“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?.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The 2nd Patanowä-teri Intervention: He Borara Chapter 14

Yąnomamö peacemaking
            “Parallel cousins are referred to by the same term as same-sex siblings, so they treat their mother’s sister’s daughter the way they’d treat a sister. Their cross-cousins, though, they refer to by the same term they use for wife or husband. So a father’s sister’s daughter is addressed by the same word they use for wife—or any potential spouse. You end up with two lineages trading marriageable females, the patriline or mashi and the in-laws or shori, so everyone is related, either through direct descent or through marriage.” Lac leans down to draw the structural diagram in the dirt with a stick as he explains, “This is how the Bisaasi-teri population can persist as two semi-separate lineages—the same two lineages you find in Lower Bisaasi-teri, descended from two of the main lineages in Patanowä-teri, the group they fissioned away from decades ago.” He recalls the day when he saw how all the pieces fit together. “I can’t tell you how thrilling it was when I first recognized the pattern and found that I could connect the lines from one village to each of its offshoots.”

            He looks up from his double-spined diagram outside the mission office to see a look of pity on the padre’s face. As Lac begins to explain the meaning of the lines and circles and triangles, Morello shakes his head, and finally breaks in to say, “Dr. Shackley, you’ve obviously done some impressive work in constructing these models, gathering names and arranging them into family clusters, but I’m afraid you must be mistaken about some of your main conclusions. This suggests the Yąnomamö routinely marry their first cousins. I’ve been living with these people for over a decade myself, and I certainly would have noticed if the villagers were pairing off in such an incestuous manner.”

            Lac does his best to dissemble his grin. It’s the first time his anthropological training has led him to an insight deeper than what any casual observer might glean from spending time in one of the villages. “Oh, I know it sounds strange to us, but hunter-gatherers live in much smaller groups, just a couple or a few dozen people, and they’re nomadic, so for them it’s even more difficult to find spouses who aren’t too closely related than it is among tribal peoples like the Yąnomamö. But naturally the Yąnomamö have their own taboos against incest; it’s a human universal to have rules prohibiting sex and procreation with family members. The Yąnomamö simply define family a bit different, calculating relatedness by different standards than us Europeans and Americans. You’ll notice that the Yąnomamö greet us as ‘shori,’ brother-in-law, when they first meet us. Everybody has to fit into the kinship system somehow, and each designation comes with slightly different duties and privileges. By calling us brother-in-law, they’re not only settling their own doubts about where we stand in relation to them; they’re also inviting us to participate in their trading alliances, obliging us to hand over our own valuable possessions in exchange for theirs. Of course, for us that means giving them manufactured goods like axes and machetes. But, if we were true in-laws, according to their kinship rules, we’d eventually be called on to offer them our sisters.”

            The padre now looks impatient, irritated. “You’ve put some real thought into this, but I suspect your anthropological theories have led you astray, my friend. If the Iyäwei-teri were marrying their cousins, I would have noticed it long ago. You’ve seen how meticulously our records are kept.”

            Lac can no longer conceal his grin, but he figures his friendship with Morello is such as can withstand some mischief. “The pattern is perfectly clear in Bisaasi-teri,” he says, “but I suppose the Iyäwei-teri might not share the same marriage customs. There’s only one way to find out for sure; we must walk over to the shabono and ask some of the villagers.”

            The padre, annoyed now, wants to put this nonsense to rest immediately. “Diego!” he shouts. A diminutive man with bronze skin and threadbare, loose-hanging clothes jogs up to the two white men awaiting their opposing answers with matching certainty. Lac has seen Diego coming and going on some menial embassy for the padre many times before. Still, he’s easy to overlook. Sometimes he’s dressed in trousers and t-shirts; others he’s in his loincloth—usually whenever he’s working outside. Lac, insofar as he’s taken note of him at all, has thought that he looked sleepy as he skulked about the outpost, weary and reluctant to present himself as ready for new assignments. When indigenous peoples assimilate into advanced societies, it’s invariably the lowest rungs of the economy they come to occupy: from a proud warrior tradition to scrubbing toilets and drinking themselves to death in squalid manufactured homes on desolate reservations.

            Lac remembers when he first understood the heartbreaking trajectory in store for all the famous Plains Indians he read about as a kid. Now he feels that same pang at witnessing an inexorable tragedy unfold along a similar path. There has to be a way to keep it from happening like that this time, he thinks. But how, when even the people who’ve been assimilated for generations are dirt poor in this region? Are you going to abandon your anthropological ambitions, Mr. Shackley—Dr. Shackley—so you can take up economics and try your hand at curing poverty? You’d probably have a better chance at curing measles.

            “Now Diego, my friend Dr. Shackley and I are having a spirited debate on the rules of Yąnomamö marriage, and we need you to settle a certain point of contention for us. Dr. Shackley believes the Yąnomamö marry their cousins, that the term for some cousins is the same as the term they use for their wives. Is this true? Are you encouraged to marry your mother’s brother’s daughter?”

            Morello claims fluency in Yąnomamö, but Lac has only heard him speak it on a couple occasions, haltingly. He speaks to Diego now in Spanish. Diego looks back at the padre, blinks three times, turns to Lac somehow looking at once frightened and fathomlessly bored. “Si, Padre,” he responds, sleepy but sheepish. “My wife is my mother’s brother’s daughter.”

            “Diego! Stop joking with us. You’re not really married to your cousin. You can’t be!”

            Lac takes a half step closer to Diego, whose name he knows is not Diego, as if to shield him from the padre’s ire. “Shori,” he says, “the padre is having a hard time accepting what you and I are saying because among us nabä such pairings are prohibited.” Lac turns back to Morello, his grin at full wattage despite his sympathy for the man standing there beside him, whose Christian name fits him as poorly as his clothes. For a full two seconds, Lac thinks this priest, his old friend who’s not really an old friend but evokes the feelings of one nonetheless, is going to lash out at him and Diego both. Instead, the good padre tilts his face skyward, thrust out his folded paunch, and releases a thunderclap of laughter.

            “Well, my friend, I concede the point,” he says in a booming voice. “It looks like we’ve got more work cut out for us than we knew if we hope to make good Christians out of these Indians.” He laughs his jolly bouncing laugh, and Lac joins in. Diego, he of the false Christian name, looks placidly back and forth between them, probably feeling something of what Lac feels when he’s surrounded by raucously mirthful Yąnomamö but doesn’t get the joke. He smiles feebly at last.

            “You can go back to your work, Diego,” the padre says, leaving Lac to wonder what that work entails and whether the compensation is fair. “Come inside my friend,” he says to Lac, clasping him firmly by the shoulder and turning him toward the main building. “Tell me more about this village you’re traveling to.” 

