woensdag 20 april 2011

Viti-Viti, Fitsi-Fitsi and Xingu Reinhabitation

An artist impression of a Pre-Columbian Xingu city.
The story of Viti-Viti (given in full earlier) is the prime example of an Amazonian reinhabitation myth, a narrative that recognizes that the land was used and cultivated before, by persons unknown. Michael Heckenberger's (earlier) 'The ecology of Power' (2005, now on Scribd) is a 1000 year history of the Xingu and its inhabitants. In it he deals with Viti-Viti, (or in his translation: Fitsi-Fitsi). It is a long passage but included for the sake of future reference:
I have never heard of Fitsi-fitsi’s footsteps, as the Villas-Boas brothers describe, nor of his people, who settled in his footprints. I have no doubt that Fitsi-fitsi lives on today in the “mirror world” of dawn times where all the Kuikuru culture heroes and ancestors, and other “dawnpersons,” have come to reside over the ages.

The Kuikuru travel in this mirror world in their dreams. Some shamans (hïatâo), trained in specialtechniques of the body and esoteric knowledge and able to enter a trance by smoking tobacco (Nicotina sp.), actually traffic with its inhabitants. But I had not heard that Fitsi-fitsi resides today at Ipa Kuhikugu, at theend of the ditch there, where it descends into the lake. I know the placewell, having spent many hours walking back and forth over the ditches and causeways, mapping and collecting across the ancient site with my Kuikuru collaborators, my field crew. I vividly remember, for instance, the day a rattlesnake struck (and missed) one Kuikuru assistant as we mapped the ancient great plaza—a big, scooped-out bowl with imposing peripheral mounds rising on all sides. Nobody mentioned that Fitsi-fitsi might live here, although they did say he had passed this way and left his signature marks, Fitsi-fitsi gepügü (“excavated hole”), as they call the ditches. Ipa Kuhikugu (actually two lakes, Kuhikugu and Lamakuka) is singular in Kuikuru cultural memory. It is their origin place. After splitting from the ancestral village of Óti, where the Kuikuru ancestors (ngiholo) had lived with the Matipu (Uagihïtï otomo) until the mid- to late 1800s, the great chiefs, Hikutaha, Nïtsïmï and Amatuagu had founded the old village site (etepe) of Kuhikugu. They were at Kuhikugu when Kalusi (Steinen) came in 1884. It was also here that Robert Carneiro and Gertrude Dole came to live in 1953–1954 as the Kuikuru’s first live-in “whites.”

Today,some forty years after they left this place, the Kuikuru are still known as Lahatua otomo, “the people of Lahatua.” Carneiro and Dole lived in a tentjust beside the northern terminus of ditch when the Kuikuru lived intheir penultimate village of this place (Lamakuka): a Kuikuru man found “Bobbie’s coffee pot” one day as we mapped the ancient Fitsi-fitsi
gepügü. Our campsite—that of me and my Kuikuru field assistants—was very near the southern terminus, precisely where it descends into Lake Kuhikugu, near where the Villas-Boas brothers had heard that Fitsi-fitsi lived.

Fitsi-fitsi was “a person … [and] had everything that people have,” as the Villas-Boas brothers note, but that changed one day when he went out of the village to collect honey with his wife and brother-in-lawand transformed himself into an itseke (a “monster,” spirit, or superbeing). Climbing a tree, presumably to collect honey, he honed his lower legs into sharp points and attacked his kinsmen with his spear-point legs. In fear of retaliation he fled and wandered aimlessly across the landscape, dragging his sharpened legs and incising the ground behind. Afukaká, the village chief and my adoptive brother, one of the most powerful persons in contemporary Xinguano political history and a singular figure in the Kuikuru village, told me the story of Fitsi-fitsi, again, one day on a visit to Nokugu. As Afukaká and I stood beside the ancient Fitsi-fitsigepügü, not far from my first excavation trench, he asked me to tell “my story,” because, after months of almost daily work at Nokugu, I must surely have one to tell. I told him that I thought this place and others like it (Kuhikugu and Heulugihïtï) were ngiholó-ìtupe (place of the ancestors) and the ditches and linear mounds were the intentional constructions of ancient Xinguanos. The chief was in mourning for much of 1993, having lost his primary heir and another younger son early that year, and rarely had an opportunity to see what I was doing at Nokugu. He had heard my ideas before on historical places and personages, and the dark earths (egepe), pottery sherds (egeho), and, of course, the Fitsi-fitsi gepügü, that occur in the old village sites (etepe) and ancestor places. I had talked many times to him and other Kuikuru of archaeology, in both public and private settings, with my maps and other paper props. A month or so earlier the most powerful shaman of eight in the village, contracted to protect the chief’s magic pot (kun), the traditional method to reveal and perhaps kill the witch, had entered a trance and in his out-of-body travels had encountered Nokugu. “The shaman explained, as best he could, having also heard some of my archaeology stories: Who is this cagaiha (whiteman)” he asked, “who is working at my home, what is he doing there?” That day at the site, I showed Afukaká my story. We walked the full length of ditch 2, nearly two kilometres, and then we diverged along the ancient causeway (“road 4,” the Nokugu-Heulugihïtï road) at the “bridge” where it is bisected by ditch 2, near excavation trench 1. The features we see on the ground today, I explained, were likely coupled with palisades or other, perhaps natural, barricades to defend the ancient villages from nikogo (“fierce Indians”). We followed the causeway and entered the ancient great plaza, infested today with tall palms, a common colonizer of etepe and ngiholó ìtupe. Along the way, we looked at bits of patches of “terra preta do índio,” dark earth, filled with pottery, ancient refuse of the ngiholo. We noted how it was heaped in great linear mounds along roads or the plaza, where they were one to two meters high all around. We also dug up chunks of the hard pan terra roxa, or “red earth,” where the ancient houses, plazas, and roadways had been. Later I also showed him my excavation trench, the layered dark earths of ancient occupation surfaces and charcoal lenses within them (later C14 dated to between c. 950 and 1250) and the reddish (natural-colored) overburden thrown up over them on the inside berm. Beneath the thick stratum of in-fill that built up within the ditch, dated to circa1500–1800, I pointed out the bright red natural soils. We “popped out” a big rim sherd (weighing about a pound) from the west wall, just above the base of the trough, which perfectly preserved the blood red exterior slip, the slightly grooved marks of quartz pebble burnishing, and the black interior paint (made of charcoal and the sap of a tree they call tiha), which in addition to form and construction are identical to present-day pots, particularly, the contemporary manioc cooking pot—ahukugu. 

Afukaká considered my arguments as we walked, and after some reflection he told me that he had another akiña (a legend or story) to tell me, one he had not thought of before with respect to Fitsi-fitsi’s gepügü. It was not a story of plazas or roads, parts of my story he understood quite well, like ancient trash middens and pot-sherds, as these are also primary features of contemporary villages, but of something altogether different: palisades. I paraphrase him here. 

Some time in the distant past, several Kuikuru were out hunting faraway from their village. They were taken hostage by hostile ngikogo who brought them to their village, bound them, and chided the prisoners with threats of their imminent deaths. One of the Kuikuru was befriended by the chief’s daughter who he convinced to untie him and, after telling his companions he would return to avenge their murders, escaped. He leaped a great palisade wall and ditch (maybe two walls) to flee the village. On his return, to avenge his kinsmen, he again leapt the village fortifications to open the village for attack, which was a decisive surprise attack on the enemy village. (see Basso 1995: 105–141 for a more detailed Kalapalo variant of this akiña).

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