13. Watunna

(Makiritare, Venezuala)

The Makiritare descend from an Arawak people of Indians. They live at the North bank of the Orinoco. Their myths tell about “ the old people”, their heavenly ancestors who live up there in Kahuña, the Sky Place.

In Kahuña there was only light. Wanadi lived there then, like he does now. Sky and Earth were still one, the earth was part of the sky, and sky had no door yet. Wanadi sent his messenger down to the earth, Wanadi’s spirit – called the new Wanadi.  Before this new Wanadi came down, there were already people living on earth, but most of them belonged to the master of negative forces, who lives deep down in dark caves.

Up there in the sky was a stone egg full of people. This egg, called Huehanna, was round like a ball, huge and hollow, its shell thick, hard and heavy. Wanadi’s unborn people inside uttered words, you could hear their songs, laughter and screaming, their singing and dancing, but you could not see them.  

Nuna, the moon, was bad and always hungry. He had heard of the new Wanadi’s intention to pick up the egg from Kahuña, and quickly went there and took the egg in his place.

Nuna reasoned like the jaguar: lack of other food I will eat people. His sister Frimene found the egg beautiful. Huehanna was buzzing like a beehive, with the people inside dancing and singing. She knew that her brother wanted to eat the egg, and thought: I’m going to save them, I’ll keep them to myself, I will hatch them and raise them. I’ll be their mother. 

As soon as Nuna left the house, she quickly hid Huehanna in her vagina. She rubbed her stomach and was happy when she listened to the dancing and the bursts of laughter of Wanadi’s little people.

When Nuna came back, he saw that the egg had disappeared. He got very angry and began to beat his sister. He saw that her stomach was round, as if she were pregnant. He knew what it was, but said nothing. 

She turned her back to him and left. “I am tired,” she said, “I’m going to get in my hammock, I’m going to sleep.”

She was all alone and in the silence of the night she listened to her stomach.  She heard the voices and the drums, the songs and the horns – her children. Then she fell asleep. When she woke up and opened her eyes, it was dark and quiet, but there was a vague sound, like steps coming closer, and she was frightened. Who could it be? Very slowly the steps were coming towards the hammock.  Suddenly a big object fell on the hammock.  It was a body.  It was a man.  He didn’t say anything.  The girl was scared.

His hands were moving all over her body, like bees landing here and there. They were groping and searching, and you could just hear Huehanna humming softly inside.  She squeezed her legs shut to protect her children. The man’s hands were trying to spread her legs, but they couldn’t. Before dawn the man jumped out of the hammock and his very slow steps moving away were the only sound to be heard. When the sun rose, the girl got up. What had happened?  Was it a dream?  Who was it?  I want to know, the girl thought.

When night came, she rubbed her body with dark caruto oil, painting her face, her legs, her entire body withso that she turned completely black withcaruto.  She got in her hammock and went to sleep. When she woke up, there were those steps in the dark again, coming slowly towards her. The man fell on top of her and his hands were groping all over her. The hands took hold of her legs, the hands wanted to open the cave, they wanted Huehanna, but the girl squeezed her legs shut. The people inside the egg were turned around. A hand reached up inside and touched Huehanna. The hand tried to grab the egg, but the girl fought back. She began to bleed, and that is why women bleed when Nuna passes. The bleeding serves as a reminder of what happened.

The girl was alone again when the sun came up.  She jumped out of her hammock. She was going to find out now. On her way she found her brother, hidden in a field beside a trap. 

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Ssht,” he said. “I’m hunting.” He looked up and showed his face. It was stained with caruto, and his hands and body were too.

It was him, she said to herself, but she left without a word. Ever since, Nuna has a stained face, as we can see when the moon is full. The stains remind us of the beginning.