            Lac indulges in the spirit of bonhomie; anyone who responds to being proven so colossally wrong with such a deep belly laugh at himself is alright in his book.
*****

            “Shaki,” Rowahirawa says, “this village was attacked earlier this wet season, and these men say this many villagers were killed.” He holds up six fingers. Lac briefly considers whether he should take the time to teach his friend how to use numbers between two and ten.

            Rowahirawa is helping Lac decipher the Makorima-teri men’s foreign dialect, which he characterizes as “crooked.” But Lac understood perfectly well when the two men he’s interviewing said six men had been killed. “How did the raiders manage to kill so many?” he asks the men. “Was it a nomohori? Did they trick the Makorima-teri somehow?”

            His informants, whose tonsures are smaller than the ones Lac is accustomed to seeing but who look like any other Yąnomamö in most other regards, gaze forlornly around the plaza and into the shaded yahis. Lac infers from their continuing sadness that the attack was recent, but Yąnomamö emotions when it comes to deceased family members are strange; for all he knows, it could have happened in some wet season years ago. After the long pause, one of the men walks over to Lac and gives the shoulder strap of his shotgun a tug.

            “They killed our kinsmen with these.”

            “Ma! They had shotguns?” Lac is struck by a wave of nausea. He knows the story before asking the follow-up. “What village were these raiders from?”

            “They were Iyäwei-teri.”

            That stupid son of a bitch. How could he do something so perfectly idiotic? Lac continues with his interview. Yes, they’ll answer some questions about their families and fellow villagers’ families. No, they won’t get angry and attack him when he whispers the names of close kin in their ears. Lac only half hears their responses because he’s silently calculating how long it will be from the time the Salesians decided to start provisioning their charges with shotguns until all the main villages are decimated. Then comes another chilling thought: how long before some shotgun-wielding huya either mugs me or just blows my head off and helps himself to the madohe stored in my hut?

            Lac begins his census work, with help from Rowahirawa, before the last light of the evening fades. From this first sampling, it’s plain Rowahirawa was the one telling him the truth about the names; all the names Kukumbrawa gave him belong to individuals in Makorima-teri. On the canoe voyage here, Lac instructed Rowahirawa to stick close to him and not go wandering around coaching anyone on how to respond to his questions; even now, as Rowahirawa participates in the data-collection process, Lac worries he may be contaminating it somehow—worries that he may still be getting duped. But the villagers are giving such comprehensive and detailed information it would be next to impossible for Rowahirawa to pass it all along to them. It’s not like he could be handing them written notes.

            When it comes time for one of the patas to kąwa amou and for the visitors to retire to their hammocks, Lac tries to concentrate his thoughts on the day’s tremendous victory: he’s truly done it, found a way to get the Yąnomamö to share their names with him—their real names. His work from now on will still be much more exacting than he could have imagined back in Ann Arbor, but there’s a reliable method he can apply. He’s solved the central problem dogging his research. Now it’s just a matter of putting in the hours, doing all the travel, risking all the dangers known and unknown.

But Lac doesn’t feel like celebrating.

            The Salesians, even the most reasonable among them, have settled on their own methods for achieving their own, quite separate ends. Based on his experiences with the Catholics up till now, he figures there’s little chance of him convincing them of the seriousness of their blunder. Individual Indians in remote villages will be the only ones who suffer from the policy; if it pays dividends in the form of more souls showing up for a chance at salvation, those faraway savages getting their heads blown off will be far too easy to ignore. Lac will get his assurances from the padre—if he doesn’t staunchly deny what he’s done—and then some other man of the cloth will step in and reinstitute the policy.

            He writhes in his hammock. Jesus, they’re giving guns to Yąnomamö. How can they not see the toll that will take? How can they pretend to be here for the Yąnomamö’s own sake when they’re being so reckless with so many of their lives? I suppose they figure the Yąnomamö kill each other all the time anyway. What difference does it make if they do it with axes and arrows or double-barreled shotguns?

            The difference is six dead instead of one, or none, and that’s assuming the Iyäwei-teri would have staged the raid with or without the guns. It’s entirely possible having such powerful weapons was what gave them the idea in the first place. Lac has never heard of any hostilities between Iyäwei-teri and Makorima-teri.

            “Owa,” he calls in a loud whisper over to Rowahirawa. “Are the Makorima-teri and Iyäwei-teri enemies?”

            “Ma, Shaki, they never raid each other or steal women from each other.”

            “Why did the Iyäwei-teri come here to kill so many men?”

            Rowahirawa takes a long time formulating his answer, leaving Lac to wonder if he’s fallen asleep. “If you give a Yąnomamö a shotgun,” he says at last, “it must drive him mad. There are things like killing which are really hard to do but that a shotgun would make very easy. A huya would feel so invincible he might want to kill without cause.”

            Lac thinks back to when he was a boy being handed a rifle for the first few times. Before feeling the heft of the cold metal, he was excited most because he was being treated as an adult, and he felt like one, but no sooner did he wrap his tiny fingers around the stock and the barrel than a surge of exhilaration sent his body tingling. With a gun in your hands, at least as a boy, any target promises the thrill of destruction. As a full-grown man in the jungle, he’s tired of carrying his shotgun everywhere, tired of having to find places to stash it, tired of worrying about it falling into overeager or undisciplined hands. Whatever stimulant effect he got as a boy has been subsumed in a vat of anxiety, lost in a wilderness of practical concerns. But imagine you’re a huya, a browähäwä, and holding a gun for the first time. Even more electrifying than the sheer destructive potential would be the anticipated ease of boosting your status through raiding and killing on an unprecedented scale. As Lac starts slipping into sleep, he considers trying to introduce guns to the Bisaasi-teri himself, the right way, with the proper instructions and safeguards, the way his father and uncles taught him, impressing on them the responsibility of wielding such devastating power.

Even partially asleep, he knows it’s a stupid idea. You can’t train the Yąnomamö like a bunch of children; that’s what the missionaries don’t get. Sure, the Salesians are savvy enough to train their eye on the younger generations, but they wind up trying to manipulate the adults nonetheless. Come stay where we can find you. Come do manual labor for us. It’s for your own good but I’ll sweeten the deal. What’s one thing you want more than any other? Step by self-justifying step, you arrive at the point they’re at now, abetting Yąnomamö men going on unprovoked rampages, killing half a dozen people at a time.

Lac opens his eyes. He’s too agitated to sleep. The orange glow of the hearth trembles throughout the enclosed space of the yahi. The clusters of plantains hang ripe like elegantly swollen fingers, aching to burst through the peels. He combs his mind for a topic he can ruminate on, a calming one, a beautiful one. He thinks of Laura, thinks of her restless mind and her compassionate grace and her lovingly engaged, incandescent smile until his eyes grow heavy and fall shut once more. And then he jolts awake again. This time the man pressing his face in the dirt atop the bluff outside Patanowä-teri reared back just in time for the blast of a shotgun to splatter his head like a watermelon, raining down gore on the back of his head and neck, gore and shards of bone.

