South American Indian Religions: An Overview

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Since the Indians of South America do not conform culturally, there is no religious uniformity among them. Despite this inconsistency, an acceptable overview can be achieved by subdividing the continent's large, geographically distinct regions into the following cultural areas.

  1. The Andes. This mountain range stretches from present-day Colombia to Chile. The highland regions of Peru, lying between the Pacific coast region and the valleys that cut through the mountain range, were taken over in the distant past by highly advanced agrarian cultures. Among the most significant of these cultures was the Inca empire, which extended into the dawn of historical times. Direct descendants of earlier Andean cultures, the Quechua and Aymara peoples inhabit present-day Peru and Bolivia.
  2. Amazon and Orinoco rivers. These jungle- and savanna-covered regions were conquered by tropical farming cultures. From the standpoint of cultural history, this area also includes the mountainous sections of present-day Guyana; in early historical periods, the Amazon cultural area eventually spread to the Atlantic coast. As in the past, it is now inhabited by tribes belonging to a number of linguistic families, both small and large (Tupi, Carib, Arawak, Tucano, and Pano), and by a number of linguistically isolated tribes. Together they form cultural subareas that display religious specializations.
  3. Mountains of eastern Brazil. This region is occupied by groups of the Ge linguistic family, who practice rudimentary farming methods; they settled in these hinterlands of the Atlantic coast region, joining indigenous hunting tribes. A few of these Ge groups have survived culturally up to the present time.
  4. The Gran Chaco. The bush and grass steppes of this area stretch from the Paraguay River west to the foothills of the Andes. The area was initially divided among hunters, fishers, and gatherers, and these cultures came under diverse influences from neighboring agriculturists. A series of more or less acculturated groups of the Guiacurú linguistic family (the Mataco and the Mascoy) may still be encountered at the present time.
  5. The Pampas and Patagonia. Hunting groups wandered through these flatlands of the southern regions of South America. The extinct Pampa and Tehuelche Indians were among the peoples of this region. The Tierra del Fuego archipelago, near the Strait of Magellan, is also included within this territory. Although the inhabitants of these regionsthe Selk'nam (Ona), Yahgan, and Alacalufare considered extinct, their culture and religion were well documented before they vanished.
  6. Southern Andes. This area, especially its middle and southernmost regions, is populated by the agrarian Araucanians of Chile, who have prospered up to the present time. Their success has been attributed to their development of a self-sufficient culture a few decades before the Spanish invasion in the early sixteenth century. This development was the result of the influence of highly advanced Peruvian cultures, as the Inca empire progressed to the Maule River in Chile. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Araucanians expanded eastward, but this part of the group, like its predecessors in the area, eventually became extinct.

Pronounced differences in religious phenomena appear within each of these cultural areas; these phenomena present certain discrepancies when seen together. The most outstanding contrast appears between the highly developed Andean religions, which are founded on priesthood and ruling cults, and the religious beliefs of the tribes in the eastern lowlands. Some typical examples of their forms and their respective beliefs should help to clarify their differences.

Deities, Culture Heroes, and Ancestors

The tradition of a creator as the prime mover and teacher of mankind is universal among the Indians of South America (Métraux, 1949). In the majority of cases, the mythical person most often represented is not directly involved in the daily activities of mortals and therefore does not enjoy particular veneration. There is no fundamental discrepancy between this disinterested deity and the omnipotent creator whose cultic worship is integrated into a religious system; similar characteristics are attributed to both figures. A god previously venerated may fade to the position of a mythical figure, just as a mythical character can achieve cultic significance.

Under certain conditions, a creator, a culture hero, or an ancestor may rise to the position of a deity or supreme being. Such a case occurred in the old cultures of Peru with the religious figure Viracocha. Perhaps originally a culture hero of the Quechua or some other Andean people, Viracocha eventually ascended to the ranks of the highest pantheon as a result of speculation on the part of the Inca priesthood. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Viracocha was represented in anthropomorphic sculptures that appeared in special Inca temples and was venerated through prayers and sacrificial offerings. Inti, the Inca sun god, is portrayed with a human face within a golden disk, and as the tribal god of the ruling Inca dynasty he was embodied in the Inca emperor.

