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Observations placeholder

Reichel-Dolmatoff - The Desana of the Amazon basin



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Reichel-Dolmatoff – Amazonian Cosmos

Most religious rituals are the duties of the paye (ye’e), who serves as an intermediary between society and the supernatural forces. The paye directs the ceremonies of the life cycle, that is, "baptism," initiations, and burial rites. Besides, he is also a curer.

But his central function has an essentially economic character as he is the intermediary between the hunter and the supernatural, "masters" of the animals. The paye must influence these masters or "owners" so that they will cede some of their animals, and he must also instruct and prepare the hunter so that he will observe the many prescriptions that are necessary. As a sort of gamekeeper, the paye is -intimately concerned with the sexuality and fertility of game animals, a sphere in which he "intervenes" in many ways to assure the multiplication of the species. In his contacts with supernatural beings, the paye uses certain hallucinogenic drugs, such as the powder of viho (Piptadenia), which he sniffs in through his nose, or the drink gahpi (Banisteriopsis caapi), called yaje in Lengua Geral.

The characteristic paraphernalia of the paye consist of his gourd rattle and a long lance-shaped rattle as well as an ornament formed by a polished cylinder of white or yellowish quartz that he wears suspended from his neck.

Illness, imagined primarily in the form of small black splinters or thorns that an enemy has introduced magically into the body of the victim, is cured by the paye, who sucks it from the body until all sickness is extracted and then blows tobacco smoke over the patient and throws water on him.

Besides the paye there are several individuals designated as kumu whose functions seem to be rather those of a priest. The kumu is considered to be a direct representative of the solar divinity and, as such, has a very high status in society. Generally, he intervenes only in certain phases of the rituals of the life cycle, but his main function is that of conserving traditions which he explains in long "counsels."

Besides the collective ceremonies carried out on the occasion of the rites of the life cycle, the Desana and their neighbours gather in periodic reunions called bayari …..In these reunions the Creation Myth and the myths referring to the origin of the phratry are recited; there is dancing to the sound of various musical instruments, and the men wear large feather crowns. Hallucinogenic drugs are sometimes consumed on these occasions. These gatherings, with their marked emphasis on sib cohesion, are of great importance and probably constitute the strongest and most structured collective expression of the culture.

This summary of Desana culture can be generalized, for the most part, to all the tribes of the Vaupes area. As a matter of fact, the malocas, the chagras, and the majority of the basic objects of material culture are the same as well as the techniques of hunting and fishing and the implements used in the preparation of manioc and cassava. Also, the institution of the paye, costumed dances, and the gatherings at which the Creation Myth are recited form a common basis and are found in one form or another in all the Tukano groups.

The source of the experience

South American shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps


Music therapy