Chambri - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Since the early 1960s the Chambri have considered themselves to be staunch Catholics. They are, at the same time, convinced that all power, whether social or natural, is ancestral power. Religion—as well as politics and, indeed, all activities of importance—focuses on evoking and embodying ancestral power through the recitation of (usually secret) ancestral names. In addition to the spirits of the dead are a variety of autochthonous powers that dwell in stones, whirlpools, trees, and, most importantly, crocodiles. All are thought to act not only on their own volition but under the control of those Chambri who know the relevant rituals. Religious Practitioners. All adult persons have some knowledge of efficacious names; by definition, powerful men are the most knowledgeable about these names. Anyone who knows secret names—that is, who has power—has the capacity for sorcery. Some men and women have the special capacity to be possessed by spirits from their maternal line in order to diagnose illness, misfortune, and the causes of death. Others contact paternal spirits in dreams for the same purposes.

Ceremonies. Many Chambri ceremonies are rites of passage during which persons are increasingly incorporated into their patricians. At the same time, matrilateral kin are presented with affinal payments to compensate them for the corresponding diminution of their maternal portion of these Persons. The most elaborate of these ceremonies is initiation during which young men receive the hundreds of incisions on their backs, arms, and upper thighs that release the maternal blood that contributed to their fetal development. Other ceremonies, requiring the evocation of the powers of particular patricians, are believed to ensure that, for instance, the wet season will come, particular species of fish will reproduce, and fruits of the forest will be plentiful. Through the performance of such clan-held ceremonial prerogatives and obligations, a totemic division of labor emerges in which, through the efforts of all, the universe is regulated.

Arts. Whether in the form of drums, masks, carved or painted men's house timbers, or decorated hooks, art for the Chambri embodies ancestral powers and/or refers to clan-based claims to those powers. The art now made for the tourist trade is largely derived from these forms, but it is not Invested with ancestral power.

Medicine. Since it is believed that people succumb to disease only when they are depleted of power—sometimes as the result of sorcery—indigenous curing practices attempt to restore that lost power. This kind of cure can be done through several, frequently combined, means: offended ancestors are compensated, often through animal sacrifice; medicines, bespelled so as to become imbued with ancestral power, are applied to, or consumed by, the sick person. Today, the Chambri have access to a local aid post and to mission and provincial hospitals. Western medicine, although eagerly used, has not replaced traditional diagnoses and treatments.

Death and Afterlife. Chambri ideas about the destination of spirits are, by their own acknowledgment, inconsistent: spirits are variously believed to go to the Christian heaven, to remain in ancestral ground, and to travel to a remote place no living being has visited. Regardless of any particular view, however, Chambri also insist that the dead are never very Distant. They believe that the living and the dead readily engage in each other's affairs.

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