The Deni are an indigenous group of people who live in western Amazonas state, Brazil,
between the region delimited by the Juruá and Purus rivers. In the 1940s their territory
was overrun by rubber collectors who came in thousands following the rubber boom period.
Territorial disputes and exploitation of indigenous labor became common. Since then, the Deni
people had to wait decades until they got their territorial rights guaranteed. The first
official demarcation for their lands was ratified in 2003. They still had to face problems
resulting from recurrent invasions because of clandestine activities such as illegal fishing
Location and population
The Deni Indians inhabit the region between the Juruá and Purus rivers, in some
municipalities as well, Itamarati, Lábrea and Tapauá. The Deni Indigenous Land is located in
the region that separates the drainage basin of these two rivers.
The land can be split in two parts, the Western and Eastern portions. In the west there are
four villages, located on the Xeruã River and on several of its tributaries. In the east
there are four other villages located on the Cuniuá River.
The Xeruã and Cuniuá have no junction in common, and the connection by land is a road, a path
through the forest, which links the village of Itaúba to the old village of Kumarú Novo.
In May 1999 there were 666 Indians living inside the indigenous reservation, and there were
116 houses distributed in nine villages. Data recorded in 2002 shows that there has been an
increase to 736 people in total.
During 2006, Funasa confirmed that there were 875 people living in the area.
Name and language
The Deni who live near the Xeruã River call themselves "Jamamadi-Deni", while those near
the Cuniuá call themselves "Madihá-Deni". The difference in naming is the result of the
influence of the New Tribes Mission of Brazil, which started working in the region in 1982.
The Deni language belongs to the Arawá language family. Few studies exist about the Arawá
language, which, besides the Deni language, includes the following languages: Paumari,
Jamamadi, Banawa Yafi, Jarawara, Kulina and Suruwahá, all of these ethnic groups being
inhabitants of the ethnographic area of the Juruá-Purus (Melatti, 1998). Linguist Aryon
Rodrigues asserts that the languages of the Arawá family are similar, although the Paumari
language is a little more different than the others (Rodrigues, 1986:71). Dixon asserts that
the Madi language is a standard variant of languages spoken by the Jarawara, Jamamadi and
Banawa-Yafi. Their languages are mutually intelligible and share 95% of the vocabulary.
According to the author, Madi is very similar to the Deni and Kulina languages (Dixon, 1999:
*Deni on socioambiental.org, in English