The Achuar are an
Amazoniancommunity of some 4,500 individuals along either side of the border in between Ecuadorand Peru. As of the early 1970s, the Achuar were one of the last of the Jivaroan groups still to be spared the destructive effects of western contact.
The name Achuar means “the people of the aguaje palm”. Achuar life centers on the domestic household, which consists of a basic family unit often including close relatives. There are usually about ten to fifteen households within the society dispersed throughout the area but still in a relatively close distance of each other. Marriages are typically polygamous with partners somewhat related, or in some instances women are taken from nearby tribes during raids. Conflicts within the Achuar society are minimal. The constant fight is between neighboring tribes and when tensions greatly increase, the Achuar find refuge in large protected houses that hold six to seven families.
Women and men hold separate daily tasks that are all beneficial for the survival of a family. The women gather and carry the game, sometimes with their children, while also preparing meals. They also have the opportunity to fish with baskets or line fish but overall their role pertains to domestic duties. Men, on the other hand, work in the forest and hunt. They are also involved in making the tools they use for hunting, like blowguns and traps, and use the technique of clearing for the expansion of their spouses’ gardens.
Gardens are maintained by women solely at least three days a week. They comprise a large quantity and variety of plant species, but their value delves much deeper than just a source of food. Women can find sanctuary in their gardens and express their grief and suffering in private, as public emotion is spurned. Women also give birth to their children in there, demonstrating the importance of gardens in Achuar lives. Every garden is watched over by the spirit of gardens, Nunkui. Women sing anents, magical songs, as a medium to communicate with her plants, Nunkui, and other particular objects. The songs are extremely personal so they are either sung in the head or on an instrument, but always in secret. Each anent has basically the same melodic structure but different lyrics. Yet gardens can also be perilous at times, specifically manioc which is believed to have traits of vampirism. Children are the main targets of the manioc and thus are not allowed to enter a garden without supervision. Blood is precious in the eyes of the Achuar who believe there is a finite amount of blood in each person and when lost it can never be replaced, therefore quickening death.
The traditional form of burial for the Achuar is placing the deceased person in a hollowed-out log, resembling a canoe. During the funeral of a head of household, the canoe is buried in the middle of the house in remembrance of the continuing presence of the late figure. One spiritual belief of the Achuar regarding death, is the role of the remaining body parts of the dead body. These limbs acquire a life of their own and assume the bodies of certain animals.
Shamanism is present in Achuar lifestyle as witchcraft is occasionally practiced. An example of this is their form of karma that entitles a person to revert any harmful incidents or material another sent. Animals, again, are significant for the Achuar who possess a close bond with nature. The only way for a hunter to be successful is to live in harmony with the game he hunts and with its guardian spirits. He must follow these two rules: taking these animals with moderation and showing respect to the animals he kills. The Achuar believe that most creatures have the ability to speak with one another in their own way. This is sometimes experienced during soul journeys, which are induced by hallucinogenic drinks. Dreams are essential for the Achuar as they are not only revealing but also can be foretelling. This group has an omen system where it is usually insisted upon to have a dream before hunting.
The standard Achuar home is settled near a river or lake, but within a distance from major waterways because of mosquitoes. It is shaped as a large oval, commonly without outer walls to allow ventilation, with a high roof with straight sides. The roof is often made out of palm tree fronds while two types of palm are used for house beams. Temporary walls are made out of large palms when danger seems close. A large yard and gardens then surround the home on the outside. The size of a house plays a pivotal part in the ego of an Achuar man. The bigger the house is to fit multiple wives and children the more likely that man will be considered a juunt, or “a great man”.
The Achuar follow an astronomical calendar of seasonal resources, like the fish season, which is divided into days, moons, and year. Aside from the everyday routine, there still remains time for leisure. Thirty-five percent of the day is spent on subsistence production, leaving the rest of the day open. Men and young boys have more time for relaxation compared to women who still have house chores to complete. Before being married, young boys do nothing all day while adolescent girls work in the garden. During the rest of the day, married men drink manioc beer and talk amongst each other while also doing handiwork, for example woodwork.
Self-control is a fundamental aspect of Achuar beliefs, which is taught at a young age. Men exercising discipline to show will power and strength and the best place to display this is in their own home. Examples of self-control would be avoiding gluttony, being able to go without sleep, and not wasting anything. As well, another form of control would be over their expressions and attitudes, especially in front of visitors. Evading eye contact is key or else a sense of aggression might arise and mouths are covered when speaking. Saliva is the only product of the body that is publicly exposed. This is because female saliva is believed to be a source of fermentation of the manioc beer and male saliva is socially incorporated into the speech of a conversation.
Descola, Phillipe, "In the society of nature"
* [http://www.nacionalidadachuarecuador.org/ The official Ecuadorian Achuar website]
* [http://www.achuarperu.org/en/index.htm The official Peruvian Achuar website]
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