Little Sun, Part Two
P. G. Hurh
March 17, 1994 08:31:22
I've just returned from my first trip to the Mayoruna village! It happened suddenly after one of Tantu's lessons yesterday afternoon. The experience remains dreamlike in my mind, perhaps because I actually slept there, in the village! Not until I began the return trip through the steaming morning did I even think about how I would record the experience. It would probably make more sense to start recording my thoughts in the official journals, but it seems easier and will probably be a more vivid account if I write it here first, as if I'm talking to you.
I met Tantu in Bolognesi early in the afternoon, he was by the boat dock as usual, looking for "parts." I was there to give the boat hands a stack of letters and packages that I wanted mailed from Leticia. (Yes, one of them is for you, maybe that handwritten note will be too hard for you to ignore....) The crew took the mail and I stepped back and looked for Tantu. Instead of squatting over discarded, broken log clasps and tabs of rusted iron, he was standing among a small group of loggers near where the heavy-timbered dock met the river shore. His head was bobbing swiftly so I could tell he was talking to them and, when a logger produced a long package from an orange duffel bag, Tantu's form bent to the ground to study it.
By the time I had walked over, the group was dispersing. I shouldered my way through the loggers who were headed back along the dock to the boat behind me. Tantu was standing with his back to me, the long package now in his hands. He grasped it near the center and, when the edge of the rough cloth that bound the package flipped off one of the protruding ends, I saw the dull gleam of a rifle barrel.
He turned to face me. He pushed the gun at me and said, "See? Here is our gun." I took the rifle from him. It was heavier than I thought it would be and I almost dropped it as the weight shifted inside the scratchy cloth. Tantu grabbed it back and, holding the gun in one hand, waggled a finger at me. "Careful," he said seriously.
"You be careful, Tantu. That is a dangerous weapon. What will you use it for? Hunting?" I wanted to hear him say yes, but instead he turned and headed quickly down the path that led to my cabin. I followed.
When we arrived Tantu placed the gun on the porch and went inside. I started to follow, but then hesitated and unwrapped the rifle. It looked in good condition--no missing "parts" that I could discern. I wanted to check if the rifle was loaded, but I know almost nothing about rifles, so I put it away.
Tantu was already at the computer, watching it start up. I asked him if he wanted a lesson and he replied that he did.
We started the lesson as usual but after about ten minutes of phonetically pronouncing words, Tantu looked up at me and smiled. "I think I can read now!" He said this with such joy that I had to agree with him.
"Yes, I think you can. But you still have a lot of work to do."
"No," he said, grabbing my forearm. "Now, you do not know! I can read the letters and see... pictures! The words do not look like the pictures, but I see the pictures."
Looking back now, I understand what he meant. But at the time, I wasn't sure what he was so overjoyed about, only that some breakthrough had occurred. The written Mayoruna language consists of crude pictograms, generally outlining some event or fable. Its "letters" are direct representations of their meanings and are only roughly standardized into a small handful of characters. I believe now that Tantu didn't understand the written English language because it consists of collections of letter-characters that have no reference to meaning except when grouped together and mentally pronounced. It must have finally dawned on him the true phonetic nature of the written word. This must be why he said what he said next.
"Come, Kane. You must enjoy with us tonight!"
I didn't understand what he meant at first, but moments later, when we were rapidly trotting over the spine grass path that led to his village, I realized that this was it, the invitation I'd been waiting for. And I wasn't prepared at all. No camera, no paper to take notes, nothing but myself and Tantu. I didn't even bring the last of my cache of gifts for the village.
"Tantu," I said to the naked back in front of me. "Tantu, I have no gifts for your village.... Come back with me to the cabin so I can get some."
"Kane," he said after a moment and without breaking his stride, "this will be your gift." He raised the rifle with one hand over his head. The burlap covering fell to the ground. I bent down and picked it up. When I had straightened, Tantu was well ahead of me.
