Occult Life of Things – myths







Objects and Ancestors in Northwest Amazonia

Stephen Hugh-Jones



Body Ornaments and Alterity among the Mamainde^

Joana Miller



Being a Thing in The Yanes^a Lived World




Food-Offerings and Subjectivization of Masks and Flutes among the Wauja

Aristo`teles Barcelos Neto



Agency and Alterity in Cas^inawa Image-Making

Els Lagrou



Nature of Materiality in Wakue`nai Ontology

Jonathan D. Hill



1. (pp. 33-59) Stephen Hugh-Jones : "Objects and Ancestors in Northwest Amazonia".

pp. 36, 38-41 Desana myth of creation [based on the text in Diakuru and Kisibi 1996; page #s indicated in brackets], with variants

p. 36

[19-26] "Grandfather of the Universe, both Thunder

{With this Grandfather as Thunder, cf. the lightning-trap set by Grandfather Anaconda (MFB, p. 74).}


and Primal Sun, appears spontaneously in a state of total darkness.


He lives alone

["lives with his daughter and the Master of Food (To~ramu Bayar and Guahari Ye N~i 2004:27)"]


in a house in the sky. He has with him the following items ["each a part of his body (N^ahuri and Ku:maro~ 2003:21, 27)"], the Instruments of Life and Transformation :

rattle lance [p. 56, n. 4 : "The rattle lance is ... decorated with feather mosaic, engraved designs of the sun and moon, and ... Above the staff’s pointed end is a bulbous, maraca-like swelling that contains crystal pebbles." {cf. the Waraw shaman’s rattle containing quartz fragments}], shield [p. 56, n. 5 : "This accompanies the rattle lance"],


cigar, cigar holder,

gourds [full] of coca and other substances, hour glass-shaped gourd stands,


split-palm screen [p. 57, n. 9 : "The split-palm screen is used ... as a compartment to seclude officiating shaman-priests during rituals ... . It is called pari` ...; Yurupari`, the name of a mythical hero, decomposes into yuru-, "mouth" and –pari`, "enclosure.""], and

maraca ... .

On a support made from two crossed rattle lances – one made of female bone, the other of male bone – he places


five sieves,

{cf. "a sieve" associated with "five hollow iron flinders" (LShSh, pp. 6 & 33)}


spinning them round

{cf. the "turning" involving a sieve in Hungary ("ShVH", p. 193)}


to make a layered world comparable to a gourd on a stand. He spreads split-palm screens on the earth to bring U:~mu:ari Niko, Grandmother of the Universe [p. 57, n. 10 : "Also variously called Yepa Bu:ku:o ("Old Earth Woman"), Yepa Maso ("Earth Woman"), the "Grandmother of Transformation" (Maia and Maia 2004:21)"], into being.

Blowing spells, Grandfather of the Universe, conjures up a stool on which he sits, eating coca. To create people, he smokes a cigar, blowing smoke and blessings over a gourd of sweet kana berries [p. 57, n. 11 : "Sabicea amazonensis, a vine found in abandoned clearings"] covered with another gourd and placed on a stand. ...


Grandmother of the Universe takes over, blowing smoke and spells on the gourd ... . Five made and two female beings,


the Universe People, U:~mu:ari Masa

["Yepa` Masa, the Earth People (N^ahuri and Ku:maro~ 2003:22)"]

["The Thunders (Umu`sin Panlo~n Kumu and Tolama~n Kenhi`ri 1980:52)"]


come to life and emerge from the gourds :


Sun (Abe);

[p. 38. Fig. 1.2 : (Umu`sin Panlo~n Kumu and Tolama~n Kenhi`ri 1980) "Grandmother of the Universe makes appear a new being, the Grandson of the Universe, creator of light, of the layers of the universe, and of humanity."]


