Destined for a tribal cooking fire

HOLDING OBLIVION AT BAY, tradi­tion wears “claws”  and mas­querades in creations that represent anteaters. To teach courage and inspire respect for tribal customs; older boys at Porori slip on the costumes, perform a curiously silent dance, then chase smaller boys, using the arm open­ings to brandish clawlike sticks tipped with fish teeth. Adding to the excitement, the youngsters fight back with their ver­sion of bean shooters—bamboo tubes loaded with chewed-up leaves.

 

Though the costumes were artistic and worthy of preservation, Jesco could not save them. After three days of ceremonial use, they were thrown into the river at dawn as part of the ritual. If, as Jesco sus­pected, the masks had been made to honor the spirits of anteaters the Indians had killed for food, then their “burial” in the river seemed an appropriate act. Destined for a tribal cooking fire after capture in the jungle, an 80-pound giant armadillo rides on the back of a lad (below), who uses a head sling to bear most of the weight.

 

MAKING MEN of Txukahamei boys involves many tests, considerable endurance, and sometimes years. Invited to live at the Porori boys’ house, Jesco had a ringside seat during their initiation rites.

 

One manhood test, heroically endured by 12-year-old Tio, required that he hit a wasp nest with his fist and suffer the angry stings and fever. Warriors repeat the ordeal throughout their lives. Another test saw bloody scarring of the boys’ legs with razor-sharp fish teeth. More long-range “schooling” sent them off with warriors to hunt, fish, and raid the camps of rubber tappers, source of the kettle used as a water jug (below).

coming-of-age rites

Finally “graduation” is at hand. Those who are ready partially shave their heads, stain bodies black with the juice of un­ripe genipap fruit, paint faces and feet red with dye from the uructi plant, and apply beeswax hats. Then begin days and nights of singing and dancing.

With the coming-of-age rites, young people are free to have sexual relations. Selected older women, all highly re­spected, instruct the young men.

 

There is no marriage ceremony; cou­ples simply set up housekeeping. Until then, single men live in the boys’ house, practicing hunter and warrior skills.