Kapauku - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Kapauku believe that the universe was created by Ugatame, who has predetermined all that occurs or has occurred within it. Ugatame is not, strictly speaking, anthropomorphized, although a creation myth—in which disease and mortality were first brought to the Kapauku—attributes to Ugatame the combined characters of a young woman and a tall young man. Ugatame dwells Beyond the sky and is manifested in, but is not identical to, the sun and the moon. It is believed that, along with the physical universe, Ugatame created a number of spirits. These spirits, essentially incorporeal, frequently appear to Kapauku in the form of shadows among the trees, which can be heard to make scratching or whistling sounds. Less commonly, they will appear in dreams or visions, at times assuming human form. They can be enlisted by the dreamer or visionary as guardians and helpers, for good or for ill. The souls of the dead can similarly be persuaded to help their surviving kin.

Religious Practitioners. Magical-religious practitioners are of two classes: shamans (who practice magic for good purposes) and sorcerers (who practice "black magic"). Both men and women can become shamans or sorcerers through the acquisition of spirit helpers in dreams or visions and through the successful (as gauged by perceived results) use of magic. The shaman practices curative and preventive magic, while the sorcerer is concerned with causing harm to others (through illness, death, or economic failure). Ghouls are older women whose souls have been replaced during sleep by rapacious spirits hungry for the taste of human flesh. The ghoul, by all appearances a normal woman during the day, travels abroad in the night to dig up the corpses of her possessing spirit's victims and make a feast of their flesh. Women believed to be possessed in this way are not killed, for their death would simply release the possessing spirit to find a new hostess. Rather, ghouls are held to be the helpers of sorcerers, whose black magic is held responsible for the women's condition. It is the sorcerer's magic that must be countered, or the sorcerer must be killed, to stop the depredations of a ghoul.

Ceremonies. One of the most important Kapauku Ceremonies is the juwo, or pig feast. This begins with a series of rituals associated with the construction of a dance house and feasting houses, after which follows a period of nightly dances, attended by people from villages throughout the area. After about three months a final feast is held wherein the sponsors slaughter many pigs and pork is distributed or sold. During this final feast day, trade in items of manufacture is also conducted.

Arts. Visual arts are not heavily represented in Kapauku culture, apart from the decorative net bags made by the men and the armbands and necklaces worn as bodily adornment. Dances, as part of the pig feast, are frequent. There are two principal dances, the waita tai and the tuupe. The ugaa, which is a song that begins with barking cheers, is followed by an individual's extemporaneous solo composition, the lyrics of which may contain gossip, local complaints, or a proposal of marriage.

Medicine. Illness is attributed to sorcerers or the spirits. Cures are accomplished by a shaman, who seeks a diagnosis and treatment from a spirit helper. Treatment includes the recitation of spells or prayers, the manipulation of magical plants, purification through the washing of body parts in water, and, at times, the extraction of bits of foreign matter from the body of the victim. Should an individual believe that he or she may be the target of sorcery, a preventive cure may be sought before the actual onset of illness.

Death and Afterlife. Death, regardless of the outward cause, is thought always to be caused by sorcerers or spirits. The soul goes to spend its days in the forest, but it returns to the village at night to assist its surviving kin or to seek vengeance in the case of wrongful death. There is no concept of an afterworld, in the sense of some "other" place in which the dead dwell. A principal concern of Kapauku funerary practices is the enlistment of the soul of the departed as guardian of its surviving kin. The more beloved or prestigious the deceased, the greater the care taken, through burial practices, to tempt them to such a role. The head is left exposed, sheltered under a cover of branches, but provided with a window. Cremation for fallen and unclaimed enemies and complete interment for those of little social status constitute the lower range of funerary attention.

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