Thursday, June 25, 2009

CSI: Jungle

The Ye'kwana people are very superstitious, as are many tribal people. The stories are their way to explain the unknown. Some of the beliefs are expected and one can understand why the have the belief. Others are not so easily comprehended and one has to wait until it makes sense to you, or someone in the tribe can reveal it to you in a way that a western mind can grasp. Whichever comes first.

One thing that seems universal among the tribes, is that death is never from a natural cause. Whether the death is of a new born or elder, the death was inevitably caused by witchcraft. You can explain that the baby died from dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea and they will believe you. They also will set out to discover WHO caused the curse of sickness to be placed upon the child, or the elder, or the healthy young man who dies from malaria complications. Someone sent a curse.

And that is when things get interesting! There are so many ways to go about discovering the murderer. Many tests to run, much evidence to study. Many, many hours of discussions around the evening fires. Eventually, it will be discovered.

We once lost a man to yellow fever. He had been very healthy until his bout with the fever. He died one night, quite suddenly. The family was devastated and it was all complicated by the fact that he was from another village. A village where there was a very powerful witch doctor related to the man. This could not be good.

The witch doctor decided there was only one way to determine the killer. The dead man's finger was cut off of the corpse and placed in a kettle of water hung over the cooking fire. A representative of each clan was called to sit in a circle around the fire. As the water began to boil, the severed finger of the dead man began to spin and tumble. This was watched very closely and with baited breath!

Finally, the water boiled off and the finger came to rest on the bottom of the pot. NOW one could clearly see who was guilty for cursing the dead man by sending the yellow fever, for the finger was pointing to the guilty party! Not the actual person, but a member of the clan. NOW the witch doctor would know which village to seek for revenge, which family was the perpetrator. He would be very busy!

The representative of the clan was not guilty as she had married into our clan many years before and could not have been involved, but she was shamed!

The next day the shortwave radio crackled with the news of the results of the finger test. Many denials, many threats, but everyone felt so much better knowing that the yellow fever was sent as a curse and unless they had an enemy, they could relax about becoming sick.

The clan that had been blamed was angered greatly by this accusation, so they requested another test. This required a family member to travel to their village to be present. Interestingly enough, I heard that this test revealed the same guilty party! So another test was to be done. This process could go on for years much as our court system allows for appeals.

Eventually, the family of the dead one will lose interest in the pursuit, send a few hexes out to pay back the murderers, and move on. The anger of the accused will slowly die down, and they will move on. It is all part of the way they deal with their grief. They need to be able to transfer their emotions to another subject in order to get through their days. If it were a Sanema, it would be a very different story as this could be traced back for generations! The family might decide to wait another generation or two before seeking revenge. But rest assured, revenge would be sought!

I witnessed many interesting procedures used in the jungle to determine the guilty parties. I should probably offer my services to the police as an expert to advise the investigators! I have observed how to examine the placenta to determine the biological father of a new born, what is used in a 'love potion', how to curse someone just by using their foot print, and other handy information.

I was even trusted with the evidence and was once asked to freeze the finger of a dead man so that his family could walk over from their village for the boiling finger test...

So, did I, or didn't I ?????


Findalis said...

Perhaps they can start charging Chevez with the witchcraft. It would be interesting to see the tribe blame him for all the deaths in their villages.

I think you would keep the finger. A good will gesture.

Brenda said...

Those stories are fascinating. i personally believe that a frozen finger would not work anymore, so I am hoping you did not keep the finger. Seems futlile ;)

Amanda said...

I bet you froze it up for him. Interesting post!

Gringo said...

Off topic. Have you heard what the Father of the Country said?

Lugo says he will imitate the dictatorship of Chavez.
ND.- A su salida de la sede del Banco Central de Paraguay, el presidente de ese país, Fernando Lugo, dejó escapar un insólito comentario. Según les dijo a los medios de comunicación presentes en el lugar, su gobierno imitará “la dictadura del presidente venezolano, Hugo Chávez”. Quizás, el comentario de Lugo se debió a la criticas que recibe sobre su gestión por parte de los medios de comunica.

HT: Devil's Excrement.

Z said...

Very interesting question;

I hope you didn't....based on faith issues, of course, BUT, I think you might have as a 'good will gesture' like Findalis suggests...out of respect for the culture.
But, with a lecture?

redneck preacher said...

Not as easy a question as first appears. I would "probably" say, no.


Debbie said...

Now, who gave you the finger?

This is fascinating. Of course, our legal system is just as slow and crazy.

Jungle Mom said...

Gringo, I did read that. I do not think he can pull it off here tho. Do you?

MightyMom said...


Gringo said...

JM, I hope he can't,but had you asked me 20 years ago if Thugo could do what he has done, I would have laughed. I remember running into a Venezuelan on the streets of Guatemala City in 1981, with his comparing Venezuela to the military gvt. of Guatemala and the one-party rule in Mexico- totally different from Venezuela, we agreed. Three decades later, the differences are not so much in Venezuela's favor, unfortunately.

It can happen here, it can happen there. One thing which makes it less likely in Paraguay today is that there are a lot of people still living who remember Big Al. He died only a couple of years ago.

It would definitely embarrass the Father of the Country to be told he reminded people of Big Al. If I were in the oppo in Paraguay, I would make that comparison early and often, in addition to giving ample publicity to his Freudian slip.

The OAS "opening" to Cuba shows that contrary to what the Blame America First contingent thinks, the authoritarian streak was deeply embedded in Latin America long before the CIA was invented.

Of course, anyone who knows Latin America realizes the truth of the previous sentence. It's just that the Blame America First crowd is woefully ignorant about Latin America.

Anonymous said...

No way would I keep someone's finger in my freezer. I'd tell them to smoke it. ;-)

Diane J. said...

Wow! That was quite riveting. It's so interesting to hear how different cultures deal with difficult situations.

Don't suppose you could share how to curse someone by their footprint? Just enough of a curse to have a grump decide to move out of the neighborhood. =)

Jungle Mom said...

yes, I remember telling people that Venezuela had one of the most stable democracies in SA.
I don't see a cult following of the Father here as I did of Chavez nor the power from the oil money. The people here are also prone to 'take matters into their own hands' so to speak. But as we see in our own country right now, things can go down hill quickly.
I wish there was a way to communicate with you privately. My husband and I would love to pick your brain about a few things here.:)

Mrs. Reverend Doctor said...

Ok, now you have to tell us how to make the tribal "love potion"

Ashley L. @ Missionary Moms said...

I wanted to stop by to invite you to join in on the second photo challenge at Missionary Moms! The topic this time is “His Beautiful Creation.” Stop by to find out more about the challenge and how to join in on the fun and encouragement!


Kathy said...

What an interesting post! The same exact type of thinking and way of solving problems (with a few minor twists) existed in Africa when my parents were living there. Even when folks had been Christians for many years, they still believed in the powers of the witchdoctors.
R. has been keeping up with what you and Gringo are talking about.

Betty said...

All I can say is "EEwwww"! But I really think you would have frozen it. Did you?