Foto: Thomas Gregor, 1983

Mehinako

  • Other names
    Meinaco, Meinacu, Meinaku
  • Where they are How many

    MT286 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family
    Aruak

The village

mehinako_3

The Mehinako say that their present village, Uyapiyuku, was planned according to the same patterns as all prior villages, since the time of Creation: it has to be between two rivers, the Tuatuari, to the west, and the Kurisevo, to the east. When the sun rises, its way across the sky must be parallel to the great way that goes from the port of the Kurisevo to the center of the village. The men's house must divide the way of the sun in two, and the bench in front of the men's house must provide a free view over the road to the east, through the forest. In passing over the men's house, the sun must follow the great way west to the place where people bathe, where it finally sets. Thus, the terrestrial plane of the village reflects the architecture of the sky.

The village seems to be divided in two by a great diametrical line that crosses it from east to west. This line is the main road that leads to the area for bathing and to the port along the Kurisevo. The houses are arranged around a great circle, precariously drawn, that goes around the "men's house". Inside each house, the owner (the one who initiated its construction) sleeps closer to the way of the sun than any one of the other residents. Status is also firmly associated with location in the house, since the dwelling-places of the chiefs are only built near the main road, on one of the cardinal points. The common men build their houses between the principal residences.

In the region of the plaza in front of the men's house, the inhabitants of the village make decisions, make speeches, perform rituals and cultivate an eminently public sociability. Literally, the word used for plaza, wenekutaku, means "place often used". Other sub-regions of the plaza also have specific names. The "wrestling field", kapitaku, is set aside for wrestling sessions in the afternoon. The "shamans' circle", yetemá, is where every night the shamans of the village get together to smoke and discuss the happenings of the day. The cemetery is also located on the plaza and, as the Mehinako say, it is connected to the sky by an invisible trail that goes out from the village.

Male activities are situated outside the house, such as hunting, fishing, public socializing and wandering in the forest. Thus, the house is associated with the female domain, in opposition to the plaza and the rest of the village which is associated with masculinity.

Each house ideally is built in such a way that the back part faces the center of the village. There, at the end of the afternoon and beginning of the evening, the women sit to converse, to remove ticks from each other and to watch the men's wrestling matches.

The area of the house in front of the back door is used for throwing trash and for a great number of daily activities, such as preparing manioc in the dry season, cleaning fish, weaving baskets, carving wood, chatting with members of the same residence and, secretly, proposing extraconjugal relations.

On entering for the first time through the low entrance door of a Mehinako house, the visitor is surprised by a sensation of vast and dark space, since there are very large pillars inside the house. As there are no windows and the front and back doors let little light enter, there is a big contrast between the clarity of the plaza and the darkness of the interior. At night, after the doors are closed so that mosquitos and witches – which, it is believed, wander through the darkness - don't enter, the only light is that which comes from the small fires that the Mehinako light next to their hammocks.

The ground of the house is divided into a certain number of zones, each one of which is associated with a set of social activities. The area around the front entrance is the place for manual labor, for taking care of the children and for keeping up with what's going on on the plaza. It's also there that visitors are received.

The center part of the house is used as a cupboard, work area and kitchen.

A large shelf, at the base of the main posts of the house, supports various tall manioc containers. In this area, the women prepare fish and manioc bread, using a ceramic bowl and wooden mortar.

The sleeping areas are situated on the other side of the two principal hammock posts, which are the heaviest in the structure of the house. The nuclear families put their hammocks up next to each other, share a common nucleus of space and even keep their personal objects on common shelves, or hang them on the beams by means of long ropes. But they are private parts of the house and only occasionally is a friend invited to sit in the hammock of another person.