Music of the Warao [in delta of the river Orinoco], 7-9

pp. 145-147 wisiratu

p. 145

"Barral (1964, 144) ... explains that the word wisiratu is "composed of three words : gu:isi (pain), era (much), and arotu (master), meaning gu:isi-(e)ra-(aro)tu, grand master of pain."

p. 146

"The wisiratu has many roles, as Turrado Moreno (1945, 146-47) writes : ...

a) to remove hebu spirits from the bodies of patients; ...

c) to place yuruma ... within the sanctuary of the Supreme Hebu; ...

p. 147

g) when there is a tempest, ... drive away the clouds by forcefully blowing at them, waving their hands at them, making grimaces at them".


"if his village has a hebu ahanoko (also called kwaihanoko), a temple that houses a sacred kanobo stone (the material representation of a patron supreme spirit or kanobo), he will inherit the important position known as kanobo arima Ė father of the kanobo."

Barral 1964 = Basilio de Barral : Los Indios Guaraunos y su cancianero. Madrid, 1964.

Turrado Moreno 1945 = Angel Turrado Moreno : Etnografi`a de los Indios Guaraunos. Caracas, 1945.

pp. 147-148 myth "The Mother of the Forest and the First Canoe" (quoted from Wilbert 1976, 337-8)

p. 147

"Haburi [the culture hero] invented the dugout canoe, and escaped [from the treacherous frog woman] with his mothers [with whom he committed incest] to the northern world mountain, at the edge of the earth. ... The canoe, however, transformed itself into a giant snake-woman and the paddle into a man. They returned as the cachicamo [tree] (canoe) and the white cachicamo [tree] (paddle), to the center of the earth, where the Warao had since come into existence. The cachicamo woman became Dauarani, the Mother of the Forest. She was the first priest-shaman (wishiratu) on earth. Eventually she departed from earth to take up

p. 148

residence on a world mountain at the end of the universe in the southwest (where her body lives) and in the southeast (where her soul remains). The paddle stayed in the center of the earth with the Warao." ["The frog woman referred to in the narrative is Wau-uta ..., who, before she was changed into a frog, was a female shaman who sang with her rattle" (p. 148).]

p. 148 temptations along path in caelestial journey by initiate to house of Yaukware

"cooked meat,

sensuous women,

bottomless pits,

clashing gates,


p. 155 hebu

"Hebu is everywhere : ... hebu comes from everywhere ... . ...

Hebu illnesses can be inflicted ... by the supreme spirits, the kanobotuma, who live at the cardinal and intercardinal points of the universe ... . ... The disorders they cause are sent via hebutuma, the ancestor spirits who correspond to particular kanobotuma and materialize into or take possession of a particular animal, a breeze {"who maketh his angels winds" (Epistle to the Hebrews 1:7)}, or a noise. ... Thus, to ward off hebu illnesses, the wisiratu priest-shaman must constantly keep the kanobotuma fed ... and once a year must offer yuruma cakes during the nahanamu ritual complex".

pp. 157-159, 162 praesiding by deity of South and by deity of North, over categories of ailments; curing of those ailments

p. 157

"Wilbert (1983, 359) relates fever diseases to the kanobo of the southern world mountain, Karoshima, the toad god. He writes : "the cardinal god of the South, the Toad ... . His special scourges are febrile diseases"".


"Respiratory diseases ... are included in the domain of ... the kanobo of the northern world mountain ... . Wilbert (1983, 360) explains ... : "The god of the North, the owl-face Butterfly ... travels with the speed of light that reflects in his mirrors ... . His specialty are respiratory ailments"".

p. 158

"In a curing ritual a wisiratu "feeds" his spirit helpers, which reside in his throat and chest and inside his hebu mataro rattle (which are manifested as kareko spirits embodied as quartz pebbles). ... To effect a cure, the wisiratu must name the correct hebu or the animal or object whose essence has become embodied by the hebu. He names through song (wara); and with his hebu helpers and the power of his hebu mataro rattle, he takes control of the malevolent hebu, removing it by massage into his hand. Then he shuffles his feet and forcibly blows into his raised fist, thereby sending the evil hebu into the wind, admonishing it to return to the place from whence it came. ...

