Panare - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Panare believe that the world was created by their culture hero, Mareoka. Their first ancestors lived at a place called Arewa, which some Panare associate with a mountain from which the Río Cuchivero springs, and other Panare with the banks of the Orinoco. From here they spread out to populate the world, but not before Mareoka had turned many of them into the game animals on which the Panare now depend. Despite his importance as its creator, Mareoka no longer influences the world, and no living Panare ever seeks his intervention. Indeed, most of the Panare's traditional religious behavior consists of trying to avoid contact with the supernatural, since any misfortune or illness is attributed to one of the many malignant but invisible spirits thought to roam the world.

Religious Practitioners. Those with shamanic qualities are described as i'yan. They enjoy no special privileges, but they are thought to be capable of curing the sick and/or leading the singing at public ceremonies. In order to become a shaman, one has to undergo a rigorous but largely self-directed training, one of the main purposes of which is to establish control of a number of jaguar familiars.

Ceremonies. The most elaborate ceremonies are funerals and male initiation. The forms of both were taught to the Panare by Mareoka long ago. The male-initiation ceremonies culminate with the dressing of boys between 10 and 12 in their first loincloths, but there are many preliminary rites in which the Panare's hunting, fishing, and agricultural activities are also celebrated. The main purpose of the funeral ceremony is to ensure that the soul of the deceased returns to Arewa and does not remain in this world to pester the living. All ceremonies involve much dancing and chanting as well as the consumption of great quantities of mildly alcoholic sugarcane or cassava beer. For this reason these ceremonies have been opposed by evangelical missionaries and have been abandoned in the evangelized communities.

Arts. Public ceremonies are the most developed form of artistic expression, not only in terms of music and dance, but also in relation to body decoration and ritual paraphernalia. Otherwise, the only significant artistic activity is the weaving of decorative baskets for sale to tourists.

Medicine. There is no elaborate pharmacopoeia, although emetics are widely used to cure stomach disorders. Shamanic curing largely consists of trying to suck out the darts blown into the victim by evil spirits.

Death and Afterlife. Death occurs when the soul ( inyeto ) leaves the body. The body is buried, but the soul becomes a ko'cham, a dangerous spirit roaming this world unit; during the funeral ceremony, it is invited to dance with the living for one last time and then dispatched back to Arewa.

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