“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Visitor's Pose: He Borara Chapter 5.1

Visitor's Pose in the Hammock
(11,081 words, or start from the beginning.)

Nakaweshimi has an infant child at her breast. Lac watches her stomach grow rounder every day and wonders how she’ll cope with the demands of two nursing babies, two tiny children who must be attended to around the clock—though she’s never seen a clock, unless you count the one on his wrist. Laura should have it easy by comparison. Western women don’t nurse infants as long, and alternative forms of sustenance are much more accessible. His family won’t go hungry, even with him away—not as long as the Hofstetters keep driving his wife into the city to get groceries, with stops along the way to help her feel less trapped at the scientific institute in the mountains overlooking Caracas.

He pushes it from his mind. Because there’s no need to worry. Because even if there were something wrong, there’d be nothing for him to do about it. Before now, it never occurred to him the explorers he was so fascinated with growing up must have worried about their wives’ fidelity while they were away from home during all those ridiculous stretches of time, off in one of the dwindling regions of the map with mystery still on offer. They must have directed their thoughts to maddeningly ambiguous details in letters, alert to clues of budding… Enough.

The success of this expedition hinges on his ability to observe, and subsequently on his ability to synthesize his observations—so for this trip to serve any purpose at all, for him to come through it with anything to show, he needs to concentrate on his work. He knows the end point of all this obsessing over what Laura may be doing with some notional scientist at IVIC, a married man himself—and is he even a scientist?—is nothing but deeper obsession, more troubled sleep. So, through an exertion of will, he calls his attention back to what’s going on in the shabono, as he’s done countless times since returning from Ocamo, corralling his thoughts back to the questions at hand.

There are a lot of sick kids. It seems there are always sick kids at Bisaasi-teri. The headman is sick as well, reduced to loafing around, swaying idly in his hammock for most of the day, clutching his side, hardly able to do his own gardening. Another man, Horeshemowa, pogo-sticks around on his one leg, the other having been ravaged by a snake’s venom. So many details and impressions: which to record and in what order? Children play. Children always play. Parents and other adults always shout at them to keep it down, to quit being so damned annoying.

The games consists of various elements of adult life they look forward to enjoying. If they don’t die. The boys recreate everything in miniature. They shoot miniature arrows from miniature bows. They blow dirt through miniature blowguns into each other’s faces, emulating the shabori’s delivery of ebene into one another’s nostrils. They even build miniature yanos, the simple shelters their fathers and brothers and uncles build to sleep in when they’re on long hunting trips. He’s seen the boys capture bees, holding them ever so delicately, so they could tie a string around their thorax. Thus hobbled, the hapless creatures are allowed to escape, but the added weight and drag slows their retreat across the central plaza of the shabono. The boys pursue, often firing their miniature arrows, though they have next to no chance of ever hitting the target. In Michigan, they’d be admonished; where will those wayward arrows land? Here, they’re free to flirt with myriad dangers. And they love it.

It’s not fair at all for the girls. They’re not just imitating the duties of adult women; they’re taking them on. They babysit, fetch water, tend to fires, and leave with the older women late every afternoon to collect wood, returning with heavy straps across their foreheads, leaning forward to balance their absurd loads. They don’t complain. They don’t seem to care much that the boys are granted far more freedom from responsibility. Really, they almost seem to relish the importance of their tasks, some of them anyway. Others take on the harried and longsuffering demeanor of the older women. So much to do. So much foolishness to deal with.

The more time Lac spends among the Yąnomamö, the less alien they seem. They’re just people, carving an existence out of their little corner of the jungle. They talk and laugh and eat. They joke about farts and tease each other for having saggy butt cheeks or filthy foreheads. They gossip while they’re stuffing roasted plantains in their mouths. Their mundane concerns are tied up with their spiritual beliefs and practices, with perhaps less of a divide separating the two realms than obtains in Western societies.

Tell that to Mom, he thinks, recalling his mother’s myriad prayers personalized for individual saints.

Their language is nasal. At first, they sound whiny, kind of the way French people always sound snooty. Over time, though, you begin to listen for cadences and subtle variations in tone. You hear the music instead of just the dominant key. Their hygiene and their manners—or lack thereof—are more difficult to adjust to. They’re just people, yes, but really gross people, often quite rude as well. But it’s your rules they’re violating, you have to remember, and as long as you’re out here it’s their rules you must adhere to.

Up to a point at least.

But they really are different. Some of the women you see were kidnapped, stolen away from their husbands and kinsfolk in some rival—perhaps by now some allied—village. Lac doesn’t see any of them resisting or protesting or behaving in any way as though they’re living in captivity; he’d have little to go on if put to the task of discerning between Bisaasi-teri natives and abductees from outside villages. What would Laura, with all her theories about the effects of psychological trauma, make of that? These women can’t simply accept being torn away from their families, can they? What if they have children when the raid occurs? Yet no one seems to be trying to escape.

He’ll have to get their stories, in time. He supposes if the village as a whole can turn on a dime with its attitude toward distant or neighboring villages as strategy or honor dictates, then perhaps it’s not such a stretch to believe individual women could adapt to their new circumstances after being forcibly relocated. Still, there must be a period of adjustment; there must be some individuals who handle the upheaval better than others.

Yes, they are different, markedly, from people you’d meet in the States. You take one of them off to the side and explain to him, as best you can, what your plans are regarding your genealogical research, and he seems fine with it, shows no anger, nary an indication of disapproval. Indeed, he seems curious about the process and the resulting pool of findings. It’s their own families whose histories I’m after; why shouldn’t they be interested? And the details should be still more interesting to a man with political ambitions, one who wishes to become a great shabori, a great waiteri, perhaps someday the headman, the pata, of his own village, all of which is true of his closest informant Rowahirawa.

So you tell him your plans and he seems sanguine. Then you start asking him for some names and he looks at you like you just groped his wife. When you repeat back to him some names he’s just whispered in your ear—whispering them into his own ear in deference to their sacredness—he proceeds to smash everything within reach, trashing your notes, knocking over your table, and then threatens to kill you, chasing you from your own hut. You may, at this point, suspect this is just Rowahirawa up to his pranks again, so you begin the process anew with another, more even-tempered informant, only to meet with essentially the same outcome.

Yes, they certainly are different in certain regards. Lac sits on a log at the edge of the plaza, observing, going back to basics. No one can say he hasn’t made progress; he’s got the families arranged in clusters in his notes, so he has a rough idea who’s related to whom. He has a bead on most of the children’s parentage, along with most of the kids’ names. But he’s reached a point where he has no idea how to proceed. So it’s back to watching and looking for details he has yet to notice, back to being a silent observer, for a while. Ethnography at its most basic: sitting here observing and recording your impressions. For many anthropologists, that’s about as far as it ever goes anyway.

