Religious Beliefs. The Yagua believe in supernatural forces animating all manifestations of nature. These forces have to be considered and respected by human beings in everyday life. The Yagua consider a small number of mythical beings or mythical ancestors to be Supreme Beings who created the world. These beings are surrounded by numerous spirits animating the visible and invisible worlds and residing in the forest, in the water, and on earth as well as on different levels of the heavens and underworlds. These spirits are considered either benevolent (hunting spirits), malevolent (stars), or both, according to specific circumstances. The shaman is the principal mediator between humans and the spiritual world.
Since the eighteenth century, beginning with the Jesuits, missionaries—first Catholic, later also Protestant—have tried to evangelize the Yagua, more or less successfully. Today, even under cover of Christian beliefs, the traditional religion survives or prevails among more isolated groups.
Religious Practitioners. Any individual can become a shaman through training by a master. This training lasts several months and includes the use of mind-altering drugs and the imparting of knowledge of the spirtual world and the techniques of diagnosis and healing of illness. Although shamans receive only limited material rewards, they exercise considerable influence as a result of their divinatory and healing roles and under special conditions can even become political leaders. A Yagua community without a shaman is still considered very vulnerable.
Ceremonies. Social life revolves around the drinking of native manioc beer. These parties are held on the occasion of clearing the forest for a garden, house building, marriage, initiation, safe return from a trip—and now also on Christian holidays. Formerly, the "Big Feast" was the centerpiece of Yagua ceremonial life. It took place only every few years, when the young male members of a clan got their names and were initiated to the powerful hunting spirits. The feast lasted several days and was usually given in the months when game and fruits were abundant (February to April).
Arts. Singing was an important part of traditional ceremonial life, and there were professional singers. Pantomimes, the repertoire of which differed from clan to clan, were also performed at the Big Feast, at which wrestling was another featured event.
Medicine. Disease is thought to be caused by spiritual malevolence brought on by violating taboos and by sorcery. Curing techniques consist of extracting the foreign "element" by sucking it out and blowing tobacco smoke over the patient. Medicinal plants might be used later on and by anyone, but do not belong to the shaman's practice. Today, Western medicine is applied side by side with indigenous treatment.
Death and Afterlife. Death is ascribed to the same origins as disease. Death is feared and so are the evil spirits connected with it. Formerly, the corpse was buried in the center of the communal house, whereupon the house was burned down and the site abandoned. This is still practiced in more remote areas, but in more Western-oriented settlements the dead are now buried in cemeteries. Dying means that the different souls that resided in different parts of the body travel to their respective levels in the mythological universe.