Animal characteristics

Darkness is full of mysterious horrors to the Indian, nor can one wonder
that he fills with imaginary demons the weird and terrifying solitudes of
the bush by night. The children are openly afraid of the dark, because of
the tigers that may then be prowling about, let alone less substantial
perils. Adults are not so frank with regard to their fears, but as a
matter of course all occupations cease at sun-down, and every one makes
for the sheltered warmth of the _maloka_. There, by the flickering
firelight, after the contents of the family hot-pot have been discussed,
long tales are told. First one and then another takes up the burden of
recital. The chatter dies slowly, maybe it will linger on by the fire
of some verbose story-teller, till the chill of coming dawn brings the
sleepers from their hammocks to stir the smouldering embers into a blaze,
and to gather round them waiting for daybreak to dispel the evil agents
of the night.

The tales are endlessly long, and so involved that they are utterly
unintelligible to the stranger until they have been repeated many times.
Then the drift of myth and tradition, the meaning of fable and story, may
be broadly grasped. To win it comprehensively in detail is a matter of
time, patience, and intimate knowledge of the speaker’s tongue. Moreover,
the tales have such numerous variations, and are so grafted the one on
to the other, according to the momentary fancy of the narrators, that it
is exceedingly difficult to differentiate between a variant of a known
story and one that may in its essentials have been hitherto unheard.

“It is,” postulates Dr. Rivers, “not the especially familiar and uniform
which becomes the object of myth.”[374] The mythopœic influence of that
which is seldom seen would lead us to expect that among these Indians,
sunk in “the gloom of an eternal under-world of trees,”[375] the heavenly
bodies would play a prominent part in tribal folk-tale and myth. But
so far as the stars are concerned this is not the case at all;[376]
they seem to be ignored; and, as regards the sun and moon, it is the
sun–contrary to usual tropical custom–that is the most important, the
moon–as with more northern peoples–occupies the subordinate position
of wife. Her inconstant appearances are accounted for by the suggestion
mentioned in the previous chapter that she is sent periodically by
the sun her husband to drive away the evil spirits of the night that
await the stray or heedless loiterers in the forest thickets. But this
protective character is denied to the moon by other tribes, and some
South American Indians will hide young infants lest the moon should
injure them.[377]

What I cannot but consider the most important of their stories are
the many myths that deal with the essential and now familiar details
of everyday life in connection with the _manihot utilissima_ and
other fruits. The tale that follows does not purport to be a literal
translation of the myth as related to me, or in my hearing. I have merely
attempted to put together, infinitely more concisely than any Indian
raconteur would ever dream of doing, the various details of the local
story and belief:

The Good Spirit when he came to earth showed the Indians a
manioc plant, and taught them how to extract the evil spirit’s

But he did not seem to have explained how the plant might be

The Indians searched for seeds, but found none.

They buried the young tuberous roots, but to no effect.

The Good Spirit was vexed with them; that is why he did not
divulge the secret.

But long, long after, a virgin of the tribe, a daughter of the
chief, was found to be with child.

When questioned she replied that long, long ago, when sick to
death, and under the medicine-man’s magic,[379] she wandered far,
far into the bush.

In the bush she found a beautiful manioc plant.

She was seduced by the tuberous root–some Indians say the plant
was metamorphosed into a beautiful young hunter–and in due
course she gave birth to a girl-child, who could both talk and
walk at birth.

This child took the women of the tribe to a beautiful plantation
of manioc, far, far up a certain river, and there the precocious
infant explained how to reproduce the plant with bits of the

So to this day the chief food of all the peoples is cassava.

This story is utterly different from one Spruce heard from more northern
tribes at Saō Gabriel. The Barré story has it that a bird discovered to
the Indians the use of the mandiocca, then a great and solitary tree. All
the tribes came to procure the roots, and when none were left carried off
branches; hence the varieties of mandiocca now grown.[380]

Deluge traditions are to be found among practically all the tribes. I
repeatedly asked questions on this point, and invariably found, as other
travellers had discovered previously elsewhere,[381] that the Indians
would tell of a flood that drove their fathers in the long, long ago to
seek refuge in canoes, for all the earth was under water. But though
Mr. Joyce considers it “strange how this deluge myth not only pervades
practically the whole of the Andean region of South America, but extends
also to many regions in the northern portion of the Continent,” it must
be remembered that inundations are frequent in these regions, and a great
one probably occurs every few decades. It would only be strange were
there no deluge myths. As Sir Everard im Thurn has so aptly put it, when
“the Indian tells in his simple language the tradition of the highest
flood which covered all the small world known to him, and tells how the
Indians escaped it, it is not difficult to realise that the European
hearer, theologically prejudiced in favour of Noah, … is apt to identify
the two stories.”[382]

With the possible exception of the Eldorado fable, there is no South
American legend that has excited so much interest and speculation as the
story of the warrior women who in some mysterious forest fastness dwelt
apart from men, cultivated masculine attributes, and destroying the
male brought up the female progeny resultant from the yearly exception
to their celibate rule,[383] to be women of the same stern pattern as
their extraordinary selves. Some writers would make them a seventeenth
century edition of the modern suffragette, rebel against the “tyranny”
of man–and with certainly better reason for rebellion.[384] The story
has been treated as mere Spanish romance,[385] or a mistake on the part
of the invaders due to the custom of wearing the hair long among many
of the tribes.[386] It has been taken to be a deliberate fabrication on
the part of Pizarro to explain his failure, a temptation to which Sir
Walter Raleigh himself also fell victim.[387] Be it what it may, the
tale was told, the land known as the land of these women warriors, and
their name of Amazons bestowed upon the great river. The tale of warrior
women is, however, not confined to the forests of the Amazon. One comes
therewith to the question of nomenclatory origin. The Baron de Santa-Anna
Nery devotes the first ten pages of his _Land of the Amazons_ to this
discussion. It seems to be a case of where doctors disagree.[388] But at
least the tale, Asiatic, African, or autochthonic, was localised here,
and stories of feminine prowess in the field continued to be quoted even
in the nineteenth century. Wallace himself mentions “traditions” said to
be extant among the Indians themselves, of “women without husbands.”[389]
This is no proof of the local existence at any time of celibate women
warriors. The tradition may well exist, the only curiosity again would
be if it did not. For three centuries at least the invading white man
has talked of, and inquired for, a tribe of such warrior women. It takes
less than this to start the most robust of folk-tales. A world agape like
the Athenians of old for some new thing, some tale to vary the oft-told
stories, does not require three centuries to adopt a novel romance. The
question “do such things exist?” is not asked long before it ceases to
be a question and becomes an assertion. The more positive the assertion
the greater will be the wonder of the tale. When the wonder is sufficient
it will be established as a current myth. I do not therefore deny that
such a tale is told, or at least may be told, but for my own part I
never heard mention of it. Spruce speaks of women assisting their men to
repulse an attack on tribal head-quarters,[390] but no story of any woman
fighting, or having done so at any time, was ever told me. Moreover it
should not be forgotten in this connection that all weapons are strictly
tabu to women.

A story that is prevalent throughout South America tells of a race of
white Indians who sleep in the daytime, and only go abroad at night.
This tale was laughed at when repeated at a recent meeting of the
Royal Geographical Society, but it is certainly in existence among the
tribes,[391] and Crevaux states that the Ouayana will not go near one
river, “_à cause des singuliers habitants qui habiteraient près des
sources … des Indiens aux chevaux blonds qui dorment le jour et marchent
toute la nuit_.”[392]

Of tales as to the reputed origin of any tribe I have no note, though
when I cross-questioned a Boro tribe as to why a certain district was
almost uninhabited, they told me that the reason was as follows:

Once a large tribe lived there, one of the most powerful of all
the tribes, and also one of the most numerous.

But long, long ago a chief, an _Abihibya_, of this tribe of
the Utiguene had a daughter, who was not only ugly but bird
rumped. The _Chekobe_, the medicine-man, gave her the name of

When she grew older and was about five feet high,[394] Komuine
went into the _Bahe_, the bush, to pick _dio_, peppers, and
berries, but did not return.

The tribe then said that a _wipa_, a tiger, must have carried her
off. So a tribal hunt was instituted, and the bush searched for
the tiger; but with no success, for when they were in the bush
they were attacked by a wicked tribe, which fell upon them and
killed them in great numbers.

So they returned with great sadness to the _maloka_.

Long, long after this Komuine reappeared in the _Ha-a_, the great
house of the tribe, and sang a solo, as is the custom among the
people when making a complaint. And this is the complaint Komuine

The Chief’s daughter was lost in the forest,
And no one came to find the spoor;
The branches were broken, the _gwahake-ane_, the leaves, were turned,
And no one came to find the spoor.
And where were my brothers, and the sons of the chief’s brothers,[395]
That no one came to find the spoor?

And while Komuine was dancing, it was noticed, to the disgust of
the tribe, that her bird rump was covered with _nikwako_, hair,
so the old women came and rubbed milk[396] upon her to remove
the unsightliness. But as they pulled and the unsightliness was
removed, more unsightliness came, and the hairier she grew. When
she was covered with leaves,[397] she told her story:

“O my brothers! When I was in the forest picking peppers a
_komuine_ came to me, and taking me by force he deflowered me. He
took me with him into the bush to become his _gwame_, his woman,
and I gave birth to twins, and the second one was buried, for
even _komuine_ have but one _ehemene_, one child. And the child
was hairy like a _komuine_, but had the face of a man. And when I
gave him milk the unsightliness came, and I ran from the beasts
and came to my own people.”

The tribe then had a tobacco palaver, and because of the
unsightliness, and the pollution,[398] and the blood-feud with
their enemies which had cost the tribe so many warriors, it was
decided to destroy her.

And when she heard this she fled into the forest, and all the
_komuine_ came and robbed the _emiye_, the plantation, and there
was no _pika_, manioc, and no _kome_, fruit.

And when the men of the Utiguene went out to hunt, the lianas
were like a net in the path, and so thick no one could pass. And
the tribe got thinner and thinner, and now to-day there is no
tribe of the Utiguene.[399]

The Amazonians have stories equivalent to many worldwide tales, such as
that of the lion and the mouse, only in the forest version it is the
jaguar who enacts the lion’s part, while the mouse is replaced by the
ant, a liana serves instead of a net to keep the great beast captive,
and there are other correspondingly local and numerous variations. The
hare and the tortoise fable has its counterpart in the story of a race
between the deer and the tortoise. The ramifications of this tale are
most intricate. These stories are very dissimilar in detail, so far as I
could gather, from their equivalents in the Old World, but in each case
the same principle is evolved: by a widely different route Old and New
reach eventually an identical goal.

There is a marked prevalence of animal stories, tales–and this is a
point not to be overlooked–of the familiar forest beasts, the birds
and the reptiles of everyday life. In these the birds and beasts have
certain accepted characteristics, they stand in the Indian folk-tales as
representing definite abstract ideas. Thus, as with us, the tortoise is
crafty and slow; the ant and the bee are typical of industry. The snake,
that is to say the poisonous snake, in Amazonian myth, as in Biblical
story, represents evil, the evil eye. The tapir stands for blindness and
stupidity, while cunning and deceit are represented by the dog. These
bush dogs approximate to our fox, and like Reynard have sharp up-standing
ears. They prowl round the _maloka_, and will clear off anything they
can find, even in close vicinity to the house. The agouti, or capybara,
takes with the Indian the place held in African folk-tales by the hare.
He is the wittiest of beasts, can outmanœuvre all the others, and is the
practical joker of the forest. The boa-constrictor, unlike the poisonous
snake, is not evil; it exemplifies the silent and the strong. The
chattering parrot represents irresponsibility; it is a woman in disguise,
and is certain in Indian animal tales to be noisy and unreliable, and
probably will betray some secret. The peccary is for constancy, the hawk
for cunning, the sloth for laziness, and the tiger for bravery. The
monkey stands for tenacity of life, which is probably due to the fact
that owing to constriction of the muscles its hold on a branch does not
relax for some time after death.

