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In Darkness and Secrety

Posted 7 7 16

In Darkness and Secrecy

I only know of one woman, Delsa, who acknowledged that she was a follower of the path of a shaman. She did not claim to have muka and was therefore called a yuxian (someone who lives with yuxin) instead of a mukaya, but her prayers had the power to heal thanks to her spiritual snake husband, Yube Xeni. Delsa, the first of two wives of the leader of the village Fronteira, became a yuxian following a frightening experience in one of the most dangerous places of otherness known to the Cashinahua: the hospital. The story she told me goes as follows. While pregnant with her last child, she was in town accompanying her husband. When she was about to deliver, the doctors wanted to operate on her in order to sterilize her. They were acting in accordance with the wishes of her husband. Delsa, however, refused vehemently. She said that if she herself no longer wanted to bear children, she could use her own methods to achieve this. In Cashinahua society it is women and not men who control fertility. Thus, with the threat of control being taken from her while in the hospital and about to deliver, Delsa “went crazy.” She screamed and punched, not allowing the doctors to get away with sterilization. During her fit, Delsa also had visions. It seems that the hospital, the place where people go to die, has a large quantity of yuxin wandering around. After a certain period of time, later back in the village, she learned to gain control over her visions. Delsa started first of all to receive the visits and teachings of her deceased father, who had also been a yuxian (shaman), and later on she “married” Yube Xeni (the snake yuxin). From that moment Yube Xeni came to make love to her at night, and because of her new yuxin husband Delsa said she no longer had sex with her human husband. One of the signs of her alliance with the world of yuxin was her deformed mouth— people say the yuxin are eating her mouth away— while another sign is her successful healing of fever in small children. Although Delsa is a yuxian and not a mukaya, she does share some of the mukaya’s characteristics: for example, both are chosen by yuxin and their conviviality implies both sexual abstinence and sexual alliance with yuxin beings. 9 Delsa’s initiation started at the moment she was at the end of her period of fertility and thus would not interfere with gender-specific sensibilities and the production of human beings. Her initiation through visions and dreams with a deceased kinsperson, in this case her father who had also been a shaman
(yuxian) and who decided to transmit his power to her, as well as her sexual union with the powerful snake Yube Xeni, shaman par excellence, shows obvious similarities with the initiation of other Panoan song healers and shamans, especially among the Katukina (Lima 2000: 134– 43). However, no materialization of spiritual power had been involved in Delsa’s case and no mention was made of her powers to produce illness.


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In Darkness and Secrecy: The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and Witchcraft in Amazonia

by Neil L. Whitehead, Robin Wright

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