Sacred-Texts Native American South American Index Previous Next
Dwarfs, People with their Feet Turned Backward, Touvingas, White and White-haired Folk, Acephali (332); Amazons (333-334). Orang-Utang, etc. (335-336); Warracaba "Tiger" (337); "Tigers" in general (338); Tapir (339); Armadillo (340); Bush-hog and "Skunk" (341); Anteater (342); Sloth (343); Turtle, etc. (344); Alligator (345); Gecko (346); Snakes in general (347); Camudi (348); Frogs (349); Birds (350); Fish (351); Insects (351A).
332.* What more natural from the primitive man's point of view than that lake people and river people, more often in the water than out of it, should come to be looked on as fish; that men invariably wearing their headdress in a manner usually considered appropriate only for the opposite sex, should be regarded in the light of women; and that monkeys, grown in imagination to man's size, should come to be the dread of unprotected females? We have our Fish folk (Sects. 152, 178), our Amazons (Sects. 157, 296), our Orang-utangs and the like (Sects. 138, 140A) in Guiana folk-lore. But there are other peculiar people to be reckoned with also. The Toupinambous, inhabiting a large island in the River Amazon below the Rio Negro, told Father Acuña (158) that on the south side near their island—
there are two Nations among others upon the Continent that are very remarkable; one of them are Dwarfs as small as little children, and are called Guayazis, the other is a Race of people that come into the world with their feet turned behind them, so that those that are unacquatnted with their monstrous shape, and should follow their Track, would run from them instead of overtaking them. They are called Matayus, and are tributary to the Toupinambous, whom they are obliged to furnish with Hatchets made of stone to fell great trees with, when they have a mind to clear a piece of ground; for they frame these Hatchets very neatly, and it is their whole business to make them.
According to the idea current among the Trios, people were originally like wood and stone, and had no faces (Go, 12). On the upper Parou, French Guiana, Crévaux (284) passed a small stream up which the Ouayanas never venture, owing to the reputed presence of white-haired Indians who sleep by day and walk by night. History does not say whether it was the unusual coloration or the nocturnal perambulation that rendered them so uncanny to his native companions. Brown (Bro, 281), when at the Orindouie Falls on the Ireng, saw on distant ridges to the eastward Indian villages, the inhabitants of which, his Cumumaring guide informed him, were p. 364 turning white, and in time would be white people. The association with white people of the idea of life everlasting in this mundane world, an idea which the Indians themselves possessed, has already been referred to (Sect. 66). In a work by J. J. Hartsinck (II, 810) occurs the following passage concerning certain negroes at Saramacca;
Regarding the "Touvingas" or Two-fingered Negroes [pl. 7] it is observed that they are a people who had only two large fingers on their hands and two large toes on their feet, similar to those of a crab, as is figured in the illustration. The wrist is somewhat larger than that of the average man: the thumb and little finger are more than twice the usual size, and stand out from the limb, have a bend at the tip, and appear as one piece of flesh on which there is something like a nail. The palm of the hand has no bends, but appears as a solid mass, yet the divisions can be felt. . . . After the declaration of freedom, these negroes of Saramacca walked publicly through Paramaribo. . . . Many argue that they are not a distinct tribe or nation, but just a family who by accident or freak of nature have been thus deformed. These people are becoming very rare indeed, probably through intercourse with others, fast bastardizing.
The forests of the River Sipapo, Orinoco, are altogether unknown and there the missionaries place the nation of the Rayas, whose mouths are believed to be in their navels; they were so called on account of the pretended analogy with the fish of this name, the mouth of which seems as if forced downward below the body: an old Indian at Carichana, who boasted of having often eaten human flesh, had seen these acephali with his own eyes (AVH, II, 317). Mianiko, one of the three tribal Kobéua heroes, had no head, but eyes in place of nipples (KG, II, 162).
