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Derivation of Man from Plants, and vice versa (163-163A); Association of Bush Spirits with Silk-cotton Tree (164), Cassava (165-166), Maize (167), Kofa (168), Snake-bush (168A), the Whistling Caladium (Kanaima), Blow-tube Grass and Dakini Tree (168B), Ite and Mora (168C), and possibly with the "Tree of Life," the "Devil-doer," Silverballi, Darina, Hiari, and Bamboo (169). The belief in Binas may be but a development of this association of Bush Spirits with plant-life (170).
163.* So far as mankind is concerned, their original derivation from trees, trunks, and fruits is accepted by many of the tribes (Sect. 57). As to the converse idea—the transformation of human beings, or their Spirits, into plants (Sect. 59), I can find only two traces of it: one, in an Arawak legend relative to the discovery of the whip used in the makuari dance (Sect. 75), and the other, in the Yahuna story of the Jurupari ceremony (Sect. 163A).
*THE FIRST "MAKUARI" WHIPS (A)
There was a family of two sisters and two brothers. Going out one day to cut firewood, the former proceeded to the forest and cut the timber; on splitting a log, they found inside a pretty little whip. After closely examining it, each girl proceeded to make another exactly like it. Then they proceeded to their provision field, put up a little banab, and hung inside it the three whips. When they reached home they made some drink, two jugsful altogether, one for their two brothers, and one for themselves: they took their portion to the banab, where they left it. On three occasions they did this [i. e. they made drinks and took their own share to the field]. The brothers, suspecting that something was wrong, and being unable as brothers to talk with their sisters on so delicate a matter, sent the little hummingbird to make inquiries. While the girls were working in the field, the bird flew into the banab, saw the jug of drink there, and the three whips hanging up, and reported accordingly. The brothers thereupon asked the sisters to explain what they had been doing in the banab, and when the latter said "Nothing," they reproached them for not having mentioned anything about the whips, the possession of which they were then forced to admit. The brothers then asked to have a trial of the whips, but this the sisters refused: they would not deliver their charge over to anyone. So the brothers said, "Well, if you won't let us touch them, you can at all events let us look at you when you are sporting with them." No exception was taken to this, and the girls, making some drink, enlarged the banab and widened the pathway leading up to it. At the entrance to the pathway they placed the jug of drink. The brothers came, stopped to refresh themselves with its contents, began to sing, and then proceeded to the banab, where, addressing their sisters, they asked them to take down the whips and show their manner of play. This the women did, but it was soon evident that they knew neither how to sing, to dance, nor to whip properly with them. Admitting this, they were finally constrained, after repeated entreaties, to hand the whips over to p. 229 their brothers, who now showed them how the real thing ought to be done. Furthermore, they "called" their sisters Kussaro-banna [ = Kuraua plait] and Koro-botoro [ = Ite fiber], the elder and younger, respectively, that is, they transformed them into Kuraua [Bromelia] thread and Ite fiber, the two materials out of which the Arawak have ever since made their Makuari whips.
163A.* In the origin of the Jurupari festival according to the Yahuna Indians of the River Apaporis there is also a conversioa of a human being into a plant. This is their story (KG, II, 293):
A long time ago, from out of the great Water-house, the house of the Sun, came a little boy Milómaki, who sang so beautifully that everyone came from far and near to hear him; but when they reached their settlements again, all died. Their relatives thereupon came and burned him on a large pyre, but he continued singing until he died. Thus was his body destroyed, but his spirit went up to heaven. From the ashes grew a long green leaf, which visibly became greater and greater and turned into the first Paxiuba palm [Iriartea exorrhiza], a timber used for all kinds of weapons and articles. The people made big flutes of this tree, which produced the same melodies that Milómaki had sung. To honor Milómaki the men dance and blow on these flutes nowadays when the various fruits, as Inga, Pupunha [Guilielma speciosa], Castanha, Umari, are ripe, because it was he who created them all. The women and children must not see these flutes: the former would die, and the latter would eat earth, become sick, and die.