Deyubari Go~amu: [p. 57, n. 13 : "Go~amu:, equivalent to the Tukano O~aku: ... could also be "man of bone" (compare the Wakue`nai In~a`pirri`kuli, "he inside of bone" ...). The Tukano Yepa O~aku: is the Barasana Yeba Haku:; haku:, or "father"], Master of Hunting and Fishing;


Baaribo [p. 57, n. 14 : "His body is made of manioc and cultivated plants (N^ahuri and Ku:maro~ 2003:19), as Yurupari`s body is made of forest fruits (N^ahuri and Ku:maro~ 2003:42)"], Master of Cultivated Food;


Buhsari [‘Ornaments’ (p. 57, n. 15)]

p. 39

Go~amu:, Master of Time, Seasons, Nature, and Living Beings;


Wanani ["bird of the species Anhinga anhinga" (p. 57, n. 16)] Go~amu:, Master of Poison;


Wisu; and




[35-41] "Wanani creates a woman for Deyubari Go~amu:, vomiting her up after drinking water mixed with forest vines. Like all women at that time, she has no vagina; the beings make her one using the cigar holder’s pointed end."

["Abe’s son Kisibi vomits up two women, Pui/Diakapiro and Wisu/Yuhusio. ... (To~ramu Bayar and Guahari Ye N~i 2004:49-51)"]


[143-155] "The Universe People need the beverage yage` to enable future humanity to have visions. ... their younger brother Wanani Go~a~mu: ... They ... turn into a caimo fruit, which they offer to their sisters Wisu and Yugupo` to eat. Yugupo` refuses to eat it, but Wisu eats it and becomes pregnant. Lacking a vagina, ... Abe cuts a vulva for her with his gold earring, ... as her child is born as Yage`... . ...

["Sun and Moon have coca in a Gourd of Life guarded by poisonous insects ... and spiders ... . ... Their two sisters, created when the men vomit water and vine sap, smoke the cigar and eat from the gourd. ... The women become pregnant but lack vaginas. ... The men use the cigar holder to make vaginas. The eleder sister gives birth to Yurupari`; the younger sister gives birth ... to Yage` (Maia and Maia 2004:57-61)"]


Yurupari` later avenges his brothers’ ... act by eating their sons. They, in turn, burn him on a fire. From his ashes springs up a paxiuba palm, which is cut up and distributed ... as ... flutes, Yurupari`’s bones.

p. 40

Wisu and Yugupo` steal the Yurupari` flutes from the men. The men recapture the flutes from ... the women ["urged on by Opossum, who tells the men that they do not need women ... (N^ahuri and Ku:maro~ 2003:141)"]. As the men seize the flute, the women also retain them in another form and hide them in their vaginas. Wisu flees to the west and Yugupo` to the east." ["Wisu becomes Amo, Mistress of Feather Ornaments, who lives in a house made from the molted plumage of migrating birds. ... (Maia and Maia 2004:33-39)"]


[163-177] "Grandfather of the Universe and Buhsari Go~a~mu decide to transform the Universe People into true human beings. Grandfather of the Universe has two transformation gourds, one in the sky and one on earth. The Universe People fly to the upper gourd and then travel via a kana vine down to the lower gourd, the Milk Lake in the east, where they become fishes. They make the Anaconda Canoe of Transformation (pamu:ri pino, pamu:ri gasiro). [p. 57, n. 17 : "pamu:- means "to emerge, surface, ferment"; pino means "anaconda"; and gasiro means "skin" and " canoe" -- ... with fermentation being a process of transformation."]

["Grandfather of the Universe vomits up paired ceremonial ornaments onto a split-palm screen ... . ... In the under world, Earth acquires a maraca and a stool with three different designs, ... becoming Yepa Oaku:. ... Transformation Anaconda, a female snake ... swallows her children, the future humanity, in the form of fish (Maia and Maia 2004:40-43)"]


Inside the anaconda canoe, the Universe People travel toward the center of the world. ... After nine months, they arrive at Ipanore`, the center of the world, emerging through a hole in the rocks of the rapids as fully human ancestors."

p. 41

["The Transformation People acquire the Instruments of Life and Transformation, now as their own bones, wa>i^-o~ari or "fish bones" (Maia and Maia 2004:46-51)"]

Diakuru & Kisibi 1996 = A mitologia sagrada dos Desana-Wari Dihputiro Po~ra~. Sa~o Gabriel da Cachoeira : UNIRT/FORN.

