Suya - Religion and Expressive Culture



The Suya religion was based on the contrast between society and nature, as expressed in the village plan, myths, and myriad details of everyday life, and, to a much lesser extent, on the contrast between the body and the spirit. Nature, in the form of certain animals, was considered to be powerful and transformative. The spirit was said to come into being with the formation of the fetus, but to survive the body's decomposition. The Suya, like other Gêspeaking groups and in contrast to most Tupí-speaking groups in Brazil, did not populate the universe with many types of supernaturals.

Religious Beliefs. Suya religious beliefs were based on the transformative power of natural species.

Religious Practitioners. Whereas male and female specialists led rituals and composed new songs, the rest of the population participated in the long ceremonial cycles based on rites of passage.

Ceremonies. Suya ceremonies were long (a ceremonial period often lasted several months) and organized around rites of passage—especially the initiation of boys into the men's house. The entire village participated in ceremonies, characterized by much singing and dancing, in which kinship-based relationships and food exchanges were replaced by ceremonial, name-based relationships and exchanges.

Arts. Important among the arts were body ornamentation, speech, and song, which were all determined largely by age, gender, and names. There was, however, room for inventiveness and creativity in each of these domains.

Medicine. The Suya used both herbs and highly valued metaphoric songs to ensure rapid growth, strong wind, good health, and fecundity. Serious illness was attributed to witchcraft. After 1959 both Western medicine and shamans from other Indian communities were added to Suya medical options.

Death and Afterlife. After a person died, he or she was painted, fully ornamented, and buried in the dirt floor of his or her residential house amid ritual wailing and angry speech about witchcraft. The spirit was said to leave the house, travel to the east, and climb a tree to the sky where it went either to a large village in which the spirits live in contrast ceremonial activity or to the village of the witches, if it was a witch's spirit. During mourning a person did not paint his or her body or sing. Several months after an adult's death the village would decide to begin a ceremony, and all of its members would take a purifying bath in the center of the village plaza, paint their bodies, and, by singing and dancing, return to full social life once again.


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