History in other terms

Anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (founding member of ISA) presents and analyzes the twelve narratives presented here

The Indigenous narratives published here would not require any kind of presentation - much less signed by a white - were it not for the fact that they are addressed precisely to us, whites. It is only because of this fact that it does not seem improper for me to introduce them, hoping that they may open our ears and revive memories. Let us thus hear what have to say the Desana, the Baré, the Mawé, all those whom we have come to call, by forgetfulness, 'Indians', as if saying 'the others', when it was us who have become others.

What is read here is the history of those 500 years, a history that we believe to know - but told in other terms. It is not, in the first place, a history (of the Indians) told by whites, but a history (of the whites) told by Indians. A history, or more exactly, several histories. Because these histories are remarkable for their diversity: diversity of enunciation positions, of contents, of kinds of speech, of semantic resources, of epistemological registrations, of textual processes.

Immemorial past is spoken of here, but also yesterday and tomorrow; some very distant voices, some very close, speak; peoples with centuries-old experience with whites, others whose 'contact' with us is just as old as the narrator's lifetime, speak; what we could call 'myths' are told, personal memories are told, fragments of conversations are introduced, and formal testimonies, and interviews, and conferences; what has been said for a long time is said, and what has never been is said too; much of what we tell is told as well, but in a very different manner. Summing everything up, it is told; but also it is explained, criticized, regretted, justified, demanded, asked. There is much to say.

Such impression of heterogeneity emerges not only from the relationship between the narratives but from many of them properly, in particular from those which look for the thread that links the present or the recent past to the general conditions of possibilities of the world. The 'historical' personalities (i. e., our historical myths) co-exist without ontological interruption with mythical personalities; classic themes of the Pan-American religious tradition reflect, absorb and transform equally classic motifs of Old World mythology; deep ethnographic judgements over white society seek their justification in vast anthropological and cosmological characterizations. There is, one may say, a little of everything. Just like in the history we are familiar with, whose heterogeneity is only less sensitive to our eyes and ears, accustomed to our own narrative conventions, where non-measurable temporal scales inhabit, and to our 'natural' leaps between various discursive registers.

It is not difficult to notice, however, the presence of one main theme that runs across many of the texts. For the apparent diversity reflects - or, better yet, refracts - a fundamental conviction: Indians precede whites, in the kinship order and in the territorial order. Whites did not arrive here, they left from here; they did not discover the Indians, but covered themselves up instead, until they came back to what they thought of as being an encounter with the unknown, but which in reality was a re-encounter with what had been forgotten. We are, the Desana remind us, their younger siblings. We abandoned the older ones in the beginnings of time, and much later (just five hundred years ago) we thought we had discovered them. Those who came to be called Indians were that fragment of the original Humanity that decided, for good or bad, not come along with us. The return of whites was expected - it was anticipated - but maybe a little more was expected of it: that they behaved like relatives who return, not like torturers; that they shared what they had learned wherever they had been living; that they did not come back to take the little what was given to the Indians; that their ingenuity had not been obtained at the expense of wisdom, that their art had not jumbled up their comprehension, that their writing were not used to silence the voices of those who had stayed.

Thus what these narratives tell is that the relations with whites have always existed. There has not been, nor there is, a 'contact' that was not, or is, a sort of updating - as disastrous as it might be - of a virtuality traced in the discourse of the origins. Ailton Krenak observes acutely that "the encounter and the contact between our cultures and our peoples have not started yet and sometimes it seems that they are already finished". But the opposite, and for the same reasons, is also valid: they never began because they were there from the start. In the beginning there was disagreement, which, five hundred years later, is not over yet. But five hundred years is nothing, says Ailton. It is true. Especially for those who have good memory, for those whose thoughts are not, as Davi Kopenawa sharply notes, full of vertigo and forgetfulness. May we at least be capable of remembering from now on, we who are truly 'very forgetful' "

The terms of the other history

In the face of such diverse texts, the search for recurrences will necessarily let many things pass unnoticed, and important things at that. I do not dare, for instance, start a discussion of the discursive registers used, such as the contrast, sometimes internal to a given narrative, of a testimonial mode, in which I myself tell and reflect on what I have seen "with my very eyes", as Momboré-uaçu puts it, >, and a traditional mode (in the precise sense of the term), where I narrate what is narrated, speaking "through the speech" of another, as Jurusi uhu says. (1) In also do not have enough elements to analyze two other significant differences: the distinction between the narratives (or moments of the same narrative) which include the appearance of whites in the absolute origin of things from those who take them as appearing in a world that already existed; and the differences in the estimation of the difference between Indians and whites - differences that should themselves be estimated in accordance to the conditions in which these narratives were produced or consolidated.

