top of page

Bactris gasipaes




Chunta duro / Chundaruru



Wao Tededo:




Prochilodus nigricans_edited.jpg

Talking about Chunta duro / Chundaruru

Eulodia Dagua - Avoid Angry People Like Chonta Thorns

Pedro Andi - The Two Chonta Seasons

The Shuar Uwi Festival

In Shuar tradition the arrival of the chonta fruiting season initiating the new time of plenty follows a season associated with another tree called Naitiak. Naitiak is a tree that produces sprays of white or yellow flowers but no fruit. When the Naitiak flowers dry up the chonta flowers begin as do the flowers of many other wild fruit trees. Naitiak is thus represented as a kind of persona of the hunger season. As the Naitiak flowers wither, Naitiak is believed to migrate out of the Shuar area. As he goes he meets Uwi the chonta palm persona coming on the trail. Uwi greets him "Where have you been brother?" "I'm coming back from [feeding] the children that I care for," Naitiak lies. But Uwi presses him "Are you not perhaps returning from having made those children suffer hunger my brother?" "When [Uwi] arrives he trades places with Naitiak." Uwi is the food bringer. When the Uwi fruit flowers then the large guavas, caimitos and many other fruits come into season. Migratory game birds and animals flock into the area and food abounds. Using Christian language one Shuar narrator said simply "That Uwi is God." Then Uwi leaves and the most desireable fruits and animals leave with him. As he goes he meets Naitiak the hunger bringer returning on the trail. "I'm going to feed the children," Naitiak lies again. And Uwi corrects him "Are you your self not (secretly) saying, I am going to make the children suffer hunger perhaps?" To orchestrate the arrival of Uwi a ritual dance is held when the first fruits of the chonta ripen. In many widely separated Amazonian tribes the chonta festival is the most important and sometimes the only annual corporate celebration. Thus the Jivaroan Uwi ceremony has much in common with these similar rites, the Urupari ceremonies of the Baniwa, the Kuwai rites of the Campa, the Chunta Jista of the Eastern Quichua peoples. But rather than risk reducing the rite to common denominators, I will interpret the Jivaroan Uwi Ceremony in all its specificity. Tinajas of chonta mash are placed around the center pole of the house. After sunset a circle dance begins and continues until the chonta has fermented, usually about midnight. During all this time the dancers chant a long series of anent that recapitulate the cycle of chonta growth. Often different anent are sung throughout the year for each stage in the growth of a domestic plant. But here all of the anent for each stage of growth are sung in succession as the chonta brew ferments. At the end of each anent the singers chant out a "Hello" or greeting to the arriving Uwi. Because the chonta is synchronized with the cycles of other plants and animals the anent tie the cycles of other prominent species into the chonta cycle. At the beginning of the cycle all of the different kinds of chonta are song planted by name. Many other kinds of useful trees are then song planted as companions for the chonta as it is being song planted. When the time for pollinating comes the flies that pollinate the chonta are called. When the time for climbing to harvest the chonta is reached the names of animals who climb the chonta for its fruits are named, called as spirit helpers to give the harvesters agility. One recurrent series of metaphores running throughout the whole cycle describe the chonta as a growing girl. First she is described as a "sankan" a young girl before sexual maturity, then she is described as "tatmam" a girl who reaches the age of maturity. The chonta produces a first flower during the season of Naitiak which like the Naitiak flower does not produce fruit. The fading of this flower is noted in song (Pellizzario, 97). As the fruits begin to form the singers say that the breasts are beginning to form on the chonta woman (98). The patterns of thorns on the palm trunk are described as ornamental beads on the girls arm. Meanwhile Uwi, the palm's child is fermenting in the urn wombs at the center of the house. Various metaphores are used to describe Uwi's approach. Because the chontas ripen earlier farther to the East Uwi is thought to be arriving from the East at the same time that he is growing in the ceramic wombs. (Pellizzario says that a community 100 kilometers East of where he is celebrates the Uwi in January while the chonta does not ripen farther west where he is until May.) One song describes him arriving with the Wambi fish swimming upstream from the eastern mouths of the Amazonian tributaries. At the point when the fermenting brew bursts the ceils of the urns the child Uwi is born. Either one by one or in pairs the dancers then drink Uwi in a brightly ornamented bowl. As they do so the remaining dancers call each of the birds and mammals who feed on the Uwi inviting them to drink. The new chonta chicha is compared to a Sunka woman (the Cock of the Rock), probably because the two are the same color (Pellizzario Uwi, 139). Hence the drinking is a communion in which the whole community together with the birds and animals consume Uwi in a carefully ordered way. A shaman's stool is then placed by the center pole of the house for Uwi to sit on. After all have drunk each dancer in turn throws a spear into the stool killing Uwi. With Uwi's death his life giving power is dispersed through the area and the fruiting seasons of other trees begins. During all this time the presence of Uwi can be heard and felt in the strong seasonal winds. The wind is the power of Uwi (Pellizzario Uwi, 55). After drinking moderately the dancers lie down to dream their fate. Those who started the dance but grew tired and left or fell asleep before it was finished will have bad dreams because Uwi will take their lives in the order in which they left the dance. Anyone who spilled the Uwi beer or who disrespectfully threw the fruit peelings on the floor, or in the fire or to the chickens may also dream bad luck. But those who performed the ceremony well will dream of abundance. In these dreams the power of Uwi comes to them as a blessing for the season. Besides being a bringer of life the chonta is also closely associated with death. The spears which were the primary weapons of death were made from chonta. Blowguns were made from chonta. The thorns of the chonta are imaged of the spirit darts called tsenstak in Shuar and Biruti in Quichua. “Chontapalana” a Quichua verb derived from the chonta means to kill with spirit arrows. Naitiak is contrasted to Uwi the chonta spirit person much as Yarcay is contrasted to Taita Carnaval in the Canari tradition at Juncal studied by Neils Foch et al.

