Huarayo - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The influence of Christianity in Palmareal is not especially strong. According to the accessible information, animism still prevails. A greater influence of Christianity is found in the combined settlements, at the El Pilar mission, and in Riberalta. The Huarayo feared several evil spirits. Practically every thing or class of things or beings is thought to have a spirit component. The most powerful spirits are Edosikiani and the water spirit Enashagua. The Huarayo believe that animals originated by metamorphosis from humans.


Religious Practitioners. The shaman ( eyámitecua ) is an important personage: he mediates between living people and the souls of the dead and the spirit world, which most commonly is approached only through him. The shaman is primarily a healer and seer. He is the only person with an extensive and special knowledge of medicinal herbs and their uses. This knowledge is, as a rule, passed on to his eldest son. The shaman has a broad repertoire of curing practices. A form of surgery is used, and by means of very high-pitched whistling, the ulcers on the bodies of the patients open by themselves without being touched, and the worms jump out. In the past, the Huarayo, by drinking ayahuasca, reached a dream state in which they struggled with enormous animals. The shaman explained the dreams, interpreting who or what was responsible for illness, who was the enemy, and the way to win the battle.


Ceremonies. The Huarayo no longer drink fermented drinks from sweet manioc (masato) or from plantains. In the past, as part of their initiation rite, boys consumed these drinks to foresee their future. The boys were circumcised, and the girls were ritually deflowered. The drinking feasts of the fermented plantain drink eshaha poi were very frequent.

Arts. Huarayo art is limited to body and face painting. Red (achiote) and black ( huito; i.e., Genipa americana ) pigments were used. Sometimes they also painted cushma and manufactured elaborate feather diadems and necklaces from animal teeth and from shells. Drinking bouts were accompanied by music (drums and flutes) and chants. The most important culture heroes are the deer Dokuel and forefather Gemasho. Mythology treats the origin of the Huarayo and the Flood, but its main emphasis is on the animals in the times when they used to live as people.

Medicine. The Huarayo believe that a supernatural cause of disease is the thorn of the chonta palm sent into victim's body by a malinga shaman or by the evil spirit Edosikiani. A cure may be accomplished with herbs or by shamanistic means: blowing tobacco fumes over the patient, singing, massaging the affected part of the body (biomagnetism), performing sleight-of-hand tricks, and sucking the painful place. On the third night the curing process ends. From the victim's body the shaman sucks the bloody thorn and then destroys it. Today, spraying alcohol from the shaman's mouth over the body of the patient is also part of the curing process.

Death and Afterlife. According to Huarayo belief, the deceased leaves the settlement in the guise of a peccary ( huangana ) and proceeds to the River of the Dead (Kwei ay enama). With the help of Edosikiani, the peccary swims across the river. On the other side it transforms again into a human and settles there. Only in the guise of a huangana is it possible to visit people again; therefore the huangana is considered to be a dead relative. Contact with the huangana is secured by a shaman.

Every Huarayo posseses at least three souls. The first thinks and talks and after the death of the human being settles beyond the River of the Dead. The second— enashahus, the soul of rivers—leaves for the depths of waters, and the third, ekwikya, stays and looks after the dead body. The ekwikya is able to bite and even to kill; therefore food is buried with the corpse to keep the ekwikya with the deceased.

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