Light of wisdom - VI
10-year old Pará Miri bears her name with pride.
During my contact with the Guarani people, I was constantly bewildered by the repetative use of names like Karai and Pará. I tried to figure out if there was some other meaning to these words, other than f.eks. “boy” or “girl” as some other non-indians had told me earlier on, but who had obviously misunderstood their meaning. Asking João, father of Pará Miri and several of the other children pictured in this series, about these names, I received a warm, but reserved smile and then a long explanation with the help of drawings sketched in the earth beneath our feet:
For the Guarani people, what determines a name is the identification of the spiritual region from where the child comes from, not just an arbitrary decision made by the parents.
A child’s name is constituted in “the place where the soul comes from”. Knowing the child’s origins, always given by the child in question through dreams and visions, the parents will also recognize the qualities and individual characteristics of their children. Each region of the “Zenith” has certain aspects, just like it’s inhabitants. The origins of a name, permits in advance, knowledge of the future course to be taken by a person, their preferences, personality and possible pathways to follow in life.
A name is an integral part of the person and is designated with the expression: “Ery mo’ ã a’ ” or “one who beholds upright the power to speak”.
According to Guarani belief, it is through the celestial regions that the souls of the Guarani children arrive at their respective parents. Each region possesses names typical to the origins of each child and who effectively gives the name or baptizes the child, is the shaman, and always by means of dreams and visions. The soul may have come from the “Zenith”, a heavenly space directly above us where Nãnderyquy lives, or from the Orient – home of Nandecy, or even further from the remote domains of the Tupã (a folk hero and God of thunder) in the Occident.
The names of the Guarani Mbyá boys and men that you will often hear are: Tupãju, Jiguacañyjí, Avapoty (ava = man / poty = flower), Poyijú (bead), Avajupiá (jupiá = rise), Nimuendajú (muendá = homefast), Mbaracábeí, Kuruayju (kuruay = sun), Wera'i (small splendour), Karai Mirim (Karai = owner / mirim = small) and Karai Katu (genuine light).
The names of the Guarani girls and women can be: Tacuapú (pú = thunder), Tacuaverá (verá = shining), Tacuayvay (yvay = heaven), Ñapycá (apycá = bench in the form of a canoe), Ara (day), Pará and Kereju.
Tha shamans are capable of recognizing, by the names, whether the soul of its carrier comes from the Orient, the Zenith or the Occident. Tapejú refers to the pathways from the east and Ñapycá from the west. apycá means a bench in the form of a canoe in which the God of thunder from the occident, Tupã, travels through the heavens provoking thunderstorms. The children of Tupã are distinguishable by their wavy hair, less straighter than normal. The souls of these children are so accustomed to using the apycá that it is quite necessary to construct one, the sooner the better, so that they feel comfortable here on earth. By not doing so, it will be impossible for the soul to get accustomed here; the child consequently dying and returning to Tupã.
Only the shaman can define where the soul originates, by means of his contact with Ñanderu (God creator of all things). But it is permitted, not unexpectedly, that the father joins forces with the shaman to voice the spirit and soul of his child. With the Guarani people, the religious experience is not simply a privilege of the shaman or spiritual leaders alone, but permeates the entire communal way of living by means of a grand collective festive celebration; the baptism.
The Guarani people value their names so highly, to the extent that, only in cases of a deadly illness and as a last resort, will they ask the shaman to rebaptize a person through special rituals, with an aim to rid that body of the deadly illness.
It is not uncommon to meet Guaranis who, on being called by their known name, reject to respond to it. Others will immediately explain that his/her name has been changed and that he/she will only respond to the new one. Connected to the old name are all the illnesses and along with them the magic spells from the rituals are imprisoned. It is therefore important that he/she forgets the old name as soon as possible to rid him/herself of all evils.
The Guarani name is a piece of the owner, even identical with that person, almost inseparable from them. A Guarani is not just any old Tom, Dick or Harry..., he “IS” his name!