vrijdag 19 november 2010

The Origin of the Ditches



Viti-Vití (or the Origin of the Ditches)
Viti-Vití was just like a person, he had a nose, he had a mouth, he had ears and he had two eyes. He had everything we people have.

Viti-Vití was married to a woman of his own tribe. He had a brother-in-law, a mother-in-law, and a father-in-law.

Viti-Vití decided  to get honey out of the hive. He went as it was getting dark, because the bees were very fierce.

Viti-Vití took his wife and brother-in-law. They went into the forest. When they got there, Viti-Vití said, “Brother-in-law, who going to climb the tree, you or I?”

“I’d rather that you went.” Answered the brother.

The wife had brought a large clay pot for the honey.

Viti-Vití climbed up in the tree, carrying a shell to bore holes in the hive, to pull out the honeycombs. From up in the tree, Viti-Vití told them bring the pot close to the tree to catch the honey in, but he was doing nothing of the kind.

Viti-Vití was using the shell to turn is right leg into an animal’s leg. With the shell he was cutting the leg, or rather, scraping it to make it thin and end in a point. On the ground, his wife and brother-in-law kept asking him to throw down honey.

Viti-Vití threw down honey to them. But what was falling into the pot was blood from Viti-Vití’s leg.

As it was dark, they could not see that it was blood. The two of them, wife and brother-in-law, ate up all the blood Viti-Vití had thrown down to them. Suddenly Viti-Vití’s brother-in-law began smelling blood. He became suspicious and went to check the pot. Discovering it was actually blood, he said to his sister, “This is blood. What can he be doing up there? He must be going crazy. We’d better get out of here and leave him alone. You go ahead and I’ll be along shortly.”

Viti-Vití’s wife went off.

Up there in the tree-top Viti-Vití continued to work on his foot. He asked his brother-in-law, “Well, have we got enough honey yet?” “We have half a pot.” The brother-in-law knew that the half a pot was Viti-Vití’s blood and said, “I’m moving just a few steps away. The bees are getting ferocious and biting us. We can’t take any more.” He was talking and waving his hand in front of his face at the same time. Saying that, he began to move away slowly. When he was a little way off, he started to run.

That left Viti-Vití all by himself, but he thought his wife and his brother-in-law were down there.

Waiting for him.

Viti-Vití had meanwhile given his leg the shape he wanted.

From up there, Viti-Vití shouted, “Brother-in-law, oh, brother-in-law!”

Since he got no answer, he said to himself, “Where could they have gone?” As no one answered he climbed out of the tree and on the ground continued calling to the two of them.

Before she left, Viti-Vití’s wife had dumped all the blood out of the pot.

Viti-Vití kept calling, but no one answered. He decided to go home to get the two of them.

When he reached home, he found everything shut up. Out of fear, his brother-in-law had closed the entire house.

Viti-Vití from outside ordered them to open up. His brother-in-law did not want to open, because he knew if he did, Viti-Vití would kill him with his pointed foot.

Viti-Vití’s leg had become very long and pointed. It was his weapon. Viti-Vití peered in from outside, but he could not see his brother-in-law, who was hidden.

“Where are you, brother-in-law?” he asked.

The brother-in-law did not answer and would not let his sister, Viti-Vití’s wife, answer.

Viti-Vití got tired of calling to his brother-in-law and his wife. As nobody had answered him he decided to leave that very hour for the forest, taking with him all his people.

 Everywhere he went that seemed a nice place to live, Viti-Vití would make long deep ditches and leave part of his people there, and he himself would continue travelling.

He advised all of them to build their villages outside the ditch, within the semi-circle described by it. The ditches were almost always arc-shaped, and one end always let to or away from the water. The ditches, Viti-Vití  recommended, should be used when it became necessary to protect themselves against cold winds.

In almost every habitable place he found, Viti-Vití left a few of his people and a deep ditch for shelter. Viti-Vití still lives today with some of his people on the shore of the great kuikúru-Ípa lagoon, at one end of a ditch, where it meets the water.

At night Viti-Vití’s footsteps can be heard. They make a dry sound when he steps on the ground with his pointed leg: toc, tim, toc, tim.

That is the sound.


The above Kuikuro myth was collected by the Villas Boas brothers and first published in English in 1973. That would have been the end of it, if not for Michael Heckenberger archaeological work in the area. Working with Kuikuro informers, he uncovered a vast network of pre-Columbian settlements, the so-called Garden Cities of Xingu. The Kuikuro of today do not recognize these remnants as part of their cultural heritage. Heckenberger notes that many cultural traits (pottery and village lay-our for instance) suggest some form of cultural transmission between the Kuikuro and those people constructing the ditches. The Villas-Boas brothers in their book hinted at the existence of old settlements and it is no coincidence that Colonel Fawcett got killed in the same area while searching for the 'cities of Z'. In fact Ellen Basso, an American linguist, by surprise, was told the story of Fawcett's arrival and departure from a Kuikuro village. The story of Viti-Viti is a prime example of fiction as part of the process of reinhabition, a way to make a home from an alien landscape. 

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