From Povos Indígenas no Brasil
Photo: Juan Soler/ISA, 2011.

Tuyuka

Self-denomination Where they are How many Linguistic family
Utapinopona AM
Colombia
1.050 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
570 (1988)
Tukano

The Indians who live on the banks of the Uaupés River and its tributaries - the Tiquié, Papuri, Querari and other minor rivers - today belong to 17 ethnic groups, many of which also live in Colombia, in the Uaupés and Apaporis river basins (tributary of the Japurá), the principal tributary of which is the Pira-Paraná River.

These indigenous groups speak languages of the Eastern Tukanoan family (only Tariana is of Arawak origin) and participate in a wide-ranging network of exchanges, which include marriages, rituals and commerce, which form a definite socio-cultural complex, called the “social system of the Uaupés/Pira-Paraná”. This, in turn, is part of a broader culture area, including populations of the Arawak and Maku language families.

Ethnic groups: Arapaso, Bará, Barasana, Desana, Karapanã, Kotiria, Kubeo, Makuna, Mirity-tapuya, Pira-tapuya, Siriano, Tariana, Tukano, Tuyuca, Tatuyo, Taiwano, Yuruti (the last three live only in Colombia)

How many people: 11,130 in Brazil (in 2001) and 18,705 in Colombia (in the year 2000)

Location

Fonte: Instituto Socioambiental.
Fonte: Instituto Socioambiental.

The Uaupés River runs about 1,375 kilometers in length. From its mouth on the Rio Negro to its confluence with the Papuri River, the Uaupés is located in Brazilian territory and runs over about 342 kilometers. Between the mouth of the Papury and the mouth of the Querari, the Uaupés River serves as a border between Brazil and Colombia for more than 188 kilometers. From there up to its headwaters, it is located in Colombian territory and runs over 845 kilometers. Navigating on the Uaupés, H. Rice (1910) counted 30 large rapids and 60 smaller ones.

After the Rio Branco, the Uaupés River is the largest tributary of the Rio Negro. Presently, the name Uaupés is more used in Brazil, since in Colombia, it is Vaupés that is more used), but it is also known as the Caiari. Along its course, the Uaupés receives the waters from other large rivers such as the Tiquié, the Papuri, the Querari and the Cuduiari.

The largest population centers of the Uaupés River are the city of Mitu, capitol of the Colombian Department of the Vaupés, and Iauareté, which is the seat of a district of the municipality of São Gabriel. Iauareté, besides being a traditional location of the Tariana, also is the center of a large mission of the Salesians and an Army border platoon. There are two other Salesian missions in the Uaupés basin, one in Taracuá (at the confluence of the Uaupés with the Tiquié) and the other on the upper Tiquié, called Pari-Cachoeira. There is also an Army detachment at the confluence of the Querari with the Uaupés and another in Pari-Cachoeira.

Language

Crianças tuyuka. Foto: Aloisio Cabalzar, 2002.
Crianças tuyuka. Foto: Aloisio Cabalzar, 2002.

The Eastern Tukanoan language family includes at least 16 languages, among which is Tukano proper which has the largest number of speakers. It is used not only by the Tukano, but also by other groups of the Brazilian Uaupés and on its tributaries, the Tiquié and Papuri. Thus, Tukano has come to be used as a sort of trade language, allowing for communication among peoples with quite different paternal languages and, in many cases, which are mutually incomprehensible.

In some contexts, Tukano has come to be more used than the local languages themselves. The Tukano language is also widely used by the Maku, since they need it for their relations with the Tukano Indians. The languages classified as Western Tukanoan, on the other hand, are spoken by peoples who inhabit the border region between Colombia and Equador, such as the Siona and Secoya.

Considering the significant number of people from the Uaupés basin who are residing on the Rio Negro and in the cities of São Gabriel and Santa Isabel, it is estimated that around 20 thousand people speak Tukano. The other languages of this family are spoken by smaller populations which predominate in more restricted regions. This is the case of the Kotiria and Kubeo on the Upper Uaupés, above Iauareté; the Pira-tapuya on the Mid-Papuri; the Tuyuka and Bará on the Upper Tiquié; and the Desana in communities located on the Tiquié, Papuri and their tributaries.

