South American Indians: Indians of the Central and Eastern Amazon

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The vast region covered by the central and eastern Amazon may, for the purposes of this entry, be delimited by the Río Negro at the western end, the mouth of the Amazon to the east, the Guyana highlands to the north, and the central plateau of Brazil to the south. Within this region many of the great language families of South America are represented: Arawak, Tupi, Carib, Ge, and Timbira. Besides this diversity the area is also notable for some of the most complex prehistorical cultures, such as Marajoara and Santarém. This entry provides an overview of the religious systems of prehistoric and contemporary indigenous peoples as well as of peasants or caboclos.

Prehistoric Cultures and Religious Manifestations

Archaeological excavations at Marajó Island in the Amazon Delta reveal the existence of a complex society of Mound Builders spanning the period from roughly 500 to 1300 ce. The abundance of ceremonial and funerary remains on the higher mounds attests to the existence of political and ceremonial centers. Differential burials, houses for the dead, and possibly temples indicate ancestor cults. Marajoara ceramics are marked by the use of animal motifs with clear supernatural and mythical connotations that modern studies have sought to interpret in terms of Amerindian perspectivism. The symbolism of death and rebirth, shamanic motifs, binary images, abstract geometric patterns, and bodily images are all characteristic of Marajoara ceramics, indicating a complex religious system (see Schaan, 2001). Similarly the prehistoric Santarém culture at the mouth of the Tapajós was the center of a great chiefdom from the tenth century to the sixteenth century. Female fertility is a predominant element in ceramic motifs; the famous caryatid vessels display bicephalous humanlike zoomorphic figures (especially the king vulture), recalling the transformations experienced in shamanic trance or in great collective rituals using psychoactive substances in which great trumpets representing the divinities were played. Finally, mention should be made of the many cemeteries with large funerary urns discovered near the Maracá River on the lower Amazon. These urns display anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures, with the anthropomorphic figures, often female, being seated, decorated, and painted. It has been suggested that the Maracá culture was linked to early Arawakan populations that were possibly ancestors of the Palikur.

Brief History of Contact

The size and complexity of Amazon floodplain societies astonished the first European explorers in the mid-sixteenth century. Their populations were dense, internally stratified, and settled in extensive villages capable of producing surpluses for a significant intertribal commerce. The sociopolitical organization of what observers called "provinces" was far more elaborate than any indigenous society since then, with reports of local chiefs subordinate to regional chiefs endowed with sacred qualities, hierarchically organized lineages, sacrifice of concubines at the deaths of chiefs, ancestor cults with the preservation of the corpse through rudimentary techniques, and other evidence of social and ritual stratification.

None of this resisted the advance of the European slave hunters, spice collectors, diseases, and missionaries who, by the end of the seventeenth century, had penetrated well into the Amazon Valley. Their advance resulted in the dispersion and captivity of a majority of the riverine peoples such that the eastern Amazon was practically depopulated and infested by diseases, as mission industries and towns struggled to survive. With the depopulation of the main tributaries, expeditions penetrated ever farther into the interior to "persuade" whole populations to relocate to ethnically mixed, mission-run settlements. This process led to the formation of a neoindigenous stratum of the population, whose original cultural and linguistic differences had been neutralized, dissolving ethnic diversity into the homogeneity of generic Indians that eventually gave rise to the caboclo or mixed population of the region.

With the decline of colonial control by the end of the eighteenth century, many peoples withdrew from colonial settlements to reorganize and reconstitute their societies, often in new territories and with new sociopolitical and religious forms of organization. From the midnineteenth century until well into the twentieth, rubber extraction and exportation became the dominant form of labor organization in the Amazon, and with the severe droughts in northeastern Brazil at the end of the nineteenth century, there was a massive influx of northeastern migrants into the Amazon region. By the late twentieth century even the most isolated regions of the central and eastern Amazon, which until then had served as a refuge for many indigenous peoples, were invaded by highways, miners, and ranchers.

Contemporary Indigenous Religions

The religions of several peoples will be briefly considered. Those included are the Palikur (Arawak) of the state of Amapá; the Araweté and Juruna (Tupian) of the state of Pará; the Kayapó and Xikrin (Ge) of the state of Pará; the Canela and Krahó (Timbira) of Maranhão; and the Arara (Carib) of Pará.

