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The witch doctor, whose name was Sagino meaning "wild boar" , was a man of action. That night, the drums pounded. And by noon of the next day, nearly Indians had arrived to watch my coronation as "Queen of the Machaquis. My guide had been instructed in the use of my Rollei, and I put him to work photographing the procedure. This was not only a great moment in my life--one which I wanted to record on film--but also, I knew, the pictures would be necessary to prove it!
There were no white horses, no gilded carriage, and no triumphal procession. But even a transcontinental television hook-up would not have made me feel any more important as I walked along a trail to a throne of palm fronds. I was escorted to a small wooden bench draped in a piece of hand-woven material.
The brujo appeared and put on my head a crown of multi-colored bird feathers. I do not know what I expected, but I was pleased to learn that there was nothing more to the ceremony, and that I would not have to go out into the jungle and slay a jaguar or shrink someone's head. I was a bona fide jungle queen, and my bird feathers were my authority.
Each day after my coronation, I sat on the "throne" for an hour or two. I doled out to the women hair ribbons, mirrors, combs, cheap lipsticks, bobby-pins, and other trinkets which I always carry on my forays into the jungle. For the men, I had fish hooks and cigarettes, and for the chiefs, gleaming new machetes.
In turn, the Indians brought me jungle fruits, colorful plumes of birds, neck laces made of monkey bones and jaguar teeth, and most important, golden nuggets wrapped in palm leaves. I learned later that some of the river beds in Ecuador are repositories for nuggets washed down the slopes of the Andes.
The mother lode has never been found. It was not all fun, however. The food we ate could scarcely be called a gastronomical delight. A typical dinner consisted of banana soup, boiled boa snake, fried fish with entrails intact , sweet potatoes, toasted gusanos grubworms , wild honey, and chicha -- a vile and potent brew.
To see this food prepared was enough to turn my stomach. Young boa snakes, six to eight feet long, were first decapitated. Their still-writhing bodies were then dumped into clay pots filled with boiling fat.
After being cooked for about a half-hour, they were fished out, cut into small pieces, and served. I might, however, have accumulated a fortune in gold nuggets had not sex reared its ugly in this case bead. On the fifth night of my rule, Sagino told me that all Machaquis had accepted me as their queen. They now wanted to make sure that there would be a successor. Sagino, as brujo , had been chosen by the chiefs to father my child.
Luckily, I had anticipated something like this when I first met Sagino, so I did not act alarmed. When a white woman lives with savage tribes, they invariably want to find her a suitable husband, because nothing is so unnatural to them as to have in their midst a childless woman. I told Sagino I would be happy to comply with the wishes of his tribe. However, first there were certain acts which I had to perform alone in order to purify myself for the matrimonial couch. I clothed these acts in secrecy, claiming that they must be accomplished for the good of all the people of the tribe.
I explained very carefully that early next morning I would leave in one of the canoes for a secret destination, there to make certain sacrifices, and bathe in the pure water of one of the many lakes in the vicinity.
I would return within three days. I also told Sagino that my guide, who served as my personal servant, would accompany me for my own protection. When Sagino agreed, I breathed again. He even promised that as a wedding gift, he would give me a pocketbook made of monkey fur, twenty parrots, and a new hut. I almost regretted having to deceive the Machaquis, but I also knew what life would be like among them. My short-wrap-around skirt and flowered brassiere were hardly sufficient to protect my body from the bites of swarming, tiny black flies who bit harder than mosquitos and left scars that often remained for a year.
The huts were always filled with clouds of smoke, and we slept on bamboo slats without covers and in the same clothes we had worn each day. Then, there was the food. I decided that jungle life could never compare with Paris or London. Next morning, while the village was still asleep, I quietly hurried into my slacks, blouse, and jungle boots and followed the trail leading to the river. My guide was waiting for me in the canoe. We hurriedly paddled upstream in the direction of Puerto Napo, expecting at any time to hear the drums signaling natives to stop us.
But the drums never sounded. It had been a thrilling experience, but five days as "Queen of the Machaquis" had been more than enough. Sagino did not know it, but I had abdicated my throne. Cotlow had observed first-hand the practice of head-hunting and subsequent head shrinking by the Shuar tribes indigenous to Ecuador and parts of Peru. Historically, the Shuar are noted as being the only ethnic South Americans to successfully resist the Spanish conquistadores.
As one might imagine, head hunting, and the resulting ritual of shrinking, has left a considerably larger impression on popular culture. Cotlow, an author, explorer and filmmaker, and who was quite well-known in his day, describes the process:.
Asapi took a sharp bamboo knife from his monkey-fur pouch and parted the hair of the enemy wishinu carefully up the back. Then he cut through the scalp neatly, from the bottom of the bloody neck to the top of the skull.
Next he very carefully peeled back the skin, away from the skull, using the bamboo knife where necessary to free the flesh from the bone. In fifteen minutes he had removed the skin from the skull, which he tossed aside. With the skin inside out, Asapi then sewed the eyelids shut from the inside, after which he turned the skin right side out once more.
From his pouch the tired but happy curaka took three short, pointed pins of chonta wood which he thrust through the lips. He wound long chambira fibers around the pins to make certain the lips remained shut. He then went to a jar of water that had been placed over a fire. Into it he dropped the juice of a vine that he knew would keep the hair from falling from his tsantsa. Holding the head by the end of the hair, he lowered it into the water. As he found two or three he returned to the fire and put them in the ashes to become hot.
He lifted the head from the water to see how it was coming along and noted with satisfaction that it had already begun to grow smaller.
Asapi had to wander far up and down the stream to find enough of the stones he wanted, for there were eight other warriors going through the same process and all searched for stones. The boys who had come along helped, of course, and watched closely every operation performed by the fighters. After about two hours of boiling the head was about a third of the size it had been originally, and with a smile of satisfaction, Asapi took it from the pot of water, holding it by the hair and waving it so it would cool off enough for him to handle it.
It did not look a great deal like a human face, for many of the features were out of shape and the skin was a dirty yellow. But Asapi knew he could take care of those things. He had done all this many times before. Holding the head in his left hand he made holes with a chonta pin along the sides of the incision, then neatly seed it together with fiber.
He now had a kind of hollow sack that had only a few hours before been scowling at him and hurling insults at him. Gifts For Everyone Gift Cards.
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