Chimane - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Traditional Chimane religion is still very much alive despite Christian attempts to displace it. Human society is a mirror image of the world of animals and plants, and there is a symbiotic relationship between them. The Chimane believe that mutual respect is essential, and it is this maxim that conditions their reasonable and limited approach to the exploitation of natural resources. To maintain this equilibrium is a fundamental objective, and the possible disruption of that equilibium brings evil into the world. The shaman is of outstanding importance in this context. After years of practice, he watches over cultural and religious norms and presides over the most important cults. The cosmos, the earth, and all living beings, including mountains and stones, are the creation of the mythic brothers Duik and Mitsha. As a unity they are called "Jen" and are believed to be the sun and moon, respectively. Duik and Mitsha are cultural heroes who gave humankind weapons, fire, edible plants and other similar goods. Faratazik, master guardians or special keepers of places, animals, fish, and plants watch over the life of their wards, guaranteeing their reproduction and availability to humans. Failure by humans to observe pertinent taboos is punished. Spirits are all benevolent as long as humans respect them; if not, their benevolence changes, and they pose mortal danger ( zeki ). The logical and automatic outcome is that humans will become possessed by spirits and faratazik.

Chimane religion shows a close link with the Andean world, since it is from this region that the mythic brothers are said to have come. When the end of the world draws near "from down below," that is, the low-lying eastern regions, the salvation of humankind lies in escaping to the region "above," that is, the mountain ranges of the Andes—although this region has also seen strife, oppression, and disasters, as demonstrated by the cycle of Hisui, the violator and murderer of Aillú, one of the female chiefs of ancient times. The Chimane describe their historical reality in mythic terms. The central cult ritual, closely linked with the renovation of the pact between humankind and nature, is the umba, which is performed in the round cult house, the shipa.

Religious Practitioners. With the assistance of robodye (a narcotic derived from an as-yet unclassified plant) and tobacco juice and by chanting and drumming, the shaman reaches a state of ecstasy. He is able to transport himself to extraterrestrial planes and to summon the spirits to visit with the participants in the umba. All participants experience ecstasy. They ingest small figures in human and jaguar forms. Even though presently in animal guise, jaguars are considered human, and the ritually ingested jaguar representations are believed to be human flesh.

Arts. Shamanic chants and songs pertaining to the Chimane religion and economy form an essential part of the Indians' religion and cult.

Medicine. Bodily evil is manifested in illness, either caused through one's own fault—not having observed a taboo—or by witchcraft. The shaman's curing practices consist of chants, sucking, and natural medicines made from plants, animal oils, and healing clays. Western medicine plays an insignificant role in Chimane life.

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