MFB = Jonathan D. Hill : Made-From-Bone. U of IL Pr, Urbana, 2009. [Wakue`nai myth]

To~ramu Bayar & Guahari Ye N~i 2004 = Livro dos antigos Desana-Guahari Diputiro Pora~. Gabriel da Cachoeira : ONIMRP/FOIRN.

N^ahuri & Ku:maro~ 2003 = Dahsea Hausiro~ Pora uku~sehe wiopsesase mera~bueri turi. Gabriel da Cachoeira : UNIRT/FORN.

LShSh = Alexander & Luba Arbachakov (transl. by Joanna Dobson) : The Last of the Shor Shamans. O Books, Winchester (Hants, UK), 2008.

"ShVH" = Vilmos Voigt : "Shamanic Vocabulary in Hungarian". In :- Juha Pentika:inen & Pe`ter Simoncsics (edd.) : Shamanhood : an Endangered Language. Novus Forlag, Oslo, 2005. pp. 191-8.

Maia & Maia 2004 = U:sa^ ye~ku:su:mia masi^ke. Gabriel da Cachoeira :COIDI/FOIRN.

Umu`sin Panlo~n Kumu and Tolama~n Kenhi`ri 1980 = Antes o mundo na~o existia. Sa~o Paulo : Livraria Cultura Editora.


2. (pp. 60-80) Joana Miller : "Body Ornaments and Alterity among the Mamainde` (Nambikwara)".

pp. 65, 67 Mamainde` myths

p. 65

"people were transformed into animals when a child opened the gourd that contained the night (darkness). Until then, those animals that existed were kept in a hole controlled by a shaman "owner" of animals. The sun never set and everything was clearly visible. Then, one day, the children disobeyed the shaman’s orders and opened the hole where the animals were kept, allowing them to escape. In punishment, the shaman gave one of the children a gourd that contained the night. The gourd was filled with wasps, which stung the child when he opened it."


The __

was transformed into a __ .



"urutau, a bird of the Nyctibiidae family that cries during the night."


"older people"

"white-furred monkeys (ko~ndadu)."

pp. 65, 67

(p. 65) "stone axe"

[p. 67] "tayra (a sharp-toothed, weasel-like animal that eats honey."

p. 67

"poisoned arrows"

"poisonous snakes."


"shaman’s cotton anklets"

"giant centipedes."


gourd as container

"tortoise because it did not want to get wet from the rain." {in Pipil, on the contrary, day-name Ayotl ‘Tortoise’ = Aztec Quiahuitl ‘Rain’}


"carrying basket"

"jaguar ... spotted like the weave of a basket."

p. 67 "The Mamainde` affirm that, even today, a carrying basket abandoned in the forest can become a jaguar and return to attack its owner."


4. (pp. 105-27) Fernando-Santos-Granero : "The Multiple Ways of Being a Thing in The Yanes^a Lived World".

p. 107 deities of musical instruments (and of other manufactured implements) who became stars

"Yompor Ror, the sun, is associated with the playing of reque:rcanets, the five-tube panpipes that are now thought to be his vital breath.

Yompor Pencoll, who used to play the side-blown, three-holed flute known as pencoll, self-transformed into what we know as Orion’s belt – the three stars of this constellation embodying the three holes of his flute.

Yompor Oncoy ... ascended to the heavens playing his drum (con) in the company of numerous followers; they self-transformed into the Pleiades.

Yompor Oresem is associated with the playing of the pallot, a small, end-blown flute with two or three holes, made of deer bone ... . He climbed up to the heavens playing his little flute and is now visible as a bright star ... .

