ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION
LINDSAY JONES. Macmillan Reference USA
In dealing with beliefs in a superior god, I have mentioned how the lord, or master, of the animals is one way in which the supreme being is conceptualized among South American tribes. Owing to the fact that hunting belongs to one of the oldest phases of human history, gods who are associated with this category of subsistence represent archaic beliefs. Not only do the Indians of South America believe in a master of all animals but they frequently display a belief in supernatural protectors of the various animal species. Such nature spirits characteristically display strong individualistic tendencies and are often considered to be demons (Métraux, 1949). From the standpoint of cultural history, they are related to the lord of all beasts and have affinities with him that stem from the same hunting and fishing mentality. Tupi master of the animals. The most important representation of a master of the animals in the tropical lowlands is the forest spirit Korupira, or Kaapora, of the ancient eastern Tupi and a few primitive isolates of the Tupi tribes, as well as of the caboclo, or mixed race, people of Brazil. A series of recorded myths and verbal descriptions have facilitated a reconstruction of this deity. Although the use of two names creates the impression that Korupira and Kaapora are two separate mythical figures, they are so closely related as to be nearly indistinguishable. Korupira, the master of the animals, is the protecting spirit of the beasts as well as of the forest; he punishes those who maliciously destroy the game and rewards those who obey him or those on whom he takes pity. For a portion of tobacco, Korupira will lift the restrictions that he places on the killing of his animals. Encounters in recent times with a small isolated Tupi tribe, the Pauserna Guarasug’wä, who live in eastern Bolivia, have shown that the belief in Korupira/Kaapora has survived. Kaapora originated as a human being—that is, he was created from the soul of a Guarasu Indian. He is the lord of all animals of the forest and has put his mark somewhere on each of the wild animals, usually on its ear. A hunter must turn to him with a plea to release part of the game, but he is only allowed to kill as many as he will absolutely need for the moment. In thanksgiving for his success, the hunter will leave the skin, the feet, or the entrails of the slain animal behind when he leaves the forest: by doing so he begs forgiveness from the animal for having killed it.
After such reconciliations, the soul of the animal returns home to Kaapora. Presumably this tribe, like others, believes either that the spiritual owner of the game will create an entirely new animal or that the soul of the animal itself is capable of reproducing a new material form from the remains the hunter leaves behind. (The preservation of the bones of game in the so-called bone ritual appears to be widely distributed throughout South America.) Kurupi-vyra of the Guarasug’wä is a part-animal, parthuman forest spirit, but not a lord of the animals. He is, however, a possible source of help for hunters in emergencies. At such times he will lend his miraculous weapon, a hardwood wand that he himself uses to kill game, and in return he demands total obedience. Evidence of a master of the animals and a helping spirit is well documented in other regions of the South American subcontinent. Mundurucú protective mother spirit. In the Amazon region, the idea of a lord of all animals is sometimes replaced by the belief in a lord or master of each individual animal species, and sometimes both concepts occur.
Starting from the basic Tupi premise that every object in nature possesses a mother (cy), the Mundurucú, a Tupi-speaking group, recognize and venerate a maternal spirit of all game. She is the protector of the animal kingdom against mankind and maintains a mother-child relationship between herself and the beasts. Although she possesses a homogeneous character, she does not have a definite external form, nor does she exist as an independent personal goddess. The shaman alone knows and understands the methods for approaching her. In an ecstatic frenzy, he will feed her sweet manioc when she manifests herself in any one of her various forms (for example, as a specific type of land tortoise). The Mundurucú also attribute to each individual animal species a mother spirit that serves as a species protector. Formerly the Mundurucú held a reconciliation ceremony at the beginning of the rainy season in honor of the guardian spirits of the game and fish. At the climax of this ceremony, two men sang songs devoted to the spirit of each animal in order to call on the spirit mothers. They performed this act while sitting in front of the skulls of numerous animals that had been taken in the hunts of the previous year. These skulls were arranged in parallel rows, according to species, in front of the men’s house. Additionally, a bowl of manioc porridge was offered to the mothers of the animals to eat. When the shaman was convinced that the spirits had arrived, he blew tobacco smoke over the skulls and then, using a bamboo tube, proceeded to symbolically suck out arrowheads or bullets that had entered the spirits. Through this action the animals were pacified and the dancing could begin. Such dances, performed by the men, consisted of pantomimes of a herd of peccary, followed by representations of the tapir and other animals. This organized presentation by the Mundurucú was the most pregnant and illuminating of such ceremonies in the Amazon region. Hunting dances. The concept of a lord, or master, of a particular species also plays an important role in the religious systems of the Carib-speaking tribes of the Guianas. This is exemplified by the frequent use of the term father or grandfather when speaking of a certain type of animal.
