National Geographic : 1959 Nov
Monkey masquerader bows before a grinning gallery. He rattles a bottle filled with pebbles. From his waist dangles a doll-like toy which he will give to a child when the festival ends. hold them gently and protectively, as if they were the real initiates. It is a merry gathering. This mock dance of the young girls con tinues for more than an hour. Indian dancers do not tire easily! "Now you must be our voreki [maiden], Senhor Haraldo!" someone shouts. Before I can protest, the Indians paint my face, my arms, and the upper part of my body with oily red urucu dye. Then they dress me in the adornments prepared for the young girls. Two dancers grab my arms and away we go-forward, then back. Soon I catch the rhythm of the dance, but after an hour I am worn out. The dancers release me. As the dance resumes with other guests im 646 itating the girls, I wonder about the signifi cance of this part of the ritual. Does it have a deeply earnest purpose? Perhaps to ward off evil demons? Or is it all in jest? I incline to the view that the imitation is pure frolic-an other example of the Tukuna sense of humor. Dawn breaks on the festival's third day. Close relatives of the maidens creep to them through a small opening in the seclusion hut. After daubing the girls' bodies with bright red urucui dye, they adorn them in ceremonial regalia-bead belts and necklaces, tassels of white inner bark, pendants of multihued tou can skins. A crown of macaw tail feathers covers each girl's eyes. The Tukuna believe evil spirits will harm the girl if she sees what is going on (page 636). As guests press close to the gaily decorated seclusion hut, a man cuts an opening in the wall. Indians sing in falsetto voices. Old women thump rattle rods. Drums pound. Moment of Greatest Peril Then silence, as an initiate appears in regal splendor. Lovingly assisted by her mother and a paternal uncle, she crawls through the open ing. Her cousin follows (page 633). At this moment, says Tukuna superstition, the girls face their greatest danger from evil spirits. The tribe believes that bloodthirsty demons prowl around the house, awaiting any chance to attack the girls. Each Indian is convinced that the gravest consequences will follow any mistake in the ritual now. The dance resumes. Leading the girls, un able to see through their feathered headdresses, the guests sweep back and forth across the floor. Beneath the blindfolds the girls' faces sag with weariness. On and on they dance, until the sun sets and the moon rises full above the trees. Moonlight floods the clearing as the dancers, still leading the girls, wind out of the house. The guests follow in a noisy procession. An old man approaches with two glowing firebrands. He is a witch doctor. Pointing to a near-by tree, he hands a firebrand to the first girl. "Throw it against your arch enemy! " "Dye!" she cries. An echoing shout goes up from the onlookers. The firebrand showers sparks against the tree trunk, symbolically destroying the evil demons that seek to harm her. Now her cousin throws the second firebrand. A final triumphant cry echoes through the forest. "Now all danger has been banished," Gen esio explains. "Our vorekis have thrown fire against the demon tree!"