The establishment of an elaborate cult for an indigenous supreme being is a typical occurrence in highly advanced cultures, but such cults are seldom found in South America outside the Andes region. When they do appear elsewhere they are likely the result of the influence of these advanced civilizations on compatible cultural and geographical situations. A report by Karin Hissink and Albert Hahn (1961) on the cultures from the lowlands of Bolivia, near the Andes, points out that the Tacana Indians of the Beni River area maintain the belief in a supreme being known as Caquiahuaca, who created the earth, human beings, animals, and plants. An old man with a white beard, Caquiahuaca lives in a cave in a mountain that bears his name and that forms the center of the world. In temples he is represented by a small bees-wax figure surrounded by a series of larger wooden statues that represent the lower gods, known as edutzi, who assist him. As the instructor of the priest-shamans, or yanacona, Caquiahuaca assists them in the performance of their office, and as their master he is responsible for their religious vocation.

In addition to this, Deavoavai, the lord of the animals, also represents a creator, culture hero, and master of the dead. In his capacity as ruler of the game, Deavoavai is rooted in an earlier cultural-historical levelthat of hunters, fishers, and gatherers. Such a deity is also found among other agricultural peoples, including peoples of the Amazon lowlands. Despite their reliance on an economic subsistence that has long since undergone the transition from a hunting to an agricultural base, these groups of the Amazon Basin maintain a religious emphasis that incorporates a dependence on a powerful being who controls the game, an aspect that will receive attention below. It is sufficient here to point out that within this region a relationship exists between the master of the hunted game and the supreme being, a concept first recognized by Adolf E. Jensen (1951).

Culture hero as supreme being

Konrad T. Preuss was convinced that Moma ("father") was the paramount, indeed, the only true god of the Witóto of the Putumayo area of the northwestern Amazon and that he was identified with the moon. According to creation legends among these people, Moma came into existence from the "word," that is, he was a product of magico-religious incantations and myths that are endowed with supernatural powers. He was also the personification of the "word," which he bestowed upon human beings, and the "word" was the doctrine that represented the driving force behind all religious ceremonies that Moma introduced. The original father created the earth and all things of the world from the archetype (naino ), the "not-substance," of each individual entity. On the other hand, in a myth that explains the creation of the organic world, Moma extracts all the plants and animals from his own body. The blossoms of the food plants used by humans are evidence of his omnipotent presence, and when the trees of the earth no longer bear fruit they go to Moma in the underworld. In addition to being the moon in the heavens, he resides below as master of the dead. He was the first being to experience the suffering of death, but in the fruits of the plants he is continually resurrected.

Among the Witóto, such a representation demonstrates intensely the character of a particular form of culture hero, that is, one who is at the same time a supreme entity. Jensen applied the term dema deity in describing such a culture hero among the Marind-anim of New Guinea (Jensen, 1951). The distinguishing characteristics of this deity are revealed in his slaying, which occurred in primal times, and the consequent growth of all food plants out of his body.

Waríkyana supreme being

A supreme god is also manifested among the Waríkyana (Arikena), a Carib-speaking tribe of the Brazilian Guianas. The highest deity in the religion of the Waríkyana is Pura (a name that, according to the Franciscan missionary Albert Kruse, means "god"). With his servant Mura, Pura stands on the zenith of heaven's mountains and observes all things that take place below (Kruse, 1955). At the command of Pura, the rain is sent from the sky. Pura and Mura are small men with red skin and are ageless and immortal. They appeared at the beginning of the world, together with water, the sky, and the earth. In early times Pura and Mura came down to earth and created humans and animals. Because mankind did not obey the ethical precepts of Pura, he retaliated by sending a great fire that was followed by a deluge. A segment of the human race survived this catastrophe, and the Waríkyana people believe that when the end of time comes, Pura will create another holocaust. It was therefore Pura to whom prayers were directed, and in his honor a celebration took place in which manioc cakes were offered to him.

Protasius Frikel, another Franciscan, completed Kruse's description, noting that the Waríkyana view the supreme being as a reflection of the primal sun (Frickel, 1957). Pura continues to qualify as the superior god, and in addition he was also thought of as the world onto which the primal sun pours its blinding light. Pura also represents universal power, a belief that Frikel considers to be relatively recent among the Waríkyana.

In another instance, Pura is considered to be a "primordial man" or culture hero (ibid.). In any case, Pura resides in heaven and reigns over all elements. His companion and servant Mura is somehow connected with the moon and displays some features of a trickster. Such dual relationships as sun and moon, god and companion, culture hero and tricksterpairs that are often represented as twinsare encountered frequently in South American mythology. According to the Waríkyana, death is the beginning of the soul's journey to heaven, where it will be reincarnateda journey that is modeled after the eternal cycle of the sun.

