An Achuar girl, with her grandmother’s help, will do what no one else dared to do, stop the war. But the final decision depends on her community. In the afterword, we talk about the Ashuar people that live in the Amazon Rain Forest, and we finalize with a riddle.
Sources: 1. Verde fue mi Selva (Once my Forest was Green), by Edna Iturralde. Published by Alfaguara Infantil. 1998.
[You can find the book in English - however this text is not the source of this transcription]: Green Was my Forest, by Edna Iturralde. Translated by Jessica Powell. Mandel Vilar Press, 2018
2. Web: http://www.pachamama.org/achuar
Meset - War
By Edna Iturralde This version was translated, and adapted by Carolina Quiroga Stultz
Meset! Meset! Meset! War! War! War!
These were the words little Tetsem, a little achuar girl heard while hiding in the darkness. The word Meset was repeated several times by Kamantan, the sorcerer of her tribe, while discussing the pressing matter with the other men in the cabin.
Tetsem thought that as the sorcerer was pronouncing that word with such hate, it seemed to bounce from mouth to mouth like a rubber ball on fire. The door was opened, letting the shadowy silhouette of the sorcerer Kamantan be seeing standing by the entrance. At the same time, the girl would have sworn that she saw a red fire ball, like a lit-up piece of coal, rushing out of the cabin heading towards the forest, furiously crossing the trees.
Tetsem’s heart was now beating wildly, and she felt a sticky chill running down her body. She was sure that that fire ball was the same word meset, war.
She knew that words are very important and should be handled with care; especially a word such as War! Surely after the adults had passed the word from mouth to mouth, it had become alive, and now as a fire ball, the word was heading to all corners of the forest.
It was three in the morning, time for the guayusa, the moment in which the Ashuar people sit to discuss all important matters while drinking the medicinal waters.
Tetsem came out from behind some wood logs, where she had been hiding, and listening to the adults talk. She thought how much that word, meset, war, scared her. It wasn’t like she was a coward. She was just as brave as her brothers, but the whole idea of getting into another war was very discouraging.
Tetsem walked slowly to the other side of the house, to the ekent, the space reserved for women. Where some of them were already preparing breakfast.
The girl sat by the burner, and grabbed a piece of delicious fried yuca served on a plantain leave, and began to eat, and think.
Tetsem remembered that two days ago the oldest brother of the sorcerer had died. Kamantan swore that his brother had visited him in a dream, and had blamed the neighboring tribe for his sudden death. He had been bewitched, and now he was calling for revenge.
As Tetsem was reflecting on the recent events, and motives of the sorcerer, the women had begun to prepare the paint that the men of her tribe would be wearing on their skins during the upcoming war. The cooks were grinding the achiote seeds in a stone mortar, and mixing them with grease while singing war songs.
Even the bird, Tiinkshikia, sang au, au, au, everything shakes, it all goes dark, au, au, au, au, war will soon break.
Outside the warriors were getting ready with their rifles, slingshots, arrows, and spears. That day no one would go out to hunt or work.
Some of the men were saying: wi, wi, wi, uuuuuuu, uuuuu, uuuuuuu, jai, jai, jai, wi, wi, wi, I don’t know what fear is! I’m ready for war to begin!
In that moment the girl heard her mother’s call: Tetsem, where are you? Why aren’t you helping?
The girl did not reply. She came closer to a hole on the cane wall, and peered through it, and saw her father, who had already painted his face with red lines across, and was putting curare, a deadly poison, on the tip of his arrows. Other men were adjusting their feathered headbands with solemn, and worried expressions on their faces.
The girl scratched the wall with her finger nail making the small hole bigger. She saw her younger brothers sharpening their machetes. The blades emitted sparks of fire. Tetsem remembered the fireball that she had seen hours ago. What would happen if someone could stop the fireball? Could the war be stopped? But could she do it?
Preparations for the war we're far advanced. No one would dare to say anything against that, or he could risk being called a coward.
Tetsem pondered the option,s and thought that she could try it. All she had to do was to find the path the fire ball had taken, and stop it. The girl emptied the basket containing the yuca, and put it on her back. Then she began to run,, and passed in her way all the farms until she made it to the forest. She knew she did not have much time, perhaps just a day and a night. The men we're just finishing putting up the wenuk, the small fort, then they would be ready to march.
