Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 3, No 1 (2009)

The Celestial Umbilical Cord: Wild Palm Trees, Adult Male Bodies, and Sacred Wind Instruments among the Wakuénai of Venezuela

Jonathan D. Hill
Issued Date: 20 Jul 2009


This article focuses on the multiple uses and meanings of wild palm species as sources of musical wind instruments and edible fruits in sacred ceremonies and rituals of the Wakuénai (or Curripaco) living in the Venezuelan Amazon. In myth, the emergence of a macanilla (púpa) tree from the ashes of the primordial human being (Kuwái) became the source of sacred flutes and trumpets, and the sounds made by these wind instruments opened up the world for a second time. In ritual and ceremonial performances, the different instruments have animal namesakes and are also said to be different parts of the body of Kuwái. This article explores these intimate relations among wild palm species, adult male bodies, sacred wind instruments, and the primordial human being of myth. The article also draws on verbal and nonverbal imagery performed in sacred singing and chanting (malikái) in which wild palm species are associated with the celestial umbilical cord that nourishes humanity with the life-giving and world-creating powers of Kuwái and other powerful mythic beings.

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DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v3i1.99


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