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In the gloom beneath the towering trees the forest was so silent that the rare shafts of sunlight seemed only splashes of reality at the edge of the spirit world. The gods had brought down water as they did at the time of the most heat, and the foliage was spangled with shimmering droplets that, to Watakateri, seemed like the watching eyes of muisak souls. As the Jivaro warriors slipped through the jungle silent as wraiths their skin was so bathed with sweat that they experienced no discomfort from contact with the wet leaves.
When the water stopped falling the birds come out and began talking to their gods. Watakateri wondered how many of the voices were birds and how many were avenging muisak wakani doomed to haunt the jungle throughout eternity. Unlike some snakes, spiders, and larger animals, or even trees which could fall, muisak souls in birds could not kill their enemies so they could be ignored. He hoped that if he was ever killed his muisak soul would not return in the form of a bird. Or a spider. The idea filled him with dread. A Jaguar or a snake like a Bushmaster would be the only forms acceptable for a warrior.
Watakateri clutched his blowgun and his spear tighter and slowed his steps so he would be closer to the shaman, Marawe, who was walking behind him. If a muisak wakani began to hurl invisible soul-killing darts at him the shaman could intercept them and hurl his own mystical darts.
A thought struck Watakateri with a flash so unusual it raced through his body, freezing him in mid stride. Was it possible that your avenging soul would come back as the thing you thought you were when you werealive? The idea pleased him. In his mind he had always been a Bushmaster: sleek, deadly, stalking his unsuspecting enemy, then striking with the speed of a blowgun dart.
The thought was pushed aside by a sudden horror. The Chullachaqui was powerful. If it killed him today, would it also destroy his soul? He must not allow that to happen. Finding and killing such a monster would greatly strengthen his arutam wakani, perhaps making his acquired soul so strong he would be immune to death. Then he could return to his home and drink enough nateema to make the passage back into the real world where the demons could be held at bay by his powerful arutam soul.
He wished he had drunk nateema before they left the village. But in this world where the Chullachaqui lived it was not good to drink the fermented juice before the hunt. The darts from his blowgun must speed fast and true or the Chullachaqui would kill him no matter how powerful his arutam soul.
A pulsing beat vibrated the moist air and Watakateri halted, holding up his hand so the others would know he had heard and that his ears were still young even though the rest of his body had known many years. Indeed, he should have been killed long ago by someone avenging one of the many enemies whose life he had taken, except that he had been too clever and his arutam soul had grown so strong that his enemies were afraid to try. Everyone knew that unless he was killed by a spirit hurling darts or by someone without a soul he would live until one of the gods took him. Still, he was careful when going on a hunt to take the warriors who had killed at least one enemy. Especially when they were going to hunt a Chullachaqui, whose terrible voice was made the leaves tremble.
He did not want to go closer. He did not want to look upon the fearsome creature. But how else were they to kill it and the white men who were its masters? But the power of his arutam soul was great. Perhaps even the Chullachaqui could not kill him. He would lead the way to show the others that he was not afraid.
But he was afraid. And the closer they came the more he felt the pounding in his heart, for now he could hear the beast clawing at the forest, making the largest trees fall with a crash that shook the ground. He glanced behind him and saw that even Marawe's face looked tight. And this should not be. Not for a shaman who had the power to speak with Kamari, who could summon the god from the outer world to turn aside the spirit darts when enemies hurled them into his soul.
Then he saw it! His heart thudded like the savage drum beat of a hanlsamata dance. The beast with its huge protruding teeth would even frighten a witch doctor. It was roaring, belching smoke, as it hurled itself at the tangle of undergrowth. When it encountered resistance it roared even louder, sometimes backing on its strange rollers before making a new charge. It was more dreadful than he had dreamed in his deepest campi death when his soul was separated from his body and roamed the other world. He shook his head. There was a white man riding on the back of the Chullachaqui. The beast was doing the white man's bidding as he pulled and pushed on sticks jutting up from its back. The white man had to have a very strong arutam soul. Was he too powerful to kill?
