Other South American Cultures

With a few exceptions, our increasing knowledge of the astronomy of tropical forest tribes is largely restricted to constellation names, to the relationship of stellar patterns and social organization, and to a series of explicitly stellar myths. The Bororo Indians of the Brazilian and Bolivian tropical savannahs occupied an area between 14° and 19°S and 51-59°W (see Fabian 1982 for a full discussion). Formerly, they were reported to be one of the largest and most powerful groups in South America. In the 1980s, there were approximately 500 of them left, concentrated mostly in the five villages in the eastern half of their former domain. The sources of our information about the Bororo are Salesian missionaries. The Bororo celebrated the heliacal rising of the Pleiades, which they called the Akiri-doge, because this astronomical event marked the onset of the dry season. Among the celebrations were fire-leaping ceremonies: the "Burning the feet of the Pleiades" to slow them down so that the dry season would last longer. They also noted carefully the motions of the Sun (Meri) and Moon (Ari) who were

23 Translated from Zborover 1996, p. 2.

considered brothers. Meri was able to resurrect himself once a year, and could resurrect Ari, which he did many times during the year. The travels (Meri-doge) of these two brothers involved meetings with a series of animals, suggestive of the zodiac. The animals encountered were Jaguar, Ocelot, Suguaruna (a third type of cat), Caracari Eagle, Royal Eagle, Great Eagle, Little Eagle, Heron, Parakeets, Monkeys, and Cayman. There is a possible break in the sequence between Jaguar and Ocelot and again between Heron and Parakeets. The eagles are described as having fledglings and, thus, vulnerable to capture. Recognized constellations included the Pleiades, Orion's belt, the Southern Cross, Pavo (which they too described as a bird), and several "dark constellations," including our Coal Sack, and Pari, a running emu. In architecture, the village structure consisted of concentric rings of houses, the sectors of which were, in theory, administered by eight matrilineal and matrilocal clans divided into north and south moieties. Paths among them suggest the ceques of Cuzco.

Another people whose myths and rituals show a substantial interest in astronomy is the Sherente (Levi-Strauss 1969, pp. 75,168, 194, 199-202, 216-217, 250-251) of present-day east-central Brazil (—9° latitude). The Sherente, like the Bororo, speak a language of the Ge family. Again, like the Bororo, they were divided into eight kin groups in two moieties. Their encampments and villages were arranged so that the eight groups were located in a fixed pattern, the northern moiety associated with the Moon and the southern moiety associated with the Sun. However, unlike the Bororo, the kin groups were patrilineal and patrilocal, and the village entrance was in the west. Their year began with the heliacal rising of the Pleiades in June and was said to consist of 13 lunar months (if so, these must be sidereal rather than synodic months). The year was divided into a dry season of four months (June to September) and a rainy season of nine months (September to May). Tree cutting occurred in June and July; burning and planting occurred in August and September.

A major culture hero of the Sherente is Asare (Rigel) of the Sun moiety, a half-brother of the many brothers called Sururu (Pleiades) of the Moon moiety. According to the myth, Asare was very thirsty and unable to slake his thirst from palm nuts. The Sururu brothers, however, dug a well from which water gushed forth. Asare tried to drink all of it but failed; it became the sea. He then had to swim across it to retrieve an arrow. On the way, he was attacked by a cayman, the master of water, but escaped. This happened twice more, and finally, the cayman was killed by Asare's uncle, the skunk-like Conepatus. Asare is a principal figure in a ritual against drought, designed to appease the Sun. The Sherente erect a pole 10 m high and 40 cm in diameter that was called "the Road to the Sky." Most of the young men of the village, separated into their moiety groups, are obliged to climb it after other activities and three weeks of fasting. All fires in the community must be extinguished. The climbers are given small amounts of water by a group of old men who are called Asare. These old men fast for only five days. The first man to reach the top of the pole must be a member of the Kuze or "fire" kin group. This group also includes the mutum bird (curassow), who was the most important figure in the Sherente myth of the theft of fire from Jaguar. The Kuze climber carries with him some fibres that he asks Sun to set afire. The way in which this is accomplished is unclear, but he climbs down with burning fibres, which are then used to start new fires throughout the community. The last climber is given a message from Asare (Rigel) saying that Sun is pleased with them and will allow rains to fall. Then, an impersonator of Mars, a member of the Moon moiety, offers the climbers a drink of stale, dirty water in a cup decorated with feathers. They refuse it and are offered clear water by impersonators of Jupiter and Venus, who are members of the Sun moiety. The clear water is offered in gourd vessels (Lagenaria decorated with cotton, and Crescentia). Such a ritual may suggest the possibility of a near-conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and Mars. The association with Rigel is unclear, but it may be related to the circumstance that Rigel transits close to the zenith in this region (when the latitude and the declination of the transiting object are the same). Because the declination changes with precession, however, both latitude of the site and the date are important. Rigel's declination has been increasing (to less negative values) and is now —8° (it was within V2° of -9° from ~1200 to ~1700 a.d.). Parallels in Mesoamerica, among the Kogi, in Moche culture, and among the Quechua, put Jaguar as Lord of Fire as the central star of Orion's Belt. Among the Sherente, fire has been stolen from Jaguar by Mutum. As the ancestor of the fire kin group, Mutum is associated with Asare (Rigel). In 1450 a.d., about three weeks after the September equinox, the Sun would pass through zenith. According to the Visible Universe software package, around October 8, when the Sun is at the zenith of a site at latitude -9°, Rigel would have crossed the zenith two to three hours before sunrise, thus, not providing a strong marker for the event. However, Rigel would have transited the meridian at sunrise three weeks before the September equinox (-August 27); thus, if the symmetry of the dates were considered, such a pairing of events might have been made.