Ethnic groups and demography

The ethnic groups present in the Uaupés basin are the following:

1) Arapaso. Eastern Tukanoan group who presently only speak the Tukano language. They live on the Middle Uaupés, below Iauareté, in villages such as Loiro, Paraná Jucá and São Francisco. Several families also live on the Rio Negro and in São Gabriel.

2 ) Bará. The call themselves Waípinõmakã. They inhabit mainly the area of the headwaters of the Tiquié River, above the village of Trinidad, which is in Colombia; the upper Inambú stream (tributary of the Papuri) and the upper Colorado and Lobo (tributaries of the Pira-Paraná). They are divided into around eight sibs (descent groups with a common ancestor which cannot intermarry). They are specialists in the preparation of aturá carrying baskets made of turi, much used where the Maku carrying baskets made of vines are not available. They also prepare red dye, carajuru. They are also skilled manufacturers of canoes. Presently, they are the principal specialists in the making of feather adornments used in the great cerimonies.

3) Barasana. They call themselves Hanera. They live on the Tatu, Komeya, Colorado and Lobo streams, tributaries of the Pira-Paraná, and on the Pira-Paraná itself, in Colombian territory. They are also found dispersed in the Uaupés basin, in Brazil. They have 36 named subdivisions on record.

4) Desana. They call themselves Umukomasã. They live mainly on the Tiquié River and its tributaries, the Cucura, Umari and Castanha; the Papuri River (especially in Piracuara and Monfort) and its tributaries, the Turi and Urucu; besides parts of the Uaupés and Negro rivers(including the cities of the region). There are approximately 30 divisions among the Desana, of chiefs, dancers, chanters, and servants. This number may vary according to the source. The Desana are specialists in certain types of woven baskets, such as large apás (trays with internal hoops made of vines) and sieves.

5) Karapanã. They call themselves the Muteamasa, Ukopinõpõna. They live on the Tí stream (tributary of the upper Vaupés) and upper Papuri, in Colombia. In Brazil, they are found dispersed in several villages of the Tiquié and Negro. They used to have around eight subdivisions, but probably only four of these left descendants.

6) Kubeo. They call thermselves Kubéwa or Pamíwa. They speak a very distinct language of the Eastern Tukanoan family, and for this reason are sometimes classified as Central Tukanoan. The vast majority of them live in Colombian territory, in the region of the upper Uaupés, including its tributaries the Querari, Cuduiari and Pirabatón. In Brazil, they live in three villages on the upper Uaupés and are found in small numbers on the upper Aiari. They are divided into approximately 30 named sibs. These sibs, in turn, are grouped into three unnamed phratries which function as marital exchange units; in other words, in contrast with most of the other ethnic groups of the Uaupés, the Kubeo are accustomed to marrying amongst themselves, people who speak the same language. They specialize in the manufacture of barkcloth masks.

7) Makuna. They call themselves Yeba-masã. They live mainly in the neighboring territory of Colombia, especially on the Caño Komeya, tributary of the Pira-Paraná River, on the lower course of this river, and on the lower Apapóris. In Brazil, they are found on the upper Tiquié and on its tributaries, the Castanha and Onça streams. They are divided into around 12 sibs. They specialize in the manufacture of blowguns and curare poison, they are also skilled manufacturers of canoes, besides supplying light and quite well-finished oars to the Indians of the upper Tiquié.

8) Miriti-tapuya or Buia-tapuya. Presently, they only speak the Tukano language. They have traditionally inhabited the lower and middle Tiquié, especially in the communities of Iraiti, São Tomé, Vila Nova and Micura.

9) Pira-tapuya. They call themselves Waíkana. They are located on the middle Papuri (around Teresita) and on the lower Uaupés. They have migrated and also live in places on the Rio Negro and in São Gabriel.

10) Siriano. They call themselves Siria-masã. They live on the Caño Paca and Caño Viña, tributaries of the upper Papuri, in Colombian territory. In Brazil, they are found dispersed throughout the Uaupés and Rio Negro river basins. There is information that refers to 27 Siriano sibs.

11) Taiwano, Eduria or Erulia. They call themselves Ukohinomasã. They live on the Caño Piedra and Tatu, tributaries of the Pira-Paraná River, and the Cananari River, tributary of the Apapóris. All of these areas are situated in Colombian territory. There exists information that the group has eight subdivisions.

