Foto: Harold Schultz, década de 1950


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    MT540 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
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Shamanism and politics


Relations with extra-human alterities embedded in political and ritual structures that amalgamate the relations of reciprocity between the Wauja through the redistribution of food and ritual services (construction of houses, plantation of swiddens, processing of foods and production of artefacts for domestic use). The symbolic circuit of these structures emerges from the complex of the illness, more exactly from the abduction of the soul and its consequent rescue.

The political relevance of shamanism is manifest in the flow of negative reciprocity that becomes objectified in the divination of the causes of sicknesses, in accusations of ‘sorcery,’ in the fear of these accusations and in defensive acts of a magico-symbolic nature, which configure a permanent symbolic war within and between the villages. Xinguano shamanism, as well as a powerful ‘policing oracle’ (Menezes Bastos 1995), which functions in the context of ‘sorcery accusations,’ is an instrument for the negotiation of souls and the mediation of the conflict with extra-human alterities.

A sickness entering a grave state is always manifested through the abduction of the sick person’s soul by an apapaatai. The Wauja shaman’s role is to rescue the soul and re-introduce it into the patient’s body, thereby avoiding his or her death due to the definitive loss of their soul. The rescue of the patient’s soul is negotiated directly with the apapaatai who stole it, a moment in which the yakapá assumes the role of a diplomat who promises, in the sick person’s name, a festival and food to the apapaatai.

Following these observations, it is possible to think of the shamans as renewers, in the first instance, of the cosmic contract that presupposes, among other things, the establishment of a relation of positive reciprocity between the different ontological realities (humans and monsters). One of the fundamental aspects of this cosmic contract is perhaps avoiding a situation where human beings become metaphysically transformed into apapaatai. It is thus in the shaman’s power to maintain each ontological reality in its place. By negotiating the return of stolen human souls, the shaman avoids the permanent dwelling of the souls in the worlds of the monsters and the threat of their ‘re-socialization’ among the latter.

Extrapolating from the evidence of the relations of forced reciprocity between the Wauja and the monstrous alterities, I would also suggest that Wauja cosmic politics (cf. Viveiros de Castro 1996) operates the whole time towards the conversion of asocial domains, characterized by the manifestations of malefic power of the extra-human alterities, using devices such as art and the offering of food, objectified in the apapaatai festivals.

On the other hand, the festival itself converts into an accumulation of ‘ritual prestige’ for both the sick person who sponsored it and the shaman who organized it. This prestige appears to derive from the disposition of the patient (always helped by his consanguine and/or co-resident kindred) and the shaman (always helped by his ~iyakanãu) in controlling the asocial, avoiding any imbalance between the two ontological realities. Following this reasoning, the apapaatai festivals amount to the final and supreme moment of overcoming a liminal situation (the illness) in which a Wauja (human) entity was close to transforming metaphysically into another (monster). In this sense, the apapaatai festivals point to the symbolic play of re-elaboration/reproduction of identity and alterity among the Wauja, events characterized as eminently artistic experiences.

This relation of reciprocity maintained between the sick person and the apapaatai demonstrates that they are not simply ferocious monsters or the enemies of humans. They are indeed enemies, although potentially friendly. Among the Wauja, at least, the reversal of the allied apapaatai’s aggression depends on the skills of the shamans in negotiating the rescue of the stolen soul and offering them festivals (meaning food, joyfulness and beauty). The reversal of the attitudes of fear and respect which the Wauja normally have for the apapaatai into attitudes of friendship and intimacy is a political matter, a type of shamanic diplomacy with the extra-human alterities.