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p. 354


   Expression of the Law of Retaliation: Kanaima may appear as a human being or Spirit (320), and perhaps can be satisfactorily explained (320A), or as an animal (321). Kanaima's handiwork, when fatal, can be recognized as such only by the piai (322). Discovery of the individual under whose influence Kanaima has acted (323); search for this individual by one of deceased's relatives, or by a hireling (324); avenger proceeds to get into touch with his victim (325); mutilates him with poison, club, or arrow (326), but only to such extent that death will not ensue until third day after (327-328), when he will complete the mutilation of the corpse, and so obtain his own purification (329).
   The Invisible or Broken Arrow (330-331); the Misson of the Arrow (331A).

   320.* An individual becomes exceedingly ill. All the ordinary everyday remedies have been resorted to, the piai has invoked his Familiar Spirit, yet the patient dies; or he may sometimes expire without warning. The very fact of the medicine-man's inability to effect a cure serves only to confirm the belief held in certain tribes—Akawaios, Makusis, Arekunas, for example—that the victim's condition is the work of some human agency more or less disguised, modified, or influenced by a peculiarly terrible Spirit known as Kanaima (Sect. 307). The word itself is said to be Akawaio; the Arawak term is Mahui, which thus comes to be applied by this people to all Akawaios in general. According to inquiry made of the Arawaks, who, like the Caribs and Warraus, do not appear to know very much about the subject, and that only at second-hand, Kanaima is said to be the name of a certain tree growing in the savannahs, of which the sap has remarkable properties. After rubbing himself with it a man will go mad and become changed into some animal, as a tiger or a snake, and do people harm. The sap can also be thrown over other folk with similar results. But the word mentioned has really a very extended meaning; it is the expression of the law of retaliation, which is sacredly observed among the Indians of Guiana (Da, 16), at least, certainly among the Makusis, Akawais, Wapisianas, and Arekunas. Though applied to the man who has devoted himself to perform a deed of blood, it seems more properly to belong to the murderous Spirit under the influence of which he acts, and which is supposed to possess him (Br, 373); it indicates also the person whose rights have been injured (ScR, I, 322-3) as well as the whole mode of procedure, including the means, poison, etc., employed. Thus, the audacity of the Akawais "in these predatory excursions is astonishing. If a party can muster eight or ten stand p. 355 of fire-arms it will fight its way through all the mountain tribes, though at open war with them; and by the rapidity of their marches and nightly enterprises, which they call Kanaima, they conceal the weakness of their numbers, and carry terror before them" (HiC, 234). Schomburgk says it was impossible to learn clearly how Kanaima is regarded, because he appears not only as an evil invisible Being (dämonisches Wesen) and, in many cases, as a particular personality (individuelle persönlichkeit), but always as the avenger of a known or an unknown injury. Who and what Kanaima was, they could not tell us, but they reckoned that every casualty (Todesfall) was due to him. I had already observed the thirst for vengeance among the Warraus which often overcomes and tortures an Indian to the point of madness, as soon as he considers himself injured in his reputation or in his wife; a thirst which is but quenched with the death of the offender, or in the annihilation of his whole family (SCR, I, 322).

   The same author gives an account of a certain waterfall on the upper Cotinga which his terrified Indians tried to get past as quickly and as quietly as possible. Kanaima, the hereditary enemy of the human race, was being followed by a powerful Spirit: the pursuer was close at hand, escape seemed impossible, the steep bank preventing further flight over level ground, but in this opening it was possible: he burrowed in here, and came out again on the opposite shore of the river bank about ten or twelve miles farther on, whence he emerged to continue afresh his torments upon mankind (ScR, II, 182).