Other object-deities that ascended with Yompor Roro and self-transformed into stars were

Maize Mortar (Corona borealis),

Fire Fan (the Orion Nebula), and

Small Knife (Altair of Aquila and Sagitta)."

pp. 107-8 deities who became bodies of water

p. 107



"At the time of Yompor Ror’s ascension, many ancient divinities self-transformed... .


Yato> Caresa transformed


himself and his followers into a lake to escape from the cannibalistic Muellepen.


Yato> Ror transformed himself into the waterfall Sa>res, which has the property of prolonging the life of those who bathe in it.


Most mellan~ot~en~ spirits ... "hid" in rocks, ponds, fishing pools, and salt springs, becoming the guardians of these particular sites and animating them in the process."

p. 108 deities who became minerals

Minerals "were originally people who were transformed by the divinities ... at the end of the second era of Yanesha history ... . ...

"Poson>, or Salt Man, ... was transformed into salt (pos) through the intervention of Achaque:>llem, or Sharpening Stone.

Yachor Aser was transformed into iron {this must have been some other metal, in prae-Hispanic Peru`} by Yompor Santo , the divine emissary, so that his followers would have the raw material ... .

And limestone (eshoc), used to precipitate the minute amounts of cocaine present in coca leaves, originated in the sperm of Yompor Ror and was transformed by the divinity".


5. (pp. 128-51) Aristo`teles Barcelos Neto : "Food-Offerings and Subjectivization of Masks and Flutes among the Wauja".

p. 142 becoming animals

"According to myth, while the men were making "clothes" and flutes in order to turn into "animals" in a remote fishing camp, ... The women felt scorned with ... their husbands and the news that they were turning into "animals." Indignant, they decided to do the same, transforming into Yamurikuman~ and running off with the apapaatai-men in reprisal."


6. (pp. 152-69) Terence Turner : "Valuables ... among the Kayapo of Central Brazil".

p. 164 how Bemp-names were learned by humans

According to myth, humans learned many of these animal ceremonies and bird songs and made them the basis of their own ceremonies. The beautiful names they bestow in named ceremonies, for example, were originally learned from fish when a Kayapo shaman, having assumed the form of a caiman,

eavesdropped on a fish naming ceremony at the bottom of a river.

{"Matsyendra, who has been swallowed by a fish (whence his name in these sources), draws up the shoreline and overhears everything." (AB, p. 223)}

AB = David Gordon White : The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India. U of Chicago Pr, 1996. http://books.google.com/books?id=6HEnefQRLb4C&pg=PA223&lpg=PA223&dq=


8. (pp. 192-213) Els Lagrou : "Agency and Alterity in Cashinahua Image-Making".

pp. 201-2 Kas^inawa myths about the origin of design-motifs

p. 201

"Designs were taught to a Cashinahua woman by Sidika, the spirit boa, who took the form of an old lady and taught the woman her designs through weaving."

p. 202

another version of the myth of origin of design : "A young girl goes every sunset into the forest to meet her boa lover, Yube, who appears to her in the form of a handsome young man. After making love to her, Yube transforms himself again into a boa. In such a shape, he encircles her body and teaches her, with his tongue close to her face, all the secrets about design."

p. 205 "The design of the boa contains the world in itself. The spots on its skin can open themselves and show a door to enter into new forms. There are twenty-five spots on Yube’s skin; they are the twenty-five designs that exist."

p. 202 Kas^inawa myth about the origin of psychedelic plants

"the spirit boa appears to a hunter in the form of a beautifully painted young woman. The man wants to make love to her and is taken to the water-world, where he learns to prepare and drink ... dunu himi or dunuan isun – that is, boa’s blood or urine. When the hunter dies, out of the buried man’s body grows both the ayahuasca vine and the Psychotria viridis bush, which provides the leaves used to prepare the ayahuasca brew."

p. 205 Kas^inawa myth about the origin of the boa & of humanity

"two people making love in a patterned hammock at the time of the flood

[p. 206 "The same themes are present in a love song, a song about making love on the beach, in which the movements of the couple are described in terms of ... Patterns of the movement of the snake".]

were transformed into a single boa.