12) Tariana. They call themselves Taliaseri. Diferent from the other ethnic groups of the Uaupés basin, most of the Tariana have adopted Eastern Tukano, but they used to speak a language belonging to the Arawak family, and several communities still speak this Arawakan language. Presently, they live on the middle Uaupés, lower Papuri and upper Iauiari. Their population center lies between the Iauareté and Periquito rapids. They are specialists in fishing tools such as the caiá, cacuri (fish trap), matapi.

13) Tatuyo. They call themselves Umerekopinõ. They live in an area located in Colombia: the upper Pira-Paraná River, the upper Tí and the Caño Japu. In Brazil, they are represented above all by women married to men from other ethnic groups. There are around eight internal subdivisions.

14) Tukano. They call themselves Ye"pâ-masa or Daséa. This is the most numerous group of the Eastern Tukanoan language family. They are concentrated primarily on the Tiquié, Papuri and Uaupés rivers; but they are also living on the Rio Negro, below the mouth of the Uaupés, and also in the city of São Gabriel. It is possible that there exist more than 30 subdivisions of the Tukano, each one named and, ideally, consisting of an hierarchized set of sibs. Presently, with all of the dispersions of groups that have occurred over the last few centuries, the hierarchical positions are often disputed and subject to varying versions. The Tukano are traditional manufacturers of ritual benches, made of wood (sorva) and painted, on the seat of the bench, with geometric motifs similar to those found in weaving. The bench is a highly valued object, obligatorily used in cerimonies and rituals, where the leaders, the kumua (chanters) e bayá (cerimonial chiefs) sit.

15) Tuyuka. They call themselves Dokapuara or Utapinõmakãphõná. They are concentrated mainly on the upper Tiquié River, between Caruru Rapids and Colombian village of Trinidad, including the Onça, Cabari and Abiyú streams. They are also found on parts of the Papuri River near the Brazil/Colombia border and on its tributary the Inambú. They have around 15 named sibs. They are outstanding canoe manufacturers and, in the past, they were specialists in the making of hammocks woven from buriti fiber. They are also specialists in the making of the urupema basket, woven from very fine strips of arumã, which are used to filter fruit juices.

16) Kotiria. They call themselves Kótiria. They are located predominantly on the middle Uaupés, between Arara and Mitú falls. Between Arara and Taracuá (of the upper Uaupés), the Kotiria are the only group; above that point, they live together in a territory where the Kubeo are the majority. There is information that there exists 25 divisions among the Kotiria. Their specialty in interethnic trade relations is the preparation of red dye, carajuru, made from the leaves of a vine, and which is greatly used in the making of ritual artifacts and the painting of the Tukano benches, as well as for body painting. They are also skilled basket makers and producers of barkcloth objects.

17) Yuruti. They call themselves Yutabopinõ. A group of the Eastern Tukanoan language family, they live on the upper Paca (tributary of the upper Papuri) and the caños Yi and Tui and neighboring areas of the Vaupés into which these streams flow (in Colombian territory). There is information that they have nine sibs.

On the Uaupés River and its tributaries, there are presently more than 200 villages and small settlements. Individuals of these ethnic groups are also present in the cities of the region, above all in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Santa Isabel and Barcelos.

The following table presents population estimates for each ethnic group.

Ethnic group Population in Brazil

Arapaso

328
Bará  39
Barasana  61
Desana 1.531
Karapanã 42
Kotiria 447
Kubeo 287
Makuna 168
Mirity-tapuya 95
Pira-tapuya 1.004
Siriano 17
Taiwano 0
Tariana 1914
Tatuyo 0
Tukano 4.604
Tuyuca 593
Yuruti 0
TOTAL 11.130

Social organization

by STEPHEN HUGH-JONES, 2003.
King´s College - Universidade de Cambridge

Piutr Jaxa, antigo habitante de Pari-Cachoeira, no Uaupés, e que atualmente vive na Terra Indígena Balaio. Foto: Piort Jaxa, 1993.
Piutr Jaxa, antigo habitante de Pari-Cachoeira, no Uaupés, e que atualmente vive na Terra Indígena Balaio. Foto: Piort Jaxa, 1993.