I could have signed on for a short stay too, he thinks. Six months, from November to May, the jungle’s dry season—I’d already be a good chunk of the way through. The clock would be ticking on my projects, sure; as of now, I have little confidence I’ll have my genealogical charts filled in by the time I’d be preparing to leave. But I could come back. Yeah, the first trip could be six months, and I would come back for two or three subsequent two-month stints. That would give me plenty of material for my thesis, and then a book. I could build a teaching career on that. That’s how most anthropologists do it. Not Lachlan Shackley though. No, I had to arrange to stay in the field as long as possible; I had to seek out Dr. Nelson and set up a plan to squeeze in some more time out here—in exchange for me serving as a liaison with the villagers, and in exchange for the genealogical information I already planned collect anyway.

The Yąnomamö are largely unknown to anthropologists after all, and so many of their villages remain uncontacted. It’s a significant opportunity, both for him personally and for the science of anthropology—along with Nelson’s contribution to the science of genetics and any discoveries he may light on about the effects of radiation by comparing these so-called native soil populations to people exposed to the aftermath of the detonations in Japan. So here I am, self-marooned. If there’s good news, it’s that having angered the Yąnomamö so many times, each time having witnessed them return to an even keel, I find myself less frightened for my life at any given moment. That makes for a far less stressful existence. And it opens the way for me to test several plans for getting the information I need.

Lac has considered concocting some elaborate story about how his hut is a magical dwelling place for the buhii of the ancestors, where they not only tolerate but encourage the use of their names. What’s stopping him from tricking them like this? They play tricks on him all the time. Somehow though, the idea strikes him as a step too far. Trust may not be earned in the same ways among the Yąnomamö as it is in Northern Michigan, but such a scheme would set a bad tone for his project, establish a problematic theme in his research.

Such shenanigans would likely go over well enough with the fans of any books he writes for a popular audience, should he decide to write about them, but his fellow scientists wouldn’t be amused. Who’s to say the plan wouldn’t backfire anyway? Indeed, one of the likelier outcomes would be that his informants, given this sign of his desperation, would clam up, sealing their lips even tighter whenever he comes around quizzing them on the names of their family members. As it stands now, he manages to get a name here and there. They know he wants more, but so far they seem neither inclined to help nor especially determined to thwart his efforts. Really, they seem to think the whole thing is a joke.

One minute they’re mad, the next they’re trying to contain their laughter at his foolishness. Besides, the more he listens to their complaints, the less he thinks their concern is with angering the spirits of their ancestors; the dead are gone, living on hedu, the Sky Layer. They claim the reason hearing the names is unbearable to them is that they can’t stand being reminded of their lost family members. By using their names, you’re calling attention to their absence, to the fact of their being dead. That’s how they explain it anyway. According to Rowahirawa, there’s only one thing to be done to honor or memorialize the dead: avenge them.

Lac hopes to see the rituals associated with one of these revenge missions one day, but in the meantime he wants to know how the Yąnomamö’s aversion to being faced with reminders of dead family members squares with their mad obsession with their own honor, the demand for respect that drives their efforts to keep their own names off-limits. For my grandfather’s name, it’s about the painfulness of his memory, but for my own name it’s about being afforded the proper deference—it’s about status. Just as the only reasonable response to a death is revenge, the man whose name is spoken publicly likewise feels honor-bound to at the very least scare the living hell out of the person who spoke it. It’s amazing they don’t spend more time fighting than they do. Even the young children, barely walking, are pressed to repay insult for insult, blow for blow, in their dealings with other children. The child who turns to his mother for comfort after being struck by a playmate receives nothing but goads to retaliate. If you let offenses go unpunished, they seem to think, you’re inviting more. You can’t rise in status as long as you let people push you around.

And forbearance?

They recognize no such virtue. Which makes my position, Lac thinks, even more precarious. What choice do I have but to allow myself to be pushed around at certain points, to a certain degree? I can’t go around challenging men to boxing matches. I can’t start shooting people with my shotgun. Yet every insult I let stand, every act of bullying I stoically withstand, serves as an advertisement of my vulnerability—a giant “kick me” sign slapped on my back. And just as you must guard your own status by refusing to tolerate slights of any kind, you can also bolster your standing by disrespecting someone else and getting away with it. It’s a bully’s paradise. An arena for competitive posturing.  

Lac has even begun to suspect this urge to prove one’s ability to disrespect others with impunity is what lies behind the incessant demands for his madohe. It’s more than mere greed. They demand, he gives. Their status grows, his diminishes. In this light, his refusals no longer appear adequate; he’s still being seen getting harassed and threatened on a daily basis and doing nothing about it. He thinks back to those two machetes that were stolen from him the first week he was in the field. The man who’d rescued him when he fell behind the party of hunters that day ended up with one, so Lac assumed his brother had taken the other. It turned out he hadn’t.

The village is quiet today, save for some banter and the sounds of children at their games. Since arriving in Bisaasi-teri, Lac has stitched three large lacerations on villagers’ heads. Two of these injuries were sustained during club fights he witnessed, the scars from which the men display proudly by cutting their hair into tonsures which serve as windows onto the grotesque. The third was a woman. What he’s observed is that the injunction to respond violently to any offense forces some physically or politically weak men to displace their anger, striking their own wives instead of attacking the culprit. Or striking their dogs. In either case, Lac, to his stubborn chagrin, finds himself running headlong into another limitation to his cultural relativism.

When you lash out at someone weaker than you out of fear for your actual tormentor, what are you displaying besides your own inferiority, your own cowardice? Sure, you’re showing everyone you have a line that once crossed can’t be uncrossed. But how does turning your anger toward a bystander dissuade would-be bullies? Aren’t you signaling your impotence, your inability to retaliate properly? Aren’t you telling the offender he’s got nothing to worry about because you’ll find some other outlet for your rage? I mean, anyone can beat up a woman—unless, I suppose, she’s under the protection of a large contingent of her male kinsfolk. This is why, incidentally, women seem to prefer marrying men from their natal village; it means they don’t have to step out from under that protection.

And dogs? Really? You have to kick a dog to prove how tough you are?

Pathetic.