Panting, he rolls over to see if he’s woken anyone in the adjacent hammocks. Sure enough, Rowahirawa is awake and looking right back at him. They look at each other for a moment without either saying a word. Lac rolls onto his back again and starts planning his next trip, this one much more daunting, with the potential to develop into a much bigger adventure. This one will be to Mishimishimaböwei-teri, perhaps the largest village in all Yąnomamöland.
*****

            “Salve, Dr. Shackley,” says the long-bearded old man from the dock as Rowahirawa reaches out for a post to guide the canoe alongside the walkway. “Was your expedition a success?”

            “Hello Padre. Indeed, it was a success. My friend here has proven to be a trustworthy informant after all—and I appear to have a viable method for collecting names and census data.” He and Rowahirawa tie the boat front and back to the dock posts before cantilevering themselves onto the planks with a hand from the padre. “But I learned something else, something deeply troubling.” Lac watches Morello’s eyes for signs of dissembling, but the padre merely raises his eyebrows in anticipation. “The Makorima-teri recently suffered a catastrophic loss. Six of their men were killed in a single raid. And, Padre, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they say it was the Iyäwei-teri who attacked them, and they say the reason so many were killed was because the raiders were armed with shotguns.”

            Now the padre halts all three of them in their progression up the grassy rise from the bank to the outpost office and turns to face Lac directly, his cheeks sprouting blotches of red and creasing under the burden of restrained umbrage. “Mr. Shackley, I see where you’re going with this, but once again I’m afraid you’ve been misled by the Indians, misled quite severely.”

            In the ensuing silence, Lac hears echoes of the words in his mind: Mr. Shackley? Once again? Could Morello have already forgotten the outcome of their earlier disagreement? For the first time, Lac speaks with no concern for preserving his friendship with the priest, with all its attendant privileges. “Padre, please tell me you weren’t the one who gave the Iyäwei-teri shotguns. You must know how dangerous it is to give Yąnomamö firearms of any sort.”

            “My friend,” Morello says through a vanishingly narrow space between upper and lower teeth, “you being a mere observer of the culture, it may be hard for you to appreciate, but one of the things we missionaries offer the Yąnomamö, the thing that’s far more important than any steel tool, is instruction on how to live better lives, lives closer to the teachings of Christ.”

            “With respect, Padre, the lessons you offer may be the main point of your presence here, but the Yąnomamö only show up to hear those lessons because they want whatever trade goods you’re offering. Now kindly answer my question: did you give the Iyäwei-teri shotguns?”

            The padre leans back, hooks his thumbs through the belt loops in his shorts, draws up the entire upper half of his body as if trying make himself still taller than the men across from him, and defiantly, almost pridefully, declares, “Yes, Shackley, I gave some of the men I’ve been teaching shotguns, after I informed them of the fiery fate awaiting them if they continue their murderous ways, and after I got their word they would only use the guns for hunting. So you see, Shackley, I’m not at all disposed to believe this slanderous accusation you’re bringing to me from a bunch of Indians I don’t know, from a village I’ve never heard of.”

            “I suppose we could simply ask the men in question if the reports of them attacking the Makorima-teri are true.”

            Morello is shouting for Diego even before Lac has finished his sentence. Diego meets them as they continue through the yard up to the main building. He’s harried but sluggish, willing to indulge Morello’s urgency but so lacking in enthusiasm as to appear somnambulant. Lac guesses he’s in his mid-forties, with looser, flimsier skin about his eyes and a shrinking frame, which nonetheless evinces a sturdiness bespeaking the surprising strength it’s still easy to imagine him exerting.

            “Si, Padre.”

            “Diego, Shackley has just returned from a visit to a place called Makorima-teri. Now tell me truthfully: have you ever been to this village yourself?”

            Lac is readying himself to protest this overly personal line of questioning, which can only elicit a stubborn withholding of information, when Diego surprises them both by saying, “Si, Padre.”

            “You have? When was the last time you were at Makorima-teri?”

            “We raided Makorima-teri close to the middle of this wet season, Padre.” Diego smiles diabolically, savoring his memories of the raid with unmasked pride.

            “Diego, did you bring your shotgun along on this raid? Did you and the other men from Iyäwei-teri attack the people of Makorima-teri with the guns I gave you for hunting?”

            “Si, Padre, we killed many men with the shotguns. We killed this many.” He holds up the same six fingers. Lac, having been tricked and lied to by the Yąnomamö on so many occasions, is amazed by the forthrightness on display. Either Diego doesn’t realize his complicity in the killings is something he should conceal, or he’s not willing to let any risk of opprobrium from a couple of white nabäs deter him from boasting of such a wildly successful raid. Lac looks at him for a moment, gobsmacked, and then turns to the padre to see him shrunken back into his usual slouching pliancy, like a reared-up snail retreating to its shell.

            “Diego, this is very serious. You gave me your word those weapons would only be used for hunting, and now you’ve participated in the slaughter of six unarmed men.” Morello appears in every respect genuinely appalled and grievously disappointed. Lac sees that he has a mind to ask another question but can’t bring himself to pose it, not in the presence of the nosy and officious anthropologist anyway.

            So Lac asks the obvious follow-up himself: “How many other raids have you gone on with your new shotguns?” Morello looks stricken by this wanton temerity, but he closes his eyes and lowers his head as he awaits the answer, scrunching and awkwardly bending his salt-stiffened beard between his chin and chest.

Diego may not have known to lie the first time around, but Lac would wager he’s learned his lesson by now. “Ma, ma, ma,” he says, “we only took the shotguns on that one raid, the raid on Makorima-teri.”

            Before Lac can press Diego further, Morello is looming over the confessed murderer, jabbing him with his finger. “Diego, I told you what would happen if you stuck to your sinful ways, your murdering ways, and you promised me you wouldn’t use those weapons against other human beings.”
 
            Watching a man in his forties chastised like a small child is disturbing, despite the severity of his crime. In a part of his mind Lac tries never to heed or give voice to, he finds himself wishing Diego would step up and put an end to Morello’s confidence in his own personal and moral superiority.

            But the good padre is only getting revved up. “Come now, Diego, we are going to your shabono and I’m going to confiscate your rifle, along with all the others I gave to your friends.” Sensing that this production is being staged for his own sake, Lac follows close behind them so he can witness Morello’s justice put swiftly into effect, see how the Salesians deal with a band of shotgun-wielding marauders from one of their own villages.

            “These men will leave,” Rowahirawa says to him as they watch the padre browbeat one man after another into turning over his weapon. “Some of them aren’t from this village to begin with. Those shotguns are the only reason they’re here.”

            “Awei, and who knows if other men have already left with the shotguns he’s given them? Owa, this shotgun business makes my soul go cold. Only bad things will come of this.”