   320A.* And yet again it is quite possible that the term Kanaima may have an easily intelligible origin based on the bloody exploits of certain of the Rio Branco tribes, whose reputation, through the avenues of exchange and barter, could easily have reached the Indians of British Guiana. As a matter of fact, I can not recall at present a single instance of Kanaima culled from the literature dealing with Cayenne, Surinam, or the Orinoco region. At the head of the River Jauapiry and River Taruman-Assu (streams flowing into the Rio Negro to the eastward of the Rio Branco) are a series of wild tribes. These tribes are not wild in the sense of making war on civilized and quiet peoples (mansos), but are Kanaima tribes (tribus canaémés), as the Indians of the upper Rio Branco call them, that is, they are tribes of cut-throats by profession, educated from generation to generation in murder and theft, killing for the pleasure of killing, not even eating their victims but utilizing their tibias for flutes and their teeth for necklaces. Indians of a dozen tribes have assured me, says Coudreau, that there exists among the canaémés an association of piais who exert great influence. What makes the thing appear very probable is that it is known that these various Kanaima tribes are allied and more or less united (solidaires). [Cou, II, 235-6.]

p. 356

   321.* As already hinted, the Kanaima may just as often be in the form of an animal. "Many of the Indians believe that these 'Kanaima' animals are possessed by the spirits of men who have devoted themselves to deeds of blood and cannibalism. To enjoy the savage delight of killing and devouring human beings, such a person will assume the form, or his soul animate the body, of a jaguar [Sects. 146, 147, 148], approach the sleeping-places of men, or waylay the solitary Indian in his path" (Br, 373). One can tell, by the effects, the particular animal whose characteristics Kanaima have assumed. Does he give a blow that stretches his victim on the ground? Then he is a "tiger." Does he in wrestling find his arms encircling the neck of him devoted to destruction? Then he imbibes the spirit of the camudi, and like the constrictor, strangles (Da, 277). He may appear also in the form of a bird, and may even enter a person's body in the form of an insect, a worm, or even an inanimate object.

   322.* When a person dies it is only the piai who knows whether the death is due to an evil Spirit, or to the "poison" [blood-revenge] of another Indian. If to the former, he is buried with the usual ceremonial, but if the verdict is that he was sacrificed for some offence the corpse is carefully examined, and should only a blue spot or something unusual be found on it, the piai will show that here the victim was wounded with the invisible poisoned arrow (ScR, II, 496).1

   323.* Once the handiwork of Kanaima has been recognized, the piai's powers, as such, are not brought into further requisition, in the way of retaliation or revenge on the particular individual with whose connivance this terrible Spirit has wrought the mischief. It is not the Kanaima but his human agent who is sought for punishment. The retaliation and revenge are matters for the victim's relatives and friends to deal with, and various measures are adopted by them to discover the particular individual specially concerned. [Among the Arawaks] in order to ascertain this a pot is filled with certain leaves [and water] and placed over a fire: when it begins to boil over they consider that on whichever side the scum first falls, it points out the quarter from whence the murderer came (Be, 57). Among the Makusis, above the Waraputa Falls, Essequibo River, Schomburgk relates the following striking instance: "A Makusi boy had died of dropsy, and his relatives endeavored to discover the quarter to which the Kanaima, who was supposed to have slain him, belonged . . . the father, cutting from the corpse both the thumbs and little fingers, both the great and the little toes, and a piece of each heel, threw these pieces into a new pot which had been p. 357 filled with water. A fire was kindled, and on this the pot was placed. When the water began to boil, according to the side on which one of the pieces was first thrown out from the pot by the bubbling of the water, in that direction would the Kanaima be" (ScR, I, 325). A consultation is thereupon held, the place is pointed out, and the individual whose death is to atone for that of the deceased (Be, 57). If any one—man, woman, or child—has incurred the hatred of the all-powerful piai, or should the latter be desirous of the wife of some Indian, this or the other would be the cause of the death (ScR, II, 496).

