Shawãdawa Sacred Snuff – Putuvi
The following is a text, from the maker speaking in his own words on Rapé, and the traditions of his people, contextualizing in the two medicines we are presenting here.
“The Shawãdawa live in the upper Jurua river in four indigenous demarcated lands. Today the main objective of the Shawã people is to protect our lands, our forest where all our natural medicines are present. We are also always looking to save and salvage our culture, the teachings of our ancestors. The use of our sacred medicines brings us this study of healing and of our ancestral teachings.
We are from the pano linguistic root like families as the Yawanawa, Poyanawa, Kaxinawa, Jaminawa, Deadawa, Kuntanawa and many others. Shawã means Arara, Macaw and Dawa is family so we are the family of the macaw.
The use of Rupusuty, as we call Rapé in our language and tradition, has a very important meaning for the Shawãdawa, it is the study of the medicinal plants that give the force to strengthen the spirit and the force to heal the material of the diseases of the flesh. To be a warrior in the forest it is necessary to know the medicines and its powers by doing the traditional diets, the stronger the medicine, the longer the diet.
This Rapés were made under the power of the full moon with Sunu ashes and a medicine from Shawã traditional use, Kapayuba.
The Rapé with the herbs Rawaputu and Putuvi is used against headaches, flu, insomnia, mental disturbance and fatigue. We use it to give strength when working in the field planting, fishing and hunting. Like this it is used to help heal our family. It can be used in everyday use and it doesn’t have a special diet.”
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The Arara Shawãdawa
Like the other indigenous groups in Acre, the Arara Shawãdawa suffered the effects of incursions and the rubber plantation production system from the last decades of the 19th century, having been exploited, expropriated and limited in their physical and cultural reproduction. Over recent years they have been involved in reverting this process, by means of the revalidation of their language and traditions. as well as claiming their territorial rights from the Brazilian state.
The designation Arara was attributed to the group during contact when the first exploration began of the Alto Juruá in the 19th century. The Arara called themselves Shawadawa.
The contact with agents of the rubber expansion front affected the group’s relationship with its mother tongue. Today there are few speakers of the Arara language. Because they had historically been ridicularized and discriminated when they spoke their own language, the Arara stopped transmitting the language to their descendants, creating a younger generation educated only in Portuguese. However since the beginning of the 1990s the Arara have been trying to “rescue” their own language.
The region presently occupied by the Arara had been the territory of the Pano and Aruak groups since the pre-Cabral period.
By the end of the 1890s, the Upper Jurua was inhabited by Brazilians, when Peruvian “caucheiros” or collectors of rubber and other forest products occupied the region for a short time.
The Araras’ own oral history as well as historiographic sources on the Upper Jurua agree that it was only at the beginning of 20th century that the group had contact with agents from Brazilian society. In 1905, when a road linking Cocamera, in Tarauacá, to Cruzeiro do Sul was being built, Felizardo Cerqueira and Ângelo Ferreira managed, with Indians from the Yawanawa, Rununawa e Iskunaw groups, to contact the Arara who were located in the region of the Forquila igarapé, a tributary on the right bank of the Riozinho da Liberdade (Tastevin, 1926: 49). At this time the Arara who were living near this igarapé lived with the Rununawa indians, but they were all led by the celebrated leader Tescon, who was married to the daughter of an Arara chief.
There are many references to Tescon leading the Arara in written sources dealing with the Upper Juruá, like that of Army lieutenant Luiz Sombra, who in 1907 had a contact with “xauánauás (araras)” at the Riozinho da Liberdade. In the same year the engineer Nunes de Oliveira visited the malocas (huts) of several indians in the region, and met Tescon near the Forquilha igarapé.
After 1912 the French priest Constantino Tastevin visited the Upper Juruá. He reported constant intertribal wars fought by the Arara at the beginning of the 20th century, besides distinguishing between the Arara of Tauari and those of Forquilha, indicating that the Arara were divided into more than one group, or in different villages of the same group. Tastevin also described the migrations undertaken by the Arara along the Tejo, Bagé, Liberdade and Amahuaca (Riozinho Cruzeiro do Vale) rivers and referred to the clash that resulted in the death of Tescon during a conflict with the Arara (Tastevin, 1928: 208-209).
