives, as well as full linguistic glosses (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, discourse, plus an exemplification of texts with interlinear glosses)
  • a Karo-Portuguese dictionary based on an electronic dictionary with at least 5,000 lexical entries, based on the narratives as well as elicitations based on the the various collections of the Museu Goeldi (Botany, Anthropology, Zoology)
  • a full grammar of Karo
  • a book of traditional narratives
  • short video documentaries based on the recordings of the cultural activities


Collection history

Nilson Gabas Jr. has been working on the Karo language since 1987. The new materials for this collection were gathered between 2005 and 2006 during four fieldtrips to the Arara Reservation, each of approximately two months, as well as during one visit of an Indian consultant to Belém.


Other information

Copies of the materials will also be archived at the Archive of Indigenous Languages of the Museu Goeldi and at the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) of the University of Texas.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Gabas Jr., Nilson. 2015. Documentation and description of Karo, Brazil. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

Powered by Preservica
© Copyright 2024