THE WORLD OF THE SHUAR la versíon española la version française

Men with Tsantza, Shuar indians, Ecuador, South America

Isawant Chumpi

"They say I'm 'integrated' because, I'm not speaking the Shuar language right now, but instead, their language, Spanish. Indigenous peoples are integrated through language. We ask ourselves when Spanish speakers will integrate themselves into the reality of this nation by learning to speak our languages."

Ampam Karakras, Shuar, 1984.

THE WHITE-MESTIZO SOCIETY, which we call apach', thought of the jungle as "El Dorado" - a place of fabulous wealth -, a place out of some forgotten savage myth, abundant in trees, animals, and precious metals, but a place without civilization. I, a descendent of the peoples who have inhabited the Amazon basin for generations, have asked myself with pride how it was that we were able to survive in the jungle, so isolated from the rest of the world.

The Shuar, like all other indigenous groups in the region, find in myths an explanation for all natural, social, religious, political, and artistic phenomena that occur day to day. Achieving a balance in the relationships we've established with nature has characterized our culture from the beginning. The Shuar people, with the help of Etsa, triumphed over Iwia, a lazy, gluttonous character in our mythology, who symbolizes the jungle as a serious threat to human beings.


Shuar indian, Ecuador, South AmericaThe elders say this about our early history: One day Etsa, after having killed all the animals of the jungle, discovered that his grandfather was none other than Iwia who had killed his mother, Wanup, long ago, and he decided to avenge her death.
"Dearest grandfather," he said, "I bring you this humming bird, one of the last survivors in the jungle."
"And now what will I eat?" asked Iwia, with his insatiable hunger, and, like somebody taking a breath, he swallowed the tiny hummingbird.
"Guess what, dearest grandfather," said Etsa, "there's a deer eating the seeds of a tree near the garden. Can you prepare the lance for the hunt?"
"Fine," said Iwia. And Etsa went on, "Now ask dearest grandmother to hurry to the garden and to bring some manioc to eat with the deer I'm going to hunt."

The grandmother went to the garden and the grandfather said, "Dearest grandson, I want to hunt the deer." To which Etsa replied, "Let's use this white wapuch banana flower for target practice; whoever proves to have the best aim will hunt the deer." Iwia missed three times, whereas Etsa hit the target on his first try. Etsa went to the garden and killed the grandmother, the wife of Iwia. Blowing on her, he transformed her into a deer, prepared a soup with her, and offered it to Iwia, who slurped it down as fast as he could.

"I'm just going to leave some broth for my wife because I'm very hungry," he said. Iwia inhaled the food, making a plate of meat disappear as though by magic. This is why we Shuar call gluttons Iwia. When the grandfather finished eating, Etsa said to him, "Rest, dearest grandfather, close your eyes." Apparently Iwia followed this suggestion with no discussion and, as he slept, Etsa killed him. However, other grandchildren helped him recover life and freedom. That was the end of Iwia's wife.

They say that the definitive defeat of Iwia came about like this: Etsa prepared a platform of piik in a tree filled with yápit, a fruit the birds eat, and he put Iwia up there so that he might hunt and eat. But instead he lay down and didn't hunt a thing because he expected Etsa to feed him. Etsa got tired of this behaviour. With the help of his brothers, Tatasham, Tirasha', and Mashu, he planned a trap. "Dearest grandfather, you suffer so here. Let's go to the country of the blue Sechanua and Tsunkinua birds so that they might feed you with their large breasts. There you will be happy," said Etsa. "Fine," the grand-father said, delighted. Nevertheless, as they flew, Jatasham let him fall into the water, between two large stones. Iwia remained there with his right arm trapped and the left free, so that he could feed himself the fish he received from Tsunki, the spirit protector of the aquatic world.

We Shuar know that, under the water, Tsunki has made his home, one like those on the surface. There, fish are thought of as chickens, and water tigers like dogs. The tortoises are like kutank' chairs used by Tsunki's children and women, and the shukem' snake is used as a chimpi bench by Tsunki, the head of the family. Iwia remains alive in the depths of the river, and from there he can not leave. Tsunki makes sure he is fed and keeps his instincts under control by means of the shamanic powers he possesses. Even so, when fish are scarce, Iwia complains and his wail echoes like thunder throughout the jungle.

Iwia could turn into an insatiable plunderer, putting an end to the Shuar and all other beings in nature. But he was subjugated by those who knew how to take advantage of his weaknesses, especially his naiveté and his laziness. It is to control Iwia that we have an agreement with Tsunki, who casts a spell on him in order to placate his inhuman instincts so that the world of Etsa -the Shuar people- can live without worrying about his threats. Besides, Tsunki - tsu means to heal- protects us with his shamanic powers, which are appropriated by our doctors, the uwishin, who use them to heal our illnesses when we consult them. At the same time, by means of anent -prayers- we Shuar communicate with Isunki, asking that he provide us with fish.


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