Sacred-Texts Native American South American Index Previous Next
Evidence very scarce, but recognizable in Familiar Spirits, and in the kickshaws of the Medicine-man (43); Dancing with noisy instruments in front of Idols (44); the Sacred Trumpets or Flutes (45); Frogs and Toads as divinities (46); Snakes (47). On the Amazons: Idols (48); Other objects, of obscure signification, recorded from within (49) and without (50) the Guianas, can hardly be regarded as Idols or Fetishes.
43.* It must be admitted that the positive evidence of idol or fetish worship among the Guiana Indians is very scarce, even Schomburgk recording (ScR, II, 321) that he never found the slightest trace of idolatry or of supplication to a fetish. And yet, in view of the historical records that the people living to the north, the west, and the south of them, did certainly have something akin to an idol or fetish cult leads one to the belief that the Guiana natives, at some not very remote period of their history, may possibly have pursued similar practices. Their northern neighbors, living on the islands, apparently worshiped Cemi, or so-called familiar spirits, a cult still traceable, as I propose showing (Sect. 93), in certain kickshaws of the mainland medicine-man.
44.* Among their western tribesmen a religious rite performed by some of the Orinoco tribes "was that of dancing to the sound of very noisy instruments, before two small idols, to which they paid reverence by chanting extemporaneous couplets" (FD, 52).
45.* This reference to noisy instruments suggests the sacred trumpet, or botuto, which was an object of veneration on the upper reaches of the Orinoco, the Atabapo, and the Inirida. It was sounded under the palm trees that they might bear abundance of fruit. Humboldt says that, to be initiated into the mysteries of the botuto, it is requisite to be of pure morals and to have lived single. The initiated are subjected to flagellations, fastings, and other painful exercises. There is but a small number of these sacred trumpets. The most anciently celebrated is that upon a hill near the confluence of the Tomo and the Guainia. Father Cereso assured us, continues the celebrated traveler, that the Indians speak of the Botuto of Tomo as an object of worship common to many surrounding tribes. Fruit and intoxicating liquor are placed beside the sacred trumpet. Sometimes the Great Spirit himself makes the botuto resound; sometimes he is content to manifest his will through him to whom the keeping of the instrument is entrusted. "Women are not permitted to see this marvelous instrument, and are excluded from all the ceremonies of this worship" (AVH, II, 363), at the risk of life.
Wallace (348) also refers to similar instruments among the Uapes River Indians, upper Rio Negro, which are used at their festivals to produce the Jurupari, or Forest-Spirit, music. He says that—
These instruments, however, are with them such a mystery that no woman must ever see them, on pain of death. They are always kept in some igaripe´ [water-chanel] at a distance from the malocca, whence they are brought on particular occasions: when the sound of them is heard approaching, every woman retires into the woods, or into some adjoining shed which they generally have near, and remains invisible till after the ceremony is over, when the instruments are taken away to their hiding-place, and the women come out of their concealment. Should any female be supposed to have seen them, either by accident or design, she is invariably executed, generally by poison, and a father will not hesitate to sacrifice his daughter, or a husband his wife, on such an occasion.
Koch-Grünberg (I, 186-187) speaks of these "Devil" flutes on the Aiary River (Rio Negro) among the Siusi, an Arawak tribe. He says that these are sounded in honor of Ko-ai, the son of Yaperi´kuli, their tribal Hero; that the festival at which they are used is held at the time of ripening of the fruit of the manicole (Euterpe oleracea) and turu (Œnocarpus bacaba); that on the same occasion there is mutual flagellation with whips. The flutes have to be carefully guarded from the gaze of women, and when not in use are hidden under water, etc. They take their name from that of the spirit in whose honor they are sounded. Elsewhere (KG, I, 314-316) he speaks of the dance as having magic powers; it can dispel sickness and even heal big wounds. Granted that the whipping is part and parcel of the festival, and the object of the festival is to ensure abundance of fruit, the following extract from Gumilla is worth consideration: When the time arrives for clearing the open plains with a view to sowing their corn, yucca, plantains, etc., they [the Salivas] place the young men, some separated from the others, in lines, and a certain number of old men provide themselves with whips and rough thongs made of twisted agave (pita). As soon as intimation is given that it is time to commence work, the whipping of these young men takes place, and notwithstanding the cuts and marks which their bodies receive, neither groan nor complaint escapes them (G, I, 188). It is true that the missionary was told that they received the whipping to cure them of their laziness, but I am strongly inclined to the view, corroborated as it is by the examples already given, that flagellation is a propitiation for favors already received or expected, that the object of the whole festival in fact is comparable with that met with in connection with the cassava plant (Sects. 165, 166). The flagellations inflicted at the burial ceremonies (Sect. 75) would seem to have a different origin.
