Songs of tradition revival

Today, the Karitiana people number 320 and live in their own demarcated indigenous reservation, 95 km south of Porto Velho, the capital of the state of Rondônia, in Brazil. The proximity of a big city means they are in very close contact with the national society, in which they participate in various ways as individuals or as a community. However, it has not always been this way.

We do not know exactly when the first contacts between the Karitiana and non-Indians occurred, but they were first mentioned in the literature in 1909, by a member of the Rondon Commission, which had the mission of installing a telegraph line across remote areas of the country. The Karitiana worked as rubber-tappers and forest guides in the first decades of the 20th century, and from the 1950´s on contacts were more frequent, mainly with employees of the National Indian Bureau (SPI and FUNAI) and Salesian missionaries. The initial contact caused a severe population decline to the point that, according to their oral history, in the 1930s or 1940s their numbers were reduced to less than 30 people. At that moment of imminent extinction, the two last remaining Karitiana villages decided to unite, and moved to the region they occupy today. Marriages resulting from the union of the two villages reversed the population decline. In the 1970s the Karitiana numbered 64. The data available shows that the population is growing at an amazing rate, having more than doubled in the last decade.

Today, the Karitiana still rely mainly on domestic agriculture, hunting and fishing for survival. Sometimes they plant crops to sell outside, such as corn, coffee and beans, but the results of these efforts, depending as they do on the price of the product in the market, are not always positive. Another source of income is handicrafts, which they sell with difficulty through their own Association, located at the Indian Bureau´s house (FUNAI) in Porto Velho. Some people in the village are employees of the city, state or federal government (teachers, maintenance workers, nursing assistants, etc.), and in these households agriculture, hunting and fishing are no longer practiced on a regular basis.

In terms of religion, the Karitiana are divided in two groups: protestants and traditionalists. The former are directed by three leaders (in three different churches inside the village) and the latter are represented by the
shaman. This separation reflects the extension of an older division between the shaman and the political chief. Both religious groups claim to be traditionalist and support the cultural revival of the group. However, the shaman's family has left the Karitiana village to establish a new village motivated, among other things, by rejection of the protestant influence.

One cultural feature that remains strong today among the Karitana is their kinship system, which is Dravidian with avunculate. The preferential marriage for a woman in such a system is with the cross cousin or with the maternal uncle. Conversely, a woman's paternal uncles are considered father figures, and marriages with members of such a category are prohibited. The Karitiana admit that kinship rules were violated in the past in the name of survival, and for this reason they are all the more determined today to recover their traditions.

One of the Karitiana's main efforts to preserve their oral traditions in the modern world began through a literacy program in their native language funded by the Norwegian Rainforest Foundation from 1993 to 1997 and carried out by linguists associated with Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi in Brazil. This project was only possible due to the active participation of the Karitiana community and resulted in teaching two thirds of the population above 10 years old to read and write in their native language. Since then, the village school has been run by native teachers, who have been trying to create a bilingual program. Traditional stories told by the elders have been recorded and transcribed by youngsters and the linguist in charge of the project. The next step in this effort will be to create an electronic database in the form of an encyclopedic dictionary to be used by the Karitiana and researchers alike.

The music presented in this CD represents a revival of the Karitiana traditions. In an environment in which indigenous cultures have little support or hope of marketing their cultural products, it is notable that the Karitiana managed to resist and remain interested in passing on their traditional knowledge to future generations. The shaman's music (pajé, in Portuguese) presented here is sung solely by the shaman. The lyrics deal with themes related to the act of curing diseases. The shaman's role in Karitiana society is to be the intermediary between the community and the spirits of the dead who are the source of all diseases. To be sick is to be “a little bit dead”. It is believed that the dead take the soul of the living when they feel disrespected, and the shaman must make peace with them so that they will grant health to the community. Cizino Karitiana, is the last Karitiana shaman. He sings the shaman music, plays the clarinet (jewy), and sings his family songs on this CD. It is currently unclear whether there will be a next shaman, because nobody has been named or trained by Cizino to replace him.

The songs played on the clarinetby Cizino are part of the “Chicha Party”, a ritual dedicated to the fermented drink called “chicha” (kytop in the Karitiana language) made mainly of maize or manioc. The role of the clarinet music in the ritual is to provoke or tease the owner of each house into coming outside and giving chicha to the players. For this reason, the songs´ lyrics are mainly jokes of a sexual nature. The lyrics of these songs are reproduced for the listener of the CD because the Karitiana sing the words of the song into the clarinets.

The players of pestle music (Música do Pilão) also reproduce Karitiana lyrics when they play. The listener can try to pick out the song lyrics in the music.


CD tracks

  1.  Opawak kapaty
    To avoid getting sick. Song of the shaman.

  2. Yn myrymon amej o mej o pitat, amej o tykiit
    "Are you being saved by me? "
    Song of the shaman.

  3. Yn im’ymymo
    "I sent it away."
    Song of the shaman.

  4. Kat ytakaki akat yta
    "We are like this."
    Song of the shaman.

  5. Ponpa opyn ytakatat
    "I went to the end of the hunter's path."
    Music played by woman on a maize mortar. 

  6. Yosedna kom
    "I am happy." (composed by Maria Karitiana, the shaman’s mother)

  7. Aoti oti kat ytasombaki yno
    "I will watch you walking fast." 
    A variation on the previous song, composed by Dy Pindyia, a sister of the shaman.

  8. Ipypyna horo'a ombakyyti tampyt'y horo'a
    "The jaguar doesn'tknow how to kill."

  9. Ponpa opyn ytakatat
    "I went to the end of the hunter's path."
    Version of the percussion played on a maize mortar played by young women.

  10. Yno mon taka
    "Is it me? "
    Song of the shaman's family

  11. Dy Pihibmina atip ipymbak pymbak
    Song imitating the music of clarinets by three men.

  12. Ojotong sognga
    Music of the chicha feast played by two men on clarinets.

  13. 'Ep opam ose taherep
    "They have drunk the copaiba juice" 
    Music played by women on a maize mortar. 

  14. Dy Pasap tahodn hej tyki
    Chicha song

  15. Aoti oti kat ytasombaki yno
    I am looking at the way you move fast". Song composed by Dy Akednema, a sister of the shaman.

  16. Ipypyna horo’a ombakyyti tampyt’y horo’a
    "The jaguar doesn’t know how to kill."

  17. Kabmyn aejom tyki 
    "I am saving you.