Chiriguano - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Native beliefs in zootheistic deities were guided by a deep faith in supernatural forces. In spite of the persistent influence of Christian missionaries, the Chiriguano still hold on to the basic tenets of their beliefs; nevertheless, they do acknowledge a principal creator God. This belief in a Supreme Being is a result of early missionization; however, the traditional Chiriguano pantheon includes numerous spirit beings of various kinds. Spirits are believed to have created the world and to be the guardians of plants, animals, rivers, stars, and so on. Evangelical sects have a profound influence and have been able to replace some traditional beliefs, although the Chiriguano have maintained their large corpus of myths and tales.

Religious Practitioners. Chiriguano shamans were known to be powerful; they acted as intermediaries between humans and the deities and had the power to cure, attract the rain, or stop pestilence. They exercised influence on the chiefs and on the general decision-making process of a village. They had immense prestige and privileges. Today they continue to exert influence, although in villages where the majority is evangelical, their role is diminishing. Chiriguano evangelical pastors are an important factor in the evangelization of the Chiriguano. They are beginning to exert a political role.

Ceremonies. The arete, or feast, was a ceremony related to the maize harvest, among other things. This feast was transformed into the Carnival but maintained many of its traditional elements. Men wear wooden masks and costumes depicting the ancestors and animals spirits returning to meet with their relatives. Easter has been transformed by the Chiriguano, through the incorporation of dancing and singing.

Arts. Music and singing in the Guaraní language occurred during all the Chiriguano festivals; these genres persist, but with the influence of colonial music. Native instruments such as flutes and drums have been retained, but the violin and the guitar have been incorporated.

Medicine. Disease is understood as the result of natural forces (wind, heat, cold), supernatural forces (spirits of the forest or of the river), or witchcraft. Curing techniques consist of herbal medicines, sucking, massage, diagnosis by blowing tobacco, and long therapeutic séances to drive out the evil. Witchcraft is believed to be a basic cause of illness, death, or any other misfortune. The shaman is the only one who can counteract the evil power of the witch. Western medicine has been introduced, and both systems persist side by side.

Death and Afterlife. Death is believed to be the result of disease, spirits of nature, or witches. There is a belief in an afterworld, to which souls go. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the deceased were buried in funerary urns under the house. After death, the soul was believed to go to a heavenlike place after a hazardous journey. Present-day Chiriguano have incorporated Christian beliefs regarding the afterlife.

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