1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Botocudos

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BOTOCUDOS (from Port. botoque, a plug, in allusion to the wooden disks or plugs worn in their lips and ears), the foreign name for a tribe of South American Indians of eastern Brazil, also known as the Aimores or Aimbores. They appear to have no collective tribal name for themselves. Some are called Nac-nanuk or Nac-poruk, “sons of the soil.” The name Botocudos cannot be traced much farther back than the writings of Prince Maximilian von Neuwied (Reise nach Bresilien, Frankfort-on-Main, 1820). When the Portuguese adventurer Vasco Fernando Coutinho reached the east coast of Brazil in 1535, he erected a fort at the head of Espirito Santo Bay to defend himself against “the Aimores and other tribes.” The original home of the tribe comprised most of the present province of Espirito Santo, and reached inland to the headwaters of Rio Grande (Belmonte) and Rio Doce on the eastern slopes of the Serra do Espinhacao, but the Botocudos are now mainly confined to the country between Rio Pardo and Rio Doce, and seldom roam westward beyond Serra dos Aimores into Minas Geraes. It was in the latter district that at the close of the 18th century they came into collision with the whites, who were attracted thither by the diamond fields.

The Botocudos are nomads, wandering naked in the woods and living on forest products. They are below the medium height, but broad-shouldered and remarkable for the muscular development and depth of their chests. Their arms and legs are, however, soft and fleshy, and their feet and hands small. Their features, which vary individually almost as much as those of Europeans, are broad and flat, with prominent brow, high cheek-bones, small bridgeless nose, wide nostrils and slight projection of the jaws. They are longheaded, and their hair is coarse, black and lank. Their colour is a light yellowish brown, sometimes almost approaching white. The general yellow tint emphasizes their Mongolic appearance, which all travellers have noticed. The Botocudos were themselves greatly struck by the Chinese coolies, whom they met in Brazilian seaports, and whom they at once accepted as kinsmen (Henri Hollard, De l'homme et des races humaines, Paris, 1853).[1] Some few Botocudos have settled and become civilized, but the great bulk of them, numbering between twelve and fourteen thousand, are still the wildest of savages. During the earlier frontier wars (1790-1820) every effort was made to extirpate them. They were regarded by the Portuguese as no better than wild beasts. Smallpox was deliberately spread among them; poisoned food was scattered in the forests; by such infamous means the coast districts about Rios Doce and Belmonte were cleared, and one Portuguese commander boasted that he had either slain with his own hands or ordered to be butchered many hundreds of them. Their implements and domestic utensils are all of wood; their only weapons are reed spears and bows and arrows. Their dwellings are rough shelters of leaf and bast, seldom 4 ft. high. So far as the language of the Botocudos is known, it would appear that they have no means of expressing the numerals higher than one. Their only musical instrument is a small bamboo nose-flute. They attribute all the blessings of life to the “day-fire” (sun) and all evil to “night-fire” (moon). At the graves of the dead they keep fires burning for some days to scare away evil spirits, and during storms and eclipses arrows are shot into the sky to drive away demons.

The most conspicuous feature of the Botocudos is the tembeitera, or wooden plug or disk which is worn in the lower lip and the lobe of the ear. This disk, made of the specially light and carefully dried wood of the barriguda tree (Chorisia ventricosa), is called by the natives themselves emburé, whence Augustin Saint Hilaire suggests the probable derivation of their name Aimbore (Voyages dans l'intérieur du Brésil 1816-1821, Paris, 1830). It is worn only in the under-lip, now chiefly by women, but formerly by men also. The operation for preparing the lip begins often as early as the eighth year, when an initial boring is made by a hard pointed stick, and gradually extended by the insertion of larger and larger disks or plugs, sometimes at last as much as 3 in. in diameter. Notwithstanding the lightness of the wood the tembeitera weighs down the lip, which at first sticks out horizontally and at last becomes a mere ring of skin around the wood. Ear-plugs are also worn, of such size as to distend the lobe down to the shoulders. Ear-ornaments of like nature are common in south and even central America, at least as far north as Honduras. When Columbus discovered this latter country during his fourth voyage (1502) he named part of the seaboard Costa de la Oreja, from the conspicuously distended ears of the natives. Early Spanish explorers also gave the name Orejones or “big-eared” to several Amazon tribes.

See A. R. Wallace, Travels on the Amazon (1853-1900); H. H. Bancroft, Hist. of Pacific States (San Francisco, 1882), vol. i. p. 211; A. H. Keane, "On the Botocudos" in Journ. Anthrop. Instit. vol. xiii. (1884); J. R. Peixoto, Novos Estudios Craniologicos sobre os Botocuds (Rio Janeiro, 1883); Prof. C. F. Hartt, Geology and Physical Geography of Brazil (Boston, 1870), pp. 577-606.


  1. A parallel case is that of the Bashkir soldiers of Orenburg, who formed part of the Russian army sent to put down the Hungarian revolt of 1848, and who recognized their Ugrian kinsmen in the Zeklars and other Magyars settled in the Danube basin.