These characteristics, however, do not appear to govern in any way
the question of food tabu concerning the respective animals. On the
contrary, the reasons alleged for such tabu often appear to be, if
anything, opposed to what one would expect to find from the foregoing
classification. It is the material, not the abstract characteristic
with which the tabu deals. Moreover the tabu varies. Irrespective of
those connected with birth, at certain times of the year there is a
restriction, if it does not amount to an actual prohibition or a tabu,
with regard to eating heavy meats. Simson assigns such avoidance to a
belief current among Indians “that they partake of the nature of the
animal they devour.” This is the case professedly for any tabu on foods
for women with child, but the reason given to me for general restriction
as regards, say, tapir flesh, was not that the eater would be affected
by any characteristic of the animal, material or spiritual, but that
the tapir meat if eaten at forbidden seasons was very bad, that is to
say unhealthy, and would be the cause of certain skin diseases. It
probably would be. Tiger meat, as already explained, is treated much
as human flesh is treated. Apart from the tiger, the meat of larger
game will, it is sometimes averred by other tribes, make the eater
gross and unwieldy.[400] In connection with this question of big game
and food, Spruce refers to a “superstition” among the Uaupes Indians
that may be a possible survival of a totemic system, though he does not
advance the theory. “How should we kill the stag?” they say, “he is our
grandfather.”[401] However this may be with other language-groups, among
those of the Issa-Japura regions there is no trace of any totemic system,
except in so far as that boys and girls are named, as already stated,
after birds and flowers respectively. Animal names are made use of
occasionally, but only as names of contempt and ridicule. These Indians
look upon all animals as enemies. To suggest that any animal is an
ancestor would be the direst of insults to people who so strenuously try
to avoid all likeness to the brute creation. One need only refer to such
customs as the killing of one of twins, or depilation, to give the lie to
any theory that would seek to trace in Boro story–for example–for sign
of suggested descent from any eponymous animal. Relationship is traced
indeed only so far as memory serves; that is to say the oldest man may
relate how he remembers his grandfather telling who _his_ grandfather’s
father was. Also there are invariably tales of bygone chiefs, great
warriors whose deeds and characters are outstanding enough to be

A story is told of a small fish that is to be found in these rivers
which may be fact or may be fable. All Indians say that this fish is a
parasite that will find its way into the intestines of human beings when
they are bathing. This belief is noted elsewhere, and I merely refer to
it here because it is so universally credited without–so far as I could
ascertain–an atom of corroborative evidence.

Continue Reading

Question of missionary influence

Some travellers and writers have asserted that the Indian has no
religion. In the vulgarly-accepted meaning of the word he may have none.
There is great variation among the groups, the tribes even–I venture
to say–among the individuals. So far as they believe in anything they
believe in the existence of supreme good and bad spirits; but their
beliefs are always indefinite, only half understood even by themselves.
To a certain extent it is open to the medicine-man, the chief priest of
their magico-religious system, to vary, or even to disregard any current
belief. Among individuals are to be found sceptics of every grade. On
the whole their religion is a theism, inasmuch as their God has a vague,
personal, anthropomorphic existence. His habitat is above the skies,
the blue dome of heaven, which they look upon as the roof of the world
that descends on all sides in contact with the earth. Yet again it is a
pantheism, this God being represented in all beneficent nature; for every
good thing is imbued with his spirit, or with individual spirits subject
to him.

In essence the idea of God is not that of a Supreme Being, and not
entirely that of a Creator, but rather that of a Superior Being,
possessed by an indulgent tolerance for all mankind. But he suggests only
the negative idea. He is a spirit of benevolent passivity. He is good
for no other reason than that he is not evil. There is no particularised
sanctity in his name, no adoration of his nebulous personality, only
an unquestioning acquiescence in his benignity. True, he is held in
high esteem, but that is because he permeates all in nature that is not
inimical, and thus demonstrates his kindly disposition. If the harvest
fails it is due to the malevolence of their _Diabolus_, or some of his
agents, yet if it be a good one the credit is due not to the Good Spirit,
but rather to the medicine-man for having with his magic frustrated the
machinations of the Bad Spirit.

This Devil, or Bad Spirit, is affirmative in character, and is always
active. He must not be invoked, but he is to be prevented by charms and
magic from wreaking his vengeance on mankind, and must be placated at
all costs as the supreme author of sickness and misfortunes, and the
controlling power of malevolent nature.

Both the Good and the Bad Spirit are attended by lesser spirits with
similar characteristics. So far as I could ascertain, there is no
suggestion that any of these supernatural beings ever lived in this
world, though they influence it so entirely, and can visit it at will.

The Good Spirit may be more potent, but he is certainly more remote than
the Bad Spirit–too remote for ordinary people to be brought into any
degree of contact with him whatsoever. His influence, his benefits, are,
as he is, passive. The Bad Spirit, on the contrary, is of a ceaseless
energy. His active influence is invariably present. He is always exerting
his power in some definite, some concrete form. Poison, for example,
is an active agent. The devil in it works vigorously to the undoing of
his victim, definitely exercises a deleterious effect upon his enemy,
man. So, too, the rocks that bar the way upstream are more active than
passive. They repel, they may defeat the traveller, and, therefore, are
to be regarded also as the active agents of a hostile power.

It is noteworthy in this connection that the Bad Spirit may be
materialised sufficiently to be able to carry a child bodily away, or to
steal a woman, should she stray out into the forest by herself.[343] For
this reason usually no woman will go alone into the bush, she will take
a companion with her, especially at night, for the demon is popularly
supposed to be unable to tackle more than one at a time, even if the
second be only a young child.[344] Women who run away from their husbands
are consequently said by them to have been taken by the devil. This is a
favourite theory, as the man may thereby avoid the censure or hostility
of the tribe. The men also do not care to be far in the bush alone, and
after dark nothing will induce an Indian voluntarily to embark on the
risk of adventuring into the forest by himself.

One of the first difficulties met with when dealing in detail with the
religion of these peoples is their refusal to use the true name of any
spirit or deity. This has root in the same reason that ordains they shall
never disclose their own names, nor voluntarily except on rare occasions,
that is without questioning, the name of their tribe.

In the Boro language we have the word _Neva_ as an equivalent for God,
the good or sympathetic deity, and the word _Navena_ for the Devil,
the great evil or antipathetic spirit, in fact the negative of all
represented by _Neva_. But inasmuch as _neva_ stands also for the sun,
the dawn, and the morning, while _navena_ is used for any spirit however
humble–whether the soul-part of a thing, animate or inanimate, or the
ghost or disembodied soul of the dead–we have a right to postulate
that such are not the true, or supposed self-appellated names of these
deities, but those that may be used without offence, and therefore free
of the consequent evils that the mention of the true name would entail on
the users.

To give another example: In Witoto _Usiyamoi_ has the same meaning as God
in ordinary parlance; _Taife_ is the Devil, whereas _Taifeno_ is any bad
spirit whatever. But, again, the _Taife_, the dread of these people, the
all-pervading evil genius, is named _Apuehana_, a word never pronounced
above a whisper. Here then we may have reached a true secret name.

The Boro _Neva_ and the Witoto _Usiyamoi_ are the _Tupano_ of the
Tupi-Guarani tribes of the east and the Negro River. This we find is the
_Apunchi-Yaya_ of the Guichua of the west, the Cachimana of the Orinoco.
_Navena_ and _Taife_ or _Apuehana_ are the same as the _Jurupari_ of
the north, the _Iolokiamo_ of the Orinoco, and the _Locazy_ of the

To return to the personal characteristics of the two regnant powers,
the Good and the Bad Spirit, the former, though vague, is yet an
omnipotent tempestipresent deity, and, although passive, something more
than sympathetic and benevolent. He made the world, or it might be more
correct to put it that he permitted it to be created, for his amusement
and pleasure. When not otherwise engaged in his mysterious happy
hunting-grounds he keeps a watch over earth and over mankind. But so
great is he that no prayer or invocation is offered to him, nor, were it
offered, could he be thereby influenced.[346] It is because he is so big
a Chief that his attitude is entirely passive. Once Neva had forgotten
the puny human factor, so he took the guise of a man and came to earth.
The open spaces–the natural savannahs or geological outcrops–are where
he spoke to the Indians, and it is a sign of his speaking and of his
erstwhile presence that these are now open to the sun and the sky. But
one Indian vexed Neva, the Good Spirit, and he was wrath with all men,
so he went again to sit on the roof of the world. But before he departed
he whispered into the ears of all the tigers that they were to kill the
Indians and their children, and that is why the tigers to-day are wicked
and sometimes are the habitations of the most evil spirits. Before this
time the tigers were good to men, and they hunted together like brothers;
they lived together in the houses; they ate and drank and licked tobacco
in amity round the fire.[347]

Such, so far as I could gather, is the Indian’s belief. The tale was
told me by a Boro, but the belief is approximately the same with all
these tribes. On the occasion of hearing this story of the visit of the
Good Spirit to earth I related, to the best of my ability, the Christian
story. The result may be of value in determining the possession of logic
by the Indian. After they had listened to my story the tribesmen held
a tobacco palavar, which lasted some six hours. Then the chief–the
medicine-man was surly and remote–appeared, and this was the burden
of his wisdom. His own people were greater than the people from the
clouds–the white people–for the Good Spirit, Neva himself, came to the
Indians, whereas only the Young Chief visited the clouds. And the Indians
were better than the white people, for the white people killed the Young
Chief, but the Indians listened to Neva, and only one among them vexed

I had heard the story of the Good Spirit’s manifestation before, but
doubted its genuineness, until one day when I inquired of a Boro what a
savannah was he answered me that it was where Neva spoke to the Indians.
When I questioned him further he told me the above. It is impossible
to say how far this story may be a genuine folk-tale, how far it is a
perverted version of the Biblical account. Tales travel far. They are
adopted from one people to another, with resultant variations. We know
that the Jesuits penetrated to the Rio Negro as early as 1668-69. There
have been missionaries of that Society on the Napo. But I met with
no traces of them on the upper waters, nor have any of these peoples
anything in the least resembling the Christian symbol in their designs.
One might expect to find so simple a figure as a cross reproduced in
native art if once known, but it certainly is not. On the face of it
we may here be dealing with a variant that has passed from tribe to
tribe, that has trickled through centuries, to reappear now as a tribal
tradition among peoples who have never been in any direct contact with
Christian influences.[348]

As regards the rule of these supreme spirits over the lesser spirits of
good and evil they stand in the relation of great chief. The good spirits
are the spirits of trees that bear edible fruits, of the trees from which
arrows are made, of the _Coca erythroxylon_, of the astringent properties
of various herbs, of the medicine-man’s magic stones that may be used
as a prophylactic. These are not only the subjects of the Good Spirit,
they were made by him. He made all the good things of the forest; and
he also made the rivers and the skies. The Bad Spirit placed the rocks
in the rivers, the poison in the mandiocca and in all noxious growths
of the bush. He made the liana to trip the unwary walker, in short all
things hurtful. These malevolent elements are the bad spirits which, as
the name in Witoto appears to imply–the _Taifeno_,–are all subject to
the _Taife_. As the Good Spirit lives above the world so the Bad Spirit
inhabits the nether regions. The lesser spirits of evil go to him by
way of the earth holes,[349] for these are the passages to his kingdom.
The visit of the Good Spirit to earth as a corporate being was a unique
event never repeated, but the Bad Spirit wanders with his myrmidons in
the forest every night. Sometimes he takes the form of a tiger, or other
fierce animal; sometimes, as alternative to the tiger-lifting theory,
he resembles a man who can disappear at will. He imitates the call of
the hunter who has found game, or the call of an animal to be hunted. He
entices his victim by these and similar contrivances to venture deeper
and deeper into the bush, until the wretched wanderer is utterly lost.
According to tribal belief he is then destroyed, or spirited bodily
away. As has been said, the Bad Spirit never appears to more than one at
a time, and that one is usually spirited away, so can give no account
of the appearance, but as confirmation of his real presence an Indian
will sometimes whisper the evil name as he points out the track of an
abnormal-sized tapir, which is curiously reminiscent to the European of
the cloven hoof of his own Devil.

The child-lifting story is a favourite one, and some amount of
corroborative evidence is forthcoming, for in the awful loneliness of
the bush a child naturally would become half demented with fear and
apprehension, and if ever found again would be only too honestly willing
to believe he had been in the very real clutches of a very real devil.
The juvenile adventurer, answering in this way to leading questions,
gives to these simple people all the proof they look for, and adds an
immediate and local authenticity to the accepted myth.

As there is no prayer to the Good Spirit, so there is no supplication to
the Bad. The medicine-man, as I have said, invokes neither; he appeals
to neither; but he attempts by magic to force the Bad Spirit into
quiescence, to discover some more potent influence that shall make him
powerless to hurt, for unless coerced he is all-powerful.

Indefinite as these beliefs in a deity, good or evil, may be, faith as
to the after-life of the soul is possibly still vaguer. Yet faith there
certainly is, for the existence of the spirits of the dead is an accepted
fact, acknowledged in the Indian ritual of burial.

Of spirits there are four kinds:

Permanent disembodied spirits, or the souls of the dead, their ghosts.

