An Inquiry into the Animism and Folk-Lore of the Guiana Indians
Walter E. Roth
Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 397
Publication Date: 1915
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From the Preface: 'When, some seven years ago, I took up the duties of stipendiary magistrate, medical officer, and protector of Indians in this mosquito-cursed district of the Pomeroon, I determined upon devoting all my spare time—and there has been plenty of it—to an ethnographical survey of the native tribes of British Guiana, somewhat on the lines I had already followed in the case of North Queensland.'
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Originally, Indians had no terms expressive of the conception of a Supreme Being; such terms as they now possess have been framed to suit civilized, especially missionary, requirements (1). On the other hand, traditions of certain Tribal Heroes have been unconsciously assumed as indicative of the existence among the natives of the knowledge of a God (2).
1. Careful investigation forces one to the conclusion that, on the evidence, the native tribes of Guiana had no idea of a Supreme Being in the modern conception of the term. This contention is confirmed in a way by Gumilla (II, 7), one of the early missionary fathers on the Orinoco, who writes as follows: In three nations which will be mentioned directly they have a word indicative, after their fashion, of God: we trust that time and labor will also reveal, in other tribes, a name which until now they have furnished no sign of recognizing either by word or expression. Even in the said nations no outward ceremony of divine worship or adoration has been observed. Nor are the terms which express God in the different languages so particularized and indubitable as to convince us of their sure and certain signification. The Caribs call God Quiyumocón, i. e., Our Big Father, but it is not sufficiently clear whether they mean by this expression the First Cause or the most ancient of their ancestors. The Salivas say that Púru made all that is good; that he lives in the expanse of the sky . . . The Betoyes, before their conversion, used to say that the Sun was God, and in their language, they speak of both God and Sun as Theos.
The nations of the upper Orinoco, the Atabapo, and the Inirida, as Humboldt records, have no worship other than that of the powers of Nature: they call the good principle Cachimana; it is the Manito, the Great Spirit, that regulates the seasons and favors the harvests (AVH, II, 362). In Cayenne there is the similar evidence of the Jesuits Grillet and Bechamel (25): "The Nouragues and the Acoquas, in Matters of Religion, are the same with the Galibis. They acknowledge there is a God, but do not worship him. They say he dwells in Heaven, without knowing whether he is a Spirit or no, but rather seem to believe he has a body. . . The Nouragues and the Acoquas call him Maire, and never talk of him but in fabulous stories."
They have not even in their language any suitable term to express the Divinity, still less the homage and respect due to him (PBa, 218). The present-day British Guiana Carib name for God is identical with that just given, Tamosi-Kabutana, Old Man-Sky [Kabu = the Sun], figuratively The Ancient of Heaven, or simply Tamosi, without particularizing. But this word is undoubtedly the same as tamuchi, the Cayenne Carib term for the head-man or chief of a tribe; it serves also to designate a grandfather (PBa, 218). The same remark perhaps may be applicable to theos, the word given by Gumilla as the Betoya word for the Divine Person, recognizable in the terms tuchao (Cr, 372) and tushaúa (HWB, 241, 244), the name given to the chief, head-man, of the tribe or nation, in the upper and lower Amazons, respectively. Koch-Grünberg (II, 82) talks of Tuschaua as being Lingoa Geral. Wallace (348), too, says that the Indians of the Amazon appear to have no definite idea of a God. The Arawak terms for the Christian deity also show signs that they have been adapted to express a conception to which they could have been introduced only within modern times, a statement which is made advisedly, because in none of the Arawak myths and legends relative to the Creation, even in those published by clerics, is there a single reference to the All-Maker (Br, 58) under the term of Wa’chinachi, Our Father, Wa’murretakuon(na)chi, Our Maker, or even Aiomun Kondi, Dweller on High. It is very noteworthy that the same discrepancy as to the alleged word for God is at once apparent in almost all the Creation myths of the other tribes that so far I have managed to unearth: for example, the Warrau word (ScR, II, 515) kwarisabarote, really intended for kwaresa ba-arautu, meaning literally 'on-top belonging-to.' The only exception perhaps would seem to be the Warrau Kanonatu, Our Maker (IT, 366), referred to by Brett in his Warrau story of the origin of the Caribs, where its introduction is certainly suspicious.
"Some [of the Orinoco] tribes, Father Caulin tells us, considered the Sun as the Supreme Being and First Cause; it was to him that they attributed the productions of the earth, scanty or copious rains, and all other temporal blessings; others, on the contrary, believed that everything depended on the influence of the moon, and conceived, when she suffered an eclipse, that she was angry with them." (FD, 51.) It is known that the Chaimas, Cumanagotos, Tamanacs, and other original tribes of the Carib people, worshipped (adoraban) the Sun and Moon (AR, 185). For perhaps the most extraordinary conception met with, however, concerning ideas of a Supreme Being, I would quote the reply given to Acuña (97) by a cacique of one of the Amazon tribes: "He told me himself was God, and begotten by the Sun, affirming that his Soul went every night into Heaven to give orders for the succeeding Day, and to regulate the Government of the Universe!" The Tupi language, at least, as taught by the old Jesuits, has a word, tupána, signifying God (HWB, 259). And so p. 119 it happened that the little china dolls which Koch-Grünberg (I, 184) presented to the women and children on the Aiary River (Rio Negro) were generally called tupána: the people took them for figures of saints from missionary times.
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