The Taulipáng and the Arecuná of the inland regions of the Guianas believe that each individual animal type has a father (podole), who is envisioned as either a real or a gigantic, legendary representative of that particular species, and who displays supernatural qualities. Two “animal fathers” are especially meaningful for their hunting ritual: the father of the peccary and the father of the fish. Both of these figures were originally human shamans who were transformed into spiritual beings and became incorporated into the opening dances of the Parischerá and the Tukui, the magical hunting dances of the Taulipáng. In the Parischerá, a long chain of participants, wearing palm-leaf costumes and representing a grunting peccary herd, dance to the booming of cane trumpets or clarinets. Performing the Parischerá ensures a plentiful supply of four-legged animals, just as the Tukui dance guarantees a sufficient supply of birds and fish. Starting with a dance performed by the neighboring Maquiritaré that is similar to the Parischerá of the Taulipáng, Meinhard Schuster classified the ritual hunting dances devoted to the peccary, including those of other Carib-speaking tribes of the Guianas; he concluded that a relationship existed between these and the peccary dances of the Mundurucú (Schuster, 1976). Animal dances devoted to the attainment of game and fish are found among other tribes of the Amazon area and the Gran Chaco. Instead of focusing on the controlling master of the animals, however, they are often directed at the soul of the animal itself. Dances in which the animals, or their spiritual master, are depicted with masks made from bast fiber, straw, or wood frequently do not belong to hunting rituals as such. Instead, they are used in conjunction with rites of passage, especially initiation and mourning feasts. This applies to the animal-mask dances of the northwestern Amazon, the tribes of the upper Xingu River, and the northwestern Ge tribes of eastern Brazil.
The jaguar. The predatory jaguar occupies a special position in the religious practices of peoples inhabiting an extensive area of South America that stretches from the coast of Brazil to the central Andes. The religious life of these peoples is dominated by activities related to the jaguar. The tribute paid the jaguar takes a number of forms: in some cases, attempts are made to pacify or to ward off the spirits of captured jaguars; in others jaguars are ceremonially killed; in yet others, the jaguar is venerated as a god. Among the ancient Tupinamba, the cadaver of a jaguar was ornamented and then mourned by the women. The people addressed the dead animal, explaining that it was his own fault that he had been captured and killed since the trap into which he had fallen had been intended for other game. He was implored not to take revenge on human children. Among the western groups of the Boróro tribe of the Mato Grosso, who are included in the eastern Brazil cultural area, there is a dance of reconciliation performed for the slain jaguar. Such dances take place at night and consist of pantomimes of the jaguar acted by a hunter who wears a jaguar skin and is decorated with its claws and teeth. These Boróro groups believe that the soul of the jaguar will in this way be assimilated into the hunter. At the same time, the women mourn and cry emphatically to pacify the soul of the animal, which might otherwise take revenge by killing the hunter. The eastern groups of the Boróro tribe attach quite a different significance to their rites for the dead jaguar. Here the ceremonies are held in conjunction with the hunting rituals that accompany the death of an individual, and in this sense they belong to mourning rites.