Yanoama and Mundurucú supreme beings

Kruse's work stimulated Josef Haekel to write an article about monotheistic tendencies among Carib-speakers and other Indian groups in the Guianas, as well as among those groups bordering the western areas of the Guianas (Haekel, 1958). According to Haekel's findings, reference to the name Pura in connection with a supreme being occurred in no other Carib-speaking tribe except the Waríkyana. To the west of their territory in the Guianas, however, the expression is used with only slight variation, even among different linguistic groups such as the isolated Yanoama (Yanonami) on the Venezuelan and Brazilian borders. According to the beliefs of some groups in Brazil, Pore is the name of a supreme being who descended to earth (Becher, 1974). Together with the moon, who is known as Perimbo, Pore established a dual relationship composed of both sexesmale and femalethat was conceptually unified as a supreme entity who controls heaven, earth, and the underworld. As the most well-informed researcher of the Brazilian Yanoama, Hans Becher considers their mode of life to be strongly influenced by myths connected with the moon; the sun, on the other hand, is entirely unimportant. The awe in which these Indians hold Pore and Perimbo is so intense that they do not call on this supreme being directly. Instead, they employ the indirect services of intermediaries in the forms of plant and animal spirits (hekura ) that reside on specific mountain ranges. Shamans identify with these spirits and when intoxicated with snuff come into contact with them.

There are strong similarities between the supreme being, Pura, of the Waríkyana and the figure of Karusakaibe, the "father of the Mundurucú" (an expression coined by Kruse, who was also a missionary among this central Tupi tribe). Karusakaibe once lived on earth and created human souls, the sky, the stars, game animals, fish, and cultivated plants, together with all their respective guardian spirits, and he made the trees and plants fruitful. Karusakaibe is omniscient: he taught the Mundurucú how to hunt and farm, among other things. He is the lawgiver of the tribe and the originator of its dual social structure. Karusakaibe is immortal. Because he was treated badly at one time by the Mundurucú, he went off to the foggy regions of the heavens. He is also credited with having transformed himself into the bright sun of the dry season. When the end of the world comes, he will set the world and all mankind on fire. But until that time he will look after the well-being of his children, the Mundurucú, who direct their prayers and offerings to him when fishing and hunting and in times of sickness. Martin Gusinde (1960) is of the opinion that Karusakaibe was once a superior god among the Mundurucú. Later his status changed to that of a culture hero.

Tupi-Guaraní supreme beings

Resonances of a supreme being concept among the Tupi-Guaraní linguistic groups are mentioned by Alfred Métraux, who was the most important specialist in their religious systems (Métraux, 1949). Among these groups, the creator often has the characteristics of a transformer, and as a rule he is also the lawgiver and teacher of early mankind. After he fulfills these tasks, he journeys westward to the end of the world, where he rules over the shades of the dead.

Among the ancient Tupinamba of the Atlantic coast and the Guarayo of eastern Bolivia, traces were found of a cult devoted to the creator, Tamoi. In Métraux's opinion, the various culture heroes, including Monan and Maira-monan) were derived from a single mythical figurethe tribal grandfather, Tamoi. The occurrence of an eclipse of the sun or the moon is a signal that according to the beliefs of the Tupinamba relates directly to the end of the world, and the men must sing a hymn to Tamoi. These eschatological beliefs are characteristic of the Tupi-Guaraní and may be connected to the messianic movements of the Tupinamba at the beginning of the Portuguese colonization period. Such movements frequently led to mass migrations in search of the mythological land of Tamoi, a region perceived as a paradise where the inhabitants share immortality and eternal youth. A similar cult devoted to the worship of the great ancestor among the Guarayo was coupled with messianic movements at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In this case, Tamoi was considered the ruler of the celestial western kingdom of the dead as well as the dominant figure at burial rites and in beliefs about the afterlife.

The most revered god of the Guaraní-Apapocuvá according to Curt Nimuendajú, the outstanding authority on this tribe at the beginning of the twentieth century, is the creator Nanderuvuçu ("our great father"). Nanderuvuçu has withdrawn to a remote region of eternal darkness that is illuminated solely by the light that radiates from his breast (Nimuendajú, 1914). He holds the means to destroy the world but retains the privilege of using this power for as long as he pleases. Because he is not concerned about the daily activities that occur on earth, no cultic practices are directed toward him. His wife Nandecy ("our mother") lives in the "land without evil," a paradise that at one time was believed to be in the east and then again in the west; this paradise also became the goal of various messianic movements of the Guaraní-Apapocuvá.