What I want here is simply to register a resonance that pervades the texts, and that echoes some important themes of the Indigenous oral tradition. It has to do with the insertion of the question of the origin of whites in the Pan-American complex analyzed by Lévi-Strauss in his tetralogy Introduction to a Science of Mythology and in the books that followed it, notably The Story of Lynx.

The original imbalance

The Introduction to a Science of Mythology begins and ends with the myth of the conquest of cooking fire, which is also the myth of the origin of human culture. In the last volume of the series (The naked man), Lévi-Strauss shows how the theme of the "disnestler of birds" (free translation from Portuguese), which holds the origin of fire in the bororo and jê myths discussed in the first volume (The raw and the cooked), is the semantically attenuated version of a mythical macro-scheme of continental diffusion. The protagonists of this 'single myth', tied to each other by a relationship of matrimonial affinity, are the human race, terrestrial, and a celestial people, the owners of fire. To summarize a long thought: fire, a fundament of culture, is presented as an equivalent of the matrimonial alliance, the fundament of society. We cook the meat we eat just as, and because, we do not eat our own flesh.

The relationship between the South American narratives about the appearance of whites and the myth of the origin of fire was initially established by Roberto da Matta, for the case of the Auké timbira.(2) Much later, in The Story of Lynx, Lévi-Strauss demonstrated that the Auké legend is a systematic inversion of the famous cosmogonic myth collected in Rio de Janeiro by André Thevet in the mid-16th Century. The texts sateré-mawé and the zo’é dialogue presented here show a direct affiliation of this tupinambá 'arch-narrative', possibly the first South American myth ever published (in 1575). Five hundred years, as Ailton Krenak said, is indeed very little time.

It is remarkable that the presence of the whites was absorbed so early by a mythical complex evidently older than 1500. Lévi-Strauss arguments that whites were virtually contained, that is, their existence was foreseen, formally if not historically, in a constitutive structure of Indigenous thought: a dichotomal operator which makes that every position of a term be inseparable from the contraposition, treated as a presupposition, of an opposing term. In the tupinambá myth, the creation of the Indians imply the creation of the non-Indians; or, taking things from the other end, the fact of the existence of whites is put as constitutive of the fact of the existence of the Indians, as if participating in the possibility conditions of the latter (when it defines the Indians, precisely, as 'Indians', i.e. as non-whites). Seen in such terms, whites came just in order to occupy a supplementary step on the cascade of dichotomies reiterated between the positions of 'self' and of 'someone else' that flows through the myth way before 1500: creators and creatures, humans and non-humans, relatives and enemies, and so on. The prophecy mentioned in the baré narrative, the constant "we already knew that" that appears in the desana discourse, the theme, in short, of the announced contact that Ailton Krenak puts in evidence, underlining its Pan-American diffusion, are the marks of this retrospective necessity (in both senses of 'necessity') of the position of the other in Indigenous thought. Lévi-Strauss summarizes it in the idea of an "opening towards the other" (free translation from Portuguese) that would be consubstantial to this thought and which manifested itself, he says, since the very first contacts with whites. Unfortunately, as it is known, the opposite never came to be: the other (us) had a completely different idea of what the other should be.