333.* Particularly interesting among all the extraordinary folk coming under our ken are the Amazons, whose existence is believed in among the Indians even up to the present day. Several legends, of which I have given example (Sect. 157), bear reference to them. Like many another, I have striven in vain to discover the exact whereabouts of these valiant females, who, though cast sufficiently in the Spartan mold to amputate the right breast with a view to insuring greater freedom of movement for the arm in battling upon the Field of Mars, were nevertheless women enough to be occasionally caught napping under the canopy of Venus. The Jesuit Father Acuña (164) gives the accompanying account of them; he appears to have been more fortunate than I.
Up the River Cunuris on the north side of the Amazon, to the east of Toupinambou Island, live the Apotos [? Apautos], the Tagaris [? Tagua-us], and lastly the Guacaras, who are the people that have the Privilege to converse with these valiant Women and enjoy their favors. They dwell upon huge mountains: one that lifts its Head a great height above all the rest is Yacamiaba. These women (as has been said) are very courageous and have always maintained themselves alone without the help and assistance of men; and when their neighbors come into their country at a time concerted with them, they receive them with weapons in their hands, which are Bows and Arrows, and which they exercise as if they were going against their enemies; but p. 365 knowing well that the others do not come to fight, but are their friends, they lay down their arms, and all run into the canoes or other little vessels of these Indians, and each Amazone takes the Hammock (a cotton Bed they hang up to sleep in) which she finds next at hand; this she carries home [Sect. 275] and hangs up in a place where the owner of it may know it again when he comes; after which she receives him as her guest, and treats him those few days they continue together. These Indians afterward return to their own dwellings, and never fail to make this voyage every year at the appointed Time. The girls which they bear are brought up by their mothers. As for the male children, it is not certain what they do with them.
Father Acuña saw an Indian who told him that when he was a child he was with his father at such an interview, and assured him that they gave the male children to their fathers the next time they came subsequent to the birth. But the common report is that they kill all their males as soon as they are born. Schomburgk gives us the following particulars:
334.* According to the statements of Mahanarwa, the last Kazike of the Caribs, they [Amazons] live at a place on the River Wara, quite enclosed by mountains, to which there is but a single entrance: he also mentions the tribe which the Amazons annually visit—it is the Teyrous or Tairas in Cayenne. . . . Among the Makusis and Arawaks, we found the accounts of the Amazons to be widely scattered . . . each tribe, however, gives a different locality to where these women are to be met with. . . . An Arawak chief told me that his brother, who lived on the upper Mazaruni, had visited them on one occasion, and that he received one of those green stones as a present from the Wirisamoca, as he called these Amazons. [ScR, II, 330.]
There are three opinions worth considering as to the origin of the myth, those of Wallace, Schomburgk, and Humboldt. In describing the Indians of the River Uaupes, Wallace says:
The men, on the other hand, have the hair carefully parted and combed on each side, and tied in a queue behind. In the young men, it hangs in long locks down their necks, and, with the comb, which is invariably carried stuck in the top of the head, gives to them a most feminine appearance: this is increased by the large necklaces and bracelets of beads, and the careful extirpation of every symptom of beard. Taking these circumstances into consideration, I am strongly of opinion that the story of the Amazons has arisen from these feminine-looking warriors encountered by the early voyagers. I am inclined to this opinion, from the effect they first produced on myself, when it was only by close examination I saw that they were men; and, were the front parts of their bodies and their breasts covered with shields, such as they always use, I am convinced any person seeing them for the first time would conclude they were women. [ARW, 343.]
Schomburgk bases the fable on the "warlike reputation of the women of certain tribes, namely, the Caribs. Columbus in his second voyage gives proofs of the courage of the women folk of Guadalupe—and Peter Martyr d'Anghieri says of the inhabitants of this island that both sexes possess great strength and skill in the use of the bow and other weapons. . . . Columbus had already on his first voyage found fighting women, and in them recognized Amazons: what had been told him in the old world, he believed to find again in the new" (ScR, II, 330). Humboldt recognizes a motive p. 366 that prompted exaggeration on the part of those writers of the sixteenth century who have given most reputation to the Amazons of America, in their tendency to find among the newly discovered nations all that the Greeks have related to us of the first age of the world, and of the manners of the barbarous Scythians and Africans (AVH, II, 400).