Palikur (Arawakan)

For the contemporary Palikur, the creation and structuring of the universe and all that is part of it is the work of the Christian God. They usually disparage the beliefs of their ancestors, declaring that they were superstitions, and cite as an example the constitution of the universe in layers. In the early twenty-first century they "know that the world is round." Nevertheless they possess a vast repertoire of myths that reveals a good part of their ancient cosmology.

The myths can be divided into two categories: cosmogonic myths that tell of the emergence of the Palikur and their relations with the environment or with other ethnic groups of the region, and those myths that speak of the relation with the "beings of the other world." The myths are generally further classified into two types: "stories of the old times, of the past, a long time ago" and "false stories." They always refer to a time past, in which the "true" belief, the Christian religion, was unknown. At times, however, narrators reflect and point out that the fact in question is real and still occurs, revealing the ambiguity with which the Palikur regard the myths. It is exactly this ambiguity that has allowed for the coexistence of indigenous mythology with Christian religion, but that has not occurred with the rituals, for which reason they are no longer held. Myth is consciously relegated to an inferior position in relation to the Christian religious system.

The mythical universe appears to be divided into three layers: the world below, the terrestrial plane, and the celestial plane. The first is the mythical space par excellence, for in it dwell the supernatural spirits. Located just below the surface of the earth, its parallel position in relation to the terrestrial level facilitates contact between the two worlds, a necessary condition for the existence of the mythical world, since this plane only makes sense in connection with the world of humans. The representation of the passage between the two worlds is physical: there is a "hole" in the terrestrial level that allows for displacement from one sphere to another. The switch from one plane to another is marked by the transformation of supernatural beings that, in their world, have human form but, to come up to the terrestrial level, need to "clothe themselves" with a "cloak" that gives them animal form.

On the terrestrial level live human beings, plants, animals, and occasionally supernatural beings. This level has a topography that is analogous to this earth, about which there are many mythical narratives; however, geographical locations are fluid and vary from one narrative to another.

Finally, the celestial plane seems to be a space that is dominated exclusively by Christian cosmologyrepresented as Eden, inhabited by the Trinity, and reserved for the chosen, meaning those who have "accepted Jesus" before the "end of time." In terms of Palikur myths, heaven appears to be empty. But even while fragmentary, several aspects of indigenous cosmology still occupy space in this domain. The Palikur believe there are six unnamed levels. Among these, two have notable inhabitants: on the second level lives the two-headed king vulture and on the sixth is Jesus Christ, awaiting the chosen "in the celestial Eden made of gold." The other levels are described as "display windows" of purgatory, in which one sees the souls of those who do not attain eternal life. These souls are anthropomorphic, with a human body up to the neck dressed in a white cloak and the head of an animal (monkey, alligator, and so on).

In 1926 Curt Nimuendajú mentioned the existence of three heavens: Inoliku, the lowest, Mikene, and Ena. Just above the first there was a special heaven, Yinoklin, inhabited by the Yumawali spirits (or "demons," as Nimuendajú called them) of the mountains. This division of the sky by named levels does not exist now, but with small alterations, the names given to the heavens are confirmed.

Araweté and Juruna (Tupian)

The guiding thread of Araweté religion is the relationship between humanity and the Máï, the immortal beings who left the earth at the dawn of time and now live in the sky. Humans define themselves as the "abandoned ones," or "forsaken," meaning those who were left behind by the gods. Humans and Máï are related as affines, for the souls of the dead are married to the gods. The Máï may, and in the long run will, destroy the earth by causing the sky to crash down. The ultimate cause of all deaths is the will of the Máï, who are conceived as being at once ideal Araweté and dangerous cannibals. The Máï are not thought of as creators, but their separation from humanity produced old age and death. Among the hundreds of types of Máï, most of which have animal names, the Máï hete (real gods) are those who transform the souls of the dead into Máï-like beings by means of a cannibal-matrimonial operation. That is, following its arrival in the celestial realms, the soul of the dead is killed and devoured by the Máï, after which it is resurrected by means of a magical bath and made into a godlike being who will be married to a Máï and live forever young. Besides the Máï, there are also Ani forest spirits, savage beings who invade settlements and must be killed by the shamans, and the powerful Master of the River, a subaquatic spirit who delights in kidnapping women's and children's souls, which must then be retrieved by shamans.