Frimene went home, packed her things and fled into the jungle with the children inside her, and her arms filled with gourds and baskets. While she was running she dropped a gourd. And when it hit the ground, it turned into a tree duck.  Another one fell and turned into a diving bird. The woman kept running until she came to the Orinoco. Swimming she fled from her brother’s house. “Okay,” she said, “I can’t get across. I am the River Mother, the Water Mistress.” And she changed into Huiio, the Great Snake, and hid beneath the water. Nobody could see her. She built her house at the bottom of the rapids. The Orinoco had just been born and all the rivers had just begun to flow. Now Huiio came into being and she made herself the mistress of the newly flowing water.

Wanadi was looking everywhere for his stolen Huehanna. He went around asking people but no one knew. He went to Nuna’s house and Nuna told him: “My sister knows all about it. She has hidden Huehanna in her own stomach and has run away early in the morning.”

Wanadi went in search of the girl. Nobody seemed to have seen her. He called her, but she didn’t answer. Wanadi had a brother Müdo who could turn himself into a bird with a huge bill. “You are engaged to her, Wanadi said to his brother, if you call her, she’ll come out and then we catch her.”

“She is beautiful. With my big bill and tiny eyes she will not be interested in me. I’m too ugly. I am sure she is not going to come out if I call her.”

“Let’s try anyway,” Wanadi said. “Please help me. I don’t want to lose Huehanna.” 

Müdo agreed. He called his friend Höhöttu, the owl. “Help me,” he said, “let’s call her.” They turned themselves into night birds, calling and shrieking the entire night. And when the sun rose she lifted herself out of the water, high in the air, and said: “Here I am.” However, it wasn’t the girl they saw, it was the Great Snake, it was Huiio.

“Who are you?” asked Müdo.  He squinted to get a better look. “No, I don’t know you. I never called you.”

“Yes, you did, she said. It’s me, your fiancée. I recognized your call and that’s why I came.” As soon as she came out, they could hear the music from Huehanna: inside the snake’s belly, Wanadi’s children were singing and dancing, and waiting to come out.

“Wanadi wants you to give Huehanna back to him.”

“No, she said, I can’t do that, my children are in it.”

“The children are not yours, they are Wanadi’s.”

She refused to give them back.

Now Müdo and Höhöttu yelled in every direction, calling upon the people, and many came with bows and arrows and spears to catch her and kill her. Müdo and Höhöttu gave orders to everyone, and they began to chase Huiio along the river.  From far off they saw the snake’s feather crown, the rainbow. Huiio spread her feathers in the air and dried them in the sun. 

The hunters looked at the rainbow and shouted: “There she is!” They addressed Dede the bat:  “Look, you stay here and watch, while we are going to shoot our arrows, kill the snake, and get Huehanna out. Then you catch Huehanna when it drops, so that it doesn’t fall into the water.”

“That’s fine,” Dede said. “I’ll wait here.”

The hunters were many. They began to shoot the Great Snake, and their arrows all flew at the same moment. With arrows all over her body Huiio looked like a porcupine. She fell and let go of Huehanna. The stone egg went up high in the air and Dede was ready to catch Huehanna in his fisnet.

Suddenly Ficha, the cuckoo, headed straight for Dede. With his long tail he shoved Dede aside and grabbed the fishnet. “Move,” he said, “I’ll do it. Your eyes are far too small.” Vain and wild as usual, Ficha caused the accident. He took the net on the very moment Huehanna came by. He tried to catch the egg but too late. The egg flew right by and fell in the water.

“The egg is gone, the hunters shouted, “we’ve lost it because of you!”

Huehanna burst open on a huge rock in the water and the unborn people flew all over. However, they did not drown. They turned into fish eggs and when the eggs opened, hundreds of fish came swimming out. After the fish crocodiles came out as well, and caimans and anacondas, and all other animals living in the rivers and lakes today. Huiio was their mother. She collapsed on the riverbank, the arrows had killed her. But she was too powerful to be mortal. She only left her form behind, as the rainbow reminds us. Now she is living in Lake Akuena, in the Highest Heaven, as the mistress of Akuena, eternal life.  