335.* The orang-utang of Guiana, as we are told with all due solemnity by Bancroft (Ba, 130), is much larger than either the African or the oriental, if the accounts of the natives may be relied on. He does not find that any specimens have been seen by the white inhabitants on this coast, who never penetrate far into the woods. These animals, in all the various languages of the natives, are called by names signifying a wild man. They are represented by the Indians as being near five feet in height, maintaining an erect position, and having a human form, thinly covered with short black hair; but Bancroft suspects that their height has been augmented by the fears of the Indians, who greatly dread them, and instantly flee as soon as one is discovered, so that none of them has ever been taken alive, much less any attempts made for taming them. The Indians relate many fabulous stories of these animals, and, like the inhabitants of Africa and the East, assert that they will attack the males and ravish the females of the human species. It is to be noted that this author's description nearly agrees with that of the Spirit of the Forest, the Tukuyuba of the Arawaks, etc. (Sect. 95).
Humboldt also makes mention, on the Orinoco, of a—
hairy man of the woods called salvaje, that carries off women, constructs huts, and sometimes eats human flesh. The Tamanacs call him achi, and the Maypures vasitri or "great devil." The natives and the missionaries have no doubt of the existence of this man-shaped monkey, of which they entertain a singular dread. Father Gili gravely relates the history of a lady in the town of San Carlos, in the Llanos of Venezuela, who much praised the gentle character and attentions of the man of the woods. She is stated to have lived several years with one in great domestic harmony, and only requested some hunters to take her back, "because she and her children (a little hairy also) were weary of living far from the church and the sacraments." [AVH, II, 270.]
With regard to the black monkey, the Arawaks have the following proverb: Ka´to hure bobaldi; kenna titina kebeldi; bowajilida (lit. "When black monkey shot; and blood licks; lively, active"), referring to a man working hard (pulling a paddle, etc.) all day, a hint that a little stimulant (paiwarri) will revive him.
336.* The Maroon negroes of the Maroni, when they kill a howling monkey, preserve the vocal apparatus, out of which a cup is made; if a child is given its drink out of this cup for some months, it will be cured of stammering (Cr, 159). Humboldt was told by his guides [? Indians] that to cure asthma it is sufficient to drink out of the bony drum of the hyoidal bone of this creature (AVH, II, 70).
337.* I am afraid that the existence of a Warracaba tiger, like many another quaint conceit, must be consigned to the oblivion of superstition. The belief is of somewhat local origin and of comparatively recent date, no references being met with in all the old literature available. It is very probably akin to the many other mythical "tigers" with which the Indian folk-lore is so replete: for example, the Kanaima (Sect. 320) of the natives generally, the Tobe-horoanna (Sects. 144, 146, 148) of the Warraus particularly, for which it fulfills a somewhat similar purpose. On the other hand, it is possible that the myth has its origin in certain indigenous wild dogs which hunt in packs. On the Quitaro River, some Wapisiana Indians stated that the journey to the Ataraipu Rock and back would have to be accomplished in one day, as it would be impossible to spend a night near the rock, on account of a pack of Warracaba tigers that inhabited the district (Bro, 149). The most vivid description of the creature comes from the pen of Barrington Brown (Bro, 72, 73, 74) when on the Mazaruni:
I eagerly inquired what were Warracaba tigers, and was hastily informed that they were small and exceedingly ferocious tigers, that they hunted in packs, and were not frightened by camp-fires or anything except the barking of dogs. To water they have a special aversion, and will never cross a stream which is too wide for them to jump. . . . As we stopped, a shrill scream rent the night air. . . . This was answered by another cry coming from the depths of the forest, the interval between them being filled by low growls and trumpeting sounds which smote most disagreeably on the ear. . . . The call of these animals resembles that of the Warracaba or Trumpet-bird (Psophia crepitans) . . . and hence they have obtained the name of Warracaba tigers. The Ackawoise Indians call them "Y’agamisheri," and say that they vary in size as well as in color. As many as a hundred are said to have been seen in one pack. . . . They are said to frequent the mountains, but when pressed by hunger . . . they descend to the lowlands.