Ge solar and lunar gods

In the eastern Brazilian area, the majority of the northwestern and central Ge tribes (Apinagé, Canella, and Xerente) hold that the Sun and Moon are the only true gods. Both Sun and Moon are masculine. Though not related to each other, they are companions; the Sun, however, is predominant.

The supremacy of a solar god among the Apinagé led Jensen to the conclusion that here the mythical concept of a sun-man has a secondary identity, that is, he is also a supreme god (Jensen, 1951). To support this theory, Jensen directs attention to the fact that human begins alone have the privilege of addressing this deity as "my father." He finds additional support for this theory in the prayers that are offered to the solar god and in the role he plays in visions. An Apinagé chief spoke of an encounter he once had on a hunting expedition in which he met the sun-father in human form. The Apinagé consider the establishment of the dual organization of the tribe, as well as the placement of the two moieties within the circular settlement, to be the work of the Sun. A final supporting element observed by Nimuendajú (1939) is the Apinagé's consumption of round meat patties, which are eaten at feasts and are said to represent the sun.

At the beginning of the harvest season, a four-day dance festival is celebrated in honor of the Sun at which the dancers apply red paint to themselves in patterns representative of the sun. The Canella also publicly implore the heavenly gods, the Sun and the Moon, for rain, the safety of the game animals, the success of their harvest, and an abundance of wild fruit. In a similar manner, the Xerente call the sun "Our Creator" and pay the same devout tributes to the Sun-father as do the Apinagé. The Sun and the Moon themselves, however, never appear, but the Xerente receive instructions from these solar and lunar bodies through other celestial gods (the planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter) who are associated with the Sun and the Moon moieties. The most important ceremony of the Xerente is the Great Feast, at which a pole is erected so that the tribe members may climb to the top and pray to the Sun. At the end of the celebration, the master of ceremonies climbs this pole. Once at the top, he stretches his hand outward to the east and receives a message from a star within the constellation Orion, who acts as a celestial courier. In most cases, satisfaction is expressed and rain is assured.

The ceremonial pole as a link to the heavenly world is also believed to have been employed by the Botocudos, who were among the hunting tribes that once lived near the Atlantic Ocean but are now extinct. Their religion was apparently characterized by a belief in a supreme being in heaven, named White Head because of the image he created (the top of his head is white and his face is covered with red hair). He was also the chief of the heavenly spirits, who were known as maret. The maret spirits could be called to earth by the shaman, but in a form that is visible only to him; they also had to return to heaven in the same way. They took on the function of intermediaries between mortals and the supreme being when the shaman, through prayers and songs, turned to them in times of sickness or in an emergency. No one ever saw Father White Head face to face; although he was sympathetic toward mankind, he punished murderers and was responsible for sending rain storms.

Mother goddesses

As Métraux (1946) pointed out, the missionaries who searched for belief in a supreme being among the Indians of the Gran Chaco were not at all successful. The only mythical personality who comes close to the concept of a superior god, in Métraux's opinion, is Eschetewuarha ("mother of the universe"), the dominant deity among the Chamacoco, a Samuco group in the north Chaco region. She is the mother of numerous forest spirits as well as of the clouds. As the controller of all things, Eschetewuarha ensures that mankind receives water. In return for this favor, she expects her people to send songs to her nightly, and when such expectations are not fulfilled she punishes them. Herbert Baldus (1932), who provided in-depth information about Eschetewuarha, compares her with the universal mother of the Cágaba (Koghi), a Chibcha tribe in Colombia that had been influenced by more advanced cultures. This comparison facilitates postulating at least a phenomenological relationship between the two.