            Morello, slicked with sweat, marches through the plaza to where Lac and Rowahirawa stand, and deposits three rifles into Lac’s cradling arms. “I’ve kept records on who was provisioned with what items. I gave away a total of eight shotguns. I’ll show you the ledger if you deem it necessary. You’re holding three. I have these two. That leaves three more. I suspect their owners are out hunting, but I assure you those weapons will be returned to me as well. You and your friend are welcome to stay until then.”

            “We will stay tonight,” Lac says placatingly, “if it’s no imposition on you, but I trust you to collect the remaining shotguns.” Lac’s anger is fading. The padre is in an impossible position: he’s here to lure these people away from their lives into a completely alien culture, teaching them lessons they have no interest in learning to ease their transition. He’s doing whatever he has to, probably getting a lot of pressure from his superiors, all comfortably ensconced in cushy digs with all the modern amenities. And who am I, Lac poses to himself, to judge anyone for resorting to bribery or any other devious means of achieving his ends?

            That evening, he and the padre resume their conversation about life in the jungle versus life in civilization, the early adult trajectories that landed each of them here with their divergent objectives, and how they see the battle for Yąnomamö souls playing out into the coming decades. Later, as he’s lying in his hammock in the lean-to next to Rowahirawa, listening to him discuss his plans for bringing the many wives he’ll acquire over the course of their travels back to Karohi-teri where he’ll use his newly obtained elite knowledge of the hekura to be a powerful shabori and the one who truly lives there, Lac is thinking that this shotgun issue is much larger than Morello—or at least will be soon.
*****

            It’s October. The wet season will end soon. Lac needs to make his trip to Mishimishimaböwei-teri before he settles in to prepare for Laura and the kids to come into the territory. Getting to this place, from what Rowahirawa has told him, should be a straightforward matter of traveling up the Mavaca. If he’s going all the way to the headwaters, though, he could find himself navigating a mere trickle in a big motorized canoe, even if it is still the wet season. The area is a white smudge on most of his maps, and even the more detailed ones are sketchy on the location of the Mavaca’s source. Rowahirawa has said he’d go along as a guide, but then he up and disappeared with a bunch of other huyas to go hunting in some undisclosed tract of the jungle. The Yąnomamö are strange when it comes to time—a trait he wants to investigate at some point—which in any case makes it tricky to plan around their comings and goings.

            Lac decides it’s time to start asking around for other willing guides, offering to pay with a machete, an axe, and an aluminum pot, though it’ll mean taking pains to avoid broadcasting his intention to begin exchanging madohe for information from yet another village, another group diverting the flow of manufactured goods away from its rightful destination. He’s met with resistance because of this. Mobaräkäwa himself paid a visit yesterday to warn him of the treachery he’ll face so far south. In some way he still doesn’t have the details to work out, the Shamatari in the area he’ll be traveling to were implicated in the nomohori that resulted in so many Bisaasi-teri deaths a decade and a half ago, the catastrophe that sent them wandering through the wilderness until coming across Clemens at Mahekodo-teri and then moving to settle here at the mouth of the Mavaca. Mobaräkäwa’s own father was killed in that ambush. Of course, the attack was retribution for an earlier killing, but Yąnomamö memories stop wherever they find justification for continuing hostility.

When the patas realized Lac was obdurate, they started sharing with him the legends of the rahara, serpentine river dragons large enough to rise out of the water and pluck him from his canoe—no, large enough to swallow his entire canoe, motor and all, with him inside. Apparently, these enormous creatures lived in all the main waterways in the time of Moonblood, but after the great flood—the one that washed away all the nabäs—they retreated up a single river, hiding near the headwaters. This river happens to be the Mavaca. It’s a silly ploy to be sure, but the men work themselves into such hysterics as they tell him about the monsters Lac finds himself fantasizing about becoming the discoverer of a species unknown to biologists. He remembers the giant anaconda Percy Fawcett claimed to have encountered and killed during one of his expeditions in search of lost cities, that sixty-foot beast that found its way into so many illustrations for later editions of his journals, and from there found its way into Lac’s childhood nightmares.

            Now, after having his offers to pay handsomely for guide service rebuffed again and again, Lac decides to cross over to Lower Bisaasi-teri, where a group of Shamatari siohas resides. Lac has come to avoid traversing the Mavaca to visit this other shabono because the headman there has a temperament diametrically opposite that of Mobaräkäwa’s; whereas Mobaräkäwa carries himself like a seasoned unokai, a killer of men, taking scant interest in Lac and seldom petitioning him for madohe, Pärurätowa rushes over as soon as he lays eyes on him walking into the plaza, and comports himself in every wise like a man with something to prove, begging and bullying and browbeating with relentless petulance.

            Rowahirawa told him Pärurätowa is no unokai, a designation the Yąnomamö hold in the highest regard, but his ambition is to usurp Mobaräkäwa and become headman of a unified Bisaasi-teri. His strategy involves inciting the villagers to war at every opportunity, especially when Mobaräkäwa is advocating peace. More raids means more opportunities to distinguish himself by killing enemy men. In the intervals between raids, he struts haughtily about the plaza, and channels his showily exaggerated aggression toward the most helpless of victims: women and dogs.

To hell with professionalism. Lac despises him.

            “Many times, he’s argued for going on a raid,” Rowahirawa once said, amused, “but he backed out when the warriors were setting out. He wants the Bisaasi-teri to believe he’s waiteri, but in his soul he’s too afraid.”

            “Awei, we have men like that in Michigan-urhi-teri as well.” Lac has been pushing himself to voice his inner asides aloud, in Yąnomamö, to further develop his proficiency.

            Now, as he ducks down to enter the shabono, he hears Pärurätowa’s voice. It’s midafternoon, before the women leave to collect firewood and the men gather to take ebene and commune with the hekura. It’s a time when the heat has everyone lazing around, hiding in the shade and swaying languidly in their hammocks. But Pärurätowa is shouting at four men, trying to persuade them of something. Several children run over to greet Lac and see if he’s brought them anything as he makes his way across the plaza, wondering if he should humor Pärurätowa by speaking to him first or whether he should display his feigned respect by giving him a wide berth until his dudgeon recedes.

            A few men are joining the crowd of children now, demanding pots and machetes and axes and knives and fishhooks and loincloths and t-shirts. Lac’s learning to be firm in his refusals, interspersing them with threats, but the people here aren’t as accustomed to his presence as the people on the other side of the river. His arrival riles them up. It’s an event they all want to take part in. When he looks around to the row of yahis, he sees no sign of the Canadian couple sent by the New Tribes. They must be cozy in their hut some distance beyond the shabono walls, probably weaving their grandiose plans for saving the Yąnomamö en masse from perdition.