You don’t see truly powerful men clubbing their wives over the head or throwing rocks at their dogs. Bahikoawa’s wives are all intact, no lopped-off fingers, no mutilated ears, both of which Lac surmises are common wages of infidelity. I guess you could say these men are expressing their anger through the only channels they have available to them—and express their anger they must, as their upbringing has inculcated in them since toddlerhood. One generation of women bequeathing to their boys the ethos that will result in the next generation’s abuse.

If I were a Yąnomamö, he thinks, I’d display my fierceness, my waiteri, by having a pretty wife with a smile on her face. And perfect ears. I’d only challenge the men who offended her, laughing off insults to myself.

But that’s not right. Because if you were a Yąnomamö, you’d be brought up the same way they are, and they aren’t raised to think very highly of women, or to value their happiness. Women, the men joke, are never happy. Putting any stock in their happiness would be a losing investment.

Lac stands and looks around the plaza, cognizant of the oddness of his behavior but past caring; by now, the Yąnomamö wouldn’t be surprised if he sprouted a third leg… or turned into a hummingbird and started buzzing and flitting about their heads. The men would watch it happen, then weeks later they’d be shooting ebene up each other’s noses and squatting down to tell the story of how the clownish nabä up and turned into a three-legged hummingbird. They’d waddle side-to-side in rhythm with their words, gesturing in pantomime of the arc of his flight. That nabä, the shabori would say, he darted right up in my face—POW—hovered around making a sound like, vvvrrrhhh, and then he flew off so fast, wwwaaayyy over there.

Lac laughs at the impression playing out his imagination, the storyteller like a roosting bird rousing itself to put on a preening display to dazzle a mate. He walks toward the shaded dwellings beneath the high roof, roughly in the direction of Bahikoawa’s yahi—his immediate family’s section of the shabono, his house—where he gravitates, not because he’s planning to leave the village and go back to his hut, nor to visit Nakaweshimi or the headman’s younger wife, but rather because he has a vague intuition it’s the best direction to amble if he wants to witness something interesting—even though the headman’s family life is remarkably free from drama, at least by Yąnomamö standards.

He could look at it as progress, his boredom. At least boredom presupposes a level of comfort, a lack of fear. Though it may rather be that he’s too spent to be scared of anything just now. If a giant serpent rose up out of the Mavaca and crashed through the shabono, he would probably just stand there watching the carnage unfold. Except he has to stay alive and in one piece for Laura and Dominic and Kara.

Unless—maybe they’d be better off without him.

Enough of that, he tells himself. By any outward measure, you’re doing well, considering the nature of the enterprise you’ve embarked upon. You’re going to keep moving forward with it because that’s all you can do, keep moving forward. Feeling low, wallowing in doubt, that helps nothing. If you start to feel low, that’s when moving is most imperative. Moving and working. Or else the lowness will lead to inactivity, which will in turn lead to you feeling even lower, and on and on in a downward spiral of pathetic passivity, a vortex which would also draw your family down into its gulping maw. So move your ass Shackley. Can’t figure out a way to make progress on your genealogies? Put them aside and get to work on something else. I mean, for Christ’s sake, it’s not like you’ve mastered the language yet. Rowahirawa says you sound like a besotted monkey eating a panicked toucan.

Ha ha. That son of a bitch.

So enough with these vague intuitions and all this waiting around. If you think you should track down Bahikoawa and see what he’s up to, then go find him.

Lac scans the plaza: children playing, men crossing from one side to the other to visit neighbors, and a group of three men—no, four—squatting for a confab. He turns and walks over to them, unsure as always whether his presence will be tolerated or whether he’ll be bullied and chased away. Bahikoawa is holding court. It looks as though he’s feeling better; he’s not wincing and grabbing at his side like he was before. He does still look sick though, tired and uncomfortable. Does that mean he believes some shabori from a rival village has sent a hekura to gnaw at his soul? Lac will try to ask him when next he has the chance.

Right now, the headman is talking about war strategy again. Lac approaches in an arc, listening in from afar to glean as much as he can before getting harassed or chased away, if that’s how the men are to react. Specifically, they’re discussing Karohi-teri and whether the people there will support Bisaasi-teri should they take up arms alongside Monou-teri against Patanowä-teri. Karohi-teri is the home village of Rowahirawa, and it seems he may have left on bad terms. Bahikoawa responds to another man’s voicing of this concern by pointing out that the insulted man isn’t a pata, isn’t influential enough to sway the village’s browähäwä.

Rowahirawa is still away on his hunting trip, but the men decide to put the question to him when he returns. Patanowä-teri is a massive village, the men there notoriously waiteri. If the Monou-teri headman attacks them, accompanied by a contingent of Bisaasi-teri raiders, there could be hell to pay. Once the decision is made to consult later with the sioha, the men stand and disperse, returning to their yahis, where they’ll laze until the sun swings low enough that its rays aren’t beaming directly onto the plaza. Then it will be time to set those hekura to work stealing and retrieving souls.

Lac is left standing alone, once again with no idea what to do with himself. At least he got some good information, but it was mostly stuff he already knew. He almost misses Rowahirawa—until he remembers how things turned out with his earlier translator and chief informant, the bright young man who had a better grasp than anyone else in the village of what Lac was after in any given situation and what he needed to know. Lac never learned this kid’s name, and at any rate he’s gone now, though where he went and for how long remain open questions. At the time of his leaving, Lac was beyond caring. Maybe he planned to leave all along, Lac thinks now; that’s why he didn’t bother trying to arrange a longer-term partnership with him—a mutually beneficial one. That could be why he chose instead to help himself to whatever he wanted from the hut.

Oh, he was tricky about it too. He had Lac’s number like Lac can barely imagine having any Yąnomamö’s after knowing them for so short a time. He always knew the perfect time to strike; he always knew the perfect face to show; he always knew how to be helpful to the point of indispensability. Two and a half weeks in, Lac was utterly dependent on him. All the while, he was secretly enriching himself with Lac’s madohe. The machetes—one of which he traded to another man Lac once thought he could safely depend on—were only the beginning. Wherever he is now, he has an axe for himself, one to trade, several empty cans for use as grinding surfaces to make ebene from hisiomo, which Lac would have gladly given him upon request, boxes of crackers, bags of oatmeal—does he know how to prepare it?—and the tarp Lac had been using as a poncho. Anything else? The young man had also taken with him any remaining openness or inclination on Lac’s part to seek friendship among the Yąnomamö.

He understands. He may as well have a Vegas-style neon marquee over his head: “I possess valuable goods but know nothing.” To them he’s a rich, ignorant nobody, ripe for a con. The troubling thing, the thing Lac doesn’t want to acknowledge, is that he was so confident in the young man’s good intentions; he liked him; they liked each other; there was no reason for them not to help each other out, no reason to deal double. All that time, though, while smiling to his face, while flashing his eyes in understanding, a look of friendship, the kid was robbing him blind.

