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date: 05 December 2023

Indigenous Religions in Brazilfree

Indigenous Religions in Brazilfree

  • Mark MünzelMark MünzelDepartment of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Philipps University of Marburg


In the past, Indigenous religions often served as a black box for various scholarly disciplines. For example, they have been seen as an example of psychopathic complexes or for the original primacy of the collective over the individual. With the emergence of the New Age movement, shamanism in particular has become an object of unscientific projection. In the process, on the one hand Indigenous religions were hold in higher esteem, but on the other hand the character of their reflections on time and the nature of the world and, more often than not, very abstract concepts are reduced to happiness.

Approaching the issue from the perspective of mythical indigenous narratives has the advantage that Indigenous people, the tellers of these myths, speak for themselves. Of course, when they come into contact with Western scholars (who record their myths) or missionaries (who are also interested in indigenous systems of beliefs), they too naturally absorb outside influences: A clinically pure Indigenous religion, so to speak, is an illusion.

Fortunately, myths, whether recorded by Indigenous scholars, or told to researchers who come from outside, are usually not dry factual reports, but literary works, today often aimed at Indigenous children and adolescents, but often enough also as literature for adults—Indigenous religions appear to us in literary guise.

Brazil’s Indigenous nations represent a large number of very different cultures and traditions. Since no central authority existed prior to European colonization, and since the state institutions in Brazil that have since been established are not responsible for Indigenous systems of beliefs, these various Indigenous religions have never been unified, even if they have been subject since the early days of colonialism to uniform external influences (above all the Christian mission and the Western school system).

To put it bluntly, one could say that the only thing they have in common is that they are different from one another. Still, some broad similarities can be found, and common traits that apply to a larger number, though never all, Indigenous systems of belief, myths, and rituals can be identified.

One of these widespread similarities is the idea that humans are an unreal illusion reflecting another world and another time. Another trait is a belief in culture heroes who long ago laid the groundwork for the situation in the 21st century and then left the people to their own devices. The world they built will not last forever, but will one day collapse in on itself in a catastrophe, just as other worlds have collapsed before ours. Ultimately, all relations are unstable, enduring merely for more or less long or short periods of time. The only thing permanent is the change.


  • Indigenous Religions

How Many Brazilians Are Indigenous?

An Indigenous community normally has pre-Columbian origins, although some communities based on pre-Columbian traditions only formed during or after the colonial period. In the 21st century, many people have left these communities and are more or less integrated into non-Indigenous society but often see themselves as Indigenous and often maintain contact with their home communities.

The total number of Indigenous persons in Brazil was estimated in 2021 to be about 1.3 million, divided into around 225 povos indígenas (Indigenous nations). Not included in these statistics are around seventy mostly very small groups in but sporadic contact with Brazilian society. According to the census of 2010, approximately 19 percent of Indigenous people in Brazil lived in cities and around 54 percent in rural areas in state-recognized Indigenous regions.1

Besides some comparatively large povos, such as the Ticuna (in the tri-border region of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru; on the Brazilian side, a little over 50,000 people in 2014), there are many small ones, among the smallest, for instance, being the Nahukwá (in 2003, persons in the reservation Parque Nacional do Xingu).2

There is no one overarching Indigenous family of languages; in Brazil, seven large language families (Arawak, Jê, Carib, Makú, Pano, Tucano, Tupí, Yanomam), and numerous smaller ones have been identified.3 These languages are unrelated or only distantly related to one another, and their language types (which are not congruent with the language families) range from the isolating type similar to Chinese to the inflectional type similar to the Indo-European languages. A common religion does not exist either. For each religious characteristic mentioned, there are exceptions and completely contrary cases. That said, characteristics discussed in this article can be found among many ethnic groups across different povos and regions.4

The borders of the Federative Republic of Brazil do not coincide with the borders of Indigenous ethnic cultures. For example, the Guaraní Mbya and Guaraní Kaiowa live not only in Brazil but also in Argentina and Paraguay. The Amazon basin forms a reservoir of many Indigenous cultures that have influenced one another intensively and have also been shaped by Christian missions for centuries. This area, to which the Orinoco region should also be mentioned as closely related, extends far beyond the borders of Brazil. Thus, data from neighboring countries can therefore also be useful for developing an overview of Indigenous cultures in Brazil.

Profound, rapid changes make it difficult to reconstruct religious systems that today are often different from what they were yesterday. However, this article is not on the current state of affairs but on religious concepts that may have shifted as a result of historical developments, the Christian mission in particular, but it can still be used to paint a picture of Indigenous beliefs.

The Power of Imported Religions and the Power of Reinterpretation

Religions of precolonial origins have experienced many changes since the beginning of the colonial period. Only about 20 percent of Indigenous people in Brazil (so our interpretation of the 2010 census) profess to an Indigenous religion; the vast majority identify as belonging to one of the Christian denominations. Afro-Indo-American religions (such as Umbanda) that have emerged since the colonial era, and, more recently, influences of Asian origin, especially Baha’i, must also be considered. That said, Indigenous elements are also often included into newly adopted belief systems, often to such an extent that it is usually difficult to define which precisely. For example, a new religion with notable Indigenous roots is Santo Daime, which originated in the western Amazon region and has since found followers in Europe as well. In the 21st century, Indigenous people who have adopted this new religion stress that it is actually Indigenous and that they have found in it a rebirth of their own Indigeneity.5

To put it somewhat simplistically, it can be said that in old missionary regions such as among the Guaraní or in the Rio Negro region, the Catholic Church largely tolerates the continued existence of Indigenous religious traditions. However, new converts to some (but by no means all) Protestant and Pentecostal denominations tend to distinguish themselves very clearly from their Indigenous brethren. But even then, many Pentecostals and Protestants combine their own indigenous traditions creatively with the adopted ideas and rituals.6

A collection of myths of the Karajá begins in a similar manner to the biblical story of creation, but in the course of creation, elements are inserted again and again. The creator is called “mighty sorcerer,” “sorcerer of fire,” and “sorcerer in the village.” He lives on to this day as “a good dream.” He threw a gourd full of water into an empty space, and out of it came the heavens, where neither God Himself nor a Christian saint reigns, but a by God-appointed “Master of thunder, who commands the winds to mix everything up and to sow the plants so that later the rains will refresh the earth and rejuvenate the trees.” Finally, the master of the Aruanã fish (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum Cuvier) asked the Creator to transform his species, and the Creator transformed them into Karajá, whereby they lost their immortality. Later the young women quarreled about the love of the Creator, who initially showed no interest in them at all. But when one of them gifted him a wreath of flowers, he asked her parents for her hand. But the mother refused: “My daughter will not marry just anyone. You are not worth anything! She comes from a good family [. . .], but you, nobody knows who you are, well, you don’t even have a mother.” She finally let herself be convinced that the suitor for her daughter’s hand “can do magic like no other.”7

Only superficially anecdotal, this tale contains essential elements of many Indigenous accounts of the beginning of the world: in the beginning there is the Creator, but he is a dream (in other Indigenous tales we meet a creator who creates himself from nothing through a dream); proximate to him are “masters” of various animal and plant species and meteorological phenomena. At first, he is alone and longs for a woman, with which a new development begins, not only for humans and animals, but also for the Creator himself. Flowers play an important role here (which in the religious language of the Guaraní are also a metaphor for female nipples).

In colonial times, classically educated missionaries believed that the personification of thunder among Brazilian Indigenous peoples corresponded to Jupiter, and since Jupiter was the supreme god of ancient mythology, they used the name of the thunder being in one of the Tupí languages—Tupá (or Tupan)—as a translation for “God.” How important this Tupá actually was is debatable.8

In the mythical stories of the Kamaiurá, he and his wife of the same name are dangerous beings, but not omnipotent. Lady Tupá helped a shaman whom she found attractive to steal the thunder-and-lightening club from her husband Tupá and tickled the latter so much that he became helpless with laughter and was unable to pursue the thief.9

In 1952 or 1953, the Munduruku had begun calling their Culture Hero (founder of their culture) Karusakaibö by the name adopted from the missionaries—that is, “Tupan”—and told the story of Adam and Eve: The Culture Hero gave one girl to each man.

Eventually, all the men had wives, and only a girl named Eva was left without a mate. Karusakaibö decided to make a man for her. He took one of her ribs while she was asleep, turned it into a man, and placed him beside her. In the morning she awoke to find Adjun [Adam]. Karusakaibö told Adjun that Eva was his woman and was given to him to help him.

However, the two did not yet know how to have sexual intercourse. “The devil, who was really a serpent, came disguised in the form of a man” and explained it to them. “Adjun did as directed, and he and Eva liked the experience so much that they and all mankind have been doing it ever since.”10

What is interesting about this story is not only that the old Culture Hero and the new Christian God are equated and that Eve is not made from a rib of Adam, but Adam is made from a rib of Eve (that is, Eve came first, which sounds like a negation of the idea of male primacy, as asserted by the conservative missionaries) but also that the sexual intercourse of Adam and Eve—often identified in the simplified teachings of Christian missionaries as the original sin—is described here as being a particularly pleasurable part of life in illo tempore.

This seems to be an Indigenous understanding of original sin that was adopted into the Christianity of converts: The alleged sin provides pleasure. A mythical narrative of the Kamaiurá free of any known missionary influence tells of a mythical woodcarver who carves a female wooden doll to then gift her as a woman to a dangerous neighbor, the cougar (puma concolor), thus forging an alliance with him. In this, he is successful, and the doll becomes the ancestress of human kind. As she is just a doll, her beauty is only an illusion, as is demonstrated in a great number of narratives, but that is precisely why she is beautiful. For example, the Creator made her teeth out of black stones so that they would have lasted forever. But her laugh was frightening to see. So, he swapped out her teeth for beautiful white mangaba seeds (Hancornia speciosa):

“That is the reason why our teeth rot: they are made out of mangaba seeds. But that is also why the teeth of the young women are so pretty.”11 Mortal beauty is gleefully affirmed.

