The Achuar people's housing and the female brewerArticle 5 of 5

Beer and the Achuar cosmology




The Achuar house is oriented west-east, according to the general direction of the rivers in this part of the Amazon basin. This spatial orientation structures the domestic space, men towards the upstream half, women towards the downstream half.

The beer is brewed by women in the female half of the house. The beer jars are enthroned in the middle and only cross the symbolic line when the women decide that the beer is ready. Then they bring the beer jars to the male half of the house.

The cassava beer also serves as a symbolic reference on a cosmological scale. The periodic flooding of rivers is related to the beer in full fermentation. The bubbling of the beer at night achieves in a small way what the rumbling and swelling of rivers does in a larger extent[1].

Throughout the Amazon, the Pleiades (Musak ) are a group of very noticeable stars. They disappear from the horizon in the evening in the west and reappear at dawn in the opposite direction. The Achuars conceive of the Earth as a large island floating on water. The Pleiades therefore fall into the water in the evening, travel through the rivers under the earth and resurface at dawn on the other side of the earth, to the east.

The aquatic route of the Pléiades under the island-Earth makes the water boil, causing floods, just as the beer swells and can overflow from the fermentation jar.


« The Amazonian cosmologies deploy a spectrum of beings where the differences between humans, plants and animals are of degree and not of nature. The Achuar of the Ecuadorian Amazon, for example, say that most plants and animals possess a soul (wakan) similar to that of humans, a faculty that places them among 'people' (aents) by providing them with reflexive consciousness and intentionality, enabling them to experience emotions and to exchange messages with their peers as well as with members of other species, including humans(5). The wakan is recognised for its ability to convey thoughts and desires to the recipient's soul without sound mediation, thus modifying, sometimes without the recipient's knowledge, his state of mind and his behaviour. (Ph. Descola 1996, Les cosmologies des indiens d'Amazonie, La Recherche no. 292, 62-67)

[1] Ph. Descola, La nature domestique. Symbolisme et praxis dans l'écologie des Achuar. 1986 (1st ed. Singer-Polignac), 2019 (2nd ed. Maison des Sciences de l'homme), p. 72 and 89.

The Achuar people's housing and the female brewerArticle 5 of 5