"They say I'm 'integrated' because, I'm not speaking
the Shuar language right now, but instead, their language, Spanish.
Indigenous peoples are integrated through language.
We ask ourselves when Spanish speakers will integrate
themselves into the reality of this nation by learning to speak our languages."
Ampam Karakras, Shuar, 1984.
THE WHITE-MESTIZO SOCIETY, which we call apach', thought
of the jungle as "El Dorado" - a place of fabulous wealth -, a
place out of some forgotten savage myth, abundant in trees,
animals, and precious metals, but a place without civilization.
I, a descendent of the peoples who have inhabited the Amazon
basin for generations, have asked myself with pride how it was
that we were able to survive in the jungle, so isolated from the
rest of the world.
The Shuar, like all other indigenous groups in the region,
find in myths an explanation for all natural, social, religious,
political, and artistic phenomena that occur day to day.
Achieving a balance in the relationships we've established with
nature has characterized our culture from the beginning. The
Shuar people, with the help of Etsa, triumphed over Iwia, a
lazy, gluttonous character in our mythology, who symbolizes
the jungle as a serious threat to human beings.
THE DEFEAT OF IWIA
The elders say this about our early history:
One day Etsa, after having killed all the animals of
the jungle, discovered that his grandfather was none other than Iwia
who had killed his mother, Wanup, long ago, and he decided
to avenge her death.
"Dearest grandfather," he said, "I bring you this humming
bird, one of the last survivors in the jungle."
"And now what will I eat?" asked Iwia, with his insatiable
hunger, and, like somebody taking a breath, he swallowed the
"Guess what, dearest grandfather," said Etsa, "there's a deer
eating the seeds of a tree near the garden. Can you prepare the
lance for the hunt?"
"Fine," said Iwia. And Etsa went on, "Now ask dearest
grandmother to hurry to the garden and to bring some manioc
to eat with the deer I'm going to hunt."
The grandmother went to the garden and the grandfather
said, "Dearest grandson, I want to hunt the deer." To which Etsa
replied, "Let's use this white wapuch banana flower for target
practice; whoever proves to have the best aim will hunt the
deer." Iwia missed three times, whereas Etsa hit the target on his
first try. Etsa went to the garden and killed the grandmother, the
wife of Iwia. Blowing on her, he transformed her into a deer,
prepared a soup with her, and offered it to Iwia, who slurped it
down as fast as he could.
"I'm just going to leave some broth for my wife because I'm
very hungry," he said. Iwia inhaled the food, making a plate of
meat disappear as though by magic. This is why we Shuar call
gluttons Iwia. When the grandfather finished eating, Etsa said to
him, "Rest, dearest grandfather, close your eyes." Apparently
Iwia followed this suggestion with no discussion and, as he
slept, Etsa killed him. However, other grandchildren helped
him recover life and freedom. That was the end of Iwia's wife.
They say that the definitive defeat of Iwia came about like this:
Etsa prepared a platform of piik in a tree filled with yápit, a
fruit the birds eat, and he put Iwia up there so that he might
hunt and eat. But instead he lay down and didn't hunt a thing
because he expected Etsa to feed him. Etsa got tired of this
behaviour. With the help of his brothers, Tatasham, Tirasha', and
Mashu, he planned a trap. "Dearest grandfather, you suffer so
here. Let's go to the country of the blue Sechanua and
Tsunkinua birds so that they might feed you with their large
breasts. There you will be happy," said Etsa. "Fine," the grand-father
said, delighted. Nevertheless, as they flew, Jatasham let
him fall into the water, between two large stones. Iwia
remained there with his right arm trapped and the left free, so
that he could feed himself the fish he received from Tsunki, the
spirit protector of the aquatic world.
We Shuar know that, under the water, Tsunki has made his
home, one like those on the surface. There, fish are thought of
as chickens, and water tigers like dogs. The tortoises are like
kutank' chairs used by Tsunki's children and women, and the
shukem' snake is used as a chimpi bench by Tsunki, the head of
the family. Iwia remains alive in the depths of the river, and
from there he can not leave. Tsunki makes sure he is fed and
keeps his instincts under control by means of the shamanic
powers he possesses. Even so, when fish are scarce, Iwia complains
and his wail echoes like thunder throughout the jungle.
Iwia could turn into an insatiable plunderer, putting an end
to the Shuar and all other beings in nature. But he was subjugated
by those who knew how to take advantage of his weaknesses,
especially his naiveté and his laziness. It is to control Iwia
that we have an agreement with Tsunki, who casts a spell on
him in order to placate his inhuman instincts so that the world
of Etsa -the Shuar people- can live without worrying about his
threats. Besides, Tsunki - tsu means to heal- protects us with his
shamanic powers, which are appropriated by our doctors, the
uwishin, who use them to heal our illnesses when we consult
them. At the same time, by means of anent -prayers- we Shuar
communicate with Isunki, asking that he provide us with fish.