14 - Myths
Three very curious servants will disobey orders and will let the night escape, and with it, all the things will be lost. But a woman will know how to bring order to the recent chaos. In the afterword, we explore the current situation of the indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon. Last, we conclude the program with an Afro-Brazilian myth rooted in the Yoruba tradition.
1. Book: Legends, myths, stories and other Kayapo tales of the Amazon Rain Forest. Presented by Nahuel Sugobono. Published by Longseller.
2. PDF book: Leyendas de la Amazonia by Ana Maria Gomez Platero and Victoria Palma Ehrichs.
3. Book: Warrior, gods and spirits of Central and South America text by Tomas Gifford. Published by Ediciones Generales Anaya.
4. Book: Mitología Americana Mitos y leyendas del Nuevo Mundo Edición de Samuel Feijóo. Biblioteca de Cuentos Populares Ediciones Siruela
5. Book: How the night came from the sea by Mary-Joan Gerson. Published by Little, Brown US.
6. Article: Los Desheredados Indígenas de Brasil. Survival International.
When the night escaped
Adapted by Carolina Quiroga-Stultz
In the beginning the night didn't exist. It was always daytime. The night slept under the waters, and stretched like a long shadow along the riverbed. In those days the animals didn't exist either, but there were things that could talk. The trees, flowers, and even the rivers could express their thoughts, not like today when they are silent. And since it was always day no one could sleep, but there was a lot of talking.
It is known that the daughter of Big Serpent Cobra had taken an earth man as a husband. After a while, she began to long for the night that she used to know that resided in the depths of the river, so she asked her husband: Oh, husband, I have been waiting for the night to come, why isn't it happening?
The man said: the night doesn't exist, it is just a rumor. Here it is always day.
Oh well, she said, my father has the night, send someone to fetch it to the Big River.
The husband called his servants, and the daughter of Big Serpent Cobra instructed them in what they needed to do, and warned them: please do as my father says.
And so, the three servants went paddling a canoe up the stream. After a long while, they arrived at the place where the river joins a more prominent tributary of water. The turbulence of the waters gave notice to Big Serpent Cobra that he had visitors. So, he swam up and listened to the servant's demand.
The serpent that knew about the daughter of the Cobra’s desires handed to the servants a coconut that seemed to have been cut open before but had been sealed with wax. Then he said: The night is inside this coconut. Handle it with care and do not try to open it, if you do, all the things you know will be lost.
The three servants grabbed the coconut, and after doing reverence to Big Serpent Cobra, they went on their way padding downstream, and carrying the coconut as carefully as they had been told.
After a while, the men began to hear noises coming from inside the coconut, something like: ten ten ten, shee, shee, shee, croa, croa, croa, cree, cree, cree. Those are the sounds the frogs and toads make when they sing at night. But since the three men had never seen those animals or heard those noises before they didn't know what to make of it.
The youngest suggested they should open the coconut, and find out what the noise was. But the oldest thought it was a crazy idea, and surely, they all would be lost. It was best to keep paddling.
But the farther they paddled down the river, the more noise they heard. This time something like tin, tin, tin... chi, chi; that was the sound of crickets and birds that sing at night.
At last the servant that had initially proposed to open the coconut said: Perhaps we can take a peek. I mean is not that we have to fully open the coconut, just melt a bit of the wax, enough to take a quick look and then will seal it back.
Then the one that had not said anything yet said: Well, it is true that we all heard what Big Serpent Cobra said but truly we didn't promise him anything.
Then the oldest servant, the one that had initially been against the idea, said: You are right, if we analyze the details, we do not serve Big Serpent Cobra's daughter, we serve the husband, and the boss didn't say anything about what we should do in this particular case.
Once they all had convinced each other that they had nothing to lose, and without being able to contain their curiosity, they made a small fire, and began to melt the wax. They hoped that the fire would open a crack on the resin so they could take a peek, but the wax melted all at once, splashing them on their faces and arms. Next the coconut broke in half, and the night furiously escaped, and the world was covered in darkness.
