Foto: Harold Schultz, década de 1950


  • Other names
  • Where they are How many

    MT540 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
  • Linguistic family


The Wauja recognize three classes of shamans: yakapá, pukaiwekeho and yatamá. The yakapá are the shamans with the greatest therapeutic power and ritual prestige due to their speciality of rescuing the souls taken by the apapaatai and yerupoho, reversing the situations of highest risk to life for sick people. Yakapá literally means “one who runs semiconsciously” in order to rescue souls. His ability is intimately connected to his vision (divination/identification) of sicknesses and their human and/or extra-human agents, and the friendly relations he maintains with his apapaatai helpers.

A yakapá shamanic session in Piyulaga is an event which attracts the attention not only of the sick person’s family but also curious children and adults from other residential units. By watching the divinatory performance and the extraction of ensorcelled objects and listening to the yakapá’s replies concerning the cause and agents of the sickness, normal individuals (non-yakapá) learn about the basic foundations of the group’s cosmology and/or have these revalidated. This is one of the main positions occupied by shamanism in Xinguano sociality.

Another important class of shaman is the pukaiwekeho, the master – or owner – of shamanic songs. Among the Wauja, there are seven pukaiwekeho, one of whom is famous throughout the Upper Xingu. Among these seven, two are also yakapá, which amounts to a double accumulation of prestige. Possessing both abilities is something extremely costly: the apprenticeship of the songs, which are said to be ‘secret,’ requires expensive payments and a long period of dedication. Apprenticeship of specialized knowledge – which will enable a person to benefit from an enhanced social status – requires that the student repays his teacher with luxury items, or less frequently with his labour.

The third class consists of shamans called yatamá, those who “only smoke,” referring to the curing potential contained in tobacco smoke. Yatamá is also the generic name for shaman and the first level in a long scale of apprenticeship which culminates in the complete mastery of the techniques of trance, soul rescuing, divination and knowledge of the full repertoire of curing songs. Therefore, the yakapá and pukaiwekeho are also skilled in the techniques of yatamaki, ‘tobacco shamanism.’ In Wauja society, yatamaki knowledge is not directed exclusively to men. In fact, a yatamalu, a female shaman, was active until the middle of the previous decade. She probably began her curing profession soon after a large measles epidemic in the 1950s. However, the initiation of women into shamanism is limited, since they do not attain the highest level of yapaká, at least according to the historical reports spanning the last 150 years.

The frequency of sicknesses in Piyulaga is relatively high if we take into account the small population (270 individuals), and the significant number of shamans in constant activity: fifteen in all – six yatamá, seven pukaiwekeho and four yakapá (two of which are also pukaiwekeho). Even the least serious illnesses – such as the dermatoses which afflict the Wauja in high numbers – usually require the attention of a shaman so as to extract the ensorcelled objects.

Sickness is a path opening out onto the complex of relations between the Wauja and the apapaatai and yerupoho. For the yakapá in particular, it is their courage and resistance in overcoming a serious illness that enables them to receive the apapaatai who made them sick and provoked their accentuated powers of vision and hearing. In other words, such powers are partly derived from the decision to leave in place the malignant objects introduced into their bodies by the apapaatai. The yakapá therefore have the apapaatai inside themselves in a permanent co-existence, which makes the yakapá ‘eternally sick.’ Serious illness enables an experience of power; while for some this is fleeting, for others the experience becomes atemporal, allowing them to journey through different spaces and times from those lived day-to-day. In so doing, the apapaatai, who previously could have killed the sick person, become their allies instead, ~iyakanãu (‘helper apapaatai’), transforming the person into a yakapá, protecting him (or her) and supplying therapeutic and visionary-divinatory powers.

Most of the shamans’ actions have the aim of reversing states of sickness that, according to the Wauja, are manifested according to the following circumstances: 1) the production of harmful spells by human sorcerers (~iyãu opotalá); 2) the introjection of malignant objects into the body of a sick person by apapaatai and yerupoho; 3) the abduction of souls by the latter two classes of beings; 4) contamination by the epidemics of Whites. The last two ways of becoming sick are associated with the second, since all diseases, even the least serious, involve different qualities and quantities of pathological (ensorcelled) objects into the body of the victim. However, this rule excludes sicknesses caused exclusively by ~iyãu opotalá, as these are projected from the exterior. Today, from the sanitary point of view, epidemics are under control. For the Wauja, the problem with serious illnesses resides in circumstances 1) and 3); however, it is extremely rare for these to occur without the simultaneous or progressive involvement of the four forms mentioned above.

Re-establishment of a state of health begins with the extraction and neutralization of the introjected objects and recovery of the soul whenever this has been taken away by the apapaatai. In situations of serious illness, a session of shamanic chants (pukayekene) is held with the aim of removing enormous quantities of ensorcelled items from the sick person’s body. In addition to chants, rattles are also employed (Coelho 1988), instruments with an immense therapeutic power. According to Mello’s observations (1999:182), “the cure of a sick person is related to pleasing the Apapaatae with music.” But not just this: the pukayekene music works to extract pathological objects.