A Scoop Into Indigenous Traditions
We must begin by clarifying that there is not just one Amazonian culture but as many cultures as there are ethnic groups. Ethnic groups can vary in characteristics and yet still share common traits that influence their idiosyncrasy and the way they behave alike but not the same. These ancestral cultures have been developing from a remote past but with differences inherent to the influences of temporal, spatial, social framework and their commercial environment.
The conception of the universe and how they participate in it, is always associated with the natural cycles of the earth, the living jungle surroundings and the connection to their telluric and sideral deities. This cosmovision establishes a hierarchical order of the universe, of community life, where myths and rites are staged as a way to shape and facilitate their understanding of life and its origins. This cosmogonic conception guides their actions and perceptions. Despite the differences, due to these common grounds, generalisation is often misleading in reference to all indigenous cultures as being part of one.
The cosmogony of the Amazonian people is almost as abundant as its rich surroundings. In origine, as in other cultures, their diverse myths and legends act as a catalyst for promoting abundance for all and/or for restricting certain behaviours that are inappropriate, dangerous, or that violate in any way the environmental balance that ensures life for all.
For the indigenous people and their differing cultural idiosyncrasies, there is no clear separation between the individual and society, culture and nature. A member of a community has little or no chance or autonomy to act as an individual in respect to their peers, and the degree of individualism is very weak or almost non-existent, contrary to contemporary western society where individualism is applauded as a distinctive trait. In origin a member of a community, lives in a social environment full of purpose, in which nature is the epicentre of the universe, thus attributing meaning to their actions and fulfilling their purpose in regards to their community.
The Spirit Realm and Guardians of the jungle
In the Amazon, people shared their life and values with spiritual entities that guard the jungle. The plant and animal kingdom is often anthropomorphized, everything has a spirit or “Madre” (Mother). Also in this context, the activities for sustaining life, such as hunting, fishing, gathering, caring for land and crops, are consecrated by an implicit and sometimes explicit accordance between a man/woman and the spirits or deities.
This spirit guardianship of preservation and abundance applied to all areas, territories, plants and animals, thus the permission to intervene must alway proceed prior to any action of taking. A hunt should never result in taking more than what is needed, this concept ensures the preservation of nature. Shamans would consult the spirits and often act as mediators between people and nature in order to transmit the rules of use of the resources, thus establishing boundaries for the natural order to continue with its rightful balance.
In this order of things there was no place for abusing natural resources, nor a destructive pressure exerted on the ecosystem, only part of what exists was used to sustain life. In its original context, there was no struggle for economic gain and surplus nor a purpose for accumulating wealth beyond measure. Plants and animals were considered as subjects rather than objects. After the takeover of industrialisation, greed, burning and pillaging of vast regions of the Amazon rainforest, some of these cultures have managed to prevail in their natural cycles.
The Chullachaqui, the Sachamama, the Yakumama, Yakurunas, Tunchis, Runamulas, Sirenas and Bufeos Colorados are some of the many forest dwelling guardians and plant spirits that interact with humans through apparitions and dreams in order to convey a message, protect or haunt individuals according to their intentions in regards to the forest they explore or the area they live in and their relationship with it. The accounts of encounters by tribesmen and women with these magical beings are countless and diverse and in time have generated an extensive and rich mythology.