Temporarily disembodied spirits, that is to say the souls of living men,
with power to send them forth out of their material bodies.

Extra-mundane spirits, or those from other worlds.

Spirits of, or in, all natural objects, animate and inanimate.

Any of these four classes of spirits are good or bad, according as they
are benevolently or malevolently inclined.

These Indians all believe in the temporary transmission of the
disembodied soul into the form of an animal, bird, or reptile, not
a regular and enforced series of such transmissions. This temporary
transmission is for the pursuance of a certain aim, perhaps for some
indefinite length of time. It appears that the spirit has the power
of transmigration into other animal bodies, or back again to its
extra-mundane form at will. Whether the animal is human, whether, when so
invaded, it incorporates two spirits and becomes dual-souled, the Indian
does not relate.

Man’s soul in Indian belief is immortal, that is to say it exists as long
as it is felt to exist, whilst it continues to appear in the dreams, in
the thoughts of the survivors–for so long, in fact, as it is remembered.
Surely this is immortality. A thing forgotten has never existed; and, per
contra, the soul of a remembered being lives for ever. The disembodied
spirit or ghost lingers near the body after death, in the woods near the
house, or may even lodge in the house itself. And then indefinitely,
indeterminately, after the body is buried the soul wanders farther
afield, and goes at length to the happy grounds of the Good Spirit. Among
some tribes this paradise is located above the skies, among others it is
away up some river, in the far and mythical distance. The latter heaven
is situated, as has already been mentioned, upstream, and that, in this
country where the trend of the land is north-west and south-east, is also
approximately towards the setting sun.[350]

This land of the After-Life is a diminutive replica of the ordinary
world, but with evil things eliminated and joyful things emphasised.
All is on a lower scale, stunted forests and pigmy game. This idea of a
world in miniature approximates to the Malay conception of a spirit, the
“diminutive but exact counterpart of its own embodiment,” appertaining
to all animal, vegetable, and mineral bodies.[351] The Indian miniature
world would thus be, it seems, constructed of the spirits of the material
world. Colour is given to this theory by the fact that individual
possessions are buried with the dead, and the Kuretu confess that this
is done to prevent the return of the soul in search of them. Were such
properties to pass into the possession of survivors the soul part of
each object, needed to represent it in the spiritual world, would be
detained in the material world. Burial sets it at liberty, presumably,
to accompany the soul part of its owner, to take in the miniature world
of the After-Life a position corresponding in every detail to that
which has been held here on earth. The soul is pictured as the body, in
miniature also, visible or invisible at will, for these people, like the
majority of many of a higher culture, are unable to imagine the soul
except in some material guise.[352] Life in this enigmatic sphere has
everything most prized in this world. Hunting is fruitful always; women
are beautiful and amenable, and the men are all the old familiar friends
of earth. The means of attainment to this desirable state are so vague as
to be unassignable. Good and evil have no part in this scheme of heavenly
philosophy. Broken tabus, crimes against tribal jurisprudence, apparently
bring only temporary evil influences into play. Their punishment is
immediate and material. The happy land is open to all the tribe with whom
the Good Spirit is not vexed. It is closed to all their enemies.

These lost souls, the spirits of those divinely damned, must still
frequent the earthly forests, or perhaps ally themselves with the spirits
of evil and wander down the holes in the earth to join the legions of the
nether world.

I have heard, but not very definitely, of the Zaparo belief that the good
and brave souls will pass into birds of beautiful plumage and feed on
the most delicate fruits, while the bad and cowardly are condemned to a
future existence in the guise of objectionable reptiles.[353]

This belief in, at least, a partial presence of the spirits of the
dead has possibly a bearing on the Indian dislike, to use no stronger
term, of mentioning his proper name. In the case of some tribes, as
has been noted, the name of a dead man is given as a special honour
to his greatest friend among the survivors. With other tribes names
of the living may, and probably have once been those of persons now
dead. To mention such a name aloud might conceivably be to attract the
attention of the defunct erstwhile owner.[354] Therefore the name is only
whispered, lest the spirit hearing it might come and bother the speaker
or the individual named.[355] There is, of course, the further reason
that the knowledge of a man’s name gives an enemy power to work him
magical evil. But that is a point already dealt with, except in so far as
it argues some identity of the name with the essential _ego_.

Not only do the Indians hold that a man’s soul leaves his body at death,
but, further, they believe that it may do so during life for a limited
period. We have examples in sleep, they argue, when the spirit is out
of the body and wanders about; for in dreams, they say, the soul passes
through the mouth and has adventures in the outer world.[356] Dreams are,
in fact, a portion of the man’s real life. His spirit has ventured forth
and actually gone through the experience his fancy paints. They realise,
therefore, that individuality is not in the body itself, but in the
spirit that inhabits the body. So if a man dreams he will not hesitate to
declare that he has done what he dreamed he was doing.

This is an example of involuntary disembodiment, differing only from
actual death in that it is of temporary duration. The soul has gone
quietly, and will return. But if the soul make a violent effort to escape
that apparently entails fatal consequences, for the Indians declare when
anybody sneezes it is the soul attempting to leave the body and so cause

Voluntary disembodiment is believed to be possible in certain favoured
cases.[357] This power is said to be possessed by the medicine-man. He
may free his spirit for magical purposes, to fight unseen enemies on
better terms, or for the pursuit of some nefarious end. He may either
remain disembodied and invisible, or lurk for a time in the form of some
animal or object, a tree, a stone–where stones exist–or even in the
wind, the rain, or the river. The layman Indian, though perfectly aware
that he cannot of his own accord and free-will loose his own soul from
its fleshy trappings to adventure in some foreign sort, is quite willing
to believe that other more fortunate mortals can accomplish a feat to
him so impossible.[358] No alternative explanation offers to his mind to
elucidate sundry mysterious happenings.

Quite distinct from these disembodied spirits are the extra-mundane
spirits, good and bad, that visit this world and benefit or plague its
inhabitants. These may invade all natural objects, and, especially those
evilly disposed, will work unceasingly as agents for the supreme powers
to whom they owe allegiance. The bad spirits haunt the darkness, they
lurk in the recesses of the woods, find a habitation in deep waters,
and ride to destruction on the floods. Danger from them threatens the
Indian at every turn. He can only be protected by the counter-magic
of his medicine-man. For fear of possible mischief at their malicious
hands no Indian will bathe at night unless supported by the presence
of companions. If he lose his way in the forest it is due to their
machinations;[359] and all that goes amiss in this by no means
best-of-all-possible worlds is at least in part engineered by them,
either at the suggestion of an enemy, or from their own innate badness of

Sickness again is a concrete entity. The Indian knows not the microbe
of science, but he recognises the existence of a definitely hostile and
active enemy in the presence of disease. It is a spirit that wanders
about, and at the instigation of an enemy attacks individuals or tribes.
The attack is an actual invasion. Illness is due to the presence in the
flesh of the sick person of a foreign and inimical body.[360]

Before a thunderstorm the Indian believes that the air is full of
spirits, and the medicine-man is requisitioned literally “to clear the
atmosphere.” Thunder is the noise of evil spirits making a turmoil and
fuss; whilst, according to Bates, any inexplicable noises are made by
another of this destructive band, Curupira, the wild spirit of the
woods.[361] Thunder probably means that an enemy is sending sickness to
destroy the tribe. Therefore if a man is ill a flash of lightning is
quite sufficient to kill him through sheer fright and shock.

These extra-mundane spirits may be said to be the spirits of
particularised evils, just as the _Taife_, the _Navena_, the _Jurupari_,
is the supreme spirit of all evil.[362]

With the final division of the spirit world is enwrapped the total
philosophy, the innermost meanings, in fact both the whole and the origin
of the Indian magico-religious system. As men have souls–so truly felt
in all–what is more natural than that animals who move and breathe, who
live and die, who in many respects are more powerful, more clever than
men, should be assigned souls also by the Indian’s primitive reasoning.
I say soul deliberately, for Indian metaphysicians do not differentiate
between soul and spirit–they are one and indivisible, the miniature self
that may be seen in the pupil of a living eye but has vanished from the
eye of the dead. The question of souls other than human is to the Indian
too obvious to need elucidation; it admits, indeed, of no argument. There
is a degree of belief in a spirit, “a transcendental _x_,”[363] in all
objects, even those that are inanimate. What lives and grows must have a
spirit. What can interfere with, or affect man in any way must possess
some occult influence, some mysterious personality, that works for or
against him, especially if that object be in any degree unfamiliar or
abnormal in appearance. All these things, vegetable growths, rocks, are
to the Indian as we have repeatedly seen, active agents in the scheme
of things, and as such must also possess the intangible _ego_, the
spiritual essence, that is the soul of all earthly forms. Evidence as
to animistic beliefs among the Indians is universal and overwhelming. A
point of interest to the psychologist comes in with the problem whether
the belief that undoubtedly exists is a belief in a duality of spirits in
one envelop, or whether, when the supernatural spirit, or the disembodied
spirit of a man, is transmitted into extra-human forms, it being the
stronger can oust the natural spirit of the animal or object which is
entered, and if so what becomes of the finally evicted spirit. On this
point I have unfortunately no information to adduce.

While these beliefs are in the main general among all the language-groups
of the Issa-Japura regions, those of the Boro-speaking tribes are the
most intricate. They have more definite notions of the spirit-world, a
greater range of theories as to the powers and extent of supernatural
phenomena. They fear the local devils more, take greater care to appease
them and to avoid rousing their hostility. This is the natural result
of the increased isolation secured by the Boro tribes. They have been
influenced less by the outer world than the Witoto, for example. Both
Boro and Andoke tribes invariably keep aloof so far as may be from any

Two of the forest denizens, the jaguar and the anaconda, occupy
outstanding positions in this connection with spirits and magic to all
the other beasts of the wild. Any animal may be utilised by a spirit as
a temporary abiding-place, but the “tiger” and the great water-snake
independently of such spiritual possession are magical beasts. Tales
gather round them; differential treatment is their portion. As regards
the jaguar this may be due to the fact that it is seldom seen, and
therefore the more mysterious in its evil doings. It is also a dangerous
beast, bold and fearless, and to be dreaded for this if for no other
reason. But the anaconda is no such aggressive enemy of man. Yet, though
the Indian is an omnivorous eater, he will never kill either the tiger or
the anaconda for food.[364]

The anaconda is looked upon as an evil spirit. It is the embodiment of
the water spirit, the _Yacu-mama_,[365] whose coils may bar the passage
of the streams, and the Indian goes in terror of it, nor would he bathe
in its vicinity, though, so far as my experience went, the gigantic
reptile will not attack human beings unprovoked.[366] The _Yacu-mama_, as
the name signifies, is the mother, the spirit of the streams. Among some
tribes, though not in my field of exploration, a relationship is held to
exist between this water-spirit and _Jurupari_, so it is said.[367] It
occupies the place in Amazonian folk-tales filled by the sea-serpent of
Europe; while the manatee and the dolphin are the Amazonian mermaids. The
cow-fish, or manatee,[368] is an object of wonder on the main stream,
but is unknown on the upper rivers. I have never seen one nearer than
the mouth of the Issa river. The dolphin also is not found in the higher
waters. On the lower rivers it abounds, but, according to Bates, no
Indian willingly kills one; and though dolphin fat makes good oil the
belief is current that when burnt in lamps it causes blindness.[369]

Tigers are not killed unless they be the aggressors, that is to say
they are never killed wantonly. The reason for this is not cowardice,
but fear of further aggression on the part of the tiger family, or from
the family of the medicine-man who has assumed tiger form. Indians look
upon animals as having the same instincts as themselves, and therefore
capable of a prolonged blood-feud with humans who may have wronged
them. The tribesman is accordingly anxious not to provoke war with the
tiger tribe, but if Indians are challenged by the death of one of their
number the case is altered, and they will immediately accept combat. To
hunt a jaguar without provocation merely for food or for sport would be
foolishly to kindle the animosity of the whole tiger family, to rouse
the violent enmity of the wandering spirit domiciled for a time in the
body of the hunted beast. But when an Indian is killed, or a child
lost–and tigers are usually credited with the destruction of any child
missing from its home–the medicine-man is called upon, and he proceeds
to discover that it was a tribal enemy working in disguise, probably
the spirit of a hostile medicine-man, intent to destroy the tribe by
thus slaying potential warriors or mothers of warriors. The tiger is in
these circumstances to be treated as a human enemy. A big tribal hunt is
organised, and if the quarry be secured a feast of tiger-flesh follows,
a feast of revenge, very similar in detail to the anthropophagous orgies
already described.[370] At no other time does the Indian eat jaguar meat.
The tiger-skin becomes the property of the medicine-man, whose magic has
thus triumphed over the magic of a rival.

