Cubeo - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The origin of the universe is associated with the mythic cycle of the Kuwaiwa brothers, who created the cosmos, completing the Cubeo cultural legacy. It was the Kuwaiwa who left behind the ancestral flutes and trumpets, which symbolically represent the ancestors and which are played on important ritual occasions. The origin of humanity is associated with the mythical cycle of the ancestral Anaconda, which recounts the origin of humankind and the ordering of society. At the beginning, from the "Door of the Waters" at the far eastern end of the world, the Anaconda moved up the river axis of the universe to the center of the world, a rapid in the Río Vaupés. There it brought forth people, establishing the characteristic traits of Cubeo identity as it moved along.

Religious Practitioners. The shaman (jaguar) represents the most important institution of religious and secular life. He is the keeper of knowledge regarding the order of the cosmos and the environment, the beings and spirits of the forest, and the mythology and history of the community. In ritual, he is in charge of communicating with ancestral spirits. The baya is the person who leads the singing of ancestral ritual songs.

Ceremonies. Traditional collective ceremonies are limited today to those occasions that reenact the confraternity between members of a village or, less frequently, their relationship with consanguineal and sometimes affinal kin ( dabukuri ) of other villages, and include offering harvested crops. The important ceremony of male initiation, known in the Vaupés area as yurupari, is no longer performed.

Arts. A large number of petroglyphs mark the rocks on the rapids of rivers in Cubeo territory; the Indians believe that they were created by their ancestors. Ritual paraphernalia has disappeared because of missionary influence, although sporadically one may see some ornaments, especially in connection with shamanism. On the other hand, secular or ritual body painting with vegetable dyes persists. Aside from ancestral flutes and trumpets, musical instruments are today limited to panpipes, animal shells, stamping tubes, maracas, and rattles of dried fruit seeds.

Medicine. Illness is a latent state that demands the constant attention of the shaman. It may be produced by seasonal changes or caused by events in an individual's life, the violation of norms governing social affairs or the environment, or the aggression and sorcery of third persons. Although each individual has an elemental knowledge of shamanism, only shamans carry out curing rituals, using prophylactic and therapeutic practices like exorcism and blowing on food or objects. Shamans have the ability to potentiate, reconstitute, or preserve the benevolent powers. The influence of Western medicine, implemented by health centers throughout Cubeo territory, is strongly felt.

Death and Afterlife. Traditionally, rites for the dead were associated with a complex ritual (Goldman 1979) that has now been abandoned. Presently, when a person dies he or she is buried near the center of the house, together with his or her utensils used in daily life. Women weep and, together with the men, recount the virtues of the deceased. The Cubeo still believe that a dead person's body will disintegrate in the underworld, whereas the spirit returns to the ancestral houses of its clan. The qualities of the deceased are reincarnated in the descendants who, every fourth generation, carry his or her name.


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