woensdag 5 oktober 2011

It was at this time that the Indians came here, eating rotten wood.

Canela village
Indian myths (like this one) have the dual tendency to appear to 1) amble forever in a narrative infinity without plot or reason, 2) use words with extreme economy. The following Canela myth recorded by William H. Crocker is a good example: to an unaccustomed Western reader (at least to me) reading stuff like this is like watching a 10.000 by 10.000 images filled with random black and white dots: your eyes just can't focus. But once you get the picture it is one of extreme elegance. It explains why the Indians are at the bottom of the social hierarchy of Brazilian society and it could easily be read as a fall from grace by means of original sin but this is not how the Canela interpret it. To them this myth explains why the whites, who achieved the power of the shotgun, are bound by social contract to give the Indians what they need. 
When the Indian saw the shotgun, the Devil, fully loaded, he thought that the shotgun was hostile and threatening. "It has its mouth open. It has a mouth. I'm afraid."

Awkhee ordered the Christian to pick up the shotgun and fire it to show the Indian. The Christian picked up the shotgun and fired, and the Indian fell to the ground. He felt his back and the pain spread all over his body. The lead balls had not hit him; it was just the blast from the explosion which hurt him. The magical powers of the shotgun had penetrated the Indian's body. The stupid Indian had felt pain without having been shot. The Christian had shot without aiming at the Indian had fallen to the ground in pain.

When the Indian had recovered from the pain, he said: "We don't need this shotgun. It is wild; it has powers we don't need." So Awkhee ordered the Christian to pick up the bow and arrow, but the Christian did not know how to shoot the arrow from the bow. Awkhee ordered the Indian to pick up the bow and arrow and shoot it. The Indian did so and shot off the arrow, which travelled through the air noiselessly. The Indian liked the bow and the arrow and spoke of receiving them. It was exactly this that Awkhee did not like, and he became really angry with the Indian. Right then and there he ordered the Christian to take the shotgun and the Indian to take the bow and arrow.

Awkhee spoke in the Indian language: "It is because of this that you are going away and will roam aimlessly through the world. You will travel around in the forest and dry bush, scratching and tearing your bodies, and doing little of significance. You will live any which way, any way you can, travelling throughout this world. Leave now! I'm very angry with you."

The great-grandfathers came walking here in the forests, doing pointless things, just like animals, travelling without direction. It seems it was at this time that the Indians came here, eating rotten wood. 

This was the story that the old men always told there in the middle of the plaza... I think the story goes like this and I never heard it told differently. Others told it the way I just finished telling it. So, it is only like this, the story of Awkhee.
From Crocker & Crocker, The Canela: Kinship, Ritual and Sex in an Amazonian Tribe (2004). 

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