How the Tupi Indigenous Group Shaped the Brazilian Portuguese Language

Indigenous Tupi people smiling sitting in hammocks.


In this blog post, I briefly explore the fascinating influence of indigenous groups, particularly the Tupi people, on the development of the Brazilian Portuguese language. By diving into the historical interactions between explorers and indigenous tribes, highlight common words in Brazilian Portuguese derived from indigenous languages, and provide additional resources to help beginners learn the language. If you want to read more about the history of the Tupi people and language, look no further than here.

Historical Interactions between Explorers and Indigenous Brazilian Tribes

When Portuguese explorers arrived in Brazil in the 16th century, they encountered numerous indigenous tribes, including the Tupi people. The interactions between the explorers and these tribes played a crucial role in shaping the Brazilian Portuguese language. Some explorers learned the native languages to facilitate communication, leading to linguistic exchanges and the adoption of indigenous words and expressions.

Map of native languages across South America

50 Indigenous Tupi Brazilian Portuguese Language Words

The Tupi language, spoken by the Tupi people, has had a significant impact on the creation and evolution of Brazilian Portuguese language. Here are some common words and expressions borrowed from indigenous languages:

  • Abacaxi – Pineapple (from Tupi: îbá katu, meaning “fruit that smells.”)
  • Açaí – Açaí (from Tupi: ïwasa’i, the name of the palm tree.)
  • Aipim – Cassava (from Tupi: aypem, “root”)
  • Ajuricaba – A legendary indigenous leader (from Tupi: aîu, “snake” + îakaba, “destroyer”)
  • Amendoim – Peanut (from Tupi: amẽnoîm)
  • Ananás – Pineapple (from Tupi: nanãsú, “delicious fruit”)
  • Araribá – A type of tree (from Tupi: araribá)
  • Ariranha – Giant otter (from Tupi: ariraña)
  • Babassu – A type of palm tree (from Tupi: babassú)
  • Cacique – Chief (from Tupi: kara’i, meaning “important person.”)
  • Caiçara – Traditional coastal dwellers (from Tupi: ka’açará, “people of the forest”)
  • Carambola – Starfruit (from Tupi: karãbóra, “golden star”)
  • Cariri – Indigenous people in Brazil (from Cariri: kariri)
  • Curupira – A mythical creature (from Tupi: kurupîra, the name of the mythological protector of forests.)
  • Cururu – A type of traditional music (from Tupi: kururú, “singing of the frog”)
  • Guarapuava – A city in Paraná, Brazil (from Guarani: guara + puava, “yellowish water”)
  • Guará – Maned wolf (from Tupi: guará)
  • Iandé – Land, earth (from Tupi: îandé)
  • Iapó – A river in Brazil (from Tupi: îapó)
  • Itaipava – A city in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (from Tupi: ita, “rock” + pava, “flat”)
  • Itacoatiara – A city in Amazonas, Brazil (from Tupi: itakwatiára, “big stone”)
  • Jaraqui – A type of fish (from Tupi: yara’kî)
  • Jiboia – Boa constrictor (from Tupi: îbóîa, “snake”)
  • Jacaré – Alligator (from Tupi: îakaré)
  • Jacuí – A river in Brazil (from Guarani: yasû, “brave” + î, “water”)
  • Jaçanã – Jacana (from Tupi: îasã-nã, “big foot”)
  • Jatobá – A type of tree (from Tupi: yatobá)
  • Jiquitaia – A type of seasoning (from Tupi: ykitaîa)
  • Juruna – Indigenous people in Brazil (from Tupi: îurúna)
  • Macapá – A city in Amapá, Brazil (from Tupi: macapá, “place of many bacabas”)
  • Manacapuru – A city in Amazonas, Brazil (from Tupi: manakapu’ru, “big bird”)
  • Mandioca – Cassava (from Tupi: mandi’óka, the name of the root vegetable.)
  • Maracá – A type of rattle (from Tupi: mbaraká)
  • Mirim – Small, young (from Tupi: mîrim)
  • Paje – Shaman, medicine man (from Tupi: payé, “sorcerer”)
  • Pajeú – A river in Brazil (from Tupi: pay’ew, “stony river”)
  • Pataxó – Indigenous people in Brazil (from Pataxó: pataxó)
  • Piraíba – A type of catfish (from Tupi: pirá-îbá, “big fish”)
  • Pirarucu – A large freshwater fish (from Tupi: pirá + urukum, “red fish”)
  • Potiguara – Indigenous people in Brazil (from Tupi: poty, “flower” + guara, “many”)
  • Quipá – A type of woven belt (from Tupi: kipá)
  • Saci – A mythical figure in folklore (from Tupi: sasî, “storm”)
  • Sucuri – Anaconda (from Tupi: sucuri)
  • Taperá – A type of dwelling (from Tupi: taperá, “temporary hut”)
  • Tapir – Tapir (from Tupi: tapi’ira)
  • Timbaúba – A city in Pernambuco, Brazil (from Tupi: timbaúba, “plant with sharp thorns”)
  • Tucano – Tucan (from Tupi: tukã, the name of the bird.)
  • Tucunaré – A type of fish (from Tupi: tucunãré)
  • Uirapuru – A bird with a melodious song (from Tupi: uirapuru, “bird that cries out”)
  • Xavante – Indigenous people in Brazil (from Tupi: xa’wante, “fierce people”)


It’s time to rally together and make a difference. The Amazon rainforest is not just a place of awe-inspiring beauty, but also home to the incredible Tupi people. They’ve been living in harmony with the forest for centuries. Let’s step up and protect their way of life, the rich biodiversity, and the lungs of our planet. Together, we can ensure that the rainforest and its amazing inhabitants thrive for generations to come.


Life-Long Learner, Explorer, & Web Developer. Currently a Software Engineer at Jazz.

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