The groups referred to above, the Tukano, Barasana, Desana, etc., are patrilineal and exogamous: individuals belong to their father's group and speak his language but must marry partners from other groups who speak other languages. Externally, groups are equal but different; internally each is made up of a number of named clans ranked in a hierarchy. The ancestors of these clans were the sons of the Anaconda-ancestor and their birth order, the order of emergence from their father's body, determines their position: higher ranking clans are collectively "elder brothers to those below. Clan rank is correlated with status and prestige and loosely correlated with residence: higher ranking clans tend to live in favoured downstream locations with lower ranking clans often living upstream or in headwater areas. Clan rank also has ritual correlates: top ranking clans, the "head of the Anaconda", are "chiefs" or "headmen" who control the group's dance ornaments and Yuruparí and sponsor major rituals; middle ranking clans are specialist dancers and chanters; below them come shamans; and at the bottom are servant clans, the "tail of the Anaconda", who are sometimes identified with the semi-nomadic "Makú" (A pejorative term with connotations of 'servant, slave, uncivilised, etc." ) who live in the interfluvial zones.

Índios Wanana. Foto: Curt Nimuendaju, década de 1930.
Índios Wanana. Foto: Curt Nimuendaju, década de 1930.

This hierarchy of specialised roles and ritual prerogatives is most evident during collective rituals where genealogies are recited and where relations of rank and respect are emphasised. In a more subtle way, it is also reflected in everyday life. The inhabitants of a maloca are typically a group of closely-related men, the children of the same father or of two or more brothers, who live together with their wives and children. When a woman marries, she leaves her natal maloca and goes to live with her husband. In symbolic terms, the maloca replicates the world in miniature and the maloca community is a both a replication and a future precursor of the ideal clan organisation described above. Here the father of the maloca community would be the Anaconda-ancestor of the whole group and his sons the ancestors of its component clans. In real life too, the eldest son and senior brother is typically the maloca headman and quite often his younger brothers are dancers, chanters or shamans, sometimes in appropriate order of birth.

Confecção de banco tukano. Foto: Rosa Gauditano, 2002
Confecção de banco tukano. Foto: Rosa Gauditano, 2002

The inhabitants of neighbouring malocas make up loosely-knit communities that tend to form around charismatic leaders who host major feasts and sponsor the building of large malocas that act as ceremonial centres. Much of Tukanoan ritual and religious life is focussed upon sacred objects such as feather ornaments and Yuruparí, on sacred substances such as red carayurú paint, beeswax and varieties of coca, tobacco and ayahuasca, and on less tangible wealth in the form of names, spells, songs and chants. As manifestations of its spirit-powers, all such items are collectively owned by the group and integral to its identity and, at a collective level, large-scale public rituals express the group's internal structure and its relations to others. At the same time, those who have extensive esoteric ritual knowledge, who control sacred property, and who sponsor public rituals can advance their position and become powerful in their own right.

Religious specialists

by STEPHEN HUGH-JONES, 2003.
King´s College - Universidade de Cambridge

 uaupes_14

Although they might be described as "religion", the cosmological ideas described above also form the premise and taken-for-granted backdrop of everyday life. This is so partly because here religion is not a discrete domain but rather an aspect or dimension of all knowledge, experience and practice. It is also so because life in a landscape imbued with ancestral powers and where ordinary things have an extra-ordinary metaphysical dimension is potentially hazardous. To survive and prosper, and to ensure the well-being of themselves and their families, all adults need some ability to handle and control the creative and destructive forces that surround them. Technical and metaphysical know-how go together and are not sharply distinguished. To sustain themselves in the local environment, adult men must know both the natural resources of their territory and also its spiritual assets and dangers, they must combine routine chores with ritual procedures, and must have a basic competence in both hunting and fishing and in the spells that render meat and fish safe to eat. Likewise women, the "mothers of food" whose manioc tubers are their "children", must manage the material and spiritual dimensions of production and reproduction, of their gardens, their kitchens and their bodies, as a single integrated whole.

In Amazonia, ritual specialists with special powers and access to esoteric religious knowledge are often referred to as 'shamans', a label that can obscure as much as it reveals. As indicated above, in order to operate successfully all adult men must be shamans to some extent. Those who are publicly recognised as such are individuals with greater ritual knowledge and a special ability to "read" what lies behind sacred narratives, who chose to deploy their skills and knowledge on behalf of others, and who acquire recognition as experts. 'Shamans' are thus those who, at any one time, stand out from their fellows - but there are always others waiting in the wings.

