by Marcia Camargo

Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling

Special Edition – Women of Brazils

In the fourth text of our special edition (SE) number 6 – No. 6 – Women of Brazils, the Ph.D. candidate Marcia Camargo introduces us to Jakona, the women of an indigenous people in Bahia, the Pataxós.

Claudia Pires de Castro and Helena Vetorazo


Jokana means women in patxohã. Patxohã is a Brazilian indigenous language spoken by the pataxó people, mostly living in the extreme south of Bahia. The language is still alive in the community, taught at local schools, and mixed with Portuguese in daily life. Much is discussed around the importance of the role of women in society nowadays, around the world. And, if these women were seen as potency and as divine beings. It is in this context that the pataxó woman is constituted, the one that from now on I will refer to as jokana.
Within the jokanas, there is a divine presence, the Moon Goddess, Mother Earth, Mother Water, the one who nourishes and carries a force based on tradition, culture, and memory that constitute their identity. Tradition is like magic, it’s a way of speaking with the culture, with the past, and with your ancestors in a language that is reinvented and dynamic through time.
Jokana’s identity is collective and uniting, crossing the barriers of time, the struggles and memories of pain faced during colonialism, and the horrible “Fire of 51” in Aldeia Barra Velha, solidifying a force through respect and collectively. Their look shows their struggle, their experiences, and wisdom, Jokanas listen with their eyes, hear with their soul, and dress in smiles and silence. It is through this identity that the jokana speaks, screams, and fights for their rights. Dialogue is the tool of struggles, be it spoken, danced, sung, written, or even expressed by glances, silence, and gestures.
This work aims to present the identity of the jokanas, demystify preconceptions, show the potency and strength in addition to highlighting the union and collectivity of this community, where the “women” are not devaluated for having children, strength in addition to highlighting the union and collectivity of this community, where work welcomes future generations, jokana is future, wisdom, strength, power and this way of looking at the Pataxó woman passes from generation to generation, in the eyes of men towards them, recognizing in the face of the other, what is in her and needs her to exist.

It’s through the singular, through what “seems” to distance the other from me, that sparks of my identity are built.
In Brazil, there are 305 indigenous ethnicities and more than 274 languages being spoken (IBGE, 2010). These people are, frequently, seamed in an imaginary invariable generic, and simplistic way, stereotyped, as Índios. Usually, this image is created through judgments of the way they live, talk, they communicate, putting them in the place of wild and backward people. There were and still are a lot of silent impositions in Brazil. The jokanas identity goes against what we know is imposed by a colonialist and Eurocentric vision, which brings an enormous weight for these women to carry when outside their community.
Remembering that the term “breed” comes from the XVI century, when big social and political changes were happening, especially in Europe, where they judged themselves as civilized and started to classify humans, intending to offer them knowledge and a better life imposing their way of life. The term started to be used for animals and plants and after to classify human beings. The indigenous were classified, in Brazil, as domesticable or wild, there was no observation and respectful approach. This is how history was told and we still observe an ongoing, repetition of prejudices from generation to generation creating racism.
There was no recognition of their own culture. The so-called European standards were incapable of understanding the indigenous and their social-cultural context, reducing them to the conditions of savages.
Incapable of understanding the indigenous and their social-cultural context, reduced them to the conditions of savages according to European standards.
Today in Brazil, we watch indigenous women being heard and screaming their knowledge, bringing hope to the future of indigenous people, but also keeping knowledge alive and joining to a better future, with relevant contributions about climate changes, natural medicine, as well as social and political organizations. After the elections of 2022, now in 2023, Brazil has for the first time a Ministry of Indigenous people, represented by Sonia Guajajara, showing the strength of indigenous women.

With all this scenario, it was difficult to identify the main aspects of the indigenous women before colonization, their imposition of silence to maintain them alive hid a strong and different way of seeing women and the gender division. The two-year ethnography research inside Aldeia Barra Velha, the mother shelter of pataxó, opened a new vision of jokanas identity.
Colonial Brazil should have ended in 1822, but did it end? It ended, on paper, but it started a new era for indigenous people, the era of invisibility. In the past, they were offered mirrors to exchange for objects made by them, but in fact, they where “buying” the right to get into their lands. Aldeia Barra Velha was demarcated in 1981.Three phrases resume this fact: “The strange is incomprehensible”, “The silence is a consequence of global domination” and “Any historical narrative is a bundle of silences” (Trouillot).
Jokanas are born belonging to a strong and empowered group, from the moment they leave the uterus, they dive into an immense universe of knowledge that will be shared daily. Their strength is based on their daily life, on their relationship with Nature and with each other, it is in the water, on the sky, and earth, on the power of communicating through silence, gaze, and smile. The strength is seen in the eyes, in the smiles. Communication passes from generation to generation, not only through words, but also through attitudes, looks, smiles, and dances that empower, because the construction of ethnic identity is done based on dialogue and collective memories.
While ancient jokanas speak, younger ones listen and watch every gesture with extreme attention. The jokanas are ENOUGH in the strength, unity, and collectiveness of their culture. They know how to make their homes, their food, and medicines, knowledge is also always shared: what one knows, all must know. In tradition, there is no act of “giving orders” to someone, everything is shared and discussed. Children are blessings, our future, and the whole community, every woman takes care of every child, and sometimes many are called moms. In face of Nature, there is a peaceful and friendly coexistence that flows during the daily life of the Jokanas, this coexistence is beautiful, and big and small rituals are part of everyday life.
Several songs are used in daily life and every small ritual of women of the community, singing represents the main tool of struggle for these women. The voice of the pataxó woman evokes the enchanted ones and demonstrates all her strength.
Jokanas narrate and share their stories through their eyes, eye contact, smiles and even transmitting their know-how from one to another. The ancestral respect and admiration for the jokana pataxó women from men are clear, women are highly respected and empowered within the village. Jokanas are raised from a young age to unite, protect and admire each other, in addition to the support and union that exists between them.
Jokanas are not judged and don’t judge their bodies, by the number of children, by their height, or by their clothes. They take their child to work in the community and are not judged, they are not seen as less capable, but as more capable of performing multiple functions at the same time, of generating life, of donating themselves, without leaving aside their responsibilities. Many female leaders in the community perform their roles with excellence and are extremely admired, often breastfeeding or cradling their children. The dances and rituals include their lives and the future at all times, and the respect and affection for the female role in the village can be seen.
Is there no violence against women? Of course, there is. However, jokanas are valued in the community and respected for being such essential beings for life. Pregnancy and breastfeeding do not prevent them from playing strong roles and this even makes them stronger and more united.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1995.


* Marcia Camargo is a Ph.D. candidate at the department of Science, Technology, and Society at UFSCar, Brazil, and nowadays at Uppsala University as a doctoral visitor student at CEMFOR, Center of multidisciplinary studies on racism. Thesys analyses the constitution of the identity of indigenous pataxó women from Aldeia Barra Velha, extreme south of Bahia, through ethnographic research with 2 years of immersion in daily ritual life at the community.

Marcia Camargo (2023) "Jokana, culture, tradition and identity". Brazilian Research and Studies Blog. ISSN 2701-4924. Editor's ChoicenameISSN 2701-4924nameVol. 4 Num. 3. available at:, accessed on: July 16, 2024.