The white's virtual reality in the pre-Columbian mythological corpus does not mean a merely 'distinctive' opposition, static and self-contained, between Indians and whites. The dichotomal principle of the tupinambá myth is a recursive principle: the dualities that it exhibits are seen by Lévi-Strauss as symptomatic of a "dualism in perpetual imbalance" (free translation from Portuguese) proper to Amerindian cosmologies. After examining the multiple versions of the tupinambá myth in the two Americas - all of them having as protagonists pairs of dissimilar twins -, the French anthropologist concludes (free translation from Portuguese):

"Which is, in effect, the deep inspiration of these myths? [...] They represent the progressive organization of the world and of society in the form of a series of bi-partitions, but without that, between the resulting parts of each stage, ever appearing in a true equality: in one way or another, one of them is always superior to the other. Of such dynamic imbalance depends the good operation of the system, which, without it, would be constantly under the threat of falling into a state of inertia. What these myths implicitly proclaim is that the poles between which natural phenomena and life in society are ordered - sky and Earth, fire and water, high and low, close and far, Indians and non-Indians, fellow citizens and strangers etc. - can never be twins. The spirit makes an effort to pair them up, but is unable to establish its parity. For it is those differential dissociations in cascade, as conceived by mythical thought, that put the universal machine in movement."(3)

In other words, not only the position of a term presupposes the contraposition of its contrary, but it causes an indefinite proliferation of oppositions of decreasing extension, internal to the term of reference. As for the inevitable 'superiority' of one of the parts resulting from any bi-partition, it is necessary to understand it as logical asymmetry (inherent to the multi-dichotomal functioning of the myth, in which the contraposition is internalized as presupposition), and not as ontological graduation (inherent to the substance of the terms); as unstable superiority, dynamic and ambiguous, that does not freeze in a finalized hierarchy. Because it should not be forgotten that, if whites took with them, or acquired, a knowledge and a power that the Indians rejected, it is because whites were Indians: it was the Indians who produced whites, by giving them the function of representing a virtuality contained in the essence of what is human (that is, the Indians). The Emperor was an Indian, as the Sateré-Mawépoint out: the superior was interior. Or, as the Kuikuro recall, it was the Indians who tamed the whites. The action, even when in the form of laissez-faire, is always Indigenous, because so is the signification. In other words, whites only constituted the Indians as non-Indians because they were previously constituted as non-Indians by them. "We already knew it".

When incarnating, inside out, the conditions that define the human condition - by being what the Indians could have been, and that, because they were not, became human, that is, not spirits, nor animals, nor whites -, whites oscillate between a positiveness and a negativity equally absolute. Their tremendous cultural superiority (technical, or objective) is dwarfed by an infinite social inferiority (ethic, or subjective): they are almost immortal, but they are brutal; they are ingenuous, but stupid, they are able to write, but they forget; they produce marvelous objects, but they destroy the world and life... Super-cultural and infra-social, thus. And so it is possible to jump from a positive vision of whites, as expressed in the sateré-mawé narratives, to a negative and controversial one, such as the speech of Davi Kopenawa or of Bráz de Oliveira França. The narrative of Luiz Gomes Lana can be placed, in that sense, in the zone of a moment of transition between those two poles, while the discourse of Momboré-uaçu brings a rigorous inductive thought that substantiate the 'experimental' passage of the first to the second. From mythical possibility to historical reality, some would say, forgetting with this that myth is a version of history, and history a transformation of the myth.

But if the problem of the origin of whites is, so to speak, solved since before the beginning of the world, the symmetrical and reverse problem of the fate of the Indians continues, it seems to me, crucially open. For the challenge or enigma that is posed to the Indians consists in knowing if it is really possible to use the technological power of whites, i. e., their mode of objectivizing - their culture -, without being poisoned by their absurd violence, their grotesque 'fetish-lization' of merchandise, their intolerable arrogance, that is, their mode of subjectivizing - their society. Davi Kopenawa answers no to this question: whites' culture expresses their society, so that is a dead end. Ailton Krenak seems to answer yes: Indigenous society expresses themselves in their culture, so there must be space for it. History shall decide; and then the myth will be explained.

