Tatuyo - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Tatuyo religious life is inseparable from social, economic, and political life. Myth organizes these various aspects of existence not so much by imposing belief as by equating its mythological images with the reality of the natural and cultural world in which the Tatuyo live. Religious (spiritual) experience itself is essentially mystical and ecstatic in nature, based in particular on the powerful psychotropic plant yahé ( Banisteriopsis caapi; i.e., ayahuasca). All the mythical beings are supernatural beings. At the head of the mythical pantheon is the Sun, the Father, who is at once the creator and supreme shaman. Then come the other major figures, such as the Celestial Anaconda (the biological ancestor of the Tatuyo); Yurupari Anaconda (the initiatory ancestor); Earth Jaguar (the wild ancestor of humankind); Romi-Kumu; the Woman-Shaman (the hard-hearted woman); the Adyawaroas; the Celestial Workers (originally the first night, fire, and thunder); and Warimi, the culture hero, who is the intermediary between the sky and the earth, between myth and the tangible world, between the people (Mahâ, those who call themselves Tatuyo) and the Whites. In addition to the great mythological characters, there are the wâti, the cannibalistic ghosts that live in the forest.

Religious Practitioners. Men hold a monopoly on religious practices, and each man can be a practitioner. Nevertheless, certain men are recognized as great practitioners and are called ka mahm ("those who know") or kumu (shaman; generally called payé in Brazil).

Ceremonies. There are two types of ceremony among the Tatuyo: those in which the sacred flutes and trumpets (called poke in Tatuyo and yurupari in Nheêngatu) are played and those in which the instruments are not played. The former type, referred to generically as the "festival of yurupari," are associated with the initiation of boys and with the appearance of the season's first fruits. It entails, by means of word, dance, and music, a reenactment of the "way of primordial water"—the creation of the world and people. The second type of ceremony is based on the exchange of forest foods by allies.

Arts. The feather ornaments and choreography of the religious ceremonies are the most notable forms of Tatuyo artistic expression.

Medicine. Virtually every type of activity, object, plant, animal, or food can be a source or vector of illness, the dangers of which must be counteracted by a shaman. The Tatuyo use relatively few plants to cure illness. Shamanic cures consist mainly of verbal pronouncements intended to dispel the evil causing the sickness. The Tatuyo no longer hesitate to avail themselves of Western medicine whenever possible.

Death and Afterlife. When a man dies he takes his hammock, machete, and all the possessions that were important to him, waves goodbye, and leaves. He passes to the other side and arrives in another maloca, the Baleful Maloca, where he is received by his deceased parents. He stays there, seated in a hole, for one year, during which time he has many dreams. After a year's time he goes down to the river to wash and to take off the feather ornaments in which he was buried. When he returns to the maloca it is changed; it has become the Maloca of the Primordial Opening, where people live before being born.

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