164.* Several examples are to be met with of Bush Spirits being associated with particular plants or trees. Perhaps the most interesting is that of the silk-cotton tree (Bombax sp.), the superstitions concerning which have been incorrectly surmised (Br. 369) as communicated from the negroes to the Indians. The earliest reference in this connection that I have been able thus far to find for it, in the Guianas, is by Stedman (St, II, 261), in Surinam: "Perceiving that it was their [negroes'] custom to bring their offerings to the wild cotton-tree . . . under this tree our gadoman or priest delivers his lectures: and for this reason our common people have so much veneration for it, that they will not cut it down on any account whatever." It would be interesting to learn whether the so-called fromager of the French Ivory Coast is identical with our tree. Certain it is that the records are abundant as to both Indians and negroes (AR, 45) refusing to cut one down. As a matter of fact, however, the superstitions of the Bombax were cherished in middle America long before the arrival of the negroes: the Mayas of Yucatan spoke of it as the Tree of Creation, etc., under whose shade the spirits of mortals reposed. I know Arawaks who firmly believe that this tree moves within a circuit at midnight and returns to its proper place again. Dance (57) states that its guardian spirit "walks round the tree at mid-day, and at mid-night." Brett (377, 398) informs us of an Arawak tradition that men and other living creatures were originally made out of its bark and timber (Sect. 57). Women have told me that the Adda-kuyuha, in the form of a large bird, lives on the buds (i. e. picks out the cotton to build its nest with); p. 230 that the shedding of the leaves is a sign that the Spirit has taken its departure; and that when the foliage is resumed, the Spirit has returned. Considering that there are some four or five other deciduous trees known to the Arawaks, it would not appear that their superstitious regard for it can be due to the periodic shedding of the leaves. From the fact of the silk-cotton tree being credited with the power of moving within a circuit (Sect. 8), a separate sentient existence may have been claimed for it; but such a property might equally be due to the particular medicine-man or Bush Spirit (Sect. 167) happening to occupy its trunk or branches.
165.* The cassava plant affords a very good illustration where the associated Spirit remains distinct, and is given a separate existence, so much so that it may be attacked by evil Spirits to prevent it distributing its favors, or may be thanked and honored for the benefits bestowed by it upon mankind. The Arawaks, even at the present time in the Pomeroon District, with the building of a house, or rather at its completion, give a party: when all the guests are arrived, some of the cassiri, before its distribution among the guests, is thrown by the house-mistress on the uprights; she also places pieces of cassava at the four corners under the eaves. This is supposed to feed the Yawahus, or Spirits of the Bush, who, unless thus treated, would not permit the Spirit of the Cassava to furnish the next crop. The Warrau Indians of the Moruca River had also a special festival, or thank-offering to the Cassava Spirit for the bountiful harvest which it had supplied them with, such festival taking the usual form of a drinking bout and a dance: they called it the Aru-hoho (lit. cassava festival).
166.* So also, the first baking of cassava bread from a new field formerly was attended by unusual ceremony. "The cassava, which on ordinary occasions is scraped and washed, at the preparation for the first baking, was scraped but not washed. . . . The juice extracted from the grated cassava by means of the matapi (and which otherwise would be boiled into cassirip) is, on this occasion . . . poured out on the ground as a libation for this, its first fruits" (Da, 102—at Berbice). This is still done on the Moruca River, the Arawaks here making the juice from the first cassava collected off the new field, sprinkling it a few days later here and there over the center of the field. The Indians say that this is a gift, a sort of thanks, to the Spirit of the Cassava. On the upper Amazon a purely Indian festival is celebrated the first week of February, which is called the Feast of Fruits, several kinds of wild fruit becoming ripe at that time (HWB, 280): this may have a meaning similar to that ascribed to the ceremony in connection with the cassava.