[p. 206 "Duality is inherent to the figure of the spirit of the boa in Cashinahua thought. This is expressed in the boa’s capacity ... to have two tongues and two penises {penes} (both the tongue and the penis of the boa represent a bifurcation)".]

... only one human, Nete, survived the flood – a woman who gave birth to humanity through parthenogenesis after spitting in her own womb."


10. (pp. 235-61) Jonathan D. Hill : "The Nature of Materiality in Wakue`nai Ontology".

pp. 250-1 Wakue`nai mythic & ritual singings-into-existence

p. 250

"name the mythic home of A`maru at Mutsi`pani ("palm grub-dance"), a site along a curved stream near the place of emergence at Hi`pana."


"sings into being the celestial umbilical cord that connects the sky-world of mythic ancestors to the world of the living at Hi`pana."

p. 251

"a spirit-naming process called wadzu`hiaka`w naku`na ("going in search of names"). ... According to myth, after Kuwa`i had completed the first creation of the world through musically naming into being the various species and objects of nature,


an enormous tree sprouted from the ashes of the fire where he had been burned alive.

[(p. 256) "Just as the fiery mythic "death" of Kuwa`i transformed his body into palm trees, so too must men become trees during sacred rituals". {cf. the soldiers’ disguising themselves as trees at Birnham/Birnam in Shakespeare’s MacBeth}]


The trickster-creator (In~a`pirri`kuli), who was also the father of Kuwa`i, created sacred flutes and trumpets from this tree.

The world opened up for a second time as A`maru and her female companions stole the sacred flutes and trumpets of Kuwa`i from In~a`pirri`kuli and played them in various places. Finally, with the help of an army of male companions who took the form of small frogs (moli`tu), the trickster-creator regained control of these sacred instruments and returned to the sky-world."

p. 253 musical naming-power in myth & in rite

"In this first creation of the world, the voice of Kuwa`i ... is a musical naming power, the power to name-into-being the species and objects of nature through singing and chanting.

The world-creating voice of Kuwa`i in myth becomes the prototype for ritual performances of malika`i singing and chanting the episodic re-enchantment of the material world into hyperanimate realm of powerful beings ... appropriately (i.e., musically) named in rituals. ...

{It is because the deity is watching overhearing the ritual re-enactments that any "re-enchantment of the material world" (which must be actually performed by a deity) can occur. The deity will so perform on account of being entertained (and thus aisthetically pleased) with the performance, and in order for the deity to invite future such performances by humans.}

The fiery mythic death of Kuwa`i and his rebirth as a set of musical instruments is the prototypic act of materialization."

{It is because of this "rebirth" that there is such a close connection of the musical instruments with the deity that the deity can be invoked to attend the performance in person.}

pp. 254-5 Wakue`nai myth of origin of evil omens

p. 254

"In~a`pirri`kuli has finally succeeded in killing their father, Kuna`hwerrim ... . The brothers send their sister with In~a`pirri`kuli into the forest with instructions to seduce him at night so that they can come and kill him by


throwing poison down from the treetops. ...

{The poison-dripping tree is a theme in Irish mythology.}


The woman’s brothers arrive late at night in the form of cuchicuchi monkeys : ... After cutting off the heads of the two slain monkey-brothers, he stomps on each of the severed heads, which sprout into dzapura fruit trees. ...

p. 255

In~a`pirri`kuli then proceeds to make a series of evil omens ... :

a foul smell from picking his teeth,

a blowgun placed in her way that trips her, and

little white birds that fly in front of her."


Fernando Santos-Granero (ed.) : The Occult Life of Things. U of AZ Pr, Tucson, 2009.