They had to try. And they could certainly kill the other white men who were using machetes and axes to help the Chullachaqui. They should not have come this far. They had been warned. He himself had placed the crossed spears, their points smeared with ampi poison, across the path that other white men had marked through the jungle deep in Jivaro territory. That was two days ago and they ignored the warning, just as those three white men looking for gold had at the time of the most cold and had been killed. It would have been wise to have taken their heads and performed the hanlsamata 'soul-killing' dance so their spirits would not come back for revenge. But Marawe insisted that white men did not have souls. And if they did their souls would get lost in the jungle. The white men had no understanding of the transmigration of souls and would not know how to use spirit darts or even make a man sick.
He hoped the shaman was right. He did not like the thought of any man's soul looking for him, even the soul of a white man. It might take refuge in a snake or a big fish and wait for a time when his own soul was weak and susceptible to attack. Since the killings he had drunk much nijimanche beer and nateema so he would not have to think about it.
This time things would be different. This time they would take the heads of the white men and perform a soul-killing dance no matter what the shaman said. He might even make tsantsas out of the heads of wild boars to represent the heads of the three gold hunters and put them with the others so that their souls too would be appeased just in case the shaman was mistaken. If not, no harm would be done, but he would not have to watch so closely for a soul-possessed jaguar or for a tree to fall on him.
He wondered why the Chullachaqui did not sense him and his men. They were well concealed, but a Chullachaqui did not need eyes to see his victims. Perhaps the white man on its back was making it ignore them. Perhaps it was too busy smashing the trees. It never got tired. It was said that it only stopped when the sun dropped low in the sky and the white shaman made it sleep. Then he would climb off its back and the beast would not awaken until the next morning when the shaman again climbed on its back. That would be a good time to attack--when the beast was sleep. He hoped it would not come alive during the attack. But Marawe had assured him that the beast could not come alive without the spell from the white shaman. So if they killed him first, the Chullachaqui would remain sleeping and they could easily kill the others. Except that the white man must be a very powerful shaman to control the beast. Perhaps they should not kill him. With such a shaman in the village none of their enemies would dare attack. Yes, that would be better; if they could do it.
He studied the greenish light that filtered through the canopy of trees, ferns, and vines. Soon darkness would swallow the light. If the tales were true the man riding the Chullachaqui would soon make it sleep. He motioned for his warriors to prepare for the attack, then took a dart from the pouch suspended from his neck by a braided cloth. He pulled a pinch of kapok from the gourd attached to the pouch and twisted the cotton-like fiber around the blunt end of the dart. He wanted this one to fly especially straight. Shooting a shaman was different than shooting any other enemy. Unless he was brought down quickly a shaman could spit demon darts directly into your soul. He also knew that white men usually had shotguns which they kept close when in Jivaro territory. Shaman or not, this one might also have a shotgun. One more reason to shoot his dart very straight. He hoped that none of his warriors would be killed. They would not if they obeyed his command and struck quickly, and together.
A new thought struck him and he grunted, causing the shaman and the husband-of-his-sister crouching nearby to look at him.
"If the white men kill us," he whispered to Marawe above the noise of the beast, "will they take our heads?"
"No. White men do not believe that the spirit of the dead can harm them."
"Even the muisak wakanis of their enemies?"
"White men are like women; they have no souls," the shaman said, "so they do not believe that other people have souls."
"Some women have souls," Watakateri reminded him.
"Only if they are very brave." The shaman sounded angry that he should be reminded of something he knew better than anyone. "I have lived among the white men and I know they have no souls, even the brave ones."
That must be true. The shaman had lived in a village of the white men at the edge of the jungle. He had heard that there was a larger village somewhere in the mountains which the white men called Quito. Perhaps there really was such a village. There were so many white men they had to come from somewhere, although why they should want to have the Chullachaqui make a path in the jungle that belonged to the Jivaros he had no idea. Perhaps they too were after gold. That seemed to be the only reason the white men came. They had even entered the territory of the Aucas and the Yaguas, who had killed many of them. Well, after today they would stay in their villages where they belonged.
