A long time ago, people lived in the skies until a hunter found a window that led him to discover another beautiful world. In the afterword, we explore the beliefs of the Warao people. We finalize with a second story that assures that the ancestors came from the underworld.
1. Digital PDF: Mitos fundantes en la fuerza espiritual de los Warao de Venezuela escrito por Jenny González Muñoz. Publicado en Patrimonio y Memoria São Paulo, Unesp, v. 10, n. 2, p. 91-106, julho-dezembro, 2014.
2. Tales from the Rain Forest. Myths and Legends from the Amazonian Indians of Brazil. Retold by Mercedes Dotson and Jeanne Wilson. Published by Ecco Press.
3. Digital PDF: Mitos de creación de la cuenca del Orinoco por Ronny Velázquez. Publicado por Fundación Editorial El perro y la rana, 2017 (digital)
4. Digital PDF: The Orinoco Delta. Land of the Warao. Cultural Heritage Conservation and Sustainability, texto por Laura Ruiz
When the ancestors came from the sky
Adapted by Carolina Quiroga-Stultz
In the beginning, there was not a single person on earth, only animals and plants. All the Warao’s ancestors lived somewhere in the skies, in the Kuimare, the sea above, where they never died.
It is said that the first grandfather of the Warao people was Auralá, and he was the chief of the people that lived above. Auralá had a good friend, Etoare, also known as “good arm,” because he was very talented with his bow and arrow.
One day when Etoare came to visit Auralá, young Etoare complained: Auralá, we are always having trouble around here. Lately, we don't even find any good food. There is no longer Morocoto fish, or lapa (a rodent that resembles a bunny) or moriche fruit (a fruit that comes from the Moriche palm). We can only eat yuca.
While both friends were talking and thinking about what they should do about that pressing situation, a bird perched itself on a nearby tree. At that moment Auralá said: Etoare look at that bird, use your good arm and hunt that bird. We might have something to eat tonight.
Etoare grabbed an arrow, placed it in the bow, aimed at its target, and then he shot the arrow, but he missed. The arrow landed in a conuco, the small cultivated field. Without giving up, Etoare pulled out another arrow, placed in it in the bow, and aimed again. But he missed his target; the bird flew away. Since Etoare did not have more arrows to shoot, he went to look for the missing arrows.
When he found the second arrow, not too far away from where the first one had landed, Etoare tried to pull out the arrow from the ground. But as he did the arrow simply sank into the soil.
Again, Etoare tried to pull the arrow out. This time holding it with both hands, and placing both feet on the ground. And when he went to pull with all his strength, the arrow did not come out; on the contrary, it sank deeper into the ground.
Etoare ended up with both arms almost buried in the ground. Carefully he pulled out his arms, and was surprised to see that the hole that he had just dug out with his arrow, and arms was like a window, through which he could see another world – a world down below with trees animals and plants. It was a beautiful and plentiful Orinoco.
Curious about the discovery, Etoare went to ask his good friend Auralá for pita cord from his chinchorro, his hammock. So, he could make a rope. Etoare simply told his friend that he was going to retrieve the arrow that had fallen on the other side.
When he came back to the hole, Etoare realized that it had gotten bigger. So, he tied the rope around a big, and sturdy tree, and made several knots in the rope so he could rest his feet on the descent. Then he dropped the other end of the rope through the hole.
Next Etoare began to climb down the rope. At first, he contemplated a beautiful sky with birds that he knew, and others that he had never seen before.
Once his feet were on that new ground, Etoare realized that, on this side, there were plenty of morocotos fish, acures or hamsters, and even plenty of moriche fruit.
After walking around this new land, Etoare hunted some animals, and cooked them to take them back home so he could feed his people. Then he climbed up the rope towards the Kuimare, the sea above. Once he was back home, he told everyone who had gathered around the hole the good news about that wonderful discovery he had made.
- Dear friends you all know that we are having a hard time here, that there is hardly any food to feed us, but I have found a new place with all kinds of food! We should go there! We should abandon this world!
Next Etoare began to hand out the food he had brought from that other place. Now that everybody had their bellies full, there were no doubts. So, they all agreed to wait until the next day to make the trip together. In the meantime, they were going to make some provisions for the trip by cutting some yuca.
