Mashco - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. When considering the mythicoreligious universe of the Mashco, two general and basic structures must be recognized: the opposition between xarangbütn, or human, and tóto, or demonic, which determines the reality of native life. The Mashco differentiate three orders or circuits of the demonic: Tóto personified, entities that belong to Tóto, and beings that are in a state of tóto.

Tóto is purported to have a body similar to that of humans, but disfigured by mutilations such as a missing eye, an oversized mouth, a semifleshless body, and a lack of some body parts. Tóto is of a permanently orgiastic disposition, practices cannibalism, and causes illness and death. With the exception of those of the peach palm, all fruits of the forest belong to Tóto. If they are improperly gathered, it can result in the transgressors' illness and death.

Those who are in a state of tóto are the animals of the forest, of the water, and of the air (unless they have undergone a special process of "humanization") ; the masters of animal species; the hunters who have been initiated by one of the leaders of the animals; the Amiko, who have caused numerous types of harm, as, for example, the introduction of illnesses for which no cure is known; the Wachipaeri and Zapiteri shamans ( topakéri ), who have entered a state of tóto through initiation; witches ( tshiwembáe ) whose harmful activities are revealed by the shaman or the "dreamer" and who are submitted to a real trial to identify them, determine their culpability, and punish them; various artifacts, which in the moment of the coming apocalypse, will show their true demonic nature; and the souls of the deceased who live in the underworld (Seronhái).

The mythico-religious complex of the Mastico distinguishes between mythic narratives and chants ( estiva ) for various purposes. There is no generic term that designates myths, but every narrative is particularized by mentioning its most important spiritual protagonist and the event that gives it meaning.

The cosmos is considered to be dome shaped. The Amaracaeri distinguish only a single sky, whereas the Wachipaeri and Zapiteri recognize several tiers. The terrestrial level is circular, and below it is the underworld of the souls of the deceased. Religion permeates all aspects of Mashco life. AU natural beings, like the animals, for example, are believed to be demonic.

Religious Practitioners. The shaman is initiated by the animals of the forest and learns how to separate his soul from his body. Like everybody else, he lives in the communal house, but he also lives with his animal wives in the interior of the forest. Among the Amaracaeri, shamanism is less complex an institution than among the other factions, and they prefer to speak of "dreamers" rather than of "shamans." In curing, agricultural rites, sorcery, and love magic, a very important role is played by the specialists in the performance of powerful chants. Witches are persecuted, and if the plant bundles with which they cause harm cannot be located, they are executed.

Ceremonies. The main Amaracaeri ceremony is centered on the male-initiation dances. Among the Wachipaeri and Zapiteri, drinking masato beer (made from sweet manioc) at a social gathering has a ceremonial character. It permits the resolution of personal conflicts by means of special songs containing metaphorical imagery.

Arts. Besides feather ornaments, there are small bags and tunics of bark cloth, adorned with geometrical designs like dots, crosses, and stripes of different meanings. Body painting is done on festive occasions.

Medicine. The shaman is in charge of medicine but does not completely monopolize the field. Instead, there are other curers whose therapeutic practices involve the use of esüva, which have become instituted in Mashco culture by means of etiological myth.

Death and Afterlife. In general, death is attributed to the malefic action of Tóto. The soul ( wanokire ) goes to a place located in the underworld. The souls of shamans and hunters go into the forest, where they live with the animals. The Mashco have been catechized by missionaries of the Dominican order and by linguists of the Summer Institute of Linguistics.


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