Up to the beginning of the twentieth century, the Shipaya and Yuruna, Tupi-speaking tribes located on the middle Xingu River, knew of a cult dedicated to the creator of their tribe, who was known as Kumaphari. In the beginning Kumaphari had a human form, but in a state of anger he divorced himself from human beings and settled in the northern end of the world, where he became an invisible, cannibalistic jaguar. Through the shaman, who acted as a medium, the jaguar god occasionally demanded human flesh, where upon a war party was organized for the purpose of acquiring a prisoner. The victim was shot with arrows and a portion of the body was consumed by the participants in the ritual; the remaining part was presented to Kumaphari, the jaguar god. The ceremonies practiced in this cult apparently maintained ritual cannibalistic elements found among the Tupinamba of the sixteenth century, although at that time the offering of a captured warrior to a deity was not recorded. An active jaguar cult was also known to the Mojo, an Arawakan tribe in eastern Bolivia. The killing of a jaguar, which automatically bestowed great prestige on the hunter, was accompanied by extensive rites. During the entire night, a dance was held around the slain animal. Finally the animal was butchered and eaten on the spot. The skull, paws, and various other parts were then placed within a temple of the jaguar god, and a sacrificial drink for the benefit of the hunter was presented by the jaguar shaman. The shaman was recruited from among those men who were distinguished for having escaped alive after being attacked by a jaguar. They alone could summon and console the jaguar spirit and could allegedly turn into jaguars, a transformation known to many other Indian tribes of the Amazon region. It is justifiable to view the jaguar god of the Mojo as a “lord of the jaguars” in the same sense that the concept “master of the animals” is applied among hunting groups. This feline predator also played a part in the religion of ancient Peru. Either a particular god possessed attributes of the jaguar, or the jaguar was an independent deity who served as the lord of the earthly jaguars and who appeared in the constellation Scorpius. Protection from slain animals. Rituals established around various slain animals are especially obvious in eastern Brazil and Tierra del Fuego. Among the Boróro of eastern Brazil, the shaman enters a state of ecstasy after big game has been killed. In this condition he performs various activities related to the game-for example, breathing over the meat. He may also sample it before the rest of the members of the tribe partake of the meal. In this way he bestows a blessing that will protect against the revenge of the slain animal spirit (bope). When the Kaingán-Aweicoma (Xokleng) in the state of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil have killed a tapir, chopped greens, which are particularly favored by this animal, are spread over its head and body, which is supported upright. At the same time, the spirit of the animal is addressed with friendly words. It is asked to give a favorable report to the other animals of its kind, to report how well it was treated, and to persuade them that they too should let themselves be killed. Similarly, when a hunter of the Selk’nam of Tierra del Fuego removed the skin from a slain fox, he spoke apologetic phrases, such as “Dear fox, I am not evil-minded. I have respect and don’t wish to harm you, but I am in need of your meat and your fur.” By this means, the entire fox society was expected to be pacified after the loss of one of its members. The offering of such deceptions and fabrications to the slain animals is a typical archaic ritual that also finds expression among hunters in the Old World.
Plant fertility rites. I now turn to those religious rites that center around the theme of fertility, not only of planted crops but also of wild edible plants. The most impressive religious celebrations of the tribes in the lowlands of the Amazon are those held for the vegetation demons by the peoples in the northwestern section of this region. Such demons are usually, though incorrectly, identified with the worst of all demons among the ancient eastern Tupi, which demons (and their cults) are known as yurupary in the local vernacular (Métraux, 1949). Among the Tucanoan and Arawakan groups of the upper Rio Negro and the basin of the Uaupés River, the Yurupary rites take place at the time when certain palm fruits particularly favored by the Indians are ripe.
At the beginning of the festival, baskets of these fruits are ceremonially escorted into the village by men blowing giant trumpets. These sacred instruments, which represent the voices of the vegetation demons, are hidden from the women and children, who must therefore remain within the huts at this time. During the first part of the ceremony, in which the men scourge one another with long rods, the women are also obligated to remain within their houses. After the secret part of the ritual has ended, however, the women may join the men in feasting and drinking, which continues for several days. The purpose of this feast is to thank the demons for a good harvest and to beg them to provide a rich yield in the coming season. In former times, the so-called Yurupary rites of the Arawakan groups, the Tariana and their neighbors, incorporated the use of two matted “mask suits” made from the hair of monkeys and women. These suits, worn by a pair of dancers, were also not allowed to be seen by the women. The underlying meaning of the Yurupary rites involves the son of Koai, the tribal hero of the Arawakan groups. Milomaki of the Yahuna (a Tucano group), on the other hand, is a sun hero with an amazing talent for singing who was responsible for having created all edible fruits. He gave these gifts to mankind, although he himself was burned to death by men for having killed members of the tribe. From the ashes of his body sprang the palm tree that provides the wood for making the large trumpets used at the feasts. The trumpets allegedly have the same tones as his voice. Sacred wind instruments. The reproduction of the voices of supernatural beings through the use of sacred wind instruments, including wooden flutes and trumpets made from rolled bark, is an element that is, or at least was, widespread over much of tropical South America. Their use is most often connected with the expansion of the Arawakan peoples from the north to the south. In the area north of the Amazon, these instruments are utilized in cultic activities devoted to vegetation deities, whereas south of the Amazon they are a central aspect of autonomous cults that have an esoteric character, but have little connection to fertility rituals. They appear in the Flute Dance feast of the Arawakan Ipurina of the Purus River as a representation of the ghostly kamutsi, who reside under water and are related not only to the sun but also to the animals. The Paresi-’Kabishi, an Arawakan tribe in the western Mato Grosso, have a secret cult in which the snake demon Nukaima and his wife are represented by a huge trumpet and a smaller flute. The Alligator Jump dance of the old Mojo (an Arawakan group) is considered to be the equivalent of the snake cult of the Paresi. At the climax of this alligator cult feast, a procession is formed in which twelve men play nine-foot-long bark trumpets. Women and children are not allowed to see the proceedings; were they to do so, they would allegedly risk being swallowed by an alligator.
