Yawalapití - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Christian influence on the Yawalapití has been negligible, owing to the absence of Christian missions in the region. For this reason, traditional animism prevails. The Yawalapití believe in many spirits. The common name for all spirits is apapalotápu. The aquatic spirit, kwahalu, is hairy and the spirit of the earth, yacula (which also means "a shadow"), is very dangerous. To meet him means death to the Yawalapití. In this context, it is strictly forbidden to pronounce a dead person's name is strictly forbidden, for fear of his or her soul's reappearance.

Religious Practitioners. The Yawalapití distinguish different types of shamans ( pajé ) : the rulers of demonic spirits, the rulers of magic, and herbalists. The shaman's healing treatment consists of smoking tobacco cigars, blowing tobacco smoke over the patient's body, and sucking out the evil, which he wrecks with the purgative fume and crushes with his foot. The shaman himself becomes narcotized and reaches a level of ecstasy. Other pajé use biomagnetics, and the herbalist uses medicinal plants.

Ceremonies. The initiation ceremony of Yawalapití girls is called Yamuricuma. Prior to her initiation, a girl lets her hair grow to her chin. When the ceremony starts, the girl's hair is cut. The girls are decorated and painted like men, their heads are adorned with diadems, and they dance and sing and use bows and arrows. Later the girls wrestle and they also undergo the rite for clarifying the skin on their arms, thighs, and backs with a fish-tooth instrument. Initiation is a ceremony during which an exceptional girl can be chosen to be the future wife of a future chief. Boys, before their initiation, are isolated for two to three years in the corner of the maloca beyond a mat, where the fathers and grandfathers are in charge of preparing them for adulthood. The Pihiká ceremony is given after piquí fruits drop (October to November). The feast starts with dances, which last for two or three days. After that, the boys have to stand for the whole night, during which their auricles, in order to get anestethized, are smeared with juice from the jumu tree. The following morning the pajé performs the piercing of their earlobes with a sharp point of jaguar bone. In the successive two to three days the boys fast; they conclude the fast by taking a medicine that causes vomiting. The ceremony ends with new names being given to the boys.

Other feasts of the Yawalapití are Tapanawana (Festival of the Leaves), Takwara (Festival of the Flutes), Ihraráka (War Festival), Kuarup (Burial Festival), and Apapálu (Feast of the Sacred Flutes), when the men dress in a strip of jaguar's skin and blow the sacred flutes, which the women are not permitted to see. During the feasts and festivals, the Yawalapití drink a very slightly fermented juice from boiled fruits (piquí), which is held for some months under water. Scarifying the bodies of boys and girls is a prevalent custom, executed many times during their lives.

Medicine. In case of illness, the Yawalapití prefer the help of their pajé even if it is possible to call for medical care at Leonardo Villas Boas Indian Post. In cases of serious illness, one can fly to the hospital of São Félix de Araguaia or to Brasília in FUNAI or FAB airplanes. The Yawalapití believe that pain and illness originate in evil, which reside in the body of the patient in the form of small wooden pieces, stones, seeds, thorns, and the like. To get rid of the illness, the pajé has to remove the objects from the patient's body. He does so by shamanastic means: smoking, blowing the smoke over the patient's body, muttering chants, and sucking out and destroying the evil.

Death and Afterlife. All possessions that belong to a deceased man are buried together with him. The corpse is wrapped in its hammock and mat and is buried in front of the men's house. After one or two months of mourning, the Yawalapití men surround the burial ground with a low fence, the dead person's "house," made of logs of the sacred tree ( mhári ). When the mourning period is ended, the Burial Festival (Kuarup) commences.

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