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Kusiwa Art

The technique of painting and graphic art produced by the Wajãpi of Amapá, called Kusiwa, is a communication system associated with orality that expresses their way of seeing and living the world.

Kusiwa Art

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 24/05/2022

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

The Wajãpi of Amapá, an Indigenous group composed of 670 individuals divided into 48 villages (IPHAN, 2008, p. 13), are established in Amapá, in the North region of Brazil. These individuals are the remnant of a people that—at the beginning of the 19th century—comprised a total of 6,000 individuals. They had few contact with non-indigenous peoples until the 1970s. They differ from the Wajãpi of French Guiana due to their lifestyle in the mountains, mythology, and iconography.


The painting and graphic art technique of the Wajãpi of Amapá, called Kusiwa, forms a communication system associated with orality that expresses their way of interpreting and living the world. To ornament their bodies and objects and, currently, paint paper and ceramics, they use the annatto’s red paint, scented resins, monkey fat, and green jenipapo juice. The graphic patterns are dynamic. They transform and usually represent fish, butterflies, snakes, turtles, and objects. They believe the colors and the graphic patterns originated with the first humans, since there were no colors before and all the inhabitants of the world were equal.


The decoration of the bodies is an everyday activity conducted for “aesthetic pleasure and creative challenge” (GALLOIS, 2002, p.8). During the process, oral narratives convey the group’s cosmology. There are no patterns regarding social position or certain occasions. Body painting depends on the individual’s state, thus people in grief or sick must avoid certain patterns or paints, for example. Each type of paint has a purpose, such as the annatto’s paint, which they believe protects from the spirits of the forest.


Each village usually has older adults recognized as jovijãkõ, that is, specialists who “know and have the ability to transmit the knowledge inherited from ancient time.” (IPHAN, 2008, p. 80). According to IPHAN (2008, p. 81-82), the increasing pressure around the Indigenous Land, the young people’s lack of interest in traditional practices and the risk of folklorization and marketing of traditional knowledge is concerning for the Wajãpi’s expression. Measures were implemented to ensure its continuity, supported by the Museu do Índio: Conselho das Aldeias Wajãpi, Núcleo de História Indígena e do Indigenismo (NHII), da Universidade de São Paulo, and Núcleo de Educação Indígena (NEI-AP), actions to strengthen collective organization, differentiated school education, surveillance of the boundaries of the delimited territory, as well as scientific research and projects to disseminate cultural traits.


Because of its exceptional value, the Kusiwa Art was registered as a Brazilian cultural heritage in 2002 and declared an oral and intangible heritage of humanity in 2003 by UNESCO.


Recife, May 20, 2014.


sources consulted

GALLOIS, Dominique Tilkin. Kusiwa: pintura corporal e arte gráfica Wajãpi. Rio de Janeiro: Museu do Índio-FUNAI/APINA/CTI/NHII-USP, 2002.

IPHAN. Arte Kusiwa: pintura corporal e arte gráfica Wajãpi. Brasília, 2008.

how to quote this text

MORIM, Júlia. Kusiwa Art. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2014. Available from: Access on: mês dia ano. (Ex.: Aug 6. 2020.)