Schomburgk states that this tiger is so named after the peculiar coloring of the breast, which is exactly like the feathers of the trumpeter bird (ScR, II, 85).
338.* Speaking of "tigers" generally, it is almost traditional among the Indians that each of the various kinds of tigers and tiger-cats hunts one kind of animal in particular, the call of which it can imitate. The Arawaks have a saying, Hamáro kamungka turuwati (lit. "everything has tiger"), as a reminder of the fact that we should be circumspect, and on our guard, there always being some enemy about. It is a general belief among the Indians and the white inhabitants of Brazil that the onça (jaguar) has the power of fascination (ARW, 317).
339.* The tapir has between its eyebrows a bone so strong as to enable it to break down the undergrowth in the forests; with this means of defence it can protect itself from a tiger by crushing the latter against the rugged timber, and so tearing it to pieces (G, I, 265). The same animal, the Rio Negro Indians say, "has a peculiar p. 368 fancy for dropping his dung only in the water (Sect. 162B), and they never find it except in brooks and springs, though it is so large and abundant that it could not be overlooked in the forest. If there is no water to be found, the animal makes a rough basket of leaves and carries it to the nearest stream and there deposits it" (ARW, 154). On the upper Essequibo the men removed the hoofs from a tapir for the purpose of using them, when occasion required, as charms for bites of snakes, stings of ray-fish, and fits of all kinds: they said that the hoofs are first singed, and then placed in water, which is drunk (Bro, 240). The same belief was current on the Orinoco: tapir hoofs crushed to powder, and one hung on the neck of a patient, constitute an excellent and well-known cure for epilepsy (G, I, 265). The remedy is still employed, to my own knowledge, by creole residents in Georgetown.
340.* The smaller armadillo (Dasypus villosus Desm.), the jassi of the Makusis, and other tribes, according to the Indians, is met with only on the savannahs and lives chiefly on carrion. Hence, in certain festival songs of the Wapisiana and Makusi this creature plays an important rôle, in that almost every refrain ends with the words, "And when I am dead, put me in the savannah; the jassi will come and bury me." According to Von Martius a similar song is common among the Indians of the Rio Negro (ScR, II, 97-98). The last joint or bone of the armadillo's tail has been found an efficacious remedy for earache (G, II, 263), but whether by Indians or by Spaniards unfortunately is not stated. The real interest of the connection between the animal and the complaint lies rather in the creature's ears being so distinctive a feature, a fact to which attention has already been drawn in dealing with its bina (Sect. 233). Explanations have been given as to the bush-master snake (Lachesis mutus) being always found in armadillo holes (Sect. 7).
341.* Well into the eighteenth century the musk-gland on the dorsum of the bush-hog (Dicotyles) was believed to be its navel by Creoles and Europeans, from the Orinoco to Cayenne, though the idea does not seem to have been shared by the Indians. There is one particular animal, seemingly of a skunk-like nature (? Conepatus) which thus far has baffled me in the way of identification. Father Gumilla (II, 272) describes it as follows:
A little animal, very scarce, and the most detestable of any that I have hitherto seen. Amongst the whites of America it is called mapurito: and the Indians call it mafutiliqui: it is like one of those very elegant little mongrel curs which ladies breed in their mansions. All its little body is spotted white and black: its tail proportionate, uncommon (hermoso), and much covered with long hair: very active and flighty in its manner of walking, and daring beyond measure. It waits for its enemy, tiger, man or animal, face to face: and so soon as it is approached close enough, it turns its back. The atmosphere is rendered so pestiferous that the enemy remains stupefied, and requires a long time before he can get away.
