Foto: Beto Ricardo, 2002

Xingu

  • Other names
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Shamanism

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The peoples of the Park recognize the interference of a multiplicity of spiritual beings in the lives of humans. There is a profusion of spirits, from the spirits of the plants, fish, furry animals, stars, objects, to the more important spirits, associated with the flutes that are prohibited to the women and with the female ritual of Yamuricumã. They are the spirits that cause most sicknesses, by appearing to humans in the forest, and it is these that help the shamans to cure them. The spirits are invisible, and only appear to the sick and to the shamans in trance.

The spirit beings are usually in all parts, except inside the village, where they appear only in extraordinary situations of sickness, shamanism and ritual. Their relation with humans occurs predominantly on an individual basis, in the basic form of sickness. They consider that all sicknesses are the result of a contact with the supernatural world, whether through the action of a witch or through the accidental encounter with a spirit.

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In order to effect a cure, the shaman contacts the spirit that caused the sickness by means of a trance stimulated by the use of large cigars of tobacco. Generally, the cure is done by blowing smoke over the sick person, or by removing the witchcraft, or even by identifying the spirit that was induced by the witch to enter into the sick person’s body.

The shaman thus exercises control over the relations between the village and the supernatural world: he regulates the relations between men and the spirits that inhabit the waters and forest; through his diagnosis, the spirits that cause sickness are socialized by the ritual. The witch, in turn, represents the paradigm of the marginal being: he is the backdoor man, who invades the houses, who puts witchcraft on the gardens, who is transformed into an animal in the forest. In most cases, the principal witchcraft suspects are inhabitants of other villages or come from other ethnic groups.

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In the Upper Xingu, the individual who has been cured then comes to be in debt to the spirit who caused /cured the sickness. He must then sponsor a ceremony in which he pays homage to the spirit through songs, dances, and body adornments. This ceremony is the moment when the domestic group distributes food to everyone in the village. The spirit is incarnated-represented by the community, and both are fed by the family of the sick person.

Thus, sickness cannot be understood as an absolute evil, or it is not only that. A large part of the ritual system of the Upper Xingu is driven by ideas connected to sickness, and the circuit of reciprocity activated by these ceremonies has a crucial role in the social dynamics of the villages, mediating the relations between individual and society (Viveiros de Castro 2002:81).