Maká - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The traditional religion of the Maká was based mainly on mythical knowledge and the conviction that an ordered reality is constituted by the social world of the inwometec (nature spirits), with whom the shaman ( weihetáx ) could communicate. As throughout the central Chaco, there prevailed in Maká ideology an anthropogonic motif of a humanity, in the form of birds, that lacked an explanatory antecedent, the transformation of which gave origin to the beings that nowadays people the world, including humans. Carancho, the Hawk, is one of the most relevant mythical personages in Maká tradition, combining characteristics of the savior-hero with those of culture bringer. The world is populated by the inwometec, which function as masters of the environment; they associate with personages of power and volition, who are named after animal and plant species and maintain social relations among each other. There are also witsinqalic , free souls of slain warriors or dead jaguars, which pose a danger to those who have not captured them. The Maká believe that various monsters and frightening beings, such as large water snakes or a mythical cannibal ogress, inhabit the forest. These beliefs were gradually replaced by various syncretic forms and Christianity. Initially, the Maká adopted messianic and nativistic motifs in which the icon of Juan Belaieff, who was glorified after his death, played an important role. Nowadays, fundamentalist evangelical and Pentecostal cults prevail.

Religious Practitioners. The most important traditional religious agent is the shaman, who is in charge of the physical well-being of his group and who mediates with the powers of nature.

Ceremonies. Although the Maká had no ceremonial calendar, the most important gatherings were held during periods of social concentration, during the rainy season, when the ripening of wild fruit and an abundance of honey guaranteed sufficient provisions to feed the groups who had come together. Festivals of female initiation, when a young girl reaches her menarche, were very important. After a period of seclusion during which the girl had to pass a number of proficiency tests, a series of dances was performed in which the women danced with staves. The rite was completed with dances of young people of both sexes; an ambush by males disguised as supernatural beings, who were driven back by the girl's relatives; and drinking ceremonies. Other important celebrations took place when a man drank chicha for the first time, at the close of a mourning period, and on other occasions. Drinking together is in itself a key ceremony for the Maká. There are also evangelical cults, in which traditional mysticism is not completely absent.

Arts. Ceremonial music and dance are integral to Maká religious, propitiatory, and therapeutic beliefs and practices. Important components of Maká art are personal adornment with body painting, anklets, diadems, and feather crowns; music played on tin-can violins or the Jew's harp; and social events like wooing and warrior parades. Maká art is also manifested in the graphic abstraction of the cat's cradle, in the pyrographic decoration or encaustic painting on gourds, in techniques of weaving wool or Bromelia fibers, and in the theatrical presentation of indigenous life as performed for tourists.

Medicine. Illness is attributed to soul loss or object intrusion caused by an enemy shaman. Therapy continues to be the domain of the shaman, who, aided by his lewanhej (tutelary spirits), seeks to recapture the soul or extract the pathogens from the patient's body by blowing, sucking, and the laying on of hands.

Death and Afterlife. Death is never attributed to natural causes. Funerary rites include stoning and drubbing the corpse in the belief that harm will then revert to the evildoer who caused the person's demise. According to some, the souls of the dead are guided to a celestial paradise ( in inkhap ), although their shadows, veritable phantoms, will haunt the living, seeking their ruin.


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