Up till he discovered the full extent of the young man’s thievery, Lac had been taking some reassurance from his calculation that his food supplies may last him until Clemens’s return. He no longer has recourse to such calculations. He’ll need to hunt. He’ll need to rely on the Yąnomamö. Or else: he also has the option of turning to Padre Morello and the other Salesians at Ocamo. Of course, that line of dependency comes at a cost of its own—what might they ask for in return? But here in the jungle, you do what you must.

Really, though, Lac tells himself, it’s inexplicable why more of them aren’t stealing from you. They could rather easily. But theft, despite the padre’s pronouncements, really is discouraged; calling someone a thief is an insult among the Yąnomamö as well, though they think of it somewhat differently. Theft for them is ungenerous, stingy, demonstrating a lack of the compulsive charity they boast of engaging in. So it could be worse. Really, you’re lucky just to be breathing still. Healthy and in one piece.

Walking back to his hut, not dejected but in a funk, he’s chased and surrounded by children. Time for some language games. Doing something useful will make you feel better.

*
Last winter, as he was preparing to board a freighter in New York in the upcoming fall, bound for Venezuela,  Lac went to a theater with Ken Steel, one of his best friends at U of M, to watch the heavyweight champion Sonny Liston lose his title to Cassius Clay. The outcome of the fight incensed many people in Ann Arbor. Clay is boastful and disrespectful. Everyone was eager to see him take his long-overdue whooping. Even the way he moves is offensive, so cocksure, so provocative. But, for Lac, there was something there beyond the total disregard for proper form evinced by Clay’s antic style, which he found just as infuriating as everyone else, something mesmerizing. His movements are so graceful, fluid, precise. The enchantment of sport is borne of witnessing the superhuman interlocking of will to bodily action; the superior athlete is able to set his plans into perfect motion, manifesting desire as living deed, a feat all the more impressive for taking place against the efforts of an equally determined opponent; he moves and adjusts at the speed of thought—faster even—and spectators are captivated by the calculated blur, the flow of furiously choreographed execution, every twitch of tightly honed muscle engineered on the fly to fulfill a single objective: victory.

Lac thinks of this whenever he sees the Yąnomamö on the hunt. He was following the delegation from Bisaasi-teri on their way to Karohi-teri, but someone caught sight of game, sending everyone darting off into the gray shadows of the primeval forest. Lac doesn’t even know what they’re chasing exactly; there was a whisper, but he was too far from the whisperer to make it out. He clutches his shotgun as he runs to catch up, ready to avail himself of any opportunity to demonstrate his hunting prowess.

Should he fire his gun though?

The men have been making him feel like a kid riding in the back of his parents’ car, whining, “Are we there yet?” at intervals. They keep responding with the same phrase, “A brahawä shoawä,” which he takes to mean, “It’s still a long way off.” But by now they must be close. In earshot of a shotgun blast? He can’t know. He also can’t know how the Karohi-teri would react to hearing such a sound.

Weighing the risks against the benefits of helping the men in his party procure some meat, which they’ll grill or smoke until it has the look and taste of a charred hockey puck, he opts for shooting anything he sees. Peering into the profusion of shadowy wet leaves, the space around him throbbing with dense and buzzing life, clicking insects joined by a chorus of distant birds, he spies a blankness through the foliage, an absence, not just of game but of some natural element that rightly should be there in front of his eyes, some quality he believed this place, Amazonia, would possess. Instead—a mess of overgrown ferns, tangled lianas, tornadoes of gnats, all suspended in a sticky soup of heavy overheated air alive with ravenous biting insects.

A feeling grips him, a sensation of buoyancy, like a giant’s hand clasping his body, lifting him from the ground. He rises from his crouch to stand at his full height. Turning around, he sees a half circle of Yąnomamö men, their unfamiliar faces painted black, their bows stretched and creaking. A single word rings through his mind: ambush. The feeling is of being caught in the open, helpless, doomed.

Lac turns and dashes into the undergrowth, realizes the hopelessness of his flight, turns again, aims his rifle, and fires. He doesn’t know if he’s hit his target; he can’t make out any bodies through the acrid smoke. But he’s aware of the loosing arrows, hears the sound, hears them hiss through the air, their poison tips thudding into and burying themselves in flesh. He steps backward: one step, a stagger, another step, and now he’s falling back, back through thick clouds of sleep, falling and falling until he lands, startled, in his hammock, in his mud-and-thatch hut thirty yards from the main shabono at Bisaasi-teri, where the Mavaca empties into the Orinoco.

It’s morning. They leave for Karohi-teri today. He’ll see where that bastard Rowahirawa is from. He hopes they’re not all like that guy. He can be funny, sure. But one of him is more than enough.

*
The Yąnomamö travel single-file along their trails, if you can call them trails. You have to keep your eyes focused on a space maybe three feet from the ground, where someone might casually reach over and snap a twig, leaving the top segment dangling from the separated fibers of bark. I suppose, Lac thinks, if they can pick up enough detail from a footprint to recognize its maker, they should have no trouble finding signs like broken branches, bent leaves, and kinked stems. But there’s an insouciance about their trailblazing, as though they drift into a trance while walking. Lac takes to his notes whenever they stop and tries to map their progress against his best estimation of the layout of the landscape, but he didn’t need any map to discover that his traveling companions had taken him up a steep incline for hours, summiting a substantial hill or low mountain, adding an enormous amount of exertion to their trek—when it would have been much easier to go around the damn hill.

His frustration upon making this discovery must have been conspicuous enough, as the men were briefly stunned into silence, until they burst out laughing. Only a crazy nabä would get worked up about such silliness. As careless as their course strikes him at times, he can’t help being impressed by their familiarity with the vast terrain and with their uncanny sense of distance and direction. They know exactly where they are at any point in their progress, and that’s likely why their trails are so minimally developed.

The Yąnomamö know, or seem to, which direction every village and garden and major landmark is. No matter where you are, you can ask them and they’ll point, accurately as far as Lac has been able to ascertain. They’ll explain the distance by pointing to where the sun would be by the time you finished traveling there. Or if it’s more than a day’s walk away, they tell you how many “sleeps” before you arrive, having to rely on fingers and toes for numbers greater than two, because they lack words for them.

Maybe they enjoy cresting mountains; maybe the climbs afford chances to take in the beauty of rare vistas. If so, Lac wishes someone would have encouraged him to look up and enjoy them himself.