In 1914 Tescon was murdered by Arara indians, and the group dispersed. According to Arara memory, Tescon had beaten his Arara wife and threatened his in-laws, which led them to start a war against Tescon’s group near the Riozinho da Liberdade region, which led to his death. After this conflict, several other wars took place as the indians who had been led by Tescon sought to avenge his death, and this led the Arara to migrate to the vicinity of the Bagé, Tejo, Gregório and Riozinho Cruzeiro do Vale rivers. The Arara probably established themselves on the banks of the Riozinho Cruzeiro do Vale and Valparaiso rivers in 1914, when they made several migrations, until they were located in the 1920s in the rubber plantations Cruzeiro do Vale and Humaita. Even though the area was by now divided into plantations. The group did not remain fixed in one place, but continued travelling along the Valparaíso, Riozinho Cruzeiro do Vale, Riozinho da Liberdade and Bagé rivers.
To capture the Arara for labour, the “bosses” sponsored various incursions, using some of the old (ancestral) Arara as agents of the process of inserting the group into the economic activities in the rubber plantations. These ancient ones are a strong presence in the Arara memory, and are references for the identity of the group and territory which they have always occupied
After recovering part of their territory again, many families who were scattered throughout the rubber plantations along the Liberdade and Baje rivers, preferred to abandon the work and go to live with their relatives in the reserve, or near it.
Today, the elders are the “guardians of the Arara memory” and they try as much as possible to transmit it to their descendants. The interest of the younger ones in learning the myths and rituals which were intensively practiced in the past by the Arara can be seen. Nowadays the rituals are practiced without regularity, which is not to say they are absent. The ritual of mariri, of the “injection of the frog” and sinbu are still practiced. The first of these is an indian dance also found amongst other Pano groups. Now it is mainly practiced as a means of maintaining the cohesion of the group, emphasizing the Arara identity. It is the oldest ones, who are still fluent in the language, who sing and teach the younger ones during the ritual.
The ritual of sinbu (liana/ayahuasca) is still practiced by some of the Arara, and most of the group have taken part in one or other of these rituals. However some of the Arara do not ingest the sinbu any more, even if they have made use of it at some time. Before they began to work in the rubber plantations the Arara partook of sinbu on a regular basis, sometimes as a cure, when the shaman took the drink and sought to remove the ills from the patient and bring him back to health. According to one of the Arara:
My late father was a shaman. When somebody got ill, say he was burning with fever, or with another illness, when he saw he was going to die, my dad drank it. He took it and began to sing for that illness, because the person had that illness, he would sing. When he saw that he was getting better, he would say he was getting better. When he saw that he would not get better, that he was going to die, dad told him he would not escape
From the 1990s some of the Arara took up the doctrine of Santo Daime, which had a strong presence in the town of Cruzeiro do Sul. A temple was built in the village of Foz do Nilo. Most of the Arara in the Indigenous Area did not join the Santo Daime church when it came to the reserve, and the few who did consider themselves “daimistas” suffered certain reprisals from the Arara who used the liana drink in a more traditional way. This means that among the Arara there are now two ways of using the ayahuasca in rituals, one traditional, including healing sessions, and the other, by the followers of Santo Daime.