Indigenous intellectuals have been grappling with the modern natural sciences for years. In 2008, for example, Indigenous teachers and students from northwestern Brazil debated with anthropologists at a conference about the difference between science, which only accepts evidence, and the Indigenous belief in deities that created the world. They found a parallel to the Big Bang theory in the Indigenous idea of the four tinamou spreading bowls of earth on the four corners of the heavens. What is striking about this interpretation, however, is that (a result of Christian influence?) female deities are no longer mentioned.12

Myths as a Source

Indigenous beliefs find their expression in myths and rituals. Canonical written texts such as the Bible, the Koran, or the Upanishads do not exist in the Indigenous religions of eastern South America, which were up until the beginning of the 20th century without writing. Myths take their place, which is why they are given so much space in this article.

Even when myths have been recorded on paper in our time, they have not become unchangeable texts. Most every mythical tale, every religious poem “is in its original fabrication and traditional form the creation of individual, imaginative and gifted personalities,” and this applies again and again to each new rendition.13 The religiosity of the Indigenous people of Brazil, which is based on these mythical traditions, can therefore adapt to new situations and cultural vicissitudes. At the same time, it is often emphasized that these are stories heard from others and not invented willy-nilly. Interjections such as “he says,” “one says that he says,” and “it seems that” are so common—and often so redundant to European ears—that they are often omitted in translations. Yet they are significant because they imply a certain distancing: “This is how it was handed down, but I cannot guarantee that it is true.”14

The storytellers often make use of a linguistic particularity of many South American Indigenous language which distinguish between sources of information: for instance, direct hearing, hearsay, what is often said, what is said in myths, and information from dreams.15 It would be a grave injustice to accuse the myth-loving Indigenous storytellers of uncritical adherence to ancient traditions; on the contrary, they rework these traditions constantly. Skepticism is a core trait of their religiosity.

One of the most impressive collections of texts from the Amazon region was published already in 1921, first in Huitoto and German and then in Spanish in 1994. Further versions were published in 1992 and 2010, and while these contain the same basic ideas, they differ in many details.16 Another example is the publication of myths of the Tukano and Desana (both belong to the Tucano language family). An extensive compilation of Desana origin myths was published by two Indigenous authors, the kumu (healer and master of tradition and ritual) Umúsin Panlõn and his Portuguese-speaking son Tolamãn Kenhíri in 1980 with the support of the anthropologist Berta Ribeiro. Gabriel dos Santos Gentil, also a kumu, published a volume of similar Tukano myths in 2000. Again, the basic ideas of the mythologies of these two nations are very similar, but the individual variations are significant. Both draw a comprehensive panorama of the origins of the world.17

A collection of stories from the Makuna compiled by Indigenous missionary students, however, focus more on animal fables and ghost stories. That said, behind these irreverent fables, common mythic motifs appear every once in a while—for example, about the end of the world. The collared tree lizard (Plica plica), which lives with other reptiles in the village of the sun, claims that he cannot climb trees and therefore cannot come along when the others want to gather fruit for a big festival. To frighten him, the others warn him of a violent hurricane that “will crush us all,” but he replies that he cannot be frightened: The others might perish, but he will jump into the river. His fellow reptiles continue: “The river will heat up and skin all living things. You won’t be able to hide anywhere.” Then the tree lizard “bursts into sobs that nothing could stop.” The apparently wretched, lazy and lying reptile in this tale, however, appears in other narratives as a manifestation of the Master of the Animals, “perhaps the most important divine personification of the Desana hunter” and as a phallic symbol—mythical beings can be made a mockery of.18

Behind the frequent motif of women roaming the world in search of husbands can often be found the ultimately futile search for paradise. Among the Suruí-Paiter, the first women, the daughters of a man and a gourd (whose round form is often seen as female), roamed the world in search of a husband—and many animals wanted to seduce them with deception: The owl with its plaintive call gave them tears instead of honey, the deer a piece of its own leg instead of venison, the heron gave rats instead of fish, but in the end, everyone just wanted to sleep with the women. Eventually they found and married the jaguar (or some other feline), but both women were killed by their mother-in-law. The sons of the women and the beast avenged their mothers by killing their feline grandmother. Her son, the feline, now all alone without his wives and without his mother, became a ghost.

This tale shows how human and animal worlds were separated, beasts and human women cannot live together, so their temporary unity was broken. The same motif can be found, with a slight modification, in the mythologies of many Indigenous cultures of eastern South America. Among the Kalapalo, women receive noble gifts from the animals they meet in exchange for sexual contact, and eventually arrive in the felines’ village. But again, their mother-in-law kills them (because one of them spits when her mother-in-law farts). This is also a statement on family relations. The sons of the human women and the beast avenge their mother’s death by destroying the felines’ village. However, before they do so, they shoot their feline father into the sky with a bow and arrow, so that he does not perish but becomes a constellation of stars.19

In other stories, a woman is again first looking for a husband, only to then be killed by her wild mother-in-law. Her sons then try in vain to find her. Since she has been killed, she can no longer really live. It is a futile attempt to restore the good old days when humans and animals still lived together.

In the best known variant of this story in the “Narratives of the Creation and the Destruction of the World,” narrated in 1913 by three Guaraní—“the old, conservative Guyrapaijú, the much-travelled Tupãjú and especially Joguyrovyjú, a man of mystical enthusiasm”—to Curt Nimuendajú, who at the time was working for the SPI (“Indian Protection Service,” 1910–1967), the father is displeased by the fact that the mother does not believe in his magic powers and he leaves. The pregnant mother goes to search for him. As in other versions, she is looking for a husband and stumbles upon the village of the felines, who kill and eat her, but take her twin sons out of her womb and raise them as their own. These, having grown up, avenge their mother and kill almost all of those ferocious enemies. As in other versions, they fail in this attempt to return their mother to life. But in days of dancing and singing, they are finally able to rise to the heavens, where they find their father and mother.

This narrative forms the ideological basis for the migrations of Guaraní groups since the 16th century on in search of the “land without evil”—for which there were also tangible reasons (looking for new or better land for growing maize, flight from the expansion of the colonizers), that cannot be separated from the myth and the basic religious attitude of a never-ending search. Those do not always have to be migrations in geographical space, sometimes they can be inner wanderings, reflections on one’s own inner being, where one finds ecstasy while dancing, a land without evil for the thus enlightened.20

Just as the stories are not fixed, but are told somewhat differently by each narrator, their meaning can also change. To a certain extent this also applies to the interpretation of the canonical texts of written cultures, but it is much more evident in the case of orally transmitted myths. While their range of variation is not unlimited, the understanding of religious contexts is more individual, dependent on the interaction between the narrator and the respective audience. These Indigenous religions that express themselves in variable myths might appropriately be called “undogmatic religion[s] [. . .] without central dogma and institution.”21

Myths and worldviews are often expressed in art. Paintings, sometimes as geometric patterns, sometimes figurative, on wood, on masks (which in themselves are an expression of religious ideas), or in the form of patterned textiles have always played a role in the Amazon region. The figurative representation of the European tradition was introduced with the introduction of a Western system of schooling, reinforced through contacts with anthropologists, to whom Indigenous ideas were often easier to convey in pictures than in religious language. In this process an artistic tradition of drawn mythology developed. Today, Indigenous art brings a religious-mythical accent to contemporary Brazilian art.22

Music of the Spheres

People, animals, souls, spirits, and monsters—their form is visible or can be made visible. But there is also something invisible, something abstract that is pervasive to them all. In the heavens of the Kamaiurá, the dead are ruled by the double-headed harpy whose two heads can be seen in carvings, but whose names are typical for how abstract terms are formulated in much of Indigenous rhetoric in question form: “Where?” and “When?”—space and time. A long look into the sun and the heavens reveals that it is possible to think of another heaven beyond the world of the dead, in which no human being is at home any longer, but “Universal Knowledge” alone.23 Among the Eastern Tukano, it is “a mighty force that flows through the cosmos” upon which humans with shamanic knowledge can travel. This force, called pensamiento (literally “thinking”) in Spanish by the Indigenous peoples of neighboring Colombia, follows, for the Eastern Tukano, two distinct paths across the territory of an Indigenous ethnic community, one in the depths of the rivers and one in a circle of power between the mountains. In visual terms, these two streams of power form a Tukano round house, with the circle of power between the mountains as the roof and the current in the river as the outlines of the building itself. The shamans of every community are tasked with maintaining the fertility of all beings with the help of this power flowing through their territory.24

The Guaraní speak of Jasuká. This “is not a person, it is not a god, but a principle of emanation.” This is where the gods, men, heaven, Earth, and even paradise came from, or at least, “Our Father” could only have created all of these things out of this principle. For us, it sometimes manifests itself as a delicate veil of mist or a fine drizzle, and the gods bathe in it like in a fountain of youth. This active principle is sometimes associated with femininity and is sometimes called “female humanity.” Jasuká is in ritual language also the name of the woman, the female headdress and the women’s carrying basket, and “the Creator himself arose from this maternal substance and grew by suckling at her breast.” The higher beings or gods are younger than Jasuká and would have perished long ago without her breast.25

Among the Katxuyana, a force was described that works through the shamans, but usually appears through a supreme shaman and with which one comes into contact by means of hallucinogenic snuff paricá (anadenanthera). The force speaks through flute sounds in a musical language that only shamans can understand.26

The mighty force is predominantly musical.

