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Matiri is the Kichwa name of a plant in the Clavija genus of the Theophrastaceae family. Clavija is a deep forest plant that bears clusters of yellow fruits about the size of a grape. These fruits consist of a large pit surrounded by a thin, crispy skin with the thickness of a tangerine pealing. This pealing is considered to have a medicine (jambi) that hunters consume to dull hunger and attract game while out on long hunts in the forest. According to Clara Santi, ‘When you walk in the forest with hunger, when its fruits are smooth and ripe, you take them and you suck on them, breaking, breaking, breaking, their thin skin. You suck on these when you walk with hunger. The hunger goes away. It is a medicine.” The matiri plant is said to have a personality or runa within it called Matiri Runa. To harvest the matiri fruit the medicine gatherer addresses a song to this persona hidden in the plant. As Clara put it, ‘This is one you sing to. You are to sing to it.’
Talking about Matiri
The purpose of the song is to persuade the plant man to allow the singer to take some of his medicine away with her: ‘I will go taking his spirit with me,’ she sings. ‘He is the man who stands there saying “Take me,” That Matiri Man.’ The reason that the song is necessary is that the medicine works well only if the plant cooperates and gives its medicine willingly to the healer. Simply taking the plant won’t produce an effective medicine. Getting the plant to give its medicine willingly is a delicate matter, however, because the plant is thought to be temperamental, guarded, and prone to withdraw from relationships. The song, which is sung to the matiri plant by a female singer, portrays the Matiri Man both as a seductive lover and as a skilled hunter. By portraying Matiri in this way the song represents the guardedness or inaccessibility of the man behind the matiri medicine as a kind of male sexual coyness. Once portrayed in this light the female singer knows how to behave toward the plant in order to coax him to cooperate. She attracts him with love songs like she might any evasive but attractive man who is vulnerable to women. Since hunters chew his fruits when they go out hunting it is with Matiri Runa’s power and personality that hunters endure hardship to bring back game to give to the women they love. Hence Clara’s love song to Matiri portrays Matiri Runa himself as a hunter and seductive lover who brings back game to seduce his love.
The song builds on traditional patterns of courtship and love in which men hunt to give game to women in exchange for love, sex, and asua (manioc drink). Giving game to a woman is a recognized act of courtship much like giving red roses. In this case the game that is given is a bird (pishcu). The word pishcu may have a double entendre because it is a common term for the male organ frequently used by women in joking. The double entendre is made more probable by the context. ‘Drinking his little fruits, sitting there to give the bird (he killed) to the woman he loves so that what he wants will happen. He seduced her. That is how Matiri Man is.’ Since in the larger context the song is about the relationship of the Matiri Man to the singer herself, it is likely that Clara is referring to herself as the woman that the Matiri Man is trying to seduce. What Clara hopes to receive from the Matiri Man is his medicine. Hence the bird given to the woman probably ultimately refers to the Matiri Man’s medicine, here compared to stereotypical male gifts of game and sex. By singing teasingly to him in this way the female singer turns the tables on him. By flattering the male plant with her song she seduces him into giving her his medicine. In the beginning of the song Matiri Man is the one in control, seducing women. By the end, however, he is the ‘man who stands there saying take me’ and Clara concludes, ‘I will go taking his spirit away with me.’
Matiri fruit said to reduce hunger
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