When Tetsem saw that no one was following her, and that she was far away from home, she stopped running and looked around. Now she needed to decide which way to go. When she was about to choose, from the bushes came out a deer with big wise eyes, who said: Tetsem, My beautiful hummingbird
Surprised the girl looked at the one who had spoken. It was a deer. Could that be her grandmothers’ spirit? Only her grandmother would call her hummingbird. Of course, everybody knew that when an Achuar dies they become deer.
Tetsem: Nukuchiru! Grandma! Exclaimed the little girl while throwing her arms around the deer’s neck.
Grandmother Deer: I know what is going through your heart, and I know what you should do. Like you, I do not like the war.
Tetsem: How can I stop meset?
Grandmother Deer: First you need to find the word war, and then bring it back to those who first pronounced it. Only they can destroy it.
Tetsem: But Nukuchiru! they all want the war grandma deer.
Grandmother Deer: Don't be so sure my little hummingbird, don't be so sure!
For a while they walked through the forest until they heard the first cry. It was señora araña, miss spider.
Spider: Ay! Ay! I will have to start all over again! Ay! Ay!
Tetsem: What happened señora araña with your house?
Spider: Oh! well I have so many enemies but no one like this one. I was calmly sitting here minding my own business, just waiting for a mosquito to fall in my brand-new web, but then all of a sudden, a furious, hot, red fireball burned my web to a crisp. Luckily, I was able to hold on to a leaf, otherwise I would not be talking to you right now. Ay! Ay!
Tetsem and Grandma deer felt sorry for señora araña, and knew that the fireball couldn't be far. They went down a muddy path, and arrived at a river that seemed to be covered by a wool blanket. Then they heard a pitiful cry. It was the bamboo like, wawa trees lamenting their sad fate by the river-shore.
Trees: Our beautiful flowers! It took away our beautiful flowers!
Tetsem understood that the tree’s flowers where like wool cottons, and they must had been brushed away from the trees, and ended up on the river. After asking the trees who did it, their suspicions where confirmed.
Trees:- it was not an ax, surely it was not a machete, it was something that we had never seen before. Something that came all of a sudden, a furious, hot, red fireball, beat us over and over again right before crossing the river and flying away!
The girl and the deer crossed the shallow river. They knew they were coming closer; they just need to follow the path of the burned leaves. The night was falling over the forest, soon they were surrounded by darkness. As they stopped, they heard voices from a nearby village.
Tetsem: Oh no! we should stop meset before it gets to that village. But where could it be?
Grandmother Deer: Look through the trees
Tetsem turned her face towards the bushes and saw something that seemed to be breathing a red light. The girl knew it was the fireball. She got so scared that her first instinct was to say: It’s meset! We should run! it can burn us to a crisp.
But grandma deer put herself between the girl and the path, stopping her from running away and said: No, Tetsem! Remember what you came to do! You were the only one who dared to think differently, you can do it!
Tetsem: But gramma deer, I am just a little girl, and I am very afraid, what can I do?
Grandmother Deer: You can catch that fireball with your (pitiak)basket. Approach it carefully, keep your mouth closed, and do not hesitate –for if it feels you hesitating it can get in your mouth, and make you change your mind.
Tetsem walked slowly towards the red light. It was right there in the middle of a clearing huffing and puffing. It seemed as if it was resting, and recovering in order to renew its vengeful mission again.
The girl ducked and kept approaching. When she was close enough, she closed her mouth and, in a fast and skillful move, she trapped the fireball inside her basket, and held it against her chest. The fireball was furious, and began to bounce back and forth inside the basket trying to escape.
Grandmother Deer: Quickly dear girl, jump over my back I will give you a ride back home!
While both were riding back, the leaves, and branches of the trees began to slap the girl’s face. Despite how much it hurt she kept her mouth closed. Not a single sound or complaint came out of her mouth.
In the meantime, the men and women in her village had continued with the preparations. It was past midnight when Tetsem and grandma deer made it back to the village. They said goodbye to each other, and then the girl walked to the sorcerer’s cabin. She could hear the voices of people inside, preparing to drink the Guayusa. Before she was able to open the door, Kamantan the sorcerer appeared blocking the entrance.