White death

The problem of the origin of whites was 'processed' by the machine of the myth of the fire, as we have seen. But some of the narratives presented here show a specific dimension of this process that has not been the object of special attention neither of Da Matta nor of Lévi-Strauss. I refer to the presence, in the desana and sateré-mawétexts, as well as what can be perceived in the zo’édialogue, of the widespread myth of the 'brief life', whose place in the complex about the origin of fire and of culture was demonstrated in "The raw and the cooked".(4)

The myths that tell how we humans lost our original immortality, or came to live less time than trees, or became unable to rejuvenate like certain animals, revolve around a central motif: a 'bad choice' we made in the face of a test or an opportunity offered by a demiurge (or equivalent character). In general, this bad choice is the result of a mistake or neglect expressed in terms of the five senses: we did not hear, see, touch - in short, respond to a stimulus -; or, alternatively, we saw, heard, talked with, tried, what we should not have. Those who behaved appropriately, such as the trees, the reptiles and the anthropoids, which periodically change their skin and thus rejuvenate, conquered a long life.

The desana narrative enchains the themes of the brief life and of the origin of whites. After describing how the white, the last one to disembark from the Canoe-of-Transformation, was sent away by the demiurge, the text moves directly (and, for a listener who is unfamiliar with the larger mythical contexts, somewhat mysteriously) to the motif of the short life of humans. The poisonous animals managed to get close to the recipient that held the drug for changing skins; Humanity did not. No reference is made here to whites; but it is tempting to imagine that, among the poisonous animals, maybe the white man was included... Because in the following paragraph he reappears, in the figure of the ancestral who was able to become white by bathing in the demiurge's wash-bowl of magic water. It is known that, in other versions of the myth (and for other Amazon peoples), the theme of immortality or resurrection is associated with a bath in a wash-bowl of magic water that changes one's skin. In this desana narrative, the theme seems to be split: immortality or perpetual rejuvenation by changing of the skin is restricted to animals, but the typical means of reaching it is displaced to explain the difference - expressed precisely in terms of change of the skin color - between Indians and whites.

The desana narrative transforms other tukano myths in which the relationship between the creation of whites and the origin of death is much more evident. In a barasana story registered by S. Hugh-Jones, the origin of the power of whites - the guns - is explained as the result of a fateful choice. The demiurge offered human ancestors the option between the bow and the shotgun: those who would be white chose the latter, those who would be (or would continue to be) Indians, the former. (5) It was because of such choice, one can suppose, that whites were sent far away from the demiurge, as Luiz Lana tells here. The theme of choosing weapons appears in the same way among the Tupinambá of 17th Century Maranhão (it was registered by Abbeville with the Tupinambá of Momboré-uaçu), in contemporary Upper Xingu River mythology and in many others. As for Hugh-Jones' barasana myth, it is, in fact, a very close variety of Thevet's tupinambá myth. Just like it, it establishes a direct link between the origin of the brief life (of the Indians) and the origin of whites, because they are described as similar to spiders, snakes and women in their ability to live long. Contrary to the changing of natural skin of snakes, spiders and women, whites would change a cultural skin, their clothes; thus technical ingenuity and relative immortality are connected. (6) The same theme of the clothes appear in the zo'é dialogue published here. Jipohan, the demiurge capable of resuscitating the dead from their bones, left with the whites, and, like them, goes about dressed up and owns many clothes.(7)

The tupinambá mythical fragment reported by Abbeville and Hugh-Jones' barasana myth suggests an inversion of the seniority between brothers in consequence of the choice of weapons. (One should keep in mind that the Tukano patrilineal system places the hierarchy on the masculine offspring and their descendants in order of birth.) Lévi-Strauss treated the myths of the brief life in terms of a "code of the five senses" (free translation from Portuguese), which, as can be seen, is present in the desana myth. It would be possible to see, in the motif of the choice of weapons, a modulation of such code. Instead of mistakes related to sensitivity, what we would have would be a fault associated to good sense, that is, to comprehension: a 'miscalculation', so to speak. In Thevet's 16th Century myth, the rupture of the demiurge (of whom whites would be the "successors and true descendants", says the French friar) with Indian humanity, caused by its ingratitude or aggressiveness, may equally be taken as a case of 'bad choice', of absence of discernment on the part of humans (the Indians).(8)

In the desana myth published here nothing is said in that regard: the younger brother continues to be so, and making choices are not mentioned, but rather the allocation of objects and techniques appropriate to the respective 'vocation' of whites and Indians - shotgun and Bible versus bow and memory. Thus Luiz Lana's narrative seems to avoid or resist a conclusion which would have been present in previous versions of the myth, a resistance that would indicate a political change in the estimation of the difference between Indians and whites. Now whites are not what the Indians could have been, but rather what the Indians did not want to be. Thus, I believe, the partial split between the motifs of the origin of whites and the loss of immortality.