   324.* A near relative is charged with the work of vengeance: he becomes a Kanaima, is supposed to be possessed by the destroying Spirit so-called, and has to live apart according to strict rule, and submit to many privations until the deed of blood be accomplished (Br, 357). If the individual can not be found, or rather if the favorable opportunity for committing the deed does not present itself, although it will be sought for years, any other member of his family will suffice. Sometimes the near relative will charge himself with the duty: a little Warrau boy of about 12 years of age avenges his father's and mother's death by smashing in the piai's skull with a club when the latter lies drunk in his hammock (ScR, I, 158). Formerly, the Indians at the Great Falls of the Demerara were employed by the Arawaks of the lower district to work their vengeance as Kanaima mercenaries (Da, 277). The Indians of Itéuni, Berbice River, sent a deputation to the Arekuna tribe with presents, to induce them to come and exterminate Mekro and his settlement. These Arekunas, chosen for the deed of blood on account of the remoteness of their habitation as likely to baffle all trace of the originators (Da, 16), came over from a great distance. Some Indians, who are adepts in the art of making subtle poisons, hire themselves out to rid their employers of any obnoxious individuals, and these are called Kanaimas (Bro, 141). These examples serve to show how the work of vengeance could be deputed to strangers and mercenaries.

   325.* But whoever it may be that is charged with the duty of avenging the death, he suddenly disappears from the settlement: no one knows where he is. He wanders now as Kanaima through the forests, valleys, and heights, and does not return until he has slain his victim or shot him with the poisoned arrow. Half a year or more [even years] may thus be spent, during which time he avoids all contact with other Indians. From the moment he leaves the settlement, he is outlawed—he has cut all the ties which bind him to his family and his tribe—and it is the business of any Indians who may meet him in the bush, to kill him (ScR, I, 322-3). Nor is he allowed to speak with any he may meet in his way, says Bernau (57), but Hilhouse makes the statement for the Arawaks, that an Indian who is deputed to revenge a murder will follow his enemy p. 358 for years, publicly avowing his purpose, which he will relinquish only with life (HiC, 231). He has to abstain from meat and live on what the forest supplies, a fact which will account for his usually emaciated appearance. As for ornament, he is credited with wearing a curiously wrought cap (Be, 57), but it is the bodily decoration which gives him his distinctive features. He paints bright red spots on his skin, to show that, changing into a jaguar at night, he can thus slay his victims. A set of jaguar's claws hung up in a sorcerer's hut have the same threatening signification (BrB, 154). In describing two such Kanaimas, Dance says that their emaciated bodies were painted in lines: they were tigers or [boa]-constrictors (Da, 276). Schomburgk talks of the avenger being painted in a peculiar manner, and clothed with an animal skin (ScR, I, 324).

   326.* The longed-for opportunity arrives at last; the Kanaima finds his victim alone, and slays him by poison, the arrow, or the club. Among the Akawaios especially, but also among the Makusis, Wapisianas, and Arekunas, a frightful poison known as wassi is brought into requisition. This is extracted from the bulb or tuber of a plant which the Indians refused to show him, says Schomburgk, in spite of entreaty and rich reward, on the score that if the Paranaghieris [Europeans] knew it, they would immediately discover its antidote. They cut the bulb into thin shavings, dry in the sun, and then crush to the finest powder, which has quite the appearance of arsenic. Should the alleged delinquent be caught asleep, some of this powder is strewn upon his lips or under his nose, so that it is inhaled. A sharp burning sensation in the bowels, a raging fever, and a tantalizing thirst, with no means of obtaining relief, are the symptoms of the poison, and convince the victim that his days, even his hours, are numbered. Within four weeks he becomes reduced to a skeleton and dies in fearful torment. (ScR, I, 323.) Thus, among the Makusis at Mora on the Rupununi River, was met an unfortunate woman whose attenuated body was a most shocking sight: she was a living skeleton, being nothing but skin and bones, with the exception of the face, which was not reduced in proportion with that of the rest of the body: they told me, says Brown, that this woman had come to them from the Ireng River district, where she had been poisoned by Kanaimas, and that this accounted for her wasted condition (Bro, 258). Another account I am able to quote, from the Mazaruni River, where a white powder is employed by inunction. It appeared that the murdered man had been induced to join a fishing party, and then had been set upon by a number of men, who had forced his limbs out of joint, rubbed his body over with a white powder made from a species of wild tannier, and then pulled them into their sockets again: he managed to reach home with great difficulty and take to his hammock, where he was seized with vomiting and died in a few hours (Bro, 55). p. 359 Further reference to this poison was obtained from the upper Pomeroon Caribs, who speak of it as massi, and tell me of its being put to use by the Akawaios as follows: Massi is a weed which is rubbed on a thin stick and the latter is pointed at the individual it is wished to injure. The person so pointed at must come to the one holding the stick, and as he walks along, he falls down in a sort of fainting fit: While thus unconscious, Kanaima covers him with trisel (Pentaclethra filamentosa) and thus makes him wake, but by this time Kanaima changes himself into an acouri or a deer. As the victim limps along, he startles either one of these animals, and by this sign or token recognizes that Kanaima has been giving him "medicine."1