I have already noted that anything abnormal or unknown is regarded with
suspicious dread. My camera was naturally endowed by Indian imagination
with magical properties, the most general idea among the Boro being that
it was an infernal machine, designed to steal the souls of those who
were exposed to its baleful eye. In like manner my eyeglass was supposed
to give me power to see what was in their hearts. When I first attempted
to take photographs the natives were considerably agitated by my use of
a black cloth to envelop the evil thing; and when my own head went under
it they had but one opinion, it also was some strange magic-working
that would enable me to read their minds, their unprofessed intentions,
and steal their souls away; or rather become master of their souls, and
thus make them amenable to my will at any time or in any place. This was
undoubtedly due in part to the fact that I was able to reproduce the
photograph. The Indian was brought face to face with his naked soul,
represented by the miniature of himself in the photographic plate. One
glance, and one only, could he be induced to give. Never again would he
be privy to such magic. The Witoto women believed that I was working more
material magic, and feared should they suffer exposure to the camera
that they would bear resultant offspring to whom the camera–or the
photographer–would stand in paternal relation.

[Illustration: PLATE L.



To cite another instance of the attitude of the Indian towards the
abnormal. A certain Witoto tribe have a tree that they regard as
an object almost of veneration. This palm, as may be seen in the
photographs, has a forked stem, the trunk dividing into two some few feet
above the ground. I met with no more formulated sign of tree-worship than
this. Unquestionably, though they did not worship–for as I have said,
these Indians worship nothing–the Witoto looked upon this tree as a
thing to be respected, prized, and if it were not meted proper treatment
perchance to be definitely feared.[371]

Finally, in addition to all these spirits good or evil, the tribes
south of the Japura are concerned with the sun and the moon. These
are venerated, the sun as a great and sympathetic spirit, but not an
incarnation of the great Good Spirit, the moon as his wife, who is sent
betimes by the sun into the heavens at night to prevent the evil spirits
from depopulating the world. Of the stars these people seem to have the
vaguest ideas, and only one Boro explained to me that they were the souls
of the chiefs and of the great men of his tribe.[372]

The Indian lives in a world of imagined dangers, over and above the real
ones that confront him at every turn. There is possible menace in any
place, dormant hostility in all surrounding nature, active menace in
the unfamiliar and unknown. One might expect to find that he decked his
person and his belongings with an unlimited number of charms, to protect
against these battalions of evil. But it is not so. The Tukano do, it
is said, place certain green, sweet-smelling herbs under the girdle as
a love charm, to attract the opposite sex, but nothing of this sort is
known south of the Japura, and charms, as the western world knows them,
hardly exist. I know of none beyond the medicine-man’s magical stones,
the iguana-skin wristlets of the men and the wooden ring placed on a
child’s arm, which appear to partake of the nature of charms. Magic
is to be met by magic, not by material properties. The hostile evils
that threaten a man are only to be turned aside by the exercise of more
powerful anti-hostility on the part of his medicine-man. But the Indian
must go warily, observe signs and portents, pay due heed to good and
evil omens. He must, for example, never shoot a poisonous snake with a
blow-pipe. Should he do so one poison will neutralise the other, and
destroy not only the poison on the arrow that wounded the snake, but also
all poison whatever that was in his possession at the time. It is magic
against magic.

As an instance of the Indian belief in omens, I remember that once a
small species of wild turkey alighted in a clearing, and kept running
round and round in circles. This was taken by the Indians to mean that
people were coming to the _maloka_ who might be either friends or
enemies. This gave rise to an excited discussion as to which would be the
more likely event of the two. It so happened that a party of friendly
Indians did arrive that same evening. Casement relates how a large wood
ibis descended among a crowd of Witoto and Muenane in the compound at
Occidente.[373] A Muenane wished to shoot the bird, and when persuaded
to leave it unmolested, expostulated that the ibis must have been sent
by their enemy the Karahone to bring disaster upon them. As a rule, it
strikes me, an enemy would appear in a less kindly guise than that of an
ibis. In my case no attempt was made by the Okaina to interfere with the
bird in any way, in fact it was looked upon as a friend who came to give
due notice of approaching visitors, and therefore was to be regarded with

Continue Reading

Flutes and fifes

In considering the native dances it must be remembered that the
accompanying songs are essential elements of the entertainment: they
mark the character of the dance; and equally, in considering the songs,
it must be remembered that the imagination of the native never goes
beyond the relation of the sexes. The Indian’s poetry is an inverted
form of romanticism. Instead of seeking to give rhythmical expression
to an idealisation, to find in the beauties of Nature an analogy to the
realities of Life, he reverses the process. For instance, he views a
ripe fruit, and it only suggests to him a pregnant woman. In all such
natural phenomena as he recognises he notes but the crude, if possibly
the scientific, origin. In the most ordinary conversation he refers to
conditions that appear indecent in common print; they are, however,
undetachable from him.

So it is that in his songs he debases idealism, does not elevate realism.
His poetry is on a par with that of the music-hall comedian who conceals
a mass of filth under avowedly innocent words–but the intention is very
different. The Indian possesses no other verbal vehicle, knows no other
source of inspiration. His imagination is bound by his vocabulary, as his
vocabulary is limited by his imagination. Curiously enough the effect
upon his audience is gained by the same means as those employed by the
red-nosed singer in the places of entertainment south of the Bridges,
and is almost identical in degree. Some of the Londoners of the County
Council schools have advanced ethically but little beyond their naked
brothers of the Amazonian bush.

These Indians cannot be said to love music for its own sake. The use of
music in any form is almost entirely ceremonial. They neither sing nor
play instruments as a rule merely for pleasure. On the occasions of their
festivals and dances, though, they give evidence of the possession of
voices of considerable flexibility. They also display much ingenuity in
the manufacture of their instruments, and, next to their weapons, the
pan-pipes, flutes, and drums are most carefully fashioned and preserved.
In fact, these take precedence over all domestic implements, and even
most ornaments.

The native singing voice is loud, high, and shrill. The male leader–as
a rule it is a man who is appointed, and he may be any one who knows
the old songs–sings the solo, to give the chorus their cue, in a high
falsetto which is very penetrating, and marks both time and tune for the
others to follow in canon. The song is started softly, and gradually
increases both in volume and speed. According to the circumstances, the
subject, and the occasion, the men sing alone, the women sing alone, or
the men and women combine as in the tribal dances. Most of the singing
is done in unison, with a regular drone accompaniment from those not
actually articulating the words. The songs are sung in regular time, to
the accompaniment of stamping, but not with hand-clapping. The melodies
are simple, and in the definite tribal songs consist of little more than
a single phrase that seems to admit of no variation, and is repeated _ad
libitum_, as, for example, _Mariana Keibeio_, a Boro tribal song. The
tune of this, notated from memory, and in part from a phonograph record,
runs approximately, so far as it can be rendered in our notation:


What this implies no Indian now knows, for with all tribal songs the
natives offer no explanation of their meaning or their origin. They are
the songs that their fathers sang, and one can find no evidence of the
amendation or emendation of the score on the part of their descendants.
These tribal lays are so old that the words are obsolete and no longer
understood by the singers; what is of importance is the rhythm, and
to that, as is common with uncivilised peoples, the music is largely
subordinated. It is but an accompaniment to the dancing. “The sense of
time” in the Indian, as Stevenson noted among the South Sea Islanders,
“is extremely perfect,” and one might complete the quotation and add, “I
conceive in such a festival that almost every sound and movement fell in
one.”[335] It is not an easy matter to discuss, because the English and
the Indian standpoint are so diametrically opposite. So far as I could
judge the tunes are usually in a minor key, both melody and harmony being
of the simplest.

There are no love-songs among the Indians, for the poetic conception of
love does not exist. Sacred songs and nursery songs are equally lacking.
A mother never croons to her baby; she does not understand a lullaby.
War-songs are merely the expression of the war-dance; they depend for
their significance upon the words and for their ferocity upon the grim
accentuation of the chorus.

At the time of the harvest of pine-apples, when the great dance is held,
the men sing the challenge, and the women reply in their own defence. The
songs are similar to that sung at the manioc-gathering dance, and I have
previously tried to give some idea of such a song.

Apart from the traditional songs of the tribes, which are sacred and
unchangeable, the Indians are very fond of a form of song which is
really a game rather than a musical effusion. More correctly, perhaps,
it should be called a ballad.[336] A leader of acknowledged fertility of
imagination and fluency of expression is appointed, as for the Muenane
riddle dance, and will collect the members of the tribe for what is
actually an impromptu dance. He, or she, will chant to an improvised air
with a simple rhythm, while the chorus repeat each line or its burden as
a refrain. Such songs give opportunity for all the wit of the tribe. They
are designed either to honour or to ridicule the subject of the ballad.
In reality a composition of this description takes hours to sing. The
first wit propounds the question, the chorus repeat it, and the second
wit then suggests the answer, which is again repeated by all amid much
laughter, and the repetition is continued not once but twenty times,
until the first wit breaks in with a new query. This is a very favourite
game among the women.

The following is an attempt to suggest the song-words of a dance
performed by some Witoto for my benefit, though I do the Indians too much
justice, give too great an idea of continuity, in this version. There is
no cohesion in their productions, and reiteration is the salient feature
of all. The sound and the rhythm suggested to me at the time the metre
of _Hiawatha_, so I give this song in an attempt at Hiawathian measure.
But the adaptation is really too varied for the Indian original. I was
outside the _maloka_ when the women started–no men took part–and they
danced in front of me. After a time I went inside, and the performers
promptly followed me, and continued to dance in the central space of the
house. Naturally not one word would have been sung if these dancers had
known it would be interpreted to me.

To our tribe there comes a stranger,
Comes a welcomed, honoured stranger.
And whence comes to us this stranger?
From what far and foreign country?
Wherefore comes this friend among us?
What the quest that brings him hither?
Are there in his native country
Empty fields and unkind women,
That he comes to seek among us.
So to satisfy his wishes?

By what name is called the stranger?
Tell us what his people call him.
Call him Whiffena Ri-e-i;
Call him Whiffena, the White Man.
Partly, too, his name’s Itoma.
But–his friends and bosom cronies–
Tell us, how do they address him?
He is nicknamed by his cronies
Ei-fo-ke, the Turkey Buzzard.

Ei-fo-ke, the Turkey Buzzard,
Is this, then, the name endearing
That his lovers whisper to him
When of him they grow enamoured?
No, not good! The Turkey Buzzard
Is a bird with beak of scarlet,
Yes, a long sharp beak of scarlet.
And a loose and hanging wattle.
No, his name is not Ei-fo-ke.
Let his love-name be Okaina!

This went on _ad nauseam_. The true object in all such songs is to bring
in and discuss sexual matters, and no song has advanced far before it has
become essentially carnal in idea and thoroughly licentious in expression.

Although instruments are always employed at the dances they do not seem
to be introduced with any idea of organised accompaniment, but only to
help swell the body of sound. The natives, being ignorant of the use of
metal, have been forced to make their instruments entirely of vegetable
substances; the only other material used is bone, human bone, _bien
entendu_, and judging from a specimen presented by Robuchon to the
British Museum, the shell of a small land tortoise. Their instruments of
percussion are drums, castanets, and rattles: their wind-instruments are
flutes and pan-pipes. Very rarely a solitary Indian may be found playing
the flute, apparently for his personal amusement and solace. As a rule,
it is merely used in combination with its fellows to increase the volume
of sound without heed to its proper place in harmony.

[Illustration: PLATE XLIX.