The obvious characteristics of a supreme god are apparently present in Kuma, the goddess of the Yaruro, who subsist on fishing, hunting, and gathering along the Capanaparo River, a tributary of the Orinoco in Venezuela. She is considered to be a moon goddess and consort of the sun god, who is unimportant. Kuma created the world with the help of two brothers, the Water Serpent and the Jaguar, after whom the tribal moieties were named. Although she apparently created the first two human beings herself, her son, Hatschawa, became the educator and culture hero of mankind. Kuma dominates a paradise in the west in which gigantic counterparts for every plant and animal species exist. Shamans are capable of seeing the land of Kuma in dreams and visions and are able to send their souls there. As a reliable informant explained, "Everything originated from Kuma and everything that the Yaruro do has been arranged so by her; the other gods and cultural heroes act according to her laws" (Petrullo, 1939). Métraux drew attention to the typological affinities between Kuma and Gauteovan, the mother goddess of the Cágaba, who in turn is connected with Eschetewuarha of the Chamacoco (Métraux, 1949).

Supreme beings of Tierra del Fuego

Among the people living in the southern regions of the continent, a belief in a supreme being is common in hunting and fishing tribes, especially the Selk'nam (Ona) of Tierra del Fuego and the Yahgan and Alacaluf of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. Despite many years of European influence in this area and the astonishing similarities of their beliefs to aspects of Christianity, Métraux believed that the religion of these three tribes remained substantially independent of Christianity (Métraux, 1949). Martin Gusinde, a member of the ethnological school of Wilhelm Schmidt, provided us with research information about these tribes shortly before their cultural extinction (Gusinde, 1931, 1937, 1974). The Selk'nam, the Yahgan (Yámana), and the Alacaluf (Halakwulip) maintain belief in a supreme being who is an invisible, omnipotent, and omniscient spirit living in heaven, beyond the stars. He has no physical body and is immortal; having neither wife nor children, he has no material desires. Among the Alacaluf, the creator god is named Xolas ("star"), and despite the great distance that separates him from the earth, he concerns himself with the daily life of human beings. Through his initiative a soul is allowed to enter the body of a newborn baby; it remains in the human being until death, at which time it returns to Xolas. The Alacaluf were obliged to abstain from any form of veneration of this perfect supreme being, since any attempt to influence his will would have been fruitless. For this reason, it is not known what formal prayers were addressed to Xolas nor whether cultic practices associated with him were performed.

Watauineiwa ("ancient one, eternal one") behaved quite differently, according to the beliefs of the Yahgan. He preferred to be addressed as "my father," and he was reputed to be the lord of the world and ruler over life and death. He was an astute observer of the actions of humans and punished violations of the laws he had established in relation to morals and customs. Such rules were inculcated into the young (boys and girls concurrently) during initiation rituals, which formed the core of Yahgan religious life. In seeking contact with Watauineiwa, the individual Yahgan could draw upon numerous established prayers. A person would implore Watauineiwa, who was the controller of the game animals and of all food plants, to help him to secure his subsistence needs and would turn to Watauineiwa to ensure his continued health, to cure him of sickness, and to protect him from inclement weather and from drastic environmental changes. But Watauineiwa was also the target for harsh complaints in cases of ailments and misfortune, and in the event of death he was accused with the words "murderer in heaven."

The supreme god of the Yahgan maintained a closer contact with human beings than did Témaukel, the Selk'nam's supreme god. Témaukel ("the one above in heaven") was considered to be the originator and protector of mankind's moral and social laws, although he was otherwise uninterested in daily life on earth. Témaukel had existed from the beginning of time, but he entrusted Kenos, the first ancestor, with the final configuration of the world and the institution of social customs. In spite of the respect they accorded Témaukel, the Selk'nam prayed to him less frequently than did the Yahgan to their supreme god. Contrastingly, the Selk'nam meticulously observed the practice of throwing the first piece of meat from the evening meal out of their huts with the words "This is for him up there," an action that can be considered a form of sacrificial offering. The dead were also believed to travel to Témaukel.

Supreme beings of the Pampas, Patagonia, and the southern Andes

Although our knowledge of the religious practices and beliefs of the earlier inhabitants of the Pampas and Patagonia is sparse and relatively superficial, it is almost certain that the Tehuelche had a supreme being. Like Témaukel of the Selk'nam, the god of the Tehuelche was characterized by his lack of interest in worldly activities; he was also lord of the dead. This supreme being was, in general, sympathetic toward human beings, but there is no proof of a public cult devoted to him. Traditionally he was called Soychu. A benevolent supreme being of the same name was also found in the religious beliefs of the Pampa Indians, at least after the eighteenth century.

