Painting Guide for Colonial Brazil – Tupi and their enemies

I’m trying to build up a painting guide for the Colonial Braziil. So far most of the details are for the Tupi.

Tupi-speaking nations

The Tupi-speaking nations include the

  • Tupinambá (Amoipira, Caeté, Tamoio, Temimino)
  • Tupinikin (Goianá, Tobajara)
  • Tupina
  • Potiguar
  • Guarani/Carijó – who were not strictly speaking Tupi but were related.

Battle of Tupinamba
and Tupinikin 1578 AD
Jean de Lrys

Interestingly Tupinikin are described as identical to Tupinambá in appearance, although the Tupinambá adopted red feathers in war to distinguish themselves from their enemies including the Tupinikin, so presumably they differed on feather colour.

Hair (their own)


Almost all Tupi men shaved the crowns of their heads, leaving a circle of hair like that of a tonsured monk.

Having said that, although some pictures of Tupinambá and Tupinikin show the normal Tupi hairstyle, but others show them with shaved heads except for a shaggy tuft towards the back.

Skin (their own)

Where you could see their skin, it was a tawny shade like the Spaniards or Provençals; they were also described as bronze skinned. Their skin colour was darker than the Gé-speaking people they replaced.

Body Paint

They liked body paint. I assume, unless it is mentioned that they were unpainted in other areas of the body. The choices for painting schemes are:

  • Torso, arms and legs black.
  • Torso, arms and legs black with white figures painted over (birds, waves of the sea, etc)
  • The arm and leg on one side black, and other arm and leg red.
  • Torso, arms and legs divided into black and red quarters
  • Torso, arms and legs black and red checkboard
  • Black legs up to the groin
  • Black or scarlet figures (birds, waves of the sea, etc) – presumably on skin.

In addition the Tupinambá painted a 3 cm wide black stripe from temple to temple across their forehead. (Could be true for Tupinikin.)

In one case the “black” was described as “Bluish-black”.


The warriors had a tattooed stripe for every enemy they had killed. These were vertical and roughly 150 cm long. An experienced killer would have his thighs, calves, chest, forearms, and upper arms tattooed. Amongst the Tupinambá at least, these tattoos were black. (Could be true for Tupinikin.)


Feathers were used as a headdress, to adorn arms, legs and weapons, and sometimes were glued over the entire body.

Black and red were the most common colours but the full range included red, both bright and smokey blue, green, scarlet, black, yellow, greys, green, brown, and white. For example, Fig. 168 from Heath (2001) has a headdress in in alternating red, blue, yellow and green

The Tamoio used various colours.

The Tupinambá only used red feathers during war (although yellow, red and green during festivals). Having said that they also wore a large feather arrangement at the small of their back which looked a bit like a giant flower (called a enduap) – this was of grey feathers. Apparently the Tupinambá chose red to distinguish themselves from their enemies, and given some wood cuts show top-knotted Tupinambá fighting identical Tupinikin (at least in black-and-white) I’m assuming that Tupinkin used colours other than red,


Most Tupi went naked although some wore a penis sheath. As time wore on European cloths were available in increasing numbers, however, these were habitually removed before combat.

Fig 172 from Heath (2001) is a Tupinambá from Maranhao and wears a loincloth made of feathers, although this might be an attempt at modesty by the artist.

Fig. 168 from Heath (2001) has a feather skirt – apparently some Tupi wore an short skirt of parrot feathers. The narrative in Heath suggests it is alternating red, blue, yellow and green. As it happens all the 15 mm wargames figures from Falcon Figures and Gladiator are dressed in this manner.

The Guarani/Carijó, unlike other Indians, wore cloths (loincloths, smocks, and mantles.

Lip and cheek plugs

White (sometimes bone), blue or green.

Potiguar and Tamoio habitually used green lip plugs.


Both sexes wore necklaces of white shells or human teeth

Ear or neck pendants

Crescent-shaped white fish-bones or black

Bows and clubs

Were of red or black wood. They could have a coloured pattern and/or be decorated with feathers.


Choices are:

  • Tapir or Manatee hide of various colours (“like the cattle of France”)
  • Painted bark

Pictures and examples

The London War Room (broken link)

The pictures of their Tupi give a sense of what a red and black painted mass would look like. Nice figures and nice paint job but I’m not convinced about some of the details. For example, these figures are probably Tupinambá, but the face painting doesn’t match with the description of the Tupinambá who painted a 3 cm wide black stripe from temple to temple across their forehead. But a small point in the grand scheme of things.

Gé-speaking nations

The G-speaking people included the Aimoré, Waitacá, Cariri (Tacariju), Coroado (Ocauan, Caraia, Ouanem, Guarus, Guarulhos, Sacarus and Papana), Puri,

The Gé-speaking people were predominantly tall and strong, and lighter in colour than the bronze skinned Tupi. Some variations on hair styles follow.



The Aimoré had pale skin (lighter in colour than the bronze skinned Tupi).


Hemming (1995a) says the men let their black hair grow long but Heath (2001) says they wore it in a skull-cap style.

Ear and lip ornaments

Both sexes wore round white stones in their ear lobes, and stone discs in their lower lips.

Bows and Clubs

Aimoré bows were made from black palmwood, often trimmed with rings and tufts of feathers, or with yellow or black strips. The arrows were made of reeds with wooden or bamboo heads.

Some carried wooden clubs like their Tupi enemies.


All of them had their hair hanging low at the back, and some also shaved it at the front.

Coroado (‘Crowned Indians’)

They are called ‘Crowned Indians’ because of the tufts of hair on the top of their heads.

Carib-speaking nations

Inhabitants of the Amazon basin related to the original inhabitants of the Caribbean.

Skin of different tones with a yellowish base.



Excellent resource, although all the pictures are in black and white. The relevant chapter is available on-line Indians in the Brazilwood War: 16th Century Colonial Conflict in the Americas.

Hemming, J. (1995a). Amazon Frontier: The defeat of the Brazilian Indians. Papermac.

Excellent book on the Portuguese conquest up to 1750. Lots of detail.

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