Immediately the three men knew they were lost. Soon Big Serpent Cobra’s daughter would know they had opened the nut. They thought perhaps they could say it was an accident, but they knew in their hearts that lying is never good, and surely no one would buy it.
As they were paddling down the dark waters surrounded by that magical night, the things around them began to change. The river pebbles turned into toads and insects. The dead tree trunks, and the dry leaves became animals. A basket outside a hut transformed itself into a Jaguar. The debris floating on the river turned into fish. A fisherman and his canoe merged, and became a pelican, a tree trunk floating around became a Picarucu fish. Even a bunch of logs combined to form a turtle.
Once the night reached where Big Serpent Daughter’s lived, she knew what was going on and said to her husband: Your servants have let the night escape. When the morning star appears in the sky, I will divide the day from the night, so all beings know when one begins and the other ends.
Then she pulled one of her hairs, wrapped it around her finger, and said: You are going to be a cujubin bird (a type of rooster), and you will sing every morning when you see the first ray of light. And in that moment the thread of her hair became a bird perched on her hand.
Next, the woman painted the bird's feathers white, and the bird's legs red. Then she tied around her finger another thread of hair, sprayed it with ashes, and said: You will be a nhambu (a bird), and you will sing a different time of the night until morning.
And so, she continued doing the same thing over, and over and giving instructions, and painting each bird with different colors. Ever since then, each bird sings at an assigned time of the night, and they all sing together when the morning comes.
When at last the three servants came back home, their boss said: You have disobeyed the instructions you were given. The night has escaped and now all the things are lost, and so you will be too. From now on you will become monkeys and will spend the rest of your days jumping from branch to branch looking for food and being afraid of the night.
It is said that the black color those monkeys have on their mouths, and arms is due to the wax spilled when the coconut burst open. At night these monkeys howl when the night comes, telling everyone that in the darkness we are lost.
But even these naughty monkeys know that when Inhambu and Cujubi sign is because the night is over, and they get to be humans again. At least for some hours.
Very well my dear listeners let’s learn more about the history of the native people of Brazil, and about a discovery I made regarding the myth you heard that could possible demonstrate the oral exchanges that occurred among natives, and the African slaves brought to Brazil long time ago.
First, I will talk about the enormous difficulties that the natives from the Brazilian Amazon Rain Forest have endured. From the article The disinherited Natives of Brazil written by Survival International we find that when the Portuguese, and other Europeans began to exploit the so-called New World, those natives that were not killed during the conquest were forced to work for the white master.
Of course, that slavery contributed to the diminishing of their communities. Not to mention that the diseases brought by the Europeans had a lot to do with the decline of the indigenous people of the Americas.
By the seventeenth century, there were so few natives on the Brazilian coasts that it was necessary to import African slaves to work in the sugar cane plantations. By the way is said that the slavery trade was a Portuguese invention.
Even though the slavery of natives in Brazil was abolished in 1755, and that the slavery of black people ended in 1888 (the last one in the Americas), this horrible practice openly continued for another hundred years. This time perpetuated by the so called “barons of rubber” during the big rubber boom that happened towards the end of the nineteenth century, and into the twentieth century, when the Amazonian rain forest was mercilessly exploited.
For instance, they developed a new system called “slavery by debt”, a less explicit slavery practice that was very common during the 70’s (only 40 years ago). And it looks like some indigenous people such as the Guaraníes, and the Xacriaba in the south of Brazil, are still being exploited under this heinous practice and forced to work in sugar cane plantations.
Despite that, throughout history, indigenous people in Brazil have resisted this exploitation and aggression, always fighting for the right to defend their lands or avoiding those who wanted to oppress them. Some indigenous people fought against the Europeans forces in great battles, in some cases defeating them, and stopping the invaders for a while. Other natives resisted by using guerrilla tactics. But in the end, they were outnumbered by the colonizers and their weapons.