The cultural wave responsible for the use of sacred wind instruments in the reproduction of the voices of spiritual beings apparently died out in the upper Xingu cultural area. The flutes, which are taboo for women, are stored in special flute houses like those of the Arawakan Mehináku. They are associated with a mother spirit (mama’e) who has the form of a bird, the jacu (Crax spp), and is represented by masked dancers during the ceremonies. Among the Camayura (a Tupi group), the Jacu feast was organized for the purpose of obtaining help from three manioc mama’e whose assistance was needed to guarantee success with a new manioc field. Human and plant fertility. Among the Kaua (an Arawakan group) and the Cubeo (a Tucano group) in the northwestern Amazon region, fertility rites are obviously connected with a human generative power. At the end of the masked dances, in which the dancers represent animals, the participants unite to perform the Naädö (phallus dance). They hold artificial phalluses made of bast fiber in front of their bodies, and with coital gestures they mimic the scattering of semen over houses, fields, and forests. Farther to the west, we encounter the primal father Moma of the Witóto, a superior god who has a strong influence on the fertility of all useful plants. Moma is responsible not only for the flourishing of the planted crops, including manioc and maize, but also for useful wild fruits. In his honor, the Okima, the festival of yuca (manioc) and of the ancestors, is performed. Those under the earth are invited to participate in the festival by their worldly descendants above, who stamp their feet or beat rhythmically on the ground with “stamping sticks” that are fitted with rattles. In the ball game festival known as Uike, the soul of Moma is believed to be present within the ball, which is bounced back and forth on the knees of the persons participating. Additionally, this ball symbolically represents the fruits that are brought to the feast, the idea being that the bouncing ball makes the same movements as the fruits in the branches of the trees. Among the Jivaroan people in Ecuador, the cult of the earth mother Nunkwi is restricted to those cultivated plants whose soul is believed to be feminine- for example, manioc. The soul of the earth mother resides within a strangely shaped stone (nantara) that has the power to summon Nunkwi.
The association between fertility of human females and the growth of plants considered to be feminine receives obvious expression through the rule that every woman who plants a manioc cutting must sit on a manioc tuber. The same theme is expressed in the ritual for the first manioc cutting that is taken from a field whose yield is intended to be used at the Tobacco festival. The cutting is painted red, and the woman to be honored places it against her groin. Even the tsantsa, the fist-sized shrunken head trophies of the Jivaroans, are connected with the fertility of the fields. The power that resides within these heads is expected to be transferred into the crops as the successful hunter, wearing the trophy around his neck, passes the fields. From the trophies the hunter also receives information concerning the fields, which he passes on to the women who tend them. The Quechua and Aymara peoples of the central Andes region frequently call upon Pachamama, the goddess of the earth, who is essentially responsible for the fertility of plants and who is believed to live underground. In addition to being connected with many celebrations, she is also associated with many daily rituals. The cult devoted to her originated in preHispanic times. It has survived to the present, a persistence that is undoubtedly related to Pachamama’s identification with the Virgin Mary. For the cultural areas of eastern Brazil, the Gran Chaco, the Pampas, and Patagonia (including Tierra del Fuego), information concerning gods or spirits related to the fertility of cultivated plants is partial, has little significance, or is completely lacking.
Amazonian Quechua Religions; Ethnoastronomy; Ge Mythology; Inca Religion; Inti; Jaguars; Lord of the Animals; Mapuche Religion; Selk’nam Religion; Shamanism, article on South American Shamanism; South American Indians, articles on Indians of the Andes in the Pre-Inca Period and Indians of the Gran Chaco; Supreme Beings; Tehuelche Religion; Viracocha; Yurupary.