Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pemon: The Great Flood and Creation of Roraima

Pemon Myth 3: The Great Flood and the Creation of Roraima

This myth continues the story of Makunaima and his brothers after they find a magical tree in the jungle which has all the fruits and crops in the world growing from its branches. It recounts the cause of the great flood, the origin of fish and the creation of Mount Roraima. The text is taken from Maria Manuela de Cora's book "Kuai-Mare: Mitos Aborigenes de Venezuela" (1957, Editorial Oceanida). It was originally collected by the German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grunberg during his 1911-1912 expedition to the Pemon villages near Roraima.

Not many moons had passed since Makunaima and his brothers had first eaten the fruit from the magic tree Wazacá when Ma'nápe came up with the idea of cutting it down, and just like that he told the others.

But Akuli (agouti), who was very intelligent, told him:
- How can you think such a thing? The Wazacá provides us with its fruits and all of us can eat from it. If you chop it down not only will we all lose out, but it will create a huge flood as well.

Ma'nápe listened to everything, thinking he would ignore it, because he was very stubborn, and then he went to the corner where he kept his enormous axe, hefted it on to his shoulder and walked across the valley and into the jungle towards the tree of life.

Akuli followed behind to see if he could avert the flood. And walking one behind the other they soon arrived at that far place, draped in shadows and heavy with perfume, where the Wazacá tree raised its leafy bulk over the roof of the forest and and high above it.

Ma'nápe approached the tree with determination and tested his axe against its impenetrable bark. The axe bounced off the wood without leaving the tiniest sign it had even grazed it.

So Ma'nápe had another go at the Wazacá but this time he intoned in a powerful voice that reverberated through the whole forest:
- Mazapa-yeg, élupa-yeg, makupa-yeg.

With this spell he invoked the mazapa, mamao and cariaca trees, which have very soft wood, to see if the wood of the Wazacá would soften.

No sooner had he said the magic words when the wood of the Wazacá tree became soft and Ma'nápe's axe bit deep into the trunk and started to cut deeper and deeper.

Akuli, meanwhile, became very afraid and begged Ma'nápe again not to try and cut the tree down; but seeing that Ma'nápe was not listening to him, he began frantically collecting bees wax and fruit husks to try and fill the gashes opening up in the tree trunk and see if he could avert the flood that way.

But Ma'nápe continued even faster in his destruction of the tree of life, with his invocations of soft-wood trees.

He named them all - one by one - and then finally he said:
- Palulu-yeg.

The trunk went really soft and the axe went so far into the Wazacá tree that it opened an enormous gash that left it held together only by a sliver at one end, because with those words Ma'nápe had invoked the wood of the papaya tree, which is extremely soft.

Meanwhile, all the brothers had arrived at the spot where Ma'nápe and Akuli were fighting to achieve their contrary wishes. Just at the moment when it looked like Ma'nápe was going to get his wish, there was a furious shout that was heard above all the sounds of the jungle:
- Waina-yeg!

It was Anzikilán, who had run all the way to save the tree of life.
And with his spell, the Wazacá tree suddenly became very hard again because Anzikilán had invoked the wood of the Waina tree, which grows in the highest mountains and whose trunk is as hard as the rocks that form the Euteurimá Waterfall.

The axe was stopped, it could not advance further, but Ma'nápe, blinded by his obsession and without giving up, shouted out again with all his strength:
- Elupa-yeg, palulu-yeg!

And the tree of life, which had its trunk opened up like a huge, deep cavern, was rapidly torn asunder and crashed to the earth, its wide branches thrown out to the winds; its high crown laden with fruit, shaking, its powerful roots, creaking.

In its fall, the Wazacá tree threw up stones and mud, plants, bushes and lianas, and pushed over the trees Élu'yeg and Yaluwazáluima'yeg, forming the mountains called by those names today.

And from its immense trunk, roots and branches was formed the great mountain Roraima, which rises like a giant from the savannah and silently watches as time, suns, moons and people pass by.

The crown of the Wazacá tree, heavy with its fruits, rolled down to the northern side of the mountain, and that is why there are so many plantain trees over there that nobody planted. They are eaten by the evil Mawari spirits, who have their houses on Mount Roraima and other mountains close by.

If the crown of the tree had fallen towards the south, it would be the Arekuna (Pemon) who could enjoy its fruits.

The noise of the Wazacá tree's fall - which reached the furthest corner of the forest and the savannah like a great sigh - had not yet subsided when a huge spout of water shot out of the trunk and began to flood everything, rapidly sweeping past Makunaima and his brothers and battering them with bright drops of water, as sharp as arrows.

The foaming water carried with it thousands of fish and the brothers watched them and tried to catch them but the current was too strong.

The largest fish disappeared immediately from view, leaving only the small ones lagging behind, so that neither Makunaima or the others could catch the ones they most wanted.

And so it was as Akuli had predicted in those far off times: the Earth and men experienced the great flood.

Translated by Russell Maddicks

Pemon Myth 1: The Legend of Makunaima
Pemon Myth 2: The Tree of Life
Auyan-tepui, Angel Falls and Pemon myths
Canaima: Pemon Spirit of Death

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