Religious Beliefs. Ayoreo mythology is characterized by a superabundance of narratives. Every natural or cultural phenomenon has its origin and meaning explained in a special myth and sometimes in various parallel myths. The general schema of the etiological tales consists in the transformation of a ( nanibahái ; pl., nanibaháde ), an ancestor of human or humanoid form, into an actual living being, either voluntarily or through the intervention of Dupáde, the Sun. It may also be that the ancestor owned a particular artifact that he later gave to others. Origin myths have a fixed structure consisting of episodal occurences followed by one or several therapeutic ( sáude ) or precautionary ( paragapidí ) songs. The complex of myths and songs is given the name kučáde kike uháidie, which can be translated as "tracing the return of all things." Myths and therapeutic songs have a damaging effect if they are used outside the context of an illness or misfortune, in which they can be beneficial. Despite their large number, the majority of Ayoreo myths fall into six groups that may be defined as "cycles." Ayoreo ethos, centering on violence and death, explains the world as consisting of a terrestrial plane ( numí ), a celestial space ( gate ) of various superimposed tiers, and a subterranean domain ( naupié ) where the souls of the dead live.
In the Ayoreo world, power is omnipresent and has an essentially negative character. It produces a persistent fear of the malevolent power of the nanibaháde in reaction to taboo infractions. In effect, the tragic episode that generally determines the metamorphosis of the nanibaháde invests the entities that originate from them with maleficent power—the more dangerous, the more powerful the nanibahái from which it originates. That is why, in the Ayoreo's world, the fear of Asohsná, the most powerful and malevolent of the čekebahědie (ancient women), predominates and why the pertaining mythic cycle is replete with death and tragedy. The figure of Asohsná—as ancestor, as an actual living bird (nightjar), and as regards the entities with which they were associated in mythical times—constitutes the core of Ayoreo fear, within a world that, in its entirety, is already charged with negativity. This fear also derives from the fact that Asohsná is the only divinity to whom an organized cult is attributed, constituting the only formalized religious ceremony. The effects of Asohsná's malevolence, triggered by taboo infractions, include fainting, madness, and other illnesses and misfortunes that lead to death. Asohsná's power to do harm transcends the individual and is transferred to a cosmic plane, so that it can also negatively influence the procurement of food.
What has been said about Asohsná applies to a greater or lesser degree to the other nanibaháde and frequently to the entities to which they gave origin. Illness and all kinds of misfortune follow upon the infraction of taboos regarding these Ur-forms and their corresponding myths. In this world of fear and death, at least partial reprieve is obtainable through the various mechanisms the nanibaháde instituted themselves to counteract their original "curses." Such recourse leaves a wide margin of insecurity as regards its efficacy, however, and only diminishes the fear of the world without compensating for it entirely.
Religious Practitioners. The shaman and the wise man, who know myths and therapeutic songs, are primarily responsible for religious practices.
Ceremonies. The Aroyeo engage in pinčiakwá , a ritual practice to propitiate rain, and perform paragapidí , a rite to keep killers from falling prey to the harmful influence of the victim's soul and blood. Apart from these two practices, the sole ceremony held by the Ayoreo is the festival of Asohsná, which is essentially a ceremony related to the annual cycle.
Arts. The only artifacts that are always decorated are twine bags and plaited objects. The designs are inspired by clan insignia and executed in the appropriate combinations of naturally colored red and blue string. The remainder of Ayoreo output is poor in decorative motifs, which are only occasionally applied to wooden artifacts or utensils of calabash or ceramic.
Medicine. Therapeutic procedures are carried out by the ordinary individual and by the daihsnái. In the first instance, curing is essentially done through the use of chants provided by the various nanibaháde, that is, the already mentioned countermeasure songs that cure illnesses specific to a particular nanibahái that caused them. For example, possession, which stems from taboo infringments relating to the consumption of certain parts of the peccary, can be cured with songs that this animal's nanibahái left behind. Individuals who cure by therapeutic chanting do not go through a process of initiation, nor do they wear special garments. The only precondition is knowing many chants, a prerogative generally attached to the so-called wise men. Since the power of a particular curing chant comes directly from the nanibahái who composed it, the singer functions simply as its intermediary vehicle.
Death and Afterlife. The Ayoreo believe that a person is made up of three elements: ayipiyé (reason), which is destroyed at death; ayói ("skin"), which disintegrates; and oregaté ("external soul"). At the moment of death, the oregaté sets out on a voyage to the naupié (land of the dead, in the underworld). Access to it is by way of a heavily trodden road. Here souls lead an existence similar to that of the living. The soul is received by the deceased members of his extended family and integrated into it. The dead on occasion show a desire to rejoin their living relatives. This causes cave-ins of the soil or food to fall from the hand of the living to the ground.