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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 140

Although the Araucanians did not practise any rites, they were not behind other American aboriginal peoples in superstition. They were firm believers in divination, and paid marked attention to favourable or unfavourable omens. Appearances in dreams, the songs and flight of birds, and all the usual machinery of augury were pressed into the service of their priests or diviners; and the savage who dreaded naught on the field of battle would tremble violently at the mere sight of an owl.

The priests, or rather diviners, were called by the Araucanians gligua or dugol, and were subdivided into guenguenu, genpugnu, and genpiru, meaning respectively 'masters of the heavens,' 'of epidemics,' and 'of insects or worms.' There was also a sect called calcu, or 'sorcerers,' who dwelt in caves and were served by ivunches, or 'man-animals,' to whom they taught their terrible arts. The Araucanians believed that these wizards had the power to transform themselves at night into nocturnal birds, to fly through the air, and to shoot invisible arrows at their enemies, besides indulging in the malicious mischief with which folklore credits the wizards of all countries. Their priests proper they believed to possess numerous familiars who were attached to them after death. Thus they resemble the 'magicians' of the Middle Ages. These priests were celibate, and led an existence apart from the tribe, in some communities being[Pg 313] garbed as women. The tales told of their magical prowess lead us to believe that they were either natural epileptics or ecstatics, or excited themselves by drugs. The Araucanians also held that the knowledge of their real personal names gave dangerous magic power over them.

They firmly believed in the immortality of the soul. They held that the composition of man was twofold—the anca, or corruptible body, and the am or pulli, the soul, which they believed to be ancanolu ('incorporeal'), and mugcalu ('eternal' or 'existing for ever'). So thoroughly a matter of everyday allusion had these distinctions become that they frequently made use of the word anca in a metaphorical sense, to denote a part, the half, or the subject of anything. They differed about details of life after death. All held that after death they would go west, beyond the sea—a conception of the soul's flight held by many other American tribes. The west, the 'grave' of the sun, was supposed also to be the goal of man in the evening of his days—a place where the tired soul might find rest.

"The old notion among us," said an old chief, "is that, when we die, the spirit goes the way the sun goes, to the west, and there joins its family and friends who went before it."[10] The country to which the Araucanians believed their dead went was called Gulcheman, 'the dwelling of the men beyond the mountains.' The general conception of this Otherworld was that it was divided into two parts, one pleasant, and filled with everything that is delightful, the abode of the good; and the other desolate and in want of everything, the habitation of the wicked. Some of the Araucanians held, however, that all indiscriminately enjoyed eternal pleasures, saying that earthly behaviour had no effect upon the immortal state. The amount of spirituality in their belief is shown by their funerary practices.

The relatives of the deceased person seated themselves round his body and wept for a long time, afterward exposing it for a space upon a raised bier, called pilluay, where it remained during the night. During this time they watched over and 'waked' it, eating and drinking with those who came to console[Pg 314] them. This meeting was called curicahuin, or the 'black entertainment,' as black was the symbolical colour of mourning with them. About the second or third day the body was laid to rest in the eltum, or family burying-ground. The eltum was usually situated in a wood or on a hill, and the procession to it was preceded by two young men on horseback, riding full speed. The bier was carried by the nearest relatives of the deceased, and surrounded by women who mourned and wept during the entire ceremony. On arrival at the eltum the corpse was laid on the ground and surrounded by arms in the case of a man, or by feminine implements in that of a woman. Provisions, chica (native spirit), wine, and sometimes even a dead horse were placed beside the deceased to serve him in the Otherworld. The Pehuenches believed that the Otherworld was cold, and so sought to warm the corpse with fire, after which they bound it to a horse, placed the bridle in its hand, killed the steed, and buried both together in the grave. The relatives and friends of the dead man then wished him a prosperous journey, and covered the body with a pyramid or cairn of stones, over which they poured large quantities of chica.

After they had departed, an old woman called Tempuleague came to the grave in the shape of a whale, and transported the soul of the deceased to the Otherworld. Probably the Araucanians of the Chilean coast were acquainted with the spermaceti, or southern variety of whale, and regarded it as the only method of locomotion for a spirit across the great waters, or it is probable that they borrowed the conception from the Peruvians of the coast, who regarded the sea as the most powerful among the gods, and called it Mama-cocha or 'Mother Sea.' The whale was a general object of worship all along the Peruvian coast, while each of the Peruvian coastal districts worshipped the particular species of fish that was taken there in the greatest abundance. This fish-worship was not mere superstition, and it was very elaborate, the fish-ancestor of each variety or 'tribe' of fish holding a special place in the heavens in the form of a constellation. The Collao tribes to the south, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, some fifty[Pg 315] miles or so from the Chilean frontier, also worshipped a fish-god; so that in all likelihood the fish-goddess of the Araucanians was originally borrowed from the Collao, who were probably ethnologically akin to the Araucanian tribes. This theory is confirmed by the nature of the fish-deity worshipped by the Collao; its name was Copacahuana, 'valuable stone to be looked upon,' the idol being carved from a bluish-green stone, with the body of a fish surmounted by a rude human head. This deity, like Tempuleague, was female.


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