Rikbaktsa - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Rikbaktsa believe in an immanent universal order that harmoniously unites all living things, both in the natural and supernatural worlds. In primordial times all living beings spoke "the same language," but the secret of this compatibility was lost. Nowadays only the initiated can understand and intervene (always for the purpose of restoring original harmony) with forces that govern the world. Rikbaktsa religion is pantheistic, and apparently there is no belief in a Supreme Being. Forests and rivers are the habitat of a large number of mythical and supernatural beings, which are always remembered in myths and songs known to almost the entire community. The Rikbaktsa believe that animals and stars are human beings who in mythical times broke some taboo and suffered for it by being transformed.

Religious Practitioners. The Rikbaktsa have several shamans with considerable influence. Their traditional knowledge is not effective, however, in the treatment of illnesses introduced by Whites. Shamanistic knowledge is passed on, by means of a long and dangerous initiation, to those young men who show the greatest inclination for it. Initiates live in seclusion for over a year, guided by an experienced shaman. During this time they learn about the power of certain plants (with curative or poisonous properties) and how to control specific supernatural forces. Jesuit catechization has not changed traditional religious beliefs but has made their practice more secretive.

Ceremonies. An annual ritual cycle accompanies agricultural activities, during which ear piercing and name giving take place. There is a green-corn festival (in January), one for land clearing (in April), and a large feast (during May/June) when moieties and clans show their body painting and feather ornaments, play their flutes, and sing their characteristic songs. On such occasions mythical episodes or incidents of war, as they were lived by men in historical time, are taught.

Arts. Rikbaktsa are extraordinary flutists, and traditional music is played and sung at all their festivals. Most striking is their featherwork, however, which is multicolored and varied and among the most beautiful made by Brazil's tribal societies.

Medicine. Illness is seen as a bodily imbalance caused by breaking taboos or as the result of magic or poison. In curing, medicinal herbs are used as well as rituals of purification. Nowadays the Rikbaktsa also use Western medicines to combat illnesses introduced by Whites.

Death and Afterlife. The Rikbaktsa believe that the destiny of the dead is determined by the life they lived on earth. Those who lived better lives can make the transition to a happy world in which there is abundance, peace, and youth. Others can be reincarnated as animals (a certain kind of monkey, jaguar, or snake) or even as Whites.


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