Foto: Beto Barcelos, 1987

Wari'

  • Other names
    Uari, Wari, Pakaá Nova
  • Where they are How many

    RO2.721 (Funasa, 2006)
  • Linguistic family
    Txapakura

Funerary cannibalism

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The Wari’ not only ate the enemies they killed – they also ate their own dead. The rite began with the onset of serious illness, when consanguine kin and affines wept for the dying person. This was followed by a funeral song in which everyone referred to the dying or dead person by consanguine terms and recollected events they had experienced together during the person’s lifetime.

After death, the weeping became more intense. Close kin – called ‘true kin’ – were at this point differentiated from ‘distant kin,’ a category which particularly included those effectively related by marriage. The former organized the funeral, while the latter executed it. Preparation of the corpse had to await the arrival of close kin who lived in other villages and who had received news of the death by means of these same affines.

During this two or three day period, the corpse would start to rot: this was the state in which it was cut up and barbecued by the affines. When the meat was ready, close kin shredded it and place it on top of a woven mat, next to small prices of roasted maize cake. They then asked the distant kin to eat it. People had to avoid touching the meat with their hands: instead they used small wooden skewers to place it delicately into their mouths.

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The Wari’ disliked any sign of the deceased being eaten avidly, as though it was game meat. Its rotten state – which apparently resulted from an inevitable prolongation of the wake, since kin living further afield demanded to see the corpse while it was still whole – was also a way of making ingestion of the meat unpleasant, sometimes nearly impossible. In these cases, only a small part was eaten and the rest burned along with the hair, internal organs (except for the liver and heart which were eaten) and genitalia.

When the meat was finished, the deceased’s close kin decided whether the bones would be burned and buried with the barbecue grill, or macerated and consumed with honey. In general, distant kin consumed the bones, but some people claim that this part of the meal was reserved for grandchildren, who were also the favored consumers of the deceased’s roasted brains.

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After the funeral, the ‘clean-up’ period started, when all the deceased’s belongings were burnt, including the house he or she constructed, the place where the body had been roasted, the person’s maize swidden and the places in the forest where he or she used to walk and sit. A prolonged mourning period followed, lasting several months or even years. This ended at different times for different kin, who decided when they should return to speaking normally and participating in festivals. These kin then performed the mourning closure rite: here, a large quantity of barbecued prey – killed during a collective hunt – was lamented as though it were the deceased. These prey animals were then eaten not only by non-kin but by close consanguines too. After this meal, people sang and danced and life subsequently returned to normal. The dead person’s spirit went to live entirely in the subaquatic world of the dead, which still happens today. When the dead come back to earth to see their own, they turn into white-lipped peccaries, who are hunted and eaten by the Wari’, and then return to the world of the dead.

Today the dead are no longer eaten, but buried after two or three days of mourning. Abandonment of cannibalism occurred shortly after ‘pacification.