342.* The Rio Negro Indians declare that the great anteaters (Myrmecophaga jubata) are all females and believe that the male is the Curupira, or demon of the forest (Sept. 117): the peculiar organization of the animal has probably led to this error (ARW, 314).
343.* With regard to the sloth, there would seem to be but few references to the animal in Guiana folk-lore. I have already mentioned him in the light of a girl's sweetheart (Sect. 134), and the smaller species in connection with a death omen (Sect. 222). Arawaks say Káto awaduli fudi: hau akonaka (lit. when wind blows, sloth walks), that is, people are going to exert themselves only when they are obliged to.
344.* Among the Island Caribs the tortoise bore a reputation for being "smart." One of the most offensive things they could say when chaffing one another was, "You are as wide-awake (adroit) as a tortoise" (RoP, 453), though the same authors elsewhere refer to its clumsiness (lourdise) and stupidity (RoP, 465).
345.* To account for the rough stones invariably found in the belly of the alligator, the Otomac Indians were of opinion that, as the creature increases in size it finds a corresponding difficulty in sinking "to the bottom of the river on the sands on which it sleeps, covered with all the weight of the waters; and that, guided by instinct, it proceeds to the banks, where it swallows as many stones as may be necessary to weigh it down; whence, it may be inferred that the bigger it grows, the more stones are required for its ballast and counterpoise (G, II, 215). But in those rivers where there are no stones, to effect its purpose of sinking to the bottom the alligator retains the bones of the animals which it has devoured (G, II, 218). According to Indian accounts the seat of life (der Sitz des Lebens) is situated in the animal's tail. That the tail is the most sensitive part is shown by the fact that with every blow thereon the creature rears up, though it will hardly respond to a cudgeling on the head and back (ScR, II, 177).
346.* Indians and colored people consider the gecko, the "wood-slave" of the colonists (Hemidactylus Mabouia Cuv., and Platydactylus Theconyx Dum.), as poisonous as their snakes. They believe that if a gecko fall from the roof or beams on the bare skin of a person, the latter will be seized with convulsions, which will soon be followed by death (ScR, II, 116).
347.* Throughout many races of mankind the snake has played a very important rôle in connection with sexual matters. Several references on this score are to be met with in the animism of the Guiana Indian, but a few will suffice for present purposes. The snake appears as the husband or lover (Sects. 23, 47, 56, 363), is especially fond of the women at their menstrual periods (Sects. 55, 188, 274), and not infrequently may be found actually inside the p. 370 female (Sects. 31, 55, 56). He is also the progenitor of the human race (Sects. 54, 55), the source of origin of all the binas (Sect. 235), and his skin has given their natural color to all the birds (Sect. 162). For reasons already given (Sect. 64), he is symbolic of everlasting life. Certain snake dances have been referred to (Sect. 47). There is also a connection between snakes and rain (Sect. 213).
348.* There are one or two curious beliefs concerning the camudi snake, or buio, of the Orinoco. The Jirara Indians designated it aviofa, but other tribes, and the Indians of Quito, named it "water-mamma" (madre del agua) because it ordinarily lives in the water. This is how, a couple of centuries ago, the camudi was believed to capture its prey:
As soon as it hears a noise, it raises its head, and a yard or two of its body, and when it sees its prey, be it tiger, calf, deer, or man, it takes aim, and opening its terrible mouth emits so poisonous and foul an exhalation as to fix the victim, stupefy him, and render him unable to move. For this reason, no one dares to travel alone by himself, either for fishing or hunting, no matter where the journey may be: at least two have to go in company, so that in case the buio, hidden or discovered, should take aim at one of them, the other, either with his hat, or with a tree-branch, will shake and cut the air intervening between his friend and the monster. [G, II, 148.]