It would appear that the tribal religions of the southern areas of South America were, in general, marked by a belief in a supreme god. The Araucanians of the southern Andes, and in particular the Mapuche, have left behind traces of the concept of a superior god, as well as a devout veneration of him that survived well into the eighteenth century. In most instances the supreme being is referred to as either Ngenechen ("lord of mankind") or Ngenemapun ("lord of the land"). Other, more feminine descriptions may reveal an androgynous character. Ngenechen is thought of as living in heaven or in the sun and is credited with being the creator of the world as well as the provider of life and of the fruits of the earth. Although he is responsible for the well-being of mankind, he is not associated with the moral laws. An individual would turn to Ngenechen in personal emergencies with prayers, the sacrifice of an animal, or an offering of the first fruits of the harvest. A public ritual known as the Ngillatun, which has survived up to the present time among the Araucanians, consists of offering the blood of a sacrificial animal to him. Two important objects employed at this feast are the rewe, a thick, step-notched pole, and a sacrificial altar, both of which are circled by the participants at the beginning of the ceremony. In addition to the master of ceremonies, the female shaman (machi) takes over some of the most vital functions at the Ngillatun. With a flat drum (kultrun ), she climbs the ceremonial pole and upon reaching the top turns to Ngenechen, who is now symbolically nearer. Métraux (1949, p. 561) and John M. Cooper (1946, pp. 742743) have both come to the conclusion that in this instance the older features of god among the Araucanians have been conceptually modified through the centuries to conform with the concepts of the conquering Western civilization.

Earlier Spanish chroniclers viewed the thunder god Pillán as the central, if not the supreme, being of the Araucanians. Ewald Böning, in a more recent account, pointed out convincingly that the Mapuche describe Pillán in general as a powerful, extraordinary, and tremendous apparition (Böning, 1974, p. 175). Pillán primarily represents an impersonal power, but he can also manifest himself in a personal form. The concept of impersonal power seldom occurs in the mentality of the South American Indians. The Nambikwára of the Mato Grosso, for example, believe in an abstract power, known as nande, that is present in certain things and that contains a magic poison or a real poison. Although any individual can, to a certain extent, achieve contact with nande, it is the shamans above all who can manipulate this power.

Nature Spirits, Hunting Rituals, and Vegetation Rites

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 beingthat 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, part-human 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, whereupon 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 gamefor 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 femininefor 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 pre-Hispanic 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.

The Soul, the Dead, and Ancestors

Most of the Indian groups of South America believe that a human being has several souls, each residing in a different part of the body and responsible for numerous aspects of life. After death, each of these souls meets a different fate. One of the most interesting examples of this idea is found among the Guaraní-Apapocuvá (Nimuendajú, 1914). One soul, called the ayvucue ("breath"), comes from one of three possible dwelling places: from a deity in the zenith, who is the tribal hero; from "Our Mother" in the east; or from Tupan, the thunder god, in the west. In its place of origin the soul exists in a finished state, and at the moment of birth it enters the body of the individual. It is the shaman's task to determine which of the three places of origin each soul comes from. Soon after birth the breath soul is joined by another soul, the acyigua ("vigorous, strong"). The acyigua resides in the back of a person's neck and is considered to be an animal soul responsible for the temperament and impulses of that person, which correspond to the qualities of a particular animal. Immediately after death the two souls part company. The ayvucue of a small child goes to paradise, the "Land without Evil." The destination of the ayvucue of adults is another afterworld that lies just before the entrance to paradise. The animal soul or acyigua transforms itself into a much-feared ghost, called angéry, that persecutes mankind and must therefore be fought.

Research on a number of Indian tribes indicates that meticulous preservation of the bones of the dead is a widespread practice. Such action, which is similar to the preservation of the bones of hunted game, can be traced to the belief that residual elements of the soul remain in the bones after death. The conceptualization of a "bone soul" has led to the ritual consumption of bone ash from dead family members. This form of endocannibalism is practiced at the present time by different groups of the Yanoama and appears to have been relatively widespread in western South America. Among the Yanoama, we find a perception of a soul that resides outside the body of a living individual, a concept seldom documented in South America. Such a soul most often dwells in an animal, but sometimes also in plants. This type of soul may reside, for example, in a harpy eagle if the soul is that of a man, or in an otter if it belongs to a woman. The predominant element of such a concept is that of an identical life pattern: when the respective animal dies, its human counterpart will also die, and vice versa. An animal soul, usually referred to as a "bush soul," represents the alter ego of a specific individual.

