Candoshi - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Candoshi believed in one Supreme Being, Apanchi (Our Father), the genesis of all that exists. Apanchi is a force controlling the universe, but traditionally he was neither worshiped nor appeased. Evil spirits, yashigo, cause death, but their power can be manipulated to one's advantage (specifically for the power to kill and for protection in war) and shamans invoke them for healing and bewitching. The yashigo are appeased by the observance of taboos. In the beginning Apanchi lived with people, but they continually disobeyed him, so he went back to the sky. Traditionally, times of peace and plenty were attributed to the help of Apanchi, and when the people were suffering, Apanchi was said to be punishing them. The yashigo cause all sickness and death by capturing human spirits. A shaman can attempt to retrieve the spirit, but if he fails the person will die. Some yashigo live in trees, some travel in the wind. They occasionally appear as phantoms, and anyone who sees a phantom yashigo will die. Approximately 30 percent of the people claim to be Christians.

Religious Practitioners. There are no priests among the Candoshi. Shamans use their powers to cast disease-causing spirits out of people or to cause these spirits to enter people. Modern-day Candoshi Christian teachers are not professionals. They are either self- or community-appointed.

Ceremonies. Private ceremonies to obtain spirit power are carried out by individuals in the forest. Spirit power is preserved and strengthened by killing, not by additional ceremonies. Shamanic ceremonies for healing are performed on request. The meetings of Christians are informal gatherings in which all participate.

Arts. Designs representing birds and insects are woven into belts. Originally belts were made from homespun cotton in white and black thread, but commercial thread is now also used. Candoshi music is on a four-tone scale. Womens' songs are lullabies and love songs sung in falsetto. Men's songs are basically rhythm talk sung to the beat of a drum while drinking. Christian songs are a mixture of Candoshi, Spanish, and Quechua music.

Medicine. Families used herbal remedies and consulted a shaman only when the herbs failed to help. Herbal remedies are still extensively used, but modern medicine is preferred when available.

Death and Afterlife. Death was caused by evil spirits, either indirectly (by murder) or directly (by sickness). The cause and effect of disease is now somewhat understood but not necessarily accepted. Traditionally, the ideal state after death was to reach the place of Apanchi in the sky, but nothing done in life could assure this. Christians now believe that their spirits go directly to Apanchi. The spirit of a sick person may be caught up by the spirits of the storm and carried along by them forever. This is the death that is feared most. Other spirits of the dead wander aimlessly in the forest. The bodies of the dead are put in canoes and dried on a scaffolding over a fire. They are then put in the rafters of a vacant house, not to be buried until two or more years have passed.

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