Yekuana shamanic basketry [uppermost Orinoco]

pp. 6-7 synonyms for /Yekuana/

p. 6



its meaning



makidi + ari ‘river people’



‘round heads’


Pawana` / Pabanoton

‘those who sell’

p. 7



ye ‘tree’ + ku ‘water’ + ana ‘people’

p. 41 /So>to/ ‘human’

pp. 21-22 terminology









centrepost (of house)










akato (‘soul’)




"The inner circle, ... devoted to communication with the supernatural forces of Heaven ... is where the divine breath resides ... at the solar plexus ... to be the home of the akato Wanadi dispatched to animate each body. It is this "akato inside ..." ... that serves as centerpost of each individual, granting him or her ... access to the invisible world".


"Sent down by Wanadi ..., these eternal akato not only return to Heaven at the death of the forms they occupy but also travel about nightly while the body is asleep. Recounted in the form of dreams (adekato), these regular journeys into the invisible become important auguries of the future. They are collectively analyzed every morning by the men, with the events that occur in them determining the course of action to be followed during the day." {as is also customary among the Iroquois}

pp. 31, 127-131 arac^e spirits




"every object, animate or inanimate, is said to possess an invisible double or akato that is both independent and eternal. Organized into different species with their own culture-heroes (arache) and traditions, these spirit-beings are described as living ... in their own world obscured by this one. They have their own roundhouses, gardens, and body decorations. Yet when humans see them, they appear either as fish or game, concealing their true identity behind their nonhuman disguise."


"All known systems of life, plant and animal, as well as technical and social aspects of Yekuana society, have a double manifestation : an objective, tangible form and an accompanying invisible mirror image form." (quoted from PRTS, p. 184)


"whereas the designs were wrested away from the Warishidi and their chief, Wan~a Kasuwai ["an enormous monster" who "lived in Mount Ihani" (p. 98), mt. Ihani "located in the uppermost headwaters of the Caura and Ventuari rivers" (p. 235, n. 5:4); "Wan~a Kasuwai is ... monstrous, enormous and hairy with blood gushing from his mouth" (p. 101)], ... the owners of the wana (Guasdua latifolia) and eduduwa ..., the two canes from which they [baskets] are woven, are a feared species of forest spirits ... .


Known as Yododai, these spirits move through the forest in large bands of up to forty. Invisible to all but the shamans ..., the presence of Yododai can nevertheless be perceived by their distinctive song and smell. For as they march through the forest, planting and checking on their large stands of wana and eduduwa, they emit short cries similar to those of ... their reputed bird double, Kudokado, the wood quail (Odontophorus sp.) ... . In addition to their song, Yododai exude a particular smell, ... "life perfume or flowers," ... from the face and body paints ... "Yododai’s ayawa or wishu," ... known only to these spirits. ... An even more powerful herb controlled by the Yododai is awana, their special magic herb or maada ... . By rubbing this herb over his arms and chest, a Yododai can instantly disppear and reappear ... . ... Yododai come up to you in the forest and say, "Here, take this. Don’t you want some awana?" And if you take it and use it, you forget who you are and go off with them, become a Mawade and marry one. You never come back." {cf. the lotos offered by the Lotophagoi, according to the Odusseia}


"In order to cut either of these canes for use in a basket, a man must ask a shaman (huhai) to visit the Yododai and gain their permission. This the shaman does with the aid of ... hallucinogens, travelling to the Yododai’s home at the top of Adeshi hidi (Mount Arawa) in the headwaters of the Caura."


"The n~omo of the wana and eduduwa is crazy, koneda, really crazy."

pp. 147-149 Yekuana chant-spells




ademi (public chants, to purify communally-constructed houses and gardens)


aic^udi (private chants, "invoked to cleanse everything from weapons and canoes to baby slings and hammocks.") "Of all the aichudi, the most common are those used to "detoxify" {transubstantiate} a new food being ingested for the first time. Whether it is for a small child or a person undergoing a major life fast, each new species of food consumed must me purified with the appropriate aichudi." "Another category of aichudi ... is that to purify woven goods. Referred to as the ... "Sebucan chant," this aichudi must be sung over each woven item ... . ... death ... is caused by an invisible being inhabiting the basketry materials which, unless removed, ...


are ... microscopic worms which, once inside a humans body, continue to grow until the individual dies."


ritual (in conjunction with chant-spell) for purifying baskets for food before their 1st use : "the basket, after being washed, if filled with" the foodstuff which it will be used to carry. "A waja tomennato, for example, will be completely covered with a large loaf of cassava, a sebucan stuffed with grated yuca, a wuwa filled with raw tubers, a manade heaped with flour [yuca flour in manade baskets (p. 30)]."

pp. 150-158, 243-245 wiriki (quartz) spirits


n. 6:


meaning of name




("the principal wiriki person")




‘dry bird-faeces’ (wedu ‘dry season’)








‘in Heaven’ : "a small owl ... the brother of the great potoo, Mu:do."




