Terena - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Prior to the imposition of Christianity, the religious life of the Terena was oriented toward shamanism. According to the Terena's conception of the world, all human, animal, and plant beings possessed a soul ( hoipihapati ) that survives after death. Personifications of natural forces inhabited the mythical-symbolical universe of the Terena. One of the most important myths is that of the Yurikoyuvakai, the civilizing twin heroes, who gave the Terena their tools. It is this myth that justifies the division into ceremonial halves in traditional Terena society.

Religious Practitioners. In traditional Terena society the shaman ( koixomuneti ) was the main figure in activities connected with the supernatural world. In addition to functioning as a healer, the koixomuneti was an important counselor in warring expeditions, since he or she predicted future events. The koixomuneti's apprenticeship took several months, during which the candidate went through a period of solitude and fasting under the guidance of an experienced koixomuneti. A person generally became a shaman after a revelation in a dream or by being selected by a koixomuneti among his (or her) kin. At this time there still are a few practicing village koixomuneti (both men and women), performing a shamanic ritual that combines traditional elements with Christianity. The koixomuneti are always practicing Catholics.

Ceremonies. The great ceremonial feast of the Terena used to be the Oheokoti, consisting of sacred as well as profane rituals. This ceremony was performed when the Pleiades reached their highest point in the skies (April/May) and was linked to the start of the harvest. The ceremony began with shamanic rituals and continued with fun and games, ending in a large feast. At present only the shamanic ritual is still practiced in a few Terena villages. The holidays particularly celebrated in the villages today are the National Day of the Indian (19 April), Christmas, and New Year's.

Arts. Traditional Terena dancers wear special costumes and paint. Skirts are made of rhea feathers, the bird being important in Terena mythology. The dancers are accompanied by a flute player and the sound of a drum. Today, the "wood-beating" dance ( kohixotikipahé ) is performed during the National Indian Day celebrations. Two groups of dancers take part in this dance. Another surviving dance is the women's putu-putu.

Medicine. Practically all Terena adults are familiar with the more widely used medicinal plants. The koixomuneti is generally consulted when the more common treatments do not work or if "witchcraft" is suspected. Techniques used by the koixomuneti include suction and fumigation. In addition to the koixomuneti, there are prestigious healers in the villages, who also are frequently consulted. Their treatment generally involves plant therapy. FUNAI operates an infirmary at each indigenous post; however, they have neither supplies of medication nor the structure required to serve the population.

Death and Afterlife. The Terena used to bury their dead with the head facing west. They believed that after death the spirit moved on to the "land of the dead," which is to the west, in the direction of the Chaco, their old habitat. The koixomuneti helped the spirit in its voyage to the land of the dead. The Terena traditionally burn the dead person's house or replace the entrance door so that if the spirit of the deceased returns, looking for company, it would not recognize its old abode. At present burial and mourning follow the patterns current among the Brazilian population.

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