Thursday, February 25, 2010
There are no natural causes of death with the Yanomamö. Actually there are almost no natural causes for anything. Even your dog dying is the work of an enemy shaman bent on causing you pain. The village shaboli are kept busy guarding the village from attack. The wind is especially suspect as enemy shabolies use it to wreck havoc on villages and gardens. The enemy spirits also use it as their vehicle to move quickly from place to place, so any time a storm approaches the shaman has to get out in the central plaza and through his own spirits attempt to divert the storm around his village and their meager growing areas.
One day up in the village of Coyowä my brother Gary was standing outside his house watching a storm brewing. The thick black clouds and peals of thunder heralded a tropical thunderstorm. These can blow up very quickly and from a safe place are fascinating to behold. This one looked like it was going to be a good one. Knowing the beliefs of the people, he knew it would be only minutes until the shabolis came out and went to battle with the far away shaman that was sending this storm. Sure enough, here came Sanchez’s old father, hurrying out to protect his precious banana trees. The people in coyo are still primitive now, but back thirty years ago they were very rough. This old guy was not wearing anything, just tied up like they do with his little g-string. He quickly assumed his pose and began to chant.
“Ushu, ushu, ushu!” he began. (don’t don’t don’t) but wind, never mindful of man, began to swirl around him turning the banana trees’ leaves upside down exposing their lighter undersides.
“Haa clashi!” he screamed. Making a chopping motion with his arm in a downward swipe. This was to cut the wind off from it’s source, the spirit that was blowing it. Sweat glistened on his wrinkled body as he raised his arm for another chop.
While the old man continued to rant and chop the wind, it continued to build up to a full size gale. Gary moved under his porch to get away from the rain that had blown in with the blustery weather. His view of the old shaman was unhindered by the roof and Gary became aware that the old guy had moved over closer to the plantain plants he was trying to protect. He kept up his loud “clashi!” and continued chopping violently at the base of the wind in the spirit world, but by now his sweat had been washed away by the torrents of rain that was causing his paint to streak in insane lines down his naked torso. The stronger the wind blew, the more the battle in the spirit world intensified, with the old shaman answering blasts of lighting and the crash of thunder with chants and dances to protect his precious banana trees. To better protect the trees, he had his back to them and was furiously waving his arms as he did battle in the spirit world against a shaman he only knew by reputation.
The wind by this time was blowing full force and the harder the wind blew, the more determined became the efforts of the lonely bulwark against the storm. From his vantage point Gary noticed a huge banana tree slowly give up the battle and begin to tilt and then faster begin to fall. Knowing any warning shout would be impossible to be heard against the roar of the wind and the slash of the rain, not to mention the old witchdoctor was still in full voice slashing and chopping the wind, Gary took off running as hard as he could toward the old man, afraid he would get hurt if the banana tree with it’s large stalk of bananas hit him. But before he could get there, the tree fell. With a crash that could be heard above the roar of the wind and the rain, it smashed the pugnacious witchdoctor to the ground slinging his cud of tobacco flying out of his mouth. Gary fearing the worse, ran up just in time to see the old man crawling out from under the dripping heavy leaves of the banana plant. Before he could offer him any assistance the old man turned with as much dignity as could be mustered by a rain drenched naked man after being the victim of a perfidious traitor tree. A trickle of blood mixed with the rain soaked paint snaked its way down the wrinkles of the old man’s back. Shaking his fist at the rest of the trees still standing in his garden the old man swore.
“See if I ever come out and protect you again, you bunch of unworthy trees! You can all get blown over as far as I am concerned!” he shouted. Retrieving his precious wad of tobacco he limped on back over to the safety of his hearth where he continued to vent his rage at the world in general and at the shaman that had sent the storm in particular. Tomorrow he would plot his revenge. This was the code he lived by. Every act had to be answered with a retaliatory act. If this was not done, no one would be safe in his village.
So the shaman seek to protect their village. They wage hostilities with shaman in other villages known only through their reputation in the spirit world. The shaman works his black magic openly in the village center, calling his spirits to combat on his behalf against his enemies. The other shaman of the village assist him as he calls on the naikiliwä (cannibal) spirits, these are jaguar, moon spirit, hawk spirit, shakina spirit and a myriad of others that can help him get revenge. They travel through the spirit world to the village that they have determined is the guilty ones, and there they seek to wreck a similar havoc on their lively hood. If they can catch a small child unaware and steal his soul to eat, even better. The blood lust of the cannibal spirits is such that if they can’t find enough from their enemies, they will demand of the shaboli that they steal the soul of one of their own little ones. So continues the endless cycle of illusions and delusions.