"Tantu! Wait! I didn't give you the rifle. That rifle... that gun is yours." For some reason I was desperate to cleanse myself of the weapon. "Tantu, that gun is yours!"
He turned his head and barked, "Yes, I know! Thank you!" Before I had a chance to respond he lifted the rifle and placed the end of the stock directly in the center of his chest and bent backward at the waist. His body recoiled slightly with the gun as it fired a round into the tree branches overhead. I jumped at the cracking sound.
Immediately rustling appeared in the thick plant life around us and I caught the color of brown skin as it disappeared behind the foliage. A loud crashing noise erupted to my right. I spun my head and just caught sight of an Indian man scrambling away from where he had landed after dropping from a huge low-branched tree. The Indians must have been all around us for minutes as we had walked the path. I would have never known had it not been for Tantu's surprise shot in the air.
"Are they from your village?" I turned to ask. But Tantu was gone. I just caught sight of him taking a turn in the path ahead. I ran after him, my panic building quickly.
I turned the corner and just managed to avoid running into Tantu's back. He was walking slowly forward into a large clearing; the rifle raised over his head casually, supported by one small arm. A few indigenous men were gathered in the clearing in front of a small fire. They too were waving their arms as if each of them carried a rifle aloft. Their cheeks were painted red and their faces were somber, yet they still wore a joyful countenance.
Other men stood near a circle of thatched huts that ringed the periphery of the clearing. They did not look as cheerful as the others and, as we strode slowly toward the men at the fire, several more appeared from the doorways of the surrounding huts. I glanced between the two sets of men and sensed a distinct tension. I reached out to touch Tantu's back; he turned quickly and caught my wrist with his free hand and raised the two together over his head. Because of my height, the feeling was odd--I could feel his arm strain, outstretched as it was, while my arm hung limply by the side of my head. I tried to jerk my arm back, but Tantu held it there with surprising strength. I felt like comically waving at the staring men to alleviate the tension.
As Tantu led me in this manner about the fire and talked in indecipherable bursts to the gathered men, I looked more deeply into the dark fringes of the clearing. Despite the growing twilight, I spied young children crouched there and, clumped about the opening of the largest hut, a group of four women spitting into the open mouths of dried gourds. Tantu swung me around again and released my hand. I held my breath for a response from the seemingly disturbed men that had formed a loose circle around us at the fire.
If there was one, however, I didn't notice it, for at that moment a cry like a bird of prey thwarted sliced through the clearing. I turned my head with the others and saw a party of Mayoruna hunters emerge from the dense brush. Two of them carried the fur-covered forms of inert howler monkeys on their backs. An answering cry from the spitting women filled the air and suddenly a flurry of activity erupted. From the edges of the small village children and adolescents convened on the hunters, their joy evident through the bounce in their steps and the chatter of their voices. After a moment, the men surrounding us went forward to greet them also.
Tantu started forward and I called to him so he would not forget me. He turned and gestured for me to follow. He was heading for the open doorway of the large hut rather than attempting to approach the successful hunters. I followed him into the hut, noticing that the women sitting in front of it were chewing on some type of root and spitting a white juice into numerous dried gourds set about the ground around them. One of the gourds looked curiously like the top of a human skull.
The hut was dark but, as my eyes adjusted, enough twilight was able to penetrate the double filter of the trees outside and the loose thatched roof above to recognize the shapes of several Indians sitting on the ground and a dark central mass ahead of us. Tantu approached the dark form and held the gun horizontally in front of him. He spoke a few words and then sat down on the ground. I felt his hand around my calf as he motioned for me to join him. I did, surprised to feel the soft toughness of grass mats beneath me rather than the hard dirt I had anticipated.
"This is our head man... our chief," Tantu whispered to me. I actually looked about me for an instant until I realized he was referring to the dark shape in front of us. The form spoke in a deep voice and the noise from outside the hut seemed to fade away. My eyes started to pick out details of the chief's form and my mind attempted to fill in the dark spots.