The very next day the youngest, and strongest of all the men, and women began to climb down the rope carrying their chinchorros, their hammocks. They began to contemplate the beautiful blue skies, and the wonderful, and plentiful land that awaited down below.
Etoare was the first one to go down followed by young women, children, and healthy and strong men. The elders, and the weak or those who needed extra help stayed behind to climb down last. However, no one had thought about one detail. The hole was big enough for an average size adult but not for someone who had some extra pounds or was a pregnant lady. The truth is that most of the people were so thin because they hadn't eaten well for a long time. And even though the pregnant lady was quite slim, still she was huskier than the rest.
Carefully the pregnant lady tried to make her body fit, but only her legs could get through. Unfortunately, her big belly got stuck. Grandfather Auralá and all those who hadn't climbed down the rope tried to push her, and when that didn’t work, they tried to pull her out, but she was stuck like a cork. And that is why Auralá, and all the other elders could not go through the hole to that new world. They were stuck in the Kuimare, the sea above.
Those who had stayed behind began to complain, and lament their fate, and blamed the poor pregnant woman. Months later, when she gave birth, she and her baby became the constellation Ursa Major. While the other people that remained in the skies altogether became the planet Venus, however, some may say that it happened the other way.
They cried so much about their misfortune that they began to curse, that they became jebus, evil spirits. For example one became diarrhea, another one vomit and so on. One by one, each became a disease.
Those spirits were so angry for they hadn’t been able to go down like the rest of the Warao people, that they swore to make the life of those who did make it to the other side as miserable as possible.
The Waraos say that if everyone had been able to climb down the rope, today we would not have diseases or death. And that is why shamans known as wisidatu or piaches, are so important in the Warao culture because they are the only ones, who can put those resentful jebus or spirits in their place.
And even in the present day, the Jebus do what they can to remind us that we left them behind a long time ago. And that because of that they missed the opportunity of enjoying the generous earth that gives us fresh water, and fruit to quench our thirsts as well as edible plants, and trees such as the Moriches from which we can make hammocks.
So, I think that we should always be grateful that our ancestors made it to this side. Otherwise, you, and I would have turned into jebus, mean spirits.
Y colorin colorado este cuento se ha acabado. The end.
Very well dear listeners let's talk about the Warao people, and stay tuned because e later I will be telling another myth of creation about how the people came to the underworld.
The Warao is an indigenous group of people located in Venezuela. They inhabit the delta of the Orinoco River in a small town called Mosú, in the state of Monagas. However, the Warao can also be found in what is today the countries of Guyan,a and Suriname. Today there are more than 45,000 Waraos.
The name Warao means “canoe dwellers” because of a big part of their lives are dedicated to the navigation of the Orinoco river, and other water tributaries.
Archaeological remains place the Warao people on the territory of the Delta of the Orinoco for over 8000 years. Nonetheless, their oral legends talk of geological events like an isthmus that joint Venezuela with the island of Trinidad in the North over 14,000 years ago.
It is also said that the Warao are the only indigenous Venezuelan ethnic group to have survived with their culture intact during the Spanish conquest, and the Christianization of the region. The survival of their culture was only possible due to their remote locatio,n and their pacific nature.
For instance, in the past, they chose to move away, and avoid confrontation with other groups such as the Arawaks, and Caribs. Because these groups were such fearless hunters, and warriors that they fought against the Spanish occupation of their lands until their own extinction.
By contrast, some records show that in the 1700s when the Christian missionaries arrived, they lived peacefully among the Warao. They lived in such harmony that the Warao’s even let the Capuchins missionaries to persuade their women to cover themselves. What is today the traditional Warao gown, was introduced by these friars in response to their nudity.
The major Warao deity is Kuai Mare or “the happy one who lives up there,” and when he walks, he makes the earth shake and when he uncovers his face the Orinoco river floods.
Other versions of the myth that you heard at the beginning, have the hunter going after an armadillo, not a bird, and when the armadillo went into a hole on the ground, the hunter tried to dig it out, and that is how that man fell from the skies to this new land. Similarly, it is mentioned that the rope the people used to climb down to the new place was made of cotton, not pita cord.