The audible [. . .] is the tool for achieving mimesis, transformation, and the construction of worlds. Without singing, or at least formalised uttering of words [. . .], such tasks cannot be performed, not even by ingesting psychoactive drugs.27

Music is a means to connect between humans and the beings of the other worlds and permeates humans themselves. For the Marubo it is the essence of humankind, and humankind in its various aspects is music in different forms.28

For almost all Indigenous cultures of the Amazon basin, music is an integral part of rituals, “at which chant-owners must sing and ‘chant-into-being’ the names of all the places, foods and peoples making up the world.”29 Song is important for “musicalising the other,” that is, “enemies, affines, othersʼ spouses, shamanic spirits, and so on” and also representatives of historical change such as missionaries and the Christian God (which adds a new dimension to Christian songs, which “testify that the singer somehow interacted with God”).30

The wild, foreign spirits are often civilized by songs, just like humankind himself, which is gradually developing. The songs often come from animals or spirits, as among the Kisêdjê, for whom “all music is said to be obtained from animals, enemies and monsters rather than from human creativity.”31

Among the Xavante, the songs come to men and women in dreams of dancing ancestors. “Everyone experiences dreams,” whereby the very individual inner experience of the dream is then transferred by means of the outward expression of singing and dancing to various social groups of the community.32

For the Waujá, a song comes from spirits to the men dancing with them, from these to the women dancing with other spirits, who then pass a slightly modified version on to their own spirits; or vice versa from the female to the male side. It is

a single grand cycle of cosmic communication, transmission and transformation of immaterial objects. These objects first leave a spiritual source and then return to the world of the apapaatai [spirits] enriched by human agency, and the process of enriching is itself musical. The precious motifs are embellished by the accompaniment and contextualised by the ritual.33

Music connects people and spirits. “Spirits hear their songs and are attracted by them, wherever the sound source is located. Spirits as non-human entities perceive the sound as humans do.”34 Ritual dance was already in the colonial period and continues to be “the place where the most important shamanic functions are carried out, where people declare themselves to gods and become gods, where inspired words are sung, where warnings of cataclysmic catastrophes are spoken out.”35

While the songs are in principle handed down with a fixed wording, they are in fact always being modified and adapted to new situations, often text elements are brought together like in a bricolage.36

Out of Nothingness and Dream

Some myths explain the origins of all things from a dream that came out of nothingness. The 1921 version of the Huitoto origin myth starts with what is mentioned in the section “Music of the Spheres” as a specific character of Indigenous religious rhetoric—a question: “Fantasy: what was not?” until the Father, “who had or was an illusion, held nothingness with him in a dream.” The word “illusion,” which might also be translated as “the unreal,” fantasy or “in thought,” is also part of the name of the Creator Being, who “came into existence out of nothing, out of a fantasy.”37 It is a creatio ex nihilo, more precisely an auto-creatio ex nihilo, out of nothing or out of chaos. The “Grandmother of the Universe” of the Desana created herself from invisible groups of objects that existed before her: the stools on which shamans sit, the cane frames on which pots are placed, the gourds of coca, the gourds of tapioca, and the cigars like those that the shamans smoke. The grandmother appeared out of nothing, floating on her magic stools wearing the jewelry out of which her house was made. This jewelry was made of quartz, so it was very bright and broke through the otherwise prevailing darkness. To populate the universe, which took the form of a great longhouse, she chewed invisible coca and smoked invisible tobacco, took the chewed coca out of her mouth, and transformed it into the five immortal men made of quartz. She welcomed them as her brothers, but the men answered with respect, calling her “Grandmother.”38

Higher Beings

The term “higher beings” is adopted from Euro-North American religious terminology for lack of a better one to describe beings of other times and worlds in eastern, tropical–subtropical South America. It fits here insofar as mighty, nonhuman beings in the religious geography are usually thought of as residing on a higher level, often in one of the heavens. However, these beings are by no means always powerful gods, they often have a biography of partial failure in spite of all their power (for example, they do not succeed in giving immortality to humans). They are seldom worshiped. The line to spirits who live in part in the sky, but in part also on Earth, in an underwater world, or under the Earth, is fluid.

The beings from mythical times who intervene in our lives today are often ancestral spirits. These are accompanied above all by two other kinds of spirits: culture heroes and masters of the species of animals and plants.

Culture heroes are founding figures who created the current order out of an existing, but still chaotic or antisocial world. They are heroes in the classical antique sense of the word, that is, as beings between humans and the gods. They are not heroes in terms of being warriors in patriotic songs; they are most often cunning or even deceptive in their duel with their enemies. Usually, they vanish again very quickly and live today in a different, mythical time and in a different place, most often in heaven. As early as 1884, the Bakairi reported:

Sun and Moon created the world as it is today, and in doing so they were good to the Bakairi. But then they went away. They left the Bakairi enough fish to eat, climbed a hill, from which they called out once more to the Bakairi, who answered cheerfully, and went on their way. Today, the sun lives in Rio de Janeiro as Emperor Pedro II.39

For reasons that are not entirely clear, this last emperor of Brazil, who was overthrown in 1889 and died in exile in 1891, was long associated by Indigenous peoples in northeastern and central Brazil either with the departed culture hero Sun or his brother Moon. As late as 1963, a Krahô asked an anthropologist for a picture of the emperor, whom he suspected was living in a palace in Rio de Janeiro. Among the Canela Ramkokamekrá (close relatives of the Krahô), the emperor was equated with the culture hero Auké, who had instructed white people on what their duties were toward the Canela Ramkokamekrá, specifically, to support them, an idea that was also formulated in terms of development aid.40

Sometimes “Sun” and “Moon” are twins (which does not necessarily mean that they are heavenly beings; they can also just be names that describe their characters). Sun often sets up political leadership structures that still reference the sun, but in terms of historical, not biological, descent. Moon died and rose again, becoming the founder of shamanism in some mythologies, just as shamans “die” when falling in trance and return to normal life the trance.

Along with this, many animal species and some plant species each have their own “masters” who watch over them. Anyone who wants to hunt these animals or use such plants has to get permission from their masters. It is possible to identify in this concept a mystical ecology in service of the protection of these species. However, this should not be confused with the environmentalism of Europe and North America with which it is sometimes compared. The environmental crisis of the West has led to an increased sensitivity for Indigenous ideas on the natural environment, in which “plants and animals are but people in another dimension of reality. There is no separation between nature and culture.”41 Ultimately, all species are viewed as humans, although one’s own (in our eyes human) species is often highlighted as being the “real humans.” But one should not be misled into speaking of culture–nature relations here, as both sides have their cultures. Rather, it is one of “inter-collective perspectives, taking human and non-human relations seriously.”42

That said, the humanity of animals and many higher beings also means that one can fight with them. People have to interact with the “masters” in some way, just as they have to interact with the leaders of neighboring groups, but that can also mean wrestling with them. The masters should be called before a hunt so that they can consent to having one of their charges killed. An experienced Nadöb hunter from the Rio Negro region assured the author that the master of the wild pigs, a beautiful lady, had fallen in love with him, which meant he could hunt her children. For many Guaraní, the male or female “masters” are the “original” species from a previous world.43

Beginning, End, and New Beginning of the World

The dead in heaven come from a time before the present of the living. The spirits have been referred to as “time travel machines,” or one might also say time travelers.44

Somewhat similar to how many Christian sermons speak of the present day with reference to past events in the Holy Land, Indigenous myths sometimes refer to a mythical land where it all began, but which is also geographically defined. In the Alto Xingu this is Morená, where the Rio Xingu is fed by the waters of several spring rivers. In the Uaupés region (Northwest Amazon), this is Iauretê, a young town at the confluence of several river systems. Also worth mentioning is the “navel of the world” in the Venezuelan Amazon near northwestern Brazil, the mythical place of origin of several Indigenous peoples in Hipana on the rocks of the Rio Atabapo from where they spread through Venezuela and Brazil.45

The beings of an earlier time are not far away in these places. Their world is often located near the village in the deepest jungle, but more precise information is usually lacking—it is more often a different dimension. Their world can bleed into ours: “The world is unstable and shifting, and at any moment it can come to an end, engulfed in flames or burned in a vast sea of flames.” And especially today: “Look how sinful everything is again these days. . . It is time again for a new sea of flames.”46 Or as early as 1965:

Many of us died here of fever. They simply dropped dead, drinking water or talking to friends. [. . .] it is coming to an end for us, it will only take 2 x 13 years. Before that we have to go and live far away from the white people.47

In the Guaraní narrative from 1913, a great flood is mentioned and a house made of boards, both elements that could have been influenced by stories of the great biblical flood. Ñanderuvuçú (Our Great Father), is said to have

came down to earth and said [. . .] “See that you dance, the earth is going to go bad!” [. . .] Now make a house [. . .] out of boards [. . .] And a wife said to her husband: “Climb up on the house [. . .] spread out your arms for the flock of birds. When good birds perch on your body, lift them up to the zenith.” And from then on she struck a dance taquara [a musical instrument made of a long cane] against the house post. [And the man sang a holy song.] And the house moved, the house turned and moved out on top of the water, ascended [. . .] They came to the door of heaven, and behind them came the water as well.48

The order of the world is always precarious; new catastrophes can turn everything on its head. Change is the only constant in this world, and there is no such thing as eternal rest. Tales of new beginnings sometimes begin with a scene that might be termed “postapocalyptic,” the last remnants of the previous world, destroyed by a fire, earthquake, or flood are still floating in the water; and out of these remnants an even newer world can emerge that draws on the memory of the last.49

A frequent motif in myths speaks of the former power of women. It expresses itself, for example, in the fact that they possessed sacred flutes that men were forbidden to see. But then the men stole the flutes and the situation reversed; women are no longer allowed to see the flutes. But this also changes in certain ritual phases: At certain times, the women take over the village square or the front entrance of the long house, and then it can also happen that they see the sacred flutes without sanction. Ultimately, the corresponding myths and rituals are more about pointed negotiations on different possibilities for living together, although access to the sacred flutes always remains a privilege of men.

The different annual phases are sometimes associated with different levels of influence of one gender or the other, which is reflected in rituals in which one or the other gender is more prominent.50

The Balanced Middle

Myths and rituals in which myths are referred to often showcase various extremes, such as a separation of men from women: The men get lost in the jungle and become wild pigs; the women remain alone in the village and fall into ecstatic dances. Or first there is too little night, so that people cannot sleep enough; then people get the full night from a mythical animal, but are too careless with this new treasure, so a tremendous darkness spreads. So the day has to be reinstated, which is done with the help of animals singing one after the other at different times in the morning, bringing order to the course of the day.51 It would of course be nonsense to see the behavior of the people in these myths as a model for correct behavior (just as the amorous escapades of Zeus and the vicious reprisals of his wife against his lovers have little to do with what the ancient Greeks might have considered an ideal marriage). Rather, they are chilling examples of where self-indulgence in one direction or the other can lead.