A second point relates to gender. With rare exceptions, ritual experts are always men - but the capacity of women to menstruate and to bear children is spoken of as their, female, equivalent of the powers signalled by the men's control of feather ornaments and Yuruparí. It might therefore be said that if men acquire their shamanic capacities through culture, women are already 'shamans' by nature. It thus comes as no surprise that, in Tukanoan mythology, the Universe People, the ancestral heroes who pave the way for the creation of humanity, are created by a female deity who the Barasana call Romi Kumu or 'Woman Shaman', known as the "Old Woman of the Earth" (Ye"pa Büküo, Yeba Büro) in Tukano and Desana.

Finally, the label 'shaman" obscures an important distinction between two quite different ritual specialists, the yai and the kumu. The yai corresponds to the prototypical Amazonian shaman or payé. His main tasks involve dealing with other people and with the outside world of animals and the forest. He plays an important role in hunting, providing animals for hunters to kill by releasing spirit animals from their houses in the hills, a potentially dangerous activity that can cause compensatory conversions, from living to dead, in the human world. The payé is an expert in curing the sickness and diseases caused by sorcery from vengeful creatures and jealous human beings, illnesses that typically manifest themselves as spines, hair, and other objects lodged in the body. Curing is done either by throwing water over the patient or by blowing smoke over the body and manipulating with the hands, but always involves sucking objects or substances from the patient's body.

Yai means "jaguar", a term which gives some indication of the status of the payé in Tukanoan society. The jaguar is a powerful but also a potentially dangerous animal and those who have the power and knowledge to counteract sorcery may also practice sorcery themselves. Whether a particular payé is considered to be "good" or "bad" depends on whether or not he is a trusted kinsman or neighbour. The term yai also has connotations of wildness and lack of control that allude to the slightly marginal position of many payés and to the fact that their powers are individual, idiosyncratic and often associated with the use of potent hallucinogenic snuffs.

Although both yai and kumu are part-time specialists, the kumu is more a savant and a priest than a shaman. His powers and authority are founded on an exhaustive knowledge of mythology and ritual procedures, knowledge that only comes after years of training and practice. This means that those who are recognised as kumu are usually older men, often men whose fathers or paternal uncles had the same status so that the role of kumu may become hereditary. As a knowledgeable senior man, the kumu is typically also a headmen and leader of his community and will exert considerable authority over a much wider area. Compared to the sometimes morally ambiguous yai, the kumu enjoys a much higher status and also a much greater degree of trust, a trust that relates to his prominent ritual role.

The kumu plays an important role in the prevention of illness and misfortune. He is an expert in blowing spells over the flesh of fish and animals to convert their substance to a vegetable-like form. He also officiates at rites of passage and effects the major transitions of birth, initiation and death, transitions that ensure the socialisation of individuals and the passage of the generations, and which maintain ordered relations between the ancestors and their living descendants. It is the kumu who names new-born babies and it is he who conducts the public, collective rites of initiation for young boys and the more individual and private rites that are held when young girls reach puberty. Such transitions involve a necessary and potentially beneficial contact between living people, the spirits and the dead. This contact can be dangerous and it is the kumu who takes on responsibility for protecting people from harm. For those who enjoyed the protection of a particular kumu during their own birth or initiation, he is their guu or "tortoise", an allusion to this animal's hard, protective carapace.

The kumu's other major function is to officiate at dance feasts, drinking parties and ceremonial exchanges and to conduct and supervise the rituals at which the Yuruparí instruments are played, rituals that involve direct contact with dead ancestors. Those involved in such rites put their lives in the hands of the kumu and it is only the most knowledgeable and respected who are entrusted with this role. By the same token, to sponsor such rites is to claim recognition as a kumu.

As "people" and as component parts of an animated cosmos, human beings, animals, plants and fish make up a single participatory system, a system that is engaged and reanimated during Yuruparí rites. These rites promote the reproduction of plants and animals and ensure the regular ordering of the seasons and the continuing fertility of nature. In supervising and promoting these rites, the most important kumus come to embody the life-giving powers and identities of Yeba Hakü, the "Father of the Universe", of Romi Kumu, "Woman Kumu" and of Yuruparí, the source and spirit of plant life. As the masters of public ritual they are life-givers in their own right. It is to these rituals that we now turn.

