Bakairi - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Bakairi subscribe to animistic beliefs, although some claim to be Christian and make efforts to have their children baptized. The Bakairi believe in spirits that populate the natural world. They also believe in twin culture heroes who are identified with the sun and the moon. A degree of syncretism between animistic and Christian beliefs is evident in that the Christian God is merged with the sun culture hero by some Bakairi.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans are religious semispecialists who have special relations with spirits, allowing them to cure the sick or to cause illness in enemies. Shamans are older males who train for over a year before assuming their duties. Their apprenticeship consists of fasting, self-imposed physical trials, and the use of tobacco to induce trances. There are three shamans in the Bakairi village.

Ceremonies. Ritual-mask dancing takes place between the months of March and November. Men wear huge painted masks and palm costumes while they dance around the village chanting. A corn festival marks the beginning of the corn harvest in January. The anteater dance is performed at that time. Every four or five years boys between the ages of 14 and 19 participate in a rite during which their ears are pierced; this is considered a male ritual, and women are not allowed to attend. Five Brazilian holy days are celebrated by the Bakairi—those of Saint Antonio, Saint João, Saint Pedro, Saint Benedito, and Saint Sebastião. The first four festivals occur in quick succession in June and July. That of Saint Sebastião takes place in January. Music, dancing, and feasting mark these holy days.

Arts. The men carve and paint large ritual masks. The women sew palm costumes worn with the masks. Chants used when wearing the masks are handed down from generation to generation, but artistic improvisation and delivery are valued. Some of the younger men who have worked on ranches play the guitar and sing Portuguese songs.

Medicine. Two types of illness are recognized: those attributable to contact with non-Indians and those resulting from sorcery. Non-Indian diseases are treated with Western medicine, whereas other types are treated by shamans.

Death and Afterlife. When a death occurs, villagers visit the home of the deceased and cry and wail. The corpse is then wrapped in his or her hammock and buried a short distance from the village. The grave is not marked, and it is not visited afterward. Belief in afterlife does not exist. Kin of the dead person are not encouraged to mourn.

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