Sometimes, a tragic historical situation prevents a return to a balance of the extremes. A story told in 1968 by the Nadöb do Rio Uneiuxi describes the fate of a young man who was taken downstream to do forced labor. In the city of Manaus, he flees to the top of a high-rise, just as shamans climb tall trees in order to fly from there to heaven. However, he eventually chooses to jump into the river and swims back into the jungle. His captors send a large dog after him, which transforms into a giant jaguar. The man convinces the jaguar that they are relatives (these Nadöb consider themselves relatives of the jaguar), and the jaguar goes its way. A gorilla who enjoys torturing people (a reference to the military of the dictatorship period nicknamed “Gorillas”) wants to catch him, but the man kills it. Now he wanders ever deeper into the jungle, gets lost, and eats a poisonous fruit. The fruit, his desperation and the jungle that closes in on him transform him into a wild pig. He joins a herd of wild pigs and marries two wild sows. Years later, after his wild pig children have grown up, he moves with the whole herd to his former human family so that the two families can meet. But this does not work; the humans no longer recognize him and shoot the whole herd of pigs. His former human wife distributes the meat, and so, he is eaten by his former human family: The narrator’s concluding words “he is finally home again” are laced with bitter irony.52

At first, this sounds like a fantastic horror story, but it is more than that. On the one hand, it describes in mythopoetic form the horrors of the time up to the 1960s, when Indigenous people hunted other Indigenous people in the service of non-Indigenous patrons. However, it also shows the difficulty of finding an acceptable middle ground between different worlds. If the young man had flown from the high-rise into the sky like a modern shaman, he would have been saved but without a family. The fact that he returns to the forest instead, reconnects with his old relative, the jaguar, and kills a scary monster sent by the patrons makes it possible for him to return to a family life in which he is initially happy. But that is his undoing: His family cannot be human anymore. Separation from humans is radical and ends in tragic death at the hands of humans. It is not only the different cultures of his Indigenous village, the big city, and the jungle of the wild pigs but also the incompatible worlds of humans, animals, and monsters.

Often, one speaks of “perspectivism” in this situation, that is, about the different perspectives of humans on the one hand and animals on the other. The examples given often refer to wild pigs, which have a different, inverted perspective on the world than humans do.53

Yet, stories such as the one reproduced here are less about the different perspectives of humans and animals, but rather about the tragedy that Indigenous peoples have not found a place in society that dominates them and that their world has been torn to pieces, so much so that the unity of humanity and cosmos (so nostalgically projected into the past) can no longer be recreated. In other cases, it is more of a parody: The wild pigs, for example, are described as human caricatures and do everything backward. In most of these descriptions, it is ultimately about a balanced, regular, middle ground that can hardly be realized.

This also applies to geography. In the mythology of the Kamaiurá it is told how the curassow is said to bring the rivers from the already mentioned spring of world history (the confluence of several smaller rivers into the Rio Xingu in Morená) into the world. But the currassow is a chicken-like bird. It zigs and it zags; and just like the curassow, so do the rivers zig and zag instead of flowing neatly and geometrically.54 Geometric order can only be created in the painting of household objects, masks and bodies. In the 1970s, Asurini do Xingu women painted their bodies with geometric patterns, which, together with the principle of life, form the living element of a being. The establishment of a geometric ordering of life by the women painters gives them and their art “a status similar – in the ranking of ideals of their group – to mythology and ritual, thus featuring their position beside that of the shaman.”55

It remains to be seen whether this cosmic geography will stand up to modern knowledge about the cosmos, but in Europe modern cosmology has not completely supplanted spiritual talk about heaven either. For the time being, many Indigenous people believe in different layered heavens and in one or more underworlds. The Canela Ramkokamekrá speak of a world tree, a palm tree (probably Burití, Mauritia flexuosa) that connects the various horizontal spheres: the underworld, the sphere of clouds, and several heavenly spheres, and in between, in the balanced middle, Earth.

Here, beside those creatures that can be seen with the naked eye, live spirits of the dead, some of whom were relatives and ancestors in their lifetime and are therefore friendly and some of whom were members of other peoples and are therefore hostile. Spirits of the dead live in the underworld as well; the spirits of the drowned mainly in the underworld river, from which the waters of the earth are fed by springs. In the underworld lives an underworld bird that pecks at the roots of the world tree until one day the world will collapse. This bird is described zoologically as a specific owl species that likes to nest in armadillo burrows—with its deep tunnels a link between the Earth and the underworld.56

The Complexity of Humanity

Instability is an important aspect of humanity and human spirituality. Unlike Christians with their one soul, the un-Christianized Indigenous people are a complex meeting point of a number of different “souls.” It is a question of interpretation whether these souls are to be understood as aspects within an individual or as psychological states. In some cases at least, an extremely differentiated psychology can be identified in this concept: “psychological concepts for psychic phenomena” such as will, knowledge, mood, esprit, and vitality.57 Sometimes, it is best to speak of aspects, for example when the Marubo list an almost infinite number of names translated as “souls”: “the soul double of the eye” (in reference to one’s image mirrored in the eye of the one opposite), “the core of thought,” “left-side soul,” “right-side soul,” “the soul or animal-double of urine,” “the soul or animal-double of excrement,” and many more, not all of which can be found in every human being. These aspects are located in the bodies, images, or duplicates of animals walking on the ground on the left side of the body predominantly and birds on the right side.58

Compared to such complex psychologies, the division of the human spirit into two souls appears downright simplistic. But this latter concept tends often to be a simple summary of the essential in which psychological differentiation is not seen in terms of a catalog of many different souls. Among the Zo’é, two shadow souls leave a person after their death: The good one goes to heaven to meet the creator deity, the bad one stays on Earth “to harm the bereaved.”59 The Guaraní distinguish between two “word-souls,” that is, souls that are also forms of language, one called “my word am I” and an “animal” soul, which also has to do with language but has not risen to become higher knowledge. This could perhaps be understood as it is among the Kamaiurá (close cultural and linguistic relatives of the Guaraní), where the spiritual inner world of humans is made up of well-thought-out language and melodies on one side, and on the other of little or ill-considered language and confused noise.60

With a person’s death, the spiritual components disperse and go their different ways just like the body does. The path of a “dead soul” or, more precisely, a part of the complexity that was an individual in lifetime to a realm of the dead or the afterlife is often described in greater detail. This can be seen as a homecoming: The deceased returns to the deceased elders of their family and is received by them with rituals reminiscent of the ritual initiation of a young person into the community of adults.61 In the heavenly afterlife,

the deceased keep their jewelry, which they never take off. [. . .] There is no forest there, everything is clean and smooth. The day and the night are reversed. The broken arrows buried with the deceased are whole again there.62

Yet some are shot in the eternal war against murderous heavenly birds who want to eat the souls of the dead and bestow upon them a final end, nothingness. Such a final end does not threaten the world, which emerges again and again from cosmic catastrophes: The dead kill numerous birds, but dare not attack the great harpy, because the sky would collapse without it.63 That would be the end of everything.


A comparison of the body art of peoples of the Northern Jê language family and the Asuriní do Xingu (Tupí-Tenethára language family) reveals that the former use it for the expression of social relationships (such as age group and moiety), while the latter use it to visualize relationships to nature and cosmology.64 This corresponds to the rituals that provide the core impetus for the painting of bodies. In the case of the central and eastern Brazilian Jê peoples, social groups and their complex relationships are at the center of most rituals, while neighboring peoples are more clearly concerned with relationships to the extra-human.

The big public rituals of the Jê peoples are particularly impressive. And of course, religion plays a role in them in addition to the theatrical representation of social relationships, but this is not as conspicuous. Among the Karajá, (linguistically related to the Jê), the various groups of dancers bear the names of animals from which the village population has evolved; the members of the groups are the direct human descendants of these animals.65

In the Canela Ramkokamekrá log races, the runners—men and women—carry burití palm logs. This is no competitive event, but intended to support the course of the world, that is, the change of dry and rainy seasons. The races differ according to the season: In the dry season they are happy events celebrating the abundance of food; in the rainy season, by contrast, they set a counterpoint to the “sadness” of food shortages and plagues of mosquitos.66

In the Alto Xingu region, the beginning of the dry season—heralded by the appearance of the Pleiades—marks the beginning of a phase of rituals that end as the rainy season approaches. These rituals bring together residents of different villages and povos, who can travel more easily in the dry season, and are among other things an opportunity to initiate inter-povos marriages.67 In the rainy season, women take on a greater role in a ritual that celebrates the power of women and a myth in which the men became wild pigs and disappear into the forest, leaving the women dancing ecstatically around the world.68 In day-to-day life in the 21st century, this is also the time when women are animated to poke fun at men, exposing their stupidity, sometimes taunting them at the door of the spirit house, access to which is strictly forbidden to them, joking about the men working there with the sacred flutes, which women are also (in principle) strictly forbidden to see.

The author noted that among the Kamaiurá, during a ritual phase linked to a myth of a young man revolting against the chief, the chief was in a demonstratively bad mood. Everyone knows very well that the myths are old stories and that a lot has changed, but in the rituals, these stories are reactivated and rub off on everyday life.