The pan-pipes are the simplest of all instruments of Amazonian music
to make, and are the most universally popular. They consist of a
bundle of reeds–three, five, six, seven, ten, or even seventeen in
number–bound together with palm-fibre, or, on the Napo, with finely
split cane. Although the pipes are cut to lengths yielding the necessary
musical intervals, the number seems to be purely arbitrary. They are
used in concert with all other instruments, and mark so much of tune
as the Indian orchestra strives to attain. The pan-pipes shown in the
accompanying illustration are Witoto instruments contrasted with the
neater finish of one made on the Napo. The latter has the greater number
of pipes, and all relatively smaller. There is nothing complicated about
the make of either set. The cane pipes are cut immediately below the
natural joint, and the node is thus made to serve as a stop.[337]

The ubiquitous bamboo also furnishes the material for a larger flute,
and flutes or fifes are made out of the arm-bones of prisoners taken in
battle. After the victim is killed and eaten the humerus is cleaned, its
extremities opened, and the soft matrix scooped out. Finger-holes are
bored in the shaft of the bone, usually three in number, but occasionally
five. When human bones are not forthcoming the tribesman uses the
leg-bone of a jaguar. This is opened at the end and furnished with a
wax stop that leaves a small canal open to a three-cornered air-hole.
Occasionally one of these flutes is made with both ends open, in which
case a square or semicircular hole is cut out from the upper rim. The
flute is held against the lower lip, and commonly has three, or more
rarely four, sound-holes. Flutes are also made of heron-bones, open at
the lower end, with a square air-hole, and generally four sound-holes.
These have mouthpieces made of leaves, and their tones are exceedingly
shrill. But the most curious instruments of which I have note are
flutes made from skulls of animals, by covering them with pitch, and
only leaving open the holes of the nose and the occipital bone. One
hole is blown through, the other is the sounding-hole. Many of the
Indian instruments, especially the bone flutes, are gaily ornamented
with elaborate incised patterns that are dyed black and red with
vegetable extracts. The flutes are also adorned with tassels of cotton or

The flute or fife is played from the extremity that is rudely fashioned
into a mouthpiece. No native trumpets are provided with sliding tubes
like the familiar trombone, and there is no plug in the mouth-hole. Nor
are any of the Amazonian wind-instruments fitted with a vibrating reed.
There are no bagpipes, and, in the regions I traversed, no stringed
instruments. Certain tribes north of the Japura, notably the Desana, use
whistles made of clay, which they employ both as alarm signals and as
adjuncts to the dance.

Trumpets of bark and bamboo have an irregular distribution. Many tribes
dispense with them on all ordinary occasions, and confine their use to
Jurupari music. These sacred instruments constitute one of the most
profound mysteries of the Amazon. They are lengthy affairs, made from the
hollow stem of a palm, and fitted with a trumpet mouthpiece. The note
is akin to that of the bassoon. These trumpets are tribal possessions,
and are kept concealed at a distance from the _maloka_, in a hut which
the women are never permitted to enter, and where the various secret
paraphernalia connected with boy initiation–such as the whips of tapir
hide–are stored. It is a capital crime for any woman even to set eyes
upon them. The Jurupari trumpet is as tabu to Indian women as the
bull-roarer of the Australian native is to his women-folk.[338] The
Indian girls are brought up in the belief that the music of the trumpets
is an essential element in the exorcism of the evil spirit from the
body of the youthful initiate, and that any interference on their part
must lead to the eternal residence of such spirit in the novice, to the
consequent disaster of the tribe, and this belief holds good all their
lives.[339] No sooner is Jurupari music heard approaching the _maloka_
than all the women and uninitiated hurry to the bush, and remain in
hiding until the ceremony is concluded and the trumpets have been
returned to their tabernacle. What the ceremony may be is held a profound
secret, and the punishment for infringement is death.[340] As a rule two
of these sacred trumpets are used, and they are tuned to the same pitch,
though differing in their tone according to their length. They are only
used north of the Japura; south of that river the tribes have no Jurupari
music and only know them as employed ceremonially by their neighbours in
connection with initiation secrets to frighten their women.

The Tukana when dancing use a trumpet alternately with their rattles; and
the Indians north of the Japura have regular castanets, made of blocks
of hard wood, which are manipulated with one hand, much in the manner
that the nigger-minstrel plays the “bones.” All the tribes make rattles
of small gourds by the simple method of partly filling the calabash
with dried seeds, or fruit stones, and inserting a wooden handle so
that they can be shaken in time to the dance. Some of these are of the
roughest, the stick of the handle quite untrimmed; others are more finely
finished, and the polished black surface of the gourd may be ornamented
with designs in colour, or incised patterns. But these are by no means
the only rattles used at a dance. The Indians have them of many kinds
and descriptions. The smaller are worn as armlets, wristlets, leglets,
and anklets. These are made of nuts, strung with coloured beads on palm
fibre, and very carefully fashioned. The leg rattles are frequently
handsome ornaments, the rich brown of the glossy nutshell making a
splendid contrast with the blue or red of the Brummagem beads. The finest
are made from a nut not unlike the Brazil nut of commerce in shape, but
less angular. That shown in Plate XLIII. has natural groovings and marks
which give the polished sections the appearance of being engraved. A
section of the shell is cut off, thoroughly cleaned and polished, then
attached by a short string of beads to the main leg- or arm-band from
which these nut sections hang bell-like. The arm rattles are made of
smaller nuts, some are not unlike an oval hazelnut, flat on one side,
cut in half and highly polished. The nut is, roughly speaking, some
three-quarters of an inch across and long. These also are hung on threads
of beads pendant a quarter of an inch apart from the connecting beaded
string. Leg rattles are made of larger nuts, and one variety is made in
the form of a bunch, not a band or chain. The beads used for these are
blue and red in colour, and the bunch of nuts on their beaded strings is
fastened with plaited palm-fibre beneath the knee. The whole effect is
most distinctly ornamental. The jangle of two or three of these nutshell
bells is not unpleasant: there is almost a tinkle in their clatter, but
the volume of sound obtainable from a number of them is remarkable, and
so is the precision with which they accentuate the rhythm of movement.

The Indians have no cymbals, gongs, or bells; but the drum is an
important factor not only in native music, but in native life. The drum
is the telegraph of the Amazons. In fact, the most remarkable of all the
native instruments is the _manguare_ or signal drum. Although the primary
use of this drum is to signal, it is utilised on great occasions as an
addition to the aboriginal orchestra. To make this important adjunct
of the _maloka_ two blocks of hard wood are chosen, some six feet in
length, and about twenty-four inches in diameter. These blocks are very
carefully hollowed out by means of heated stones that are introduced
through a narrow longitudinal slit, and char the interior. Instead of
endeavouring, however, as would be the case with an ordinary drum, to
contrive as nearly perfect a cylinder as possible, the object of the
signal-drum maker is to obtain a husk of varying thicknesses, so as to
secure differences in note. Accordingly, with his rude implements, hot
stones, capybara-tooth borer, and stone axe, he fashions the interior
of the drum in such a manner that the outer shell, the sounding-board,
varies in thickness from half an inch to four inches. Two blocks are
used; the smaller is called the male, and the larger the female. The ends
are simply the wood of the tree which is not removed, all the hollowing
being accomplished by means of the grooved slit. When finished these are
suspended by withes at an oblique angle, one end much higher than the
other–say six feet and three feet respectively from the ground. They
hang from the rafters of the _maloka_, or from an upright frame, and
present the appearance of two barrels surmounted by a narrow slit.[341]

[Illustration: FIG. 9.]

The musician takes his stand between these drums and, with a wooden
mallet headed with a knob of rubber, beats out his message or his
tune. Altogether he has a range of four notes–two low ones on the
female _manguare_, and two high ones on the male. On these he rings the
changes with great rapidity, and produces a sound which, though not
startlingly loud, has such penetrating qualities that it can be heard
twenty miles away. He beats very quickly in short and long strokes, not
unlike the Morse Code. By means of the _manguare_ a skilled signaller
can carry on a conversation as accurately as a telegraph operator at
St. Martin’s-le-Grand, or a soldier with a heliograph–but how he
does it is another secret of the Amazonian bush. When used for its
proper purpose as signal drum, the Boro and the Okaina can carry on
conversations upon almost any subject within their ken. Other tribes are
only able to distinguish between a warning of danger and an invitation
to a dance. Brown could use the drum for small matters–he could hurry
the bearers out of the bush for example. He said there was no code,
but that the signaller tried to represent the sound of words with the
drum, and Indians invariably told me that they made the words with
the drum. However, with a language dependent on inflection, as theirs
unquestionably is, there must be a code of some description.

India-rubber, which has added a new and awful terror to the life of the
forest Indian, is only employed by these tribes to make the drum mallet,
used with the _manguare_, and the latex for depilatory purposes. The
Witoto call the mallet _ouaki_, the drum is _hugwe_.

These great signal drums have designs worked upon them in which the
organs associated with the presumed sex of the instrument are prominent;
and, after the manner of the natives, both instruments are invariably
distinguished internally with the proper sexual characters, the female
drum having two breasts pendant inside.

Even in the construction of a small playing drum much time and ingenuity
are expended. First an aeta palm[342] is selected, cut down, and a
section of the trunk laboriously hacked off. This section in turn is
carefully hollowed, until only a thin shell remains. Some tribes use
a section of bamboo in place of the hollowed palm, but these never
secure so fine an instrument or so fine a note as the palm trunk
makes. Over the two ends of the cylinder dried monkey skin is tightly
stretched–preferably that of the howler monkey, as it is popularly
supposed to produce a louder and more rolling sound. Some tribes then
fasten across one end of this drum a very tight cord, into the centre of
which has been tied a fine sliver of wood. By this means two notes are
obtained–the open note where nothing interferes with the vibrations of
the drumhead, and the closed note where the vibrations of the splinter
intersect those of the skin. A very inferior instrument is made with
agouti skin over a bamboo cylinder. The drums made on the Napo River
look very much like an English child’s toy drum, rather high and narrow,
and, of course, made entirely without metal. The sides bulge slightly,
and have crossed threads of fibre string. The vellum of the drumhead is
kept in its place tautly by a close-fitting ring. These drums are usually
decorated, and are objects of barter among many of the tribes. They are
played with the fingers only, not with drumsticks or mallet.

Continue Reading

An unusual incident

Whatever of art there may be in the soul of the tribesman finds
expression in the dance. It is the concert and the play, the opera,
the ball, the carnival, and the feast of the Amazons, in that it
gives opportunity for the æsthetic, artistic, dramatic, musical, and
spectacular aspirations of the Indian’s nature. It is his one social
entertainment, and he invites to it every one living in amity with
him. Any excuse is enough for a dance, but nevertheless the affair is
a serious business. The dance, like the tobacco palaver, is a dominant
factor in tribal life. For it the Amazonian treasures the songs of his
fathers, and will master strange rhymes and words that for him no longer
have meaning; he only knows they are the correct lines, the phrases he
ought to sing at such functions, because they always have been sung, they
are the words of the time-honoured tribal melodies.[313] It is for these
occasions that he fashions quaint dancing-staves and wonderful musical
instruments, and dons all his treasured ornaments, while his wife paints
her most dazzling skin costumes. He practises steps and capers, tutors
his voice to the songs; meantime his children rehearse assiduously in the
privacy of their forest playground, against the time when they too may
take part in the tribal festivities.

[Illustration: PLATE XLII.


The entertainment demands elaborate preliminaries. When any such carnival
is on hand the old women of the tribe for days previously are busied
making cassava, and with the preparation of _kawana_ or other appropriate
drinks. The amount of liquid refreshment necessary for a large dance is
enormous, in view of the custom by which the liquor-logged native simply
steps aside, and by the insertion of a finger down the throat is speedily
ready for a further supply. During the four or five days that a dance
continues only the old men among the Turuka will eat anything, and that
nothing more substantial than manioc starch; the dancers merely drink

Nor is the inner man only to be considered. All sartorial treasures,
the feathers and necklaces of the men, the beaded girdles of the women,
are taken from their receptacles, the wardrobes in the rafters of the
_maloka_. The men–for the Amazonian male reserves to himself the
greatest brilliance of attire on occasions of ceremony–array themselves
in their feather tiaras, with necklaces, armlets, and sounding garters
of polished nuts. The maidens and matrons also apply themselves to
the elaboration of their toilets. No court dressmaker ever gave more
anxious thought to the fashioning of _chef-d’œuvre_ in silk and brocade
than do these dusky daughters of Eve to the tracing of circles, angles,
bands, and frets upon their naked skins. Coquetry is as essential an
accompaniment of the savage dance, in the unmapped bush of the Amazons,
as in a garlanded ballroom of Mayfair. The most vain of English beauties
probably spends less time over her adornment for any function than do
these young women as they squat in chattering crowds over the calabashes
of vegetable dye, white, scarlet, black, or purple, with which they trace
upon each other the cunning patterns that make their only dresses.

When these preparations are satisfactorily advanced the chief, or some
one in authority, despatches his invitations, no formal cards entrusted
to a postman, but a summons mysterious as a Marconigram, and imperious
as a writ of the High Court. The chief takes his stand between the
_manguare_, the signal drums slung from the rafters of the great house,
and with the rubber-headed drumstick he beats out as message sonorous
notes that travel to every Indian within eight or nine miles. This
summons is no mere manipulation of the four notes which constitute the
range of the instrument, but an articulate message to convey the time,
the place, and the purpose of the meeting to the initiated.