The most important shamanic activity is bringing down the Máï and the souls of the dead to visit the earth and partake of ceremonial meals. In these ceremonial banquets collectively produced food (honey, fish, and cauim, a fermented corn beverage) is offered to the celestial visitors before being consumed. The cauim festival is the climax of ritual life and contains religious and warrior symbolism. The leader of the dances and songs that accompany the consumption of cauim is ideally a great warrior, who learned the songs directly from the spirits of dead enemies. Singing is thus the heart of ceremonial life. The "music of the gods" sung by shamans and the "music of the enemies" sung by warriors are the only two musical genre known to the Araweté, and both are formed by the words of "others" quoted in complex ritual formulas.

The souls of the recently deceased often come to earth in the shaman's chants to talk to their living relatives and tell them of the bliss of the afterlife. After two generations they cease to come, for there will be no more living contemporaries who remember them; they are not ancestors, however.

Juruna cosmology has three basic coordinates. First is the opposition between life and death. This is far from being a drastic dichotomy as in Western cosmology, because there are various transitions, such as minor temporary "deaths," as in sleep, that typically take the form of dreams. The relation between life and death involves not so much the notion that if someone is dead he or she cannot be alive but rather that someone can be dead in one place but alive in another or that he or she may be alive here but already dead somewhere else. In other words, the relation is one of relative disjunction, which allows for important conjunctions. Juruna shamans used to be masters at such transitions.

Second, the world axes are formed by the oppositions between river and forest and sky and earth, each being articulated with the opposition between the presence and absence of cannibalism. The river and the sky have a positive link with cannibalism. One can say that all existence can be divided into 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 living on the river bed), and so on. In addition the Juruna believe everything that exists on earth also exists in the sky, which is a kind of earth resembling that of humans. Even though the Juruna do not consider the river to be a copy of the forest, they say it can be viewed by some river inhabitants as a copy of the earth, except that the forest in their earth resembles human gallery forests, and their gardens are portions of land broken off from the river banks. Finally, there is an opposition between the viewpointsor perspectivesof living, conscious human subjects and alien beings, such as animals, spirits, and the dead. The dynamism and complexity of Juruna cosmology depends on the confrontation between these discordant viewpoints.

Juruna shamanism used to be composed of two systems, each related to a 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 cliffs fear those living in the sky, whose society is composed of the souls of warriors and their leader. Indeed the Juruna fear these spirits of the sky the most, and thus this form of shamanism was considerably more powerful, dangerous, and difficult to perform. Each system of shamanism was associated with a great festival in honor of its particular category of the dead. The festival for the dead of the river cliffs was accompanied by the sound of flute music and songs performed by the dead through the mouth of the shaman. Another festival was accompanied by the music of a set of trumpets. When the Juruna offered food to the souls of warriors 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 Juruna women with a dose of beer brought from the other world. The last of these celebrations was held in the 1970s. Despite the changes in their ritual life, the Juruna continue to celebrate beer parties and two major festivals every year, each held for approximately one month.


Ge-Timbira religiosity is marked by a strong dualism. That characteristic divides creation, nature and society, and the groups that make up society.


A Canela origin myth recounts that Sun and Moon walked over the land, transforming the world that already existed and thus creating the norms for social life. Sun established the norms favorable to life, whereas Moon modified them to test its imperfections. Sun created ideal men and women, whereas Moon created those with twisted hair, those with dark skin, and those seen as deformed. Sun allowed machetes and axes to work by themselves in the gardens, whereas Moon made them stop. Consequently people had to work hard to make their gardensthe origin of work. There are at least a dozen episodes of this myth that recount the beginning of death, floods, and forest fires, why the buriti palms are tall, why the moon has its spots, and other conditions.

Other Canela myths explain the origin of fire and corn. A boy brought fire for his people after having stolen it from the hearth of a female jaguar. Star Woman fell in love with a Canela and so came down to live for a while among his family members. During her stay she indicated that corn would grow in the forest, and she taught them that it was good to eat. This was the origin of gardens. She then returned to the sky with her mate and both transformed into twin stars, known as Castor and Pollux.


Krahó origin myths are similar to those of the Canela. Indeed these myths seem to suggest that everything in Krahó culture, even shamanism, came from the outside. Like the Canela, the Krahó believe all of their culture was created by the twins Sun and Moon. The Krahó disapprove of the actions of Moon not only because he was less skilled than Sun but also because he insisted that Sun do what he requested, for it was from these requests that the evils that afflict humans entered the world.