Some of the fundamental beliefs in an alter ego prevalent in South America stem from within the shamanic domain. The Araucanian female shaman (machi) possesses an alter ego in the form of an evergreen canelo tree (Drimys winteri) that she tends in the forest and whose fate is intimately linked to her own. If someone discovers this tree and destroys it, the machi invariably dies.

Honoring the dead was an essential component within the religions of old Peru, as exemplified by the care that mummies of the ancestors were given by priests (Métraux, 1949) and by the sacrificial victims brought to them. Mummies were also taken on procession at certain festivals.

One of the few cases of a developed cult of the dead in the tropical woodlands is exemplified by the ghost dance of the Shipaya of the lower Xingu, which is the most significant religious celebration of this Tupi tribe. The souls of the dead, which are well disposed toward mankind, express a desire to the shamanthrough the words of the tribal chiefthat the celebration known as the Feast for the Souls of the Dead should be held. It is believed that the souls of those long dead will take possession of the shaman, who is covered with a white cotton mantle; in this form, the soul can participate in the dancing and drinking enjoyed by the living in the center of the village. When souls have borrowed the body of the shaman, his own soul lies idle in his hut. The ceremony continues for eight or more nights, during which other men who have also become the embodiment of dead souls appear in similar dance mantles.

An ancestor cult is also the focal point in the religion of the Cubeo who live in the northwest Amazon region. The soul of a dead person proceeds to the abode of the benevolent ancestors, which is located near the dwelling place of his sib, where all its dead are reunited. The ancestors are represented by large trumpets that are used not only at funeral rites but also at the initiation ceremonies for the boys of the tribe, who are whipped as these trumpets are played. The ancestors, represented by the trumpets once again, are also guardian spirits at sib gatherings. The sound they emit is believed to be a source of male strength when played during a men's bath in the river.

Among the Mundurucú in central Brazil, the large wind instruments are the embodiment of the sib ancestors when played at a particular men's feast. Like the trumpets of the Cubeo, they are not allowed to be seen by the women. At the end of the Mundurucú ceremony, a special drink made from manioc is poured into the instruments and is collected in a calabash bowl as it comes out the other end; it is then drunk by the participants. This ritual, which is looked upon as a form of spiritual communion with the ancestors, is intended as an act of reconciliation that will win their favor and help their descendants.

The combination of a memorial service for the recently dead and a commemorative ceremony for the legendary tribal ancestors can be seen in the Kwarup ritual of the Camayura, a Tupi group of the upper Xingu. The Kwarup (from kuat, "sun" and yerup, "my ancestor") centers around a number of posts, each about three feet high, outfitted and ornamented as human beings and carved from the sacred camiriva wood from which the creator, Mavutsine, allegedly fabricated the first Camayura. The chant given as people dance around these posts is the same one that Mavutsine sang as he created mankind. In the Kwarup ritual the ancestors return symbolically for the purpose of welcoming those who have recently died.

Death cults and ancestor worship also play an important role in the eastern Brazilian cultural area, particularly among the Boróro. This tribe makes a sharp distinction between nature spirits and spirits of the dead. The Boróro believe that the souls of their ancestors (aroe ) hold a close relationship to mankind that influences and maintains its daily life. On certain social occasions, the spirits of the dead are ceremonially invoked by special shamans to whom the spirits appear and whom they enlighten in dreams. As a result of this important attachment to the spirits, the funeral rites of the Boróro are highly developed and complex. After a ceremonial hunt, the successful hunter becomes the representative of the dead man at the funeral proper, which consists of a series of established rites. Among these is a dance in which the most interesting elements are large disk-shaped bundles of wood that represent the dead person. At the same time that the dance is being performed, the deceased person's bones, which have been buried for two weeks, are exhumed and painted red with urucú. Feathers associated with clan colors are glued to the bones. The specially decorated skull is then displayed to the mourners. After a period of safekeeping in the house of the deceased, the basket in which the bones have been placed is sunk in a deep section of the nearby river.

Among the Ge-speaking Canella (eastern Timbira), it is the medicine men who usually establish contact with the spirits of the dead, since they are omniscient. But even those members of the tribe who do not possess particular spiritual abilities seek advice from their ancestors in emergencies. In the first phase of the initiation ceremonies for young boys in which religion is emphasized, the initiates learn how to contact the dead. This knowledge is acquired in a race in which each person to be initiated carries a wooden block that is said to be the ghost of a dead ancestor. In the funeral rituals, the men carry much larger blocks in a similar race.