[Illustration: PLATE XLIII.



The numbers who congregate for a dance were a constant source of
astonishment to me. Out of the silent and trackless bush scores of
expectant guests, all painted and feathered, will pour into the clearing
about the _maloka_, at the time appointed by the signal drum, and by
nightfall some hundreds are gathered. Great bonfires are set ablaze,
and the interior of the tribal lodge, where the chief has a place in
the centre, flares ruddy with the light of torches. The men make loud
clangour with their instruments, flutes, pan-pipes, or drums, and out in
the clearing they form into line, clutching their jingling dance-poles,
while the women form up facing them. Led by a strenuous tribesman
clattering with nuts and dried seeds, the line begins its perambulation
of the _maloka_. Forward two steps–_thud!_ Backward two steps–_thud!_
Clattering and pattering, with the fifes shrieking high above all other
sounds, as the drums growl deep below, the procession slowly encircles
the _maloka_, and then enters. In a frenzied flutter of feathers and
leaves the performers move round the chief, to a jangle of seed-pods and
rattles, till the company is completed, and the tribal lodge is packed
with the dancers, when he signals for silence. The dance stops. The
instruments cease their outcry, and in the sudden contrast of silence the
chief sings a line which is the keynote of the occasion, the explanation,
the reason for the assembly. Then dance and song begin, while those who
are not taking active part squat round upon their haunches and ejaculate
hoarse cries of approval and encouragement at intervals.

As aforesaid, any excuse is good enough reason for such festival. Dances
take place continuously: at the harvest of the pine-apple and the manioc;
at the conclusion of a successful hunt or war-expedition; and at such
other times in the Amazonian season as the chief feels moved to give
entertainment. As the weather does not vary sufficiently to influence the
harvesting of the crops at any particular date, there is no equivalent
to our harvest; and, though manioc is planted as a rule just before the
heaviest annual rainfall becomes due, there is no part of the year when
some of the roots are not ready to gather. Pines are most plentiful
in October, and it is then that the special pine-apple dances take

The dance takes its character from the occasion. The dancing staff,
unless the dance is in honour of some specific thing, is undecorated,
merely furnished with a calabash that contains nuts, or with a carved
head hollowed for the same purpose, and is sometimes hung with bunches of
dried seeds that rattle when shaken or when knocked on the ground. These
form important additions to the orchestra, and to the garters and anklets
strapped to the legs. Very often the Indian decorates his staff with
palm leaves merely for ornament, but in the harvest dances the staves
are adorned with bunches of whatever crop is to be honoured–a tuft of
pine-apple leaves or a bundle of manioc shoots. The Yakuna carve patterns
on their dance staves.[315] Among the Tureka, north of the Japura, dance
staves are a most important possession, and are looked on with great
affection by their owners. The Tureka men wear aprons when dancing,
and use clappers in one hand, instead of the horns and rattle used
alternately by the Tukana.[316] The Menimehe carries a club in his right
hand. On the Tikie, dancers are said to hold a flute in the left hand,
and always to have a green twig under their girdle. Koch-Grünberg further
states that they have clay whistles with which they blow at dances as
well as for signals. These are not customs of the Issa-Japura tribes.

The soloist who leads the dancers from the start outside the _maloka_
very probably commences by executing some fancy high stepping. He may,
for instance, prance like a stallion, and this is calculated to amuse the
company immensely. When the performers get too heated by their exertions
in the house they will file outside, still dancing, and after a few turns
on the open space in front of the _maloka_, will return within.

[Illustration: PLATE XLIV.


Among the Okaina and the Boro the hand is often placed on the far
shoulder of the next in line. I especially remember one endless dance in
an Okaina house in which all free performers were double locked, while
those in possession of staves or rattles were content with a single lock
to allow freedom for one hand. The dancers invariably stand in single
file, usually with one hand resting on the shoulder of the next in
line. The Menimehe and most other tribes place the left hand on their
neighbour’s right shoulder, but, according to Koch-Grünberg, tribes
on the Tikie place the right hand, though the Tukana rest the left.
The figure is composed of a broken circle of men thus linked together,
whilst in their free hands they hold the dancing staves, rattles, or
flutes. Within, and concentric, is the ring of women dancers, who face
the men and maintain a time which is complementary and not identical
with theirs.[317] North of the Japura in some cases the women dance
between the men in the same circle,[318] or the men and the younger girls
dance round the elder women. When dancing, personal touch is not tabu
or disliked, possibly because it is ceremonial or conventional. In most
of these dances the woman who is not engaged in the inner circle of the
select–the complementary figure of the dance–places herself outside the
outer circle with her left hand on the left shoulder of the man of her
choice. Her frontal portion is thus at right angles, and away from that
of her man.

The rhythm of the dance is always very marked. The figures and steps
are simple, neither suggestive nor lascivious, and wholly destitute of
the lustful invitation of the dances of the East. The step is almost
invariably a high, prancing flexion of the thigh upon the body, followed
by a deliberate extension to the ground, repeated two or three times, the
advance being completed with a resounding stamp of the right foot upon
the earth, according to the accentuation of the measure. The same steps
are repeated backwards in retiring, although less ground is covered, so
that the dancers sway rhythmically forward and backward; but the end of
each movement finds the whole line advanced some little distance from
where it was at the conclusion of the previous one. The forward movement
may be described simply as, right foot forward, left foot forward, stamp
with right, right foot backward, left foot backward, right foot back
in position, toe on ground, to start _da capo_ right foot forward,
in uninterrupted repetition. Spruce has described this movement as “a
succession of dactyls.”[319] In stamping, which is done by all the
dancers in unison, the knee is brought up to a right angle with the
trunk, and the foot then thrust down with the whole weight of the body.
Toe with right is the same motion as stamp right, but with only a slight
flexion of the knee, and comparatively noiseless. The circles move to the
right, continuing, but almost imperceptibly on account of slight change
of ground. The Tureka make a jump before the stamp, shout at the end of
the figure, and whistle through their teeth.

[Illustration: PLATE XLV.



While the principal dance is in progress a frequent form of side-show to
the main entertainment is the entrance of a tribesman with a grievance.
He will have made for himself the most remarkable costume he can devise,
and to ensure that he shall gain attention, wears upon his head a
veritable “_matinée_ hat” of absurd proportions.[320] He pays no heed
to the dance when he comes into the _maloka_, but stalks solemnly to a
position in the sight of all, though he will keep out of the actual track
of the dancers. Then, standing stock-still with upraised hand, facing
neither the performers nor the “sitters out,” but in any chance position,
he raises his staff and begins to recite his complaint to a monotonous
refrain. The following is a typical instance of what may be chanted:

There came a man this morning to our lodge–
A man who took cassava from my woman.
Cassava she gave him in exchange for two pines,
For two pines she gave him much cassava.
But where are the pines?
Where are the pines he promised?
Was this man a thief?–
This man who took cassava from my woman.[321]

Or the complaint might run:

I came in with meat;
The hungry man took my meat,
But promised me bread.
He gave me no bread,
And my belly is empty.

The following is a complaint made by a Boro chief’s daughter of her
treatment by her own tribe:

The chief’s daughter was lost in the bush,
And no one came to find the spoor;
The branches were broken and the leaves were turned,
And no one came to find the spoor.
And where were my brothers and the sons of the chief’s brothers,
That no one came to find the spoor? etc.

The petitioner will repeat his or her song for hours without ceasing.
To all appearance no one takes the slightest notice of his presence,
unless the dance should come to an end during the recitation, when the
performers jeer and laugh at his tale of woe. This has no effect upon the
plaintiff, who continues gravely to voice his grievance. The chief must,
however, take note of the matter, and if it be thought of sufficient
importance it is brought up for discussion and judgment at the next
tribal conference in tobacco palaver. At any rate, this method of airing
a grievance has the effect of placing the culprit on the black-list, in
view of the resultant publicity; and the natural wariness that is shown
by others of the tribe in all dealings with such suspect for the future,
is in itself a punishment for the crime.

It is difficult in the extreme to obtain any reliable evidence of the
existence of initiation dances. Sixty years ago Dr. Russell Wallace
described as the initiation dance of the girls of the Uaupes a dance
which, six years ago, Dr. Koch-Grünberg, the latest and most painstaking
of Amazonian investigators, found as a Jurupari ceremony confined to
men on the river Aiary. The dance is the same in each case, and depends
for its distinction upon the infliction of serious bodily injury. The
mysteries of initiation, as has been said, have not yet been fathomed in
the Amazons, nor have those of Jurupari. There is undoubtedly a dance
in which the performers beat their fellows with lianas until the blood
is drawn and the victims faint with pain, but no white man has yet
spoken with certainty upon its origin.[322] The dance is not known in
the district between the Issa and the Japura, nor do the mysteries of
initiation fall to be discussed in this chapter. Those are not matters
which are readily laid bare to even the most enterprising investigator in
the haunts of the aborigines.

According to Koch-Grünberg’s account, all the women, accompanied by the
smaller boys, leave the _maloka_ directly the notes of the flutes are
heard, and either hide in the woods or in another house with closed
exits. The performers circle round in quick marching time, blowing their
flutes, which each holds in his right hand, his left resting on the right
shoulder of the next man. At the completion of the circle they stand in
line. One dancer then draws the long whip they all carry under their
right arms, and while his companion holds his flute high up, blowing
lustily, he gives him three blows on the side and stomach heavy enough to
draw blood freely. This continues till all have taken part. There is no
singing, but the gaping wounds and much drinking of _kashiri_ rouse the
performers to a state of wild excitement. This dance is followed by an
ordinary one, in which the women take part.[323] Obviously none of the
Issa-Japura tribes practise this dance, for I never saw any signs of the
scars that must inevitably remain on the bodies of dancers cut in this
wholesale fashion.

The account given by Bates of a dance at the Feast of Fruits among the
Juri and the Passé Indians is an equally good description of some of the
Issa-Japura harvest dances. The men carry long reeds instead of javelins,
and with their left hands on their neighbours’ right shoulders move
slowly to right and to left. The accompaniment is a song as drawling and
monotonous as the movement, which will be continued for upwards of an
hour at a time.[324]

In the pine-apple dance the Indians tie pine leaves to boughs and wave
them as they move. The women of the chief, and possibly all the women
of the tribe, form a semicircle with the chief in the centre, sometimes
alone, sometimes with others. They carry the mid-rib of the Trooly palm
or some similar wand, with a small pine, or often the pine-top, tied to
the end.

The proceedings at all harvest dances are very similar. I give as example
a Boro dance at the gathering of the manioc, which is but an excuse for
this dance, as manioc is pulled up at all times and seasons. As is almost
universal in Indian dancing, the outer circle, or rather semicircle,
is composed of men. The women, fewer in number, stand together in the
centre, or each behind the man of her choice. Their dancing staves are
all decorated with bunches of manioc shoots. The woman, with the nearer
hand resting on the man’s shoulder, keeps step with him, moving to her
own front and not sideways like the man, though in the same direction.
The inner group face the circle of men, and their steps are complementary
to those of the men, and not identical with them. The chief starts the
dance with the first line of the song, his wife replies, and her answer
is echoed by the chorus of the chief’s women.


I am old and weak and my belly craves food.
Who has sown the _pika_[325] in the _emie_?[326]


I have sown the _pika_ long, long ago.
The _maica_[327] is sown with young shoots.


We have sown the _pika_ long, long ago.
The _maica_ is sown with young shoots.


I am old and weak and my belly craves food.
Who has cut the _pika_ in the _emie_?


I, even I myself, have cut the _maica_.
The _maica_ is cut in the _emie_.


We, even we ourselves, have cut the _maica_.
The _maica_ is cut in the _emie_.


I am old and weak and my belly craves food.
Who has soaked the _maica_ for the _mao_?[328]


I, even I myself, have soaked the _maica_.
I have soaked the _maica_ for the _mao_.


We, even we ourselves, have soaked the _maica_.
We have soaked the _maica_ for the _mao_.

The whole process of growing, harvesting, and preparing the manioc for
cassava is thus related, then the chief will ask:

Who has made the _mao_ that I may eat?
That my belly may swell with _mao_?


I, even I, have made the _mao_,
And my belly will swell with _mao_.


We, even we ourselves, have made the _mao_.
We will all eat that our bellies may swell,
That our bellies may swell with _mao_.


_Ina? ina?_[329] that your bellies are swollen?
Who has eaten the _mao_ from the _pika_–
The _pika_ in the _emie_?

