Guahibo-Sikuani - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. For the Sikuani, the world is the result of the actions of deities and culture heroes who made the world livable by diminishing the power of cannibals and by exiling other beings that were harmful to humans. The main deity, Furna Minali, and the heroes Tsamani (the constellacion Delphinus), Iwinai (Pleiades), Kajuyali (Orion), among others, exiled Kuemainü, the great maneating serpent, by transforming it into the Milky Way and weakened the power of lightning by vanquishing it in combat. They gave people prayers and shamanic powers to cure illness and to rid themselves of their enemies and the grandparents of animals that inhabit lakes and caverns. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the influence of Christianity has been growing. As a consequence, the use of the psychotropic yopo ( Anadenanthera peregrina ) has been discontinued. The forces of nature and the grandparents of the animals appear as ghosts, and their presence is a constant factor in the life of the Sikuani. Hunting or fishing must not be excessive, and the hunting of certain animals, such as tapir, requires special observances like sexual abstinence on the part of the hunter. The appearance of some animals, such as the fox, or the occurrence of some incident during a ritual is a bad omen.

Ceremonies. In early childhood and especially at the onset of menstruation, a ritual is performed in which a long prayer is recited naming all species of fish and animais of the hunt that might harm the child that is about to be weaned or the young woman who has reached the age of procreation.

Arts. The art perhaps most appreciated by the Sikuani is oratory. Dramatized narration of stories or discourses at political gatherings delights the audience. There are also virtuosos in pan-flute playing who perform in duet; some women and some men are particularly admired for their beautiful playing of songs.

Medicine. The basis of Sikuani medicine is the use of yopo, ayahuasca ( Banisteriopsis caapi ), and tobacco. It is by ingesting these mind-altering substances that shamans acquire the ability to see pathogenic agents like hair or crystals in the bodies of their patients and to extract and return them to whoever sends them. A yopo trance also allows the shaman to travel to the sky world, where he meets the hero-constellations, the inventors of shamanic curing and the givers of shamanic power.

Death and Afterlife. Through a divinatory ceremony with tobacco and yopo, the shaman can determine the identity of a generally distant enemy who is responsible for the death of a person. The itomo ceremony takes place two or three years after the body is buried. The bones are exhumed and painted with annato and reburied in an urn. A large number of people are invited to this feast, which lasts for three days. Manioc beer is served, and there is dancing on the secondary grave to the sound of flutes made from deer crania. Following the ceremony, the spirit of the deceased goes to live in the world of the dead, whence it will not return to interfere in the lives of its relatives.

See also Cuiva

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