Foto: Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, 1991

Araweté

  • Autodenominação
    Bïde
  • Where they are How many

    PA467 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family
    Tupi-Guarani

Bow, rattle and women's clothes

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Despite the Araweté’s material austerity, they manufacture three technically elaborate objects, which are unique to them: the bow, the shaman’s aray rattle and women’s clothes.

The Araweté bow is made of ipê wood and is shorter, broader and more curved than most Brazilian indigenous bows. Each ipê log can yield a number of bows. The wood used to be worked with bone and stone tools (now, with axes and machetes), trued with a cotia tooth chisel, sanded with a coarse leaf until completely smooth and finally carefully warmed over the fire and bowed to shape. Babassu coconut oil or this palm tree’s grub’s fat are used to make the wood more pliable. The bowstring is made from curauá, a cultivated bromeliad.

The shaman aray rattle is an inverted cone braided with arumã strips, covered with cotton twine until only the upper part is visible -- the base of the cone. A cotton boll is stretched around the base as a collar, into it four or five red arara feathers are inserted, giving the object the seeming of a flaming torch. Pieces of ground snail’s shell are inserted inside the braided cone. The aray gives forth a continuous, rasping sound; it is used by shamans to counterpoint the Mai chants and to perform a series of mystical and therapeutic operations: to bring the gods and the souls of the dead back to earth to participate in feasts; to show the way to sick people’s lost souls and to aid in the treatment of wounds and poisonous bites.

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During the manufacture of a bow, men are not supposed to indulge in sexual intercourse with their wives, lest the wood crack. The rattle, however, is braided by women, and the cotton covering is done by men. However, once ready, the aray cannot be used by women; a very powerful instrument, it evokes the Mai, who can break the neck of the woman who dared call them. In this society, only men are shaman.

The aray is the only object made by males which cannot be inherited by anyone; following the death of its owner, it must be burned. Endowed with deep symbolic values, it is a personal, non-transferable object.

This sexually branded, personal and intimate character of the aray has its analog among female objects: the internal waistband worn by all women after puberty also is not inherited by anyone, contrarily to external pieces of apparel. The traditional Araweté comprises four pieces: the waistband, a small tube of thick cotton canvas about 25 cm long which covers the genitals and the upper part of the thighs, binding them tightly and propping women into a peculiar gait; a broad armsling to carry their children, which is also worn even by childless young women and a headcloth, a tubular piece as the other female clothes, with the same broad ward and woof of skirt and armsling. Female clothing is woven in simple looms: two babassu leaf spindles stuck perpendicularly into the ground, and dyed with urucum. They consume an awesome amount of cotton; just as men spend a major part of their time manufacturing and repairing their weapons, women dedicate many hours of the day to the process of yarning for their clothes and hammocks. There is always someone at the village weaving a piece of cloth or a hammock.

Since their tender age women wear their outer skirt; at the age of seven, they also carry their armslings and sometimes their headcloths. The waistband is imposed on them from their first menses - one of its purposes is to absorb menstrual blood - and must never be removed in the face of men other than husband or lover, and even so for sexual purposes only. Even among women decency demands that a woman does not stand without the waistband: during the women’s collective bath they usually squat on their haunches when out of the water. Men display equal feelings of decency when removing their foreskin strings when in the presence of others: for the Araweté, nudity is the absence of the female waistband or the foreskin string.