Foto: Jorge Hernández Díaz, 1983

Fulni-ô

  • Other names
  • Where they are How many

    PE4.687 (Siasi/Sesai, 2012)
  • Linguistic family
    Ia-tê

The Ouricuri ritual

The arrangements for the transference of the Indians to the village in the municipality of Ouricuri, begin in the last weeks of August. Every Fulni-ô who has a job away from Águas Belas, such as public officers, teachers and policemen, asks for a leave during the ritual’s first week in order to attend it; those who can remain in the village in Ouricuri throughout the ritual.

The Fulni-ô have, as a rule, not to speak about the ritual. The older Fulni-ô claim that those who violated that norm had strange deaths. There is no doubt that this is a warning against the breaking of the secret.

Yet some of what takes place in the village in Ouricuri is known by outsiders. For instance, there are areas in which women are not allowed, although they know what activities are carried out there. At night, men and women must sleep separately – the women in the houses and the men in the sheds. Sexual intercourse is prohibited in the village in Ouricuri during the ritual months. And although there is not an absolute sexual abstinence, the sacred place is respected and encounters take place outside the village. Music – even whistling – and consumption of alcohol are not allowed either. When a Fulni-ô drinks alcohol in the city or in the village of the Indigenous Post, he/she cannot go to the village in Ouricuri. For that reason they avoid drinking spirits. According to the older Fulni-ô, in the ritual the Indians pray for the well being of everyone, because, they assure, their religion is very similar to Catholicism.

In the Ouricuri ritual, the Ia-tê plays a crucial role, since it is the language preferably spoken in the fourteen weeks that the ritual lasts. It is then that the younger members are socialized by learning a symbolic code that is different from that used by the surrounding society.

One of the main events in the ritual is the election of their authorities, that is, the pajé (shaman), the cacique (chief) and the liderança (leadership). In the Ouricuri ritual, both the cacique and the pajé are central figures. We do not know what their prerogatives are, nor the limits of their authority. When we asked which one of them had more authority outside the ritual, the answers we obtained were contradictory – some said it was the cacique, some said it was the pajé. But there seems to be a consensus that, when it comes to a topic that involves the group as a whole, both must act by common consent.

In the past the ritual village was built with huts made of leaves from the ouricuri (uricury syagrus) palm tree. Each year, as the date of the opening of the ritual approached, the Fulni-ô built their huts, which were dismantled in the end. Nowadays the houses are permanent, although they are built with materials of quality inferior to those of the village in the Indigenous Post. Sanitary conditions are also more precarious. Until 1981, the Fulni-ô used, during the ritual, the water collected in the rainy season in two cisterns; frequently the water was used up before the end of the ritual, so the Indians had to get it in the city or fetch it from streams on the hills, 6 or 7 kilometers away, bringing it back to the village in mule-drawn carts. The scarcity of water caused sanitary conditions to worsen, and the number of deaths caused by intestinal infections was alarming. In 1982 the Fulni-ô managed to get from the company that brings water to Águas Belas, Compesa, an extension to the village in Ouricuri; in exchange, they allowed it to tap water from one of the watercourses that cross their lands for the city.