On a recent trip upriver with a friend we visited an Indigenous village on the Rio Negro. During a long and friendly conversation with some of the people there, the subject of fishing and hunting came up and at one point we were told by one of our hosts that they had recently had a narrow escape from the Curupira. The Curupira is a mythological being and of great significance for many of the Indigenous Indians throughout the Amazon.
The Curupira is a protector of the forest. He does not object to a hunter’s activities unless the hunter takes too many of a particular animal or otherwise abuses the flora and fauna of the jungle. He normally takes the form of a small boy/man, although he is able to assume other guises, and his most distinctive feature is his backward-turned feet, which he will use to lay down tracks to mislead and confuse the hapless hunter.
Our host told us how, on a recent fishing trip, he had gone to sleep under a tree for a few minutes and was woken by the sound of a long shrill cry in the distance. He knew at once that it was the Curupira, and was not surprised therefore when within a few minutes he heard the voice of an old friend of his who lives in Manaus, calling him away from the trail. This is a common ploy of the Curupira, who can imitate a man’s voice and use it to lure a victim deep into the forest, never to be seen again.
Fortunately our friend told us he had “holy wax” with him, and this kept the Curupira at bay. Thus protected, he was able to work his way slowly back to his canoe and return home safely. All the way back to the canoe the voice kept urging him to throw the holy wax away, but he resisted what he described as an almost overwhelming desire to do so. When he got back to his hut he was taken with a fever and was ill for two days. He told us he has not been fishing since that night.
When we asked why he thought the Curupira was looking for him, he said that recently he was one of three guides who had accompanied a group of foreign fishermen looking for tucunare (peacock bass). “We took too many tucunare,” he said, shaking his head. “The spirits were angry and Curupira came to try to take me away.”
Our friend didn’t explain exactly what his “holy wax” consisted of, although it seems that the talisman for this rainforest spirit may be of Christian/European origin. An interesting mix of two mythologies, if so.
This has prompted me to find out a little more about Amazonian myths and legends, and I’ll try to add another piece in due course. For the moment, I’m off for a spot of fishing (now where did I put that wax…?)