Foto: René Fuerst, 1955

Yawalapiti

  • Other names
  • Where they are How many

    MT156 (Ipeax, 2011)
  • Linguistic family
    Aruak

Cosmology and rituals

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For the Yawalapiti, the mythic world is a past that is not connected to the present through strict chronological ties. Thus, myth exists as a spatial and temporal reference, but mainly provides behavioral models. The cerimonies are the occasion par excelence for replicating these models, but their privileged relation with the world of myth above all symbolizes the impossibility of repeating that world, except in an imperfect way. The ritual is thus a moment when daily life is closer to the ideal model presented in myth, without however being able to attain it. (The principal rituals of the upper Xingu are discussed on the page Xingu Indigenous Park, just avaiable in Portuguese version).

According to Yawalapiti mythology (which shares the upper Xingu cosmological repertoire), the primordial making of humans was undertaken by the demiurge Kwamuty, who, on blowing tobacco smoke over wooden logs placed in a seclusion compartment, brought them to life. He thus created the first women, and among them the mother of the twins Sun and Moon, prototypes and authors of present-day humanity. This woman was the first mortal in whose honor the first festival of the dead, itsatí (or kwarup, in kamaiurá), the principal inter-village ceremony of the upper Xingu (described on the page dedicated to the Park) was celebrated.

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When the twins Sun and Moon were born of this woman, it was a time of chaos, dominated by night and rottenness (the birds defecated on people), with no fire nor gardens. The fireflies were the only light that men had. The twins then succeeded in obtaining the day from the "owner of the sky" (añu wikiti), the invisible two-headed vulture, attracting it by means of rotten bait. This vulture commands the birds, who gave day (the light) to men, in the form of adornments made of red macaw feathers (the mythical sun uses a headdress and armbands made of feathers of this bird).

Most of the Yawalapiti rituals originated from the visit of a human to one of the domains "earth, water and sky" that constitute well-defined spheres in Yawalapiti classification, defining the main lines of animal classification and possessing distinct cosmological values. The earth is diversified, according to vegetation and reference to mythic events. The principal distinction in this domain is between the "forest" (ukú), where the animals and spirits live, and the village (putaka), where humans live. In the rivers (uiña) and lakes (iuiá), besides the fish, most of the spirits who are important to the Yawalapiti dwell. In the sky (añu naku; añu taku) the souls of the dead reside; it is the realm of the birds, whose chief is the two-headed vulture, "owner of the sky". In the "belly of the earth" (wipiti itsitsu), below the ground, there is a spirit-woman, who is fat and has only one breast; she breastfeeds the female dead and copulates with the male dead; she is the "owner of the earth".

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The category of "people" (ipuñiñiri), , according to Yawalapiti cosmology, differentiates "Indians" (warayo) from "Whites" (caraíba), both in their physical appearance (which means that Japanese and Chinese are classified as warayo-kumã: "other Indians", "Mysterious Indians") and material culture. Among the Indians, the groups of the upper Xingu are considered a unit (putáka), in contrast with other peoples. The warayo in general are differentiated from the putáka by the fact they have different eating habits - all eat apapalutapa-mina, "terrestrial animals" -, they are "wild" (Kañuká) and unpredictable, and by the way they cut their hair, and their adornments. Warayo is a term that is used in a pejorative sense by the Yawalapiti when someone does something shameless (parikú).

Besides sharing a series of customs, conceptions, and inter-societal rituals, another distinguishing feature of the Indians of the upper Xingu is an ideal of respectful and prudent behavior, the key categories for which, in the Yawalapiti version of things, are parikú (shame) and kamika (respect). Parikú refers to a psychological state of the individual, which is usually activated when there occurs a transition or confusion in roles "such as among those in seclusion or between potential spouses- or hierarchical inferiority" such as between son-in-law and father-in-law, or in the case of women in the midst of men. Kamika in turn is a feature of certain social relations and roles, referring to peaceful and predictable behavior, as well as to generosity and respect for affines and those who are in hierarchically superior positions. It is respect, but it is also "fear", in the sense of avoiding dangerous things. In contrast to the kamika typical of upper Xinguan peoples, which is associated with the adjective mañukawã ("tame", "calm"), there is the behavior called kánuká, violent and unpredictable, which is typical of the warayonaw (Indians from outside the upper Xingu).