He hasn’t yet picked up the trick of spotting game while focusing his gaze on the search for signs of the trail, a skill the Yąnomamö are exquisitely adept at. They must be lifting their gaze, he reasons, at frequent intervals, a feat they can pull off because they know the trail intimately. Lac on the other hand could rely completely on the man in front of him for his bearings and still seldom catch sight of anything worth hunting. Likewise, if he gave up entirely on spotting game he’d still have difficulty keeping to the trail; it wouldn’t take long for him to be lost—Rowahirawa likes to tell him to take the lead whenever they’re hunting or traveling in a group, so they all can laugh when he wanders off course almost immediately. He’s determined to develop both skills, one at a time if necessary, but eventually he’ll be able to exercise them simultaneously like the Yąnomamö.

The most important skill for to him acquire now though is getting the names they so steadfastly avoid divulging. When you’re watching them scold a storm, it’s easy to feel smug—though even that practice has an undeniable intuitive appeal. For Westerners too the gods dwell in the heavens; we’ve even had those who casts thunderbolts down to Earth. You feel smug, Lac thinks, whenever they do something you understand the goal of but know won’t work. Except for the healing rituals the shabori perform; those are just sad. The bullying for the sake of status is the big example, as so much of it involves harassing or assaulting those weaker than you, women or dogs, or ignorant nabäs. Such transparent efforts to win renown ought rightly to establish nothing other than the bully’s own weakness—but the Yąnomamö don’t think like that. For them anger and immediate retaliation, and even status, are mostly a means of deterrence. If you don’t get angry at someone, you’re inviting further abuse. Directing that anger at someone other than the actual offender, while not ideal, is better than not doing anything. It still tells covillagers how you have a line you can’t be pushed beyond without triggering violence, however pathetic its expression.

Some men lack any such line. They must not fare too well.

The single-file progression of the envoys isn’t the most conducive arrangement for easy conversation, so the Yąnomamö stick to one-liners. They shout jokes. Lac almost never gets them. He hears the Yąnomamö laughing, smiles dumbly, and looks down at the ground, seeing the scuffed and deeply wrinkled boots, caked in dried mud, pinching and chafing his aching feet.

Whenever the smugness evaporates, Lac is left with a feeling of dread and diminishment. Our cultures may have achieved starkly uneven levels of technological advancement, he thinks, but no single person carries the entirety of his culture—a fact which is especially true of people from more advanced societies. Think how little of your own world you could recreate from scratch—and then realize you’d die shortly after beginning the effort because you depend on that culture you can’t even begin to reproduce for survival.

He once stood outside his father’s house looking up into the autumn sky, searching for the tiny satellite the Russians named Sputnik. He remembers it now because it caused in him a similar feeling of diminishment. The soviets are our rivals; our society had been bested. Was the feeling his own, he wonders now, or had it crept in from that wider society? Couldn’t one forget the military ramifications for a moment and marvel at the collective ingenuity of his fellow humans, no matter how hostile to us some of them may be?

“It’ll be missiles next,” his father said, “and it only takes one.”

Malcolm Shackley had been serving in Germany at the tail end of the war. He has stories about the Russians he will never tell.

“If you want to do something worthwhile,” he said to Lac, “go to school to be an engineer or a physicist.”

Lac was coming inside after a fruitless search of the night sky over Port Austin when his father gave him this commission. He would have never admitted to anyone how much his heart swelled. He’d thought his dad was disappointed in him, his second-born son, because he hadn’t allowed himself to be pressed into joining the military. It had been good enough for the men of his generation, his father surely thought; what more did this new crop of starry-eyed young weaklings want, other than to work as little as possible? Lac would have expected any of his father’s recommendations regarding career choice to come with some reprising of this theme. Instead, he offered up this higher calling. Lac filled out the paperwork to apply for Physics and Engineering courses at Sault St. Marie the following summer. That would have been eight years ago now.

It wasn’t until he was allowed to transfer to U of M that he took his first anthropology class, with Dr. Service, to fulfill a prerequisite. That class inspired him to take the next one, this time with Dr. White, both courses together effecting a one-two combination that sealed his fate, bringing him to the present moment, in which he’s once again feeling the dreadful suspicion that his might not be the ascendant culture, or that his identity as a vessel of that culture can only fail to establish his personal authority—or for that matter his basic personal worth—so far removed from its natural parameters, in the absence of its most preciously impressive trappings and accoutrements.

The Yąnomamö never doubt the superiority of their own culture, of their very substance as humans. When two brothers loosed their arrows and the moon’s blood fell to the earth, it fell most thickly on the ground beneath whichever village you yourself happen to have been born in, or so everyone seems to believe. And all this madohe? Gifts from the hekura, given to the nabä, the degenerate subhumans from the outer rim of This Layer, solely out of mischief, as a colossal prank. That’s just like them. Really, it’s a wonder Lac isn’t having far more trouble than he is holding on to his metal tools. He thinks back to all the effort he put into securing the door of his hut, and then to secure the inner door into his storage area, the space separated from the main room by the extra mud and wood-frame wall he’d decided to build.

It wouldn’t keep them out, not if they were determined, not if they were shameless in their efforts and didn’t bother trying to be quiet and inconspicuous. He has grand plans to travel to every village he hears of, collecting census data and recording minor variations in their languages and customs, perhaps even stitching together some semblance of a transtribal history—or folk history anyway. How can I do that when traveling to a single nearby village causes me so much hand-wringing?

And fear for his madohe is only part of that worry; he has no idea how this new village is going to receive him—if they’re going to receive him. This is the place Rowahirawa hails from, his most aggressive and determined bully among the Bisaasi-teri. They could all be like him at Karohi-teri. He may be closer to the norm in most of the Yąnomamö villages.

This last thought has a peculiar effect on Lac, as it reminds him how many questions he could potentially answer merely by visiting more villages. He would be able to see how normal Rowahirawa really is. He could see how big the villages are on average. He could see how far manufactured goods have made it along the trade networks. Curiosity competes with caution. And aren’t the risks to his supplies just another practical hurdle he can apply some thought and ingenuity to addressing? And the risks associated with making first contact—a flash of remembering his arrival at the Bisaasi-teri shabono—he can probably learn to minimize those as well. Anyway, making first contact, availing yourself of the last remaining opportunities to record such experiences—that was one of your main motives for choosing the Yąnomamö in the first place.

But, oh, how little I knew.