   327.* Now, whichever means—as, poison, arrow, club, visible or invisible—the Kanaima agent may employ to carry out his design, he especially refrains from causing the immediate death of his victim for the reason that at least a three days' respite or interregnum has to be observed before he can complete, on his victim's body, those particular rites (Sect. 329) without the due observance of which he can not obtain his own purification. If circumstances should prevent him thus being purified, he must become demented and die raving mad. Hence, after assuring himself that the actual death will not take place before three days shall have passed, he makes equally certain of the sufferer in the meantime holding his tongue in more senses than one, thus preventing him giving any definite clue to his assailant's identity or existence in the immediate neighborhood. To effect this, the Kanaima devotee accordingly slits his victim's tongue with the fangs of a most poisonous snake. Schomburgk tells us from his own experience (ScR, I, 324) how the Indians collect the fangs of such snakes. Of course accidents will often happen, and even after taking the precaution of shooting an arrow into his back, the victim may be killed on the spot: in such a case the Kanaima agent will bury the corpse at once superficially in the spot where the man fell, taking care to remember the place, that he may find it when he returns, after the third day, to complete the final ceremony. Even should the wound fail to prove immediately fatal, before the poor creature can reach home the tongue has become inflamed and swollen, so that he (or she) is unable to tell who did the deed. Dance speaks of another method of impairing speech, by twisting the tongue, and inserting poisoned pills into the mouth. These pills are composed of the parings of a macaw's bill, parings of cowhorn, dog's hair, scrapings from the bulb-root of the dhu turu, and another poison, the name of which was not ascertained (Da, 278). p. 360 Brett thus talks of an Akawai murdered on the banks of the Manawarin, a branch of the Moruca: "The deed was perpetrated by a 'Kanaima' devotee in the usual manner, and close to the Indian settlement: A loud shout was heard in the forest, and when the friends of the victim ran to the spot, they found him on the ground with his back and neck bruised, but not bleeding. He had been deprived of speech by the murderer according to the cruel system followed in those crimes" (Br, 269).

   328.* If the sufferer is found by his friends and carried home, the perpetrator of the deed, the Kanaima, is obliged to hover near, to discover the place of burial (Br, 357-60), for reasons already stated (Sect. 327). But the victim's friends are equally shrewd in burying the corpse so secretly that its whereabouts shall not be known to him, hence every precaution is taken to insure this object. Should the site of burial be ultimately discovered by the Kanaima, however—and the friends of the victim will take no chances—they will either poison the corpse or stick "pimplers" (palm-spines) into it. Thus, a man having been killed by Quio, the corpse was laid out naked, with a basin of water under it, into which the pimplers of the parepi palm were placed. The body was then washed with the water, and a portion of the spines were broken, and forced into the body. When laid in the grave, the remaining spines were strewn over his body: this, they said, would kill the man who tasted of the juice of the dead body (Da, 278). Or again, so as to make certain of revenge on Kanaima, if the grave is molested by him, some of the deceased's friends will open the body, take out the liver, and put a red-hot ax-head in its place. If after that is done, the Kanaima should disturb the corpse, the intense heat which was in the ax-head, when placed there, will pass into the Kanaima devotee's body, consuming his vitals and causing him to perish miserably. An Akawai told Brett of another plan that is sometimes followed, namely, wurali poison is placed on the dead body (Br, 359-60).