"the great potoo (Nyctibius grandis) otherwise known as Mu:do, ... Wanadi’s brother".




one of the Wadatakomo (‘Stone People’)




" " " "




" " " "




" "Tawa" or "Tawadi" above" : "the nighthawk (Podager nacunda) ... in the sixth house of Heaven"
















"the name of a very tall tree"




" "who uses waja," was the first woman ever to use a waja and to purify it" with a spell




"the first woman to ever possess and purify a manade."

Madedekomo ("Snake People") spirits



244, n. 6:32

"a blind and limbless amphisbaena lizard" : "an ambphisbaena comes out of the spinal column of every man killed in war." (TY, p. 54)

244, n. 6:33

" "Kuwaha" is ... a maada or magical herb used specifically against the Madedekomo."

shamanism of tribes in South America other than Yekuana



229, n. 3:19

[Karin~a] The shaman’s soul is "not an aska (double, shadow) but a tamu (a grandfather), a sky spirit (kapu akaru:). The shaman himself gives his soul the secret name of vorupua (vorupuaruroro, vorupuatoskororo {cf. /TuSKaRORa/ of North Carolina} during his invocations. It cannot be frightened or captured by the nono akuru: or tuna akuru: (earth and water spirits). When a shaman dies his "companion" ... goes back to the Mountain where it has its home. ... Askari ... when they go out ... can only turn themselves into forms of their own species. ... The shaman’s ... is a true Guardian Spirit". (transl. from R&MK, pp. 72-73)


[Waraw] "a master basket maker is transformed in a shaman or uasi through the dedicated practice of his art. ... Like the Warao canoe maker, basket maters acquire shamanic power ... . ... Uasi craftsmen ... may have their minds on the Otherworld ..., subtly and invisibly weaving dreams and visions into their baskets." (quoted from WB, p. 83)


[Yupa] "A soul that produces satisfactory basketry is sent by Kopecho [Mistress of the Underworld] along the path to the Land of the Dead. In contrast, the soul of the inept basket weaver is sent to a river on which there rolls a huge, hollow tree that reaches from shore to shore. The path leads directly into this log and, within it, souls ... are tumbled about, to be clawed and devoured by wild beasts." (quoted from YF, p. 25)

229-30, n. 6:1

[Panare] "a shaman (i>yan) must gain permission from a half-human, half-animal figure who owns the basketry materials before they can safely cut the cane down."


[Waraw] "the spirit of itiriti ... appears in the artisan’s dream in the shape of a serpent and presents him with ... a set of tutelary spirits. ... Often he also sees a tunnel coming up ... that has been dug by the itiriti snake (sehoro a huba). ... the Itiriti spirit is gradually ... burrowing a tunnel that leads from his chest, where his nascent tutelary spirits reside, through both arms to the (imagined) openings in the palms of his hands. {stigmata} In other words, ... the Itiriti Spirit is at work in his own body, just as the itiriti worm is tunneling through the cane. Some day the


artisan will behold the exit holes in his hands and know that his transformation ... to shamanic craftsman has been accomplished." (quoted from WB, pp. 5-6)

pp. 53-56, 103-104, 133-139 Yekuana myths




Wanadi "took earth. he formed it into men. Then he ... dreamed : "It’s alive." That’s the way the new people were born; the ones of this earth, of today, now." (transl. from W:MM, p. 56)

228, n. 3:13

"Wiyu [‘anaconda’] is ... a woman – Wanadi’s lover as well as the sister of the Moon, whose attempted rape of her leads to ... below the water. It is there that she assumes her permanent form as the feathered serpent". {so, is the feathered-serpent raft sailed on by Topiltzin a transmogrification of his sister Quetzal-petlatl?}


"When Odosha dies, the Earth will end. ... The sun, the moon, the stars are all going to fall on the Earth. ... When the sun falls, Wanadi’s light will come back" (quoted from W:OCC, p. 161).


Wanadi’s second damodede, Nadeiumadi, "dreamt that a woman was born. I t was his mother. She was called Kumariawa. ... That’s the way she was born. He made his own mother." (quoted from W:OCC, p. 23) ["Odosha destroys her with urine just as she begins to reemerge from the earth."]