As for Rowahirawa, he’s a pushy, disrespectful jerk, it’s true. He’s also currently my best informant. Anxiety and wounded pride aside, I could do worse than meet a village-full of men who turn out to be half as helpful.

Still… an entire village-full?

He steps over a low branch and feels a painful pinch in his foot when he returns it to the ground. Long periods of walking, followed by long periods of sitting, riding in a boat, lying in a hammock—his legs and feet are constantly stiff and sore. He envies the Yąnomamö their wide-splayed, never-shod feet, thickly calloused—though when they get wet they become vulnerable to thorns and sharp twigs. The whole group will halt in its progression as one of them stops to dig the barb out of his toe. And their legs—they have the most flexible knees Lac has ever seen on anyone in his life, squatting for hours at a time, bouncing and rocking as they give their nighttime speeches—a custom Lac has only recently witnessed since he usually goes back to his hut as soon as it looks like everyone is about to turn in—and bouncing and rocking and dancing as they recount their myths.

He does see them stiff and grunting once in a while, but not like him. His feet and legs join his acute anxiety and a host of other contributors to his insomnia, and his near-constant exhaustion has been the bane of his days in the jungle. If he could just get a few good nights’ sleep, well, then he’d be as sanguine as he should be about visiting all these villages.

At least the damned bareto aren’t making him feverish anymore, or leaving welts all over his skin, though they are still an incessant nuisance. Even the Yąnomamö suffer their unending attacks; the few who’ve managed to get their hands on shirts or dresses eagerly don them for the modicum of protection they offer from the insects—bareto during the day, mosquitoes at night. Lac watches the poor children, whose smiles and laughter and fun-loving acceptance are the only reason he’s still here and still sane, watches them twist and smack their shoulders, slap their arms and legs, the erratic dance you do when you’re besieged by tiny biting bloodsuckers. He’s thought of bringing repellent spray for them when he returns from his next visit to a town, but he knows it would be pointless.

He could never bring enough.

*
Rowahirawa walks up into a yahi and stands before a man lying in his hammock. “This is the man whose wife’s vagina I ate,” he says to Lac as he grabs the poor man by the ankles and dumps him on the ground. To eat a woman’s vagina, Lac has learned, is to have sex with her.  

The laughter hits Lac like a punch to the gut.

Partly from the pent-up tension, partly because it’s nice to see the unprovoked hostility directed at someone else for once, Lac takes a perverse delight in his informant’s attack on the man he’s made a cuckold. But the laughter catches him off guard. He tries to scan the vicinity for signs of trouble, afraid Rowahirawa’s lark might cause a melee, but he can’t see much because he’s doubled over with tears in his eyes.

Upon entering the shabono, Rowahirawa marched to the center of the plaza and struck the visitor’s pose, which consisted of him standing erect, his joints locked, his chin in the air, his weapons at the ready, all the while ostentatiously unmoved by the warriors celebrating his arrival by clacking their bows and arrows and clubs together, randomly lunging at him before pulling back, singing his praises, extolling his ostensible fierceness. But, despite this initial display, Rowahirawa is clearly not shying away from the trouble he left behind in Karohi-teri.

So this character I’ve been dealing with is a rare son of a bitch by Karohi-teri standards too—good to know. Lac recovers his equipoise and pricks his ears for danger. It seems no further fighting will ensue. The Karohi-teri are so cowed they’re leaving even him alone, though he sees their eyes flashing looks at him, the Drowned Man, the infamous nabä. You’re supposed to enter an allied shabono with fanfare, it turns out, as Rowahirawa did. The other men from Bisaasi-teri are outside washing the mud from their legs and painting their bodies with the red nara paint they use back home to make their bodies appealing to the hekura.

Rowahirawa explained that the Bisaasi-teri men will enter the village two at a time, dancing around the rim of the plaza in full regalia. Lac in turn said he really wasn’t up for any of that, so Rowahirawa let him tag along as he ducked into the shabono of his home village to present himself and announce the presence of his temporary covillagers outside. His first act of diplomacy was to dump this man from his hammock. Perhaps because the man suspects the delegation outside is actually a raiding party, neither he nor any of the men of his patrilineage responds to the offense with anything more provocative than a few lame insults and limp protests.

After recovering from his bout of laughter, Lac is immediately irritated with Rowahirawa for adding to the already excruciating tension. The Karohi-teri don’t know what to do about the presence of this frightened—hysterically laughing—nabä in their village. Since he’s a stranger who snuck in without invitation, they should probably kill him, but he’s accompanying one of their own on his embassy. Anyway, they’ve heard all about him; they know he behaves strangely, not following their customs, scarcely aware of how contrary his actions are to any viable prescription for proper behavior.

Lac was following close behind Rowahirawa until he walked into the man’s yahi and assaulted him. Having backed away, first as he was laughing, then from apprehension, Lac now finds himself standing alone in the midday sun, exposed, at the edge of the plaza. The villagers must be eager to examine me, he thinks. I’m only being left alone for the moment because etiquette prevents them from approaching me—or because they’re still afraid this could turn out to be a raid. Though if it were a raid, Rowahirawa marching right in to announce the presence of the others would be strange—at least according to what Lac has been told about how raids are usually conducted. Of course, they may be reasoning that Rowahirawa himself might not know what the other men from Bisaasi-teri are planning.

Lac keeps his hands straight down by his sides, moving as little and as slowly as possible, unsure where or how to stand, what expression to arrange his mouth and eyebrows into signaling. He tells himself it hardly matters; they don’t seem to notice stuff like that anyway. Rowahirawa, meanwhile, only stands over the cuckold long enough to get the better of him in an exchange of insults before continuing on to another yahi, presumably the headman’s. Lac follows.

The men greet each other as kin and Rowahirawa tells him about the Bisaasi-teri waiting outside. The headman orders some young men—sons, nephews—to prepare food for their guests, and they promptly, excitedly, run off to the gardens outside the shabono. The arrival of guests from a neighboring village is a big event for any Yąnomamö, a chance to meet new people and reconnect with long-lost family members. Now, Rowahirawa is telling the Karohi-teri headman about Lac, the Bisaasi-teri’s visiting nabä, the “ankrauhpowahist” who wants to learn how to be a true human, a Yąnomamö, descendant of Bloodmoon.

When Lac turns, he sees that nearly every pair of eyes in the village, from the young boys to the longsuffering mothers, to the wizened old men, are on him. Ah, he thinks, but how can I learn how to be a true human from these people if they’re so damned interested in learning about me and whether I’m made of enough human stuff myself to qualify for lessons? Rowahirawa is explaining to the headman that the nabä doesn’t even mind if you speak his name aloud. He comes over to nudge Lac, saying, “Shock-a-lee,” exaggerating the difficulty of the pronunciation to highlight its exoticness, its ridiculousness.

