April 30, 2009

Wilfried Hou Je Bek - Marubo Demon Songs

Song 1

I am the first one
That part of me which is blue
Tells of blue snakes
It is speaking of certain truths
& of my dick
I speak
I am the first one
We descend from shamans
We are the children of the jaguar-people
We are twigs of the jaguar-tree
The place of blood
Creates the demon-child
The blood of the bird-person
The place of blood
& to teach is to create
When the last word is spoken
This is what I think
This is what I say
I am dead
I am dead
But I will come back in better shape
Ahhhhhh! This is what I had to say! Ahhhhh!

Song 12.

My body has changed
My head is a fly-demon
My teeth are jaguar-demons
My teeth are beyond my control
My body is crooked
And my sisters
Use the foam
Of demon-herbs
To paint my back
& I go dancing
Along sun-paths
Along downward paths
Downwards I walk

Song 15.

I am the first one
I will become the açaí-demon
Above us are clouds
Racing through the sky
This is as it has always been

The shape the demon-keeper
The leaves of the tree-demons
Those leaves rustle
They remind me of a swarm of bird-demons
Countless of them are moving
They are the same
While I am singing
I suck from my lips
The juice of tobacco
Ahhhhhh! I say! Ahhhhhhh!
I am the first one
Whom with fresh leafs
Has his chest
Adorned with images
The geometry-demons
Geometry is the teacher
The images on my chest
They control the demons
I am the demon of demons

These are shamanic songs of the Marubo people who live in the Jawari-basin in Western Amazonia. They have been in contact with the non-indigenous world since the end of the 19th century and are now growing in number after a century of decimation. These songs are taken from Pedro N. Cesarino's ethnopoetic study 'ONISKA: A poética da morte e do mundo entre os Marubo da Amazônia ocidental' (pdf), a brilliant overview of the oratory tradition of the Marubo in relation to their cosmology. To my regret I have to say that I haven't actually read it because it is in Portugese, a language I have no command of. What I have done instead is to first map all words of these songs to their English dictionary equivalent and after that I have recreated/rewritten them in my image of what an Amazonian shaman should sound like. The current use of the word shaman, the way shamanism as an Amazonian practise is understood, is too simplistic. The shaman is the poet/academic/healer of the tribe, having knowledge of the medicinal effects of thousands of plants, but the shaman is also a belligerent witch-doctor casting spells and evoking doom over the enemies of his tribe. In the worldview of the Amazonian indian the spirit world and the real world are without clear demarcation. The world of the Indian is dark and Gothic, an unforgiving world in which evil can and does invade everything, hiding in animals, plants and friends alike. My version of the Marubo songs are dramatized towards this effect.

Wilfried Hou Je Bek

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