p. 159

The wisiratu ... slowly releases the smoke and his spirit sons from his mouth with a masked voice, often producing the gravelly sounds "o, oi" (or "owai, yae, yae") and "e e e e e." These masked vocables "reflect the difficulty that the spirits encounter in passing through the larynx and pharynx" and are viewed by the Warao ... as "... audible traces of the participation of spirits" (Briggs ...)." ... Voice masking, ... produced during the wisiratuís curing ritual ..., is believed to be caused by the wisiratuís spirit helpers within his chest and throat. ... When ... for the purpose of ecstatic flight, voice masking can be ... aided by the inhalation of a vapor from the melted resin of the takamahaka (in Warao) or curucay (in Spanish) tree. In its solid form, called sibu in Warao and caran~a in Spanish (Protium heptaphyllum) ..., this resin is melted with ... burning ... as the wisiratu begins to call his helping spirits."

p. 162

"The first sounds the wisiratu makes during a curing ceremony are "oi, o, e e e e e e," which function as sonic carriers of the released shamanís ... spirit helpers that slowly exit from deep within the wisiratuís chest and out of his mouth."

pp. 182, 186 hebu sleeping in daylight; whirlpool-hebu

p. 182

The wisiratu "tells who the hebu is ... : ... "You are a hebu who sleeps when the sunís rays hit you"; "It is a water snake which sleeps ..., when the sunís rays hit him he dreams"".

p. 186

"the evil hebu, reveals himself as homuniya, a hebu called "crazy water," a word that Barral (1957, 118) translates (jo-muni from jo moni) as ... "water spout in the river," and "whirlpool.""


"the wisiratuís helping spirits frequently appear to their father in dreams, telling him the cause of an illness".

pp. 197-199 bahanarotu shamanism

p. 197

"The bahanarotu shaman is a Warao religious practitioner who has special ties to the eastern cosmic realm called hokonamu, where the sun rises."

p. 198

"Bahanarao is the plural form of bahanarotu. ... According ... to Barral (1964, 149) it [/bahana/] is the past participle of baja`, meaning "to suck" (chupar in Spanish) or extract something with the mouth."


"Bahanarotu illnesses are physically characterized by gastrointestinal maladies ... . ... Another common bahana sickness is ... epileptic fit."

p. 199

"Given the title shinakarani or "Mother of Seizure," the wife of the first bahanarotu shaman passed down her special curing powers to other bahanarotu wives. ... a bahanarotu shamaness is summoned to cure her husband (or any other male patient) of a nicotine seizure, which she does by ... mentally communicating with the tobacco spirits believed to be causing the convulsions."

pp. 199-200 myth of bahanarotu shamanism

p. 199

[quoted from Wilbert 1972b, 69 :] "after eight days the bahanarotu ascended. His wife followed shortly, but when they entered the House of Smoke, the Supreme Bahana suffered a seizure. {nicotine seizure} ... Walking up to the Supreme Bahana she transformed herself into a beautiful black sea bird (probably the Magnificent Frigate Bird, Fregata magnificens, also known as the Man-of-War Bird, with a wingspread of seven or eight feet). She spread out her wings, shook them like rattles, and ...

p. 200

soothed him gently with her plumes. The Supreme Bahana recovered.

... said he. "Remain here, Sinaka Aidamo, spirit of seizures." So there they are, the bahanarotu and his wife".