Other myths tell how the Krahó studied agriculture, obtained fire, and learned the rituals and songs. Generally the myths tell the story of an individual who leaves the village and, in the world outside, learns something important, later returning to the village where he or she transmits the new knowledge. In the case of agriculture, however, a being from nature brings the knowledge of planting to the villagers and then withdraws to the outside world. The myth of Auke, which is important for understanding Krahó participation in messianic movements in the 1960s, follows the same pattern. But Auke, on entering the village, is not given the opportunity to teach the Indians what he knows, for they are afraid of him and end up violently expelling him from the village. Auke then creates white humans. Several other myths tell of individuals who, having been expelled from the village, do not return with new things that could be used by its inhabitants; rather, they stay in the world outside, transforming themselves into animals or monsters.

The Krahó have many rituals. Some are short and linked to individual life crises (such as the end of seclusion after the birth of a first child, the end of a convalescence, and the last meal of a deceased person) or to occasional collective initiatives (such as exchanges of foods and services). Others are associated with the annual agricultural cycle, for instance, those that mark the dry and wet seasons, the planting and harvesting of corn, and the harvesting of sweet potatoes. Yet other rites form part of a longer cycle, associated with male initiation, that must take place in a certain order; nowadays this cycle is difficult to reconstitute, in part because one of the rites has been abandoned. Various rites related to the annual and initiation cycles have myths that explain their origins. However, there is not a strict correspondence between the sequence of myths and that of rites, although they overlap in some ways.

The first human who acquired magical powers was carried up to the heavens by vultures, where he was cured and received powers from the hawk. There is apparently no trance among Krahó shamans, which might suggest that they are not true shamans. But each shaman explains how, like the man who went up to the sky in a myth, he was initiated through a sort of spontaneous rite of passage. He became sick and was abandoned, he was rescued by an animal (or other being) that cured him and gave him magical powers, which he tested, and then he was sent home with his new powers. In some cases there seems to occur a transformation of the shaman into the being that gives him powers, for example, the animal puts parts of his own organism into the body of the shaman, makes him eat the same food, and so on.


As among the Timbira, the village is the center of the Kayapó universe and the most socialized space. The surrounding forest is considered an antisocial space, where humans can transform into animals or spirits, sicken without reason, or even kill their relatives. Beings who are half-animal, half-people dwell there. The farther one goes from the village, the more antisocial the forest becomes, and its associated dangers increase. As there is always the danger that the "social" may be appropriated by the natural domain, escaping human control, the Kayapó engage in a symbolic appropriation of the natural, transforming it into the social through curing chants and ceremonies that establish a constant exchange between humans and the world of nature.

The section of forest in which the village population hunts, fishes, and cultivates land is first socialized by the attribution of place names. Thereafter human modifications of the natural world are accompanied by rituals. The opening of new gardens is preceded by a dance presenting many structural similarities to the war ritual. Opening up new gardens can be interpreted as a symbolic war against a natural rather than human enemy. Returning from the hunt, men must sing to the spirits of the game they themselves have killed in order for the spirits to remain in the forest. Each animal species designates a song that always begins with the cry of the dead animal.

Kayapó rites express basic values of their society, reflecting the image the group has of itself, the society, and the universe. Each rite translates a part of this cosmological vision and establishes a link between humans and nature, in which above all the human-animal relationship is reinforced. Kayapó rituals are many and diverse, but their importance and duration varies greatly. They are divided into three main categories: the large ceremonies for confirming personal names; certain agricultural, hunting, fishing, and occasional rites, for example, performed during solar or lunar eclipses; and rites of passage. The last are frequently solemn affairs, though short and only rarely accompanied by dances or songs. Examples of rites of passage include all ceremonies qualified by the term merêrêmex (people who extend their beauty), a reference to the highly elaborate way in which people decorate themselves on such occasions. Such ceremonies are group-based activities whose goal is to socialize "wild" or antisocial values. This applies to the attribution of names, a central theme of most Kayapó ceremonies; in fact personal names are borrowed from nature. Shamans enter into contact with the natural spirits and learn new songs and names from them, introducing them into culture through the large naming ceremonies.

On these occasions most of the ritual sequences take place in the village's central plaza, where an inversion of ordinary social space may be noted. The center of the village, normally organized on the basis of friendship and nonkinship, is converted into the domain of activities in which both personal family bonds and naturaland therefore "wild" elements, such as the personal names or those of killed preyare central. The true nature of "beauty" is not only visual but also refers to an inner beauty that results from the group's activity, from the common effort required to "socialize" the names of people or of other precious objects.


