Apurinã Snuff – Awiry
The Apurinã are famous for their green Rapé, so unique and different from the other tribes of the region. They call their Rapé Awiry, which is also the name of the plant their medicine is made from. The Awiry is considered by some a type of wild Tabaco, it grows on the banks of the rivers and can only e harvested in certain times of the year because when the river rises in rainy season the area where the Awiry grows comes under water. It grows wild but nowadays some communities also cultivate it.
Because this flooding this rapé can only be made in the dry season and for that reason is quite rare and special, as said before they are starting to cultivate it as well now that makes it more available.
Normal Nicotinum Rustica tobacco in Brazil is fermented when dried and rolled up into sticks or strings for keeping. The Awiry not, it is neither fermented nor heated; they just let it dry that is why it keeps its green color. After it is dried they grind it, so you could consider it is a raw and alive Rapé. The Awiry is not mixed with ashes; it is only the ground plant material.
While most Indigenous Rapés are blown either by one self with a Kuripe or by another person with a Tepi the Apurinã Awiry is inhaled through a tube. Some of the tribes that use Yopo do this as well. They take some in their hand and sniff it either true a bone or wild bamboo tube.
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Scattered over sites close to the banks of the Purus, the Apurinã possess a rich cosmological and ritual universe. Their history has been heavily affected by the violence of the two rubber cycles in the Amazon region. Today they are fighting for their rights. Some of their lands have still not been officially recognised and are constantly invaded by loggers.
Some argue that Apurinã – or in its older form, Ipuriná – is a word from the Jamamadilanguage. The group’s self-identification is popũkare. Some old texts refer to the word kãkite as the self-identifier. Kãkite signifies “people” but, according to some Apurinã, kãkitesimply means “people” in the sense of the human species (“I saw people”, just as “I saw monkeys” or “I saw jaguar”), rather than in the sense of an individual community or ethnic group.
The Apurinã language is a member of the Purus branch of the Maipure-Aruak family (Facundes, 1994). The nearest related language is that of the Manchineri, or Piro, who inhabit the upper Purus in Brazil and, in Peru, mainly the lower Urubamba valley. Some Apurinã argue that they can also understand a little of the Kaxarari language as the result, according to their mythology, of their joint departure from the sacred land.
The Apurinã inhabit 27 Indigenous Lands, at differing stages of the official recognition process; twenty have been fully demarcated and registered, three have been declared to be for their sole use, and four are in the identification study phase. The total area of those Indigenous Lands fully demarcated is 1,819,502 hectares; of these two are shared with the Paumari of Lago Paricá and the Paumari of Lago Marahã and one with the Torá, in the TI of the same name.
The Apurinã of the Pauini region are divided into two clans: Xoaporuneru and Metumanetu. Belonging to one of these groups is determined by the paternal lineage. For each of the clans there are prohibitions on what one can and can not eat: Xoaporuneru can not consume certain types of inambu (inambu reloj and inambu macucau), and the Metumanetu is forbidden to eat guinea pig. The correct marriage is between Xoaporuneru and Metumanetu, since marriage between members of the same clan is the same as marrying between siblings. This is the term, moreover, that two members of the same half can use when addressing one another (nutaru, brother, nutaro, sister), just as Xoaporuneru and Metumanetu are sometimes called nukero (sister-in-law) or nemunaparu (brother in law). The names of the people indicate to which of the “nations” it belongs.
Systematic contacts between the Apurinã and non-indians started as a result of rubber collecting. The valley of the Purus began to be explored during the eighteenth century by itinerant traders in search of the so-called “drogas do sertão” (backland products): cocoa, copaiba balsam, turtle fat and rubber. Some of these explorers took up residence and processing plants began to be established on the lower Purus. In the 1850s and 1860s a number of expedition were sent to explore and map the river. According to the reports, by this time some Apurinã were already working for non-indians.