            There’s something honest about missionary work, he thinks; however polite we like our friends and neighbors to be, however private in giving expression to their political and religious identities, you have to think: If I believed something like that, truly believed, and cared an ounce for my fellow man—my fellow humans, of any race—then I’d be obliged to share with them what I know. He tries to follow the thought to the next stage of figuring out how good, reasonable people could come to hold such asinine views, but now he’s being shoved and grabbed like it’s his first visit to this shabono.

            “Ma! Nobody gets anything today! Nobody gets anything ever if you don’t back up and give me more space.” It works, sort of. The children back away some distance. Even the men take a half step back, while continuing to plead and whine about their dire need. As Lac carves a path through the courtyard, he suddenly realizes he lacks a destination. He wants to shove past these men, so he takes on a purposeful air as he strides forcefully through the center of the plaza, but his only purpose is to search for volunteers to travel with him to Mishimishimaböwei-teri. He could be asking the men right in front of him. But no, he needs someone more pliable, more reliable. Should he march up to Pärurätowa in the middle of his harangue and tell him of his intention to set out for the enemy village?

            Pushing aside one of the men, he catches sight of Warotobowä, he of the wild glint, sulking away from the cluster of bodies subject to the fire shooting from the mouth of the pretend headman. “Owa,” Lac shouts. “Why is he angry with you?” The men around him laugh; they enjoy seeing siohas mistreated. It occurs to Lac now that Warotobowä is Shamatari himself; he may know people from Mishimishimaböwei-teri—hell, he may have traveled there at some point himself. “Owa,” he shouts again, but the huya is ducking down to leave the shabono.

            Lac, his air of purposeful urgency now bolstered by an actual goal, pushes his way through the crowd to follow his young friend outside. Remembering how Rowahirawa’s trouble with his in-laws led to the biggest breakthrough in his census-taking efforts, Lac smells an opportunity.

            “He knows I won’t kill him with so many of his kin standing around,” Warotobowä says when Lac approaches. “He likes so much to get angry when he knows it won’t mean fighting.” Lac smiles sympathetically, briefly worried this may offend the young man but remembering the Yąnomamö laugh at everything, even themselves, perhaps the one thing he admires most about them; they treat all of life like one big joke, one big deadly serious joke.

            “My sioha friend from Karohi-teri was just saying that same thing about him,” Lac says.

            “Awei, this idiot better be careful or the one who truly lives here will cave in his skull.”

This makes Lac smile even bigger; that is something he would love to see. “But why is he angry with you?”

“He’s angry because I asked him to tell everyone about all the huyas he killed during the raid on Patanowä-teri.”

Lac knows he would normally get a good laugh out of this, but instead he feels the tires lock up in his mind—he has shame of his own tangled up in the topic of that raid. Thinking back, he tries to conjure the memory of Pärurätowa traveling with the raiding party. Back then he was just another fake name in Lac’s charts, obliquely attached to another in the long barrage of more or less indistinguishable faces thrust to within inches of his own conspicuously pale and hirsute visage. He has no recollection of Pärurätowa being there at all.

“Owa, did he even go on this raid?”

“Ma! Of course he didn’t go. He never left the shabono. He dressed up and took part in the wayu itou, but he snuck back across the river, thinking no one would notice. Now he flies off the handle whenever anyone brings it up.”

“Why did you bring it up then?”

“I wanted to humiliate him because I was angry first. He’s got me here, hunting for him, gardening for him, all so I can take his daughter back to Mömariböwei-teri with me at the end of my siohamou. But he keeps her from me, never lets me fuck her. Now I find out he’s letting his cousins—half his damn family—fuck her whenever they want.”

So Pärurätowa is to be Warotobowä’s father-in-law, his shoabe? Lac wonders if this detail is buried in his charts somewhere; it’s a connection he might have made sooner to some advantage. “Will you go back to Mömariböwei-teri without a wife then? Or will you stay and tough it out?”

“I don’t know, Shaki.”

“Owa, I’m thinking of traveling up the Mavaca to Mishimishimaböwei-teri. They tell me it’s the biggest village anyone’s ever seen and I want to go there and do my ohodemou. But the Bisaasi-teri patas say the one who truly lives there will kill me if I show up there. They say he’s waiteri and has gone through unokaimou many times, and if he doesn’t kill me, then some other waiteri in the village certainly will. Do you think this is true?”

“The Bisaasi-teri are liars, Shaki. They’ll say anything to get what they want. I know who the headman of Mishimishimaböwei-teri is. He’s my father’s brother.”

Ma! You’re the Mishimishimaböwei-teri headman’s nephew? Have you ever met him?”

“Awei, I met him before I was tying up my penis.”

“Have you been to Mishimishimaböwei-teri?”

“Awei, but their shabono was built by a different garden site back then. It was many seasons ago. They live much farther up the river today.”

            “Do you know where? Could you take me there?”

            “I know about where it must be, but Shaki it’s many sleeps by foot. I suppose I could get you to the area, and then we could scout for signs of their footpaths. But we’d be gone for a long time.”

            “We would be taking my motorized dugout most of the way; that should get us there much faster. And I’d give you a machete and an aluminum pot for your service as a guide to your uncle’s village.”

            “I don’t know, Shaki. It’s a really long way, over a difficult terrain.” 

            “We’d be traveling upriver by motorized canoe. It won’t be as difficult. I understand stretches of the river are narrow, and there’ll be lots of deadfall from the storms we’ll have to hack through, so it won’t be easy, but after two sleeps we’d have to be most of the way there.” Lac braces for Warotobowä to raise the matter of the raharas, but the young man stands silently contemplating instead. “Owa, what else are you going to do, stay here and watch as your father-in-law lets all his nephews fuck the daughter he’s promised to you?”

            Warotobowä was fuming just moments ago. He could still be near the end of his fuse, but Lac sees his gamble is paying off when a smile oozes across the young man’s face. He puffs out a laugh and says, “Throw in an ax and let me keep all the meat we bring back from hunting along the way.”

            “The ax is yours, but I’ll have to divvy the meat among you and my other guides. You should get a decent portion.”

            “Okay, Shaki, let’s go to Mishimishimaböwei-teri. Who else is coming with us?”
*****

Lac goes through the same anxiety and joy of anticipation that he experienced in the leadup to his and his family’s ocean voyage from New York to Venezuela last November. In the last of the waning daylight, he sits on the edge of a group of Bisaasi-teri, half inside the family yahi, half in the plaza, listening for topical and thematic shifts in their conversation. He’s happily surprised by the excitement welling up in him because he feared he no longer had the capacity. He set out for Amazonia last year in search of something he couldn’t describe or define, but he was sure he’d recognize it when he finally stood face-to-face with whatever it was. All he ended up finding though was an endless series of physical and emotional shocks and ordeals, nonstop begging and harassment, threats and outright assaults on his person—which he’s glad have been gentle compared to the worst he can now imagine—and a grueling daily regime of frustratingly halting progress through his work, beset by setbacks, and resisted at every step. And through it all he’s been desperately lonely, wracked with near constant pangs of longing to be reunited with Laura.

