Guajiro - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Guajiro are little inclined to religious practices. They do not appeal to their divinities directly, and their rites few. Although their conception of the world is extremely dualistic, the Manichaeism of the Christian religion has made little impact on them.

The Guajiro invoke Maleiwa, their culture hero born from the remains of his mother, who was devoured by Jaguar. After having rejected Jaguar in the wilderness of Nature, which he personifies, Maleiwa created humans and differentiated the world, in which originally everything was anthropomorphic and related. Maleiwa, who is sometimes confused with the God of the Whites, is of little importance today. Guajiro mythic concepts are based on an opposition between two fundamental supernatural beings: Juya (rain), the hypermasculine hunter, and Pulowi, the subterranean woman, mistress of animals, who is associated with drought and death and who manifests herself in numerous places such as holes or little rises, which are called pulowi and are avoided by the Guajiro for fear of disappearing or falling gravely ill. The elements of the symbolic world are divided into two equivalent and complementary classes of which Juya and Pulowi, who are husband and wife, are the representations and relevations. Several other supernatural beings are also recognized: wanulüü, akalpui, keeralia, juyain, and others. The Guajiro also accord great importance to the ghosts of the dead, the yoluja, who haunt their dreams, dictate much of their behavior, and are the cause of many illnesses.


Religious Practitioners. Shamans as well as diviners still continue to corroborate traditional representations and beliefs, for example by curing sickness or epizootic disease or foretelling the appropriate site of new houses.


Ceremonies. Formerly, collective horticultural work was accompanied by a ceremony, which has today disappeared, called kaa'ülayawaa (goat dance), often accompanied, among the wealthy, by courses of horse meat ( awachira ama ). It was an occasion for competitions, games of skill and team games, and for rendezvous between young people. Today the yonna dance, which is danced by a couple to the beat of a drum, is the most common collective demonstration. It is organized to celebrate an economic success; the visit of an important person, Guajiro or foreign ( alijuna ); the end of a period of seclusion; and similar events. The dance is also frequently prescribed by a shaman at the end of a cure. But funerals, both first and second, remain the most important Guajiro ceremonies.


Arts. Songs ( jayeechi ), sung as solos, often accompany gatherings; they can last for hours and so can become for men a true test of endurance. Their content can be biographical, historical, or ancedotal (love stories, lullabies, etc.). The Guajiro also play, also in solo, several types of flute and the Jew's harp.


Medicine. The Guajiro distinguish two types of sickness. Beyond a certain threshold of pain and when the domestic treatments by plants, firebrands ( asijai ), and the like are found to be ineffective, the sickness is considered to be of the wanülüü type: its cause is supernatural. Nosology is of the etiological type. It distinguishes three great types of causes: encounters with or aggression by supernatural beings ( oustaa ), aggression by ghosts of the dead ( yolujasiraa ), and contamination ( kapülainwea ) by animals or by those who have handled remains of the dead or the bodies of murder victims. Traditionally, only shamans could assure a cure. Today many Guajiro follow winding therapeutic itineraries that take them from shamans to doctors at "health centers" and, in passing, to the healers or "sorcerers" of the neighboring rural areas.


Death and Afterlife. According to the Guajiro, humans are part of a fatal cycle. When they die, their souls cross the "way of the dead Indians," the Milky Way, and they go to Jepira, the peninsula of the dead, passing from the state of person ( wayuu ) to that of yoluja. To Jepira, the yoluja constitute a society comparable or opposed to that of the living, and then, "a long time after," "they are lost." Everything happens as though Juya and Pulowi were assimilating them. Long-dead Guajiro are then found on earth in the form of rain, which assures the rejuvenation of vegetation and life, or in the form of wanülüü, who bring sickness and death. The double funeral corresponds to the double fate of the dead. At the time of the second burial, to which the Guajiro accord extreme importance, the remains of the members of the same matrilineage are reunited, signifying anonymity and oblivion but also the force and the permanence of the group.


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