Foto: Harold Schultz, década de 1950


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    MT540 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
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Aspects of the mytho-cosmology

The origin of humanity

Among the Indians of the Upper Xingu, the myth of the origin of humanity tells that the demiurge Kwamutõ, threatened by a ‘jaguar-man,’ promised him his five daughters in marriage. On arriving back at his village, Kwamutõ asked that his daughters marry the ‘jaguar-man.’ All of them refused. Kwamutõ then had the idea of cutting five tree trunks. He painted them and using tobacco smoke and music played with a rattle, brought them to life. Kwamutõ then ordered that the daughters made from trunks went to meet the ‘jaguar-man.’ Three died on route and two married him.

One of them was killed while pregnant by her mother-in-law after a domestic row. Twins were removed from her belly and raised by their aunt, who they called ‘mum.’ After becoming adults, they learnt that their uterine mother had been killed before their birth. Saddened, the two young men (called Sun and Moon) cut a Kwarup trunk to remember and say farewell to their dead mother. Thus, the twins held the first Kwarup, which for centuries now has been a great intertribal funerary festival dedicated to people of chiefly lineage.

Aware of the lack of people in the world, the mythic heroes Sun and Moon decided to cut more Kwarup trunks and give life to the first human beings using the same methods employed by their grandfather Kwamutõ. They created the Xinguano Indians, the ‘wild’ Indians (from the Xinguano perspective) and the Whites, who left the region and only returned much later with their firearms.

The origin and agency of extra-human beings

In Wauja life, there is a permanent and ample presence of extra-human beings who come from the time in which animals were people and could speak. One of the principles on which this presence is based is the unbroken link between the apapaatai/yerupoho and animals, who the Wauja deal with daily, above all through their alimentary system and their theories of sickness and dreaming.

In primordial times, total darkness reigned over the world. On the surface of the earth lived the yerupoho, anthropomorphic or zooanthropomorphic beings, and the humans (the ancestors of the Wauja) lived inside termite nests, in absolute want of cultural goods: fire, pans, baskets, foods etc.

One day the yerupoho heard it announced that the cultural heroes of the Wauja would make the solar body appear once and for all in the sky. Fearful of the imminent cosmic change, the yerupoho threw themselves into the frenetic work of creating raiments, mask and protective painting against the harmful and irreversible transformative actions of the sun. The yerupoho created an extremely diverse set of raiments, which were not simply protective ‘clothes’ (na~i). On placing these on themselves, they assumed the identity of the ‘clothing’ and turned into apapaatai: an ontological reality which is perpetuated today and which corresponds to the various classes of animals seen on a quotidian basis by the Wauja, as well as to a series of ritual artefacts (flutes, clarinets, log drums) and to monstrous beings, the latter visible in special and liminal situations – the dreams of shamans and seriously sick people, trance and death – or when their masks are made for the apapaatai festivals. The figurative designs presented here are an exceptional case of widescale visualization of ‘supernatural’ alterities.

Two types of transformation struck the yerupoho, which correspond to the two categories of apapaatai. Those that managed to make and wear their clothing in time became ‘clothing,’ which correspond to the invisible and visible extra-human beings. The visible beings are animals properly speaking, while the invisible beings are their ‘supernatural duplicates,’ which possess a monstrous nature absent from the visible beings. The yerupoho who remained ‘naked’ were affected in a definitive and drastic manner with the appearance of the sun: they turned into apapaatai iyajo (true apapaatai, that is, those that do not use ‘clothes’), extremely dangerous beings who devour or simply kill weaker beings, including humans.

Wauja ontology encompasses three macrocategories:

1. ~iyãu beings – corresponding to human beings or beings with a human appearance

2. mona beings – corresponding to animals, plants and artefacts

3. kumã beings – a category better translated as monsters, which are subdivided into three other categories: yerupoho, apapaatai iyajo and apapaatai ona~i, or simply apapaatai.

