Sunday, December 23, 2007

Wayuu: The Way of The Dead Indians

Wayuu Myth 1: The Soul and Death

The Arawak-speaking Wayuu who live around Maracaibo in Venezuela and both sides of the border with Colombia in the Guajira Peninsula are also known as Guajiros. They are the largest indigenous group in Venezuela and have preserved a rich tradition of myth and legend as well as their own shamanic traditions and burial practices. This myth about the nature of the soul and the cause of death was collected by Michel Perrin in 1969 and is taken from his 1976 book: "El Camino de Los Indios Muertos". I have kept the sentence structure of the original.

Each one of us is joined to a soul.
It is like a small piece of white cotton, like a puff of smoke.
But nobody can see it.

Our soul follows us everywhere we go,
like our shadow.
- Some say that our shadow is the form of the soul,
and call the soul the shadow -.
Our soul does not leave us except during sleep,
or when we are sick,
or when we have been hit by the arrows of Wanulu (god of illness and death).

Everything that happens in our dreams
is what happens to our soul.
If a Guajiro dreams that they are outside
close to a well, in a house...,
or if they see birds,
that means that their soul has left their heart,
coming out through their mouth,
to fly there.
But their heart continues to beat.

Nevertheless, it is our soul that makes us die.
A man who dreams that he dies never wakes up again.
His soul has left him forever.
Someone who dreams that a knife has been plunged into his chest,
is still alive.
But his soul is now badly injured.
The sickness is there.
Death is close.

When a Guajiro gets sick,
their soul is like a prisoner,
in the place of dreams.
That is where the shaman's spirit
can find it and bring it back to the sick one.
But if he cannot find it,
if it is hidden away,
if it is somewhere inside,
the Guajiro dies.
His soul has passed along the path,
the path of the dead Indians:
the Milky Way.

It travels towards the sea,
to enter the house where the sisters,
the mothers, the maternal uncles, the brothers are...

And the last words are said by the dying man:
- I am going now, I am going,
going to die.
I am going and will never return...
But his soul has already gone and will never return.
It will have taken its saddle.
It will have taken its belongings, its hammocks...
It will have gone to its land,
to Jepira, the land of the Yoluja (the spirits of dead Wayuu)...
When they die, Guajiros become Yoluja.
They go to Jepira via the Milky Way,
the way of the dead Indians,
there they find their houses.

The souls of the dead return to the earth
in our dreams.
Our souls meet them
when we dream about the dead.
Here, sometimes, you can see their ghosts.
They are the Yoluja,
the ghosts of the dead come back to earth.

On our death, however, we do not lose our soul.
Only our bones do we lose.
Our bones and our skin.
Our soul goes, that's all.
What goes is our shadow,
like our silhouette, blurry, imprecise...

But we die twice.
Once here,
and again in Jepira...

Translated by Russell Maddicks

Wayuu Myth 2: Pulowi and the Jewels

Wayuu Myth 3: Kasipoluin the Rainbow

Wayuu Myth 4: The Origin of Fire

Video of the Wayuu People and Their native Land


Judith said...

I am speechless in regards to the amount of information you have about my country and envious of your amazing experiences. Have you published any books ? or Photo /journal Books?I'd be happy to buy them as I do not get to travel there that often anymore. My entire family still lives there but my two sons were born in the US and are much too young for my ex-husband to allow the travel and ...well I go nowhere without them. I miss my country. My Father's side of the family is from San Fernando and Pto Ayacucho and I did get to go there as a child.. I miss S. America. Quiero Casabe y platano verde!!!


Pascale Petit said...

Thank you for your wonderful blog. It's a relief to find someone who is as mad about Venezuela and the tepuis as I am. I visited Angel Falls in 2993 and 1995, and climbed Mt Roraima, and would love to return. I'm a published UK poet, and have drawn on these journeys and researches for my poems, and am currently writing a novel about it. In particular, the myths and cultures of the local tribes such as Pemon, Warao and Yanomami fascinate me and have featured in poems. It's so useful to have your translations from Spanish source texts on these as it's hard to get those. Love your site.