Friday, January 25, 2008
Wayuu Myth 4: The Origin of Fire
This myth about the origin of fire is taken from Jose Enrique Finol's book "Mito y Cultura Guajira" (Universidad de Zulia, 1984). It not only relates how the brave and resourceful Junuunay stole fire from the cave of the creator god Maleiwa, but also the origin of the firefly, the scarab beetle and the sikiyu bird. It also signals the best kinds of wood to rub together to make a fire. So if you're ever stuck without a fire in the cold desert night of the Guajira Peninsula, seek out the caujaro tree and get rubbing.
In the beginning people did not have fire. They were imperfect creatures who ate things raw: meat, vegetables, roots and wild fruit. No vegetables were cooked in the fire. They ate no prepared foods. Meat was not smoked, or roasted, it was dried. They hung it in the sun and ate it dry.
Those first people, because of their imperfection, shared their sad fate with the animals. Some lived in tree trunks, some in caves, some in holes; others had huts to shelter in; but they lived without fire to warm them or give them light to stave off the fear that comes in the dead of night.
Maleiwa (the Wayuu creator god) was the only one who possessed fire. He had some burning stones that he jealously guarded in a grotto far from the reach of people. Maleiwa didn't want to give fire to people because they lacked judgement. Instead of making good use of it they could use it in bad ways to set fire to the undergrowth, burn living creatures and hasten calamities. That's why he kept it from them.
But one day, when Maleiwa was standing next to the fire (Octorojoshi) warming his body, a young man named Junuunay came towards him, stiff with cold.
Maleiwa on seeing him was greatly angered.
- What have you come for, trespasser? Don't you know that all access to this place is prohibited? Perhaps you have come to disturb my peace and try my patience?
Junuunay replied, pleadingly:
- No venerable grandfather. I have only come to stand next to you and warm my body. Have mercy on me. I did not mean to offend you. Shelter me from this cold that freezes me, that pricks my skin and works into my bones. As soon as I am warm I will leave.
Junuunay hid his intentions as he said this. The bold young man employed a host of cunning tricks to convince Maleiwa. He made his teeth chatter, he made his pores prick up as if he had goose pimples, he shivered like a machorro lizard and he rubbed his hands together until, finally, Maleiwa felt pity for him and agreed.
But the Great Father didn't take his eyes off him, because he had his doubts about the honesty of this stranger, who inspired admiration rather than disdain.
Both of them began to rub their hands together and warm up their bodies. The flames of that fire were intensely beautiful, giving off a glow that could be seen from afar like the golden glow of the stars, like the skemeche aitu'u, like the burning embers of heaven.
Junuunay's courage grew and tried to speak to Maleiwa in order to distract him, but Maleiwa stayed quiet and took no notice of the stranger's words.
However, a sudden gust of wind made Maleiwa turn his head round and look back to discover the source of the small noise. It sounded as if tiny, cautious steps were passing through the dead leaves.
Junuunay took advantage of this momentary slip by Maleiwa, grabbed two burning embers from the fire and quickly snuck them into a small bag he carried concealed under his arm.
With that he fled, sneaking out into the undergrowth that surrounded the grotto.
The Great Maleiwa, realizing that a robbery had taken place and he had been made a fool of, set off after Junuunay to punish him.
- He tricked me, that rascal. I'm going to punish him, I'll torture him with a life of filth. I'll make him live in a pigsty, in a dungheap, pushing around balls of dung...
And saying that he ran after the thief.
Junuunay made a desparate dash to get away but his steps were so slow and short that he could barely make any headway.
Caught in this difficult predicament he again employed his slippery ability to save himself.
He called on a young hunter called Kenaa to help him, and quickly passed him one of the burning coals to hide.
Kenaa took the precious burning jewel and ran away without being seen. In the sun he was hidden from Maleiwa's view, but he was always discovered at night, when he had to try and hide the light of the burning ember among the trees and bushes.
To punish him, Maleiwa turned him into the firefly, who in the dark winter nights emits a flickering light as he flies by.
Junuunay in desperation found Jimut, the grasshopper and said to him:
- My friend, Maleiwa is chasing me because I have stolen fire from him to give it to the people. Take this last burning ember, flee with it and hide it in a safe place, because whoever possesses this jewel will be the most fortunate person of all, wise and great.
Saying this, Jimut took the burning coal and quickly hid it inside a branch from the Cuajaro tree, then he moved it into an olive tree, and then to a branch from another tree; and so it was spread and multiplied everywhere.
People discovered it later through a child called Serumaa. This child, as he played its games and jumped around the scrub, showed people the wood in which Jimut had deposited fire.
That child could not speak, he only knew how to say: Skii... Skii... Skiii... Fire... Fire... Fire...
People then rushed to find the fire but they couldn't find it and didn't know how to get it. They checked all the trees, the branches and the trunks but could find nothing.
Then they saw Jimut drilling a hole in a branch, and following his example, they drilled and rubbed with their hands two sticks from the Caujaro tree and at the tip a flame appeared, lighting up the heart of the countryside and filling the people's spirits with happiness.
Since that time they have made use of fire. Now people are no longer afraid and no longer have to suffer the harshness of the cold night.
Maleiwa turned the young boy Serumaa into the little bird that jumps from branch to branch crying Ski... Ski... Ski, it's song.
Since then, Serumaa has been called Sikiyuu.
This happened after Maleiwa turned Junuunay into a scarab beetle and condemned him to live in filth for stealing fire.
Since then the scarab beetle has lived off and fed from excrement. And in punishment for his audacity marked on his body are the marks of his theft, that is, the bright marks that the scarabs carry on their legs.
Translated by Russell Maddicks
Wayuu Myth 1: The Way of the Dead Indians
Wayuu Myth 2: Pulowi and the Jewels
Wayuu Myth 3: Kasipoluin the Rainbow
Video of the Wayuu People and Their Native Land