Ritual

The yearly round is punctuated by a series of collective feasts, each with its own songs, dances and appropriate musical instruments, that mark important events in the human and natural worlds - births, initiations, marriages and deaths, the felling and planting of gardens and the building of houses, the migrations of fishes and birds, and the seasonal availability of forest fruits and other gathered foods. These ritual gatherings are referred to as 'houses', a term that connotes at once an occasion, a group of people, and a symbolic world. They take three basic forms: cashirís (beer feasts), dabukuris or ceremonial exchanges, and Yuruparí rites involving sacred flutes and trumpets.

Cashirís are primarily social occasions where one maloca community invites its neighbours to dance and drink cashirí, sometimes as a reward for their help in the felling of a new garden or the construction of a new house, sometimes to mark the naming of a child, the marriage of a young woman, or the final stage of initiation for young boys, and sometimes purely for enjoyment and to reinforce social ties. The guests are the main dancers and in return for their dancing, the men of the host community offer them large amounts of cashirí prepared by their women.

Dressed in feather headdresses and other ornaments, the dancers dance all night round and round the large canoe-like cashirí trough that forms the centrepiece of the occasion; it is a matter of honour that they consume all the cashirí before they leave in the morning. Their dances are of two kinds, either relatively slow, formal dances with the men in a continuous line and the women tucked in between them, or much faster, less formal dances where each dancer dances on his own, playing a set of panpipes as part of a chorus, and vying with the others to attract the female partner of his choice. Between these sessions of dancing, hosts and guest sit facing one another, passing gifts of coca and cigars to and fro, as they recite their pedigrees in collective chants led by a specialist chanter. The kumu sits apart from them, blowing spells over gourds of coca, tobacco and ayahuasca; he then offers these substances to the participants to protect them from danger and to allow the dancers to see and experience in their dancing the journeys of origin and mythical events that their songs and chants recount.

Cashirís may involve communities related as either brothers and as in-laws but dabukuris are, above all, occasions that celebrate and reinforce ties of marriage and affinity. The gifts are given in the name of a particular man to his or brother-in-law father-in-law: in the charter myth of the dabukuri, the story of Yeba and Yawira (mentioned in Cosmological aspects), the gift was from Yeba to his father-in-law Fish Anaconda. The ritual begins with the arrival of the guests in the evening. Treated as strangers and potential enemies by their hosts, they do not enter the maloca but remain outside, dancing and chanting on their own. In the morning, they parade into the maloca dressed in their finery and blowing pottery or balsa-wood trumpets. They present their gifts to their hosts and then begin a dance that will last all day and through the night. Remaining aloof, their hosts ply them with cashirí but as the day wears on, they mingle more and more with their guests, dancing and chanting with them, breaking down of the barriers that were established, in dramatic form, at the beginning of the proceedings. In the morning, when the dancing ends, hosts and guests eat together on equal terms in a huge communal meal, the two groups now as a single integrated community.

These exchanges have a double rationale and movement: in the short term, guests dance and offer fish or meat in return for cashirí supplied by their hosts; in the longer term, communities exchange one kind of product for another - fish for meat or meat for fish - and alternate the roles of host and guest. Both exchanges relate to marriage, the first one reflecting the exchange of meat or fish for manioc products between husband and wife, the second reflecting the exchange of different kinds of women between inter-married groups. In more cosmological terms, these exchanges are intimately linked with the breeding cycles and seasonal availability of fish and animal species. The dances not only recall the ritualised displays and dancing movements of migrating fish and birds but also ensure the continuing fertility of nature and the availability of the species on which they depend.

The rituals involving sacred Yuruparí musical instruments are the fullest expression of the Indians" religious life for they encapsulate and synthesise a number of key themes: ancestry, descent and group identity, sex and reproduction, relations between men and women, growth and maturation, death, regeneration, and the integration of the human life cycle with cosmic time. Concerned more with male identity and intra-group relations than with marriage and inter-group relations, and more with the fertility of trees and plants than with the life-cycles of animals, they are the complement of the festivals described above.

The palm-wood flutes and trumpets of each group are at once a single and multiple entity, the group ancestor and his paired bones or sons, the ancestors of the group's component clans. When the instruments are assembled and played, the ancestor comes back to life as those who play them assume the identities of the clan ancestors and enter into direct contact with their father. This process abolishes the normal separation between past and present, dead and living, ancestor and descendant, and re-establishes the primordial order of the myths of origin described earlier. The rites usually involve a clan or clan segment acting as an isolated group and thus serve to establish its identity as collective unit undifferentiated with respect to the outside but segmented in an ordered hierarchy within.

