Albion Monitor /News

Shamen Claim Credit for Stopping Amazon Fires

by Mario Osava

The rains began some hours after two Cayapo "shaman" performed a rain dance
(IPS) RIO DE JANEIRO -- Heavy rain has extinguished forest fires raging in the Amazon state of Roraima after a visit there by two indigenous religious leaders, which has rekindled traditional mystic beliefs in natural phenomena among Indians and peasants in the region.

The rains began some hours after two Cayapo "shaman" performed a rain dance ceremony in Boa Vista, the Roraima state capital. The two "pajes" (indigenous religious leaders) traveled more than 2,000 kilometers from Mato Grosso, in the central-western region, to undertake the task of ending Roraima's six-month dry spell.

Local residents celebrated by literally dancing in the rain
The rain that weather services expected for the second half of April arrived on April 1, putting an end to fires that burned since January and destroyed a huge tract of forest and savanna.

Nearly 1,700 firefighters, soldiers and experts in forest fires waged a fruitless struggle against the flames before the rains, coinciding with the shamen's visit, put an end to the fires in less than 24 hours.

Local residents celebrated by literally dancing in the rain and singing the praises of the two "pajes" Kukrit and Mantii, who were flown to Roraima from Brasilia by the National Indigenous Foundation, the official assistance agency for native Brazilians.

But there was some jealousy among the local Native population in Roraima, who felt there was no need to bring them from so far because local tribes also had their shamen.

"It was luck, a coincidence," Geronimo Pereira, coordinator of the Roraima Indigenous Council (CIR), told IPS in a telephone interview. His organization represents close to 37,000 people who belong to one of the eight Native groups of Roraima.

"We also have our traditions," said Pereira, who explained that the Macuxis, the largest indigenous group in his area, predict rain using the moon and saints' days.

"While meteorologists were predicting rain for the end of April, we knew that they would arrive before that. We were expecting them for Holy Week (which began Apr. 6)."

The Macuxis, an agricultural people, believe that rains come on the days that honor particular saints. St. Joseph, whose day is March 19, "failed us this year, so it was clear that rain would come on Holy Week," Pereira said. St Anthony, St. John and St. Peter, the saints whose days are celebrated in the month of June, are also known to bring rain.

"It was the Catholics who gathered our experiences, our science, and made it part of their calendar," Pereira explained when asked about these attributions to Christian saints.

The Yanomamis believe that the universe is divided into three layers
All the indigenous groups as well as the members of "white" religions turned to their prayers and their ritual over the past months, asking their deities for rain. The Cayapos, who came from far away, had the biggest presence.

The Yanomamis, who are the most isolated Native group and who lost large tracts of their forests for the first time, also mobilized their shamen.

Magic plays a big role in their vision of the world, and they believe that the universe is divided into three layers, explains Carlo Zacquini, an Italian missionary who has lived in Roraima for 33 years and worked with the Yanomami community for 30 years.

A group of natives fled their village in fear when they saw the great smoke cloud of the approaching fire, "believing that the top layer was on fire, killing the spirits," Zacquini said.

Fearing that they would also die in the flames, they sought refuge in one of the outposts set up by the Pro-Yanomami Commission -- a non-governmental organization that is led by Zacquini.

Their panic had an explanation. One of the local Habcoa shamen had a dream a few days before in which he had seen the upper layer of the world burn. People invoke the spirits which reside there to cure people and to overcome difficulties, Zacquini said.

Such stories suggest that there will be multiple versions and explanations of the great fire of Roraima and of the way it was finally put out as well.

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Albion Monitor April 14, 1998 (

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