Craho - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Craho religion seems to be more elaborate in its liturgical than in its doctrinal aspects. The world has three layers. Men live on the middle layer; the upper layer, domed, is inhabited by men who fled from the big hawk and the big owl, both killers in the mythical past. The stars are the fires of these men. The underground layer is covered by buriti palms and used by wild boars ( Tayassu pecari). The middle layer is bounded by water, and, on its eastern end, it is connected to the underground by a hole. At the same extremity, the foot (or perhaps feet) of the sky supports the upper layer. This column is constantly being carved by woodpeckers, but when these woodpeckers stop to drink or eat, the column recovers its pristine form. The Craho believe their history began in the east and that they have migrated to the west.

Sun and Moon, both males, are the mythical heroes who transformed the world before it was created. From the adventures of Sun and Moon originated men and women, death, work, menstrual blood, mosquitoes, and poisonous snakes. A star-woman gave the Craho agricultural knowledge. Fire was taken away from the jaguar. Sun is identified with the Christian God, and Moon with Saint Peter the Apostle. A man named Aukhê, the child of an Indian woman and the Sun, the Christian God, a snake, or an unidentified father, was the first White man. The belief in Aukhê, has inspired a Craho messianic movement.

Every Craho has the same beliefs with some divergences in the details. Craho objects of worship are difficult to locate; they seem to venerate society without the intervention of any divinity.

Religious Practitioners. All Craho villages have a pad-ré or director of rituals capable of conducting the different rituals of his people. Practitioners receive small gifts for their services and are said to have enjoyed the privilege of burial in the village plaza. It is unclear whether appointments are based on special aptitude or mere desire to obtain the position. Probably because of their knowledge of Craho tradition, ritual directors also enjoy political authority.

Ceremonies. There are more than forty Craho rites. They include life-cycle rites, annual-cycle rites, and initiation rites. Characteristic of these rites are the log races and the exchange of small or large manioc and meat pies baked in hearth ovens. One could say that the Craho live in a continuous ritual situation; some rites last for a whole season, others for several months, and others for a few days, overlapping one another.

Arts. Basketry is more elaborate than feather work or body paint. Vocal music is very impressive; the rattle is the main instrument.

Medicine. Today Western physicians, dentists, and their medicines are welcome, although, in fact, the Craho are attended by insufficiently trained personnel. Western medicines not incompatible with traditional Craho medicinal plants, however. Several medicine men specialize in extracting pathogenic objects from sick individuals, in recovering souls that have fled from people's bodies, and in inviting souls of recently dead individuals to have their last meal. These medicine men are frequently accused of sorcery.

Death and Afterlife. In the past there were two burials. The corpse was unearthed after some months and the bones were cleaned, painted, and reburied. Today the corpse is buried only once, in a cemetery always located on the west side of the village. One or two weeks after death, a last dinner is offered to the soul. At the end of mourning (which in the past coincided with the second burial), a rite is partially performed in which the deceased played an important role while still alive. The Craho believe that everything—humans, animals, plants, and objects—has a spirit or soul. After the death of the body, the human soul stays alive in human form but behaves in a different fashion. Eventually, the soul itself dies and is transformed into a game animal. When this animal dies, it is in turn transformed into an invertebrate animal. When this invertebrate dies, it is transformed into a dried-up log in the savanna. And, finally, when the savanna burns, nothing remains of the original human being.

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