Foto: Beto Ricardo, 1999

Kuikuro

  • Autodenominação
    Ipatse ótomo, Ahukugi ótomo, Lahatuá ótomo
  • Where they are How many

    MT653 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family
    Karib

Cosmology, shamanism and healing

The traditional narratives that non-indian call ‘myths’ and the Kuikuro call akinhá ekugu (‘true’ narratives) tell that the universe exists just as it is and explain the origins of singing, festivities (rituals), cultural goods, cultivated plants, categories of beings. Everything that exists and merits explanation is associated with one or more narratives. Giti (Sun) is the cultural hero par excellence, the creator, along with his twin brother Aulukuma (Moon). The creator gods however include a series of ancestors of the Sun and Moon, descendents of the marriage between Atsiji (Bat) and Uhaku (a tree). The time of creation was (and is) the time when humans and non-humans communicated with each other, when all talked, when humans lived surrounded by the itseke. These are supernatural beings that live in the forest and at the bottom of the waters. They are dangerous and seductive, cause illness and death, and have the power to change themselves into humans or animals. Many animals and even artefacts have both a real, current and proper existence and a monstrous, excessive existence like the itseke. At the same time they can be auxiliary spirits to the shamans (hüati) in their role as healers or in their visions and voyages that others may neither see nor try. Only shamans have the power to establish (dangerous) relations with the itseke; although illness and dreams are states that can put humans in general into contact with itseke.

In rituals undertaken to re-establish order, equilibrium and health, masks represent the different types of itseke. Becoming a shaman is an individual choice and a supernatural calling that results from episodes of illness or dreams. The shaman acquires his powers by means of a long and difficult initiation, learning from another older shaman, and undergoing sexual, dietary and other restrictions that characterize a state of reclusion. He can then become a healer, someone with exceptional vision able to diagnose the causes of illness, death, theft, ‘natural’ disasters in order to identify the kugihe oto, the ‘masters of witchcraft’. The cost of his services is high and paid in precious goods. There is a difference between the shaman (women can become shamans) and the kehegé oto, the ‘master of the prayers’. The latter learns to use ‘prayers’ to cure different types of disease or to assist at childbirth.

The ‘prayers’ are formulae transmitted from generation to generation, partly in Aruak and partly in Carib, and uttered in whispers in the patient’s ear. ‘Baptisms’ are similar to ‘prayers’ and serve to ‘baptise’ the first fruits of certain vegetable foodstuffs such as pequi and maize. Cures can also be achieved by means of medication given the considerable knowledge of plants growing in the various ecosystem of the upper Xingu. Remedies (embuta) are not just for curing; the people of the upper Xingu produce and use emetics, antiseptics, and substances regarded as fortificants for those undergoing periods of reclusion.

There is a heavenly world (kahü) whose ‘lord’ is a two-headed vulture and where the dead and the itseke live in villages. The akunga (‘shadow’, ‘soul’) of the dead person is released from the body, wanders for a certain time amongst the living and later sets off on a long journey of encounters and battles with birds and monsters who sometimes manage to completely destroy the akunga. The dead have different destinies depending on the type of death they died.

The Kuikuro have a sophisticated understanding of the stars and constellations and project mythical characters and event onto the heavens. Observation of the heliacal rising of certain stars regulates productive activities and rituals, organizing the dry season (May to October) and the rainy season (November to April).