Another characteristic ritual of the Pano groups, which is now practised by the Arara, is that aimed at recovering the luck of the hunter. When the hunter is out of luck, the Arara prepare the ritual of the “injection of the frog” to recover the essential qualities of the hunter: aim, vision, hearing and luck. They catch a campo frog and with a hook, extract the “milk” which covers its body- the milk which comes out of the frog’s head is only used for the snuff which is applied to the hunter’s dog. Then they burn two or three small circular points in the hunter’s skin with a cigarette, or with a braca, to introduce the frog’s milk. A small amount of milk is enough to produce vomits and evacuation, which is also stimulated by the largescale consumption of caissuma, a drink made from fermented manioc, before the injection. Next day, the hunter will be ready to continue his hunting activities with much greater skill and efficiency. According to Arara Chico Cazuza:
The injection is made when a person is weak. When he climbs these slopes, which we here call earth. When we stop climbing we get that buzzing in our heads, and our legs go weak. Then we take the frog’s milk, the injection to make us improve. That cleans everything, what we are feeling, we get better. But we also have to take a little of some other things to clean the stomach as well, to provoke vomit. At the moment when you take the injection, which puts the frog’s milk on top, which disagrees with everything you’ve got in your head, then it all heats up. The ears gets hot, there is that buzzing, you can’t stand it, because that’s what is the weakness. (Chico Cazuza, 17/02/2000, Raimundo do Vale).
The Arara attribute some medicinal properties to the frog’s injection, and its use is not restricted to the group’s belief in its capacity to restore the hunter’s skills. The same happens with the sinbu which also possesses various medecinal properties, besides operating in the metaphysical world.
Another ritual used by the Arara to help the hunter is the use of snuff:
the person scrapes the powder from the bone of a deer, or a pig, from the shinbone of the deer and from the pig you scrape the bone of the thigh, you gather the powder, then you scrape the frog’s milk as well, put it on a board, then you scrape the mixture, and roast it with a little tobacco. So you make the snuff. Taking the snuff like that is better than taking the injection. You sniff it. (Chico Cazuza, 17/02/2000, Raimundo do Vale).
Another ritual practised by the Arara, also aimed at improving the qualities of the hunter, improving his and his dog’s skills, is smoking with tipi. One of the Arara hunters explained:
Tipi is to smoke, when the person is having difficulties, he is smoked. With hair from the deer and the pig. You put it in the sun to dry. You do it very early in the morning so you can go into the forest to hunt. You do the smoking, then you go and hunt. You do it three times. You might do it this morning, Thursday, then next Thursday another smoking, then the one after. You do it three times. (Chico Cazuza, 17/02/2000, Raimundo do Vale).
The rituals described above are generally practised near the houses, on the open ground or inside the houses. The essential ingredients for the rituals come from the forest, where they are found in almost all the reserve. The Arara say, however that the campo frog is found mostly in the region of the Nilo and grande igarapés.
The time of myths
The aforementioned rituals come from a mythic time, without a precise date. One of the older Arara referring to the frog injection said:
“…this is from the beginning of the world. The frog vaccine is good for anyone who has tired legs, who wants to put on weight, to go hunting, it’s very good. For headache it’s very good. A person who sleeps a lot, takes the frog vaccine, he’s better. I have taken a lot of frog vaccine”. (João Martins, 10/03/2000, Cruzeiro do Sul).
The Arara myths are recounted especially by the older ones, but some of the young people have begun to learn them and repeat them. The myths are told in the Arara language or in Portuguese, and as with practically all mythic narratives, the versions that are told vary, but not the structure of the myth. The narration of the myth of the origin of the Arara is quite long and has suffered some alterations in the way it is told, depending on the narrator. To sum up, the main elements of the myth are the following: there is a village with several children, and near the cultivated land there is a Sumaúma tree in which lives a hawk. Almost every day this hawk goes out to hunt and bring food for its chick. When the hunting gets scarce he begins to catch the indian children. He eats all of them except for one.
Then a man from the village decided to kill the hawk before he finishes off the indians. After a lot of difficulty he manages to kill the bird, building a ladder to reach the nest, and he puts the feathers inside a basket. One night this basket begins to make a noise, which the caboclo thinks is cockroaches eating the feathers. The next day he opens the basket, and there are no cockroaches, only feathers. After several nights hearing the noise, and checking the basket in the morning without finding what can be making the noise, one day when the noise is repeated all the Pano tribes emerge from the basket singing with happiness, each of them saying their name, Shawãdawa, Yawanawa, Kaxinawa, Xaranawa, Duwanawa, Poyanawa and others. It is interesting to note that in Arara cosmology they like the other Pano groups should have originated from the feathers of the same hawk, from which it is also possible to infer a socio-cultural and linguistic proximity.