The Arikapú are an indigenous ethnic group which traditionally lived in the southern regions of the Brazilian state of Rondônia. They spoke a language probably belonging to the Macro-Jê language family. The first contact between the Arikapú and white people occurred at the beginning of the 20th century. According to their oral history the Arikapú lived in the upper Rio Branco region. Their indigenous neighbors were Djeoromitxí, Makuráp, Wayurú and Aruá. The Tuparí tribe were enemies. After contact with the portuguese settlers the Arikapú were decimated and displaced. Today the remaining members of the tribe, 29 individuals according to Funasa (2006), live in the Terra Indígena (a reservation) of Rio Branco and the Terra Indígena of Rio Guaporé.
These people refer to themselves as Arikapú. The name Arikapú is also used by neighbour tribes and by brazilians. The origin of the name is not clear; it could have originated from the Makuráp (Tuparí) language, where the word "arikapu" refers to the japó bird (genus Gymnostinops).
The name Burukäyo refers to an extinct tribe known to the Arikapú and Djeoromitxí. Some claim that their language was similar to Arikapú, and that they represented a different clan. The suffix "txitxi" means "big" in both Arikapú and Djeoromitxí.
Another name encountered in literature is Maxubí or Mashubi, referring to an ethnic group that probably spoke Arikapú. This name was recorded only once, during the expedition of the English explorer Fawcett in 1914 (B. Fawcett 1953). The name is not recognised by any present ethnic group of the region, and its etymology is unknown.
Until recent times the native languages of the Arikapú and Djeoromitxí were mostly undocumented. Nevertheless, on the basis of the existing short word lists, they were regarded as early as the 1930s as forming a language family, here called the Jabutí language family. Some linguistic sources also mention a third, extinct Jabutí language, called Maxubí. The word list taken from the Maxubí in 1914 by Fawcett suggests, however, that the language was very similar to Arikapú. This was first noticed by Caspar in 1955, and on the basis of linguistic and additional cultural considerations he concluded that Fawcett’s Maxubi must represent the same tribe as the Arikapú.
The Jabutí languages are very different from the other languages of the Guaporé region, and are not members of the neighbouring Tupi, Nambikwara or Txapakura language families. The Jabutí languages are often considered as a small isolated family that has no affiliation with any other known language family. However, as early as in 1935 Curt Nimuendajú (2000) noticed that the word lists of Arikapú and Djeoromitxí collected by Snethlage show similarities with certain Jê languages of eastern Brazil, such as Xerente, Kayapó, Kaingáng and Timbira. Recent research by Ribeiro and van der Voort (2005, in prep.) has provided additional lexical and grammatical evidence that confirms Nimuendajú’s hypothesis. Hence, the Jabutí language family probably represents a branch of the Macro-Jê linguistic stock. The basic characteristics of the ancestral Proto-Jabutí language were reconstructed in a comparative article by van der Voort (2007).
Although the Arikapú tribe must have had thousands of members before contact with Westerners, their language is now on the verge of extinction with only two elderly speakers, and it was not taught to the younger generations.
Most of the loanwords in Arikapú are from Makuráp, which was used as common language between various tribes in the region during the 'rubber era'.
Arikapu on socioambiental.org (in English)