“Shamanism” is a collective term that might be translated—tongue in cheek—as “something like religion, but not Christianity, Islam or anything like that, but ancient, and of course in harmony with nature or something like that.” The term became popular in the 1970s under the influence of the New Age movement, which no longer sought salvation in universalist Christianity but in no less universalist models fed from any number of different religions and did not shy away from applying a concept at home in Siberia to the religious activities of South American healers. Since then, non-Indigenous seekers of salvation have often found what they are looking for in Brazilian Indigenous religious systems. Of course, these were never completely isolated from the outside world and have always been open to new interpretations. One characteristic of the exchange of knowledge between our world and other worlds and the healing methods based on this knowledge has always been openness to the novel.69

The umbrella term “shaman” subsumes under it a wide variety of healers, masters of ceremonies, friends and enemies of other worldly beings, wise old men and women, story tellers, and so on. The term pajé, adopted from the Caribbean family of languages into the Tupí languages and from there into Brazilian Portuguese, might be more appropriate. This term refers to a healer who connects with spirits, usually by means of a tobacco-induced delirium, hears their voices, and speaks with their voices. The healer blows tobacco smoke over those seeking healing and advice, he brushes the body of the sick using a specific technique. In Indigenous communities, the healer sometimes finds an object in the body—often an arrow—that has caused the illness and extracts it. Up until the 1970s, scholars usually dismissed the presentation of the extracted object as simple sleight of hand; it is now more often the case and in the spirit of Indigenous healing process that it is described as a real or imagined representation of something invisible, ultimately impalpable, evil assailing a patient.

The pajé can also be found in new Brazilian religions and older, Indigenous-influenced cults. In the latter case, Indigenous pajé are often called to provide ritual assistance. But the communication goes in two ways, and the pajés take their experience in these cults home with them.

All that said, the term “shaman” became the established international term instead of pajé. Most scholars have resigned themselves to this fact long ago and speak of “shamans,” which also allows for the inclusion of other types of healers and sages. The task of the shaman is “to maintain the flow of generative energy”—the aforementioned energy flow—“fomenting reciprocity among all forms of life.” The shaman is “neither priest nor physician; he is a diplomat in constant dialogue with the spirit realm, with all the responsibilities of a nuclear engineer who must, if necessary, enter the heart of the reactor and reprogram the world.”70

Often the focus is less on naturopathic knowledge than it is on experience in dealing with psychological problems. At the beginning of a shaman’s career, there is often a serious illness, overcome with the help of spirits, most often ancestral spirits, with whom the shaman-to-be comes into closer contact to in turn become an expert on their worlds. Sometimes, the young shaman undertakes journeys to the land of the spirits or to one of several heavens, but often enough these young shamans do not need to go to the spirits, the spirits come to them and speak out of their mouths. A special ability of the shaman is often that they can see spirits behind other manifestations of nature.

In some Indigenous cultures (but by no means in all, most notably in the western Amazon region), hallucinogens (or entheogens, the divine in humanity, as they are also called with an emphatically positive note) help the shaman to do so. Various alkaloid-containing parts of the liane caapi (Banisteriopsis caapi, usually called ayahuasca in Spanish-speaking countries) or yopo (from the seeds and bark of an Anadenanthera species) are most frequently used to make a kind of potion or elixir.71 In some povos, these devices are part of everyday life for most, but shamans prefer using them and have the most experience with them.

The point is not only one of recognizing the reality behind deceptive appearances but also about interpreting dream visions and sometimes overcoming them. Initiating young people into the adult world may also involve the initiate, whose pupils have been dilated by a hallucinogen and who now sees a tree falling toward them, realizing that what appears to be a tree is just a stick held in front of their face. One becomes an adult when one recognizes the illusion, when thinking and knowledge triumphs over what one is being led to believe.72 This means in turn that it is not about submerging oneself in a drug-induced trance but about intelligently weighing reality, hidden reality, and illusion.

The training of a shaman with an experienced master is often lengthy and expensive and often enough associated with severe psychological crises, which is often enough a significant deterrent, so that there are not always enough aspirants in smaller communities, which therefore suffer under a lack of experienced shamans.

In the wake of the New Age movement, many non-Indigenous people have developed a great interest in shamanism, and a tourism industry has emerged for seekers of shamanic knowledge, shamanic powers and hallucinogens. Yet, any form of serious initiation is usually derailed by the lack of the necessary time, which is longer than a two-week vacation, or the lack of financial means, which exceed the budget of the average globetrotter. A shamanism light adapted to the needs of non-Indigenous seekers has developed and can become a source of income for Indigenous peoples but tends to be rejected by them as a gimmick for fools.

The difference between the use of hallucinogens for gaining shamanic insights or for worldly distraction can often be found in the different understanding of sight and sound. In the non-Indigenous cultures of European origin, sight as a source of understanding often takes precedence (think of expressions like “I see” or “insight”), whereas in Indigenous cultures of Brazil, hearing often takes precedence instead. In Indigenous cultures of Amazonia, “world hearing” is even more important than “world view.”73 A hierarchy of importance of the different senses was also established, hearing having the greatest importance: One who hears well knows and is wise, even if under the influence of hallucinogens, and optical visions temporarily push seeing into the foreground.74

What matters most to a shaman is their own world: their own group, their own village, or their own longhouse or family. They are led already in their early training by their ancestors. They work with the spirits of these ancestors in the fight against evil alien spirits. Rarely will a shaman be called upon by outsiders to help, with the exception being some neo-religious cults or movements such as the Santo Daime. Should a traditional shaman start to work elsewhere, they often awake suspicion; are they in fact looking to do harm to someone? Shamans need to be paid, even by friends and relatives. The author witnessed the initiation of a shaman during his time living with the Kamaiurá. The teacher suddenly dropped to the ground, rolling around with (feigned) convulsions, and the initiate had to heal him. This the latter did successfully, but his thus-cured teacher jumped up and berated him: “You forgot to ask for your payment!” This payment ensures that the work of the shaman is driven by a healthy pursuit of profit and not by malice.

Should suspicions of malice prove to be true, the shaman becomes a monster that has to be killed. In one case, which this author observed in disbelief, a man died too young. Responsible for the death was, it turned out, a shaman in a distant village, and he was turned by one the shaman of the village into an ugly, one-legged beast, which was his true form as a result of his malice. Driven by unfathomable hatred and the pain of his swollen penis—one result of the magical countermeasure—he came hobbling out of the bush into his victim’s village, toward the spirit hut where the masks are kept under control. He may have been intending to free them and set them on the people of the village (who saw him, the author, and his companion alone were, as non-Indigenous outsiders, blind to his presence). People drove him away by shooting into the bush. The fact that this killer had only one leg is reminiscent of the Brazilian bush spirit Curupira, even if this spirit is more a part of non-Indigenous folklore. That might possibly be why he was seen in this form: He was “not one of us” but an outsider, a non-Indigenous person. In any case, the counterspell had brought his deep malice to the surface and transformed him into a stranger. The father of the slain young man thought he recognized the unhuman killer in the author, whom he found in the bush, wearing Western clothes and acting oddly, like a non-Indigenous person, but this accusation was rebuffed by the initiator of the spiritual countermeasures against the killer by pointing out my own two legs (rather than the one leg of the actual killer).75

In such cases, it is the shaman’s job to dissipate such suspicions and restore calm by identifying the true (but often distant and out of reach) culprit.

Sorcery beliefs may be currently disruptive of tribal and village integration, but they maintain a vital social function in terms of the needs of a society undergoing fractionation [. . .]. These are beliefs that explain human malice and suffering and offer techniques for defense against them.76

Shamans are not sacrosanct. Rather, criticism of them is part of everyday life, not least because of the high fees they demand—ironically enough, proof of the fact that they are not acting out of malice but out of understandable profit motives. They are at times also accused of not removing the harmful object that caused disease in the body but of putting something in their mouths before the healing session and then revealing the object after pretending to remove it from the sick body. That said, healers often do admit that the object is more of a visual representation of something that is incomprehensible anyway.

Evil shamans, called “workers of death” by the Karajá, visit cemeteries in the midday heat when one usually stays in the cool shade of the house, hide at night in the thickest jungle with their magical objects, and gloat over the suffering of their victims as they fade away and die. Irresponsible people seek the help of these dangerous beings to which they submit.77

People often regret that shamans in the 21st century are not as powerful as they used to be. This is reminiscent of the more general statement (often heard elsewhere as well) that people are no longer religious. A missionary reporting on the Palikur in the 18th century wrote that the pyayaes (a variation of pajé) had all been killed or exiled. At the beginning of the 20th century, again among the Palikur, talk was of the “great sorcerers of old, compared to whom today's sorcerers are sorry-looking bunglers.”78 Among the Kamaiurá, the author witnessed certain obsequies that required a drum. In the past, as an old shaman remembered precisely, this drum had to made out of a hollow tree trunk in which a shaman had lived under water for several days. But in the 21st century, neither such a shaman nor such a tree trunk could be found anymore. Bygone were the days of such great old shamans, but that did not matter: An empty drum of petrol was used, the tin drum sound of which was generally felt to be very appropriate for the ritual.79

(English translation of this text: Andreas Hemming)

Review of the Literature

Discussions on Brazilian Amerindian religions mainly refer to the divergent ways of understanding and describing them: Either from the theoretical viewpoint called “Amerindian perspectivism” or focusing on field research. The first is represented mainly by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, a Brazilian anthropologist who refreshed French structuralism and now turns toward an understanding of Indigenous mythology and ritual as an ecologist alternative.80 The critics of this theoretical approach would like a closer look on the Indigenous realities which, they think, cannot be understood without taking into account the actual economic and political problems. They also put an accent on regional and ethnical differences which they do not find sufficiently taken into account in the general theory of “Amerindian perspectivism.”81

In some ways similar to “Amerindian perspectivism,” but closer to ethnographic descriptions, and more conscious of the anthropologist’s own theoretical bases, is the “animism” approach of Philippe Descola, who deliberately takes up again this name of a notion of the 19th century but gives a new sense to it. For Descola, the radical separation Western philosophy establishes between “nature” and “culture” is not helpful if we want to understand the South American Indian views of the world. The Indigenous “animism” sees different external appearances, for instance, a human body and a jaguar body but below the surfaces, the qualities of life are being shared by many souls, be they human or not.82

“Primary Sources”

In a treatise about religions, one might expect to find a mention of “primary sources” like the Bible, the Koran, or the Upanishads. But South American Indigenous traditions were typically transmitted orally and not through written sources. There are myths and other sacred texts, for instance, songs to be sung or formulas to be pronounced during rituals that should not be changed. But in fact, they are subject to individual creativity and may change with new situations. This could be compared not to the Bible, but to its interpretation in sermons, which keep to the sense of the holy texts, or even evoke them, but might change according to new contexts.