Yuruparí instruments may only be seen and handled by adult men. According to sacred myths, it was originally women who owned the flutes whilst men were charged with the manioc processing and other female chores. The myths add another significant detail: when women had the flutes, men menstruated and when the men took away the flutes, they also caused women to menstruate. These myths, and the rituals that dramatise them, can be understood as a complex and ambiguous discourse on the respective powers and capacities of men and women, one that we have already encountered above in relation to women's shamanic powers. Here the implication would be that the complementary reproductive capacities of men and women, their 'flutes', are at once identical and opposed, at once equal and unequal.

There are two types of Yuruparí ritual, one a more sacred and elaborate annual event that marks the beginning of the year, the other held periodically throughout the year to mark the maturation of different species of tree-fruits. At the tree fruit ceremony, men present large amounts of wild fruits to those of another community, usually their brothers, bringing them into the house to the bellowing sounds of bark-wrapped trumpets whilst the women and children remain hidden behind screens in the rear. In the evening the screens are removed and the women rejoin the men. They dance through the night till dawn then distribute the fruits to the assembled company.

The full Yuruparí rites, where different and more sacred instruments are played, are tied to the movements of the sun and the Pleiades and take place at the end of the summer and onset of the rainy season, the season of forest fruits. They elaborate further on the themes of growth, maturation and periodicity and the integration of human and cosmic time-cycles, but here the immediate focus is on the growth and development of young men who undergo a process of initiation that leads to their incorporation as full adults into the group of senior men.

At the start of the rite, the boys are taken from their mothers and brought to the men's end of the house, out of sight of the women who are confined in the rear. Under the care of ritual guardians and an officiating kumu, they are given ayahuasca and shown the instruments for the first time as they sit motionless and crouched foetus-like on the floor. As the instruments are played over the boys" heads, bodies and genitals they are whipped by the kumu across their bodies and legs, actions which impart the vitality and spirit-forces of the ancestors and cause the boys to grow up hard strong and sexually potent. The men then bathe the boys in the river together with the instruments, pouring water from the flutes over the initiates" heads. This action alludes to the Anaconda ancestor vomiting the first people from his mouth - and also to the bathing of babies after their birth as described earlier. But this time the birth is a rebirth orchestrated by the senior men and, like the Anaconda-ancestor who entered the world through the "water door" in the East, the reborn initiates now enter the house through the men's door. At the end of the rite, the initiates are confined for a month in a special compartment out of the sight of the women. Strictly supervised by the kumu, they bathe each day, keep to a rigorous diet, and learn to make baskets. Their seclusion ends with a big dance. As a sign that they are ready to become husbands and fathers, the initiates give their baskets to female partners who paint their bodies with red paint in return.

Like many initiation rites, this one is replete with symbols of death, rebirth and regeneration. At the start of the rite, the boys are painted black and ritually "killed" with doses of tobacco snuff; following their rebirth in the river, they are secluded like new-born babies, then emerge to be painted red. In the ritual's mythic charter, Yuruparí, in anaconda-form, swallows initiates, digests them in his stomach in parallel to their period of seclusion. then returns them to their parents, vomiting them up as bones. To punish him, the parents burn Yuruparí to death on a fire. But he does not die: his soul ascends to heaven and from his ashes grows a palm tree, the prototypical source of forest fruits and source of the Yuruparí instruments made from its trunk.

As in slash-and-burn agriculture, where fertility and human life come from the annual burning of the forest, this ensemble of myth and ritual implies that life and death follow one another like the seasons, that mortal humans achieve immortality through their children, that the periodicity of women is like that of the seasons, that the growth of men and trees are as one, and that, in the end, the fertility of human beings and the cosmos are linked together as one grand system. As they expand the maloca to cosmic proportions, abolish the separations between human beings and the spirit world, and engage the reproductive capacities of men and women, the Yuruparí rituals thus encapsulate and put in motion much of the cosmology that has been outlined above.

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Publicado também no n. esp. de dez. 1991 da mesma revista, p. 32-41.


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Gain Panan : e a origem da pupunheira. Dir.: Luiz Fernando Perazzo. Filme Cor , 35 mm, 9 min. e 36 seg., 1995. Prod.: Laboratório de Animação/CPM da Escola de Comunicação da UFRJ.

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