Apiaká - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. According to Nimuendajú, the Apiaká traditionally believed in a god who created heaven and earth and who gave vent to his fury with lightning and thunder. Two brothers who lived in mythical times are now located in the Milky Way in the form of animals that can be seen as a dark spot near the Southern Cross. Nowadays the Apiaká want and demand to be baptized in the Catholic church, and the mission maintains a relief station on the reserve. It is hard to evaluate to what degree the Apiaká have kept their traditional belief system, or how much of it is in the form of popular religion or Catholic beliefs.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans used to divine the future and cure the sick. They were very respected but received little compensation for their cures. They used heat and plants and blew on or sucked the affected part of the body, depending on the illness.

Ceremonies. Formerly the Apiaká danced to the accompaniment of wind instruments played by men. They formed two concentric circles: the men inside, and the women outside. Nowadays they no longer practice this dance ceremony. They observe national holidays such as Christmas, New Year, and the Day of the Indian.

Arts. The Apiaká tatooed their bodies and painted them. Dyes were made from urucû ( Bixa orellana ) and/or genipapo ( Genipa americana ). Arms and legs were adorned with anthropomorphic or zoomorphic designs. Tatoos, once signs of tribal identity, are no longer in use. Body painting and featherwork, except for feather decorations on arrows, have also been discontinued. Pieces worn in necklaces and bracelets are stylized zoomorphic representations of monkeys, fish, or ducks.

Medicine. The Apiaká recognize "modern" illnesses and illnesses of their own. To cure illnesses introduced by Brazilians they resort to the mission pharmacy. Other health problems are treated with dietary adjustments, herbal teas, bark, and roots. Adults are the repositories of this medicinal knowledge, but there are no specialists. In some situations they resort to a Kayabi sorcerer who is believed to be capable of extracting visible or invisible objects from the affected part of the body.

Death and Afterlife. According to Nimuendajú (1948, 317), widows or widowers formerly remained lying in hammocks over the graves of their spouses. Their faces were painted black and their hair was cropped. For an entire year they ate sparingly, consuming only some maize, until the bones of the deceased were exhumed. Nowadays, the dead are buried near the house. People avoid pronouncing the dead person's name and only refer to him or her as "the deceased." There is no other visible evidence of mourning, except that the house is abandoned.

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