Mundurucu - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Years of effort by Franciscan, Baptist, and Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) missionaries have resulted in some Roman Catholic and Protestant converts. In the early 1950s Mundurucu adults would tell traditional tales and myths as they sat with children beside the evening fires (Murphy 1958). This practice had waned considerably by 1980, when children were more likely to hear radio programs or records played on battery-powered phonographs than traditional lore. Important in their view of the world is the mischief, illness, or death caused by sorcerers. These sorcerers are said to hate everybody and are blamed whenever someone falls ill, has an accident, or dies.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans are healers. When someone falls ill or dies, a shaman identifies the sorcerer, whom other men of the village attempt to kill. The most likely suspect is another shaman, who is known to have spiritual powers that could be used to practice sorcery. Both shamans and sorcerers are almost always male (Murphy 1958, 29-49).

Ceremonies. Ceremonies reported by Murphy as occurring in 1952-1953 were not held during 1979 and 1980. In Cabrua, the three karoko (sacred flutes) were kept in a section of the men's house away from the sight of women, but men did not sleep in the men's house, and the sacred flutes were not played. At one village, a missionary encouraged the community to hold their traditional dances, but most of the teenagers lost interest, went to a nearby house, turned on their record player, and danced as couples to Brazilian country music.

Arts. Mundurucu men weave baskets, make necklaces of figures carved from Brazil-nut shells, and, infrequently, make bows and arrows. Women sew clothes from purchased cloth, make small fishing nets, and, very rarely, weave hammocks and make clay pots.

Medicine. The Mundurucu believe that sorcerers cause illness by spreading caushi (infectious objects that cause illness or death). Shamans cure by blowing smoke on the body, patting it, and then flinging or sucking out the caushi, which are then burned. If an individual experiences depression or malaise, this is attributed to soul loss. The shaman calls the lost soul to encourage it to enter a tapir skull and then to return to its proper place in the person from whom it wandered. When ill, Mundurucu also seek industrially manufactured medicines to effect cures.

Death and Afterlife. Just after a person dies, men from the moiety opposite to that of the deceased burn personal items belonging to the dead person, make a coffin, and bury the body. Their concept of afterlife is now greatly influenced by the Christian notion of heaven. Mundurucu formerly buried their dead under the clay floors of their houses, and this may still occur in some villages. Missionaries and Indian agents have encouraged villages to use cemeteries instead.


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