Piro - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The traditional religion is polytheistic and does not completely distinguish between gods and demons. Roman Catholicism, introduced in the seventeenth century, has never been fully accepted. Seventh-Day Adventists contacted the Piro around 1930. Much of their practice of Levitical law was temporarily added to the Piro system of taboos. Beginning in 1949 the Piro have had their own translation of the New Testament and have developed a Piro hymnody.

The chief hero-trickster god is named Tsla. Three brothers called "the First Ones" assist him. Woods, air, and rivers are considered to be inhabited by demons. Individual creatures such as jaguars, manatees, boas, lizards, and certain birds are often thought to be embodied demons.

Religious Practitioners. The term kahonchi refers to a man with supernatural power to heal or to cause sickness. There is a different term for one specializing in malignant practice. Supernatural power is said to be acquired by drinking ayahuasca ( Banisteriopsis caapi ) or by contacting satanasyo, Christian services are led by lay members of the community.

Ceremonies. There was no worship of gods, but an individual might drink ayahuasca or another drug or fast to induce a god to appear to him. Shamans and medicine men practiced magic formulas. Present-day Christian worship is quite informal; the service is in part copied from Whites, and in part a Piro development.

Arts. Basketry, beadwork, and painting of geometric designs on cloth, pottery, and occasional figurines are the only formal art. Artistic ability is often displayed, however, in the graceful form of a carved paddle, turtle-shaped seat, or even a dugout canoe, as well as in the form of pottery utensils.

Medicine. Apart from the kahonchi, there are many herbalists, both male and female, with knowledge of a great variety of herbs, some wild, some cultivated.

Death and Afterlife. Bodies are usually wrapped in mats and buried in graves about 2 meters deep. Two ghosts were traditionally feared: the ghost of the soul and a rattling ghost of the bones. Powerful witch doctors and others whose sins were comparatively few were thought to go to heaven and become gods. For a while after death other souls haunt familiar areas and eat papaya.

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