The suggestion is obviously that the women have stolen and eaten the
cassava of the chief, but it is made solely to bring in the sexual
suggestion. The women deny the imputation, and declare that their bellies
are empty, or that they are great with child, not swollen with _mao_.
The chief will then ask why, or when, the belly fills with child, and so
the song continues on the lines of the sexual ideas introduced until the
finale is reached, when the chief would sing:

_Imine, imine_,
The women are good women,

[Illustration: PLATE XLVI.


The Muenane, who occupy a part of the central Issa-Japura watershed,
between the Andoke and the Resigero, possess a dance of their own, which
has travelled into many of the other tribes south of the Japura, and has
become very popular.[331] This is a combination of a riddle and an animal
dance. The figure is formed as in the pine-apple dance, but the centre is
taken by a warrior who has gained a reputation as a wit. His business is
to ask a riddle, which will in all probability be an original one, and he
asks it after the manner of a chant. Naturally a man with at least the
indigenous sense of wit is loudly applauded and received with shrieks of
laughter from the outset. The dancers take up the chanted question as
they rotate round the questioner. At the end of the measure the dance
stops, and the riddler rushes frantically round the circle with a lighted
torch, looking, like Alcibiades, for a man–to answer his riddle. He
stops suddenly, thrusts his torch into the face of a performer, and,
peering into his eyes to seek for some sign of answering intelligence,
repeats his question. The answer, if in the negative, is given–whatever
the tribe dancing may be–in the tongue of the originators of the dance,
Muenane–“Jana” (I do not know). The dancer thereupon, having failed to
reply correctly, is then impressed to be a follower of the questioner,
and must rush after him and imitate all his antics, which are apparently
to give the clue to the riddle. In a short time a long single file of
these failures is engaged in presenting a burlesque of the habits of the
animal whose name is the answer required. The first performer who guesses
correctly becomes the questioner in turn, and the dance starts afresh.

It may be pertinent here to relate an incident which tends to convey at
least an insight into the Indian character, the lack of altruism, the
love of discomfiture of others. On one occasion the questioner–evidently
to take a rise out of a stranger, and being intoxicated, if not with coca
at least with the dancing mania–thrust his torch into my face, nearer
than would be tolerated in the usual way. I quickly placed my foot on his
chest, with the resultant back-somersault of torch and man. The shrieks
of laughter lasted a considerable time. I was the hero of the hour, and
custom decreed that the victim should laugh at his own discomfiture.

All Indians are clever mimics, and the fidelity with which they reproduce
the actions of jaguars, tapirs, monkeys, parrots, and other familiar
animals of the bush is remarkable. The riddles are nearly always
concerned with animals, and the test of wit is the amount of sexual
suggestion contained in the reply.[332] A typical query is, “When is a
howler-monkey not a howler?” The answer would be, “When he is covering
his mate.” The dumb show of the actors delights the audience, and
leaves no small characteristic to the imagination. The riddles may defy
translation, but the actions are certainly not beyond interpretation.

In this connection it is well to refer again to the subject of dance
intoxication. The excitement due to rhythmic motion struck me very
forcibly. It should be remembered too that the men are heroic cocainists,
and this stimulant, in forcing the imagination, undoubtedly for the
moment–_qua_ alcohol–has an aphrodisiacal tendency. The sexual
innuendoes of the songs, though not of the dance, increase the effect. It
must also be borne in mind that five days and nights is not an uncommon
limit to one dance. It may cease at sunrise for a short space, and
individuals, of course, rest and sleep as nature may dictate, but never,
to my knowledge, for any length of time.

[Illustration: PLATE XLVII.


On one occasion I was witness to the most remarkable salacity on the part
of an individual. In my innocence I considered it part of the dance, and
was satisfied with the idea that I had at last happed upon the indigenous
counterpart of the coition and parturition dances of the East. It was
not until the man was restrained by order of the chief that the true
facts were realised.[333] But this was exceptional. The dance is carried
on with frenzy and excitement, but with nothing beyond that. It never
touches eroticism.[334] The dance never ends, as we know ending. It
dwindles to cessation.

Another dance, much appreciated by the tribes between the Issa and the
Japura, is not very dissimilar in essentials from the musical chairs of
our childhood. The dancers form into a line, or two parallel lines, and,
headed by the song-leader, carry out the customary step in single file.
At the leader’s mention of a certain word, or perhaps a certain subject,
previously agreed upon, the whole line must right-about turn, and pick
up the step again without losing a beat. Those who fail are withdrawn
from the line. The dance continues until the fittest alone remain, and is
productive of general amusement.

But there are more tragic inspirations for a dance than the guessing
of riddles or the garnering of the crops. I refer to the triumphant
home-coming of tribal warriors, laden with booty from the war-path,
with a band of doomed prisoners. The treatment of the latter and their
disposal at the feast have been already dealt with. But the cannibal
ritual of insult is not the end. When the orgy of blood and gluttony is
over, the warriors must dance. Only the men may take part in the feast,
so only the men may participate in this dance. The music is chiefly
that of the drums, and to their gloomy rolling–according to Robuchon’s
account–the warriors lurch portentously, drunk already with victory, and
excited by dancing. They break apart frequently to stir the great troughs
of liquor with the forearms of their dead enemies, and to quaff deep
calabashes full of drink. Then they stagger back to the wild intoxication
of the dance. Their songs become shrieks, demoniacal, hellish. For eight
days this horrible dance of triumph continues, while the captive boys and
girls, young enough to be saved from the fate of the earthen pot, cower
in the darkness of the _maloka_ and suffer, perforce in silence, the
gibes of the women. But this scene defies description.

Set against the darkly impressive background of the forest any tribal
dance gives an amazing effect of kaleidoscopic light and colour when,
with nightfall, by the flare of great fires and the glow of torches, the
performance begins. The chosen soloist of the tribe jangling his circlets
of nuts, sounding his gourd rattle, in a falsetto voice sings the ancient
air of the dance. The warriors follow the melody in canon. Then slowly
the great line of naked men, arms interlocked about each other’s necks,
surges forward two steps in perfect time, pauses a moment, then recedes
two steps. In a little while the whole earth shakes with the swing of the
movement. It is like the flowing and ebbing of mighty waves upon a shore.
It intoxicates with the recurrence of the accentuation. Slowly round the
big _maloka_ the procession passes, swaying in unison. The streaked and
banded women dance uniformly in an opposite direction. The fires splutter
and blaze. The torches cast strange shadows. The flutes, the pan-pipes,
and the drums blare, bleat, and boom their barbaric accompaniment.

[Illustration: PLATE XLVIII.


It is a mad festival of savagery. The naked men are wildly excited; their
eyes glare, their nostrils quiver, but they are not drunk. The naked
women abandon themselves to the movement of the dance; they scream their
chorus to the tribal dance-song; but they are not lewd. There is about
it an all-pervading, illimitable delirium. The wild outburst affects
even the stranger in their midst. Forgotten cells in his brain react to
the stimulus of the scene. He is no longer apart, alien in speech and
feeling. He locks arms in the line of cannibals, sways in rhythm with
them, stamps as solemnly, and sings the meaningless words as fervently
as the best of them. He has bridged an age of civilisation, and returned
to barbarism in the debased jetsam of the river banks. It is the strange
fascination of the Amazons.

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Hereditary office

The medicine-man of the South American Indian tribes has been described
as “the counterpart of the shaman type.”[292] There would seem to
be hardly need for any qualification–he _is_ a shaman. The word
has attained a certain vogue, with too frequent lax usage, so that
merely finding the name “_shimano_” in connection with any of these
Indians–especially when it is found in the pages of an American
writer–does not warrant this assertion.[293] But a short study
of the exhaustive paper on Shamanism and the Shaman in the _Royal
Anthropological Institute Journal_[294] will show that point for point
the methods and procedure of the Witoto, the Boro, and kindred tribes
tally with that of the shamans of Siberian peoples. That is to say he is
a doctor and a wizard, not a priest. He claims to deal with spirits by
magical processes, to exorcise, outwit, and circumvent, not to officiate
in any sacred office as the minister, the vicar, of a deity. He is a
hypnotist and a conjuror. But he is more than a mere charlatan. He is
the poison-maker for the tribe, and possesses, as a rule, especially
among the Andoke and Karahone, a considerable knowledge of drugs,
both curative and lethal. The curare poison is a treasured secret of
the medicine-men. Its recipe is religiously guarded by them, and the
deadly preparation is made with both ceremony and privacy. The Andoke
medicine-men have an ointment concocted from a plant–the identity of
which they would not divulge–that is used for massaging purposes. They
all use tobacco juice, coca, and a white snuff that I thought must be
the famous _niopo_, but could not find out anything about it.[295] One
cure for a headache is worked with a special kind of dried bark. The
medicine-man carries a piece of this in his magic-bag, and with it he
rubs over the head of the sufferer; or, if he is dealing with a wound,
he will pass the bark over the skin to make it heal. There is also a
species of lichen or moss used by them to rub lightly over the affected
part, which acts as a very mild blistering agent. It stings and, acting
as a counter irritant, draws the inflammation away from the seat of the
injury to the surface, and thus to some extent neutralises the pain. It
is a sage green in colour, dry and feathery in appearance, and is found
growing round the roots of trees.

Pain, sickness, death, each and all are caused in Indian opinion by
some evil spirit, sent of course by an enemy. It is to combat this
magic-worked mischief that the medicine-man’s services are required in
the first place. Magic must be countered by magic.[296] Incidentally the
medicine-man relies also to some extent on his own medicine, his purges,
and narcotics. However potent these may, or may not be, the fact that the
patient has implicit faith in their efficacy goes far to assist their
intrinsic merits and further the cure, the expulsion of the evil spirit
that has wrought the trouble. A medicine-man probably has a number of
these more or less genuine remedies, infusions of herbs that possess
curative properties, such as those already dealt with in the previous

But drugs and ointments alone do not, to the Indian mind, go far to bring
about recovery. Much more effective, as a spirit-evicting agent, is the
medicine-man’s virtue, represented by his breath. It is sufficient for
him to breathe over food or drink to render it healthy, to breathe on a
sore place to secure removal of pain, to breathe on the sick to promote
recovery.[297] Nor is this power vested only in the medicine-man. Other
people’s breath may have similar value, if of less degree.[298] Should
an Indian wish to eat of forbidden food, he may get an old woman to
breathe over it. Is a child sickly, a like procedure may restore it to
health. In all the medicine-man’s performances breathing and blowing
over the patient is a prominent part of the processes. The medicine-man
will breathe on his own hand and then massage the part of the patient
that is affected; and if stronger measures are required he will suck the
place, or as near the place as his mouth can be put, suck vigorously and
possibly spit out a black liquid–the tobacco juice freely taken by him
during the performance explains the colour. The avowed object of the
suction is that it draws out the poison–the evil spirit.[299] It is
here that some degree of charlatanism comes into play, for the operating
medicine-man will presently produce a tangible object from his mouth, a
bit of stick, a thorn, a fishbone, or anything of a similar description,
and inform the patient and his friends that this is the material form
which had been assumed by the evil spirit which he has drawn bodily from
the flesh of the sick person.[300] This is the usual accompaniment of the
shaman’s rites, and too universally indulged in by the wizard fraternity
to need any particular comment.

The Indian medicine-man receives presents for the cures he effects.
Should he fail he must make the best case he can for himself,
and depart to the bush to work magic against the rival who has
successfully–according to his account–outmanœuvred him. The blame for
failure is not to be his but another’s. This, it is hardly necessary to
note, is an alluring chance for the repayment of any personal injury or
slight, not often missed by so entirely human a person as the Indian

To a certain extent the office of tribal medicine-man is hereditary, that
is to say the eldest son, if efficient, succeeds the father. It would be
more correct to say the most hairy of his sons, as hirsute qualifications
are far more weighty and essential determinatives than questions of
primogeniture. The hairier the wiser it would seem. But of this anon.
Often the medicine-man will have a small boy with him, who may be his
son, actual or adopted, and who is also credited with magic gifts.[301]
Thus the secrets of the profession are preserved from generation to
generation, the chosen youths being the recipients of the secrets and
trained to develop and carry on the magic of their predecessors. Part
of the ritual of initiation, as of the ceremonial healing, consists of
what to the unbelieving white man is not too well done conjuring. The
medicine-man is a clumsy conjuror, and only the implicit trust of his
patients and audience saves him from frequent detection. But the belief
that they must see what he declares they see goes far to make them in
very truth behold it. The “conjuring” in the initiation of a novice
consists of simple “passes” of sticks up through the nostril and out of
the back of the head. According to Waterton the probationers have to
endure exhausting ordeals and torture.[302] This is very probable, but on
this point I received no information.

