Siona-Secoya - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Siona-Secoya religion is animistic; the natural order is explained without recourse to concepts of good and evil. The Siona-Secoya believe in a multitude of spirits that inhabit natural phenomena such as animals, trees, rivers, and stars. The culture hero Baina ("With the People") is the main protagonist of the origin story, and his deeds of transformation in mythic times account for the known earth. The Siona-Secoya believe in a tiered universe, with an underworld, the earth, and multiple celestial realms.

Ceremonies. The fundamental ritual of the Siona-Secoya is the yahé ceremony presided over by the shaman. These ceremonies do not follow a regular schedule but are held at varying intervals depending on the needs and desires of the community. The ceremony serves multiple purposes, including the diagnosis and treatment of illness, the identification and punishment of enemy sorcerers, the calling of game animals, appeals concerning the weather, communication with supernatural spirits and the dead, and the naming of individuals with special spirit names. The ceremony is a communal one, with the shaman acting as leader and guide. The hallucinogenic ayahuasca ( Banisteriopsis caapi ) potion is the medium through which contact with the spirit world is made.

Arts. Musical instruments include the one-stringed bow and vertical flutes of bamboo. Small drums are played—possibly a European introduction. Large ceramic trumpets are used for signaling. Men's songs are of the shamanic genre, whereas women sing of domestic life and its problems. Face and body painting are important modes of individual artistic expression.

Medicine. Most disease is thought to be caused by the magical darts of sorcerers. Some illnesses and birth defects are explained as the result of violating dietary or other taboos. Shamans diagnose and treat illness with rituals and plant medicines. Sucking and massage are employed to extract sorcerers' darts. Since the 1950s some modern medicines and clinical care have become available, but on an inconsistent basis.

Death and Afterlife. Most deaths are ascribed to sorcery. The dead person is wrapped in a hammock and buried under the house, which is then abandoned. The soul ( hoyo ) of the deceased travels to the sky world and lives among the "heavenly people" by a great celestial river. Such souls occasionally return to earth and cause mischief.


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