The head man was a withered man sitting in a grass hammock that hung low to the ground. I remember thinking that the hammock must have been hung so low so that the chief could easily climb in and out of it. The chief was as naked as all the Indians around me; his gnarled legs draped over the edge of the hammock and his feet were folded against the floor so that the outsides of his ankles scraped the grass matting. I saw, or imagined I saw, numerous warts protruding from the loose skin of his legs, some as large as the end of my thumb. His face was hidden in shadow, but I could make out the characteristic wide shape of his head and the long white glow of his spine whiskers.
In a pause of his speech to us--and it was a speech lasting almost half an hour--I asked Tantu in a whisper to translate the chief's message. Tantu whispered back that the chief was telling them of the great sorrow that he felt he had brought to the tribe. "What sorrow?" I asked.
"The sorrow of being both head man and shaman for the village. Now that he is dead, we have no one to lead."
After the chief's voice subsided, Tantu and the others stood up. I stood up with them and followed them out of the hut. By now night had fallen. In the clearing, the fire had been built up and I could see that a meal had been in preparation.
"Tantu," I said. "If what the chief said was true, shouldn't the rest of the villagers been there to listen?"
Tantu turned to me and said, "The chief... he tells this story many times a day."
"You mean it is just a story? He's not really dying?"
Tantu looked at me puzzled. "No, it is true. He is dead. We must find a new shaman." He moved away from me and toward two young women who were stripping the monkeys of their fur.
I looked down at my feet then and found myself staring into the gourds of white juices that I had seen the women spit. I picked one up and swirled the contents around in the base of the gourd. In the firelight I could see that the juice consisted of a very fluid liquid, which I assumed to be the women's saliva, and a mash of plant fibers. I took it over to Tantu and asked him what it was.
"Beer!" he barked at me. Then he smiled and said, "Do you like beer? This will not be good for a few days, but you can try it now."
"No thanks," I said quickly, recalling the sound the women made when they spit. "I'll wait." I gave the gourd to him. He smiled and took a drink of it.
When he was finished he produced one of the white roots that the women had been chewing on. It looked like a manioc root, the kind the Indians also make a sort of pancake out of. "Here," he said, offering it to me. "The beer... masato... is made of this." I took the root. "Chew on it," he said and then knelt back down to watch the young women work.
I put the root in my mouth and began to chew on it lightly. It was a bit pungent but not a bad taste. I returned to the area around the fire and watched the various activities around me. It was then that I noticed the children looking at me.
Several children, male and female, would walk up behind my back and watch me. When I would turn to greet them they would giggle and run away. This occurred several times before I sat down about ten yards from the hot fire. Four of the children then sat down around me. They stared at me with smooth skinned faces and glinting eyes. None of them wore the spine whiskers or the blue mouth tattoo. I smiled at them and tried to think of something to give them or do for them. The children simply stared at me. Finally I settled on a trick my uncle used to play on me. I doubled the thumb of my left hand within a fist and positioned my right hand so that it looked like my right thumb was actually the continuation of my left. Then with the same sneaky expression of a thousand goofy uncles I performed the time-honored trick of removing my left thumb. The children screamed and ran away.
I laughed then and leaned back so that I lay on the ground and could look up into the thin canopy of tree branches overhead. The flickering light from the fire reflected on the broad leaves and shone hypnotically back down at me. I must have lain there for some time because the next thing I remember is Tantu prodding me with his foot to rouse me for the meal.
The meal was quick and I actually ate very little. For the number of villagers present there really wasn't that much food. I limited myself to the manioc pancakes and didn't drink anything. I spent most of the time trying to watch how the Indians interacted with each other, trying to identify influences of western society on their interaction. About all I noticed was Tantu taking his new rifle with him wherever he went. I was relieved to see him reprimanding the young children when they attempted to touch it.
