Chorote - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The core of traditional religious belief is expressed through a dialectic between principles of chaos that existed in mythical times and principles of order in contemporary times. This dialectic between processes of disintegration and reintegration involves the social as well as the natural order. The synthesis between native and Christian belief—internalized through systematic Anglican and Pentecostal evangelization since the 1940s—is clearly a redifinition of such processes in ethnic terms. The sinfulness of the "ancient beliefs" is compared to the virtue of the "new beliefs."

In its native form, the Chorote religion may have been without the concept of a Supreme Being. Recognized, however, were a group of deities that personified the dialectics of chaos/order, through the fusion—in the same deity—of a "trickster" profile with characteristics typical of demiurges. The polarization between what is divine and diabolical, encouraged by Christianization, resulted in a hierarchical ordering of ancient deities. Such an arrangement is the outcome of emphasizing either the demiurgic or trickster aspect of a deity.

Religious Practitioners . Religious roles were traditionally acquired either through the deliberate channel of shamanism or nondeliberately through reaching old age. In actual practice, one recognizes a difference in power between officiating "shamans" and "old men," and in their ability to cure and divine. The training of indigenous pastors by Anglican missionaries, who often assigned them political responsibilities as well, led to a rivalry between modern religious leaders and traditional ones and between religious and secular leaders. These rivalries, combined with the lack of persistent fellowship among the constituents, have led to greater factionalism.

Ceremonies. The Carob Festival, which was held in spring, at the same time that many other wild fruits ripen, was the most important traditional ceremony. Its purpose was to promote natural and human renovation and to enhance intergroup sociability. Among other constituent rituals of this festival were those pertaining to fermented drinks, scalps, victory dances, and dances of the young people. Missionaries were shocked by the festival's orgiastic aspects and succeeded in suppressing it. A fundamental rite of passage was the female initiation, which signaled a young woman's achievement of social and sexual maturity. The ceremony contained a dual set of symbols, through which the initiate experienced the antithetical processes of death and gestation and the contrast between the undifferentiated status of adolescence and the differentiation characteristic of adulthood.

Medicine. Sickness results from either the manifestation of some vital principle eventuated by shamanic malevolence, the transgression of a taboo, or from the invasion of the body by a harmful agent emitted by a shaman. The curing ritual, in which shamans and elders cooperate, features magical flight, fighting between helping spirits, chanting, blowing, and massaging. Although harshly repressed by the first generation of missionaries, shamanic practices have been revived since the 1980s and coexist with certain practices of Western clinical medicine.

Death and Afterlife. Death and sundry illnesses are ascribed to certain dualistic deities and particularly to shamans. Death is the means of access to a definitive state of being and power, implying the transformation of the deceased into one of a class of mainly negative deities ( Mamo ) that live in a monotonous and dark subterranean world.

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