   329.* On the third night the Kanaima visits the grave and sticks a pointed staff into the body: upon drawing this out, if there is blood on it, he will lick it off, and all the dangerous consequences of his act are paralyzed for him, with the result that he returns contented to his settlement (ScR, II, 497). He has undergone purification, so to speak.1 He cannot be released from the power of the evil Spirit which possesses him until he has performed this act. If this, which is an offering to the Kanaima Spirit within him, be accomplished, he becomes like other men, and can return to his family, but if not, he wanders on till madness or some other dire consequences, through the agency of the disappointed Spirit, are believed to come upon him p. 361 (Br, 359). The Arawak is firmly convinced that if the Kanaima, on the third day, cannot taste any of his victim's blood, he will become mad and die mad (ScR, II, 497); he can be freed only if he succeed in leaving behind his two distinctive death-marks—the swollen tongue and the damaged entrails. The original doctrine of Kanaima would almost seem to have constituted a special cult, the inner working of which it is now hard to unravel. Brett says that, among the Akawais, the whole system of Kanaima is taught by father to son in many families (Br, 358).

   330.* It has been already stated (Sect. 322) that Kanaima's handiwork may be recognized in the blue spot due to the invisible poisoned arrow employed by him. On the Napo River (Amazon), the Indians will "attribute many of their ills to the puffing of invisible darts into their bodies by evil, designing persons—an idea no doubt suggested by the mysterious and silent operation of their own instruments of offence" (AS, 155). A similar belief is current in the Guianas. Caribs ascribe children's sicknesses (Sect. 110) and Arawaks otherwise unaccountable illness in general, and any sharp sudden agonizing pains in particular, to an invisible arrow. The latter tribe will often describe it as the Bush Spirit's arrow (Yawahu-shímara). Interesting in this connection is the fact that a miniature bow and arrow may be extracted by the piai from the patient's body by means of massage and suction (Sect. 316). There are further beliefs about certain mysterious arrows which it is worth noting. Where the arrow sank into the water, there lurked the danger in the shape of submerged rocks, but where it floated, there the passage was clear for the corial to pass (Sect. 151). Owing to an invisible fungus growing upon the arrow in the one case (Sect. 145) and upon the bowman's arm in the other (Sect. 144), the missile does not hit its mark. When either is properly cleaned, however, the arrow is made to split a fishing-line and a distant hanging-vine rope, respectively. It has been claimed for the Spirits, and medicine-man—and after all, the powers of these agents were identical—as almost one of their perquisites, so to speak (Sect. 30), that they alone can hit an animal by shooting the arrow up into the air and letting it fall from above on the quarry. As a matter of fact this was once a more or less common practice among the turtle-hunters of the Amazon and Orinoco.1

   331.* A few words on certain ideas concerning broken bows and broken arrows must be given place here. The term "broken" would seem to represent almost the normal condition in which certain of the Bush Spirits employed bows, for which reason some of these denizens of the forest were known as Shimarabu-akaradáni (Sect. 95). The same p. 362 Beings were also evidently not averse to using broken arrows, subsquently spliced (Sect. 144), but it is certainly difficult to trace the raison-d'être of the self-castigation with the two halves of a broken arrow to insure strength and courage (Sects. 139, 221B).

   331A.* The idea of invisible poisoned or broken arrows noted in the two next sections preceding may possibly bear relation to one of the procedures adopted in the declaration of hostilities on the outbreak of war. Thus, the call to arms may be noiseless, the emissaries silently announcing the fact that the tribe is at war without even saying a word, for it suffices to leave in passing a barbed arrow in a public place for all to take up arms. This notice is called the Mission of the Arrow (correr la flecha) and is tantamount to a declaration of a state of war (G, I, 134). Martius recorded a similar procedure among the Caribs, Yuri, Miranya, and others (Beiträge, I, 97); the practice is also observed with the Guariua of the Yapura at the present day (KG, II, 316).



p. 356

1 For further information concerning this particular arrow, see Sects. 330, 331.

p. 359

1 On the Rio Içana (upper Rio Negro); maraka-imbára is the secret magic poison to which every death is ascribed (KG, I, 45, 207, 214).

p. 360

1 Compare the licking of the switch by the girl at puberty (Sect. 171).

p. 361

1 I have observed and since recorded the same method among the natives of North Queensland.—W. E. R.