It was then that I noticed the first RAM necklace. One of the children, a young boy, was fingering the beads of one of the necklaces which Tantu wore about his neck. Whenever the child would tug on the beads Tantu would let out a sharp bark. Finally Tantu pushed the boy away and scolded him. When Tantu removed his hand from his neck I looked closely to see what had so attracted the child. I expected to see a jaguar tooth or a worn stone. Instead I saw a silicon chip still attached into a broken piece of epoxy circuit board. Tantu must have taken my discarded computer memory, broken them into pieces and woven them into his necklace. The sight made a chill run down my spine. I looked at the necklaces of some of the other villagers. To my surprise I found that at least four other men had similar necklaces. All of them were seated in an area between myself and Tantu.
I stood up and asked to speak with Tantu. He basically ignored me until I pulled on his necklace. Then he turned and smiled at me. I noticed that several of the other necklaced men turned their heads to look at me.
"You like it?" Tantu asked. "I made you one also... It is my gift to you."
My first reaction was to refuse the gift. But as he produced the necklace and held it up to me in front of the other men, I realized I was obligated to accept the necklace. I couldn't embarrass Tantu in front of his tribe. I reached for the limp ring of fiber and silicon but suddenly Tantu jerked it back, yelling something in Mayoruna and then in English, "Careful!"
I took my hand back. Tantu dug around in the folds of his waist belt and pulled out the grounding wrist strap that I had used when installing the memory in my cabin. He wound it carefully around his right wrist with great deliberation, then clipped the end to one of the chips on his necklace. He stood up, said a few words in Mayorunan, and draped the necklace over my head.
Sensing the ceremony of the event, I bowed my head and attempted to say thank you in Mayorunan. I only heard a few chuckles at my mispronunciation and I sat back down, this time next to Tantu.
Throughout the next hour Tantu told a story in Mayorunan, occasionally gesturing at me, at the chips hung around his neck, and himself. I caught the words for "shaman," "spirits," and "monkey," I attempted to speak to him during his numerous pauses but whenever I would begin, he cut me off with another loud sentence.
By the time he was done, more men had joined our small circle. Some of them did not wear chip necklaces, but seemed eager to hear Tantu's story. I became drowsy with the heat of the fire and the drone of Tantu's voice. I hoped my drowsiness wouldn't be noticed, but Tantu had to shake my shoulder to gain my attention when he was ready to leave the fire.
He pulled me to one of the huts and told me that I could sleep in the hammock. He made a big fuss over assuring me it was safe. I was not up to the walk through the jungle to Bolognesi and from there back to my cabin, so I agreed to sleep there. I attempted once more to talk to Tantu about the necklaces, but he left me in the hut, ignoring my attempts at discussion.
I slept fitfully--as did the rest of the village. It seemed the site was never quiet. Some villagers slept while others tended the fire and moved about the huts. When the active ones would retire it seemed that others roused themselves to take their place. It was as if the night was respected as a time to rest, but that resting did not necessarily entail uninterrupted sleep. My dreams were filled with the sounds and sights of the Mayoruna village. I often woke thinking it to be dawn, only to find darkness outside the door of the hut.
Sometime during the very early morning I dreamt that the Mayoruna chief was talking to me. Not in Mayoruna, but in clear, unaccented English. I was standing before his hammock in the large, dark hut. I could feel rough grass beneath my bare feet and I realized that I was no longer wearing my Vibram-soled boots. Now the chief was lying in his hammock and I assumed he was asleep; however, moments later I heard a voice address me. I was convinced it was his voice, though I'm not sure because the figure did not even seem to breathe.
"Do you follow our path?" he questioned slowly.
In my dream I was not afraid and did not find it odd to reply aloud. "What path is that?"
"The path of the Little Sun."
I thought a moment before answering.
"I do not know that path," I said finally.
"Then you do not follow the path."