There are some texts that are quoted frequently, like the one first published by Nimuendajú (in Guaraní and German, 1914) and are now integrated in a new Indigenous literature or texts published by Indigenous writers.83 But these texts, although originating from a ritual context and referring to religious themes, now constitute a new Indigenous literature not unrelated but no more fixed to ritual or religious teaching, and to be read mainly online. The new Indigenous literature could be understood either as a rupture with the traditional cultures (if we take into account their new media) or as a return to primary mythical sources (if we refer to their basic content).84

In fact, Indigenous authors refer to traditions considered primary but take the liberty of transforming them into literary works. Yet, this is not really new, nor does it signify a complete rupture with the spirit of the old texts. For these also were constantly reinvented, submitted to reformulation. One might put it in a paradoxical way: Change is the constancy of Indigenous religions.

Further Reading

  • Brown, Michael F. “Beyond Resistance: Comparative Study of Utopian Renewal in Amazonia.” In Amazonian Indians from Prehistory to the Present. Edited by Anna Roosevelt, 287–311. Tucson and London: University of Arizona Press, 1994.
  • Costa, Luiz, and Carlos Fausto. “The Enemy, the Unwilling Guest and the Jaguar Host: An Amazonian Story.” L’Homme 231/232 (Juillet/Décembre 2019): 195–226.
  • Hill, Jonathan D., and Jean-Pierre Chaumeil, eds. Burst of Breath: Indigenous Ritual Wind Instruments in Lowland South America. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2011.
  • Hugh-Jones, Stephen. “Monteverdi’s Unruly Women and Their Amazonian Sisters.” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews,46, no. 1 (February 2021): 1–21.
  • Lagrou, Elsje Maria. “Cashinahua Cosmovision: A Perspectival Approach to Identity and Alterity.” Thesis, University of St. Andrews, 1998.
  • Mindlin, Betty, and Indigenous Storytellers. Barbecued Husbands and Other Stories from the Amazon. London and New York: Verso, 2002.
  • Pawlik, Alice, and Mona Suhrbier, eds. Healing: Life in Balance. (Weltkulturen Museum) Bielefeld, Germany and New York: Kerber, 2022.
  • Roe, Peter G. The Cosmic Zygote: Cosmology in the Amazon Basin. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1982.
  • Sá, Lúcia. Rain Forest Literatures: Amazonian Texts and Latin American Culture. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
  • Santos Granero, Fernando. “Power, Ideology and the Ritual of Production in Lowland South America.” Man, New Series 21, no. 4 (December 1986): 657–679.
  • Sullivan, Lawrence Eugene. Icanchu’s Drum: An Orientation to Meaning in South American Religions. New York: Macmillan, 1990.
  • Villas Boas, Claudio, and Villas Boas, Orlando. Xingu: The Indians, Their Myths (New ed.). London: Souvenir Press, 2009.
  • Werlang, Guilherme. Emerging Peoples: Amazon Music, Marubo Myths. Berlin: LIT, 2018.
  • Whitehead, Neil L., and Robin Wright, eds. In Darkness and Secrecy: The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and Witchcraft in Amazonia. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2004.
  • Wright, Robin M. Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon. Omaha: University of Nebraska Press, 2013.
  • Wright, Robin M.South American Indians: Indians of the Northwest Amazon.” Encyclopedia of Religion, 2005.


  • 1. IBGE, Censo Demográfico 2010: Notícias: Censo 2010:População Indígena é de 896,9 Mil, Tem 305 Etnias e Fala 274 Idiomas. Estimates for 2021 are from Marta Azevedo, former director of the agency for the protection of Indigenous interests FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio), published on April 23, 2021. A new national census is to be carried out later on in the 1920s.

  • 2. For more detailed demographic informations on each indigenous nation, see Instituto Socioambiental, Povos Indígenas do Brasil. No general rule exists on the on the orthography of Indigenous ethnonymes in Brazil and in most cases a number of variants exist. In this article, the orthography used is from Povos Indígenas no Brasil, 2022, which is the one most used in Brazil; but as this website does not include a systematic overview of linguistic families, the names of these are adopted from Ernst Kausen, Die Sprachfamilien der Welt, vol. 2 (Hamburg, Germany: Helmut Buske, 2014). In some cases, this may lead to contradictions between ethnonymes and names of linguistic families.

  • 3. For an overview of ethnic groups in South America including estimates on their population see: María Susana Cipolletti, Kosmospfade: Schamanismus und Religiöse Auffassungen der Indianer Südamerikas, Studia Instituti Anthropos, 59 (Baden-Baden, Germany: Academia, 2019), 269–275, for Brazil and neighboring regions see also Mark Münzel, “Vom Nichts zum Traum,” in Indigene Religionen Südamerikas (Stuttgart, Germany: W. Kohlhammer), 121–125.

  • 4. Cipolletti, Kosmospfade, provides an integrated overview.

  • 5. Beatriz Caiuby Labate and Gustavo Pacheco, “The Historical Origins of Santo Daime,” in The Internationalization of Ayahuasca, ed. Labate and Henrik Jungaberle (Zürich, Switzerland and Berlin, Germany: LIT, 2011), 7184; and Beatrix Caiuby Labate and Tiago Coutinho, “O Meu Avô Deu a Ayahuasca para o Mestre Irineu,” Revista de Antropologia 57, no. 2 (2014): 215–250. For a self-description of a branch of Santo Daime.

  • 6. For information on Indigenous Pentecostals, see Graciela Chamorro, “Religion among Guaraní-Speaking Groups in Brazil,” in Handbook of Contemporary Religions in Brazil, Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religions (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017), 56–58. New ecstatic religions in Brazil: see Bettina E. Schmidt, Spirits and Trance in Brazil—An Anthropology of Religious Experience (London: Bloomsbury, 2016).

  • 7. João Américo Peret, Mitos e Lendas Karajá (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: J. A. Peret, 1979), 1920. “Sorcerer of fire” or of “the village” is from a song in honor of the Creator Kananciué, in part in Portuguese in part Karajá sung by the Amazonian Musical group Carrapicho from Manaus. Karajá: Araguaia River and Bananal isle, language family Makro-Jê.

  • 8. On the interpretation of Tupá as Jupiter and the translation by missionaries as “God”: Mark Münzel, “O Irmão Selvagem de Júpiter,” Lusorama 6 (November 1987): 31–42. Kamaiurá: Alto Xingu, language family Tupí-Guaraní.

  • 9. Mark Münzel, ed., Erzählungen der Kamayurá, Alto Xingú, Brasilien, vol. 30, Studien zur Kulturkunde (Wiesbaden, Germany: Franz Steiner, 1973), 130–131, 142–143. Kamaiurá: Alto Xingu, language family Tupí-Guaraní.

  • 10. Robert F. Murphy, Mundurucú Religion (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1958), University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, 49, no. 1, 80–91.

  • 11. Münzel, ed., Erzählungen der Kamayurá, 20.

  • 12. Gilton Mendes Santos and Carlos Machado Dias Jr., “Ciência da Floresta: Por uma Antropologia No Plural, Simétrica e Cruzada,” Revista de Antropologia 52, no. 1 (2009): 137–160.

  • 13. Hermann Trimborn, “Die Altamerikanischen Literaturen,” in Die Literaturen der Welt in ihrer mündlichen und schriftlichen Überlieferung, ed. W. von Einsiedel (Zürich: Kindler, 1964), 11–71.

  • 14. Aurore Monod-Becquelin, “Quelques Remarques sur la Tradition Orale Amérindienne,” Cahiers de Littérature Orale 6 (1971): 201, as interpreted by Mark Münzel in: Birgit Scharlau and Mark Münzel, Qellqay (Frankfurt and New York: Campus, 1986), 198.

  • 15. For instance, in the Kagwahiva language (Kawahib family of the Tupí-Guaraní, municipio Humaitá, Amazonas state); see Waud H. Kracke, “Dream as Deceit, Dream as Truth: The Grammar of Telling Dreams,” Anthropological Linguistics 51, no. 1 (January 2009): 64–77. And in Kaingang (Southern Brazil, language family Southern Jê): Márcia Nascimento, Tempo, Modo, Aspecto e Evidencialidade em Kaingang (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: UFRJ, 2013). In Kamaiurá: Aisanain Páltu Kamaiwrá, Uma Análise Linguístico-Antropológica de Exemplares de Dois Gêneros Discursivos Kamaiurá, Programa de Pós-graduação em Linguística—PPGL (Brasília, Brazil: Universidade de Brasília, 2010).

  • 16. Konrad Theodor Preuss, Religion und Mythologie der Uitoto, vol. 10, 11, Quellen der Religionsgeschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1921/1923). Spanish translation: Religión y Mitología de los Uitotos (Bogotá, Colombia: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 1994). Lino Tagliani, Mitología y Cultura Huitoto, Colección 50 años, 50 (Quito, Ecuador: Cicame, 1992); and Fernando Urbina Rangel, Las Palabras del Origen: Breve Compendio de la Mitología de los Uitotos (Bogotá, Colombia: Ministerio de Cultura, 2010). Huitoto (or Uitoto or Witoto): in Colombia and Peru, but Brazilian Indigenous groups with a similar culture are among their neighbors.

  • 17. See Umúsin Panlõn Kumu and Tolamãn Kenhíri, Antes o Mundo Não Existia—A Mitología Heróica dos Índios Desâna (São Paulo, Brazil: Livraria Cultura Editora, 1980) (mitologia heróica in the title is a reference to a classical study of Brazilian mythology by Egon Schaden, unmentioned elsewhere in the volume, A Mitologia Heróica de Tribos Indígenas do Brasil: Ensaio Etno-Sociológico (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Ministério de Educação e Cultura, 1959)); and Gabriel dos Santos Gentil, Mito Tukano—Quatro Tempos de Antiguidades (Frauenfeld, Switzerland: Waldgut, 2000), Tomo I. Tukano and Desana: closely related ethnic groups in the Rio Negro region in northwestern Brazilian Amazon and neighboring Columbia, language family Eastern Tukano.