The cult of the dead is not only an impressive ritual but a basic foundation of the culture of the Kaingán, the southernmost Ge tribe. The objective that lies at the core of this ritual is the elimination of the ties that connect the living and the dead. This ritual insures that the souls of the deceased will finally arrive at the resting place in the underworld, located in the west.

A cult of the dead among the indigenous people in the southern regions of South America, including the Gran Chaco and the southern Andes, contains few authentic religious elements. At a funeral, the surviving family members sponsor a large feast in honor of the dead relative. The various ceremonies that take place during this feastfor example, eating and drinking bouts, lamenting, playing of music, feigned attacks, riding games, and speechesare intended to drive from the village the dreaded spirits of the dead or the death demons, who are responsible for the death of the tribal member, to prevent them from causing more harm. Among the people in the Gran Chaco, an attempt is made to console the dead and to pacify them in their anger at having passed away. The mourning ceremonies, which begin immediately after a person dies, are meant to serve this end. Often an invalid is set outside or buried before having actually died. Little has been recorded regarding beliefs about life of the soul after death among the peoples of the Gran Chaco.

Initiation Rites

Among the Indians of Tierra del Fuego there is no trace of a cult of the dead to be found in the funerary practices. In this region, socioreligious emphasis was placed on rites that are generally associated with the initiation of members of both sexes and particularly on those rituals connected with the acceptance of young males into men's organizations (the Kloketen of the Selk'nam and the Kina of the Yahgan). During these rites, a chain of men came out to frighten the women. The participating men wore conical masks made from bark or animal skin that covered their heads and faces. Their bodies were painted black, white, and pink in various patterns. Although they represented specific demons and spirits of the sea, forest, and animals, there was apparently no ghost of the dead among them.

The appearance of masks so far south is correctly attributed to the extensive influence of the Tropical Forest cultural areas. Between the Tropical Forest and Tierra del Fuego, there are no gaps in the appearance of masked dances in connection with initiation celebrations, as for example the Anapösö, or Forest Spirit feast, of the Chamacoco. In this region of the Gran Chaco, the performers representing the forest spirits were elaborately decorated with feathers. These spirits are believed to have been ruled by the dog demon Pohitschio, who was the consort of the great mother, Eschetewuarha. Formerly the performers wore artistically intricate feather masks that were later replaced by sacks worn over the head with eyeholes cut in them. In either case, the women were not allowed to discover that these spirits were in reality men from their own tribe.

The Lengua of the Gran Chaco use a masked dance to represent symbolically the supernatural danger that threatens women at the onset of menstruation. In this dance, the single men, wearing rhea-feather belts and masks, approach the young women during a typical female puberty celebration. The young women believe them to be the bad spirits. They are eventually driven away by the adult women after they harass and threaten the young girls.


Because of the extreme variety of time periods from which information about these tribes is drawn, the only perspective that can be achieved in such an overview is of a diachronic nature. To close this survey of the various forms of religion, I shall briefly indicate phenomena that are particularly characteristic of the individual cultural areas.

The central Andes of pre-Columbian times is characterized by a belief in high gods and their respective cults, by the worship of ancestors and of the dead, and by agrarian rites directed to a female earth deity. The peoples of the region of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers occasionally display signs of high-god worship (Witóto, Tupi-Guaraní). Along with the vegetation cults (northwestern Amazon) that are typical of crop-cultivating peoples, there is a markedly large number of ceremonies and rites associated with deities of the hunt and of wild animals (including fish). The Ge of eastern Brazil exhibit clear signs of worship of astral deitiesthe Sun and Moon. The cults of the dead and of ancestors dominate much of their religious life. The Gran Chaco, by contrast, is noticeably lacking in religious ceremonies and rites in the narrow sense. First-fruit ceremonies related to hunting and fishing predominate; there are no agrarian rites. In the Pampas and Patagonia region a number of socioreligious rites are attested. The Selk'nam and Yahgan of Tierra del Fuego Archipelago believe in a high god, but there is little indication of cult worship. The regions of southern and central Andes share many aspects of religious life. The high-god cult (Ngenechen) is associated with a cultivation and fertility ritual. A highly developed form of shamanism is also prominent. Throughout South America outside the Andean region, the shaman remains the pillar of the religious life.

See Also

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.


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Otto Zerries (1987)

Translated from German by John Maressa

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South American Indian Religions: An Overview

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South American Indian Religions: An Overview