Cosmology, environment, and health: Baniwa food myths and rites

The Baniwa people, a member of the Aruak group which lives in the northwestern Amazon, has a rich mythic tradition that influences how the political, ethical, and practical dimensions of their social life are expressed and that guides the ancestral knowledge that guarantees the group's survival under adverse environmental conditions. The article analyzes myths and rites built around fish as a food source; these have an intimate relationship with cosmological explanations of the origin of the gods, water bodies, and the micro-ecosystems that foster the reproduction of aquatic fauna. Baniwa mythology draws an association between the reproductive processes of fish and a set of social relations involving human and non-human societies. Predation and edibility - notions underlying food rites - are viewed as part of a set of practices meant to produce and maintain kinship alliances, ease the food/prey peril, and maintain the cosmic balance that sustains life.

ethnology; South American Indians; cosmology; environment; indigenous health

Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz Av. Brasil, 4365 - Prédio do Relógio, 21040-900 Rio de Janeiro RJ Brazil, Tel./Fax: (55 21) 3865-2208/2195/2196 - Rio de Janeiro - RJ - Brazil