"Wanadi discovers Kaweshawa, the daughter of the master of fish, in the Kunukunuma River. Yet before they can marry he must clear her vagina of the deadly piranha fish that protect it. No sooner is this accomplished, ... than Odosha abducts her." ["While Odosha takes the form of the black curassow, ... Wanadi assumes that of the crimson-crested woodpecker, Wanadi tonoro (Campephilus melanoleucos)." (p. 230, n. 3:22)]


"The baskets began to walk, and they entered the water after having eaten many Indians. They are the cayman alligators". (quoted from JFA, p. 220)


"when Kuamachi and his grandfather Mahanama are seeking revenge upon the Star People for killing their women, it is with baskets that they exact it, first luring the Stars among with their chief, Wlaha (the Pleiades), into dewaka trees to gather fruit ... : [Mahanama said,] "I’m going to weave baskets for the harvest." When they heard that, the Stars broke out laughing. ...


Mahanama was weaving as fast as he could, throwing out baskets. ... the grandfather and the boy burst out laughing."


"Along with his wife Kawau, Mado [‘jaguar’] adopts the orphan twin heroes, Iureke and Shikiemona. Foiling his plans to eat them, however, the twins kill their stepmother and, after stealing her fire, place her remains in a boiling pot. ... Outsmarted in story after story, Mado becomes the object of laughter and ridicule ... . ... He is also the greedy one outsmarted at Marahuaka, the one who helps the Star People kill Kuamachi’s mother".


To the village Kamasowoic^e, on the Padamo river, came Karakaradi the vulture-gods’ arac^e Madiyawana (having 2 heads, on the lefts & right sides of the lower rib-cage). The piac^e (‘shaman’) Yarakuna’s brother had been killed by the Mawis^a cannibals; Yarakuna "wanted to find his brother, to see him. So he drank aiuku [= n~opo / yopo / vilca in other languages : the inner bark of the Anadenanthera peregrina (p. 236, n. 5:13)] ... . Then he went to Heaven. ...


Makadiha ... was Yarakuna’s younger brother." Madiyawana gave to Yarakuna a suhui (amulet) for killing the Mawis^a.


["tale, which ... explains the origin of the name Erevato" :] "Dede ... was a huge bat. ... He ate people. ... He would pick them up and take them to his house. In ... Guaicanima." [Guaicanima ia "a peak located on the mid-Paragua" (p. 237, n. 5:18)] The people were able to see him at night once at when they fastened a fire to an old woman whom they left as bait for Dede : thus they shot him with blowguns and kumarawa (curare) while he was flying away. "Then he fell in the Erevato. ... Dedevatto". [" "bat fire" ... watto, the word for fire "fire," is ... –vato" (p. 237, n. 5:19)]


"The materials used to make ... the sieve (manade), the firepan (wariwari), the women’s carrying basket (wuwa), the men’s backpack (tudi), the fishtrap (mudoi), the headdress (fwemi), and such storage baskets as mahidi, dakisa, and cetu, all have their own masters who ... are Kahuhana, "People of Heaven." All the baskets were brought down to Earth by one person – Edodicha, a powerful shaman who lived in Kamasowoiche at the time of the First People. ...

On his first journey he traveled to Lake Yudigina, where ... he obtained the "first food" ... . This was the motto or worms that Edodicha now planted throughout Ihurun~a. Considered the most sacred of all Yekuana food ..., these long earthworm are the first meal eaten by a Yekuana child. They are also the first food that every adult consumes when ending a major life fast and that which the entire community eats when building a new roundhouse or harvesting a new garden. ...

One his second trip to Heaven, Edodicha located the tarade or yuca grater. This was owned by a brother and sister named Fuduman~adi and Madukwa, whom Edodicha convinced to come to Earth in order to teach the humans how to make it. Once there, Fuduman~adi instructed the men how to cut and shave the cedar planks and Madukwa the women how to prepare and implant the hundreds of slivers of stone. ["Because of the hundreds of pieces of jasper ... that must be individually hammered into each slab of cedar, these graters, known as tarade, are extremely time-consuming to produce." (p. 30)]

Next Edodicha discovered an enormous supernatural being, shaped like a huge boulder and covered entirely with hair. Named Wasamo Wasadi, this being was the master or arache of mun~atta (Anthurium flexuosum), the principal cane used to make women’s carrying baskets. ...