With regard to the foul exhalation just referred to, it is curious to note Schomburgk's remark concerning the coulacanara [kole-konaro (Sect. 235)] boa-constrictor: "If anyone approaches the creature when hissing, he is met with a musky kind of stench" (ScR, II, 250). Bancroft tells us that the white inhabitants of the colony spoke of the camudi by the name of Sodomite Snake owing to the peculiar manner in which it was believed by the Indians to kill its prey when larger than a duck or goose, namely, by inserting its pointed tail into the creature's rectum (Ba, 205); this extraordinary belief I have found existing among the present day Pomeroon Arawaks.
349.* Mention has been made of the frog being regarded in the light of a divinity by the original Carib tribes in the way of sending rain or fine weather, of its being kept as a domestic animal, and whipped when the wishes of the votaries were not fulfilled (Sect. 46). The frog is very generally spoken of as a female (Sects. 12, 24); she it was who brought fire out of her mouth (Sect. 34), food-starch and cassava out of her neck and shoulders (Sects. 34, 37), taught music (Sect. 12), and showed folk how to hunt (Sects. 12, 144, 145). As a preparatory charm for hunting, she is accordingly employed, either by being swallowed or by being rubbed into the incisions made on the hunter (Sects. 228, 229). She is depicted on the neck-ornament of the medicine-man (Sect. 292). One particular frog is used by pregnant Arawak women as an omen (Sect. 222).1
350.* The búnia, or "stinking bird" (Ostinops spp.) is believed to produce the aerial roots of the kofa tree (Clusia grandifolia), an epiphyte, which are supposed to be its castings turned into wood (Sects. 138, 168): the natural "stench" of the bird's feathers may have had something to do with the origin of the idea. The same bird is represented as removing the snake from out of the plum-tree woman (Sect. 31), and also as a transformed medicine-man (Sect. 154). The tiki-tiki is a fabulous bird mentioned by Humboldt as the enemy of the human race, which causes the deformities of newly-born children (AVH, II, 249): it is also referred to by Schomburgk as tigtitig (Sect. 82). Macaws are believed to advise and assist the Water Spirits in upsetting the canoes (Sect. 179). There is a Pomeroon Arawak belief that the tiriliana, the "corn-bird," is too lazy to look after its own, and therefore lays its eggs in the nest of the mockingbird (Cassicus), which does the hatching for it. A similar remark applies, among these same people, to the werebekwa, a very small creature that deposits its eggs in the nest of a hummingbird, which it thereupon drives away. The caution of the goat-sucker (Caprimulgus) makes the Wapisianas declare that this bird carries another pair of eyes on its back (ScR, II, 61). Goat-suckers are always birds of ill-omen (Sect. 223). The vulture is very reasonably known as the "boss, or governor," of the carrion-crows (Sect. 137). Among the Indians hummingbirds are proverbially exceedingly quarrelsome (Be, 11). There are several allusions in the literature to the natural association of hummingbirds with tobacco, not only because these little creatures nest in this particular plant (RoP, 114, 178), but also because they possess a peculiarly pleasant smell (ibid., 177). It is quite common to hear the hummingbird spoken of by Arawaks and Warraus as the "doctor's bird," for a similar reason, the tobacco plant having been brought into great prominence by the medicine-men, and having been introduced among these tribes by the little creature just mentioned (Sect. 296).
351.* The curbinata, so named by the Spaniards, is a fish found in the Orinoco, but it is not so much as an article of subsistence that it is valued, as on account of two stones in its head, exactly in the place which is usually occupied by the brain. These stones, which are regarded as a specific in cases of retention of urine [? by Indians or Spaniards], sell for their weight in gold (FD, 150). I have known of Arawaks sticking a sting-ray (Raja) barb into the aching hollow, to relieve toothache.
351A.* Spider-webs must evidently have been formerly of immense size to allow of people climbing down them (Sect. 142), and strong enough to support a fallen tree (Sect. 300).
1 With the Gran Chaco Indians the frog is also represented as stealing the fire, and bringing it away in its mouth (Nor, 254, 314).