46.* "Some other tribes of Indians, who likewise dwelt upon the banks of the river Oronoka, paid to toads the honours due to the divinity [Sect. 342]. Far from injuring these animals, they carefully p. 139 kept them under pots, in order to obtain rain or fine weather; and so fully persuaded were they of their power in this respect, that they scourged them as often as their petitions were not answered." (FD, 52.) It is known that for the Chaimas, Cumanagotos, Tamanacs, and other original tribes of the Caribs, the frog was the god of the waters (cf. Sect. 18): Ruiz Blanco (Conversion de Piritu) says that the Cumanagotos never killed a frog, but kept one like a domestic animal, beating it when the rain did not fall (AR, 185). There is an intimate connection between frogs, toads, and certain other animals, and success in the chase (Sect. 349).
47.* Beyond the mention of certain snake dances, I can find nothing akin to actual worship and similar ceremonies in connection with these creatures, notwithstanding the very deep-rooted belief in the relationship of the serpent to sexual matters (Sect. 347). At Maroa, River Guainia, (upper Rio Negro), Humboldt (II, 386) talks of "that ancient dance of serpents, the Queti, in which these wily animals are represented as issuing from the forests, and coming to drink with the men in order to deceive them, and carry off the women." So also Wallace (204) records in connection with a snake dance among the Uaupes River Indians, participated in by men and boys, "two huge artificial snakes of twigs and bushes bound together with sipós, from thirty to forty feet long, and about a foot in diameter. . . . They divided themselves into two parties of twelve or fifteen each, and lifting the snakes on their shoulders, began dancing."
48.* South of the Guianas, there is the evidence of Acuña (92) from the Amazons, in 1639:
The Religion of these barbarous People is much alike: they all worship Idols which they make with their own hands; to one of them they ascribe the authority of governing the waters, and put a fish in his hand in token of his power; they choose others to preside over their seed time, and others to inspire them with courage in their Battles; they say these gods came down from Heaven on purpose to dwell with them and to show them kindness. They do not signify their Adoration of these Idols by any outward ceremonies, but on the contrary seem to have forgotten them as soon as they have made them, and putting them in a case let them lie, without taking any notice of them so long as they imagine they have no occasion for their Help; but when they are ready to march out to war, they set up the Idol in which they have placed the hopes of their Victories, at the Prow of their Canoes (Cf. Sect. 84): so, when they go a fishing, they take that Idol with them to which they attribute the government of the waters.
49.* On the other hand, there are a few accounts of the existence of various cult objects, the actual signification of which has so far not been satisfactorily explained; lest these should ever be claimed as examples of a fetish cult, it would be well to mention them here. In the Catalogue of Contributions transmitted from British Guiana to the London International Exhibition of 1862 there is a record (p. 52) of "Figures of Clay, made by an Indian of the Caribisi tribe, p. 140 and representing human beings and an armadillo. From Massaruni River. Contributed by H. C. Whitlock and Geo. Dennis. These are the only specimens of Indian plastic art ever seen by the Contributors." I myself have obtained children's whistles in the shape of frogs and turtles made of clay by the Moruca River Caribs. Among the Caribs of the Parou River, French Guiana, Crévaux (262) speaks of meeting with a young woman who was modeling a tapir in black wax. From the upper Aiary (Rio Negro) Koch-Grünberg (I, 125) figures several wax objects modeled by little boys, and wooden fishes employed in the death ceremonies (KG, II, 154). In our own colony, Schomburgk states (ScR, II, 471) that at a Maopityan settlement under the cone-shaped shelter raised on top of the giant huts, were several flat pieces of wood, cut into all kinds of figures, which swayed to and fro with the wind. Among the Monikos and Sokorikos, branches of the Carib race inhabiting the districts on both sides of the Cotinga, "a very marked feature in all their houses," says J. J. Quelch (Ti, 1895, pp. 144-5), "are the rude imitations birds, chiefly of the herons, the negrocop [Mycteria], the muscovy duck, and the swallow-tailed hawk, which are made from cotton thread, corn-cobs and sticks, and are suspended high up under the roofs of the houses, in the positions occupied during flight." These are probably identical with the targets met with on the Aiary River (Rio Negro). Targets of artificial birds, made of maize-cobs and their coverings, hang as decorations from the crossbeams of the houses: the boys blow at them with nonpoisoned arrows (KG, I, 102; II, 244).
50.* Outside of the Guianas to the westward, among the Carijonas of the upper Yapura, Crévaux (361) speaks of a bench with rough carvings representing a bird of prey; also of the wooden figure of a man with legs wide apart. To the southward, Acuña (142) makes mention of the Capunas and Zurinas on the south side of the Amazon, near its junction with the Rio Negro:
They will cut a raised figure so much to the life and so exactly upon any coarse piece of wood that many of our Carvers might take pattern by them. It is not only to gratify their own fancies, and for their own use that they make these pieces of work, but also for the Profit it brings them: for they hereby maintain a trade with their neighbours, and truck their work with them for any necessaries to serve their occasion.