            Has what he’s come across in the jungle in any of its facets lived up to his innocent preconceptions? He tunes back in to the conversations: who’s doing what with whom, who’s pregnant, who’s a terrible mother or babysitter, who tells great jokes, who needs to be more careful about who he runs his mouth off to before he gets a good clubbing over the head. People all over the world are working with these same themes, with minor variations. That’s a significant discovery in its own right really, at least on a personal level—but no, it’s not at all like what he imagined, or rather, since his imaginings lacked detail and vividness, it’s not at all in the range of what he thought he might expect.

            And what is he expecting to find in Mishimishimaböwei-teri? River dragons?

            No, he’s expecting a village over twice as populous as Bisaasi-teri, representing the initial phase of the transition from tribal organization to a nascent chieftainship. He’s expecting to encounter a powerful leader, not the primus-inter-pares headmen he’s been greeting as the culmination of every whistling, dancing, proud-standing entrance into a new shabono, but rather one with real authority. And what would such a chieftain make of him, a nabä with alabaster skin, pink soles to his feet, and hair the color of overripe bananas? If he’s like the others, he’ll see an opportunity to get madohe flowing to his family. Will he think of the benefit to his village as a whole, or will he maneuver to restrict the flow to himself and his own closest kin? By what mechanism has he accrued more than an even share of influence: by being community-minded, by having more direct access to some strategic resource—like madohe—or by being waiteri? Are the villagers more disposed toward amicability, having to get along with so many others in close proximity, or more volatile, having to pry their own interests from the greedy clutches of so many others in close proximity?

            These are the questions he’s seeking to answer, as part of his oh-so-professional research program. These are the right type of goals and expectations to carry along on your expedition—yes, think of it as an expedition, not a journey, not anything so romantic, not any grand adventure for the reading delight of young boys in the Michigan sticks.

            But what are you really looking for?

The thought may as well have been read aloud to him in Laura’s voice. The real question, though, is where the hell in Rowahirawa? Lac wants to give himself ample time to work through all the unforeseeables on his trip and make it back well before the appointed day for him to travel downriver to Ocamo so the padre can help him get to Caracas to collect his family. But he’s loath to embark without Rowahirawa in the boat. Warotobowä knows his way well enough, and he can probably help with some of the dicey aspects of a first introduction, but Rowahirawa is the one he’s come to depend on in thorny situations—however undependably he presents himself.

            A workmanlike formality, he realizes, has crusted over his interactions with the people of Bisaasi-teri; paradoxically, he’s more comfortable asking after the names of dead relatives than he is asking where his friend is, when he may be back, and if he really gives a damn about this clownish nabä he hangs around with. Though part of that reluctance is owing to Rowahirawa’s outsider status. Who the hell would Lac ask any of these questions? His father-in-law?

            Two days: that’s how he closes the bargaining with himself. Two days, then we’ll set out, with or without Rowahirawa.
*****

            Lac catches wind of the visit by a contingent of Patanowä-teri traders-cum-ambassadors in the afternoon, when the heat swells bodies from the inside, making you wish you could gush through your outer surfaces into another self in some far distant place—on a white sand beach with a cool ocean breeze, in a car driving small-town streets in a downpour, atop a sand dune in the fleeting warmth of dusk as you resign yourself to trudging down the foot-swallowing sand in the gloaming. In the hottest hours of the day, all you can do is sit around chatting.

            The thing to do for now, Lac decides, is just listen, but it takes him a degree of effort to resist turning the conversation toward ancestors and migrations and political histories, though some of the men are gradually coming to tolerate his peskiness, his clueless lack of couth. He tells himself this too is time productively spent, as unsought discoveries await. It’s one thing to direct the conversation yourself, to seek answers to questions of predetermined importance; it’s another thing to sit back and let the gossip and teasing repartee and boasting and complaining and judging issue freely, potentially raising topics you wouldn’t have thought to inquire into. And, however fascinating we anthropologists—or outsiders in general really—may find all the ceremonies and conflicts, this is the reality of their existence; this is how the Yąnomamö pass most of their time, most of their lives—the same way people pass their days everywhere, regardless of the culture, not club fighting or staging raids, not bedecking themselves in feathers and squiggly patterns of paint and tripping on psychedelics, but rather goofing around and shooting the breeze, basking in the cool light of language and laughter emanating from familiar and favored faces.

            That the Patanowä-teri are coming on their embassy is cause for excitement, but hardly the dramatic reversal Lac takes it as. I guess it makes some sense, he thinks; Mobaräkäwa had a mind to make peace with the Bisaasi-teri’s parent village before the Monou-teri headman was porcupined while out honey hunting. With the raid back in April, he’d sent the requisite message that his lineage won’t tolerate attacks, no matter how justified, and now he’s free once more to make peace. The Patanowä-teri would make for powerful allies, though their embattled state could as easily make them a liability. Will the Bisaasi-teri eventually have to go on revenge raids with their new trading partners every time they’re attacked? Lac’s records show that Patanowä-teri has been raided close to twenty times just since he arrived last November.

            Lac is still hanging out in the plaza on the outskirts of a motley assortment of young men, old men, old women, and cavorting kids when the whistles sound outside the shabono walls—visitors announcing their friendly intentions. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around to welcome people into a village, he thinks; lately, I’ve been the one dressing up and dancing in. One of the things distant villages hear about the famous nabä Shaki is that he dances “almost” like a Yąnomamö whenever he arrives at a new shabono with his guides. As the men caper nimbly and haltingly into the center of the plaza, Lac looks over and realizes the date soup has already been prepared. It seems he’s not yet plugged into the gossip circuit well enough to get advance notice of arrivals; he only heard about the Patanowä-teri visit an hour or so ago—and he had no idea they’d be showing up so soon.

            He checks the face of each of the three men who bound and skip and shuffle in, wondering if he’d recognize the would-be sniper who knows his secret—wondering too if that sniper would recognize him. He’d be pretty hard to mistake. But, as the entrance ceremony continues, he finds he can name and group each of these men by lineage. What happened to that bastard? Was he doing siohamou? Did somebody else kill him, say, in a club fight? I could only be so lucky, Lac thinks.

            The Monou-teri have long since struck back out on their own to work at reestablishing their own garden and building up their own shabono. The Lower Bisaasi-teri have returned to their original site across the Mavaca, and the palisade has been taken down, post by post, and turned into firewood. But there is an unmistakable wariness on both sides. The Patanowä-teri must know the Bisaasi-teri were the ones who organized the raid that resulted in two of their men getting killed. Indeed, the whole point of the raid was to send a message about Bisaasi-teri’s eagerness to avenge close kin. Ordinarily, Lac surmises, they’d be looking, not to reestablish a trade alliance, but to take revenge themselves. As it is now, though, the Patanowä-teri desperately need friends and can’t afford any more enemies.

