THE HUNT la versíon española la version française


Preparing curare

Extracting curare, Ecuador, South America The liana (Strychnos sp.) is scraped and the shavings kept in a filter made of a leaf; then water warmed in the mouth is poured over it. The liquid passes through the shavings, picking up the curare, which is collected in a bowl made of a gourd at the other end of the filter.

Boiling the curare extract, Ecuador, South America Finally, by boiling the curare extract the liquid is reduced to a thick, black paste into which the darts are dipped.

Darts recently treated with curare, Ecuador, South America Darts recently treated with curare drying next to the fire.

The elaboration of the curare it is an exclusively masculine activity that is carried out in the forest, in a small shed built for the circumstance at certain distance of the house. During the whole duration of the elaboration of the poison, the surroundings of that shed are strictly forbidden to the women and the children. Once gathered, the different ingredients cook on slow fire in a pot of mud (ichinkian); after a whole day the decoction acquires the sticky consistency and the intense black color, characteristic of the tseas. During the cooking, the men sing some special anent dedicated to fortify the curare. These enchantments are directed to the tseas in the way to order it that it drinks the blood of the animals against which is used, reciting each species to be hunt one after another. The production of poison also demands a rigorous fast and a total sexual abstinence during the gathering of the ingredients and during it's cooking. Such dispositions are same in all the activities whose success is considered difficult to achieve.

As during certain phases of the horticultural work, the effectiveness of the curare is also bound to the respect of nutritious prohibitions not only imposed the man that elaborates it, but to all the members of his family. During the production of the tseas and during the minimum time of one week after elaboration, it is forbidden to all the people of the house to consume sugary foods, especially sugarcane and papayas. The logic of the contrary works here clearly, since those two fruits are the grate antidotes of the curare and they should be absorbed in big quantities to counteract the effects in the event of accident of manipulation. Although it becomes less urgent once past the time of regulation, this prohibition of sugared food stays partially valid for the user of the curare. Indeed, the hunters practically never eat sugary foods and they abstain from consuming honey, the tasting of that nectar is reserved to women and children from then on. It is said that the honey weakens the poison and lungs, with it one loses a force to blow, making impossible the use a blowpipe.

At the other end of the flavors fan, it is equally forbidden to all to eat with salt the preys killed with curare so that the poison doesn't lose its vigor. There is an identical prohibition with respect to the use of the hot pepper during the making of the tseas. It seems because that the condiment, symbols par excellence of the cultural aspect of the culinary preparations, is hopelessly antithetical to curare. In this case it would be necessary to look for the logic of the taboo rather in the annulment it reciprocates of the effects that it produces the conjunction of substances structurally isomorphic. Indeed, the hunt poison is thought in the Amerindian cultures as an intrusion of nature in the culture, a natural product making possible a cultural activity. Now from that point of view, the spices possess the same properties and it seems appropriate that the salt and the pepper neutralize the natural effectiveness of the curare. The tseas, the same as the blowpipe, it is perceived by the Achuar, as an autonomous being, of behavior sometimes capricious, and it suits to not hurt it's susceptibility. When a hunt poison loses its power, almost always, they say, because a taboo has not been respected, it is necessary to sing to curare some anent to stimulate again its thirst for animal blood. And in the measure that the tseas feeds on the blood of the pray, it doesn't suit to use it against non-comestible animals, because the absorption of nauseous blood would make it sick and consequently unusable.

Perhaps because it is almost impossible to make sure that all the members of the house have respected the nutritious prohibitions linked to the production of the curare, the Achuar attributes to the hunt poison coming from Peru a better effectiveness to the poison which they elaborate themselves. The general practice consists of acquiring Peruvian curare to mix it half and half with tseas of local production. With the salt, the curare is an object, for a long time, of a very active interregional trade in the whole High Amazons and the Achuar occupy a strategic position in it's diffusion toward the Shuar that don't manufacture it themselves. According to the Achuar, the best curare comes at the moment from the Llamistas of the Mayo River and of the region of Iquitos, where it is manufactured in great scale by specialized artisans. Different circuits move the product then until the Peruvian Achuar where it spreads by means of partners' chains among the Achuar of the Ecuador. These in turn supply the Shuar, providing them a mixture of Peruvian curare and curare of local production. Parallel to those indigenous exchange nets, the curare it is also negotiated by mestizo itinerants merchants (retailers) that on both sides of the frontier carry out exchanges. The Peruvian curare is a very expensive product, especially since the retailers were able to make it an important part of their commercial diffusion. To the north of Pastaza the exchange rate fixed by the itinerants merchants of Montalvo for a tablespoon of Peruvian curare is twenty pecarí skins. It is necessary to recognize that this quantity allows, alone, anointing some sixty arrows, and even much more if it is mixed with a local tseas.

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