Latest posts by Ligia Duque Platero, Ph.D. (C) (see all)
If, in the recent past, the diet was exclusively for men of this ethnic group, since 2006, some Yawanawá women
The muká diet is considered by the Yawanawá, indigenous people of Acre Brazil, as their most important initiation in the process of acquiring shamanic power and knowledge. If, in the recent past, the diet was exclusively for men of this ethnic group, since 2006, some Yawanawá women are also having access to it. In addition, with the expansion of their alliances with the non-indigenous people of the cities, some non-indigenous persons also have access to the diet.
The participation of women in the diets and rituals of uni (ayahuasca) produced transformations in the relations between the genders in the indigenous land Río Gregorio. Some of them became xinaya, who have power and knowledge, rich in spirit. In addition, they became more valued and respected in the indigenous land, as leaders of singing in the rituals of uni and as producers of alliances in the cities.
The non-indigenous (nawa) who participate in the muká diet are considered in the village to be advanced students of the Yawanawá spirituality
The non-indigenous (nawa) who participate in the muká diet are considered in the village to be advanced students of the Yawanawá spirituality. They are the closest non-indigenous allies. Access to the muká diet is increasingly flexible, and more non-indigenous people from the cities are coming closer to the Yawanawá, with the intention of carrying out the diet.
Non-Indigenous people who perform the muká diet can lead ayahuasca (uni) ceremonies in the cities, where they acquire the status of pajés (shamans). In that sense, among White people, the diet of the muká can generate status and prestige in the ayahuasqueros groups and among the adepts of the Santo Daime religion (mainly from the line of Padrinho Sebastião).
The Diet and the Muká
The plant is a small shrub, similar to a potato with a very bitter taste. In the Yawanawá language, muká means “bitter.”
The plant is a small shrub, similar to a potato with a very bitter taste. In the Yawanawá language, muká means “bitter.” Both the tuber root and the leaves can be used to acquire shamanic power in Yawanawá shamanism.
The small shrub Muká in the village Mutum, in the indigenous land, Rio Gregório, High Purus River. Photo from the author’s personal collection.
The muká diet is the main initiation required for Yawanawá to acquire the power to heal and has a total duration of one year. Initiations involve the parallel processes of ingesting sacred plants, the memorization of knowledge (songs, prayers, use of plants) and periods of seclusion.
Throughout the year of diet, the person cannot have sex, cannot eat food with salt or containing sugar, such as fruits. In the past diets, they didn’t consume water, since it is considered sweet.
Throughout the year of diet, the person cannot have sex, cannot eat food with salt or containing sugar, such as fruits. In the past diets, they didn’t consume water, since it is considered sweet. In the first months of the diet in the forest, the person is allowed to drink only cassava drinks. In recent years, after the first months, they have been allowed to drink water with lemon, especially if the person completes the diet in the city. In the first few weeks, the person consumes only meals made of rice or corn or green banana without salt. Only after the first month can the person eat a small amount of fish.
The person eats the tuber of the muká and defines an intention for the diet. The thoughts and intentions of the person who makes the diet are very important. Suffering is part of the diet, and it’s associated with enduring the many restrictions, as well as the effort to memorize information.1 (Masters thesis). Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC). Florianópolis, 1999.]
While the muká diet is being carried out, the person consumes uni, rapé (made from tobacco and tree ashes), pepper, and studies the use of the sipá, a Yawanawá type of smoking.
The muká diet produces bodily transformations that take the students to the world of the yuxin, the spirits, mainly during dreams, when students of Yawanawá shamanism can communicate with spirits of ancestors and teachers, receiving lessons and instruments to perform their cures. Much of the knowledge taught by the pajé is associated with the interpretation of dreams.2. Rio de Janeiro: Livre Expressão, 2013.]
Yawanawá Women Do the Diet
In the past, the Yawanawá pajés only taught the knowledge to men, with whom they had a close relationship, such as their sons, sons-in-law, or fathers-in-law, in the midst of networks of reciprocal relationships. While the caciques (the political leaders of the group) are food distributors, the pajés are health distributors, and the others become their debtors. In these networks of change, few men had access to the diet.
However, since 2006, the sisters Hushahu and Putani, daughters of the old cacique Raimundo Luiz, wanted to carry out the diet of the muká
However, since 2006, the sisters Hushahu and Putani, daughters of the old cacique Raimundo Luiz, wanted to carry out the diet of the muká, and began to produce changes in those relations between the genders in the village. Cacique Biracy and pajé Yawá did not authorize them to carry out the diet. However, the leader, Raimundo Luiz, authorized them, and they carried out the diet in the village Mutum, with the teachings of the pajé Tatá and the support of his other sisters.
