Ka'wiari - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The ordering of the universe is associated with the mythical cycle of the Mujnuyi and Kua, primordial ancestors who ordered the cosmos and appropiated the natural world. The origin of human beings is related to the mythical cycle of the ancestral Anaconda, which recounts the origin of humankind and the structuring of society. At the beginning, from the base at the eastern end of the world, the Anaconda went up the fluvial axis of the universe. It moved to the center of the world, the Río Apaporis, where it gave birth to humanity.

Religious Practitioners. The shaman (jaguar) is the most important religious practitioner in the sacred life of the Ka'wiari. He is the keeper of knowledge about the order of the cosmos, the environment, beings and spirits of the jungle, and of the community's treasure of myths and history. In ritual, he is in charge of communicating with ancestral spirits. Other functions, like that of the singer-dancer, still exist.

Ceremonies. Collective ceremonies may be held at the beginning of the gathering of jungle products, the foraging for animals or plants, the harvesting of cultivated products, or, on occasion, the clearing of the forest for new fields. The most important ceremony was associated with male initiation, known in the Vaupés area as yurupari. In the course of the event, initiates were introduced for the first time to the ancestral flutes and trumpets. Females and uninitiated boys were excluded from this ceremony.

Arts. Ritual paraphernalia combines elaborate feather headdresses, a necklace with a cylindrical quartz pendant, a belt with wildcat teeth, a loincloth exquisitely ornamented with red vegetable dye, and pendants on arms and legs tied to ribbons woven with cumare fiber. Musical instruments include wind and percussion instruments such as ancestral flutes, trumpets, panpipes, ocarinas, animal shells, stamping tubes, rattles, and rattles of dried seeds. Body painting is done with black and red vegetal dyes.

Medicine. Illness is a latent state that demands constant shamanic intervention. It may be caused by seasonal conditions, events in a person's life cycle, violation of social or environmental norms, or aggression and sorcery by third persons. Although each individual has elemental knowledge of shamanism, shamanic curing is the prerogative of the practitioner whose prophylactic and therapuetic practices include exorcisms and blowing on food and objects. Shamans have the ability to potentiate, reconstitute, and preserve benevolent powers.

Death and Afterlife. Disposing of the dead is a secular act; there is no special ritual associated with it. The deceased is brought to the house and buried under his or her hammock, together with the utensils of his or her daily use. Women weep and join the men in recounting the virtues of the deceased. Dead members of the group are reincarnated in their descendants, who every fourth generation carry their names.


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