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Introduction to the Amazonian People Cosmovision

September 5, 2020

All human beings ask ourselves big questions about the origin of life, the universe, our environment. We ask ourselves about the meaning of our life and our relationships with society and nature.

What name to give to this network of questions about the essence of existence and the ways to answer them to the best of our ability?

Some call it thought, or “indigenous thought” (Esterman 2001) and others, worldview.

In this article we will call it indistinctly Amazonian worldview or indigenous thought, although we give preference to the term worldview.

The use of the notion of “thought” introduces us fully into psychology. Thinking is the ability of a person to plan and direct their behavior.

This process is carried out in a hidden way, since it occurs inside the mind, and cannot be observed sensorially.

That is, the thought is not observable, it precedes a conduct or behavior, and it depends on the individual experience.

Collective thought

Describing the “thought” of a group or collective, as it happens in a native Amazonian indigenous community, is equivalent to explaining the way in which that group responds to its great questions about the origin and purpose of the universe and of life, and the way how the individual, or the group of which he is a part, inserts himself into that perspective.

There is a risk, however, that we become entangled in the tenets of behavioral psychology. That would lead us to the prediction and control of behavior through experimentation, despite the fact that Skinner (1975) enunciated the concept of “free operant behavior”, which does not require a particular stimulus to be carried out, but only that the behavior originates, is maintained or modified, taking into account its consequences.

For many psychologists, behavior is the result of a chain of elements, which begin with beliefs, which are followed by words, these by actions, these by values, and these determine the destiny of a person.

The beliefs

Beliefs are systems of concepts and ideas, accepted in the society in which we live, that organize the perception we have about the world and about ourselves.

In these beliefs there are mythical components and non-mythical or rationalized components.

The important thing about a belief, for those who have it, is not that it is false or true, but that it is useful for their survival and gives them certain security in the uncertainty in which their life unfolds. In such a way that people cling to some beliefs, even in the face of evidence presented against them.

Beliefsdetermine a person’s behavior when faced with a given situation, and have a great influence on how one thinks, acts and how one behaves.

The other concept used to define the big questions about life and their answers is that of worldview.

This research will be developed in two parts. The first part will consist of the definition of the concept of worldview and its foundations.

In the second, I will describe, based on this theoretical concept, the forms of mediation used by these indigenous communities to relate to nature in a scenario where there is a generalized idea that all living beings, including human beings, are closely interrelated in a equality plan.

I will explain, then, the two most notable forms of mediation between human beings and nature: through the shamanand through the guardian deities or owners of natural resources.


The shaman and the “owners” or spirits of nature: mediators between two worlds

In the different Amazonian indigenous worldviews there is a general belief that all living beings (animals, plants, human beings) and spiritual beings are equal and share the faculty of being persons, subjects with a human soul, on a plane they call “another world”, where the transforming beings live, although in “this world” appear in their original appearance, that is, as animals and plants.

These two worlds or modes of existence, in which the relationships between nature and human beings take place, are mediated by two instances or elements.

One is the shaman, who has the ability to travel in the two worlds with the appearance of some animals, such as the jaguar.

For this mediation, he uses his knowledge and faculties, some hallucinogenic substances, generally yagé or ayahuasca, or coca, and sacred chants, ánent, amulets, as well as certain rituals.

The other mediation is through the lords or owners of nature, which are spiritual beings who are in charge of caring for the resources of the forest, water and land, applying certain rules that are mandatory for the people who carry out the different subsistence activities that are carried out in the context of the indigenous community.


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