So far as I am aware not one of these tribes attaches any importance
to the hair that is clipped or depilated, nor to nail parings; if
they do the point escaped me. But though they depilate because they
dislike resembling monkeys with a hairy pelt, at the same time it is
noticeable that not only does the medicine-man ignore this general
custom, especially among the Andoke where it is strictly tabu to him–yet
hairiness is, as I have stated above, a necessary qualification for any
man or youth who is desirous of attaining the position of medicine-man.
He is certainly the only man in the tribe with any face hair. When
the medicine-man has a hairy son the boy is trained to inherit the
“practice,” but should he have no offspring with this distinctive
requirement, a hairy child will be chosen and educated for the post.

There may possibly be some connection between this tabu and the belief
that when a medicine-man dies he returns as a tiger, and even during
his lifetime he can make excursions in tiger-form, and be so absolutely
tiger that he can slay and eat the beasts of the wild. Every medicine-man
possesses a jaguar skin that he is said to use when he turns tiger.
By possession of a skin he has the power of resuscitating the tiger,
he himself being the spirit of the tiger. He can thus work his will,
afterwards returning to human form. An ordinary tiger might be killed,
but a medicine-man in tiger form could not be.[303] On one occasion a
medicine-man I met had a bag made of tiger-skin hung round his neck, in
which he carried all his paraphernalia. But the medicine-men never wear
these skins as wraps or coverings. Each hides his tiger skin away, when
not in actual use for magic purposes.

The power to return after death in the shape of the dreaded jaguar is
a further defensive measure, a precaution against hostile peoples, as
in this shape both before and after death the medicine-man can attack
the tribal enemies, and carry obnoxious individuals away into the bush
whenever opportunity offers.

The medicine-man lives with, and yet aloof from his fellow-tribesmen.
He has to observe many tabu, certain kinds of food are prohibited, and
he must have no connection with women when making his medicines,[304]
for should the woman bear a child it will be a tiger cub. To make his
drugs and unguents a medicine-man goes alone into the forest, and this in
itself marks him as different from other men, who will never of their
own free will go far without a companion. Spruce mentions an armed guard
attendant on medicine-men, “their lives being in continual jeopardy,”
but no such thing is known south of the Japura.[305] The medicine-men
certainly wander in the bush alone, for they will disappear at times,
and on their return inform the tribesfolk that they have been about
some magical journeyings; they may have worked in the guise of tigers
against tribal enemies; or paid visits in the spirit to other lands. No
armed escort could protect a medicine-man better than his own reputation
suffices to do, for all medicine-men are feared–certes one that was not
feared would not be worth the killing–and no Indian would be likely
to risk the danger resultant on doing one an injury. I doubt if even a
hostile tribe would wittingly put a medicine-man to death, for they fear
retaliation on the part of the spirit, which would certainly haunt them,
even if it worked no graver ill.

The medicine-man’s dress, as already mentioned, is largely a matter of
personal taste; something original and striking is usually attempted.
The Orahone medicine-man clothes himself in tapir-skin, and the Andoke
medicine-man in the illustration opposite p. 73 was wearing a dyed
turban when I took his portrait. Any fancy article that comes to hand is
utilised to make him different from his fellows. His “properties,” which
are carried in an ornamented bag of tiger skin, or of beaten bark sewn
with fibre string, consist of a rattle–of rather more elaborate design
than the ordinary dance rattle–some small magic stones, and a cup made
from the shell of a river fish.[306] The latter resembles a large oyster,
and the mother-of-pearl inner coating is much used for earrings and
ornaments. The medicine-man takes this cup, speaks into it, and rubs the
sick person all over with it. Then, if this does not bring about a cure,
the patient must suck it till he vomits, and continue to vomit till the
evil spirit be expelled.

Condor claws play a great part in magic-working among the northern
tribes. These gigantic birds are rare in the bush, and I never saw one,
though I heard of them from all the medicine-men, and obtained some
specimens of the dried feet from them. These are ugly objects, the leg
stump stopped with pitch and bound roughly round with bands of beaten
bark, about half or a quarter of an inch wide, and not twisted. But
though I got the claws I could not get any details as to what they were
supposed to do.[307]

I once saw a medicine-man with the skin of an anaconda, and was told
that by using the skin he could control the spirit of the anaconda.[308]
For this purpose the medicine-men are habitually provided with the dried
skins of lizards and snakes.[309]

The Andoke place great faith in strings of magical stones, five or seven
in number. These are taken off the string and laid by the medicine-man
in certain patterns on the sufferer. The medicine-man gazes at them
abstractedly till a degree of self-induced trance is established. He will
then break out into a frenzy, stamp, shout, and brandish his rattle.
The stones are also used for magical rubbing, and are most assiduously
guarded by their possessors, who will not part with them for any
consideration. The only string of such stones I managed even to see are
shown in the illustration. They are of quartz, somewhat roughly made flat
discs, worn smooth by continual use, about three-quarters of an inch in
diameter and a quarter of an inch thick, bored in the centre, the hole
being half the size in the middle to what it is at its external radius.
These stones are always carried on a string.

[Illustration: PLATE XLI.



Whatever goes wrong in tribal life, from a pain in the finger to a
hurricane, the malice of an enemy working through the evil spirits is
held to be responsible, as will be shown more fully hereafter. It is the
medicine-man’s business not only to frustrate their malicious purposes,
but also to discover who is the foe inciting their wickedness by magical
influences. Mischief can be wrought without any bodily presence.[310]
Revenge is also possible by the exercise of similar extra-natural powers.
For instance, if a child is lost, or killed by a tiger, the bereaved
parents call the tribal medicine-man to their assistance. If the hunters
sent out to retaliate upon the tiger-foe fail to capture or overcome it,
the medicine-man proceeds to work magic. This may be quite simple, for
it is possible that in his solitary wanderings in the bush he may have
the luck to come across the lost youngster. In this case he “re-creates”
the child by the potency of his magic-working, and secures an unshakable
reputation by producing it alive in due course. Should such luck not
befall him he can but return with a tale of vengeance wreaked on the
tiger, and a tiger-tooth–not necessarily of fresh extraction–in proof
of that same. Then it is his duty to discover which might be the wicked
tribe that sent the tiger, or had it sent at their instigation, as he
would have to ascertain who had sent sickness were it the death of an
adult that was under investigation. The procedure is the same whether the
trouble be a house blown down by the wind or any other catastrophe. The
tribe assembles for a solemn palaver, and the medicine-man, frenzied with
drugs, eventually “divines” who is the enemy. The final decision usually
is that the tribe had better go to war at once lest worse befall them.

The medicine-man invariably has a considerable say in intertribal
policy. War is never made without his advice, and in addition to his
duties as tribal avenger and healer, he must warn the tribe of impending
hostilities.[311] Should hostilities break out, or a death occur,
during a white man’s visit to a tribe, he would possibly find himself
in considerable personal danger. Success to the tribe might in part be
attributed to his virtue, but disaster would certainly be considered due
to his malign presence, a point the medicine-man would not be slow in
urging against the visitor.

The white stranger, with his foreign magic–for magic every other thing
he possesses must seem to the unsophisticated child of the bush–in
any circumstances is regarded with some jealousy by the professional
magic-workers of the tribes. Naturally, therefore, it is with extreme
difficulty that any details of their methods and doings can be learnt.
It goes without saying that the medicine-man regards any inquisitive
stranger as a potential rival, is on his guard against bluff or bribery,
and never willingly gives so much as an opening for exchange of
professional confidences. It is the hardest thing in the world to obtain
information from the Indian, for every Indian will say “I don’t know,”
or “Pia”–because it is so–in order to avoid having to explain his
beliefs to the white man. I tried to bluff, and by feigning to possess
magical gifts hoped to draw the local exponent into a rival display, but
with no encouraging results. What I could gather had to be done with
circumspection, a bit here, a trifle there, a note from a chance remark,
a comment from another.

The expulsion of the evil spirit causing sickness is a matter requiring
invariably much noise and fury. The _maloka_ is always dark, be it day
or night, and the gloom is not broken by torches for the medicine-man’s
visit, nor are the smouldering fires kicked into a blaze. The doctor,
well under the influence of drugs, works himself to a state of wild
exaltation. He beats the floor with a palm branch, shakes his rattle
vigorously, and makes the most appalling noises. He will imitate
the beasts and birds of the forest, and–as he must be a skilled
ventriloquist if he has any claims whatsoever to magic gifts–the sounds
apparently come from every side. This is to demonstrate the embodying of
the spirits of the nether world, the active causation of all ill. Also
it is to summon to his assistance all friendly spirits, or all over
whom he has attained magical influence. He carries on conversations with
the assumed speakers, and intermittently howls, and shrieks, and beats
the air with his palm branches. The greater the noise, the wilder the
excitement, the more potent is the magic of the medicine-man. South of
the Japura he does not blow smoke over the patient, but he makes use of
both tobacco juice and coca. He further drugs himself most probably with
some such powerful agent as aya-huasca, though that is not supposed to be
known to these tribes. The medicine-man also doses himself with a drink
made from a certain liana. When thoroughly intoxicated with it he will
run away, and shortly go into profound slumber. In this comatose state
he is supposed to hold intercourse with the unseen world, to wander in
spirit to other places, and, as a result of what he has hereby learnt, to
be able to foretell the future when he awakes.

Magic-making in cases of sickness includes the blowing, sucking, and so
forth, already described. The relatives of the patient will discourse at
length on the story of the sickness, and the medicine-man will either
announce who sent it himself or expound the sick person’s dreams and
therefrom deduct the source of evil. The official explanation and verdict
is always given in the most ambiguous phraseology, so that whatever
happens the medicine-man may be able to twist his dictum to the desired
equivalent of “I told you so.”

As already described the invalid may be given a strong narcotic drink,
the decoction of a root, and carried out to a small clearing made in the
bush. There he is left under a rough shelter. No one may speak to him, or
pass him while he lies there, otherwise he will die. The relations go out
of sight, and guard the bush tracks, to prevent any such passage. If the
patient die the medicine-man asserts very positively that some one has
transgressed, knowingly or unknowingly, and so caused the fatal ending. I
saw such a case on one occasion and was prayed by the Indians not to go
anywhere in the direction of the sick man.

Should a man’s wife fall ill her relatives may, if they are within
reasonable distance, come and take her away. Koch-Grünberg mentions a
case among the Bara Indians where two men came from another tribe and
removed their sick sister. They were treated with a show of hostility
and followed–as the ailing woman took her healthy children away–for
some distance into the bush. But no tribal quarrel ensued, the hostility
appears to have been merely ceremonial. This is typical of what might
occur among any friendly tribes.

Spruce, after seven months among the Uaupes Indians, “failed to catch a
payé”[312] or see one at work. I attempted to get on terms with sundry of
these gentlemen by an exhibition of my own “magic” powers, in the hope
that I might elicit some comments, or hints of their own secrets. I made
play with my eyeglass, and informed them that it was great medicine, and
enabled me to see through a man. But though the tribesmen had on their
own account attributed this faculty to my camera, the medicine-men were
very sceptical of the eyeglass. Still I had better fortune than Spruce,
for one day when I was with an Okaina tribe, a woman of my party went
down with fever. She had a temperature of 103° to 104°, and the quinine
with which I dosed her had no effect. There happened to be a great and
noted medicine-man in the district, so they sent for him. The _maloka_,
some fifty yards from wall to wall each way, was dark as pitch. Into
the gloom rushed a frenzied figure. It was the medicine-man in a state
of tremendous excitement. He passed his hands frantically all over the
woman’s body. She lay rigid, and he was shaking with the intensity of
his emotion. Never in my life have I seen a man so excited. If he were
play-acting he believed most emphatically in his own play-acting. Then
he filled his mouth with coca, and stooping over the moribund woman put
his lips upon hers. Eager and trembling, he sucked up the contents of the
woman’s mouth, then rushed out of the house and expectorated, emptying
his mouth with his fingers. After this he announced that he had sucked
away the evil spirit.

Next morning the woman was perfectly well.

I considered it the most extraordinary faith cure: but there was no
burking the fact that a dying woman had been restored most miraculously
to health. Certainly imagination goes very far in the curative process
with a patient in Amazonia–as elsewhere,–but even allowing for this it
was extraordinary.

Faith in the healing powers of the medicine-men is not confined to the
tribesmen, for I knew one case of an Indian woman who had been married
for years to a white man and lived in the rubber district. She fell
ill, and her husband, instead of trusting to the white man’s remedies,
insisted on sending for a medicine-man.

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