Chácobo - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The main figure of Chácobo cosmology is Káko, a mischievous culture hero who transformed the old world and shaped it into what it is today. Not only Chácobo material culture, but also their behavioral norms and customs were established by him. Another figure of Chácobo cosmology is Ashina, a stingy old woman who owned the fire and all the cultivated plants. Through ingenious tricks, Chácobo people stole them from her and began planting and cooking their own food. The Chácobo world is inhabited by frightening spirits called yushíni. Chácobo classify them into two categories: yushíni of the dead and yushíni of the forest. Through the shaman's activity, however, animals, plants, and objects can be bestowed with yushíni. Since yushíni are potential spiritual helpers for shamans, the latter can employ them to harm others. Strange noises in the night, unrecognizable figures in the dark, and extraordinary events are explained as the result of the yushíni's presence.

Religious Practitioners. Shamanism is still strong among the Chácobo. Although it is said that men and women can both become shamans ( yóbeka ), it is mainly a male institution. The initiation process is based on the chewing of tobacco in the area of the Río Ivon and on the ingestion of Banisteriopsis caapi in the area of the Rio Yata. The chewing of tobacco or the ingestion of B. caapi allow the shamans to contact their spirit helpers (yushíni). Because of the high risk involved in interaction with the yushíni, only aged people are able to acquire the status of yóbeka. Since shamanic power enables them to heal as well as to harm, they are perceived as ambivalent figures. Parallel to shamanism, there is a female institution called kebiákato that counterbalances the power attributed to men. Female adolescents are initiated by older women into the art of chanting specific songs ( kebíchi ) used either to cure or to harm. Some of these kebíchi are considered so dangerous that even the most powerful shaman can not cure the victim.

Ceremonies. The Chácobo traditionally celebrated the first harvesting of manioc and maize with collective ceremonies. If the harvest was an exceptional one, people from the other concentration were also invited. The ceremonies were conducted in the men's house, where a large clay pot containing manioc or maize beer was placed in the center. Adult men, holding gourds filled with beer surrounded the pot and waited until the shaman gave a signal. Then all of them put their index fingers in the beverage and licked the beer off. This ritual guaranteed the casting out of the yushíni contained in the crops. Nowadays, this ceremony is a private one—each household invites the shaman and offers him beer prepared from the first harvest. During these ceremonies men danced around the pot of beer. Each of them had his left arm around the man on his left and played the panpipes held in his right hand. Women were allowed to enter the men's house to follow the shaman as he circled the pot of beer, beating his clay drum and chanting to his spiritual helpers.

Medicine. Chácobo use plants to heal minor diseases. Odor, taste, and color are the active agents that render these plants effective. If the results of the healing are not successful, a serious illness is diagnosed and the intervention of a yóbeka or a kebiákato is required. Western medicine is used only in combination with a traditional treatment.

Death and Afterlife. Death is conceived as the result of external agencies (such as the yóbeka, the yushíni, and the kebiákato) that become controllers of an individual's self. Whenever these external agencies start acting upon the individual, he or she loses control of his or her own self and dies. Then, the individual's self undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes a yushíni. It is said that the yushíni of the dead person roams about among the living trying to hurt them. Through strict taboos, the Chácobo establish and maintain clearcut boundaries between the domain of the dead and that of the living.

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