[quoted from Wilbert 1972b, 69-70 :] (primaeval initiation, conducted in heaven, into bahanarotu shamanship) "He sent Smoke for the right side of the youthís chest, and Rocks for his left side. Smoke became the Elder Brother, Rocks the Younger. ... The bahana spirits entered his body and became his helpers. But when he woke up ..., the people ... were transformed into the River Crab people and became the Masters of Earth. ... Again the young bahanarotu ... shot the same pair of bahana spirits down to earth from the House of Smoke."

p. 204 advent of the 4 insect helper-spirits [apparently via a dream, somewhat similar to the dreams (about storms in the jungle) by S^uar shamans] to apprentice in initiation (quoted from Wilbert 1972b, 70)

"There four bahanas are Black Bee, Wasp, Termite, and Honey Bee. Black Bee hits hard ... . Then Wasp, Termite, and Honey Bee tear painfully into his body. ... The novice falls into a trance ... . And in this state, ... The ... apprentice perceives the sonorous vibrations of the four bahana insect spirits. Louder and louder they grow, until the trees of the forest are transformed into gigantic rattles, swinging and swaying and emitting sounds that are most agreeable to his ears. He feels exalted and, euphoric with the marvelous sound, embarks on his initiatory journey across the celestial bridge and its rainbow of colors. {the "Rainbow" is likewise of the Hopi "Bahana" (RO)} ...

Awakening at last from his ecstasy, the new bahanarotu clutches his chest which encloses the gift of bahana : White Smoke and White Rocks." {are these "White Rocks" "the fragment of the stone tablet to the Bahanas" (4thWH)?}

RO =

4thWH = Harold Courlander : The Fourth World of the Hopis.

pp. 204-205 traversing by bahana-spirits of channels within body of initiate

p. 204

"His transformation into the shamanic realm slowly begins when a small hole appears in the palm of each hand, functioning as the end of a tube extending through each of his arms to his chest, the abode of his spirit sons ... . {these tubes are likewise known in Navaho and in Vajra-yana occult physiologies} The spirit sons will assist their father during curing rituals by exiting through these holes in the bahanarotuís hands. (This contrasts with the wisiratu shaman, whose spirit helpers are released through his mouth ... .)"


[quoted from Wilbert 1972b, 71 :] "The stick travels past the spirit in the chest and through the arm of the new bahanarotu and is "born" white through the mystical hole in the palm of the

p. 205

hand. A second stick ... exits as a white stick through the other hand.

"Now swallow the white sticks," orders the master. ... Now the white sticks travel past the bahanas in the chest and through the arms, this time to be born as white crystal beads."

pp. 205, 209 magical sickness-producing arrows; dolls to induce sickness

p. 205

[quoted from Wilbert 1972b, 71 :] "Now the bahanarotu ... lifts the hand with the magic arrow to his mouth, ... and sends the projectile on its way. A bahanarotu shooting magic arrows of sickness in this fashion is known as a hatabu-arotu, "master of the arrow.""

p. 209

"some Warao had dolls with faces and arms that were used for killing people. A bahanarotu shaman with the special knowledge of the dolls is known as daunonarima, and through song he can make the doll dance {cf. doll of Huitzil-opochtli, which was magically caused to dance by Tezcatli-poca (NR 3:247)} and sit and can send it over great distances through the air and into his victim to kill him or her."

NR = Hubert Howe Bancroft : The Native Races. San Francisco : History Co, 1886.

pp. 205-207 inquiry necessary after reception by shaman of an ostensible command in a dream; possible disclosure of joke or game played by spirit sons

p. 205

"Not all bahanarotu shamans, however, agree to the demands of the ancestor wizards. [A certain shaman], for example, sang and explained another dream song ... in which he was asked by the supernatural to bring illness to someone."

p. 206

"I said [sang], "... How come you told me in this dream top do this evil thing? This bad thing cannot be. ..."

p. 207

I said [sang], "Why, my son, have you talked to me like this? Is it true?" ... the bahanarotu speaks like this to his spirits who appeared in a dream. I said [sang], "Well, my children, ... is this a lie that I heard in my dream?"

They said [sang], "No, my father, this is a game. Talking this way is our joke. {instance of a "cruel joke of God"?!} We are ... playing.""

pp. 213-214 extraction of sickness from patientís body

p. 213

[3 curing songs :] "The first song is for calling the bahana spirit ... . ...

Second, .... he sang ... to look for the name. He is looking for the method of naming the bahana, and when he has the name it moves ... . Then, with the hand it is loosened and removed. ...

