Accepted paper:

Nature of the Wayana Maraké Ritual: Death as Transformative Process of Life


Renzo Duin (Leiden University)

Paper short abstract:

Meaning of life and death in the Eastern Guiana Highlands becomes foregrounded during the maraké ritual, commonly understood as initiation ritual. By means of differences and similarities between this ritual in myth and contemporary Wayana rituals, the nature of the maraké is critically assessed.

Paper long abstract:

In the Eastern Guiana Highlands (Brazil, Suriname, and French Guiana), the indigenous Wayana people habitually practice a ritual known as maraké (ëputop in Wayana), which is generally interpreted as an initiation ritual for adolescent boys to become marriageable adults. Tradition and transformation of the maraké ritual, an element of evolving humanity, will be discussed by means of the body of myths and oral histories in conjunction with the recent maraké ritual performed in 2004, in the Upper Maroni Basin. Myths provide a foundation to conceptualize the indigenous Wayana perspective regarding the life qualities humans share with non-humans, transformative processes of life and death, along with general conceptualizations of the vitality of nature. Central in the myth of the Creator twins, who instigated the first maraké ritual, is that death is the necessary transformative process to generate life. Regarding the Wayana region as an emerging world, I will critically assess the nature of this assumed "initiation ritual," whereby emphasizing the role of precious feather headdresses imbued with what I call "ancestral agency." In this sense, feather headdresses and related regalia are not lifeless objects, but instead have their proper object biographies of extended personhood. Rethinking myth and history is grounded in the differences and similarities between the mythical ritual of the Creator twins and the contemporary Wayana maraké ritual which keep the heritage alive.

panel LD24
Documenting the meanings of life and death in the Americas