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Scientific name

The cultural meaning of oropendolas is based on several observable factors. The most obvious is their nesting behavior. Oropendolas flocks build numerous nests in a single large tree. Because of the hanging style of these nests as well as the birds’ preference for building them in large trees set in clearings, oropendola nests are more visible to humans than are the nests of any other species. Because nests suggest female birds oropendolas are likened to a group of women who make their cooking fires and feed their children in close proximity to each other. In traditional Amazonian society the only women who do this are adult daughters and daughter in laws living together with their children and husbands in a single long house. In previous generations there would also have been co-wives (often sisters) who often each had adult daughters and daughter-in-laws living together in the same long house. Human women living under these conditions often have difficulty getting along. There is understandable tension between co-wives or between sisters who have to share resources in close quarters. These tensions are perceived to be dangerous since they can break out into witchcraft, violence and fractioning of the community. One of the strategies of conviviality living under these conditions is group humor and laughter. To be able to joke well in this style is a highly esteemed social skill. As they work together socially skilled women break into long peals of feminine laughter stylized as Jujujujuui! Only women laugh “jujujujuii” . They primarily laugh this way when they are laughing with other women. Often a group of sisters laughs this way when they joining together to tease a man or men. Often one can hear this laugher from far away. It is recognized as the sound of women working in harmony. Oropendolas are believed to epitomize this ideal of sisters laughing together as they work around multiple cooking fires in a single ling house. In their nesting trees the oropendolas call and answer each other as they move around their nests. Their loud multi-syllable call rising in a scale of ascending notes is reminiscent of the stylized laugher of Amazonian women Jujujujui! When they are away from their nesting trees oropendolas range across a large territory in what biologist call mixed species fruit eating flocks. That is, they move through the forest looking for fruit trees in the company of numerous other species of fruit eating birds. Within these mixed flocks some species stand out as leaders: particularly oropendolas, toucans and violaceous jays. Other species follow the lead of these birds and seem to be attracted by their calls. They seem to feel safe, feeding calmly as long as they can hear the calls of these lead species. The laughing call of the oropendolas is not their only call. Oropendolas are famous for their ability to copy the call of almost any other bird or animal. They learn to mimic the calls of other birds that feed with them. When they mimic the songs of other species these species come to the oropendolas. This gives the oropendolas the ability to call together many other species which them follow them on their foraging journey. The oropendola’s ability to attract and hold together a diverse community of birds can be compared to a leader who holds a community together through eloquent and persuasive speaking. In Amazonian thinking eloquent speaking and singing are qualities of a samayuj. A samayuj is a socially skilled person whose power resides in their “samay” or breath. The oropendolas’ ability to speak the languages of so many other species is taken as evidence of its social power or samay. Russet-Backed Oropendola Psarocolius angustifrons

Prochilodus nigricans_edited.jpg

Psarocolius yuracares

Family:

Icteridae

English:

Olive oropendola

Spanish:

Cacique de Pará

Kichwa:

Chullu Mangu

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