For the Xikrin, the center of the world is likewise represented by the center of the circular village plaza, where rituals and public life in general unfold. The symbol of the center of the world and the universe is the rattle, a round, head-shaped musical instrument, played as the Indians sing and dance following a circular path that accompanies the solar trajectory. The Indians say that, when dancing, they return in time to their mythic origins, thereby re-creating the energy required for the continuity and stability of the environment and the resources needed for survival, the continual reproduction of life, and the different social institutions that ensure the equilibrium indispensable to life in the community.

The Xikrin define distinct natural spaces of their universe: the earth, divided into open tracts and forest, the sky, the aquatic world, and the subterranean world. These are thought to possess distinct attributes and inhabitants, though related among themselves in different ways. The forest is home to different ethnic sets of enemies, terrestrial animals, and plants. Disrespectful appropriation of the animal world causes the fury of the spirit owner-controller of the animals who, through sorcery, regulates the predatory activities of humans. On the other hand, the forest is also the source of important attributes of Xikrin sociability, for there, in mythical times, the Indians acquired fire and ceremonial language. Clearingsplaces formed by the village or the swiddensare the site for kinship and alliance relations and for the individual's socialization, in other words, for the definition of Xikrin humanity. The aquatic domain provides the possibility for strengthening physical and psychological aspects of the individual, because water causes rapid maturation through ritual immersions yet without altering the being's substance. Water is a creative element in contrast to fire, which is a transformative element. An owner-controller also exists in the aquatic domain whose relationship with humans is one of solidarity. It was the owner-controller of the waters who taught humans to cure sicknesses. Medicinal plants come from the terrestrial domain, but their knowledge and the rules for manipulating them were acquired in the aquatic world through the mediation of a shaman. The subterranean world is linked with blood, raw food, and cannibalism, representing a truly antisocial condition in which humans are prey rather than predators. It represents all that humans do not want to be. In the celestial domain, the East is the place of humanity par excellence, the place where the Xikrin originated. The Xikrin have two myths that consecrate them as inhabitants of the earth, in opposition to the sky where they originated and in opposition to the subterranean inhabitants, whom they succeeded in eliminating forever.

In Xikrin society an individual becomes a shaman after he survives an ordeal, in which he climbs a giant spider web and reaches celestial space with its eternal light, where the nape of his neck is symbolically perforated by a large harpy eagle and he thus acquires the capacity to fly. As in other native societies, the shaman has the power to transit between the human world and the natural and supernatural worlds. In life humans accumulate over time attributes from different cosmic domains, but the shaman lives, shares, and constantly communicates with these domains. In his role of intermediary, he lives in human society, shares the social world of animals and the supernatural, and has the capacity to manipulate the different domains. He negotiates with the owner-controllers of the animal world for plentiful game or an abundant catch of fish. He has the capacity to "see" in the widest sense, perceiving what is invisible to humans.

When a community has enough people and thus human resources, the cycle of rituals is continuous. During rituals individuals acquire knowledge of aspects of social organization and reproduction. Song, choreography, and decorations, which humans acquired in mythical time, are reproduced in ritual as manifestations of the present situation of humanity in the cosmos. The most important rituals are those focused on male and female naming and male initiation, consisting of five phases, each of which is symbolically related to one of the particular cosmic domains. These rituals are sometimes inserted within others, such as the new maize festival or merêrêmei, "beautiful festival," which takes place during the transitional period between the dry and rainy seasons; the festivals incorporating new members of a ceremonial society, such as the armadillo society; the marriage ritual or mat festival; and the funerary rituals and ritual fishing using timbó vine poisons. There are also newly introduced rituals, such as Kworo-kango, or the manioc festival, which comes from the Juruna people. At certain periods, the ritual cycle attains its climax and develops over several days with high intensity and lavish style. Ceremonial life also acts as a crucial context for the expression of the ways in which the Xikrin reflect on the relationships developed with the white world.

