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Brazilian primitives

Identifier: Film Collection no. 19

Scope and Contents

In 1953 the AMNH hired filmmaker Victor J. Jurgens to make the first two films (Brazilian Primitives and Guatemala) in a projected series of twenty-four documentaries intended to record vanishing cultures. Neither the films nor the series was completed. The three reels of unedited footage for Brazilian Primitives contain important documentation of Brazilian tribes in the process of change: the Tapirape Indians of central Brazil and an unidentified tribe from the upper Xingu (probably the Kamaiura). The Brazilians were encroaching on Tapirape territory and acculturation began to occur. Evidence of this influence is captured in this film, which also documents rarely seen emotional behavior as well as the events and activities of daily life. The film opens with a woman grieving the death of a man. She nurses her child while crying over the corpse that lies in a hammock, his feet stained with urucu. Beneath the hammock a man digs out a grave using only his hands; the body, still in the hammock, is lowered into the grave; the man dances and sings while tapping the earth down over the grave. The woman then adds more earth to the mound and pats it with her hands. This burial takes place in the family dwelling, or longhouse, in the section allotted to that family unit. Footage of a red and blue macaw, a bird of prey and a tiger bittern follows. Indians fish from a canoe with bows and arrows. A procession of Indians carries the carcasses of three wild peccaries and a coatimundi, as well as bows, arrows and guns, back to camp where one of the peccaries is skinned. A small child with white down feathers glued to his legs is seen; a brief hearth scene is followed by shots of men and women displaying body paintings done with genipa dye on their arms and legs; children also wear these designs. The whole coatimundi is cooked over the fire. There are closeups of the men and women; some men wear gold bands on the ring fingers of their left hands. Throughout the film men wear penis sheaths and various adornments: lip plugs in their pierced lower lips, calf bands, single string waistbands, wrist bands and glass beads. In a few scenes the men wear western clothes. The pig skin is stretched over a bamboo frame for drying. Inside the longhouse women crochet and cook, and a young boy wearing a bone stick in his lower lip eats. A young couple in a hammock interact playfully; the woman grooms the man. A man in another hammock weaves a basket of buriti palm fiber. Next is a sequence of three anchunga (spirit) masked dancers wearing skirts, capes and headcoverings made of buriti fibers, topped with a headdress. They dance around the takana, or men's house, which is the center for the Bird societies (men's societies). A woman spins and then collects a basket of harvested cotton. Young men at play wrestle. There is a sequence of a group portrait with everyone laughing and smiling. The application of body paint is observed. A group of Indians eat from the pot over the hearth; shells are used as spoons. A man and a woman share a hammock; she appears to be asleep while he looks at her and strokes her back and arm. Men dance in a circle in the takana. Later there is a dance with men in the inner circle and women in the outer. Several activities are observed including cutting hair with scissors and painting it with urucu, and the making of arrows. A fire consumes one of the houses. Inside the takana, masks are painted. Women in the longhouse peel manioc tubers and prepare them. Two boys tickle and play with each other in a hammock. A woman weaves a strainer. In the next sequence a man is bathed and then scraped with a striator of fish teeth until his arms and legs bleed. Mothers and children bathe. A woman dyes a man's wristbands and calfbands with urucu as he wears them. A turtle races into the water. Children play with a wounded bird. A man carves out a canoe with a shoe-like tool. The film ends at a temporary campsite by the water.


  • 1955


Language of Materials



1 Film Reel (98 minutes) : silent, color ; 16 mm.

1 Videocassette (U-Matic (98 minutes)) : silent, color ; 3/4 in.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

3/4 in., U-Matic, viewing copy

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Original format: 16 mm. print; incomplete.


Victor J. Jurgens, producer, director and photographer.


Brazilian primitives, 1955
Iris Lee
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Research Library Special Collections Repository

American Museum of Natural History
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