"Do not kill the one riding the Chullachaqui," he said to the husband-of-his-sister. "He must be a mighty shaman. We can learn from him. Go. Tell the others."
To keep from looking at the clouds of jealousy gathering like angry bees on the face of the shaman he stared at the white shaman riding on the Chullachaqui. He looked very strong, with hair as straight and black as that of any Jivaro. His skin was the same dusky-gold of Watakateri's and his eyes were as dark and piercing as charcoal that held fire deep inside. He looked strong enough to be a warrior as well as a shaman. Still, three darts would bring him down. He would not die if they used the salt quickly. Then they would take him back to their village. If they could learn the secret of his power they could conquer all their enemies.
He felt a thrill of fear as the white shaman made the Chullachaqui lift a fallen tree and fling it aside where other white men began chopping it into smaller pieces. Then the white shaman backed the beast into a cleared area where he made it die, its breath cutting off with a snort of oily smoke. In the abrupt silence the sounds of the other men's axes stood out sharply.
Watakateri checked to see that his spear was close by and that the ampi-coated dart was inserted in his blowgun. He aimed the blowgun through the curtain of vines at the back of the white shaman who was drinking water from a bag that hung from the side of the beast. On either side of him the other warriors placed their spears where they could grasp them quickly and raised their blowguns. He nodded to the shaman who slapped his hands together.
At the sharp explosion of sound the warriors fired their blowguns. The poison-tipped darts blurred across the clearing and thudded into the white men. Watakateri saw his dart hit the white shaman at the base of his neck where it stood out like a miniature flag. For an instant the white shaman thought he had been stung by an insect and he reached back to slap at the dart.
Then he knew! He whirled, reaching up into the beast for a shotgun. But Watakateri's second dart struck him in the arm and he gave up trying to reach the gun. He grabbed a long-handled shovel and stood with his back against the beast glaring at the jungle and yelling in defiance. Watakateri was afraid that the words would awaken the beast and he shot him in the neck with another dart. Then he left his concealment and ran at the man with his spear. He wanted to make him unconscious before he could bring the beast to life. Other warriors came out of the jungle and ran at the white men with their spears. Some of the white men reached their shotguns, but they were killed before they could fire their weapons.
When Watakateri reached him the white shaman was already groggy from the ampi, but he swung the blade of the shovel so hard it made a whistling noise in the air and he had to jump out of the way to keep from being badly cut. Before the white shaman could swing the blade back Watakateri leaped forward, his spear lifted like a club. To his surprise the white shaman brought the handle of the shovel up like a spear and drove it into his side and pain ripped at his stomach as though he had swallowed fire. He doubled and fell back, directly into the arc of the shovel's steel that came around in a vicious blow.
But the blow never landed. The husband-of-his-sister came up behind the white shaman and struck him on the back of the head with the haft of his spear. The white shaman's knees sagged in the middle. The white shaman fell to his knees and, with a great force of will, tried to raise the shovel. Again the husband-of-his-sister hit him hard. The shaman's eyes rolled up until they were almost all white and he fell forward on the raw earth with blood welling from the back of his head and matting his hair.
Then the jungle was silent, waiting. All the other white men were dead. Watakateri grunted with satisfaction. They had done well. Not one of his men had been badly wounded, although two or three had been cut by the machetes that some of the white men used to clear jungle growth. Watakateri gritted his teeth against the pain in his side and bent over the white shaman and placed his hand over the man's heart.
"Good. He is alive." The husband-of-his-sister helped him pull the blowgun darts out of the white shaman and rub salt into the wounds to counteract the poison. "Now, everyone will know what it means to be enemies of the Jivaro."
Copyright © 2003 by Robert L. Hecker