Yukuna - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The maloca is a model of and for the cosmos and of shamanistic geography. Simultaneously, in Yukuna cosmology the universe is composed of layers of griddle plates, which represent maloca units. The universe, composed of superimposed and juxtaposed maloca networks, is inhabited by human and nonhuman forces. The cosmic river, with Sun and Moon (Senior and Junior brothers) surround the universe. The snake/vine of the worlds sustains the fire at the base of the cosmos. A palm tree is the axis mundi. This earth is between the five skies of male Thought in the heavens and two female underworlds. In the apex of the skies resides Tufana/God, whereas the Kaipulakena or the Four Founding Ancestors, the Master of Wild Fruits and Animals, the Master of Cultivated Food, the Master of Chants, the Master of Death, and the spirits of high-flying birds reside in the other skies. In one of the underworlds, certain spirit-forms live hanging upside down and sleeping during the day. In another underworld reside past ethnic groups and the remnants of previous geneses. Namatu, Mother Earth, is the master of the telluric and aquatic forces of the underworld.

This earth is determined by the dynamics between the male Yurupari and female Namatu forces, each of which empowers the respective gender. The utilization of any resource from Nature necessarily entails shamanistic "payment" to Nature for its "labor" by exchanging beings and energy with the master of each biome. Each master of Nature is said to reside in a maloca, with kin plants and animals in a hierarchy of dependence. Human deaths and illnesses are part of the payment to Nature.

The universe is composed of human and nonhuman peoples, who are sentient beings in many spatiotemporal levels. An exiled and distant God resides in the apex of the skies. The Four Brothers or Founding Ancestors reside in the highest sky, isolated under an airless crystal abode. Otherwise, many active supernatural beings reside in the rest of the skies, which, with the telluric female forces, continually interact with humans. Mystic ancestors that constitute constellations, stars, the Milky Way, Venus, or the rainbow are said to exert desirable seasonal changes on the environment when shamans solicit them or their masters. Sun is a great Seer that guides initiated men, and Moon is an ally of jaguar-man shamans and of menstruating women. On the earth Nature is a supracultural realm of animal and plant "peoples" who exchange resources with humans. Many animals (e.g., jaguars, dolphins, and nutrias) that are considered lineage ancestors from mythic times are tabooed and not eaten. Only shamans and initiated adults understand and see the supernatural. A jaguarman can travel in Thought through tobacco smoke, water and air currents, and between and among the levels of the universe by changing into different animal predators, according to the biome he traverses in Thought.

Religious Practitioners. There are two types of shamans: the marichu (jaguar-man, "he who Sees"), who can divine the future through his great knowledge of social history and of the natural environment and who directs the sacred ceremonies, and the lawichurau (curer), the shaman who merely "cures people and food," prescribes good conduct, and counsels his local group on short-term activities. The singer/dancer/chanter leads the musical performances in all rituals, "directing the energy of the community with heavenly forces."

Ceremonies. Throughout the yearly cycle there are more than twenty collective rituals in the main malocas, where hundreds of people meet temporarily to dance and exchange information while the host shamans "think ahead to see how the people will live in the next season." An elaborate calendar of ceremonies begins at the September equinox, with the appearance of the Caterpillar (Corona Australie) and Cicada constellations and the setting of the Anaconda (Scorpio) at the beginning of the dry season. An earth-drum ritual, which is performed to cure the oncoming cultivated food, initiates the time for clearing the jungle and building new houses and fields. During September and October many dances and chants with fermented pineapple take place to celebrate the abundance of food and fish of the season, and from November to December households meet for two days and nights to dance the peach-palm ( Bactris gasipaes ) ritual, in which dozens of masked men in bark-cloth costumes ritually sing and theatrically represent the animals with whom they share the fruit.

During the March Equinox, when the stars of Egret's Neck (Pleiades) and the Tapir's Jaw (Hyades) set and the wet season is beginning, the male initiation rituals of Yurupari take place. As a symbolic severance from women is stated and young boys and men are taught to "see beyond the eyes" and know the symbolism of their material culture and the rules of their social structures, they sound the sacred trumpets. The women are forbidden to see the trumpets, although myths state that women were their primal owners in matriarchal-origin times.

Throughout the wet season the jungle is flooded and many ceremonies with wild fruits and seeds take place as the masters of these fruits and of certain animals that are hunted or fished are "paid." In turn, an individual's life cycle is usually marked by rites of passage at birth, puberty, and death involving shamanistic intercession accompanied by strict avoidance of sexual contact and certain alimentary restrictions (against fat, sugar, and salt). Many individual crises are managed in private ceremonies that are mediated by the shamans, who publicly explain the diagnosis, usually making reference to a human infraction of the limits of a certain biome or an enemy group's shamanistic attack. Each time a new maloca is built, there are ceremonies to cool the ground against gossip, envy, and conflict and to consult the willingness of the ancestors and certain beneficent forces. In an inauguration feast guests are asked to test the physical strength of its architectural frame and to dance happily while shamans think ahead for six or eight years to see the future communal life.

Arts. Except for a few Western items, most objects are made by the Yukuna. The knowledge for construction of the maloca and for the production of material artifacts is transmitted by oral memory and encoded mnemotechnically in the parts and processes of the items. An encyclopedic corpus of myths, chants, songs, and formulas requires a special discipline that takes place formally and informally. Theatrical performance, in arenas such as the peach-palm ritual, enacts dramatically and ironically the main social tensions and includes songs to the animal people, permitting group catharsis and solidarity. Body paint, masks, and the decoration of objects encode icons of cultural identity. Many of the new iconic elements of the material culture are seen in dreams before they are manufactured.

Medicine. Illness is said to be caused and cured through Thought. Almost no medicinal plants are used in shamanistic therapeutics. Unlike the Tukanoans, the Yukuna do not use the hallucinatory yajé, although large doses of tobacco, smoked or snuffed, and of coca and certain incense fumes may cause altered awareness. Shamans cure by thinking about the causes of an illness and interpreting socially the cause of individual suffering. To remember his view of the patient's ailment, a shaman records them in his own body as muscular twitches. To identify the origin of an illness or the place where the patient's Thought is hidden, the shamans expand corporeal problems into the cosmic topography. Shamans blow and suck the patient's body in search of signs of supernatural intrusions. Sexual and alimentary restrictions usually apply after a diagnosis. Nowadays a distinction is made between Indian and Western sicknesses, and Western medication is sought for the latter.

Death and Afterlife. Death after an illness is caused by another shaman's attack (through Thought or by poison-ing), by a Western sickness, or by the theft of a person's mind by an aggrieved master of Nature who took it as compensation for a debt the person had incurred with him when using natural resources. Dead people's bodies decompose in the Earth Mother and their spirit travels in the cosmic river to reach the sky of the dead. In the maloca of the dead, it receives all the personal belongings that were burned or thrown away during the funeral. If not found guilty of incest by the Master of Death, the spirit is placed under an overturned pot. If the death of a person is caused by the loss of his or her Thought to Nature, part of the deceased becomes a vital force for the "people" of Nature. The Yukuna are buried underneath the place where they slung their hammocks and slept, in a tomb with a lateral shaft. The body is wrapped in a hammock, placed facing east. After about a year, a ceremony to end mourning is held, and it is forbidden to be sad hence. If the maloca headman dies, the maloca is abandoned.

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