„Hãpaya“, the baptism ritual

The shaman receives a face painting with the red color of the rainforest fruit "urukum" and I also will be painted with this color afterwards. “This is a preparation for a ritual that will be performed with you today. It’s a baptism riutal. In our language it is called 'Hãpaya' and it is very sacred in our culture,” the shaman explains to me. I also learn that this ritual will be followed by a three-day special diet in which salt, sugar, meat and fish are forbidden. This diet aims to purify the body and to make it more open to receiving the sacred plant medicines.

A little later we go in a small group into the forest to the Samaúma tree, where the ritual will take place. We are all prepared for the ritual. The shaman wears a harpya eagle and macaw parrot feather headdress and the women and children wear colorful headbands with the drawings typical for their people. I also have a headband tied around my forehead. 

Once at the Samaúma, the shaman pulls out red pepper, which he previously had collected in the forest. I learn that red pepper is a very sacred medicine for the Huni Kuin people. He puts the red pepper on the floor. With one hand he begins to grind the pepper with a wooden stick and speaks a prayer in his language. In the other hand he holds a dead Japinim bird. He tells me that this bird mimics the songs of all other birds and is very sacred to its people. Then he asks me to sit down. He puts a small bowl in front of my feet and explains me the meaning of the ritual. “In the legend of the Huni Kuin, this ritual means initiation. The initiate who goes through this ritual receives an initiation and is thus enabled to become a healer himself or herself. He or she should learn to sing through the spirit of the holy pepper and the holy bird Japinim and receive sacred songs of healing in his or her visions."

I have to open my mouth and stick out my tongue. The shaman wets the holy bird's beak with the ground fresh red pepper and begins to dab it on the tip of my tongue. The small bowl in front of me serves to catch my saliva running down. He dabs the pepper on my tongue for a few minutes, saying a prayer in his language. "Now the energy of the pepper medicine has to act on your tongue for 40 minutes," he says after he's done.

I am sitting on a root of the Samaúma tree. My tongue hangs out of my mouth and saliva is dripping down. The pepper burns on my tongue but it is bearable. I pull myself together not to swallow or spit saliva during this time. I really want to go through the ritual. When the 40 minutes are over I spit the saliva that has accumulated out of my mouth and blow my nose. The energy of the pepper is very strong.

After the ritual has officially ended, we leave the forest. I go up to my house. It is exceptionally hot today, definitely over 30 degrees. Only a few clouds are in the sky. The sun is burning relentlessly on the village. In the house I lie down on my mattress. Here I am alone and can let my emotions run free. The energetic effect of the ritual is very intense. Suddenly I feel the strong urge to sing. Different melodies are shooting through my head and I start to sing. Like in a delirium I have to laugh and cry at the same time.

Then suddenly I feel very hot. I look in my pocket mirror and see a fiery red face. As soon as the sun goes down I leave my house. A villager rubs me with cold water. Now I'm cooling down a bit. I go to the shaman and ask him if this heat is a normal reaction to the ritual. "It's a very strong reaction," he replies to me. “But the power of the ritual is most intense on the first day. Overall, it will last for three days."

For more photos please visit the photo galleries on my website: https://www.ingabacken.com/photo-gallery

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