"Where does the path lead?" I hurriedly questioned, trying to prolong the unearthly dialogue.
"To the beginning, to the Nascente... It is a long journey and we must move quickly."
"If you must move quickly, why have you stopped here for so long? Why do you not move on?"
"We have not stopped moving. I lead always to the Source, the Nascente. I have not halted; perhaps you have begun moving... perhaps you follow the path..."
The next words I spoke woke me with a start. I said, "I am not moving at all!" I looked about me and realized I was in the chief's hut. His dark, prone form lay before me in the low slung hammock, apparently still asleep.
I backed out of the hut then, fright crawling up my neck, and walked quickly to the dying fire. I looked about me, but for once in the night, no one seemed to be awake. I stared at the fire for a long while. Perhaps the root I had chewed earlier was some sort of psychoactive and it had triggered my already-troubled mind into a state of wakeful dreaming.
Whatever had caused my dream, I felt drained and exhausted. I left the fire and peered into the hut that I thought I had first slept in. It was hard to remember exactly which hut that was. But the center hammock was empty and I climbed into its rough fibers. I fell asleep quickly and dreamlessly until light, when the sound of the waking Mayoruna village roused me.
I forgot about the dream until I stepped on a patch of spine grass near the dead fire. The bristles scraped at my feet and I realized I had lost not only my boots but also my socks. The memory of the dream rushed upon me then and my mind reeled with its flood. Even now, as I recount this to you, Catherine, I am overcome with the tingling feeling that I really did converse with the Mayoruna chief.
After attempting to find Tantu, I came back to the ashes of the central fire. There, charred and half melted, were my boots. I poked at them with a twig and finally lifted them with my hands. They were completely ruined. Who would do such a thing? Why they would burn them, I have no idea. Perhaps it was one of the village's men who seemed at odds with Tantu and his rifle when we first entered the village?
I finally left the village after again trying unsuccessfully to find Tantu. I also stopped at the chief's hut, but his hammock was empty. In his place were a few dried gourds. I could see the milky residue of the masato beer from the night before.
The walk back here was slow and almost painful without my boots. I hadn't realized before how pampered my feet are. At least I have a pair of Reeboks in one of my trunks. Still, without the boots I feel more exposed to the dangerous environment around me.
The fantastic events of the last day are still with me. I feel charged, yet reluctant to record every detail in the journals. I wish you were here so I could talk the events over with you. I need someone to converse with, someone who can talk back to me and offer an opinion besides my own on what my experience--my dream--really could mean. I cannot believe that after this much time, UIC has not assigned other researchers to this station. On the other hand I'm almost afraid to relate these events to my peers. I failed to make any scientific observations, notes, or photos. And what is probably my own personal highlight of the trip, the dream, will probably be scoffed at as pure fabrication! I will have to go back to the village soon and make better record of the social fabric and indications of western influence. But how do I explain (or even mention) the necklaces?
April 19, 1994 21:05:23
It looks like this journal is the closest I will come to actually talking to you. Today's radio packet once again contained plenty of news about the aliens, the Hebron massacre, the price of grain, my uncle Greg, the family dog and even the weather--but nothing from you. Maybe it's because Tantu hasn't been by in two days, but it suddenly hit me. You're gone from my life completely. I can see your life continue on in the sci.seti.anthro posts and in the news about solar mining and the undeciphered parts of the alien message. Yet my life is invisible to you. I don't even feel like you're ignoring me. I feel like I'm dead to you.
During one of Tantu's lessons, I read on Usenet that someone from the University of California announced that he thinks the alien star is going to explode on May 14. I'm sure the Christian fundamentalists are having fun with that one. I can't believe the stance some of them have taken over this whole alien race thing. It seems like after the lenient sentencing of the abortion protest shootings, these people have decided to take an even more inane "literal" translation of the Bible. If there is only room for one intelligent species in their universe, perhaps they should question if humans are that one intelligent species! "God created one true people!" they yell. I wonder if they realize that only they created their one true God.