The myth of origin of the Baré people told by Bráz de Oliveira França , in this sense - but this is pure speculation on my part - could be read as an inversion of the tukano myths, or at least as an ulterior state of the movement of ideological adjustment suggested in Luiz Lana's text. The man who traveled alone, on the outside of the big ship that entered the Negro River and became the ancestral of the Baré, seemed to me to correspond to the younger brother of the desana narrative, the last one to disembark from the Canoe-of-Transformation and the one who became white. Let us remember that the Canoe-of-Transformation is, in tukano mythology, a large anaconda which brings inside the different exogamous groups, and that the baré hero is called Cobra (snake in Portuguese) - a water 'snake' that comes from the river. In the case of the desana, we have a younger brother who is sent away by his male relatives because of his aggressiveness; in the case of the baré we have a stranger who is incorporated after appeasing, due to his sexual potency, a group of aggressive women. Everything happens, in other words, as if the ancestral of whites in the desana myth became the ancestral of the Indians in the baré myth. So in the latter the origin of the Indians is definitely disconnected to the origin of whites (who come from the outside, and arrive in the middle of a story), while in Luiz Lana's narrative they still have a connection.(9)

Another manifestation of the theme of bad choice, with the consequent loss of something whites obtained or maintained, is found in the mawé myths published here, in which it is associated with Christian motifs. The humans who stayed are those who did not respond to the Emperor's (or God's) call, because, in Vidal Sateré-Mawé's delightful expression >, "they were distracted with the fruit " along the way. This suggests an appropriation of the biblical episode of the apple (Adam and Eve are among the protagonists of the narrative), but also evokes a famous theme in native mythology, the 'call of the rotten wood', to which humans responded instead of the call from the rock and the hardwood, missing thus the opportunity of living for as long as them.(10) In the case of the sateré-mawé narratives, it should be noted, those who left with the Emperor were able to "hide themselves from death"; those who, on the contrary - and literally - missed the boat stayed in the forest and are, from now on, subjected to what cannot be avoided.(11)

In short: whites have the same origin as death. On one hand, such equation derives from a 'transcendental deduction' that aims at a universal human condition - thus, if humans in general die, it is necessary to exist a particular kind of human who does not, or a non-human who lives more than humans. On the other hand, however, it expresses an empirical deduction, that that the Indians lived, or better (or worse) yet, died in their own flesh. Whites were able to hide themselves from death because it was them who revealed it to the Indians, that is, they caused it. The diseases that decimate them come from very far away, says the Mawé narrative: they come from the same place where whites went to. The kuikuro story is even more direct: even after they were tamed, even after they had been convinced to stop killing the Indians, the caraíba (whites) continued to bring death, in the form of disease and magic spell. When they do not kill with their own hands they do it by proxy, through the objects - cutting objects, coincidentally -that signify them: "They gave knives, scissors, axes. The cough came." Davi Kopenawa describes in details the same sinister enchaining: white culture is lethal. There is no one better than us, then, to illustrate death as a condition.
Eve's nephews

Let us return to the double fundament of the human condition described in the myths of origin: fire and matrimonial alliance, i. e., culture and society. The myths of the origin of the brief life express the third fundament, a natural one: the mortality of the human species.

To that triple title, whites outline the limits of humanity, by lack or excess. In what refers to 'fire', i. e., to technology, we are super-cultural. In what refers to the natural mortality of the species we are supernaturally immortal (innumerable and indestructible). But in what refers to a life of relationships, to the forms socially instituted of subjectivity, we whites are unquestionably sub-human. It is about this last limit that I would like to say something, by way of a conclusion.

If matrimonial alliance is put, in Amerindian mythology, as a fundament of society, where are the whites in that respect? What several narratives published above suggest is that we are beings who do not know what human social relations are: we are bad allies par excellence. People who do not exchange people for marriage, but kill, rob and enslave people instead.

