Kamukuaka, the Sacred Cavern

Two young women dressed in their finery

Two young women dressed in their finery, 1981-83.

When we originally planned the project, we had hoped to include a visit to Kamukuaka, a sacred cavern, where we would videotape a Wauja elder telling stories about the origin of the cavern and other events central to Wauja history and culture. As it turned out, we did not visit Kamukuaka this time. The Wauja explained that because we were visiting during the rainy season, the sacred carvings in the cavern were submerged under the seasonal floods and we wouldn’t be able to see them. It’s noteworthy that during my time in the various Wauja villages this spring, I asked many people about the feasibility of visiting Kamukuaka, and got many different answers. At last I understood that only a few of the old people knew Kamukuaka well enough to know its seasonal cycles. This underscores the importance of filming it in the future, during the end of the dry season in August or September, to educate all the young Wauja who have not yet had the opportunity to see it.

Kamukuaka is situated on the upper Batovi-Tamitatoala River. Atamai, political chief of the Wauja, describes the site as an extraordinary place, a great stone cavern beside a waterfall. At the mouth of the cavern are rock carvings made by ancestors of the Wauja, images of the parts of women that create life. The Wauja say the carvings have power to make living things increase and become abundant.

Petroglyphs at the sacred cavern of Kamukuaka

Petroglyphs at the sacred cavern of Kamukuaka

In addition, the Wauja revere Kamukuaka as the dwelling place of spirits. These spirits are respectfully addressed as kin, and referred to in the Wauja language as inyakanau, “those who teach.” The spirits guide the elders, appearing to them in visions and helping them heal the sick and maintain harmony within the village. To honor these spirits, the Wauja and their neighbors the Bacairi have performed ceremonies at Kamukuaka for many generations. Wauja elders emphasize that their most sacred ceremony, kawika, was performed at that place, and can proudly list deceased relatives who played kawika flutes at Kamukuaka. Malaya, brother of Atamai and ceremonial leader of the Wauja, once sought to express his attachment to kamukuaka without reducing it to words. An accomplished musician, he softly sang the melody of the sacred flute ceremony, concluding, “therefore that land means everything to us.”

Kamala, chief at Piyulaga village, examines the ancient rock carvings at Kamukuaka.

Kamala, chief at Piyulaga village, examines the ancient rock carvings at Kamukuaka.

In Wauja oral tradition, Kamukuaka has existed since the beginning of the world, before human beings were created. Chief Atamai says his late father took his children there before he died and told them the sacred story linked to that place, of how the Sun dwelt in the great stone house when he still walked the earth in human form. Atamai himself has seen the gaping hole in the side of the cavern where, according to the ancestors, the Sun tried to tear the house apart in those ancient times.