At the end of the first year of the muká diet, the men of the village did not recognize their healing powers and told them that they would have to do one more year of diet, so that they would be recognized as xinaya, people of knowledge. The two completed the two years of the muká diet, passing doubly the tests passed by the men.
After they went through the muká diet, they gained status and prestige, considered as possessing shamanic power, and as leaders in the songs during the uni rituals. Due to the participation of women in the muká diet, other women who had never taken the uni began to drink it in their singing and dancing rituals. In addition, years later, the cacique Mariazinha and her daughter, of the village Mutum, also adopted the muká diet.
Since 2009, Hushahu and Putani began to travel to large cities in Brazil, where they lead uni rituals for non-indigenous people. In these social situations, they are considered by the White people as shamans, as some kind of missionaries of the Yawanawá culture in the cities.
Non-Indigenous People and the Diet
In addition to the Yawanawá women, since 2007, some non-natives (nawa) have been granted authorization to carry out the muká diet. The first non-Indian to perform the muká diet was the anthropologist Terri Aquino. The authorization for him to adopt the diet came as reward for the support that Terri gave in the struggle for the recovery of Yawanawá territory.
In that period in 2007, the cacique Biraci Brazil was going through his own muká diet. Biraci was returning to the ancient Kaxinawá village where the sacred cemetery is located that was abandoned in 1984, where many muká plants were propagated. The cacique interpreted that it was the will of the spirit of the muká to open the possibility of allowing the use of the muká diet by non-indigenous people (Altherman, 2013).
In 2008, another ally to take on the muká diet was the journalist Leandro Altherman. He became a promoter of the muká diet, through his book Muká: The Root of Dreams, published in 2013.
Another non-Indian who performed the muká diet was “Rodrigo” (a pseudonym), the son of two leaders of a Santo Daime church in Rio de Janeiro, from the spiritual line of Padrinho Sebastião. He went to Rio Gregorio indigenous land for the first time in 2009, at the age of 15, and there he had a very significant visionary experience with the uni that was a milestone in his life.
In 2014, he married the daughter of the chief from the village Mutum. In 2015, he applied for permission to carry out the muká diet in Mutum village and received authorization from the pajé Tatá. According to Rodrigo, he received his authorization to carry out the diet for effectively becoming a relative. He was the last student initiated by pajé Tatá, before he pass away in December 2016, at the age of 103.
Yawanawá Festival in the village of Mutum, July 2016, in the indigenous land Rio Gregório, High Purus River. Photo from the author’s personal collection.
After carrying out his diet, the young leader participated alongside the Yawanawá in cultural presentations in Mutum village and in United States cities. If, in the village Mutum, he is considered an advanced student of Yawanawá spirituality, in the church of the Santo Daime he began to receive the recognition by some daimistas of possessing powers to cure.
In that sense, for the daimistas of their church, the alliance with the Yawanawá is a return to the root of the doctrine of Santo Daime, as a search for the healing powers of the teacher Irineu Serra. Thus, innovations and reinventions are justified and legitimized through the discourse of returning to origins.
Benefits and Risks of the Diet
As benefits of the muká diet, the interlocutors who go through it affirm that it´s a reeducation that completely transforms the person and induces the development of personal talents. Among them, the person can acquire the power to perform cures, or can acquire other talents, such as singing, writing, and managing the community.
As for risks, the muká diet is a very difficult process to complete, due to the many restrictions and sufferings the person goes through in a year, demanding extreme discipline
As for risks, the muká diet is a very difficult process to complete, due to the many restrictions and sufferings the person goes through in a year, demanding extreme discipline. If the diet is not completed, the Yawanawá affirm that the spirit of the plant can “correct the accounts” with the person, producing undesirable situations in their future life.
If many urban neo-ayahuasqueros of the indigenous line believe that the rules of the Santo Daime religion are more restricted and inflexible, it is because they still do not know the rigor of the rules in the Yawanawá diets.
This text was originally published in Spanish on the website Drugs, Politics and Culture: http://drogaspoliticacultura.net/psa/la-dieta-del-muka-transposicion-jerarquias-los-yawanawa-en-brasil/. And it was presented at the Sacred Plants Congress in the Americas, which took place in Ajijic, Mexico, from February 23 to 25, 2018.
Pajé Tatá (in memoriam) in the village Mutum. Photo by Zack Embree. This photo was kindly provided by the Indigenous Celebration organization.