Foto: Thomas Gregor, 1983

Mehinako

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

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

Rituals

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The Mehinako and their cerimonial culture are central to the Xinguan religious system. Many of the most important ritual chants are sung in Mehinako, and many of the spirits also recognized in other villages seem to have names of Arawak origin. According to the anthropologist Ellen Basso, for example, the Kalapalo sing ritual music in Mehinako, although these Karib-speaking peoples do not understand Arawak.

Like other peoples of the upper Xingu, the Mehinako participate in most of the intertribal festivals that commemorate the installation of new chiefs and the ear-piercing of boys (pihika), the mourning for the recently-deceased (ata kaiumãi, which corresponds to the Kwarup, in the Kamayurá language), the festivals of trade in the rainy season (huluki), and a large number of minor cerimonies. The inhabitants of the village send cerimonial ambassadors (waka) to take their invitations accompanied by presents and stylized speeches.

The Mehinako ritual system is similar to that of other peoples of the upper Xingu with regard to general structure, which relies on cerimonial "sponsors" and "performers". With the exception of their close allies the Waujá and, possibly, the Yawalapiti, the other Xinguan communities have local ritual variations, but the system is sufficiently open to accept these variations.

In these rituals, the chiefs are associated with the gathering of pequi at the end of each year. According to Mehinako beliefs, plantations are the home of the spirits, who are the true owners of pequi. These spirit-owners are appeased in the course of rituals performed over a period of approximately six weeks, during which the spirits, personified by the participants, are brought to the village, ritually fed, and then sent back to their plantations with prayers for more pequi in the years to come. Among the spirit-owners of the plantations is matapu, the spirit of the hummer, the focus of an important ritual that lasts three days. In the course of this ritual, the inhabitants of the village make hummers (an object comprised of a stick with a wooden plate at the end which, when swung around, produces a humming noise) that are hung up in the men's houses and kept at a distance from the women of the village.