Karihona - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefe. Opposition between the Karihona and manakïnï (animals, demons, monsters, human antagonists, or enemies), is one of the most prominent themes in their mythology. Conflicts with manakïnï often result in open fighting wherein the Karihona outwit their foes. The culture heroes and apical ancestors of the Karihona, Tukuchimobë (meaning "out of the egg of a hummingbird") and his elder brother, are occupied in such conflicts with the manakïnï during most of their saga. At the end they transform to sun and moon; no worship is related to them. The Karihona compare Tamekemï or Kuyugu (king vulture) to the Christian God, but he seems to be a pale figure, perhaps of missionary influence. The culture hero Kuwai shows suprahuman knowledge in his dealings with his adversaries and his faithless wife. The essence of life of persons and manakïnï is called omore. An important personality in mythology and everyday life is Itutarï, the ugly and malicious master of the forest and its animals. Most of the useful plants except manioc originated from his cremated body. The father or master of the aquatic animals is called Ikuchayumu (father of the fishes), who is of less importance in the daily life of the Karihona than Itutatï. Karihona ascribe much importance to dreams and other omens, such as the singing of the small bird kuiminari.

Religious Practitioners. During his apprenticeship the future shaman ( hiyachi ) becomes a seer by consuming hallucinogens (drinks made from Banisteriopsis and Virola ), supported by fasting and sexual abstinence and guided by an experienced shaman. In his visions he travels to other regions in order to enlist demons (manakïnï) and even God himself as advisers. By these means he acquires knowledge of hidden dimensions. His erudition is manifested by the acquisition of jaguars and other animals as helpers, by the memorization of effective songs and texts, and by the acquisition of quartz and various stones ( mara ), some of which are mystically introduced into the body of the hiyachi. Mara are generated out of lightning, and, according to the Karihona, there is an association of shamans and thunder in different ways. The shamans were called on to fend off the attacks of hostile manakïnï and to protect people against them, to cure the sick, to attract game to the surroundings of the village, to ensure success in hunting, and, in earlier times, in warfare. Shamans are the protectors of ordinary Karihona against various kinds of menaces and misfortunes and are themselves continually endangered by the attacks of other shamans as well as by women in special conditions (menstruation, childbirth). That is the Karihona explanation of the sexual antagonism prevalent among many Indian groups of the area.

Ceremonies. The Karihona celebrated different kinds of communal dance festivals, for which village invited others. The hosts prepared the drinks (beer), and the visitors brought smoked meat or tree fruits. During the ritual reception, men played trumpets—among them two bark trumpets called notihëimë (lit., "old women"), which the women were not allowed to see. Aquatic animals (caimans, anacondas, tortoises) were painted on the soil with pounded ayahuasca ( Banisteriopsis caapi ) and ritually destroyed. The hiding of the trumpets and the "killing" of the paintings were effectuated to protect the women from harm. Ritual whipping of the men and song duels between participants took place. Another kind of festival was the mask dance, usually or always celebrated at funerals. They were performed during the daytime while the shaman guarded the village against dangers from manakïnï. The mask dancers demonstrated by songs and pantomime the peculiarities of the manakïnï represented by them. According to the literature and the reports of informants, the Karihona celebrated anthropophagic festivals in the past. A Witoto was made drunk before he was killed and finally ceremonially consumed.


Arts. Masks, similar to those of other ethnicities of the area, were adopted from the neighboring Ka'wiari.

Medicine. Sick Karihona rest and diet. In former days they used herbal medicine but nowadays rely mostly pharmaceutical products. Certain afflictions were cured by a shaman in a séance. He took hallucinogens and sought the support of his mystical advisers in order to find the cause of the malady. Afflictions were often attributed to the attacks of hostile shamans who sent manakïnï to do harm, to the introduction of noxious objects into the body, or to loss of omore. Healing practices included blowing tobacco smoke over the body, sucking out noxious objects, and bringing back the omore to the body.

Death and Afterlife. After the death of a person, his or her house is burned down. Death is usually attributed to the machinations of malevolent shamans. After death, the omore of Karihona men goes to one region in heaven, the omore of women to another. The deceased resemble humans and live in houses just as on the earth, in a beautiful surrounding. There are no illnesses nor any other difficulties or problems, and therefore all live peacefully. Shamans inhabit yet another region, where they enjoy hallucinogens. After the death of a person, a dangerous ghost ( iwo ) originates. Riding around on a night swallow, it is much dreaded by the living.



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