I slept better than the night before, but still awoke well before dawn. When the need to visit the outhouse superseded my desire to finish the last chapter of my book, I emerged from my sanctuary from mosquitoes to begin my last day in Brillo Nuevo. I packed all the things I would need for the last days of this stint (hammock, blanket, toiletries and a change of socks and underwear) in the smaller duffel and everything else in the large one.
Yully and I finish about half of our breakfast before the stream of artisans and other visitors began. Some brought their tapetes, belts and first rolls of dog leashes and collars for final inspection. After a few rounds of feedback, most had worked out little kinks and were ready for us to accept.
Yully had already paid the fellows who worked with us on the copal survey in the week, but following a tradition I started a few years ago, Beder invited the team back to receive a gift of a baseball cap.
I had picked up a nice assortment from the Trash to Treasures event at Penn State University at the end of the term when the school sells off tons of items left in dormitory rooms to support the local United Way.
When I shared my idea with them about training a dog to find copal resin, they thought it was intriguing. Bora men routinely trained their dogs to find game animals – mostly by bringing a puppy with them when they went hunting and encouraging them to follow any scent. Brito said he knew of a man who had trained his dog specifically to find cedro trees by the aroma of their roots.
While Yully efficiently took care of labeling the crafts and paying the artisans, I chatted with Beder and Robert about the relative perils of rainforest critters including the jergon pit-viper that accounts for most snake-bites in the area, a white spider whose bite hurts for hours and the infamous isula ant whose sting inflicts severe pain and incapacitation its victim for at least half a day.
While almost everyone in the village is bilingual, we pondered why so few Bora children know their traditional songs. I had recorded Tembé chants at Tekohaw and made a book of the lyrics of these for their schools. They liked the idea of asking half-dozen of their elders to sing their songs and put them on a CD and make booklets that could be given to families. An annual contest with prizes for the best singing and costumes might provide a good incentive for parents to encourage their kids to reactivate this part of their culture.
My morning adventure was having Ines dye my hair. She had gathered the huito leaves earlier in the morning, simmered them with roasted patarashka leaves, and cured them in the sun for several hours.
I lay on the floor of her house with my head perched near the door next to a bent aluminum pot filled with the leafy stew. Ines massaged one handful of the dark mash into my hair after another until my whole head was saturated.
I sat in the sun with her cat to let the first treatment dry while Ines resumed work on the cascabel snake model dog leash.
Many Brillo Nuevo artisans are highly skilled; Ines is also innovative and fast. She has cranked out four or five pieces in the time it takes most artisans to do one.
Some of this advantage comes from her ability to concentrate on craft-making without the need to care for young children (her older son in the army and younger one is self-sufficient). She exudes an exuberance and frequent laughter, however, that seems to propel her no matter what she’s doing.
Seeing how well Ines and others made the thin collars immediately suggested shorter versions would also make attractive bracelets. We promptly commissioned three women on the spot to make batches of bracelets with their signature snake designs.
After finishing round two of my hair and her husband, Ines wrapped an old piece of fabric around our heads to contain the herbal dye. A third round would have been better, but it was time to go.
We loaded our heavy bags in Beder’s boat and wrapped them well in a tarp in case of rain. Beder and his son took turns at the helm of the small engine for the three hour trip downstream to Nueva Esperanza. Beder mentioned earlier that if Brillo Nuevo extended his contract as local project coordinator, he wanted to buy a 9 horse-power peque engine that would halve the time for these voyages up and down the Yaguasyacu river. I didn’t mind the leisurely pace. I got to see an iguana swimming across the river, glimpses of ripples made by pink dolphins, and flocks of squawking parrots flying against the pre-sunset pink sky.
Arriving in Nueva Esperanza in early evening, we carried our essential gear across a flat soggy area up the bank where we were greeted by Elieser – the only fellow who wasn’t attending the soccer match at Santa Lucia when we passed through the village on our way upriver. He told us he had been replaced as president of the community at their last meeting, but the new official would convene our gathering in the morning.
I walked down to the stream and took a bucket bath off a small raft to wash some of the leaves out of my hair. Yully commented that it looked much darker – as did parts of my ears, cheeks, neck and back. We hung our hammocks from the rafters of a house near the top of the hill, had a simple dinner of tuna fish and rice and retired for the night.
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