Eshuva, Harákmbut sung prayers of Peru’s Huachipaire people

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The Huachipaire are an indigenous ethnic group speaking the Harákmbut language and living in Peru’s southern Amazon tropical forest. The Eshuva or sung prayer is an expression of Huachipaire religious myths, performed for healing or as part of traditional ceremonies such as the drinking of masato, a traditional beverage made of fermented manioc, and the initiation of new Eshuva singers. According to oral tradition, the Eshuva songs were learned directly from the forest’s animals, and are sung to summon nature spirits to help to alleviate illness or discomfort or promote well-being. Eshuva songs are performed without musical instruments and sung only in the Harákmbut language. As such they play a key role in safeguarding the language and preserving the group’s values and worldview. Transmission takes place orally, with the singer teaching apprentices the specific function of each song according to the ailment it is meant to heal. Eshuva songs are at the risk of being lost, however, since transmission has been interrupted due to lack of interest on the part of Huachipaire youth, recent internal migration and the influence and assimilation of external cultural elements. At present, there are only twelve known singers among the Huachipaire.