Araweté - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The relationship between humanity and the Máï", the immortal beings who left the earth at the dawn of time and now live in the sky, is the axis of Araweté religion. Humans define themselves as "the foresaken," those who were left behind by the gods. Humans and Máï are related as affines, for the souls of the dead are married to the latter. The Máï may and, in the long run, shall annihilate the earth by causing the sky to crumble down. Every death has as its final cause the will of the Máï, who are conceived as being at the same time ideal Araweté and dangerous cannibals. The Máï are not conceived as creators, but the cosmological separation produced the human predicament, namely, old age and death. Among hundreds of species of Máï, the majority of them having animal names, the Máï hete ("real gods") are the ones who transform the souls of the dead into Mâï-like beings, by means of a cannibal-matrimonial operation. There are also the Ani forest spirits, savage beings who invade settlements and must be killed by the shamans, and the powerful Lord of the River, a subaquatic spirit who relishes kidnapping women's and children's souls, which must then be retrieved by shamans. Trees, stones, and some animals also have their "masters," who are less prominent than in Araweté cosmology and in other Amazonian cultures.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans are the intermediaries between humans and the entire supernatural population of the cosmos, having as their most important activity the bringing down of the Máï and the souls of the dead to visit the earth and partake of ceremonial meals.

Ceremonies. The ceremonial cycle consists of a series of feasts at which collectively produced food and drink are offered to the Máï before being consumed by humans; the most important offerings are land turtles, honey, howler monkeys, fish, and maize beer. The maize beer feast, held at the middle of the dry season, is the biggest one, combining religious and military values. The lender of the song-and-dance beer festival is ideally a killer who learns the songs from the dead enemy's spirit.

Arts. Singing is the nucleus of ceremonial life. The "music of the gods," sung by shamans, and the "music of the enemies," sung by killers, are the two musical genres of the Araweté. In both of them, it is the "foreigners" who talk, through an elaborate style of quoted speech.

Medicine. Disease is conceived to be the result of spiritual malevolence (soul stealing), invisible arrows present in incorrectly processed food, and the Máï's will. Curing techniques consist of shamanistic operations of soul retrieval and arrow extracting. The Máï can be enlisted to help against the terrestrial and subaquatic spirits or must be placated when they are the agents. Western medicaments are widely in use alongside shamanic treatments.

Death and Afterlife. The dead are buried in hunting trails somewhat distant from the village. Death divides the person into a terrestrial ghost associated with the body and the Ani spirits, and a celestial soul associated with conscience and the Máï. The first haunts the living while the corpse decomposes, then goes back to the natal village of the deceased, where it disappears. A death provokes the immediate dispersion of the village in the forest, for fear of the ghost. Upon arrival in the sky, the celestial soul is killed and devoured by the Máï then resurrected by means of a magical bath and made into a godlike being who will be married to a Máï and live forever young. The souls of the recently dead come often to the earth in the shaman's chant to talk to their living relatives and report the bliss of the afterlife. After two generations they cease to come, for there will be no more living contemporaries who can remember them: they are not ancestors. The condition of being a killer is the only one that makes the cannibal tran-substantiation necessary; killers, fused with the souls of their dead enemies, enjoy a special status in the afterlife, being feared by the Máï.


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