National Geographic : 1962 Jan
© NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY Old Ngere, who adopted the author as his nephew, adjusts an earplug. On his wrist he carries a turtle-shell vanity case containing the red dye used to paint lip and disk. warmed the water, Ngere goes down to the shore and wades in. He takes the wooden disk from his pierced lip and holds it in the left hand, grasps his nose and face with the right hand, and dives deliberately and long. When he comes up again, one sees the pierced, greatly enlarged lower lip hanging down like a crumpled fishing worm. The wearers of lip disks seem to be ashamed to be seen by others when the disks 130 have been removed. Bathers usually turn toward open water, but Ngere is not ashamed to face his nephew. He pulls the crumpled lower lip outward and washes it carefully. He then reinserts the disk, which immediately protrudes stiffly forward. With his body shiny with water, Ngere sits down in a hammock that his niece made for him from palm-leaf fibers. He takes down a little basket from a post and unties a small receptacle of tortoise shell. It contains a thick, oily, blood-red urucu dye. Ngere inserts his index finger into the red dye and smears the upper side of the lip plug, making it a bright red. Then he paints the extended lower lip surrounding the plug. "Do you not find it beautiful?" he asks me. "The Suya paint their lip disks a beautiful red, but our neighbors, the Shukahamae, who also have lip disks, do not do so. Their disks are colorless, ugly" (page 118). Carefully and with vanity Ngere dyes the upper surface. The underside is painted white, and in the middle a double ring is traced in delicate lines with fine black designs. Frequently I see one of the men carving a new lip disk. A round piece of light wood is left lying in the water till saturated. To pre vent its being carried away by the current, the Suya place a heavy log upon it. Anyone needing new disks is welcome to cut off a couple of slices (opposite). Lip Disk Serves as Wedding Band The disk is worn only by married men or widowers. As soon as a man is married, his lip is pierced and a small disk inserted. Pro gressively larger ones stretch the hole. Every married man has several lip disks on hand. He wraps them tightly in pairs and stores them in the little straw basket in which he keeps all his personal belongings: chisels made of animal teeth, a piece of petrified wood for sharpening arrows, rough leaves for sanding new lip disks, monkey bones, caudal spines of the fresh-water sting ray for making arrow points, a ball of cotton thread, red or black resin, beeswax, strips of inner bark for arrow ties, lower jaws of pi ranha fish for cutting thread, wild pigs' hoofs, mussel shells, an old knife, a rusty nail. These are the whole of his riches. Chief Pentoti is the only Suya with more than one wife. He has three. His eldest wife usually accompanies him on his journeys. The second spins, weaves, and braids. The youngest nearly always prepares the meals. But each helps the others when necessary.