Humor and beauty in the hidden humanity of monkeys

"The song Yurak shimi chichiku is testimony to the Kichwa/Shuar belief that all animals were once human and that the human past persists in the present animal form. This creates an expectation of discovering a hidden similarity in difference. It is this expectation that is at the core of the Kichwa/Shuar sense of humor and beauty. Skilled humor as well as art lies in heightening this sense of similarity while simultaneously heightening the difference. The fewer the lines the artist uses to evoke this sense of incongruity the greater the skill. Beginning time humans became the species they now are not through design, but through small foibles or accidental acts that had momentous consequences. The incongruity between the triviality of the act and the momentous quality of the result is a source of humor and wonder. Each species is set apart from its human past by a distinctive food and a distinctive coloring. Yet in these differences there must be a similarity that ties them to their hidden humanity. This song focusses on the white mouth of the tamarin and the yellow hands of the squirrel monkey. What do these differences mean? At the core of the humanlike qualities that help people recognize similarity to animals is the sociability of serving aswa or chicha. Although we sometimes cannot recognize it animals are serving aswa to each other. According to this song the squirrel monkey and the tamarin were once human sisters who received their coloring from the different types of chicha they made: the white faced tamarin from chewing manioc chicha; the yellow handed squirrel monkey from kneading yellow chonta chicha. The fact that this ordinary female act of preparing chicha for guests would turn them permanently into their respective species of monkeys is humorous but endearing The song allows humans to feel the beauty of these two species by focussing attention on their distinctive coloring in a way that heightens their analogical similarity in difference to humans" White mouthed tamarin White mouthed tamarin She made white (manioc) chicha From that day until now She is the white mouthed tamarin Yellow handed squirrel monkey The Yellow handed squirrel monkey She made chonta chicha From that day until now She is the yellow handed squirrel monkey By the chicha storage vessel By the chicha storage vessel She stands dripping, dripping She stands dripping, dripping She is the yellow handed squirrel monkey She kneads the chicha and serves it Yuraj shimi chichiku Yuraj shimi chichiku Yuraj aswara rurashka Chimandami kunagama Yuraj shimi chichiku. (kutin) Killu maki barisa Killu maki barisa //Chunda aswara rurashka // Chimandami kunagama Killu maki barisa Aswamanga tinapi Aswamanga tinapi Shiuta shiuta shayarin Shiuta shiuta shayarin Killu maki barisami llapishami upichiu

Ritual songs (anent) sung during the chonta festival portray the thorn patterns on the gasipaes trunk as beaded bracelets on the arms of a chonta maiden. Chonta thorns have an irritant that make them especially painful when they enter the skin. Biruti, the spirit arrows sent by yachajs (shamans) are envisioned as chonta thorns.

bottom of page