Ache - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Precontact Ache had no formal religion and no belief in a supreme deity or deities. They did have beliefs in certain spirits, three being most important. First, Kre'i was a shadow or gust of wind that could cure or help individuals in need. Second, Anjave was an evil spirit who often pushed people into the fire at night, knocked them out of trees, or generally caused harm to befall them. Finally, Berendy was a frightening spirit associated with meteors and falling stars, who could also take a human form. People are formed from the essence of the game that a mother eats while pregnant, and some part of the animals' spirits can linger in the spot where they died and cause harm to befall others. Myths fall into two categories—those that explain or are historical (origin of fire, origin of the moon, the flood myth, origin of night, why animals escape humans, why the Ache live in the forest) and those that have a moral (the mean old woman, the stingy man). Most reservation Ache have nominally converted to Christianity as taught by fundamentalist Protestant missionaries. They hold their own services several times a week.

Religious Practitioners. There were no religious practitioners in precontact society. Young, educated Ache men have become Christian preachers at the reservations.

Ceremonies. Important ceremonies are conducted at the birth of a child, at puberty for both sexes, at club fights, and after a killing. At birth, the man who cuts the umbilical cord of the child becomes a godparent, as do all those who hold the child in the first few minutes and the women who take care of the child on the first day while the mother recovers. Godparents have special obligations to their godchild and its parents, and often a child resides with a godparent later in life. Godparents and the parents of the new child are ceremonially washed with the bark of a vine a few days after the birth. The father of a newborn child enters a dangerous state where all animals, good and bad, are attracted to him. He may have great hunting success or be eaten by a jaguar.

At first menses, girls are held and massaged as if they were newborn children. They are then isolated under mats for several days and not allowed to show their faces. Later, parallel rows of body scars are cut onto their stomach, back, arms, and legs. All men who have engaged in sex with them are washed with bark and enter the previously mentioned state of attractiveness to animals.

Boys undergo a lip-piercing ceremony between the ages of 14 and 18. When the wound is healed they often wear long wooden plugs in their lower lip. Club fights are often held at this time, and later the boys receive body scars. Boys form a special relationship with the man who pierces their lip. After club fights, women are lined up and men ceremonially hit their mothers and sisters while the women cry. Men who have killed others must be washed with bark and undergo severe food taboos.


Arts. Individual singing traditionally was common, particularly in the late evening. Men and women sing about relatives, events on their mind, or hunting, often in an ad-lib fashion. The Ache did not dance, but body painting and ornamentation were very common.


Medicine. There were no healers; traditional medical treatment was mainly limited to blowing on the affected part or an application of bark or smoke. Western medicine has been rapidly and enthusiastically accepted at the reservations, and some younger Ache have been trained in first aid.


Death and Afterlife. Beliefs about the afterlife appear to vary among the four Ache groups. The Northern Ache had no belief in an afterlife, but did believe that the spirit of a dead person could linger at the site of death and cause harm. For this reason they sometimes burnt the body of old, mean, wicked, or powerful people, or those who died in a violent manner. Most individuals were simply buried and a hut built above their grave. Small children were often sacrificed and placed in the grave with important individuals. The Ñacunday Ache may have a more developed concept of an afterlife, in which people could experience pleasant or unpleasant circumstances after death. Whether this is because of the influence of earlier contact with Jesuit missions is unknown.


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