167.* Another curious sort of Spirit, that of "the Rot," is associated with buck-corn (maize). Here is an account of it:
*THE SPIRIT OF THE ROT SAVES THE YOUNG WOMAN (C)
Two girls were left in charge while the remainder of the household went to a drink-party. The former had been told by their parents to accept the invitation, but had preferred staying at home. About sunset a Yurokon emerged from a neighboring silk-cotton tree: he had an arrow and with it he shot a parrot. He brought the bird to the young women and asked them to cook it, and they, not knowing that he was a Bush Spirit, were only too ready to oblige him. After they had eaten the bird and he had slung his hammock, into which he threw himself, Yurokon called on the younger sister to join him, but she, not feeling so inclined, sent her sister instead. Later, when all was still and dark, the younger sister heard extraordinary noises and growling proceeding from their visitor's hammock, [Credens eos copulare], she paid no further attention to them. After a while, however, the clamor was even worse than before, so, blowing up the fire, she went over to Yurokon's hammock, whence she saw blood trickling to the ground. Looking inside, there was her sister lying dead. [Yurokon intravit eam.] She now recognized the tribe to which the man belonged, and hastened to save herself from a similar fate. She had a stack of buck-corn, which had all become mildewed and rotten, and in this corn she hid herself. To make assurance doubly sure, she further warned the Spirit of the Rot that if he allowed the Yurokon to come and catch her, she would never supply him with any more corn. By very early dawn, Yurokon had completed his work of destruction with the elder sister, and now asked the Spirit of the Rot whether he had not seen another woman about, but this Spirit refused to answer the question, being so busily engaged in eating the corn. Yurokon therefore walked all about, looking everywhere for the younger sister, but could not find her, and now that the day was just breaking, he had to hurry back to his home in the silk-cotton tree. All this time the poor woman was crouching in her hiding-place, and it was not until midday when the sun was shining brightly, that she dared emerge. Directly she did so, she rushed down the pathway to meet her people, who were returning from the drinking-party, and, as soon as she saw them, she fell exhausted, and commenced halloa'ing and crying. "What's wrong?" asked the mother. "The komaka [silk-cotton tree] Yurokon has killed my poor sister," was the reply. This made the mother say, "You ought to have come with us to the party, as you were told, instead of staying behind by yourselves." When at last they reached home, the parents picked all the peppers around, gathering twenty basketsful of them. They then made a ring of fire right round the komaka tree, which the surviving daughter had no difficulty in pointing out to them, and as soon as the flames began to blaze, threw peppers into them. There must have been a big family of Yurokons in that silk-cotton tree, because as the irritating, pestiferous smoke arose, down came a lot of small baboons of which the fire made short shrift. They threw on more peppers, and down fell a number of bigger baboons, and they soon shared the same fate [Sect. 242]. The parents now threw in the last of the peppers, and down scrambled the very Yurokon who had killed their elder daughter: they clubbed him to death, and the father said, "I am killing you in payment for my daughter." They then opened the corpse's belly, in which they found woman's flesh. The younger sister obeyed her parents from that time onward.
168.* Another tree which, according to Arawak beliefs, has intimate association with the Spirit world, is the Clusia grandiflora, an epiphyte, which throws down straight aerial roots that finally fix themselves in the ground below. Indian belief explains this peculiarity by the statement that the bunia bird roosts on the host, whence it drops its castings (Sect. 350), which are nothing more p. 232 than the aerial roots in question. The Arawaks speak of this epiphyte as the kófa.
168A.* Space must be found here also for mention of the Pomeroon Arawak belief in some intimate relationship between certain plants (known as "snake-bush" to the creoles) and venomous serpents, the poisonous effects of which they can avert. A similar idea prevailed among the same tribe on the Demerara River:
The Indians advised that when the snakes (a bush-master and a labaria that had been killed and buried) were supposed to be decomposed, they should be dug up the bones burned, and carefully replaced, and the spot of ground fenced in. From the ground manured with the burned bones of the snakes, would grow up, they said, snake-bushes that could be used as antidotes to the virulence of snake-bites. Some plants called "snake-bush" resemble a group of small snakes flattened laterally, standing upright, from twelve to twenty inches, with their tails planted in the ground. [Da, 324.]
168B.* Among the Caribs, the masiemo (i. e. kanaima), Caladium, would seem at first sight to possess qualities almost distinctive: it is a large-leaf species which I have seen cultivated at Carib settlement on Manawarin Creek. Its peculiarity lies in its supposed power of uttering a long low whistle, and shaking the sleeper's hammock with the object of rousing him from slumber to a sense of his danger on the near approach of the human and animal kanaima, or blood-avenger (Sect. 320). The plant from which the blow-tube is derived commonly grows in wet places, as wide stagnant marshes, and superstition has stationed an Evil Spirit to defend it, whence the Indians have the apprehension that some ill must befall him who ventures in to procure the reed (Pnk, I, 488). In especially bad cases of sickness among the Surinam Caribs the chief remedy is the sap of the Dakini tree: to obtain this, the piai has to get the permission of the Spirit of the Tree, and only after many a parleying will he cut an opening to obtain it (AK, 193).