The terms mona and kumã act as linguistic modifiers of the nature of the world’s things and beings, ordering them in a continuous and flexible scale of subthings and superthings. This classificatory model has been described in a very similar way by Viveiros de Castro (1977) among the Yawalapiti, another Aruakan group of the Upper Xingu. The category kumã (kumalu, female) – which signifies archetype, extraordinary, monstrous, gigantic, dangerous, powerful, and/or invisible – is applied to the apapaatai and the yerupoho, but in certain contexts large predatory animas may also be perceived to have a kumã nature. In addition to a monstrous dimension, most of the truly kumã beings possess a visible and weakened dimension, represented by mona beings and things, a term which, in this specific case, signifies visible, ordinary and common, corresponding to palpable artefacts, plants and animals. These are identified by the Wauja according to their fixed habitats and predictable alimentary behaviour. In broad terms, this is a system in which each thing or being possesses a co-extensive ‘double’ of a monstrous nature. Such monsters are endowed with extreme intelligence, their own points of view and a special artistic sensibility, revealing themselves to be dangerous, malicious and creative. Most of them are sorcerers and, some at least, anthropophagic.

The yerupoho, due to their impressive ‘animal-people’ or ‘artefact-people’ ambiguity and their transformative possibilities, comprise the most complex of these categories of beings. Since the yerupoho present both natures, ~iyãu and kumã (there are also a number of them known as ~iyãu kumã and ~iyãu kumalu, or man-monster and woman-monster respectively), the Wauja perceive them simultaneously as ‘people’ and monsters.

The transformational nature of extra-human beings is based on the notion of ‘clothing’ (na~i), which presupposes that ‘anthropomorphic supernatural beings’ (the yerupoho) can ‘dress’ in the forms of animals, plants, domestic artefacts, musical instruments and natural phenomena. In other words, the ‘clothing’ is an animal or monster exterior covering an anthropomorphic or zooanthropomorphic interior, known as yerupoho. The ‘clothing’ is the artwork of transformation, a singular exterior form relatively elaborated by the extra-human alterities in order to establish different identities. It should be stressed that the ‘clothes’ are not bodies (omonapitsi). Only the yerupoho, the humans and the apapaatai iyajo are bodies, all the other beings, including the smallest insects are ‘clothes.’

The versatility in the fabrication of these beings is immense: they can be created in their thousands and each one of them can present different graphic motifs and anatomic forms. Among the most important raw materials of a ‘clothing’ are the ‘geometric’ graphic motifs and the colours which singularize it, just like a textile pattern designed to order by a stylist. For the Wauja, many ‘clothes’ have qualities of formal perfection that make them objects of especial aesthetic and ritual interest. Birds followed by snakes are taken as the most beautiful creations in this sense. In addition, though ‘clothing’ some yerupoho can change, depending on their intentions, from fish to bird, or from insect to reptile, or from mammal to amphibian, or from fox to snake, and so on, indicating an apparently endless flux of transformations in the Wauja cosmos.

In Wauja ontology, relations between the extra-human beings take the form of a triad, which links the yerupoho (the anthropomorphic being that transforms into apapaatai), the apapaatai itself (the ‘clothing’ worn by the yerupoho in the transformation) and the animal, plant, natural phenomenon or artefact (which confers or inspires the corporeal form of the apapaatai). However, this is a relation that exists only between a given ‘species’ and its ‘supernatural owners,’ and not an indistinct relation involving all or any ‘species.’ There exists a triad, for example, between the peccary-animal (a mona being, figure 3), the peccary-monster (apapaatai ona~i and iyajo, kumã beings) and the peccary-person (yerupoho, an anthropomorphic being): the latter two being ‘owners’ of the peccary (animal).

It is important to make clear that the three beings (mona, kumã and yerupoho) mentioned are perceived as co-extensive as they share the same soul (paapitsi). This ontological co-extension can be denominated a ‘soul coalition principle,’ which implies that the dangerous nature of ‘supernatural’ beings is also implied and potentially present in the ordinary and visible dimension (mona) of beings. This principle complements the idea of transformation with which it is directly associated, indicating the virtual boundary between mona and kumã beings and their ontological ambiguity/continuity. The differences between animals and monsters are thus much more a question of degree than nature. For the Wauja, the offensive power of mona beings is only manifested through their invisible (or more rarely, visible) dimensions, constituted by the apapaatai and yerupoho. These beings are taken to be the main agents of sicknesses, whose objectification occurs through the insertion of ensorcelled objects and/or the ‘theft’ of the human soul.