Then Edodicha returned to Heaven to get the ka>na (Ischnosiphon sp.), the itiriti cane with which men were to make their own baskets. This Edodicha obtained from several lakes, each corresponding to a particular basket and master :

from Ka>nama Lake the ka>na for the yuca press,

from Shidimene Lake that for the manade, and

from Mayana Lake that for the waja tingkuihato."


"a fragrant watercresslike ground cover called aunko ... was procured by two brothers, Makwe and Makwenadi, who were sent to Heaven to discover a cure for their menstruating sister. ... [From the goddess Wiyu] the brothers were able to steal a single leaf, ... Wiyu aunkucho, Wiyu’s aunko," ... used ... to ritually bathe a mother and her newborn during the first three months after birth."


[How a living woman returned after visiting the soul of her recently dead husband in the world of the dead :-] "her mother-in-law told her ... "Stay inside and don’t go out at all," ... in Kahun~a the sun never goes down. It’s always light, always day there. ... So she decided to go outside into the street. She saw ... an akudi, a capybara. ... And she followed the akudi down. ... And then the light changed and they were back on Earth."

pp. 109-110, 141-142 myths of tribes in Venezuela other than Yekuana




[Waiwai] Uruperi "resembled a big serpent, but had hair on its body[,] and fore and hind legs like a jaguars. Its tail was like that of an anteater, and its whole body was covered by a kind of meander pattern, waratapi. When ... the dragon caught up with him [a pursued huntsman] and began to swallow him, ... he grasped hold of a tree and ... held on all day, his arms and head being outside the jaws of the dragon and only his body and legs inside. Shortly before sundown the dragon gave up and


left the man. The whole of his body that had been inside the dragon ... was covered with the same pattern as that of the dragon. He had also lost his hair, as it was so hot inside the dragon that ... had singed it off. ...

Some days later the man ... once more ran into the dragon, but this time it changed into a man when it saw him. The Uruperi man had a rattle that was also painted with the waratapi pattern. When he shook this rattle lightning came out of it, and when the rattle was shaken towards an animal it fell to the ground dead, struck by lightning." (quoted from W, pp. 91-2)


[Waraw] "The Itiriti people began a quarrel with the Moriche Leaf-Stem people. ... [Itiriti people said,] "... We are scandalized by your appalling practice of copulating in


public ... . Why, your women even go through their periods without isolating themselves from the rest of the community." ... The Moriche Leaf-Stem people ... never straightened out their ways of life." (quoted from WB, p. 5)

p. 239, n. 5:27 [Yupa, "known as "tame Motilones," ... in the Perija Mountains between Colombia and Venezuela."] "Kopecho is the Yupa version of toad Grandmother as Mistress of the Earth ... . Among the Tacana she herself devours the dead, just as does Tlaltecuhtli, the personification of the earth as a monstrous toad in Aztec Mexico" (YF, p. 25).

pp. 133-134 dietary restrictions


for __

forbidden foods


those praeparing barbasco

anything other than warm cassava mixed in water


women fermenting iarake

other than those that are white


those bitten by a snake



one ill with a cold

peppers, pineapple, mapuey


one ill with a fever



one with epilepsy

meat, salt, fruit, peppers

bibliography :-

PRTS = LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES PROGRAM DISSERTATION SERIES, No. 31 = Nelly Arvevalo-Jimenez : Political Relations in a Tribal Society. Ithaca (NY) : Cornell U, 1971.

WB = OCCASIONAL PAPERS OF THE MUSEUM OF CULTURAL HISTORY, No. 3 = Johannes Wilbert : Warao Basketry. U of CA at Los Angeles, 1975.

R&MK = Marc de Civrieux : Religio`n y ma`gica Kari’n~a. Caracas : Universidad Cato`lica Andre`s Bello, 1974.

W:MM = Marc de Civrieux : Watunna : Mitologi`a Makiritare. Caracas : Monte Avila Editores, 1970.

W:OCC = Marc de Civrieux (transl. by David M. Guss) : Watunna : an Orinoco Creation Cycle. San Francisco : North Point Pr, 1980.

TY = Jacques Lizot (transl. by Ernest Simon) : Tales of the Yanomami. Cambridge U Pr, 1985.

JFA = Alain Gheerbrant (transl. by Edward Fitzgerald) : Journey to the Far Amazon. NY : Simon & Schuster, 1954.

W = Niels Fock : Waiwai. Copenhagen : National Museum, 1963.

YF = Johannes Wilbert : Yupa Folktales. Los Angeles Latin American Center Publications, 1974.

David M. Guss : To Weave and Sing. U of CA Pr, Berkeley, 1989.