The third type is also for sending the bahana off and away."

p. 214

"That which has a name is the witch that is put in the head, and it more or less moves. The head shakes." {"Some mediumsí heads would snap around, sometimes dangerously it appeared to me" (RP, p. 46).}

RP = Ron Emoff : Recollecting from the Past : ... Spirit Possession on ... Madagascar. 2002.

pp. 221-222 avian deities



bird identified with deity



"swallow-tailed kite"



"waimare, the gavilan culebrero or snake sparrow hawk"



"yoroa, the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)"

pp. 232, 236-237 Bahanarao of arrows; their supernatural village

p. 232

"the pain-causing object inside the patient has been put there by the Bahanarao, or the wizards of the arrows living in hokonamu. This material object was "thought" (el pensamiento) by an evil bahanarotu and with the help of the Bahanarao in hokonamu was placed within the body of the malevolent bahanarotuís victim. ... When properly named, it vibrates and then is physically and spiritually ... removed through suction with the help of the curing bahanarotuís spirit sons."

p. 236

"far away in the country, at the beginning of the world [at the eastern edge], there is a small settlement where the wizards of the arrows, the Bahanarao, live. Thus, another bahanarotu, in his dream {the settlement of the Bahanarao being located in the dream-world}, asked of him ... .

p. 237

... thought evil {thought-of evil} ... comes from the beginning of the world [hokonamu], very far away. ... Thus, with the song of the bahanarotu, he calls it and it comes".

pp. 240-241 myths of the Creator-Bird of the Dawn & of offspring Mawari

p. 240

"Spanish ... called the hokonamana bird pa`jaro tijeras or scissors bird because of its long, bifurcated tail. ... this bird is known in Venezuela "as gavila`n tijereta : scissor-tailed kite (Waraoan : hokonamana or hokono kahamana).""


[quoted from Wilbert 1972b, 66-70 "The House of Tobacco Smoke" :] "Domu Hokonamana Ariawara, "Creator Bird of the Dawn." With his left wing he held a bow ..., and his right wing shook a rattle. The plumes of his body chanted incessantly the new song that was heard in the East. {the hymns of the Veda are said to be produced from rustlings of the feathers of the Garud.a-bird} The thoughts of the Bird of the Dawn now fell on a house Ė and immediately it appeared : a round, white house".


[quoted from Wilbert 1985, 147-8 :] "At the foot of the eastern World-Tree Mountain there is a hollow that contains two eggs. {cf. the two egg-born avian brethren Arun.a & Garud.a} ...

p. 241

Upon leaving the cave the youth adopted the form of a swallow-tailed kite, ... and pronounced his name, "Mawari." With his left wing he held a bow ..., and with his right wing he shook a rattle. The plumes of his body rang out the new song of bahana. Through the power of his thought, Mawari created an egg-shaped house northeast of the zenith. ... To occupy his house Mawari invited four couples of insects :

the black bees came to live in the black room,

the wasps in the red,

the termites in the yellow, and

the blue bees in the blue room."

pp. 253-257 description of, & myth of, Hoebo

p. 253

"At the western terminus of the world where the sun sets, ... is Hoebo, the lord of death, the Supreme Hoa, embodied as a scarlet macaw (Ara chloroptera) with the color of the setting sun

p. 254

and dusk. It is the hoarotuís mission to provide human food for Hoebo and the Haorao or souls of dead hoarotu shamans who live with him. (Hoarao is the plural form of hoarotu. ...)"


[concerning Hoeboís supernatural abode, which is also known as Hoebo -- quoted from Wilbert 1972b, 73 :] "The stench of human cadavers and clotted blood saturates the air; and the stream of hoarotu shamans who come from all parts ... with cadavers hanging head down from their holders is endless. It has to be endless if the Supreme Hoa and spirit companions, called hoarao, are to continue living : the former by eating human hearts {which were likewise food for Aztec gods} and livers, the latter by devouring their bodies. All hoarao in the Hoebo drink human blood from a gigantic canoe made of human bone."