Tantu seemed to fixate on the announcement, asking me to explain it to him repeatedly. He wanted to know "how many cycles" until May 14, so I took the opportunity to introduce him to the calendar program and how we measure time. It confused him until I displayed two months and counted out the "cycles" for him one by one. He then smiled and counted them himself. "What happens when computer has no more days?" Tantu asked, pointing at the end of the month.
I put that off for another lesson, and I'm almost glad that Tantu hasn't been by lately. He's progressing quickly and his patience with the computer is increasing, but he scares me with his ritualistic approach and the way he treats me if other villagers are around. I'm sure the tension I experience when I am with him is contributing to my bad dreams also.
I had the dream again last night. I was speaking to the chief of the Mayoruna and, once again, I can't remember what we talked about except that it involved "walking the path to Nascente." At least this time I woke up in my cabin and not in the chief's hut. I don't know what it means and when I talk about it with Tantu I receive no other response than a disquieting look that seems to say, "Why shouldn't you be talking to the chief in your dreams?"
I've made eight trips to the village so far. I've tried to be diligent and record as much of the social interaction as I can. The village is run like an open commune with a shallow hierarchy. In fact, the hierarchy seems to consist of just the chief and two Indian men beneath him. One of the two men is Tantu and that is where the real tension seems to lie. He and the other "second" seem to be in a low-key power struggle. Low-key, but pervasive. Tantu's competitor is taller and the blue tattoo that surrounds his mouth is exceptionally thick and bright. I have come to think of him as Blue Mouth because I don't know his name. Both men have a small group of followers who interact normally with each other when Tantu and Blue Mouth aren't around, but who become antagonistic when forced to take sides by a leader's presence. All of Tantu's followers wear some piece of western technology around their necks--usually a fragment of my computer--and they respectfully ask for more `parts' when ever I visit.
I have rarely seen the chief. He keeps inside the large hut most of the time and I hesitate to enter again. When I ask Tantu about the chief he always replies that the chief is dead and should not be angered.
I have learned a little about Tantu's background. I know that he learned English while living with missionaries in Leticia. I've tried to ask him about the mission, with hopes of locating his previous teacher via radio, but he refuses to talk about his time there. Once he glared at me with barely muted hatred. I have tried not to talk about it since then.
I know that Tantu has purchased more rifles from the loggers. The other men in his group sometimes carry them in the village and I once saw a young woman inspecting one while Tantu looked on. I have not heard a shot from the village though, at least not yet.
Most of these things--the necklaces, the power struggle between Blue Mouth and Tantu's techno-Indians, the rifles--I have barely mentioned in the technical journals I send upline. I feel like I'm responsible for this fast influx of dangerous change. I cannot bring myself to confess my involvement to my peers and mentors, so I write down only the mundane and send it upline. I can tell by the feedback that they aren't impressed. I haven't been telling them anything new, and with all the attention the SETI groups have been receiving, my filtered work here must seem like an ant farm.
May 2, 1994 11:14:21
Tantu came by earlier this morning to tell me that the Mayoruna chief has left. He wanted me to come with him to the village to "enjoy the return." I took this to mean that the ailing chief had finally died during the night. When I asked Tantu if this was the case he didn't seem to understand. He carefully repeated that the chief has "gone over" and that he wanted me to "enjoy the return." I agreed, but told him I wanted to prepare myself first. Tantu went back to the village agitated that I didn't drop everything and return with him.
It's odd... Tantu did not seem disturbed at all by the chief's death. He actually looked excited, almost eager. I wonder if, now that the chief has gone on, if Tantu believes he will become the next chief. Surely it will either be him or Blue Mouth. They are the only ones who seem ready for the task, although they are both very young. I almost hope Blue Mouth wins. It would help relieve my sense of guilt. Especially after Tantu's reaction yesterday to my explanation of the possibility of a nova. He obviously saw the nova as an omen of his ascent to power in the village. I wonder if he has told any others in the village about it.
