January 30, 2007

Myths and Customs in the Amazon


Mãe de Peixe
Mãe de Peixe is ‘a chimera of many guises which looks after fish populations’ (81). She is sometimes a caimun, other times a pirarucú or even a cobra grande depending on the tribe.

‘[H]unters and fishermen must contend with panama, a hex that prevents people from catching fish or killing game. Panema is far more serious than a temporary bout of bad luck. Unless properly treated a person can remain empanemado indefinitely. Given the importance of fish and game to the regional diet, and as a source of income in the case of fishing, rural folk are understandably concerned about avoiding panama.’ (101) Pirarucú fishermen are particularly susceptible to panama due to the huge size of the fish and this may be due to fears about the loss of such a useful species (112).

A large fish that can be as long as two metres and weigh up to 100 kilograms (20). The pirarucú is valued for its, ‘high value and savoury taste’ as well as for its ‘byproducts’. Strips of meat can be stored for months, its fifteen centimetre long can be used as a grater while its scales, the size of credit cards, can be used in woodwork too.

The Yara, ‘appears before bachelors, and young men who are about to marry. If they hear yara’s enchanting voice and linger to catch a glimpse of her, they later become ill’ (85). Yara have been spotted in waterfalls (Tarumã falls near Manaus) and in trees (the Peruvian Amazon). The Yara is often blonde.

Smith, Nigel J.H. The Enchanted Amazon Rain Forest: Stories from a Vanishing World. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1996.

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