Foto: Vincent Carelli, 1982

Palikur

  • Autodenominação
    Païkwené
  • Where they are How many

    AP1.293 (Iepé, 2010)
    Guiana Francesa720 (Passes, 1994)
  • Linguistic family
    Aruak

Cosmology and mythology

On the cosmological plane, the Palikur assert that the creation and structuring of the universe and all that is part of it is the work of God. They usually look down upon the beliefs of their ancestors, asserting that they were nothing more than superstitions, and cite as an example the belief in the constitution of the universe in layers. Today, they affirm that that they “know that the world is round". Nevertheless, they possess a vast repertoire of myths that reveal a good part of the cosmovision that is currently renounced.

The myths can be divided into two categories: cosmogonic myths (that tell of the emergence of the Palikur and their relations with the environment or with other ethnic groups of the region), and those that speak of the relation with the “beings of the other world" (supernatural world).

The myths are classified into two types: they are, at the same time, "stories of the old times, of the past, a long time ago" and "false stories". They always refer to a past times, in which the “true” belief, the Christian religion, was not known. The Palikur say that the myths belong to a system of beliefs that have been surpassed.

However, at times, a narrator can reflect and point out that the fact in question is real and still occurs today, thus revealing the ambiguous position held by the myths in the Palikur cosmovision. It is exactly this ambiguity that has allowed for the co-existence of indigenous mythology with Christian religion, which has not occured with the rituals, for which reason they are no longer held. Myth is consciously relegated to an inferior position in relation to the Christian religious system, which means that it does not represent a threat and thus has a certain “freedom".

The mythical universe appears to be divided into three layers: the world below, the terrestrial plane, and the celestial plane. The first is the mythical space par excelence, for in it dwell the supernatural spirits. As its name indicates, the world below is located just below the surface of the earth. Its parallel position in relation to the terrestrial level facilitates contact between the two worlds, a necessary condition for the existence of the mythical world, since this plane only makes sense in connection with the world of humans. The representation of the passage between the two worlds is physical: there is a “hole” on the terrestrial level, which allows for the displacement of the myth and its characters from one sphere to another during the narration. The switch from one plane to another is marked by the transformation of supernatural beings, which, in their world, have human form, but, in order to come up to the terrestrial level, they need to “clothe themselves” with a “cloak”that gives them animal form.

On the terrestrial level live human beings, plants, animals, and, occasionally, supernatural beings. This level has a topography which is analogous to this earth. However, the geographical locations are fluid and vary from one narrative to another. It is also a notable space for mythical narratives.

Finally, there is the celestial plane . At first glance, it seems to be a space that is dominated exclusively by the Christian cosmological universe – represented as Eden, inhabited by the Trinity and reserved for the chosen, those who have “accepted Jesus” before the “end of time". In contrast with the other worlds, at first glance, heaven appears to be, mythically speaking, empty (as Lux Vidal has observed). But, even being fragmentary, several aspects of indigenous cosmology still occupy space in this domain.

About the sky, they say that it is formed by six unnamed levels. Among these, only two have notable inhabitants: on the second level lives the two-headed king vulture, and, on the sixth level, there is Jesus Christ, awaiting the chosen "in the celestial Eden made of gold". The other levels are described as “display windows” of Purgatory, in which one sees the souls of those who do not get to eternal life. These souls are anthropomorphic, with a human body up to the neck, dressed in a white cloak, and the head of an animal (monkey, alligator, etc.).

In 1926, Nimuendajú mentioned the existence of three heavens: Inoliku, the lowest of the three, Mikene and Ena. Just above the first, there was a special heaven, Yinoklin, inhabited by the Yumawali, spirits (or demons, as Nimuendajú calls them) of the mountains (1926:46-47). The existence of this division of the sky by named levels does not exist at present, but, with small alterations, the names given to the heavens are confirmed.

Perhaps because it is so important in the Christian worldview, the heavens have been so thoroughly appropriated, producing the actual configuration: a vacillating hybrid of Christian and indigenous cosmologies. At first sight, the description of heaven is given without much explanation. The stories that take place in it generally have Christian characters. And they do not say what the role of the two-headed king vulture located on the second level is, they just mention that he lives in that space. One might suppose that the vulture is one of the few post-evangelical survivals on this level.