Now let's talk about those people that got stuck in the place above, the jebus the spirits or etheral entities that inhabit everything in the world, their objects, and their craftsmanship.
To the Warao the jebus have reasoning and will, and they can be good, bad, or neutral towards humans. Therefore, all the actions of the community are like rituals that aim for balance. In other words, they try to make sure that the spirits don't get angrier, and on the contrary, are satisfied.
There is so much more than I could tell you about that this very interesting group of people, and their fascinating culture. I could talk about how, like many other native cultures across the Americas, they are under threat by governments that do not respect their rights, but I would instead ask you to consult the sources, and links that I'm providing in the transcript.
In the meantime, I rather tell you another myth.
The following cuento comes from the Matto Grosso region in Brazil. This myth is pretty much the opposite of the Warao’s myth. You can find this story in the book Tales from the Rainforest: Myths, and Legends from the Amazonian Indians of Brazil retold by Mercedes Dorson and Jeannie Milmot.
Myth 2 - When the ancestors came from underground
Long ago there were two sorcerers: Aroteh and Tovapod. They shared a hut by a clearing where there was plenty of maize, sweet potatoes, papayas, peanuts, cassava, guavas, and more. The sorcerers kept the corn in small amounts around the hut.
It happens that one-day Aroteh noticed that the harvest was being depleted. He spoke to Tovapod, and they agreed to take turns hiding, and watching who the culprit was.
That night after Aroteh had finished his shift, and had gone to sleep, Tovapod saw with amazement an arm reaching up behind one of the calabashes. Then he saw a beautiful woman standing up going towards the corn, and guava. Then as suddenly as she had materialized, she disappeared.
Soon after, Tovapod approached the area where the mysterious woman had been. There, he discovered something more striking. There was a hole on the ground where there were human arms reaching out through it. He thought that only very small people could pass through the hole because there was a huge boulder closing off the opening that seemed to be an underground world.
The sorcerer kneeled, and tried to enlarge the opening, but at that moment the arms drew back. Next, he began to dig in the dark, but the boulder was settled so firmly over the hole that he clearly couldn't do the task alone.
So Tovapod went to tell Aroteh about that underground world, and about those people who none of the sorcerers knew about. Aroteh suggested that they should ask the wind to help move the boulder out of the way. And that is how the wind began to blow as strong as it could over the backs of both sorcerers, pushing them so hard they were able to move the boulder out of the way.
The sorcerers were amazed by what they saw. Beneath the earth lived hundreds of people with fingers webbed together like duck’s feet, long chins, and horns on tops of their heads, and with long noses, and sharp teeth. Some were so ugly that they even had tails, and they looked more like animals than people.
Aroteh asked the people to come to the surface. Those strange people explained through their rudimentary language of signs, and grunts that they had been living underground for generations, always suffering because of lack of food. If it weren't for that woman, and the children who were slim enough to pass through the hole, and returning with food, they all would have died from starvation.
Tovapod and Aroteh took on the task of reshaping the fingers, and teeth of those strange people so they all would look more normal. Those who had horns or tails, had them carefully removed by the sorcerers. Then, the sorcerers taught the people music and language. Some people stayed, but others chose to travel to the new lands the sorcerers had stretched out before them. And, in time, those who left created their tribes, languages, and songs.
Just as many have done over the centuries, when they decided to leave their beloved lands in search of better opportunities or just with the hope of finding peace.
And this is all for now Tres Cuentos tells you that from wherever we all come from either is it the sky, the underworld or from another world in the end we all going to go to the same place. So, we better enjoy, share and take care of this beautiful planet we are living in, I doubt we will find another plentiful world like this one. And with this last cuento we finalize the series on Myths of Creation. In April we will come back with Tres Cuentos from three different Latin American authors.
Until the next cuento, adios.
Running_Through_The_Forest – Doug Maxwell, Media Right Productions
Magical_Forest – Sir Cubworth
The_Curious_Kitten – Aaron Kenny
Magical_Dirt – Sir Cubworth
Fond_Memories – SYBS
We_Were_Once_Kings – Silent Partner
TipToes – Myuu
Sneaky_Business – Biz Baz Studio
Distant_Lands - Hanu Dixit
Lurking in the shadows - Myuu