            Lac furtively moves around the edge of the plaza, eavesdropping on all the murmurs and grumbles from the Bisaasi-teri. It seems a few aren’t pleased with the truce, as they either think more raids would be to the village’s advantage, or feel an abiding hatred for their whilom covillagers. Or maybe they just like to grumble.

            When the three men are lined up in the center of the courtyard, Lac notes that the headman, Kreihisewa, isn’t among them. His son is though. After the dance of threats, thrusts, and withdrawals, it’s this young man Mobaräkäwa takes by the arm and leads to his yahi. Lac was expecting more men to join these three in the visitor’s pose; now as they all take their designated hammocks, he steers his gaze back to the shabono entrance. The Patanowä-teri, not surprisingly, have brought no women along. Such a small group of visitors is not uncommon; people from friendly neighboring villages—men and old women anyway—often visit individually. But Patanowä-teri isn’t exactly on friendly terms with Bisaasi-teri, and Lac senses the decision to make amends has caused tension on both sides.

            No matter: there’ll be no failure of hospitality on Mobaräkäwa’s end. He’s arranged for them to enjoy a hearty greeting, as he must want these men to return to their home village with tidings of their excellent welcome. Lac sidles along the edge of the plaza until he’s close enough to hear what the men are discussing. To his disappointment, they’re talking about him, about whether he’s still making a nuisance of himself going around asking everyone questions he knows they won’t answer, and then handing them steel tools to keep them from bashing his face. They make a running joke of it. Lac, still trying to be a ghost, feels so conspicuously corporeal that he has to look first down to see if his feet are sinking into the dirt under the added weight, and then up to see if the overcast sky has parted at one of its seams to shine a spotlight beam down on him from the whimsical heavens. The only thing they could discuss which would be a bigger letdown is Jesus himself.

            Lac frequently has these moments of profoundest doubt throughout the day, even when the circumstances hardly warrant them. It’s not like you’re on that damn bluff again, he tells himself. One foot in front of the other, one name in the ledger and then the next. He listens long enough to glean that they’re using humor—at his expense—to diffuse the tension. They’re using him as a diversion. Here the huyas are now approaching him, throwing fake ribald names at him and telling him to give them axes, pots, and motorized canoes in return.

            “The names of your family members are only worth a few fishhooks,” Lac astounds himself by saying.

            The young men, thick-set bruisers all, among the brashest and bravest of Patanowä-teri, push him around as they scream and spit with laughter. If you can’t be a ghost or a cloud of mist, he thinks, a clown will have to do.

            Finally, the men leave him alone, going back to their calabashes of date and their more earnest conversations. Lac eases forward to listen in; this is how enemy villages make peace. He’s discovered the motivations behind burying the ax are the more fascinating part of the dynamic, but he’s plenty curious about what precisely will be said—now that they’re finished using him as comic relief. There haven’t been two sentences exchanged, though, before a commotion drags his attention to the shabono entrance. When Lac sees men in charcoal paint scrambling into the courtyard with partially drawn bows, fanning out in a half circle and then advancing on Mobaräkäwa’s yahi, he freezes in place.

            Pärurätowa is in the center of the wedge, leading a contingent of Lower Bisaasi-teri and Monou-teri warriors in this show of intimidation. Kreihisewa’s son, still squatting across from Mobaräkäwa, braces his arm on his knee and cranes to glimpse the bombastic man proclaiming his hunger for blood. Visibly alarmed, he turns back to the headman of the larger shabono, who sits impassive, still carrying on the peace counsel as if nothing was amiss. Please get up and put a stop to this, Lac says in a whispered prayer Mobaräkäwa will never hear. The headman, the true headman, is banking on his upstart rival’s cowardice, knowing he has more brothers and uncles standing about the plaza even now, even though both men are themselves related.

Pärurätowa, Lac realizes, is hoping Mobaräkäwa will be frightened into handing the Patanowä-teri men over to him for slaughter. He’s shouting that he’s the true headman, that these visitors should have come to him to make peace, but that it’s impossible for them to escape now. He says his loyalty is to the Monou-teri who’ve petitioned him to help them avenge their own headman. He says many of the Bisaasi-teri looking on now are not willing to forgive the past treachery of the Patanowä-teri and that they’ll join in the fight once he strikes the first blow. He says this weak old man pretending to be the leader won’t be able to protect them.

            Surely now Mobaräkäwa will stand and shut this idiot up—but no, he continues to sit, not the least perturbed by his challenger’s goads. Lac wants to sneak away. He doesn’t have any way of predicting what will happen. This isn’t a raid. This isn’t a club fight. All the familiar situations he’s struggled to come to terms with have taken their toll. But this is starting from scratch again, a completely new source of panic and dread. Moments ago, he was doing his best to get close to the gathering inside this yahi; now he’s right in the middle of the melee that’s about the break out.

            As slowly and inconspicuously as he can manage, he squats down, and from this lower vantage he looks for the best route of escape for when the axes start swinging and the arrows start flying. That’s when he sees Warotobowä stepping into the plaza, sauntering in as if seeking relief from the profoundest boredom. This is maddening. Why the hell doesn’t anyone else appreciate that Pärurätowa is desperate—and now he’s publicly committed to proving himself to be waiteri? He’s going to make a move of some sort, Lac is sure, however much of a coward he may be, because it’s the only way he can save face.

            Nobody’s moving though, and the only one who seems anxious is the idiot nabä. Even the Monou-teri men are looking back and forth at each other, communicating their disappointment that the attack has yet to begin. Lac closes his eyes, hears the haunting thwack of blade into skull, recalls the sensation of taut, constricting limbs going slack. The skin covering his back and shoulders tightens and prickles, almost painfully. Sweat drops in cascading globules, audibly thudding into the dirt, as he tries to keep himself from hyperventilating, more from fear of drawing attention to himself than from concern over passing out.

            When it’s clear Mobaräkäwa isn’t going to budge, or even get agitated, but is rather going to sit there looking bored, Lac is convinced he can see a softening collapse in Pärurätowa’s stony expression and erect posture. His bluff has been called, and he’s got no better cards in the pocket than he has on display. The next shift happens abruptly: Pärurätowa and the two warriors at his side each pair off with one of the three Patanowä-teri delegates, squat down across from them and begin chanting at each other. Each side sings out his case against the man facing him; the words of the chants describe their grievances. It’s a singing debate. Lac stands with his mouth agape. He’s seen this before: chanting duels like this are a customary part the Yąnomamö process of making peace through trading, but he’s never seen it so directly applied to the diffusion of such potentially lethal tension. For all their violent proclivities, Lac thinks, they’re also ingenious when it comes to finding substitutes for violence, or less deadly forms of violence as substitutes for killing.