Jupiter and Venus also appear in myths. It is said that Jupiter, a woman, came down to Earth, presumably descending in the west, and married a man, who kept her hidden in a gourd. Then she took him to the sky, where he was horrified to discover that all her relatives were cannibals and fled back to Earth. When he died, he went back to Jupiter and became a star. Although Jupiter is identified as a female, and associated with a gourd, Venus appears in Sherente myth as an ulcerated and impoverished male, who was badly treated by all the humans whom he met except Wainkaura. Therefore, he warned Wainkaura that a flood was coming and had him kill a dove. From the body of the dove, Venus made a boat in which Wainkaura and his family were saved.

The Sherente say that they received corn (maize) from a rat, but there are no celestial components in the story. However, a nearby Ge group, the Apinaye (Levi-Strauss 1969, p. 165), tell the story of Star Woman coming from the sky and being hidden in a gourd. They say that she first appeared as a frog and brought sweet potatoes and yams. Later, she transformed herself into an opossum (parallel in this and other stories to a rat) and showed people a maize tree. She also taught people basketmaking. A careful reconstruction of the prototype of these Ge stories would be extremely interesting. It is just possible that more direct evidence of astronomical knowledge and beliefs may yet be obtained among these groups. Also in Brazil, but much less well studied, the Tupinamba Indians of the coast had an extensive list of named stars and constellations.

In 1930, in a study of Brazilian inscriptions, Bernardo Ramos published a 19th-century drawing of a carved rock from Pedra Lavrada, Paraiba, Brazil (near the Brazilian coast), which seems to be a star map. Ramos "read" the various components of the diagram as "Greek letters" giving the names of the constellations of the zodiac. This bizarre effort need not detain us here, but the drawing is reproduced in Figure 14.33 with two local inscriptions. Some of the drawings look like asterisms, drawn in the ball-and-link style. We have not been able to identify any of the asterisms with assurance. Some of the signs may signify planets. If they can be identified, it may be possible to date the panel.

In Colombia, there were many native tribes, some of which still exist in substantive number. The Tukanoan group is composed of six tribes, some of which may not intermarry. Three intermarrying tribes are the Desana, Tukano proper, and Pira Tapuya. Others are the Barasana, the Karapana, and the Tuyuka. Moieties exist also within tribes.

The Desana tribe inhabits the equatorial rainforests of the northwestern Amazon, and as of the early 1980s (Reichel-

Figure 14.33. A 19th-century drawing of a carved rock from Pedra Lavrada, Paraiba, Brazil (near the Brazilian coast), published by Bernardo Ramos, which seems to be a star map with two local inscriptions: See text for details. Drawing by Sharon Hanna.

Dolmatoff 1982, from which this summary is taken), a few thousand still existed. One of the principal myths of this tribe was the Search for the Center—the spot where a vertical shaft carried by a hero casts no shadow. The spot on Earth corresponding to this center is a place called Nyi, marked by a large boulder covered with petroglyphs, which lies on the equator. This thus marks the place where the equinox Sun is overhead at noon. The area around this center has its counterpart in space and can be recognized in the stars. The area is roughly hexagonal, and the celestial counterpart has as its center the star e Orionis, in Orion's belt (see Appendix B, Figure B.1), with Castor + Pollux, Procyon, Canopus, Achernar, t3 Eridani, and Capella forming the vertices of the hexagon. The beliefs are reflected in the architecture: The longhouses of the tribe have a hexagonal shape. In the imagery of the shamans, Orion is conceived to be a hunter, walking over the Milky Way, among other interpretations. According to Reichel-Dolmatoff (1982, p. 176), in the NW Amazon region, in the thought of the shamans, "there exists a close relationship between astronomical observations, cosmological speculations, and drug-induced trance states."

Another Tukanoan tribe, the Barasanas, consider themselves Earth People, and are permitted to intermarry only with the Sky People (Tatuyo) and Water People (Bara). See Hugh-Jones (1982) for an informative summary. In the creation myths of the Barasana, the Primal Sun created the Universe People: Sun, sky, Moon, and stars. The first beings died (but later returned to life, immortal), and in the process, humans were created. A dualism pervades the culture: The dead in this world become alive in the underworld, where it is day when this world is in darkness. The annual and daily movements of the Sun are linked: The Sun (muhihu) and his children, the stars (nyokoa), revolve around the Earth each day (east to west in the sky; west to east in the underworld river). Day and night are linked metaphorically with dry and wet seasons. Stars are said to return to the east as flocks of migratory birds (whose passage is connected to the heliacal setting of particular constellations). The Pleiades are said to return as bobolinks, Orion's Belt and sword as small, black, seed-eating birds. The stars and constellations are listed in sequential order and tied to the seasons. Most lie along the Milky Way, which is cut in two by the ecliptic: the "New Path" (mama ma), which runs SE to NW, and currently precedes the "Old Path" (buku ma), which runs NE to SW (see Figure 14.34).