[quoted from Wilbert 1972b, 73-4 :] "There was an old man by the name of Miana (Without Sight). ... he had no eyes. He lived alone in the zenith and begot a son whose name, like that of the Abode of Darkness, was Hoebo. Hoebo had learned to sing like his father, in order to activate the search for blood by the celestial umbilicus. ... Father and son set out on their journey. They heard the humming chant of the Spirits of the West when they had gone

p. 255

only half way. They also beheld the bright lights of white and yellow penetrating the darkness of the Hoebo. "See the hoa ahutu artery," {as a macrocosmic correlative of a "tube" of the sort mentioned on p. 204, this would be a macrocosmic acupuncture-meridian rather than a physiological artery} said Miana to his son. "Listen to its humming." The youth[ís] ... eyes fell on a beautiful girl below him in [an earthly] village. He decided to marry her, but when he lowered himself head first from the hao ahutu umbilicus to the dancing platform in the center of the village, a jealous rival for the girl cut off Hoeboís head. ... All the people present felt a sharp pain in their stomachs." {The pain in their bellies (navels) was caused, of course, by the displeasure of the divine macrocosmic umbilical cord.}

p. 256

["Origin of the hoarotu-s" quoted from Wilbert 1969, pp. 59-60 :] "Hoebo was already above the Warao when they danced, but he lowered himself down even more from above. At that moment the other young man (the fl[a]utist) appeared ... with his machete. ... Then the ungrateful young man ..., with his machete in hand, raced

p. 257

toward the center of the area where the Warao were dancing. There he swung his machete at Hoebo who was just lowering himself down from above, and he cut him completely in half. As soon as he split Hoebo in two, all the Warao who were dancing felt ill. They remained like that ... . ... Half of Hoeboís body went off to the West on its own volition".


[hoarotu shamanís hearing {during dreams} of the Macawís trumpet] "Hoebo remains in his abode of darkness at the place of the western cosmic mountain in the aitona, the end of the universe, cut off from the rest of the universe. His soul, however, remains on the lesser mountain at the western end of the earth. {if so, then the blow which "split Hoebo in two" actually divided his soul from his body.} Only hoarotu shamans can traverse this lonely road on their celestial journeys to the hoebo. On their way they hear musical sounds that are ... the macabre remnants of Abajeraís clarinet and flute playing."


"This young male musician-butcher was named Abajera (scarlet macaw = lit. "he of painful death" ...)."


[musical sounds heard by hoarotu shamans traversing the universe -- quoted from Wilbert 1975a, 173-4 :] "the continuous hooting of the trumpet of the Macaw ... in this case ... made ... of a human skull.

The piercing sounds of a clarinet can also be heard. The instrument is made of long human bones and has a skull as its resonance chamber."

pp. 258-259 hoarotu as inflicter {in order to punish unwitnessed crimes}

p. 258

"As "owner of Hoa" (Hoa arotu), the hoarotu shaman has two Hoa spirit "sons" dwelling within his chest, which he acquires during his strenuous initiation. Through dreams the spirit sons communicate with their hoaratu father, mediating between him and the hoebo ... . ... A hoarotu acquires his inflicting and curing powers during an extensive initiation period that includes ... learning the song formulas for both types of power. During this time he receives this spirit sons in his chest who will assist him with his kaidoko tobacco-smoke snares; and in the curing phase they search out the illness-causing essence within the patientís body. The hoarotuís kaidoko tobacco-smoke snares are activated during inflicting and curing when they sinuate ... like tendrils ... .

p. 259

In his malevolent role the hoarotuís kaidokotuma (plural form) wind out ... and reach towards his victim, ultimately wrapping themselves around the latterís neck to weaken him or her through strangulation ... . At this point the hoarotu sings mentally to name the Hoa, ... whose essence he shoots off as a magical arrow that travels through the air ... to be lodged into the victimís body."

pp. 267-268 Hoa entities invoked

p. 267

"The hokonamu animals ... to become Hoa are

a baba (... Caiman crocodylus),

a water snake,

a hebu bird,

a humpback ...,

a dog, and

a domesticated bird. ...