Lac smiles generically—any nuance to his expressions would be lost on them anyway, as those to theirs are to him—and corrects his guide: “Shackley.”

The headman responds with a look that’s both intense and bemused. He considers the sounds he’s heard, considers Lac’s person in full, and then says, “Shaki?” Rowahirawa erupts in laughter, startling Lac. The headman smiles as well, at the joke he’s apparently just made. Lac has to wait for Rowahirawa, doubled over now himself as he was moments before, to recover his composure before he can ask for an explanation.

“Shaki,” he repeats, holding up his hand as if pinching a bug between his forefinger and thumb, producing a buzzing sound by humming through his clenched teeth with parted lips. Another word for bareto? Mosquito? No—suddenly Lac understands, and the meaning weaves itself in and under and out between their two languages and cultures with such wanton disregard for the boundary separating them that it ties his mind in a messy knot. Shaki: a bee. A pesky bee. A busy bee. That’s me, he thinks, laughing along at last, me walking around with my notebook, ceaselessly barraging people with questions, a consummate worker, a pest. At once, he feels both embarrassed and proud at this solemnly facetious christening. He knows somehow his new nickname will stick.  

Children are rushing up and hiding in the shadows of their neighbors’ yahis to get a peek at him from a safe distance. His presence alongside the official emissary constitutes a breach of protocol—but then, so does screwing another man’s wife and then dragging him out of his hammock as a reminder. Lac was determined to see everything he could of the meeting from beginning to end; he’d wanted to see how Rowahirawa would announce the presence of the villagers he’s been living with as he completes his bride service. Lac looks around, wondering whether there might be a shortage of women at Karohi-teri, but it’s impossible to tell from what’s visible to him now. The women would be gathering firewood or tending to their hearths, corralling their children. Or they may be hiding, suspicious of the Bisaasi-teri men’s intentions, and those of their pet nabä.

When the boys the headman sent off to the garden return, they’re carrying enormous clusters of plantains. Courtesy demands the host feed his guests, apparently even before they enter the shabono. Lac watches as the headman uses strips of bark to seal a carrying package for the food, a large bundle comprised of the plantains, red palm fruits, big chunks of charred meat, and what looks like flat pieces of cassava bread, all wrapped in an impromptu spherical basket for Rowahirawa to hoist up on his back, brace by a strap across his forehead, and take to his friends outside.

Rowahirawa and the headman keep up a constant banter, but they mutter, as if in a hurry to share secrets at volume. A handful of other men pass through the yahi and engage in similar exchanges; Lac begins to suspect something underhanded may be in the works, but then he remembers the Yąnomamö’s penchant for rumormongering and their uncanny ability to know things long before they logically should. Is that what this is? Are they gossiping? Or is Rowahirawa divulging intelligence about how best to curry favor with the larger group? The small snippets he manages to pick up seem to be about developments in the lives of kin, but they could be talking about anything.

At last, the welcome basket is ready and Lac follows behind Rowahirawa as he heaves it up, arranges the strap, and lugs it outside, carrying a couple heavy clusters of plantains himself. Outside, the Bisaasi-teri men are busy decorating their bodies. In addition to the red paint in circle patterns or squiggly lines, they’re attaching long feathers to their armbands—from turkeys or parrots or whatever other birds whose plumage they admire. Most of them have on their monkey tail headbands. The final touch involves spreading tiny white feathers all over their hair—a symbol of their peaceful intentions. Pressing the plantains proffered by the Karohi-teri headman into their cheeks, the men help each other reach difficult stretches of their backs and ensure the paint and feathers are evenly distributed.

Lac takes a moment to look each man up and down. He can’t help comparing them in his mind to rambunctious young boys who’ve stolen their mom’s lipstick to draw on each other before burying a pair of scissors into a pillow. He grins. If they notice at all, the Yąnomamö see his mirth as further redounding to their pride in the impressive beauty of their regalia.

When at last they’re ready to enter, a signal is given and the air immediately thickens with anticipation. A near silence ensues and Lac, wondering why the event has suddenly become so tense, has an ominous feeling that violence may be imminent, despite the friendly initial greetings and gifts of food, despite the pillow feathers. Next, he has the disturbing idea that something he’s done or failed to do has offended the Karohi-teri—or maybe somehow by merely being present he’s raised the risk of tipping the already tense moment over, causing it to spill over into deadly conflict. There’s no denying he’s an object of fear and fascination; he saw it in their faces, saw it at a glance.

As efficiently as their rumor mills turn, the people here must have already heard all about him. That would mean they already associate him, as the Bisaasi-teri do, with the madohe he’s known to possess and to hand out in exchange for certain odd services of value to him. They may have heard as well that you can sometimes acquire these goods through simple bullying. Lac looks over at Rowahirawa, who’s responding to the tension by donning a devilish grin—devilish and what else? Not disdainful exactly, but light-heartedly supercilious. Playfully contemptuous. He’s amused by all this fuss, all these supposedly fierce warriors engaging in their silly rituals; he plays along himself but doesn’t take any of it seriously. And maybe he shouldn’t. He’s just walked into his home village, insulted and assaulted a man, a man who apparently already had plenty of reason to despise him, and walked back out with nary a consequence. Not the slightest rebuke from the headman. Maybe Karohi-teri’s waiteri—the fierce ones—aren’t that fierce. But Bahikoawa must have thought them competent enough warriors to recruit them into military service alongside his own village’s waiteri, so their collective potential for killing must be significant.

Maybe Rowahirawa has been bullying that man for years and the Karohi-teri have come to accept it. There were in fact shouts of disapproval and calls to desist before the squabble escalated. Maybe Rowahirawa enjoys the Yąnomamö version of diplomatic immunity, since he’s serving as something of an ambassador between villages. Maybe they all just know Rowahirawa is an asshole and they don’t bother trying to do anything about it.

Remember you don’t know, he tells himself; all you can do is keep the questions in mind and pay attention.

When the men are prepared, a loud whistle is sounded to make way for their procession into the plaza. “You wait outside and slink in after the waiteri are lined up,” Rowahirawa says, “like the women.” The sly grin makes Lac wonder if these are his honest instructions or if they’re part of some larger joke. Do the Yąnomamö use sarcasm? They definitely know how to say one thing to imply the opposite. With proper emphasis, for instance, ma, the word for no, actually means something like, “Hell yes!”

