Yawanawá Rapé – New Hope
This Rapé was crafted by a young member of the tribe who spent three years on a diet, dedicating his life to the traditional spirituality of his people. The Yawanawá nearly lost their tradition since they made contact beginning last century. A change occurred in the late 1980´s as a cultural immersion movement began to bring back their traditions. Led by their new chief, a strong advocate for tribal rights, they expelled the rubber tappers, missionaries and alcohol from their community. Guided by the last two living medicine men of their people.the new chief was the first of this new generation to do a traditional initiation diet.
In this manner they started to bring back the traditional medicines of their people, like Rume (Rapé) and Uni (Ayahuasca) amongst others. During this period of renewal, leaving a painfull past behind, they moved their community to a new location for a fresh start, they baptized their new home, Nova Esperança, New Hope.
For the more traditional members of the tribe Rapé is not real Yawanawa if it is not following the simple recipe of tobacco and Tsunu ashes. The Tsunu tree is a native species of the region, they burn the bark to make the ashes.
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The Yawanawá (yawa/white-lipped peccary; nawa/people) are a group belonging to the Pano linguistic family who today occupy the Gregório River Indigenous Land.
The Yawanawá community is in reality a conjunction of people that includes members from other groups: Shawãdawa (Arara), Iskunawa (nowadays known as Shanênawa, who live in a village close to the town of Feijó), Rununawa, Sainawa (generally known as Yaminawá, who live in the Bagé river region), and Katukina. This configuration is the end result of a sociological dynamic common to many Pano groups – alliances through marriage, capture of women during warfare conflicts, the migration of families – and a series of historical contingencies.
The Yawanawá inhabit the southern part of the Gregório River Indigenous Land, sharing its nearly 200.000 hectares with the Katukina of Sete Estrelas village. This indigenous territory, located in the municipality of Tarauacá, was the first to be demarcated in Acre.
Hunting and fishing are two of the Yawanawá’s main economic activities. In the dry season fishing trips are organized in which almost the whole community participates and which transform into important social events (‘food festivals,’ as the Yawanawá describe them). During the rainy season, when large animals leave clear tracks, hunting becomes one of the main sources of alimentation.
The basic foods obtained from the swiddens are manioc, banana and maize, but other produce is also cultivated, such as rice, sweet potato, papaya, pineapple and sugarcane.
Although today the most notable aspect of Yawanawá shamanism is curing, in the past the shaman’s functions were more varied and touched upon other aspects of culture such as warfare and hunting. In terms of curing, various techniques are practised by the Yawanawá specialists – including curing chants and blowing – the foremost of which nowadays is ‘praying,’ called shuãnka. During the curing sessions, the xinaya – the name given to the practitioner – ingests ayahuasca and intones over a pot full of manioc caiçuma which the patient will later drink.
An interesting aspect of this practice is that diagnosis of the sickness is made on the basis of the dream the patient had before falling sick. Just as different shamanic techniques exist, so too there are various names designating each type of specialist (yuvehu, kushuintia, shuintia). Shamanic initiation comprises four parallel processes: the realization of certain trials (sucking the heart of an anaconda, chopping down a bee hive); the fulfilling of strict periods of precautionary measures which include sexual abstinence and avoidance of certain foods; the ingestion of various kinds of hallucinogenic substances (ayahuasca, pepper, datura, tobacco snuff, rarë – a non-identified plant, and tobacco juice); and learning the specific knowledge involved in each technique, namely the curing chants and ‘prayers.’
Shamanic power is ambivalent since it simultaneously enables the capacity to cure and to provoke illnesses. Accusations of sorcery and poisoning among the Yawanawá occur both between and within groups, provoking periodic social tensions that may give rise to fissions. In 1999 the community possessed two chant specialists and five specialists in plant remedies.