I am concerned about going to the village for the chief's funeral celebration. I have done a little more research and also witnessed firsthand evidence of the Mayoruna death rituals. They recycle almost the entire body, putting the last of the spirit's earthly remains to work for them. Several parts of the body are eaten, including some of the bones which are ground up and used to make a type of hot broth. Often the skull is cleaned out and used as a container for liquids, and I have seen necklaces made of what look like human vertebrae. I'm not sure I am up to this type of ritual. I remember my glimpses of the chief's wart-covered legs and my stomach turns. I hope I will not be made to feel obliged to eat anything I do not readily recognize or find repulsive.
I will take my new digital camera along and also a small pouch of crackers and dried beef. I cannot think of anything else that will be of use. I may have to spend the night in the village again tonight. Hopefully with the chief "gone over" I will not dream myself into his hut again.
May 3, 1994 13:48:42
Just got back from the village and I am exhausted. I do not think I slept more than three hours last night. Like the first overnight trip to the Mayoruna village, this last trip is clouded in my memory. The smoky heat of fires, strange tastes of unidentifiable foods, and hours of dizzy observation of the villagers have combined to reduce my recollection to quick flashes of images, smells and sounds.
When I arrived in the village it was nearly empty. Only a handful of women were there preparing food and caring for children. Even with the children, it was strangely quiet. I looked in several of the huts but only found empty hammocks and the natural litter of habitation.
Returning to the women, who sat away from the smoldering central fire on this hot day, I tried to communicate as best I could my wonder at where all the men of the village had gone. One of the woman pointed further to the east and I looked in that direction. I spotted a trampled path jutting from the main clearing. As I stepped upon it I noticed that the machete wounds on the surrounding vegetation were fresh and new.
I followed the trail for about twenty minutes. I was glad that it was still mid-afternoon and that I could see easily in front of me. Soon I became aware of human voices ahead, some speaking, others sounding as if they were singing or barking. I increased my pace and made sure my camera was handy and powered on.
Soon I broke into a small natural clearing filled with about more than a dozen Indian men. Some seemed to be sleeping, curled into balls on the jungle floor while others talked to themselves loudly, occasionally calling out in crude imitations of animal noises. Only three men were standing: one of them was Tantu. When he spotted me he stepped around the others' bodies and approached me quickly. He looked angry.
"I wait for you. You not come for many cycles, Kane," he said seriously. Then he smiled. "But now you are here. Now you can see how we talk to the spirits. You can see our radio." He grabbed me by the forearm and pulled me towards the other two standing men. One was holding a small box made from loosely-bound twigs. I asked Tantu about the other men in their trancelike states. He told me that some were talking to their animal ancestors and others were preparing for their great hunts.
I panicked then for a moment, picturing some sort of mass suicide. I asked Tantu if these men were "going over." He said, "No. They are just looking over. Some of us need help from our fathers. Some of us talk to the animals we will hunt on a new sun."
"Why?" I asked with apprehension.
"To make good peace with the animals so their spirits do not hunt us after we kill them."
His answer did not completely allay my fears, but for some reason I felt confident that any danger these men might face was not a new one.
We reached the two men in the center of the clearing and I saw that the small box contained a slick, wet-looking animal--a frog. "What is this?" I asked, but Tantu did not reply. Instead he took the box while one of the other men bent over and pulled a twig from the ground. Carefully he reached into the box with the twig and stroked the animal's back. A thick, clear syrup clung to the twig.
Quickly, Tantu handed the box to the third Indian and pulled out a small sharp knife. Before I could stop him he cut into his own forearm, dangerously near the arteries and veins on the inside of his wrist. The man with the twig grabbed Tantu's wrist and pulled open the wound with his free hand. With the other he dripped the frog syrup off the end of the twig and into the bleeding gash.
