Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Yanomami-Sanema: The Origin of Fire

Yanomami Myth 1: The Origin of Fire

This Sanema myth is taken from a report by Daniel de Barandiaran which appeared in the Venezuelan journal Antropologica in January 1968 and was republished in "Mitos de Creacion de la Cuenca del Orinoco" (FUNDEF, 1993).

Long, long ago, Iwarame, the caiman, was a person like all the other animals. All the animals could speak.
There were Sanema-Yanomami Indians as well back then but the people ate their food raw because they did not have the secret of fire.

Iwarame, the caiman, was the only one who had fire. Iwarame, who was also known as Iwa, spent the whole day in the water hunting but he prepared his food in the cave where he slept.
All the other animals knew that Iwarame had fire. They also knew that everything he ate was roasted and when he roasted his food it smelled fantastic.
The other animals thought that Iwarame was the the most powerful of all the animals because he ate his food cooked.
When Iwarame opened his mouth you could see the fire, so the Sanema Indians and many of the animals brought meat to place in front of Iwarame's cave so that when he opened his mouth it would be cooked.
Usually the Indians and the animals could only take away a little of this food as Iwarame would eat a large part of the food that they placed outside his cave and then he would sleep.
When he was asleep he would close his mouth and nobody could see the fire.
When he awoke he would go hunting and would bring back different prey, animals and fish. He would bring it back home and when he wanted to eat it he would open his mouth and that would set light to the wood and over the fire he would roast everything he ate, meat or fish, but only at night and then he would close his mouth so nobody could steal the fire.
One day a young Sanema hunter, who was out hunting with his father, got lost in the jungle and arrived, by chance, at Iwarame's cave. Iwarame was asleep.
As soon as the boy realised he was in the home of the "owner of fire" he was really scared. He looked all over for some cooked food or a burning log but he couldn't find anything except a burnt leaf, which, shaking with fear he took with him as he left the cave.
In the jungle he found his father and he showed him the burnt leaf.
- Father, he said, I found this burnt leaf.
- Where did you find it?
- In the house of Iwarame, the caiman
- Did you find fire?
- No, nor any roast meat. He keeps the fire inside his mouth.
His father thought long and hard about it: How are we going to steal the fire from Iwarame?
His father continued to think of a way to steal the fire from that terrible caiman and one day he organized a big party for all the Sanema and all the animals.
It was going to be a fun party with eating and drinking and it had to be immediately after sunset. Iwarame was invited and he left his house to come to the party.
All the Indians and all the animals had been told they had to make jokes, do tricks and anything else that would make them laugh.
So, they were all falling about laughing. All except Iwarame. He didn't laugh. He kept his big mouth tightly shut.
All the animals showed off their skills, especially the birds, who did swoops and turns in the air.

Jashimo, the purple gallinule (Porphyrio martinica) danced around and jumped from side to side, lifting its tail and shooting out streams of excrement as it cried: Plo, plo, plo.
All the guests fell on the floor laughing and some held their bellies they were laughing so much.
But Iwarame did not even smile. And he did not open his mouth.
Then Hiima, the dog, dancing and doing turns, did a massive shit and threw it at the other animals who were dancing and they all laughed again.
But Iwarame was as serious as before.
Finally, Jiomonikoshwan, the clever green-tailed jacamar, its belly as red as fire, began a very exotic dance and lifted its tail and showed its arse to all the other dancers. When it passed in front of Iwa, it lifted its tail, stuck its arse in his face and then sent a fine stream of shit into his face. This did make Iwa laugh and he let out a thunderous chuckle: ha, ha ha...
The fire then started to leap out of his mouth in bursts of flame, making a "flum, flum" sound.
Immediately, Maipomue, who is a hummingbird with a very long double tail. flew quickly and shot into Iwa's mouth like a bolt of lightning, grabbed the ball of fire in his beak and then flew over the heads of the guests, taking the ball of fire to the heart of the Puloi tree.
Iwa's wife, called Blajeyoma, ran over to the Puloi tree and urinated on the roots of the tree to put out the flame but as it was in the heart of the tree she couldn't.
When the fire came out of the caiman's jaws his tongue shrank and now it's small.
Since then, Iwa the caiman, ashamed by his defeat has left his cave and gone to live in the water. That's where he lives now, sharing his territory with Lalakilpara, the great water snake, who is the true master of the water.
From that time on, the Sanema and the Yanomami go to find fire in the heart of the sacred tree, Puloi, because that is where Maipomue left it.

Translated by Russell Maddicks

Click here to read Yanomami Myth 2: The Origin of Eating the Dead

Video of Sanema Shaman Ritual with Bruce Parry

Click here to return to Venezuelan Indian main page


Anonymous said...

Fascinating. Thank you so much for making this information public.

Anonymous said...

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Pablo T said...

Very very interesting, everybody should read this.

Songo said...


Can I post this @ my blog


This material is amazing!!!

Russell Maddicks said...

Sure Songo,

The idea is to get as many people as possible to read this stuff.

Thanks for the plug,


Songo said...

Keep on the good work!

Arte Amazonia said...

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