The Purus was occupied because of rubber. Exploitation started in the 1870s and by 1880 the Purus was occupied by non-indians throughout its length. Rubber collection declined after 1910 when Asian production, against which Brazilian production could not compete, began. With no market, the rubber estates were abandoned by the owners. The seringueiros (rubber tappers) and indians remained surviving through subsistence agriculture (which had been largely forbidden on the rubber estates) and marketing other products such as Brazil nuts.
“Who is your God? I don’t know. I only know that his name is Tsora.”
Artur Brasil Apurinã, Mũpuraru, Artur the Shaman, speaks thus about Tsora or, in his translation: God, Jesus. Tsora is the creator of all there is on Earth and for this reason is called God. The story of Tsora, the story of the beginning of the world, of the start of everything, always begins in its multiple versions with Mayoroparo, or “after the land caught fire”. Mayoru means vulture and Mayoroparo is a monstrous woman, a hag who devoured the bones of those who disobeyed (who have soft bones) and kept the bones of those who obeyed for manioc and potato cuttings at the beginning of the world.
Tsora is the son of Yakonero. Each night someone came to sleep with Yakonero. Wanting to know who the visitor was, she painted her hands with annatto and wiped them on his back. The following day it was the katokana (the shaman’s snuff pipe) that was seen to be black. Yakonero was thus banished. On the way to her parents’ house, her unborn son asked for various things. Annoyed, she beat her belly. To get his own back he gave her wrong directions to her house and she ended up at the house of the Katsamãũteru. The old woman who lived there hid her on a shelf and gave Yakonero – pregnant and thus wanting to spit – a gourd. She spat into this until it overflowed, thus alerting the men to her presence.
Yakonero bore four sons, on the branch of a cotton bush. Tsora was the smallest and weakest, but the smartest and most powerful. The brothers took their revenge by ambushing and killing, one by one, the killers of their mother.
The origin of everything
The origin of everything that exists today can be explained by this story: the origin of the size of the Brazil nut tree, the origin of its sap, of the colour of the coati, the existence of several fish such as the surubim and the caparari, as well as the origin of revenge.
Tsora created people and the different types of people, the different peoples: Apurinã, whites, other indians. He administered several tests to these peoples and the Apurinã always did worse than other indians and than the whites. This is why, say the storytellers, that despite being “the best there is”, the Apurinã are few and divided amongst themselves.
Another extremely important story for explaining the Apurinã today is the Sacred Land and the Otsamaneru. The Apurinã were immortals and lived in a land where nothing got sick, went bad or died. They accompanied the Otsamaneru, travelling between one land of immortality and another. However they became overly enchanted with the things they found in the “mortal lands” lying between the sacred lands, and ended up staying in these.
The Kaxarari are frequently identified as the companions of the Apurinã on this journey. According to some accounts, the three peoples travelled together: Kaxarari, Apurinã and Otsamaneru. The Kaxarari were the first to become enchanted with the fruits of the “mortal lands”; then the Apurinã; whilst the Otsamaneru continued on their journey.
Apurinã ritual celebrations, generically known as Xingané (in Apurinã, kenuru) range from small nocturnal song sessions to large scale events involving invitations to several villages and offering substantial feasting, manioc wine, bananas, fruit of the patauá palm and fuel for participants’ boat travel. On some occasions these are rituals to pacify the souls of the dead, immediately after their decease or on the anniversaries. In such cases, according to Abdias, the ritual is known as isaĩ.
A Xingané begins with a ritual confrontation. The guests arrive from out of the forest armed, painted and decorated. They arrive shouting. The hosts, similarly armed, go to meet them. When they meet the leaders come forward and start arguing, speaking quickly and loudly (this dialogue is called “cutting sanguiré” in Portuguese and katxipuruãta in Apurinã), all the time with their weapons pointed at the others’ chests. Behind are the other members of the group, at the ready, and with their weapons similarly pointed at those involved in the argument. When the voices are lowered, so too are the weapons, and the leaders proceed to take snuff from each other’s hands.