I think I was shocked into silence because I don't remember making any other protestations as the two Indians continued to scrape fluid from the frog's back and place it directly into Tantu's bloodstream. I knew some tribes used poisonous mucous from a particular frog for their darts or arrows, but I suddenly realized I didn't know if the Mayoruna had such a practice, or if this was one of those frogs. I continued to watch in a kind of paralyzing horror: maybe this was some sort of suicide ritual. When they were finished they wrapped a thick green leaf around the cut and tied it off with a piece of fibrous twine.
Tantu turned to look at me. There was a thin trail of saliva oozing from one corner of his mouth and his eyes started to glaze over. He asked me to join them then, but I balked as the other two Indians approached me. "No," I protested. "I am not one of you."
The Indians hesitated and Tantu spoke again, obviously angered again with me. "You only taste it, Kane. Only I do this..." He shook his bound wrist at me and then fell to the ground slowly, as if through water.
I went over to him, concerned for his life, when one of the last two Indians caught me by the shoulder. He held out the twig to me and smiled. I reached out and took hold of his wrist lightly and pulled it to my mouth. I placed my tongue as lightly as I could on the twig and then pushed the twig back away. The Indian, apparently satisfied, turned away from me. I bent back down to examine Tantu and, as I did so, spit out as much of the saliva in my mouth as I could. The other two Indians didn't seem to notice.
Tantu was curled in a loose fetal position and seemed to be sick to his stomach. He eyes were closed tightly and when I tried to pull on his arm he did not respond. His arm snapped back to his chest when I released it. His breathing was deep and regular.
The two Indians that had administered the frog potion to Tantu were inhaling some sort of powder out of a small pouch. I immediately thought of cocaine, but after inhaling the substance, both men wandered quietly to the outskirts of the clearing and sat on the ground. One of them leaned against a tree and seemed to immediately go to sleep.
After a time, I began to wander around the clearing, taking pictures and trying to listen to the soft ramblings of the hallucinating Indians. This is the last cognizant thing I remember. My vision through the camera's viewfinder was extremely clear and I think I probably stared through it for quite some time. I remember at one point the batteries drained.
I became sick and had to lay down. My vision had now begun to blur and I think some of the other Indians were actually moving around then. At least I heard the crashing of bodies through the dense foliage. I remember seeing close up images of howler monkeys playing in the trees overhead. One fell to the ground and when I went over to it, I saw that its hands and feet were burnt and charred.
I recall being nudged and prodded along the trail to the main village and sitting in front of the fire where men and women seemed to address me in foreign tongues--not Mayoruna, but French, German, Chinese and others.
At some point, I ate. If I ate some of the chief's body last night, it did not seem to upset me. For some reason, I accepted all these odd sights and tastes. I felt secure in the midst of the villagers for the first time. Even the heat and he rain did not seem to bother me, although today it is so oppressively hot and I cannot seem to drink enough water to satiate my thirst.
One image stands out in my mind clearly: it is Tantu and Blue Mouth standing on opposite sides of the fire yelling at each other. Tantu is pointing at me with three outstretched fingers; his other arm is pointed to the sky overhead. Blue Mouth is grasping something long and snakelike in one hand and shaking it madly.
Whatever happened that night between the two did not resolve their differences because, when I woke late in the morning, I saw two very tired-looking men standing outside of the hut Tantu was sleeping in. They wore silicon about their necks and held rifles in their crossed arms.
After checking my clothes and body for insects (I had slept on the ground like a fool), I went to Tantu's hut to check on him. The guards there would not let me enter although they seemed to respect my approach. I could just see Tantu's form lying in a hammock from the doorway.
I hobbled back to the cabin and--after splashing some water on my face--began to write this. Straining to remember what happened last night has tired me even further. I must sleep.
Follow "Little Sun"...InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 4, Number 3 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1994 P. G. Hurh.