Foto: Geraldo Silva, 2000


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    MT880 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
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Cosmology e shamanism


Part of the Yudjá's cosmological knowledge and ritual life rests on the crucial role of shamans; however, since the 1980s, they have had no more shamans.  A few people have tried to revive the practice by taking certain medicines, but they lost courage and gave up.  As one leader related in 1989, “I came face to face with a jaguar, so I refused to prepare [the medicine] arïpa any more.  I was afraid that would happen again.  I think it's dangerous—the jaguar was baiting me!  I drank only a little bit and bathed only one time [in the medicine].  After a few days, I went fishing, and the jaguar came toward me when I shot an arrow into a tucunaré [a kind of fish].  It came closer to me and bared its teeth; I grabbed my bow and tried to hit it, but it ran away.  I didn't have any hunting arrows, only fishing arrows, just two, and I hadn't even pulled them out of the fish yet.  It was dangerous!  I though it was going to attack me.  That's why I grabbed my bow and brandished it, and the jaguar withdrew a bit and kept on staring at me.  I pulled out the arrows from the fish, killed them, and said to the jaguar, 'Come on back!'  I wanted to shoot it, but it went away.  It's very dangerous!  If this had been a dream, fine; if the jaguar had appeared and told me it was baiting me, fine.  But it was not a dream.”

Among the probable reasons for this loss of courage, we cannot underestimate either the demographic and sociological tragedy provoked by the rubber boom, or the incorporation of the indigenous societies of the Upper Xingu in the mid-twentieth century by the federal agency responsible for assisting native peoples, or the political context and particular culture of the Xingu Indigenous Reservation.  The Yudjá seek out the therapeutic services of Kayabi shamans and, occasionally, of Kamayurá ones (when they need to remove sorcery spells).


Starting in 1987, a few people, male and female, received curing powers from some Kayabi shamans and have been practicing a simplified kind of shamanic therapy.  Without having gone through any sort of more formal apprenticeship with Kayabi shamans, their practices combine the notion of power obtained from foreign cosmic forces and their own theories of diseases, of which the most important is that illness is derived, in the final analysis, from human activities.  They believe that the energies expended by people on things are replicated by the (souls of) things inside the bodies of those people or their relatives.  The shaman is the one who can extract these diseases.  In addition to relying on healers who acquired Kayabi powers, the most important shaman in Tubatuba nowadays is an Ikpeng man.

The Yudjá cosmology has three fundamental coordinates:

a)  In the first place is the opposition between life and death.  This is far from being the drastic dichotomy seen in our cosmology, since there are some crucial transitions engendered by the dynamic functioning of the cosmological machinery, from small temporary deaths, triggered by sleep and typically taking the form of dreams, all the way up to anticipatory deaths.  The relation between life and death involves not so much a reciprocal exclusion (such as our notion that if someone is dead, he or she cannot be alive) but, rather, inclusion:  someone can be dead here, but alive in another place; he or she may be still alive here but already dead somewhere else.  In other words, the relation is one of a relative disjunction, capable of making room for important conjunctions.  Yudjá shamans used to be masters of such transitions.

b)  In the second place, the axes of the world are established by the oppositions between river and forest, and between sky and earth, each one articulated with the opposition between the presence and absence of cannibalism.  The river and the sky have a positive link with cannibalism.  One may say that all things that exist can be divided through these oppositions:  human beings (river peoples and forest peoples); spirits of the dead (those living in the cliffs on the banks of the Xingu, who do not like human flesh, and those living in the sky); mammals (forest species and those called isãmï living on the river bed); the Yudjá and the ãwã living on the river bed; the Abi living in the forest and the ãwã who live in dark, dirty places in faraway woods.  In addition, the Yudjá believe that everything that exists on earth also exists in the sky, which is a kind of earth resembling ours.  Even though the Yudjá do not consider the river to be a copy of the forest, they say it can be viewed as a copy of the earth by some river inhabitants, except that the forest in their earth resembles our gallery forests, and their gardens are portions of land broken off from the river banks.

c)  In third place is the last fundamental cosmological operation, which rests on the opposition between the point of view of living, conscious human subjects and the point of view of foreign beings, such as animals, isãmï animals, ãwã, and the 'i'ãnay (the dead).  The dynamism and complexity of Yudjá cosmology depends strictly upon the confrontation, nearly dangerous, between these discordant points of view.

Yudjá shamanism used to be composed of two systems, each related to one society of the dead.  Rarely was it possible for a shaman to practice both types of shamanism:  the spirits of the dead inhabiting the river rocks are too afraid of those living in the sky, whose society is composed of the souls of warriors and their leader, the shaman Kumahari.  Indeed, the Yudjá may be the ones who nowadays fear these spirits of the sky the most, and this form of shamanism is considerably more powerful, dangerous, and difficult to obtain.

Each system of shamanism used to be associated with a great festival in honor of its particular category of the dead.  The festival for the dead of the river cliffs ('i'ãnay karia) was accompanied by the sound of flute music and songs performed by the dead through the mouth of the shaman.  The other festival, called duru karia or 'eãmï karia, was accompanied by the music of a set of trumpets (duru).  When the Yudjá offered food to Kumahari and his associates during their festival, they said they would rather eat the flesh of roasted Indians brought from the other-world; they also refused to drink manioc beer, saying they were already drunk enough.  By contrast, the spirits from the river cliffs would drink plenty after eating the meal from their hosts, spicing up the manioc beer made by Yudjá women with a dose of beer brought from the other-world.  Both types of festivals used to last about a month, and their closing ceremonies would draw in participants from different villages.  The last of these celebrations were held in the 1970s.

Despite these changes, the ritual life of the Yudjá certainly continues to be intense.  Besides breaking up their normal routine with beer parties held at interludes that may be as short as four or five days, the Yudjá celebrate two festivals every year, each held for approximately one month.

According to their mythology, the songs for the festival of cultivated plants (koataha de abï), controlled by the women, originated from a celestial, immortal human race.  The Yudjá owe two clarinet (pïri) festivals to the ãwã, manioc beer makers who live in villages at the bottom of the river and lakes.  These beings also gave them body adornments that served as distinctive ethnic emblems:  downy duck feathers pasted on the hair, and circular red ornaments made of resin and a fringe of red threads, which are pasted to the forehead.

Certainly none of these festivals have the same cosmological significance as the shamanic rituals, but they do bear great social value.