Arara (Carib)

The history of the formation of the Arara cosmos states that the primordial cosmos was shattered after a fight occurred between two people related as ipari (matrilateral cross-cousins or, more generally, affines). The land on the terrestrial level now is said to be what was left over from the primeval cosmological floor that broke up and fell from the sky after the combat. That floor was also the edge of the domain where all benign beings used to live. Outside that domain, there were only malicious beasts who constantly fought, living a horrifying existence. With the shattering of the cosmos, the coexistence of all types of living beings became a necessity. Consequently extraordinary and evil creatures even now can appear on the terrestrial plane. To distinguish what is ordinary and beneficial from what is extraordinary and vicious, one must develop expertise through shamanic experiences.

As an institution Arara shamanism is dispersed, diffused, and generalized among the men. Acting as healers and agents for mediating with powerful metaphysical beings, all the men are initiated and practice at least some part of the shamanic techniques and arts. They are also responsible for ensuring, with metaphysical beings, the conditions for the hunts and rites that in turn ensure the circulation of game meat and beverages among the various subgroups. Game meat and drink make up an integral part of a system whose main axis is the native doctrine concerning the circulation of a vital substance called ekuru. Passing from the blood of killed animals to the earth and from there to the liquids that nourish and stimulate the growth of plants, this vital substance is the main object of desirenot only of human beings, but also of all beings who inhabit the world. Humans seek to acquire ekuru through the deaths of animals during the hunt and the transformation of plants into a fermented drink called piktu a primordial source for acquiring these vital substances for humans.

The capacity of the earth to reprocess vital substances, transforming them into plant nutrients with which humans produce beverages, also shapes Arara funeral practices. In general the Arara do not bury their dead but construct a platform for them in the forest inside a small funeral house built especially for the occasion. Raised above the earth, the deceased gradually dries out, losing the body's vital substances that are absorbed by metaphysical beings that lurk around corpses and feed on the elements that previously gave life to the deceased. The Arara funeral is thus a kind of an eschatological exchange or reciprocity with the world's other beings. On the other hand, the circulation of ekuru takes place among the living through the exchange of meat for drink in the rites that follow the return of the hunters. Consequently rituals are the mode through which the circulation of vital substance conjoins various subgroups through reciprocity and mutual dependence. Through their overall symbolism, the prominent rites associated with the collective hunting trips are an efficient mechanism through which ethical and moral values become manifest and serve to constitute a native idea of their own collectivity. An intricate network of values and principles of interaction related to good conduct, kindness, solidarity, and generosity finds its primary medium of expression in the rituals.

Caboclo Religion

The caboclo population lives in communities from the mouth of the Amazon to its headwaters and on many of its tributaries. Caboclos are the mixed descendants of Indians and whites, and their religiosity consists of an intermixture of the rituals and beliefs of indigenous shamanism and popular Catholicism. Both forms are ways of explaining and dealing with the powers of the universe.

The shamanic universe is populated by "enchanted beings," which were left by God as guardians of the forest, the waters, game animals, and so on. They are entities with powers of enchantment, metamorphosis, and hypnosis and can be either generous or vengeful. They include the "father" or "caboclo of the forest," protector of the forest; the caipora, responsible for game animals; and the "caboclos of the water," which can take humans to the bottom of rivers and streams. There are also animals (snakes, deer, and turtles) with human features that can protect, deceive, hypnotize, or make pacts.

The presence of these entities in nature makes the relations of the caboclo to the forest, rivers, and game highly ritualized. Daily activities, such as going into the forest or fishing, are marked by prayers or requests from the spirit entities to hunt or fish; the failure to do so could bring panema (bad luck), a force that infects humans, animals, or objects and makes them incapable of action. As there are procedures to cure panema, there are also procedures to enhance the power of the hunter, sometimes called "pacts," in which, for example, the hunter exchanges the blood of the animal for greater productivity in the hunt. The relation of the caboclo to nature is thus one of dependence that is kept in balance by respecting norms of relations with its inhabitants and the exploitation of its resources.

The other aspect of caboclo religiosity is popular Catholicism, which, far from being opposed to the supernatural beings, consists of entities and practices that are integral parts of a single religious field. In general appeals are made to the Catholic saints to deal more with human affairs, whereas the enchanted beings and pacts have relatively more to do with relations to nature. As in other regions of Brazil, popular Catholicism involves saint day festivals, collective reciting of the rosary, novenas, devotion to patron saints, and making vows. The actual presence of church representatives (priests) is infrequent in this region, as it is restricted to annual visits to administer the Sacraments.


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Robin M. Wright (2005)

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South American Indians: Indians of the Central and Eastern Amazon

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South American Indians: Indians of the Central and Eastern Amazon