Foto: Jeremy Deturche, 2006

Katukina do Rio Biá

  • Other names
  • Where they are How many

    AM628 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family


Katukina rituals are key moments of communication with the upper level through the arrival of celestial spirits to supervise the songs and dances performed by the Katukina.

There are six rituals linked to the upper world involving celestial spirits:

  • Kiok dyuku ritual: the celestial spirit is called yokdai;
  • Barakohana ritual: Marin, very powerful and much feared;
  • Kohana ritual: Kodomari, a great shaman, is the owner of obadin, tobacco snuff blown into the nose; he is happy when he has snuff and becomes angry when there is none. He is described as white with long, smooth black hair. The other owei in this festival is Baide, who lives in the sky, descending only to punish people if there is something wrong. 
  • Pïda (Pïdakidak) ritual: pïda-wara.
  • Adyaba ritual (Adyabakidak): Adyaba(kidak)-wara.
  • Arao ritual: Arao-wala and Daho. They say that Daho no longer exists since he was devoured by Pïdawara, with only his soul remaining.

There is another ritual, pïda nyanin, but the Katukina have lost its songs. These rituals always take place at night and comprise a fixed repertoire of songs performed in a set sequence. Preparations begin with the search for food and the produce needed to make the unfermented drinks. Making these drinks is a female task, prepared with swidden products fetched by the women. When products are taken from the forest, this work is undertaken by men: the ‘body-owner’ organizer of the ritual and his near kin.

Next the men eat together on the dance clearing. Afterwards they move to the hokanin (‘clear space’), a clearing located outside the village, hidden among the alternative swidden or hunting paths. There the men eat, tell myths and stories, and dress for the festivals, using the ‘skirts’ required by the different rituals. The skirts are made on the day of the dances in the forest, always in the same place. The clearing contains the oman ton kiorikidak (oman= tree, wood; ton= on; kiori= ritual skirts; kidak= old), a type of platform made from a felled tree-trunk placed one metre from the ground, where the skirts are deposited after the festivals. There they are left to rot. This clearing is also used for much of the shamanic initiation process in which the apprentice consumes large quantities of snuff and the shaman inserts dyohko inside him. And finally the celestial spirits sleep under this ‘table’ when they visit the earth.

The masks for these festivals, though differing slightly for each ritual, adhere to a general pattern. Only the ‘skirts’ (as they call the festival clothing) of the Kohana ritual vary a bit more. Made from burity leaflets, they cover the entire body from head to toe. In the Barakohana and Adyabahkidak rituals, the skirt is simply a crown of burity leaflet that covers the body in the same manner as the kiori. In Kohana, the skirt is composed from three different parts made from the bark of a tree, matyiridak, and heron feathers. But the principle is the same: the tree bark is cut into strips that are hung from the front and back, covering the body; the feathers, meanwhile, serve to cover the face. At the end of Kohana, the feathers are removed and the two parts made from bark are combined and placed on the head. The result is very similar to a kiori.

The songs and dances begin immediately at sundown. The men who eat on the hokanin put on the skirts and go to the dance clearing, though not all of them will sing the first set of songs. The ‘owner-body’ of the festival takes the lead with all the songs and his close male kin, son-in-law and brother-in-law begin to sing first. Afterwards, close to midnight, all of the men will be able to sing. In the ‘dance clearing’ (a cleared space between or behind the houses), the men line up in their masks, generally with the main singer, ‘body-owner’ of the festival, at one end, who sings first while the others repeat the refrain.

When he begins to sing, his wife places herself in front of him and replies. This lasts a few minutes and then the singer transmits the song to the man immediately next him who assumes the lead of the song. At this moment, his own wife places herself in front of him, next to the main singer's wife, and starts to sing. This continues until all the men taking part have led the song – at least those who know it. During the song the lines of men and women circle around a centre formed by the singer/owner. The participants may also move backwards and forwards slightly, while the women may also strike the ground, rattling the coins on their legs or neck.

Each song lasts from one to twenty minutes according to the moment and the number of men singing. A ritual may have between 45 and 80 songs, each of which relates to an animal or a plant/tree. These songs are short and some words are repeated, giving the impression of a dialogue between the man and woman. No song is repeated in other rituals and each ritual has a set order to be followed.

As daylight approaches, the songs stop and a few ‘games’ may take place: for example, the men may enter the villages with branches laden with fruit instead of leaves and the women have to pick their husbands' fruit.

This is the general pattern of the Katukina rituals, though each has its own particularities. The ‘owner-body’ is always the same for each festival and each village has an owner for each ritual (with the exception of Kohana, the most important, which requires the participation of multiple villages). There transmission is of extreme political importance and generally each political faction within a village has a ritual singer.

While the ‘political’ owner-body of a ritual is a man, the owner-body of the ritual is, in fact, a couple formed by the singer and his wife. A single man or a single woman cannot take part in rituals and much less organize them. The rituals have a variety of origins, but the first two – the most important, serving as a model for the others, are Kohana and Arao – were given to the Katukina by Tamakori and Kirak respectively. The others are said to come from other peoples, such as Kiok dyuku (traced back to the om dyapa, a Kanamari subgroup), or from a culture hero called Kamo. The ritual songs cover a range of subjects, most of them relating to an animal or tree: in these cases, the animal or tree is said to be the owner-body of the song.

During the performance of the songs and dances, the ritual’s spirits have no direct involvement, aside from eating and drinking, but they watch the ritual and supervise it. Hence the masked men are not personifications of these spirits.