The uproar attending the entry of the first dignitaries dashes Lac’s original impression of the Karohi-teri as a more timid group. Voices take up the swooping howl he remembers so well, dipping and swelling alongside the furious clacking of bows and clubs and arrows. Lac begins to understand the tension rising in anticipation of the Bisaasi-teri’s entrance. Two men at a time—beginning with the most important and renowned—march dramatically, flamboyantly, around the edge of the shabono’s plaza, fully armed and highly decorated, incorporating props like large palm leaves or sections of thatching into their chargings forward and back. It’s a war dance. The Karohi-teri meanwhile stand in front of their yahis shouting and howling, brandishing and banging together their weapons, declaring these men are beautiful and impressively vigorous, real killers.

Lac leans his head in under the post running across the top of the gate and tries to witness as much of this ceremony of arrival as he can. Every pair of dancers reenacts the standard entrance and each circles in opposite directions; they dance for a few minutes and then depart once more from the shabono. One after another they half march, half gambol in, full of swagger and unfazed by the powder keg volatility of the horde, relishing it even, exhilarated by it, delighted to be at its center, to be its masters—however illusory and short-lived that mastery may be.

Once they’ve all taken a turn, they re-enter the shabono en masse and line up in the center of the plaza, each man gazing blankly into the distance above the thatched lean-to wall, effecting a heroic stillness in the face of the chaotic flattery engulfing him. There they stand as the local men dance around them in a mad frenzy of clacking wood. This is when Lac decides it’s safe to sneak in.

After some minutes, each man is singled out and led away to the yahi of one of the prominent local families. Lac shuffles unceremoniously around the edge of the plaza, hoping to avoid the spotlight of attention and thus the commotion he senses is in store for him. But, in trying to be inconspicuous, he couldn’t be more glaringly on display. Next time I visit another village, he thinks, I’m decking out and marching in with the rest of them. Two men take hold of his arms and drag him to the center of the courtyard, despite his feeble efforts to resist, and begin taking up the anticipated examination, pinching and pulling at his chest hair—“Like a monkey’s,” they proclaim—flashing disgusted or startled expressions, testing the hardness of the muscles on his arms, delighting in the pinkness of his pinched and squeezed and abraded flesh. I’m my own one-creature iterant petting zoo, he thinks, for groups of high-strung pre-adolescent boys with seven-foot bows and six-foot arrows.

To avoid being swallowed up by his claustrophobic panic, Lac casts his mind into the abstract realm of anthropological hypotheticals. If we were to welcome a Yąnomamö explorer into our midst in Ann Arbor or Port Austin, how would we receive him? How would his treatment differ from mine as I’m introduced to these villagers? We wouldn’t crowd around him so tightly, threaten to suffocate him, poke and prod and grab and pinch him, at least not with such abandon. We’d be curious, wildly so, but there’d be some check to our enthusiasm, some compunction preventing us from conducting so physical an examination—a being with his own mind, his own boundaries. A being with dignity.

Hands slip in and out of his pockets. He twists and blocks reaching hands from accessing his genitals. We do sometimes put exotic foreigners on display and gawp at them. If they’re Amerindians, they’ll be decked out in elaborate feather headdresses—a more advanced version of the pillow-down hair coverings on these men here? If they’re doing their war dances or rain dances to the beat of their ground-shaking drums, then young boys will admire them, want to live like them, imagining them freely roaming the vast grasslands aback their piebald horses, on the trail of buffalo herds vast enough to black out the plains all the way to the horizon. They’ll wonder if they could survive like that themselves, away from cities, away from the profusion of small-minded rubes populating their home towns, away from the demands of school and the soul-smothering weight of the adult lives in store for them—wonder too if living like that they might be happier, their spirits bound by fewer shackles, freer to soar.

Lac gasps for air and squirms to find his footing as he’s caught up in the surge of bodies. He clutches his notebook until his finger joints feel apt to burst, grateful he decided not to bring his voice recorder or either of his cameras, grateful most of all he decided to hide his shotgun in the jungle outside the village… mostly grateful. The Plains Indians you see back home in those demonstrations, those reenactments, those performances—those Indians are conquered people, desperately clinging to whatever semblance of dignity they retain as they dance for their conquerors and their conquerors’ children, children who don’t know how to feel about their vaguely traitorous wish that the outcome of the campaign of conquest had been otherwise, that at the very least the Indians had been left the space to carry on their ways as a sovereign people.

The scenarios are too different for any more fruitful comparison. In earlier centuries, European whites would capture natives and bring them home to display like zoo animals in cages. At least they’re not building a barred pen for me here, he thinks, though having some bars to separate us might not be so bad. At least they’re not setting a giant cauldron to boil, with me in it, like the cannibals in cartoons.

“Did you see Omawä when he brought you back to life?” one of them shouts.

How do you tell them there was no flood? That you never drowned? How do you tell them about the world outside the jungle, the civilization that within a few generations will have swallowed all the Yąnomamö culture whole? Is there a way to say it that will make them stop handling him so roughly, pulling the hairs from his chest? Is there a way to say it that will make them back off enough for him to catch his breath?

By the time Lac himself is brought to a hammock and forced to lie down, where he knows he’s supposed to don an impassive expression like the men from Bisaasi-teri, a sort of recumbent version of the visitor’s pose, with the men of Karohi-teri meanwhile running in a group from yahi to yahi as if to raid them individually, killing the visitors from their allied village, but not really killing anyone, only pretending, threatening—by this time Lac has sunk into a profound resignation. Some outer boundary separating him from the world, from other men, has been shattered and lies in pieces all over the courtyard. It happened when he stopped squirming, stopped trying to push away every reaching hand, stopped rambling nonstop, and all but went quietly limp.

The stench of body odor is seared into his nostrils; he’s smeared all over with red paint and black paint. The red is for the hekura, the black for battle. But this is supposed to be a visit to bolster an alliance. The Karohi-teri host a feast and regale their guests with poetry and song; the next day they show their generosity and loyalty through excessive giving or imbalanced trading—giving till it hurts and then some—secure in the knowledge that soon the visitors will throw their own feast where they’ll return favor for favor, gift for gift, thus cementing the alliance. So why all the black charcoal body paint and feinting lunges? The final step in the establishment of friendly relations is for the waiteri from each village to join forces and conduct a raid together, in this case probably against Patanowä-teri. And the Monou-teri will probably be coming along too, if they’re not leading the charge.

And me, Lac thinks: Where will I be when this raid occurs? What will I be doing? Staying at home with the women?


 ***


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