Sorcerer: What do you want niña?
Tetsem: I have something to show to the elders.
Sorcerer: very well come on in, it had better be worth it
As she came in, she saw all the men and some of the women from the village sitting around the fire inside the cabin. Among the adults she saw her father who immediately asked her: Tetsem, what do you have inside your pitiak, basket?
Without saying another word, the little girl simply opened the basket, and as she did the furious, hot and red fireball came out, and began to bounce against the walls of the cabin, until at last it hung from the roof, like a vampire waiting for its victims.
As the people were covering their heads afraid, they would be burned, they all heard an echo: Meset! Meset! War! War!
Kamantan, the sorcerer shouted out loud: Why did you bring it back?
Tetsem: To stop the war!
Sorcerer: Hahaha ignorant creature. You can’t stop the war. Don’t you see that we are ready to fight? That we all want the war? We all want meset!
In that moment, the little girl began to look around at the faces of all those adults hoping that one of them would join her, but they were all afraid. But just when she thought that her journey had been in vain, she heard a familiar voice saying: Not everybody!
It was the voice of her oldest brother, who had come and was standing in between the sorcerer and little Tetsem. Then she heard her mother saying: Not everybody!
Next, she heard her father saying: Not everybody!
Soon everybody in the room was shouting aloud: Not everybody!
While they were all repeating “not everybody,” the furious, hot and red fireball began to shrink, and get colder, shrink and get colder. Soon its bright color had faded, and it fell on the ground. Tetsem went to pick it up, and it was just a tiny wrinkled piece of charcoal. She placed it on her palm, and then with her other hand she crushed it. Oh, everyone was relieved. Truly no one wanted the war.
As the little girl walked out the cabin, people began to laugh with joy. Tetsem walked, and stood in front of the wenuk, the fortress the people had built to defend themselves from their neighbors. Right there, the girl opened her hand and blew the ashes off, as she did the fortress fell to the ground.
As the sun began to rise, the girl sang: Wi, wi, wi, wi, yo, yo, yo, nothing is impossible, wi, wi, uuu, uuu, jai, jai, jai
Y colorin colorado este cuento se ha acabado, the end!
Very well my dear listeners let’s briefly talk about the Ashuar people from which Edna Iturralde the author of this beautiful story found her inspiration.
The Achuar are a group of indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin, and there are currently around 6,000 Achuar. Their ancestral lands – nearly 2 million acres in all – are in between borders of what is today the countries of Ecuador and Peru, in South America. Can you find them in the map?
The Achuar live in a remote area that has allowed them to preserve their way of life with little outside influence or colonization.
All aspects of their culture are spirituality oriented around dreams and visions. Most of their rituals help them to access dreams, and integrate them into their daily lives. Shamans play a central role in the Achuar ceremonial life and community health.
Throughout their history, the Achuar have been self-sufficient, and autonomous, sustaining their family groups through hunting and gardening. Once they were semi-nomadic people, most Achuar now live in small villages, a result of contact with Christian missionaries around the 1960s.
Due to the exploitation of foreign oil companies, the Achuar people have been excluded from their lands, but they have joined efforts with different organizations, and other Amazonian groups to work protecting the Amazon Rain Forest, that by the way is the lungs of our planet.
And in that effort, the Ecuador's Waorani indigenous tribe, another group of native south Americans, won their first victory Friday, last Friday 26 of April, against big oil companies in a ruling that blocks the companies' entry onto ancestral Amazonian lands for oil exploration activities.
So, kudos to these people who are working hard to keep our planet alive. The question now is what are we doing to help? Remember that this planet will be inherited by all those who are now young. What are we adults doing to guarantee that our children enjoy a healthy living world? Tell us more about your efforts, remember every action, no matter how small it counts! Leave us a comment on our Facebook Tres Cuentos Podcast.
And how about a riddle. If you know the answer, go ahead and post it on our Facebook!
What has legs but cannot walk, has food on his back, and can’t even lunch?
Very well dear listeners, this is all for now, Tres Cuentos tells you that live is more enjoyable if we find peaceful and creative ways to resolve our conflicts.
In our next episode we will meet two children that went after a shiny ball and one of them almost turned into a doll.
Until the next cuento, adios, adios.
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