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The Iauaretê Waterfall

The Iauaretê waterfall is located in the Uaupés River, in the Alto Rio Negro region, in the Iauaretê district, located in the municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, state of Amazonas. Located 870km from Manaus, Amazonas’ capital.

The Iauaretê Waterfall

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Last update: 27/02/2023

By: Júlia Morim - Consultant Fundação Joaquim Nabuco / Unesco - Social Scientist, Master in Anthropology

The Iauaretê waterfall is located in the Uaupés River, in the Alto Rio Negro region, in the Iauaretê district, located in the municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, state of Amazonas. Located 870km from Manaus, Amazonas’ capital, São Gabriel da Cachoeira is close to the border of Brazil with Colombia and Venezuela, with its population composed mostly of Indigenous and their descendants. Thus, it is expected that one of its main tourist and historical attractions is considered sacred by the Indigenous peoples and chosen as an intangible heritage of Brazil by the Ministry of Culture in 2006.

The waterfall—a reference point for the Indigenous, although considered by many as a cascade—is in fact a rapids in a certain stretch of the Uapés River, near to the confluence with the Papuri River. Because of its uneven terrain and rockiness, the imaginary waterfall was officialized. By chance or not, it is located on the border between Brazil and Colombia: on one side, the state of Amazonas, and on the other, Colombia.

Besides the strategic position that would bring symbolic importance, the waterfall is a relevant part of Indigenous history. Its rocks, slabs, islands, and paranás [distributary channel] are part of oral narratives and permeate the memory of the people who have been living there for a long time. The landscape helps tell the story of each ethnic group, with its myths of wars, deaths, alliances, and persecutions. The 14 ethnic groups living in the São Gabriel da Cachoeira and Santa Isabel do Rio Negro region—Arapaso, Bará, Barasana, Desana, Karapanã, Kubeo, Makuna, Miriti-tapuya, Pira-tapuya, Siriano, Tariana, Tukano, Tuyuka, and Wanano—came together to safeguard the place. Armed with the feeling of belonging, the Indigenous fought for their traditions, the history of their ancestors, and the mythology of each ethnic group to be preserved by registering Iauaretê in the Livro dos Lugares (“Book of Places”), and thus recognized as a Cultural Heritage of Brazil.

In the registration process, signed in August 2006, 17 topics are documented for the understanding of the history of these Indigenous groups in that territory. The name Iauaretê originates from the Nheengatu language—the general language that the Jesuits taught to the Indigenous people to standardize communications at the beginning of the colonization of Brazil—and means “waterfall of the jaguars.” In the mythology of the Tariano people, for example, jaguar-humans were the owners of the world when Arcome, the entity responsible for the creation of the Indigenous people, arrived. He would have been pursued by the jaguar-humans and in an attempt to escape, fell a few times, precisely in the places where the rocks of the Iauaretê waterfall are today. Still according to the Tariano’s myth, Arcome transformed himself into an animal at each fall, passing on knowledge to the tribe.

The landscape can only be fully appreciated in February, when the river reaches its lowest level and all rock formations become visible. During the other months, hidden by the waters, the rocks stir the imagination of the Indigenous people, serving as characters for their particular cosmogonies and for any story they may tell. But this heritage is not so easily accessible: to get there, it takes at least a full day travel by motorized canoe (known in the region as “voadeira”) from São Gabriel da Cachoeira.

With some 3,000 residents, Iauaretê has a small town infrastructure and is used by the Brazilian army as a base on behalf of the Calha Norte project, for the defense and colonization of the North Amazon frontier. The Iauaretê waterfall was the eighth intangible cultural property registered in Brazil; the first seven were the Kusiwa Art of the Wajãpi people; the craft of the female pottery makers of Goiabeiras; the samba de roda in the Recôncavo Baiano; the Círio de Nossa Senhora de Nazaré, in Belém; the craft of acarajé by the “baianas” (women from Bahia); the viola de cocho (type of plucked string instrument) and the jongo (type of dance).



Recife, May 28, 2014.

sources consulted

BRIANEZI, Thais. Indígenas recebem certidão de patrimônio cultural da cachoeira de Iauaretê. In: Agência Brasil. 18 out. 2006. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 18 maio 2014.

IPHAN. Cachoeira de Iauaretê. Brasília, 2007.

INSTITUTO SOCIOAMBIENTAL. Cachoeira de Iauaretê, no Alto Rio Negro, é patrimônio imaterial brasileiro. 29 ago. 2006.  Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 16 maio 2014.

SÃO Gabriel da Cachoeira, município do Amazonas. In: Portal da Amazônia. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 18 maio 2014. 

how to quote this text

MORIM, Júlia. The Iauaretê Waterfall. In: Pesquisa Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2014. Available at: Access on: day month year. (Ex.: ago. 6, 2020.)