Canela - Religion and Expressive Culture



The Canela were comparatively this-worldly oriented. They lived for the present and had few or no ceremonies (before 1963) to request supernatural entities to improve worldly situations for them. Now, with their overlay of folk Catholicism, they rely increasingly on the supernatural.

Religious Beliefs. The Canela believe in the worlds of the great birds above the sky, of the dead to the west on the earth, and of the fish and alligators under the earth. Today, this cosmology includes the folk-Catholic heaven. They believe that all animals, plants, and materials have a soul or essence ( karõ ). They are convinced that if persons avoid polluting foods and most sex, they will grow strong and be able to carry out certain adult activities (e.g., running, hunting, and shamanism) well. The only culture hero active in modern times was Awkhêê, whose support was invoked in the messianic movement of 1963. Other culture heroes were Sun and Moon, who set most parameters for living, and Star-Woman, who showed the Canela maize, other staples, and certain fruits.

Religious Practitioners. The Canela have many shamans—some who cure, and a few who also "throw" illnesses. They do either activity through "powers" received from the souls of the recently dead ( m -karõ, ghosts). Men (and rarely women) become shamans through carrying out specific instructions (mostly restrictions against "pollutions") received during a series of visitations by ghosts, who first appear as animals. Ghosts visit some youths who are seriously trying to become shamans but not others. They may visit a person unexpectedly when he is sick to make him a shaman. They travel in the other world in dreams, or in their belief, and often go to the land of the dead to bring a wandering soul back to its body, saving its life. A shaman's knowledge may be based either on what he has "seen" or on information from ghosts. He can predict the future and state why a person became sick or died. Such declarations are final and are made on the shaman's, not the ghosts' authority. A shaman's political influence as a shaman is minimal, but a political chief's power is enhanced by being a shaman, because people fear his potential for casting illnesses.

Ceremonies. The principal ceremony involves a shaman holding a mass curing in the plaza against an epidemic. People pass through the smoke made by burning certain leaves.

Medicine. The Canela believe in urban pharmaceutical medicine, in their own herbal medicines, and in the rural backlander's herbal remedies. Many individuals who are not shamans know and use herbal medicines well.

Arts. The Canela esteem recreation and devote much time to it, venting most hostilities this way. Almost daily athletics include track events around the village boulevard just inside the circle of houses and team relay racing from 2 to 12 kilometers outside the village by individual runners carrying 100-kilogram logs. Recreation also includes the formal (festival-sanctioned) and informal (personally arranged) activities of the extensive extramarital-sex system.

Music (choral sing-dancing) and drama (festival-pageants), rather than painting and decorating objects or the human body, are the developed arts. Festival-pageants are frequent and varied, and their dramatizations model all social roles and traditional values for the young to learn and the old to maintain.

Death and Afterlife. People die naturally from various causes, including diseases. Their souls used to go to the land of the dead, but now go to heaven since most Canela are baptized. In the ghosts' village, souls did the things the living did but in a milder manner. After some time, ghosts became large animals, then smaller ones, and finally tiny entities such as gnats. Then they disappeared entirely. A soul was not eternal. Ghosts usually injure the living when they meet them, but they like to help the shamans who are maintaining stringent restrictions against pollution.


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