Fire

(Apinayé)

A man found an arara nest with two young birds in a cave in a high and vertical cliff. He took his little brother-in-law along, chopped down a tree, leaned it against the wall of rock, and bade the boy climb up to the nest and catch the young ones. The boy went up, but as soon as he stretched out his hand toward the young araras, the parent birds rushed at him with fierce screams, so that he got frightened and did not dare to grasp them. Then the man got angry, knocked the tree aside, and left.

The boy, unable to descend without the tree, remained sitting by the nest for five days. He nearly died of thirst and hunger. From time to time he would softly sing: “Oh, brother-in-law, give me some drink!” He was completely covered by the droppings of the araras and swallows that flew above him.

Then a jaguar came past the foot of the cliff. He saw the boy’s shadow moving, and rushed up to seize it, but only caught the air. He waited till the boy again moved and again tried to seize his shadow, but in vain. Then the boy spat down, and now the jaguar raised his head and saw him. “What are you doing up there?” he asked. The boy told about how his brother-in-law had left him. “What is in the hole?” asked the jaguar. “Young araras,” answered the boy. “Then throw them down!” ordered the jaguar. The boy threw down one of them, which the jaguar immediately devoured. “Was there only one young one?” he then asked. “No,” was the answer, “there is a second one.” “Then, throw it down, too,” commanded the jaguar again, and when the boy had obeyed he ate up the second one, too.

Then the jaguar brought the tree there, placed it against the rock, and asked the boy to step down. He began to climb down the trunk, but when quite close to the ground he got scared: “You are going to eat me up!” he cried, and hurriedly climbed up again. “No,” the jaguar quieted him, “come down, I’ll give you water to drink.” Three times the boy almost got down, and three times his fear of the jaguar drove him back. At last, however, he climbed down all the way.

The jaguar took him on his back and carried him to a creek. The boy drank till he remained lying there and fell asleep. At last the jaguar pinched his arm and awakened him. He washed the dirt off him and said that, having no children, he would take him home as his son.

In the jaguar’s house a long jatoba trunk was lying, which was burning at one end. While the Indians of that time ate only flesh dried in the sun, the jaguar had quantities of roast game. “What is smoking there?” asked the boy. “That is fire,” answered the jaguar. “What is fire?” asked the boy. “You will find out at night when it warms you,” the jaguar explained. Then he gave roast meat to the boy, who ate till he fell asleep. He slept till midnight; then he woke up, ate again, and then again fell asleep.

Before daybreak the jaguar went hunting. The boy followed him some distance, then climbed a tree on the road, where he waited for the jaguar to return. But toward noon he got hungry, returned to the jaguar’s house, and begged his wife for food. “What?” she shouted, turned round toward the boy and, pointing at her teeth, said, “Look here!” The boy cried out from fear and ran back to the tree, where he waited for the jaguar, to whom he told about the occurrence. The jaguar took him back home and scolded his wife: “I told you not to frighten my son!” His wife excused herself, saying she had been merely jesting.

The next morning the jaguar made a bow and arrow for the boy. He took him outside and told him to shoot at a termite nest. He did, and the arrow pierced the nest. Then the jaguar ordered him to kill his wife with the arrow if she threatened him again, but to make sure of his aim. Then he again went hunting.

At noon the boy got hungry again, went home, and asked the jaguar’s wife for a piece of roast flesh. But instead of answering, she threatened him with her claws and teeth. Then he aimed at her, and now she cried in alarm, “Hold on! I’ll give you something to eat!” But the boy shot the arrow at her side so that it came out on the other side. Then he ran off, while she sank down with a roar. For awhile he heard her roaring, then nothing was to be heard.

He met the jaguar and told him he had killed his wife. “That does not matter,” answered he. At home he gave the boy a lot of roast meat in addition and told him to follow along the creek, then he would be sure to reach his tribe. But he was to be on guard: if a rock or the aroeira tree called him, he should answer; but he was to keep still if he heard the gentle call of a rotten tree. In two days he was to return and fetch the fire.

The boy moved along the brook. After a while he heard the rock shout and answered. Then he heard the call of the aroeira and again answered. Then a rotten tree cried out, and the boy, forgetting the jaguar’s warning, answered it too. That is why men are shortlived; if he had answered only the first two, they would enjoy as long life as the rocks and the aroeira trees.

After a while the boy again heard a cry and answered. It was Megalo-kamdure [megalo means ‘image, shade, soul of dead, bull-roarer’]. He came up and asked the boy, “Whom are you calling?” “I am calling my father,” answered he. “Am not I your father?” “No, my father looks quite different, he has long hair.” Then after a while Megalo-kamdure went away and returned after a while with long hair, pretending he was the boy’s father. But the boy refused to recognize him because his father had big ear-plugs. Again Megalo-kamdure went away and soon after returned with what had been missing, but the boy still insisted he did not look like his father. “Are you not by chance Megalo-kamdure?” he asked. Then the man seized him and wrestled with him till he was quite worn out, whereupon he put the boy into his big carrying-basket and went home with his burden.

On the way Megalo-kamdure noticed on a tree a flock of coatis (Nasua socialis). He set down his basket, shook the coatis down, killed them, and packed them all on top of the boy in the basket. Then he took this on his back again by means of a tumpline. Then the boy, who had somewhat recovered in the meantime, called to him to make a trail through the woods first so he could carry the load better. Megalo-kamdure accepted the suggestion, set down his basket, and cleared the road. In the meantime the boy slipped out, laid a heavy stone on the bottom of the basket, packed the coatis on top, and hurried away.

Megalo-kamdure, having finished his job, came back to his basket and picked it up, but found it still very heavy. But at last he got home with his burden. He set the basket down and said to his numerous children, “There, I have brought a nice little bird!” Then one child took out a coati, raised it and asked, “Is this it?” “No,” answered Megalo-kamdure. The child took out another, “This?” “No.” Then he took out all of them, one by one, and got to the stone. “Now there is only a stone here!” “Then I must have lost it on the way,” said Megalo-kamdure, and went back to look for it. But he found nothing, for the boy had long since made his escape.

Back in his village, he told about his adventures with the jaguar and Megalo-kamdure. “Now let us all fetch the fire so we need not eat raw food any more!” he concluded. Then various animals came to offer their help: first the jaho (Grypturus sp.), but they sent him away because he was too weak; he was to run in the rear and extinguish what blaze fell off. The jacu (Penelope marail) was also spurned; but the tapir was considered strong enough to carry the tree.

When the Indians, led by the boy, got to the jaguar’s house, he gave them the fire. “I have adopted your son,” he said to the boy’s father. Then the tapir carried the burning log to the village. The jacu, running after him with the jaho, swallowed a live coal that had fallen and thus got his red throat.

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