UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Jivaro Pitek, Emily


The Jivaro reside in the foothills of the Andes, around the Ecuadorian-Peruvian border. At the time this entry focuses on (1920) the Jivaro have had contact with outsiders for centuries but maintain political and cultural independence, while also resisting the conversion efforts of Catholic missionaries. The Jivaro live in dispersed, autonomous groups. These groups are not large, village communities, rather, they are comprised of a single extended family (led by a patriarch) that occupies a communal house. No formal, official political office is present. Older men and women who are knowledgeable, experienced, and possess magical power, are called whuéa and oháha, respectively. These individual lead ceremonies at feasts, but are not full-time religious practitioners or powerful leaders. Whuéa are the physicians of the community, using sorcery and divination to cure illness. The Jivaro religion is animistic in nature: almost everything possesses a spirit, and no distinction is made between human souls and the souls inhabiting plants, animals, inanimate objects, and environmental features. There is a concept of reincarnation, with the soul changing from one existence to another, but these beliefs are not linked to a formal system of thought or aspects of morality. The Jivaro have two words for describing spirits: wakáni (spirit of the deceased) and iguánchi (souls of people who were particularly feared or powerful during life, such as medicine-men and sorcerers). Also present are two deities known as Earth-mother Nungüi and her husband Shakaëma. These beings are considered the mother and father of the Jivaro, and are associated with crops and cultivation. The Jivaro religion does not exist within a distinct sphere of life. Rather, it is bound up with the function of society as a whole. Therefore, this entry considers the religious group to be coterminous with society itself.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution 4.0 International

Usage Statistics