The New Path begins at what a shaman identifies as the "Star Thing" (nyokoaro) or Star Woman, the Pleiades, which appears on the eastern horizon at dusk in November, marking the end of the rainy season. The eight stars that the Barasana number the Pleiades are Star Woman's fire sticks, banded in red and black stripes. The red bands are said to symbolize the fires of a cleared midden site, at the start of the dry season, whereas the black bands represent the charcoal after the fire goes out, and the rainy season's overcast skies. Following the Pleiades, there are fruit fences, a fish rack, a red ant (Betelgeuse), fish, otters, and adze; there is then a "star path" followed by the Old Path. In contrast to the New Path, this segment is marked by dangerous creatures,

Poisonous Spider, Scorpion, Caterpillar Jaguar, Poisonous Snake, Headless One (a headless corpse of an eagle), Vulture, Corpse Bundle, characteristic of the dangers of the rain forest in the wet season. In Barasana mythology, Wekomi, the headless eagle is the father-in-law of Venus the Morning Star (busuri nyoko) and of Venus the Evening Star (nyamikarima). He was beheaded by his daughter, "Star Snake" (nyoko anya). Table 14.6 lists the constellations and the identifications when these are known. The star paths separating the Old and New Paths are associated with egrets and forest fruits and help to mark the transition between the wet and dry seasons.

Ritual events are similar to those of the Desana described above. The main initiation ritual takes place at the end of the dry season, marked by the Pleiades low on the western horizon at dusk, and the Sun at the March equinox. The ceremony unites the Barasana with their ancestors, a condition

Figure 14.34. Barasana constellations. Drawing by Sharon Hanna.

Figure 14.34. Barasana constellations. Drawing by Sharon Hanna.

Table 14.6. Barasana constellations, ff. S. Hugh-Jones, 1982. The New Path

1. nyokoaro, "Star Thing" (or Star Woman): Controls the seasons and agriculture;Pleiades

2. wamtt saniro klhika, "Small Umari Fruit Fence";near the Hyades

3. wai kasabo, "Fish-smoking Rack";Hyades triangle

4. wamtt saniro haigtt, "Large Umari Fruit Fence";the other side of the Hyades from 2.

5. nyokoaro bttkttra, "Old Star Thing";Orion's Head (?)

6. mekahiamtt, "Leaf-cutter Ant";Betelgeuse, a Orionis

7. siortthtt, "Adze";Belt and Sword of Orion

8. muha buhua, "Jacundâ Fish";Rigel, b Orionis

9. timi haigtt (Maha hesatt), "Big Otter";Sirius, a Canis Majoris

10. siortthtt bttkttra, "Old Adze";Canis Maior (?)

11. wania timia (ria timia), "The Small Otters";Procyon, Castor, Pollux, Canis Minor, Gemini and others, each star a separate otter

12. rasikamtt, "Crayfish";Leo (?) The Old Path

13. btthtt, "Poisonous Spider";Centaurus (?)

14. kotibaha, "Scorpion";Centaurus or Lupus (?)

15. lya yai, "Caterpillar Jaguar";Scorpius (+)

16. anya, "Poisonous Snake";Corona Australis (usually)

17. rihoa mangtt, "The Headless Corpse" of the eagle, wekomi

18. yuka, "Vulture": Announced the time of warfare;Altair, a Aquilae

19. masa hoti, "Corpse Bundle" (the body of Star Woman, killed by wasps);Delphinus

20. hamo, "Armadillo"; Corona Borealis noted in the chants; instruments said to be the bones of ancestors are assembled (symbolically recovered from the underworld) and played. At midnight, sacred flutes are played by men, who, dressed as the Sun, move along the east-west axis of the house, which, like that of the Desana, is shaped like the cosmos.

From the Wayana of Surinam and French Guiana, Magaña (1987) has collected an extensive series of native names for asterisms, with some information on the calendar and an extensive collection of myths, only a few of which have explicit astronomical associations. The identification of asterisms is much more detailed and explicit than has been common and Magaña has noted differences between different informants. It seems to be agreed that the year begins with the dry season and is associated with the heliacal rising of the Pleiades or the Hyades or Orion. The year is divided into 12 months, each named and marked by an asterism. The observations are done at sunset. Some of the months are named from asterisms that are culminating at sunset, whereas others are named from asterisms that are rising at sunset. His Table I shows information on the calendar aster-isms from Coudreau 1893 (Magaña 1987, p. 48). Figure 14.35 shows the identified Wayana asterisms.

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