Guambiano - Religion and Expressive Culture

Medicine. The Guambiano attribute the origin of illness to supernatural beings. Pishin, a water spirit, is especially feared by menstruating women, since he can impregnate them. Another anthropomorphic spirit is Kalyim, a ghost, that is implicated in the etiologies of many illnesses. This "spirit of the mountains" harms only people who are contaminated. "Contamination" and "purity" are two basic concepts in Guambiano thinking—they submit houses, tools, clothes, and persons to rituals of purification by religious specialists. The concept of contamination is the key to understanding the role of illness. Although people can be contaminated or become impure through contact with spirits of the dead or other spirits, women are the main sources of contamination. With their menstrual blood or postpartum bleeding, they are contaminated themselves and contaminate everything around them.

Death and Afterlife. After a person dies, a purification ceremony must always be performed. Many people attend these rituals, the object of which is to free the spirit of the deceased and permit it to travel to the other world. The spirits of the dead must not be allowed to remain roaming around the places where the deceased once lived and worked. That is why after a person's death his or her house and fields must be submitted to a purification ceremony. The ceremony is performed by one or several shamans who, while drinking aguardiente (hard liquor), chewing coca, and smoking cigarettes or tobacco, go through the rooms of the house and its surroundings using a long pole of chonta -palm wood to capture malevolent spirits. While one of the shamans captures and purifies the spirit, the other one plays a potentially divinatory role. He has the ability to "feel" and to receive "signals" from the beyond, which indicate whether the ceremony has been successful.

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