In the desana myth , the ancestral of whites is a younger brother, not an ally by marriage. But a brother who, when he returns, behaves like a stranger and an enemy, coming back to rob and kill. Among the 'things' that whites robbed, as Davi Kopenawa and Momboré-uaçurecall, were children: thus instead of becoming allies of the Indians, whites take from them the fruits of their alliances. The tupinambá chief from Maranhão reveals how that particular betrayal worked: the Indians were honored when the whites started to cohabit with their women, thinking that they wanted to become their brothers-in-law and form with them one single nation; but the whites soon transformed the alliance into submission, enslaving those who had given them their wives. And if, in the initial stages of the 'contact' described by Momboré-uaçu, the alliance serves as pretext and antecedent for servitude, Bráz de Oliveira França's narrative shows the culmination of this process, when it is servitude that precedes a disgusting anti-alliance in which the bosses of the Negro River take by force Indian women in 'payment' for the 'debts' contracted by their fathers and husbands.(12)

In the sateré-mawé and wapishana one can find a more idealized vision of this exchange relationship between Indians and whites. In the case of the mawé texts, in particular, is established a labor division seen as relatively 'natural' - or at least it is desired that, based as it is on the discourse of the origins, such exchange system may come to be equitable in reality. Note that the mawé myths reduce the relations with whites to an economic exchange with whites, not to a matrimonial exchange of people; but it must be registered the subtext present in the identification of whites with the cairara monkey, seen as 'shameless', that is, licentious and sexually voracious.

But it is also in the mawé narratives that the most interesting suggestion can be observed: that whites were, indeed, predestined to become allies of the Indians. Eve had a brother; thus Adam had a brother-in-law. Vidal Sateré-Mawé's text does not make very clear how this original triad 'works'. The narrative's first lines mention the death of a "sister of his", but it is not clear who "he" refers to; the impression I have is that it is Tupana, or God. There are no elements here to affirm that this sister was Eve. Further on Adam and Eve are described as the ancestors of those who stayed, those who did not follow God and the whites. Next, the reason for the permanence of the Indians in the forest, close to death and to diseases, is explained by the fact that Adam ignored God's invitation; but further on it is Eve who, in reaction to her brother's call, convinces Adam to go back and stay. This brother, on the other hand, is the person who would have given them axes, machetes, in short, objects from whites (or from Tupana), which could suggest that it was Eve's brother who had left, while Adam and Eve stayed in the forest. The texts are very ambiguous. Would Tupana be Eve's brother? Would the whites be Adam's brothers-in-law - the whites that the old tupi-guarani mythology consider the demiurge's descendants? Or would the Indians be the children of this brother of Eve, since it was he who called her back to the forest?(13)

Be as it may, Eve had a brother. Which conforms to the Indigenous vision of the fundaments of social life: behind every couple there is the woman's brother, the man who ceded his sister to the other man. This 'kinship atom' (free translation from Portuguese), to recall a famous notion set forth by Lévi-Strauss, is made up of a child, the father, the mother and the maternal uncle.

The mawé texts suggest, then (or at least I would like them to be suggesting...) that whites and Indians would not be simply and equally descendants of Adam and Eve. We would not be, thus, 'all brothers' - a formula that never kept some of these 'brothers' from plundering, enslaving and murdering other brothers. We would not all be 'Adam's sons', then - some of us would be, maybe, children of Eve's brother, her collateral descendant, but not Adam's. Who Eve's nephews are, the whites or the Indians, is a question the myth does not give the answer. But that does not change the moral of the story: we are crossed cousins, that is, potential brothers-in-law. We are not naturally identical like brothers are; we will always be different, because it is that difference that make us socially necessary to one another, and equally necessary to one another. The re-encounter of Indians and whites can only be made on the terms of a necessary alliance between equally different partners, in such a way that we will be able to, together, move the world's perpetual imbalance a little further ahead, thus postponing its end. (Eduardo Viveiros de Castro,


(1) Such distinction corresponds only very partially and imperfectly to the one we would make between 'historical' and 'mythical' narratives.