  • 18. 100 kixti (estórias) tukano, coordinated by Eduardo Lagório (Brasília: Funai), 1983, 110–111. Although the title indicates “tukano,” in the text, it is mentioned that these people call themselves Yepá Maxsã, that is, Makuna. These are Southern Tukano in the Uaupés region; Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, Amazonian Cosmos: The Sexual and Religious Symbolism of the Tukano Indians (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press), 80.

  • 19. Suruí Paiter (Rondônia and Mato Grosso, Tupí-Mondé language family): Betty Mindlin e narradores indígenas, Moqueca de Maridos: Mitos Eróticos, 2nd ed. (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Rosa dos Tempos, 1997), 251–252. Kuikuro (Alto Xingu region, language family Southern Carib): José Cândido M. Carvalho, Relações Entre os Índios do Alto Xingu e a Fauna Regional, Publicações Avulsas do Museu Nacional (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Museu Nacional, 1951), 16–25.

  • 20. Curt Nimuendajú Unkel, “Die Sagen von der Erschaffung und Vernichtung der Welt als Grundlagen der Religion der Apapokúva-Guaraní,” Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 46 (1914): 285, 401–403. Lúcia Sá resumes the tales and translates short extracts from the Brazilian translation into English: Rain Forest Literatures: Amazonian Texts and Latin American Culture (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 104–107. These tales are from the Ñandéva, a Guaraní nation in Brazil. For various reasons for migrations, see Bartomeu Meliá, “La Tierra sin Mal de los Guaraní: Economía y Profecía,” Suplemento Antropológico 22, no. 2 (1987): 81–97; see also Isaac Díaz-Ambrona Moreno, Cómo Influye el Opy en la Construcción de la Identidad Mbyá (Asunción, Paraguay: CEADUC, 2011), 181–186; and Maria Inês Ladeira, “Yvy Marãey,” Suplemento Antropológico XXXIV, no. 2 (1999): 81–100. Guaraní: several ethnic groups in southern Brazil, Paraguay, northern Argentina, and eastern Bolivia; see Chamorro, “Religion among Guaraní-Speaking,” 47–59.

  • 21. Bettina Schmidt, Caribbean Diaspora in the USA: Diversity of Caribbean Religions in New York City (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008), 43.

  • 22. As developed, for example, by Feliciano Lana; see Mona Suhrbier and Mark Münzel, “The Unesase Order of Things, According to Feliciano Lana,” in Healing: Life in Balance, ed. Alice Pawlik and Mona Suhrbier (Frankfurt and New York: Kerber, 2022), 34–45. For Indigenous art developed out of Brazilian school projects see Sebastian Hainsch, Zeichnungen Indigener Künstler Brasiliens, 2013. For other indigenous artists see for instance, Jaida Esbell, Duhigó, Daiara Tukano, Denilson Baniwa, and the exhibition Duhigó, 2020 (Exposição “Nipetirã” é recorde de visitação e terá catálogo virtual).

  • 23. So the holders of wisdom Maruá* und Makur* (names abbreviated for religious reasons of the Kamaiurá) to the author in 1967 and 1989; an image of the carved heads decorate the cover of Indigene Religionen Südamerikas, ed. Mark Münzel. “Universal Knowledge”: My free translation from the Kamaiurá from a conversation in Portuguese and Kamaiurá between Orlando Villas Bôas and Mr. Arru in the 1960s, the latter a widely recognized authority on the supernatural published in Orlando Villas Bôas, A Arte dos Pajés (São Paulo, Brazil: Globo, 2000), 90. Villas Bôas uses the Portuguese translation sabedoria (wisdom, knowledge) for the Kamaiurá aquarrpáp, which might also be translated as “total knowledge of everything.”

  • 24. See Luis Cayón, “Je, la Fuerza de la Creación,” in Imani Mundo: Estudios en la Amazonia Colombiana, ed. Carlos E. Franky and Carlos G. Zárate (Bogotá, Colombia: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2001), 511–512, on the Makuna, a Colombian ethnic group of the Eastern Tukano, which can also be found in Brazil.

  • 25. Quotations: Egon Schaden, Aspectos Fundamentais da Cultura Guaraní (São Paulo, Brazil: Difusão Européia do Livro, 1962), 113–114; Chamorro and Isabelle Combès, “Tekó Katú (Das gute Leben) - Versuch über die Religion der Kaiowá, Mbyá, Ñandéva (Guaraní) und Paī-Tavyterã,” in Indigene Religionen, ed. Münzel (Stuttgart, Germany: W. Kohlhammer, 2021), 144, 145; León Cadogan, “Ywyra Ñe’ery,” Suplemento Antropológico 5, no. 12 (1970): 30; Graciela Chamorro, “La Buena Palabra: Experiencias y reflexiones religiosas de los grupos guaraníes,” Revista de Indias LXIV, no. 230 (2004): 125; and Bartomeu Meliá, Grünberg Bartomeu, Georg y Friedl Grünberg, and Graciela Chamorro, “Etnografía Guaraní del Paraguay Contemporáneo: Los Paī-Tavyterã,” Suplemento Antropológico XI, no. 1–2 (1976): 228.

  • 26. Protásio Frikel, “Morí—A Festa do Rape,” Boletim do Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi (Belém-Pará-Brasil) n.s., no. 12 (1961), 34; and Bernd Frikel, personal communication, 1968.

  • 27. Bernd Brabec de Mori,, “About Magical Singing, Sonic Perspectives, Ambient Multinatures, and the Conscious Experience,” Indiana 29 (2012): 96. This refers to the Shipibo in the Peruvian Amazon but is also true for most of Indigenous Amazonia in general.

  • 28. Guilherme Werlang da Fonseca Costa Couto, “Emerging Peoples: Marubo Myth-Chants” (PhD diss., University of St. Andrews, 2001). Marubo: Language family Pano, basin of the Rio Javarí in the border region between Brazil and Peru.

  • 29. Jonathan D. Hill, “Signifying Others: The Musical Management of Social Differences in Amazonia,” in Non-Humans in Amerindian South America, ed. Juan Javier Rivera Andía (New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2019), 277–299, 290.

  • 30. Cédric Yvinec, “Inventing a New Verbal Art from Traditional Issues: The Evangelical Songs of the Suruí of Rondônia,” in Non-Humans in Amerindian South America, ed. Ribera Andía and Juan Javier (Suruí, New York, Oxford: Berghahn in Rondônia, language family Tupí-Mondé), 323 and 322. Yvinec adopts the term “musicalising the other” from Hill, “Signifying Others,” 277–299.

  • 31. Anthony Seeger, “Focusing Perspectives and Establishing Boundaries and Power: Why the Suyá/Kïsêdjê Sing for the Whites in the Twenty-first Century,” Ethnomusicology Forum 22, no. 3 (2013): 363; and Bernd Brabec, Jonathan Hill, and Acácio Piedade, eds., The Human and Nonhuman in Lowland South American Indigenous Music, vol. 22 (Taylor & Francis), 362–376. The Kisêdjê (called Suyá in older literature) live in the Northern part of the Parque Nacional do Xingu, language family Northern Jê.

  • 32. Laura Graham, Performing Dreams: Discourses of Immortality among the Xavante of Central Brasil (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 114–116.

  • 33. Acácio Tadeu de Camargo Piedade, “Flutes, Songs and Dreams: Cycles of Creation and Musical Performance among the Wauja of the Upper Xingu (Brazil),” Ethnomusicology Forum 22, no. 3 (2013, The Human and Non-Human): 320–321.

  • 34. Matthias Lewy, “Generating Ontologies of Historical Sound Recordings: Interculturality, Intercollectivity, and Transmutation as Method,” El Oído Pensante 7, no. 1 (2019): 180.

  • 35. Bartomeu Melià, El Guaraní Conquistado y Reducido (Asunción, Paraguy: Centro de Estudios Antropológicos de la Universidad Católica, 1986), 115.

  • 36. As Hans-Rudolf Wicker said of a series of Guaraní religious songs that he collected, Die Guaraní im Tiefland Südamerikas (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 2017), 357.

  • 37. Preuss, Religion und Mythologie, 166, 734.

  • 38. Kumu and Kenhíri, Antes o Mundo Não Existia, 51–52.

  • 39. Karl von den Steinen, Unter den Naturvölkern Zentralbrasiliens (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1894), 380.

  • 40. Steinen, Unter den Naturvölkern, 380; Bakairi: Mato Grosso, language family Southern Carib. Júlio Melatti, César: Mitos Indígenas (Brasília, Brazil: Melatti) 15a aula, 7; Krahô: Tocantins, language Family Northern Jê; and Andreas Kowalski Kapreprek, ʻTu és Quem Sabeʼ: Aukê e o Mito Canela de ʻAjuda aos Índiosʼ (Brasília, Brazil: Paralelo 15, 2008).

  • 41. Wade Davis, “A Thousand Shades of Green,” in Pawlik and Suhrbier, Healing, 56–65, quotation 63.

  • 42. Lewy, “Generating Ontologies,” 188; and Lewy cites Bernd Brabec de Mori, Die Lieder der Richtigen Menschen: Musikalische Kulturanthropologie der Indigenen Bevölkerung im Ucayali-Tal, Westamazonien (Innsbruck, Austria and Esslingen, Germany: Helbing, 2015), 82–86.

  • 43. Chamorro and Combès, “Tekó Katú,” 149.

  • 44. Rafael José de Menezes Bastos, A Musicológica Kamayurá (Florianópolis, Brazil: Editora da UFSC, 1999), 108–125. This can be said of how spirits are perceived among many other groups as well.

  • 45. Iauraetê: Geraldo Andrello, “Histórias Tariano e Tukano: Política e Ritual no Rio Uaupés,” Revista de Antropologia 55, no. 1 (2012): 291–330; and Hipana: María Vutova, Indigene Religionen, 1860.