            It looks like there won’t be a melee after all. Lac watches Pärurätowa, still defiant, still full of bombast and vehemence, but in an unmistakable way defanged. The only trouble is the four Monou-teri men still standing around, exchanging skeptical and disgusted looks with each other. Pärurätowa must have promised them a chance to avenge their headman, seeing in them an opportunity to get the better of his Upper Bisaasi-teri counterpart. Now they’re witnessing the failure of his conviction, the breaking of his promise—his loss of nerve. How will they satisfy their hunger for vengeance now?

            Mobaräkäwa appears to be wondering what they’ll do next as well when Lac looks over to him. But a sudden movement brings his gaze back to the disgruntled warriors. They’re bounding noisily toward the shabono’s exit, making a show of it, a broadcast protest of the peace being brokered with their enemies. When Lac turns back to see Mobaräkäwa’s reaction, the headman stands and walks toward him.

            Incredulous, Lac cranes one way and then the other to see who may be standing next to him. Firmly rooted to the ground with his limbs locked straight, he feels his face slacken further into its dumbfounded expression.

            “Shaki,” the headman says, “you must take these men downriver in your canoe. I have heard of your plans to return to Patanowä-teri. Make your journey now instead of later, help these men make it home without getting ambushed, and I’ll help you with your ohodemou.”

            Without taking a moment to weigh his options, Lac nods in agreement—and then, after remembering his nods mean nothing, struggles to voice that agreement aloud. Mishimishimaböwei-teri will have to wait at least a few days, but either way, whatever his destination, Lac’s main thought about his impending journey fraught with untold peril is: Where the hell is Rowahirawa?
*****

            My return trip to Patanowä-teri, Lac writes, neglecting to mention it was his second return trip, was a strange sort of ordeal, though I never made it as far as the actual shabono.

He doesn’t write that undergoing this ordeal felt like penance.

Whenever we passed near a village, we knew the people would hear my motor and come out on the banks to greet us, so the three men I was smuggling lay down on the floor of the canoe and covered themselves with ratty old blankets. It gradually became apparent that every single village we passed along the Orinoco is at war with Patanowä-teri; these men wouldn’t be safe anywhere. All three of them were stout warriors, plenty intimidating to a nabä like me, but I couldn’t help pitying them. How carefully had they planned their route to Bisaasi-teri to avoid crossing paths with people from any of these villages, or any villages farther inland? Did they really have no allies?

            After we passed the second group of men clamoring for me to stop while my passengers concealed themselves, I put these questions to them. No one, they explained to me, sees any advantage in teaming up with such a beleaguered group. They are too often hunkered down, hiding behind their palisade and cut off by the vigilantly guarded swath of cleared vegetation surrounding it, to be of much help to anyone else. And they’re raided so frequently any allied village would be called on to join counter-raids on a nearly constant basis. This made me wonder what Mobaräkäwa has in mind for the alliance.

            Lac goes on to discuss how people from each village they passed ran out to the shore of the Orinoco to curse him for not bothering to stop and visit—which they of course knew would entail him offering them madohe in exchange for their help with his ohodemou. When the pleading and insults failed to persuade him to circle back and dock his canoe, the mendicants resorted to threats. Lac wondered how much this implicit slight to these passed-over villagers would set back his efforts at establishing friendly relations and relatively easy access to their demographic and historical information. He may be securing the aid of Mobaräkäwa, but he could also be losing favor with the occupants of all these other shabonos he’s only visited once or twice.

            There’s something else he leaves out of his letter to Ken: this favor he’s done for Mobaräkäwa constitutes another act of interference; Lac is excruciatingly aware of his outsized role in Yąnomamö politics. But seeing as how his earlier interference got a Patanowä-teri man killed, getting these three men home in one piece seemed like reasonable restitution.

            Ah, but only if two wrong acts of interference make a right one, he thinks now. All those shouted insults and threats gnaw at Lac’s conscience in place of the reprimands he knows he deserves but is almost certain never to incur. How had his first field experience turned into such a mess? How had he allowed his existence to descend into such chaos? It was a canoe voyage of shame, not an effective attempt at making amends by any means, but a way of searing into his mind the realization that he’s veered off the righteous course, wandered off the map of professionalism. Whatever he’s doing here, it isn’t on the up-and-up; he can, if he’s lucky, salvage enough data to do some real science. But at least in his own mind, his career from this point on, his publications, his future work in the field, even the data itself, will forever carry the taint of his deadly missteps back in April.

            Lac goes on to write about the way he experiences the passage of time in the field and how it has undergone a dramatic transformation. For months, he’d been pinioned by the chain of minutes linked into hours bound into days; he’d shouldered the crushing burden of each passing moment, all of which were seemingly overstuffed with devastatingly impactful decisions. Where do I stand? Will these people want to kill me on sight? What do I say? How should I arrange my face? Then, abruptly, around the time he discovered in Mömariböwei-teri the hoax being played on him regarding the names, the minutes and days began racing by in a blur of frenzied delirium. Now, as in a dream, he’s in Makorima-teri one moment, hearing about men murdered by shotgun-wielding raiders, then in Reyaboböwei-teri the next, gathering intel on the Shamatari villages farther south.

            He wonders if there is something analogous between this shift and the common perception among Westerners that time accelerates as you age. All those tiny choices filling the space of a moment stretch it out in your memory, like hot air filling a balloon, taking it higher until you’re looking down on the bigger picture of the landscape below. With time, as you grow accustomed to your surroundings, and to the people inhabiting them, those second-by-second choices are overridden by habit; they become automatic. Your attention is freed up to turn toward higher-order concerns and objectives; your thinking becomes abstracted. As you weigh the relative merits of general courses of action that will each devour days and weeks of your limited time in the field, you begin thinking in terms encompassing those larger spans—and you begin experiencing time according to the passage of weeks instead of minutes.

            For months upon first arriving to live among the Bisaasi-teri, he felt like the time separating now from his final departure from the territory and his return to the States stretched to infinity. Lately, he’s been worrying that it will all have elapsed long before he’s accomplished even half of what he set out to do. I need to be on my way to Mishimishimaböwei-teri, he writes, but although Rowahirawa returned briefly while I was making my impromptu trip to Patanowä-teri, he’s already left again, this time to visit family in Karohi-teri. They told me travel was rare during the wet season, but none of these guys seems to stay put for more than a day or two when you want them to. I’ve got to depart without him, I’ve decided, because I want to visit Monou-teri one more time as well before Laura and the kids get here. Then I’ll settle in and begin the interviews with Mobaräkäwa he promised to grant, and prepare for Dr. Nelson’s arrival.

Lac sits back in his creaky chair, contemplating, and then leans forward to write, I’m wondering a lot lately—after my time in the field is up in March, will I ever return to Yąnomamöland again?
*****


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Links to chapters (Table of Contents)

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