The numerous intangible entities ... include

the peritonitis of the sea;

the clouds of twilight; ...

the prettiness of lights on a hill in hokonamu; ... and

the essences of the earth such as its ornaments, silence, coldness, teeth, ... and movement."

p. 268

"the humpback ... comes to look for and carry off a wisiratu when he dies. The animal is, in other words, a psychopomp, a supernatural guide that leads a soul to the afterlife."

pp. 269-270 magical formulae for inflicting destruction

p. 269

"Oh Hoa, destroy these ... . ...

Oh great scissors in hokonamu, you will destroy them.

Together ... the movements of your sharp blades ... will destroy ... . ...

p. 270

The scissors of the hokonamu will destroy ... . ...

With all of your breath I ask you, Hoebo, to send Hoa in order to grab and destroy ... ."

pp. 280-281 naming the hoatuma

p. 280

[animals or humans]

p. 281

[Hoatuma spirits]

"a. Hebu of the earth

b. Silent hebu

c. Hebu sen~ora ...

f. Maisikiri that swims beneath the water ...

o. Hoa who sits on the hill on the other side of the sea ...

t. Crazy hebu beyond Hokonamu ...

v. Hebu that remains near the sun"



" c. Songs of a frog which lives in Hokonamu

d. Puffing of the earth when it walks ...

g. Vapor of the fire from Hokonamu ...

p. Illness of the sun

q. Silence and sadness of the sun when it is ill

r. Illness of the sick and crazy hebu"

p. 282 symbolic significances (physical symptoms of ailment) of categories of Hoatuma

Hoatuma that are related to __

symbolize __


"difficulty ... in ... swallowing"

"the sun"

"the patientís fever"

"coldness of the Orinoco river"

the patientís "chills"


"the patientís ... coughing"


"the patientís incoherent speech"


"the patientís loss of speech"

pp. 284-285 Hoa named in a song

p. 284

"the sun which has risen above us ...

a large silver collar of the sun ...

a large toad that is sitting there in hokonamu ...

p. 285

the little crabs ...

a large hat of wide wings that is in the middle of the sea. ...

the large hat of the large sea that exists in hokonamu. ...

the large hat of the hebutuma from the hills next to the sea."

writings by Johannes Wilbert quoted from :-

(1965) "Los instrumentos musicales de los warrau". ANTROPOLO`GICA 1(1956):2-22.

(1969) Textos folklo`ricos de los indios Warao. U of CA, Los Angeles, Latin American Center, vol. 12. 1969.

(1970) Folk Literature of the Warao Indians. U of CA at Los Angeles, Latin American Center, vol. 15. 1970.

(1972b) "Tobacco and Shamanistic Ecstasy among the Warao Indians". In :- Peter T. Furst (ed.) : Flesh of the Gods. pp. 55-83. NY : Praeger, 1972.

(1974) "The Calabash of Ruffled Feathers." In :- Anne Trueblood (ed.) : Stones, Bones, and Skin. pp. 90-3. Toronto : Artscanada, 1974.

(1975a) "Eschatology in a Participatory Universe : Destinies of the Soul among the Warao Indians of Venezuela." In :- Elizabeth P. Benson (ed.) : Death and the Afterlife in Pre-Columbian America. pp. 163-89. Dunbarton Oaks Research Library, 1975.

(1976) "To Become a Maker of Canoes". In :- Johannes Wilbert (ed.) : Enculturation in Latin America. LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES, vol. 37. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 1976.

(1977) "Navigation of the Winter Sun". In :- Elizabeth P. Benson (ed.) : The Sea in the Pre-Columbian World. pp. 17-46. Dunbarton Oaks Research Library, 1977.

(1983) "Warao Ethnopharmacology". JOURNAL OF ETHNOPHARMACOLOGY 8(1983):357-61.

(1985) "The House of the Swallow-Tailed Kite". In :- Gary Urton (ed.) : Animal Myths and Metaphors in South America. pp. 145-82. Salt Lake City : U of UT Pr, 1985.

(1987a) Tobacco and Shamanism in South America. New Haven : Yale U Pr, 1987.

Dale A. Olsen : Music of the Warao of Venezuela. U Pr of FL, Gainesville, 1996.