(2) R. DaMatta, “Mito e antimito entre os Timbira.” In: Vários autores, Mito e linguagem social (ensaios de antropologia estrutural). Rio de Janeiro: Tempo Brasileiro, 1970 (pp. 77-106).

(3) C. Lévi-Strauss, Histoire de Lynx. Paris: Plon, 1991 (pp. 90-91).

(4) C. Lévi-Strauss, Le cru et le cuit. Paris: Plon, 1964 (troisième partie).

(5) S. Hugh-Jones, “The gun and the bow: myths of white men and Indians.” L'Homme 106-107, 1988, pp. 138-155.

(6) The Barasana conceive menstruation as a periodical 'change of skin', i. e., a rejuvenation of the woman. Such rejuvenation, in the case of males, can only be made ritually and collectively, through the He ('Jurupari') ceremonies, conceived as a male menstruation - and/or, as Lana's myth indicates, through the ingestion of coca, an indispensable substance in such ceremonies. As for the relationship between clothes and long life, it is obviously a symbolic equivalence, motivated by the theme of change of skin in animals. Besides, the notion of an 'immortality' of whites, in the case of the barasana myth, refers to the fact that whites are innumerable, and are constantly reproducing: they are immortal, thus, in the sense that it is useless to kill them for there will always be others to replace them. And there is nothing symbolic to this thought.

(7) The theme of changing of skin as a technique for immortality is central in the cosmology of several contemporary tupi groups; among the Araweté, for instance, it is associated with the Maï (i.e. Maíra), whom, after devouring the dead who arrive in the sky, remake them from their bones - like Jipohan - and bathe them in a magic water wash-bowl to revive and rejuvenate them.

(8) To this scheme that makes whites the descendants of those who did not make the mistake made by the Indians the yanomami mythology presents an interesting alternative. Whites were created from the blood of Indians who died due to the violation of a sexual interdiction. Here whites are not the ones who made the good choice but the direct product, the "successors and true descendants", of a bad choice made by the Indians (see also note 7 by B. Albert to Davi Kopenawa's text).

(9) If we take into account that the word Baré may be a derivative of bári, 'branco' (white in Portuguese) as chromatically non-black - non-slave? -, as D. Buchillet mentions, the question becomes even more complex. Compare, by the way, with the desana myth, in which the Indians see themselves as non-white in this very chromatic sense.

(10) See the apinayé myth (M9) analyzed in The raw and the cooked.

(11) The Indigenous and biblical themes of the deluge are merged here. It is interesting to note also the animals to which whites are associated with by the Mawé, according to Alba Figueroa. Of the two 'whitish' toads, one at least is poisonous (the cunauaru) - it produces a white secretion that destroys the skin when touched. The cairara monkey, as the Indians say, is "white and shameless"; and the oriole is gregarious and noisy - Ihering observed also that this bird has a very unpleasant smell. Poisonous (a poison that 'changes the skin'), lascivious and noisy-stinking, whites are thus not so unambiguously positive...

(12) And in this sense the myth of Mira-Boia and the amazon women told by Bráz de Oliveira França may be read as inverting the figure of the boss.

(13) In the short narrative "Uruhe'i e Mari-pyaipok" figures only Eve (Uruhe'i) and her brother Mari-pyaipok, a name that is probably connected to the Maíra of the tupi mythology. Both siblings stay in, or come back to, the forest, and the Sateré-Mawé are described as descendants of Eve; Adam is not mentioned in the story. Other versions of the myth of Uruhe'i and Mari-pyaipok make of those characters brothers, with Mari being the one who has gone away and Uruhe'i the one who stayed. (Such variations, registered by Nunes Pereira and others, are mentioned in Alba Figueroa's works.) It is not impossible that the oldest versions of this myth were centered around a pair of brothers, maybe even twins, like in the tupinambá mythology, which seems to have strongly influenced mawé culture. The feminization of one of the brothers could be attributed, in this case, to an interference of the biblical couple, or to a fusion with myths of non-tupi origin. But it could also be expressing a mythological fundament properly mawé, a people who speak a language of the tupi branch but that do not belong to the tupi-guarani family.


[October, 2000]