Friday, February 22, 2008

Kariña Myth 1: The Twins and the Origin of Yuca

The Kariña, or True Caribs as they are sometimes called, were once spread throughout the Orinoco and the Caribbean and are still found in Surinam and French Guiana. The main concentration in Venezuela is now in the Mesa de Guanipa in Anzoategui State, but there are smaller communities in Monagas, Sucre and Bolivar states.

Many Kariña live and work in the cities of Ciudad Bolivar and Caracas but return home for tribal traditions such as the Akaatompo dances, which are celebrated every year from 1-3 November. The Akaatompo is like the Mexican Day of the Dead, a time when dead ancestors (añaatos) come to visit the living and speak to family members via mediums. It is also a time for communal dances, such as the Maremare.

This myth recounts the birth of the hero twins, the death of their mother and the origin of yuca and other plant foods. It is taken from Father Cesareo de Armellada´s book: "Literaturas Indigenas de Venezuela" (Monte Avila Editores, 1991).

Translated by Russell Maddicks

Long ago the Sun slept with the Moon and she became pregnant.
So the Sun invited her to give birth in his house.

"How do I get to your house?" the Moon asked him.

He said:
"At the first crossroads along the path that leads to the mountains you must take the path where you find a macaw feather. Further on you will find a feather from the Yuis bird and my house is close by. But you must be very careful. If you take the wrong path you will arrive at the house of Tarunmio, the old cannibal-woman!"

When the day came, the Moon set out to give birth in the Sun's house. More concerned than the mother were the children inside her belly. They bothered her ceaselessly. During the trek they kept saying:
"Look at those pretty flowers mother."
"Look at those ripe fruits."

On one of these occasions the Moon fell over and annoyed by the cheek of her babies she banged her belly to punish them.

They weren't born yet and they were already a nuisance.

When she arrived at the crossroads the Moon could not remember the sign that had been agreed. Frightened, she asked her babies, but they were angry and did not answer.

As might be expected she took the wrong road and ended up at the house of the old cannibal woman Tarunmio, who was cooking when she arrived.

The Moon was tired and hungry and asked if she could stay the night. Tarunmio didn't need to be asked twice. She offered her food, water and a room and then helped her to lie down.

In the middle of the night Tarunmio killed the Moon. She took out the twin babies and then she ate her.

From that night on the only mother the boys knew was the old woman.

In a few days they grew and became strong, because the blood of the gods ran through their veins.

The boys became great hunters. Every day they brought home from the jungle guan birds, agoutis and opossums that the old woman cooked in the night, giving the boys nothing.

The cannibal woman only gave them a white bread that tasted like cassava (flat manioc-flour cakes).

The boys, tired of the same food, asked themselves where the old woman got the cassava from if she didn't grow yuca (manioc). So they decided to watch how she did it.

From an enormous toad the old woman extracted a heavy milk that she threw on the hot flat circular cooking plate (budare) and from which she made the sipiipa (cassava cakes).

Afterwards, she spoke to the toad:

"The day will come when I shall stop getting milk from you for these two. Sometime soon I shall eat them."

Realizing that the old woman was not their mother, but a Tarunmio, the twins decided to kill her.

Also, after returning from hunting guans one day they heard two of the birds who were still alive speaking:

"Those two who hunted us are the sons of the moon...," said one of the birds, before recounting the whole story of what had happened to their mother.

The next afternoon, the twins told the old woman that they were going to burn the ground to prepare it for planting, but to obtain a good harvest they needed her to shout out her chants on top of a platform of sticks they would build.

After two days the ground was cleared and on on the third day the platform of sticks was ready.

When the old woman started to sing the twins set fire to the wood underneath her. The old woman had no time to escape because the flames burnt her up like a dry twig...

That was the origin of the indigenous people's first attempt at sowing, and from where all the fruits and root vegetables first came: ocumo, mapuey, ñame and many others.

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