At the start of the argument each declares not to know the other and asks who he is. There then follows the sanguiré, a personal speech that always closes with the confirmation of the speaker’s parents and grandparents. Camilo Manduca Apurinã summarizes it this way:
“When you cut sanguiré you have to recall the name of your father, mother, grandfather. What you wish to say, you have to say at the moment of the sanguiré. Whatever is going on, you have to find it out during the sanguiré”.
A ritual no longer practised, but still considered very important, is that of the Kamatxi. This celebration involves the presence of the Kamatxi, beings that live in the stands of buriti palms and who appear on the occasion of the ritual. Flutes are used and the women have to stay enclosed in a house, forbidden to watch.
The origins of illness and the shaman’s cure are stones. A stone is what enables the shaman to heal and what allows him to cause illness and death. Various reports state that during the initiation of a shaman, the first step is for him to remain for months in the forest, fasting or eating very little, and chewing katsowaru. Sexual relations also have to be avoided. When the shaman is given a stone, he inserts it into his body, as he will insert all the stones he receives or, in the future, extracts from the bodies of the sick.
A shaman heals by using katsoparu, a leaf that is chewed, and awire, snuff. The shaman has his own katsoparu and awire, but the person who asks for the cure is in general responsible for providing these for the occasion. The shaman should chew the katsoparu and take a lot of snuff. Sometimes the healing is carried out in private, in the sick person’s house; but often all are involved, talking and chewing, until the shaman starts the session. He heals by sucking the location of the illness. Often he will show the stone and explain the nature of the illness, how the patient acquired it and what he should do. He explains whether it the result of witchcraft or the action of an animal of the forest. He inserts the stone into his own body and can then recommend remedies and treatments. The remedies are in general plants, but they can also be manufactured medicines from the farmácia.
One of the most common problems shamans are called on to resolve is animals that pull, that carry away children’s souls. There is a set of foods that a father and mother must avoid when their child is still little; until the child is around two years old. The main prohibitions are large fish and game, but also beans, alcohol, coconut, pineapple, katsoparu, and mangoes. These last do not carry away the soul, but harm the health of the child since it will absorb the food through its mother’s milk.
During the night the spirit of the shaman will rescue the soul of the child. This is a dangerous exercise. If the shaman is weak he could, for example, become trapped at the entrance of a fish hole and die. The shaman arrives back with thunder and lightening and at his moment the child starts breathing again.
An Apurinã shaman works through dreams. In these his spirit leaves, visits other places and carries out tasks. Other spirits guide the shaman on these journeys: the animals and the chiefs of the animals (hãwite) with whom he works. Each shaman possesses one or more of his own: the jaguar, snake or mythical mapinguari.
Another common problem, both in children and adults, is being wounded by arrows fired by animal “bowmen” (kĩpuatitirã). These are the “chiefs” (hãwite). A new trail is especially dangerous. Children are bathed with the piprioca plant (kawaky) for protection or with breast milk. Those children with least resistance to the bowmen can die as a consequence of such attacks.
According to Otávio Avelino Chaves (Atokatxu), the chiefs of animal species are themselves shamans, or at least it is as such that they talk to human shamans. One of the roles of a shaman is to overcome and control these beings; for example, causing them to stop ‘haunting’ or snakes to stop biting. What others see as animals, the shaman sees as people and some as family. The shaman protects his community against enemy stones and prevents and cures attacks from animals of the forest.
If they are strong, shamans will travel to different lands – to beneath the land where they live, to below the river, even to the sky, where Tsora lives. The stronger the shaman, the more places his spirit is able to go to. If this is so in life, so is it also in death. Some say shamans never die, they become enchanted. Thunder is heard at the moment of a shaman’s death. When old shamans died they would give precise instructions about how they should be buried, so that they could later leave their graves. In some cases shamans’ graves stayed tidy. In other cases it is said that they could be found amongst herds of animals, such as peccary. The majority however go to the Sacred Land.