Chamacoco - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The concretion of Chamacoco religious thought, including concepts of purity, impurity, and sacredness, divine beings, and mythological events, is derived from a vision of the world centered in the mystery of the contrast death/life, conceived of as asymmetric phases of a unitary process. Religious tenets are also grounded in the dichotomies disharmony/harmony and nonconditioning/conditioning, which shape the contours of many cognitive patterns prevailing in the culture. Apart from a now-otiose creator being, divinities of the hunt, and a profuse series of demonic entities, the characteristic deities of the Chamacoco are the Ahnábsero. Arising from the depths and initially revealed to the women, these gods form a complex pantheon headed by a feminine figure. The adventures of the Ahnábsero and their deaths at the hands of men form a rich mythological saga in which the gods become the original authors of the ethics code and the founders of cultural institutions. The evangelical influence of the New Tribes Mission has become very strong, but it is quietly resisted by the most traditionalist factions.

Religious Practitioners. In earlier times, aside from the diverse specialists in magic, the endogamic clan of the Carancho assumed a central sacerdotal role. Scorned in daily life, its members conducted the main purification rites of the ceremonial cycle. The White missionaries have failed to establish an Indian priesthood.

Ceremonies. The debilübe áhmich, or ritual celebration of the Ahnábsero, lasts the entire rainy season, coinciding with the initiatory seclusion period for boys. Whereas some ceremonial activities require the active participation of women, a good part of the almost thirty different ceremonies of the ritual is conducted exclusively by men. These consist of dramatizations of the drought and wet weather, of natural resources and economic practices that are linked with one another, of fundamental religious tenets, and of ceremonies for the expulsion of impurity. The actors wear masks, paint their bodies according to complex symbolic codes, and don exquisite feather decorations.

Arts. Apart from body painting and decorative featherwork, mention must be made of the manufacture of Bromelia -fiber cloth, the plaiting of palm fronds, and an extensive repertoire of religious, magic, and funerary music.

Medicine. Together with a complex cosmology of seven celestial and several subterranean planes inhabited by various distinct divinities who initiate shamans, there is a great diversity of specialists in magic. Besides healing and causing sickness, they are also responsible for rain and abundance in the natural world. Sickness is attributed to the interference of extraterrestrial beings, the violation of taboos, or soul loss. Curing is accomplished by means of massage techniques and suction, as well as by ecstatic flight in search of abducted souls. Western medicine, however, is gaining increasing acceptance.

Death and Afterlife. Death in advanced age is seen as an almost "natural" link between the mental weakening of the elderly and the lack of reason among the dead. The Chamacoco believe in a subterranean region, osépete, where the deceased live an existence without joy or appeal. Villages used to be abandoned following a death, and widowers remained in isolation until their hair, which had been shorn off, started to grow again. The interment of the cadaver created a fictitious kin relationship with the member of the complementary clan who performed this duty.

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