Despite the horrendous genocide, today Brazil probably hosts more untouched native groups than any other country. But far from being an advantage, the Brazilian indigenous people keep disappearing at a rate of one tribe per year. Of course, the main reason continues to be genocide. And it looks like things are not going to change for the better, because the new Brazilian president is more interested in favoring the rich, and the multinational companies that have their eyes, and hands on the exploitation of the Amazon Rain Forest.
However, the hard work of those sympathizing with the native’s cause led to the World Bank setting aside money to protect native lands. But their good intentions are worthless if the Brazilian government does not complete the delimitation of all the native territories. Because by neglecting this errand, the government is making the life of all those multinationals, and those interested in exploiting the Amazons Rain Forest way easier.
That is why the indigenous people will remain vulnerable unless Brazil accepts the international legislation that establishes that the indigenous nations are the rightful owners of their own lands. Surprisingly Brazil ratified that law in 1965 but soon forgot about it.
Now, let’s talk about the myth. From the book The Light and the Darkness, The Day and the Night in the South American Mythology, we find that is not uncommon to hear similar versions of this story of how the night was initially held in a container by someone who was interested in using it for his own benefit.
In those cosmological tales the night erupts into the world when the container is broken in an intentional act to release it, dictated by curiosity, impatience or imprudence, or for whatever other reason.
In those mythical stories, the most common reasons that moves these men that are living in a perpetual day, to search for the night is the desire to sleep comfortably. Since they have found out that other beings (mostly animals) know about the darkness, and use it to sleep in tranquility, they would like the same ability. Also, they desire to be with their partners in a more private or intimate way without being seen.
Among those versions that resemble the myth you just heard, and that are told across Brazil, we find the Afro-Brazilian myth adapted by Mary-Joan Gerson in her book How the Night Came from the sea.
The story tells us that the one who has the night is Iemanja the Yoruba goddess of the waters.
One of her daughters has married a man from earth. In the beginning everything is fine but Iemanjá’s daughter began to long for the darkness that she used to know down in the bottom of the sea.
So, her husband sent three of his most trusted servants to swim down the waters, and visit the Queen of the Sea in her palace. Iemanja, who already knows about her daughter’s sufferings, packed a piece of the night in a bag, and warned the servants not to open it, because only her daughter knew how to handle the naughty spirits of the night.
On their way back, while they are under the waters, the three servants don’t hear anything strange. But as soon as they stepped on soil, they begin to hear weird sounds coming out of the bag. And of course, those are the sounds of nocturnal animals. One of the men gets scared, and prefers to leave the bag behind, but the curious servant suggested the opposite. And when they opened the bag, all the nocturnal animals escaped along with the stars, and the moon.
All this time, the daughter of Iemanja has been waiting for the servants return by the beach. So, when she realizes what is happening, she is not surprised, and on the contrary, welcomes the spirits of the night, who when they hear her voice began to quiet down. From there Iemanja’s daughter begins to assign each bird a role, either to announce dawn or dusk. Among those birds is the rooster, who by the way is a very important animal in the African Yoruba mythology and religion.
The presence of a rooster in both myths (the Amazonian and the Yoruba) tells me that it is possible that the native myth has an African origin, at least the version you heard at the beginning. This is because of the exchange that must have happened with the arrival of the African slaves or as Ivan Van Sertima suggests in his book They Came before Columbus, that the Africans traveled to the Americas before 1492, but that is another cuento.
And that is all for now. Tres cuentos tells you that if it wasn’t for myths, we would not know how similar we all are.
In our next episode of Myths of Creation, we will learn how the Warao people from Venezuela explain how humans arrived in this place that we call earth.
Until the next cuento. Adios
Skeleton Dance – Myuu
Ambush the Descent – Kevin McLeod, Creative Common Attributions License
Bump in the night supernatural - Creative Common Attributions License
Strange Things at Night – Sir Cubworth
Nomads – The mini vandals
Jungle – Aakash Gandhi
The quiet aftermath - Sir Cubworth
Island coconuts – Aaron Kenny
Rumba pa’ bailar-Jimmy Fontanez