168C.* THE ITE PALM AND THE MORA TREE (W)
In the days of long ago there was always to be found growing a Mora near an Ite: wherever one was to be seen, there sure enough, close by, would be found the other. The Baboon would forage on the Ite and eat of her fruit, and this is just what made the Mora jealous. In those times the trees, like the animals, would converse with one another just as people do; and these two trees must have been women, for did they not each bear seed? At any rate the Ite said she would leave the Mora and travel eastward, but the Mora followed her: she wanted the Baboon to come and stay with her. She was very jealous. As they both traveled on and on toward the east, they left some of their seeds behind: on and on they went, farther and farther east. As the ground of course gradually changed from dry bush to swamp, the Baboon more and more preferred to feed on the Mora, whose branches were always well above the water surface, and so finally left the Ite altogether. The Mora now at last satisfied, and was no further cause for jealousy, remained where she was, while the Ite traveled still farther eastward, stopping only when she came to the heavy swamps of the Orinoco. And here was too much water for the Baboon to follow her. Hence it happens that the p. 233 Baboon is never met with nowadays on the Ite palms, but always on the topmost branches of the Mora. All the Ite palms that you see here and there more or less isolated in this district are stragglers from the original palm which traveled to the Orinoco. It is only on that mighty stream where you see the real Ite palms. There they yield starch and fruit and drink in plenty: the stragglers left behind here are so miserable and poor that it is not worth our while to cut them down.
169.* Among remaining plants which may, perhaps, be regarded as associated more or less intimately with Spirits and the like, are the "Tree of Life," the Devil-doer, the Silverballi, the Darina, the Hiari, the Kanaima (Sect. 168B), and perhaps the Bamboo. A leaf of the plant of the "Tree of Life" (Bryophyllum calycinum), the Kakuhu-adda of the Arawaks, is sometimes suspended in the house, both on the Demerara and the Pomeroon, when one of the inmates is ill. Should the leaf germinate, as is its nature to do under ordinary circumstances, it is accepted as a sign that the sick man will recover. But if it wither, that is an indication he will die. The Devil-doer, the uses of which have apparently been taught by the Indians to the blacks, is a bush-rope, called by the latter, the Fighting Stick, or Debbil-dooha, Debra dwar, or Zebra dwar. It is said to have the effect when dried, pulverized, and smoked with tobacco, of rendering all within the influence of the smoke pugnacious—and a row is certain: it is used to stimulate virility, and excite venery (Da, 286). So again, the Indians are of opinion that the scent of the burning chips of the Silverballi (Nectandra pisi) makes people quarrelsome (ibid.). At a certain season, the Darina has every appearance of being dead. But having shed its bark it begins to revive; the new bark becomes red like the bloodwood and thickens; new leaves spring forth, and the tree resumes its beauty. At midnight the Arawak Indians hear the chants of the medicine-man emanating from the tree (ibid.). The Hiari [Hearih], a large tree with thick leaves, which bears a small seed, is probably the Aiuke of the Akawais. The gum, or the inner bark, scraped, mixed with water, and given to the sick will cause the Spirit of the tree to appear to him, and point out the person who inflicted his illness upon him: thrown into the fire, it stupefies all who inhale its fumes (Da, 285). The smoke of the wood when burning is fatal to all kinds of animals (Bol, 258). The Pomeroon Arawaks believe that if the leaves fall into the river from an overhanging tree, sickness will fall upon the people farther down the stream. The same folk believe that the Bamboo flowers and seeds only during the night, which certainly accounts for the fructification not being seen, if for nothing else: any alleged Indian superstition concerning this palm must be counteracted of course by the fact that it is an introduced plant. The ability of the house-posts to talk (Sect. 16) may be traces of a Spirit originally associated with the timber.
170.* I am very strongly inclined to regard all the (vegetal) attraction-charms, or binas, used in hunting (Sect. 233) or love-making p. 234 (Sect. 237), and otherwise, as survivals of an original belief in plants possessing associated Spirits; while the presence of the originally associated Spirit has been lost sight of, and more or less forgotten, its attributes, properties, and powers have been retained. It will be remembered that all such binas have an exceptional source of origin—the calcined bones of a snake (Sect. 235), and in this connection it is no less interesting to note that the Haiari root (Lonchocarpus sp.), fish-poison, which can equally be regarded as an attraction-charm, should also possess animal (with its contained spirit) relationships, in that it has been quickened in human blood. I here paraphrase the Legend of the Haiari Root, given by Brett (BrB, 172):
An old fisherman noticed that when his boy accompanied him, and swam about in the river, there the fishes would die, and yet were quite good to eat. So he made a point of making the lad bathe every day. But the fish were determined upon putting an end to this. Accordingly one day when the lad, after a swim, was lying basking in the sun, those fish which were possessed of spines, and especially the sting-ray, sprang quickly up at him and pricked him. The lad died of his wounds, but before dying told his father to watch for the strange plants that would spring up from the ground in those spots where his blood had fallen. The father did so, and found the haiari.