Her snake body remained on earth and they ate it. A jaguar named Manuwa took the first bite, and his mouth was full of blood.

“I’m hungry!” shouted the others when they saw the blood. They had always eaten yucca and fruit, no meat. On that very day they started hunting, and on that very day they all ate meat for the first time. We will never forget that first hunt, we will never forget Huiio’s death. They were shoving and pushing each other to get a mouthful. They ate the Great Snake, the Water Mother. The bloodstained river was full of fish now. Wanadi’s people were not born yet, they had been turned into fish.

The sun went down. Only Manuwa, the jaguar, and his wife Kawao, the toad, were still there. Kawao looked at the blood on the rocks by the riverbank and saw two fish eggs. They had fallen on the rocks and hadn’t opened yet.

“I’ll take care of them,”Manuwa’s woman said. “I’ll hatch them and I’ll be their mother.”

“Good,” said Manuwa, “they’ll be people, and we’ll have meat at the house.”

Kawao saved the two fish eggs, Huiio’s children. They had come out of Huehanna with the fish, they were the fish’s brothers, but they weren’t fish when they were born, they were boys. The eldest was Shikiemona, the youngest, Iureke. They believed that Manuwa and Kawao were their father and mother. They grew fast, walked right away and talked right away. And soon they were not children anymore but strong young men. The two were wild and unruly, they ran around shouting and screaming and fighting, and one day their mother threw them out of the house. They went swimming in the river and went down with the fish.  At the bottom they found an enormous house. It was empty and they went inside. 

“Nice house,” said the older one.

“I feel like I’ve been here before,” answered the younger one. There were two hammocks and they got in.  As soon as they slept, Huiio appeared in their dream. The Great Snake said: “This is my house, it is your house.  I am your mother and Wanadi is your father. The toad is not your mother and the jaguar is not your father. They have lied to you. They killed me and ate my body. I live in Kahuña now and speak to you in dreams, Watch out for the jaguar, he wants to eat you, and you’ll have to kill him before he is going to kill you.”

When they woke up on the riverbed, while asleep in their mother’s house, Huiio’s house, the twins found a gourd filled with caruto oil. Then they dreamt again.

“This was my gourd, my caruto oil. Throw it out so that the rivers will overflow and water will cover the whole earth. You will drown the people who all came to kill me and eat me, even the small ones.”

When the boys woke up from that dream, they decided to avenge their mother: “We’ll flood the entire earth and drown all the people.”

One day all people had come together for a feast, and they were all drunk. Iureke said: “Our time has come.” And Shikiemona agreed.

They dived into the water, and went right down to the bottom of the river.  They came to the Water Mother’s empty house, where Huiio’s caruto oil gourd was hidden. They took it back to the earth and threw it out, so that the rivers overflowed and the earth got flooded all over. The two brothers had first set the houses on fire, but when the water came, the fire went out and the houses fell down. The people’s shouted and screamed and ran. A few good people hid in cracks in the cliffs, high up in the mountains. All the others drowned. The water that covered the entire earth was the big water called Dama (Sea), the water without shores.

At first the two boys ran, later they were swimming like fish, because one couldn’t see anything but Dama – no houses, no forests, no mountains. There were only two high palm trees left. The two life trees were stuck close together, like brothers. The two brothers went high, high, high up, straight all the way to heaven. They climbed up and sat there, high up in those palm trees. They built a platform high up there between the two trees. From there they looked down at Dama. They rested and ate palm fruits, they went on and on eating, waiting for the earth to be dry again. Finally Dama went back to the horizon, where the earth ends. It has stayed there ever since.  

The boys said: “It’s over now, let’s go. They climbed down and stepped on to the soft earth.  There was just mud and nothing else. They left the earth and went back to heaven. 

Most people died because of Dama, the water without shores. A few were saved and survived. Those were the good people. They had been hiding in the mountains and in gourds. The bad people had been punished. That is what the old people say.

 “Okay,” Wanadi thought, “only those few survived. Okay then, I’ll make new people.”