Callahuaya - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Callahuaya have telluric, ecological, analogical, and stratified belief systems. Having largely avoided syncretism, they have times, places, and ritualists respectively for the household, community, ayllu, and national religious systems. Their religion is less concerned with abstract concepts and more involved with earth, nature, and time (seasons). Households have shrines where husbands and wives daily offer coca. Communities have earth shrines, ritually provided for by yachajakuna (diviners), and chapels, where mass is celebrated for fiestas. Ayllus also have earth shrines, ritually fed by yachajakuna and leaders from the high, middle, and lowland communities. The Callahuaya practice Catholicism only nominally but espouse its religious fiestas, saints, and ceremonies. The center of their religion is the ayllu where they have earth shrines on the levels. They symbolically feed these earth shrines foods representative of the levels: a llama fetus from the highlands, guinea-pig blood representative of the middle lands, and coca from the lowlands. In ritual, they symbolically interpret the ayllu according to a mountain-body metaphor. Their chief deity is Pachamama (Mother Earth), symbolically associated with the Virgin Mary or La Virgen de Copacabana. They also venerate the prominent and surrounding mountains of Aqhamani and Sunchuli. Ankari appears in many of their rituals and is associated with wind and fortune. Sajjra is a combination of devil and trickster, accountable for misfortunes. Every community has a male and a female saint. The crucifix is a symbol found throughout the region.


Religious Practitioners. Traditional Callahuaya religion has recourse to diviners, herbalists, spiritists, amulet makers, and sorcerers. Christian religions are represented by Franciscan friars, who have evangelized the region since early Conquest times; Callahuaya catechists, who provide Catholic paraliturgical services; and circuit ministers, who preach Protestantism. Protestantism is popular for economic and medical assistance, but creates conflict in communities because of its rejection of saints, fiestas, and drinking.


Ceremonies. Callahuaya herbalists conduct intricate ceremonies for healing. Diviners usually perform ceremonies at ritual tables ( mesas ) to feed the earth shrines for good luck. Sorcerers perform rituals to dispel evil. Major ayllu rituals are the Chosen Field, Corn Planting, Potato Planting, All Colors (herding ritual), and fiestas of saints around harvesttime. Ayllu fiestas have decreased in size and scope because of Protestant proselytizing; agrarian reform, which has divided the communities of the ayllu; and formal education, which has emphasized national identity.


Arts. The Callahuaya excel in intricate weavings with pictographs. They are also noted silver and gold artisans, and many have moved to La Paz where they operate jewelry stalls alongside the church of San Francisco.


Medicine. Curers of the nineteenth century reportedly knew as many as 300 plants, minerals, insects, animal products, and amulets. Modern herbalists use about 100. Children pursue other professions because they do not want to invest as many as eight years to learn to be curers. The basis of Callahuaya medicine is a corporal concept, through which the body is explained metaphorically according to the ayllu. The body is a vertically layered axis with a system of ducts through which air, blood, fat, and water flow to and from the sonco (heart). Blood and fat, principles of life and energy, come together at the heart and flow to the parts of the body in a hydraulic cycle of centripetal and centrifugal motion. These originally Andean concepts have supposedly assimilated notions of the Greek European humoral theory of hot-cold and wet-dry. With formal education, younger herbalists have adapted Western medicine to their herbal theory and practices.


Death and Afterlife. Traditional Callahuaya believed that after death they would travel the subterranean waterways of their ayllu up to the highland lakes. Here they would be reborn in its reflections and begin another journey down the ayllu levels. Callahuaya who live far away want to be buried in cemeteries of the Callahuaya ayllus. Ancestors and chullpas (grave sites) are integral parts of rituals and ayllus.

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