the boy and the flute
myth of the Nambikwara Indians
Before, everything I had was already in those woods in the valley, on the riverbank. It was a hell of a walk, back and forth, looking for cashews, abiu, chestnuts, pequi. There was also, due to the bush, coconut buriti, araçá, jataí honey. Sometimes the bush dwindled, became dry, gave nothing. People were always complaining about this lack of food. Taquara always had a lot, to make arrows at will.
The Indian would spend time and time straightening a feather on the tail of the arrow, adjusting the balance to give a good flight. It's always been that way, hunter in the details. And animal, that's what he had the most. On the outskirts of the buritizal, far from the village, an Indian had seen a trace of tapir, paca, armadillo.
The next day, in the late afternoon, cold sun, he and his son went out hunting. In the middle of the forest, the boy heard a very beautiful sound:
– Listen! What a nice noise...
The father wasn't listening to anything, he kept walking. A little more, again:
– Listen, Dad! What beautiful music!
– I'm not listening to anything. Pay attention, look: the tapir's trail. She still comes back here.
They climbed a tree, very quietly to wait for the tapir. The boy only heard that sound, blowing softly through the leaves.
A while passed, the tapir did come. Arrow in the bow, rope stretched, the tapir almost in the crop, the boy stops everything:
– Listen, Dad! How beautiful! This is flute noise!
Did the tapir stay to listen? It was the account of running away at the same time.
The father, who wasn't listening to anything, was angry:
– What a flute, what music, what sound, what nothing! That way you don't learn to hunt. Now we have to go back to the village empty-handed. And come on, that the tocandira it's an ant that walks at night and doesn't leave one unscathed.
The boy was a shaman, no one knew. Shaman is a great knower of things.
He knows what everyone else knows, he knows what others don't know, and he knows what they are yet to know. The boy was like that, revealing things that no one knew.
Almost night, the two returning home, the boy said:
– This forest is very good, father. I want to stay and grow right here. You can go back to the village alone.
– But I can't do that. You have to come back with me.
– No, nothing like that. I want you to carry me, making a big circle. Then it leaves me right in the middle.
It was a crazy idea but the father didn't have the strength to resist. While doing the circle, the boy spoke:
– Don't tell anyone where I am. Noone can know. You have to wait two moons to come find me.
So the Indian returned to the village alone. As he arrived, his wife wanted to know where the boy was.
- I do not know. I am angry and very sad. Nobody knows where he is.
The woman started to cry, cried all night.
In the dark of the forest, the boy worked with his powers. He had to invent so much! To start with, he made a very large embira rope and tied up all the bush. He says that it was only in a forceful pull that he took everything away. Left only the land. The next day his mother went a little way into the woods and saw a row of leaf-cutting ants carrying different leaves. She followed the ants and ended up finding her husband, picking up jataí comb.
– Look at these ants! What are they carrying?
He, realizing that this was his son's trick, distracted the woman. That it was nothing, no, nothing for nothing, no use at all, for them to go home.
- When the next moon rises - he promised - I will look for our son.
The moon rose very high, the boy's father went into the woods. He walked a lot, all night, the place was not enough. The Three-Maria stars, who were Nambikwara children too, were twinkling in the sky. He continued to walk. The stars went out, the sky began to redden, very early in the morning he arrived in that good place. He found a beautiful garden, with everything that is good to eat.
– Wow! My son worked hard to do all this! – he admired.
– But where is he?
That's when he heard a beautiful, soft blowing sound: the flute sound. He followed the sound to the sunset, not finding the boy. The flute began to blow on the other side. He walked into the rising sun, but found nothing. He went north, he went south, the flute playing in every direction, he walking in circles, disoriented. He was almost giving up when he remembered the circle he made with his son. Perhaps I would find him in the middle of it: in the middle of the garden. It was right in the middle of the garden that he found a flute, playing beautifully, really beautiful. He was too tired, he stopped for a while, listening.
He let himself be lulled, just the sound, just the music slowly creeping into him.
He looked at each new plant, attentively and, little by little, he discovered everything: the gourd, the best there is to make a gourd, similar to a boy's head... the cassava plant leaf, which the leaf-cutting ant likes to carry, similar with the boy's hand…Ah! That sure was it. The boy turned into a garden, into everything that is good to eat.
The bones turned into the manioc branches. The legs, even manioc, from making beiju and tapioca flour.
The ears, then, were broad beans; and the ribs, bean pods.
Teeth turned to corn kernels, nails to peanuts.
The blood turned into annatto, which is used to paint the body red.
Everything transformed! Even the little Indian's lice ended up turning into tobacco seed.
Now Nambikwara has manioc, it has all the seeds, just plant it. There's no shortage of beiju anymore. The boy did everything – became a garden.
That way he exists forever and for everyone.
His voice is the sound of the flute that plays softly, that blows beautifully.
(Transcript and illustration by Ciça Fittipaldi taken from the Book: The boy and the flute – myth of the Nambikwara Indians. São Paulo. improvements. 1986)
About the Nambikwara Indians:
The Nambikwara nation is divided into numerous groups and its villages are spread from the Guaporé river valley to the borders of Rondônia in Brazil. It occupies territories that vary between closed fields, semi-desert savannas, and a rich and fertile forest area.
Each group has its place to hunt, fish, take out vines and bamboo, build malocas, cultivate gardens, always near a stream of water. All hunting is shared between the families of the village, and the gardens are familiar. Villages are circular; in the central courtyard the Indians at night converse, sing and dance. This courtyard is the sacred place where the dead are buried. There is also the flute house, where they are kept and only men gather to speak and play. Women cannot see the flutes. They believe that if they see, they will get sick and die. Flutes symbolize masculinity and spiritual life, while the feminine element is returning to material life.
The Nambikwara have always lived totally naked and with very little decoration. They have no hammocks, no mats, no pottery, nothing but a few gourds to store and prepare food.
They sleep directly on the floor; on cold nights they scatter ashes from the fire and lie on them. There are several baths during the day, often followed by the custom of rolling on the floor to cover the body of earth.
The Nambikwara have a very rich spiritual life. They believe in an infinity of good and bad spirits that inhabit the forests, springs, caves, sacred spaces of their ancestors. They believe in invisible beings, with whom they relate, hear their voices, complaints and chants; from them they receive help and protection. They converse with spirits through shamans, who also promote the cure of illnesses.
The most important party is the girl's, which takes place right after her first menstruation. The girl is confined in a separate hut; after the deadline, she leaves, all dressed up, amid songs and dances in the village courtyard.
The Nambikwara year is divided into two periods: rain and drought. During the dry season, hunting is greatly reduced and the fields are not producing. Survival is left to the women, who are in search of tubers, roots, coconuts, wild fruits and, above all, small animals: insects such as grasshoppers, lizards and their eggs, rodents. And various types of honey.
The basic food is cassava or corn beiju, a kind of bread baked underground, under the embers of the fire. The daily drink is chicha, a kind of porridge made from wild manioc juice, which is boiled until it loses its poison. There are also wild fruit drinks, such as cashew, abiu, guava.
The child is considered the greatest asset of Nambikwara society, and that is why he is surrounded by incomparable affection and attention.
Since contact with whites at the beginning of this century, Nambikwara lands and population have declined. Today with a demarcated reservation, their number begins to increase. They have acquired some white habits, use tools and clothes obtained through exchange, but are resistant to defending their cultural heritage.