  • 46. Vutova, “Nabel der Welt,” 28. These are statements from an ethnically mixed community in southern Venezuela in which Indigenous migrants from northern Brazil have been integrated.

  • 47. Jürgen Riester, Die Pauserna-Guarašugʼwä (St. Augustin bei Bonn, Germany: Verlag des Anthropos-Instituts, 1972), 543, 548, a position held by a Guaraní group in Bolivia that has in the meantime disappeared.

  • 48. On the spirits of the Guaraní, see (among a myriad of writings) the classic León Cadogan, “El Concepto Guaraní de ʻAlmaʼ; su Interpretación Semántica,” Folia Linguistica Americana 1, no. 1 (1952): 31–34.

  • 49. Vutova, “Nabel der Welt,” 30.

  • 50. See Ulrike Prinz, ʻDas Jacaré und die Streitbaren Weiberʼ: Poesie und Geschlechterkampf im Östlichen Tiefland Südamerikas (Marburg, Germany: Curupira, 1999).

  • 51. Tale from Floriano Tawe, in Aypapayû’ûm’ûm ekawên: Lendas Mundurukús [for typographic reasons, the swung dash of the Indigenous title is substituted here by the circumflex accent] (Brasília, Brazil: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1979), 79–84; Munduruku: affluents of the Tapajós River, language family Tupí.

  • 52. Mark Münzel, “Nietzsche, un Apóstol Tomás entre los Jabaliés,” Disparates—Revista de Antropología 74, no. 2 (July–December 2019): 37.

  • 53. See here the various publications of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, who among other things, analyzed the studies of Kaj Århem, Makuna: An Amazonian People (Göteborg, Sweden: Göteborg University, 1996); Gerhard Baer, Die Religion der Matsigenka, Ost-Peru (Basel, Switzerland: Wepf, 1984); and Tânia Stolze Lime, “Os Dois e Seu Múltiplo: Reflexões sobre um Perspectivismo em uma Cosmologia Tupi,” Mana 2, no. 2 (1996): 21–47.

  • 54. Erzählungen der Kamayurá, 106–107.

  • 55. Regina Polo Müller, “Tayungava, a Noção de Representação na Arte Gráfica Asurini do Xingu,” in Grafismo Indígena, ed. Lux Vidal (São Paulo, Brazil: Livro Studio Nobel, 1992), 246.

  • 56. Jakob Mehringer and Andreas F. Kowalski (with Jürgen Dieckert), Laufen furs Leben—Ein Besuch Bei den Brasilianischen Canela-Indianern, Schriftenreihe des Landesmuseums für Natur und Mensch Oldenburg 26 (Oldenburg, Germany: Isensee-Verlag), 26–28. Canela Ramokamekrá and C. Apanyekrá: in the southern part of the state of Maranhão, language family Northern Jê.

  • 57. Helmut Schindler, Die Karihona: Eine Caribgruppe Nordwest-Amazoniens (München: Herbert Utz, 2018, quotation 223). Schindler takes his data from among Karihona and attributes it to many other ethnic groups. The Karihona live in the Columbian part of the northwestern Amazon and speak a language belonging to the Carib language family, which is also widespread in Brazil.

  • 58. Guilherme Werlang da Fonseca Costa Couto, “Emerging Peoples: Marubo Myth-Chants” (PhD diss., University of St. Andrews, 2001). Marubo: Language family Pano, Rio Javarí basin in the border region between Brazil and Peru.

  • 59. Klaus-Peter Kästner, Zoé (Berlin: VWB, 2007), 152. Z’oé: in northern Pará, language family Tupí-Guaraní.

  • 60. Mark Münzel, “Indianische Oralkultur der Gegenwart,” in Qellqay: Mündliche Kultur und Schriftkultur Bei Indianern Lateinamerikas, ed. Birgit Scharlau and Mark Münzel (Frankfurt and New York: Campus, 1986), 248–255.

  • 61. Say, for example, the Kuikuro (Alto Xingu, Language family Southern Carib): Robert L. Carneiro, “The Afterworld of the Kuikuru Indians,” in Colloquia in Anthropology vol. 1 (Taos, New Mexico: The Fort Burgwin Research Center, 1977), 315.

  • 62. A Kamaiurá, quoted by Pedro Agostinho, Kwarìp: Mito e Ritual no Alto Xingu (São Paulo, Brazil: E. P. U./EDUSP, 1974), 200–201.

  • 63. Agostinho, Kwarìp, 200–201.

  • 64. Lux Vidal and Regina A. Polo Müller, “Pintura e Adornos Corporais,” in Suma Etnológica Brasileira 3: Arte índia, ed. Berta G. Ribeiro (Petrópolis, Brazil): FINEP, 1986), 140.

  • 65. André Amaral de Toral, Cosmologia e Sociedade Karajá, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Antropologia Social (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, 1992), 125.

  • 66. Mehringer and Kowalski, Laufen furs Leben, 26–39.

  • 67. Agostinho, Kwarìp.

  • 68. Ulrike Prinz, “Spirits, Ritual Staging and the Transformative Power of Music in the Upper Xingu Region,” in Burst of Breath, ed. Jonathan Hill and Jean-Pierre Chaumeil (Lincoln, Nebrasca: Nebraska Press, 2012), 343–381.

  • 69. See Margrit Jütte, “Chiga’s Solar-hair: Yagé Shamanism and the Worldview of the Cofán (A’i),” in Pawlik and Suhrbier, Healing, 126–137.

  • 70. Davis, “Thousand Shades of Green,” 63. This cites the Barasana and the Makuna specifically, but it is also a more general phenomenon. Barasana: Uaupés region in Brazil and Colombia, language family (like the closely related Makuna) Eastern Tukano.

  • 71. See Jütte, “Chiga’s Solar-Hair,” for a critique of shamanism light. Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, “The Cultural Context of an Aboriginal Hallucinogene: Banisteriopsis Caapi,” in Flesh of the Gods: The Ritual Use of Hallucinogens, ed. Peter T. Furst (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1990), 84–113.

  • 72. As the author was told in 1967 and 1968 among the Nadöb in the Rio Negro region. He was assured that this unmasking of illusion was part of the training of shamans among other Indigenous groups in the region as well. Nadöb: Several povos of the Makú linguistic family in Northwest Brazil and adjacent parts of Colombia.

  • 73. Rafael José de Menezes Bastos, “Apùap World Hearing: On the Kamayurá Phono-Auditory System and the Anthropological Concept of Culture,” The World of Music 41, no. 1 (1999): 85–96.

  • 74. Barbara Keifenheim, Wege der Sinne: Wahrnehmung und Kunst Bei den Kashinawa-Indianern Amazoniens (Frankfurt: Campus, 2000).

  • 75. Mark Münzel, “Apenas se Manejan las Pasiones, pero por Fin la Razón y la Armonía Salen Victoriosas: Por Ahora,” in Retórica de los Sentimientos Etnografías Amerindias, ed. Manuel Gutiérrez Estévez and Alejandre Surrallés (Madrid and Frankfurt: Iberoamericana and Vervuert, 2015), 31–36, 41–49; and Mark Münzel, “The Researcher as Shaman,” Anthropological Journal on European Cultures 3, no. 2 (Anthropology and Ethics, coed. Klaus-Peter Koepping, 1994): 133–134. On the malice of raging killers with shamanic powers, see also Neil L. Whitehead, Dark Shamans (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2002).

  • 76. Murphy, Mundurucú Religion, 140.

  • 77. Toral, Cosmologia e Sociedade Karajá, 236–237.

  • 78. Curt Nimuendajú, Die Palikur-Indianer und ihre Nachbarn (Göteborg, Sweden: Kungl. Vetenskaps-och Vitterhets-Samhälles Handlingar, Fjärde Földjen, vol. 31, n. 2, 1926), 90–92. Palikur: In the state of Amapá und in French Guyana, language family Northern Arawak.

  • 79. Münzel, “Apenas,” 33.

  • 80. Viveiro’s fundamental article is: “Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism,” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4, no. 3 (September 1998): 469–488. His ecological turn is expressed in: Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Yuk Hui, “For a Strategic Primitism: A Dialogue between Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Yuk Hui,” Philosophy Today 65, no. 2 (2021): 391–400. For a critical and partly positive discussion, see Ernst Halbmayer (organization): “Debating Animism, Perspectivism and the Construction of Ontologies,” Indiana 29 (2012): 9–169.

  • 81. See Alcida Ramos, “The Politics of Perspectivism,” Annual Review of Anthropology 41 (2012): 481–494. See also Mark Münzel, “The Wild Boar Is Out Again and Knows Better than the Jaguar,” in Non-Humans in Amerindian South America, ed. Juan Javier Rivera Andía (New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2019), 352–364. For a more combative approach, see Carlos Reynoso, (Re)lectura Crítica de la Antropología Perspectivista y de los Giros Ideológicos en la Ciencia Pos-Social (Viveiros de Castro—Philippe Descola—Bruno Latour) (2021 [2016/18]). Oscar Calavia tries to mediate and welcomes “perspectivism,” as long as it is not completely absorbed by the philosophical debate: “Do Perspectivismo Ameríndio ao Índio Real,” Campos—Revista de Antropologia 13, no. 2 (2012): 7–23.

  • 82. Philippe Descola, Beyond Nature and Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013, French original version 2005).

  • 83. For a renewal of the Nimuentdaj’text, see Kaká Werá Jecupé, Tupã Tenondé—A Criação do Universo, da Terra e do Homem Segundo a Tradição Oral Guarani (São Paulo, Brazil: Peirópolis, 2001). See also, for instance, the new and already much cited texts Kumu and Kenhíri, Antes o Mundo Não Existia and Santos Gentil, Mito Tukano mentioned in the section “Myths as a Source” and in endnote 17.

  • 84. An overview published online by various authors, from 2019 (by Aline Maraká) to 2022 (by Jefferson Virgílio, Bibliografia das publicações indígenas do Brasil/Lista Geral de Publicações (ordenada pelo nome do autor).