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11 - The ‘Western Baptism’ of Yurupary: Reception and Rewriting of an Amazonian Foundational Myth

Felipe Martínez-Pinzón
Affiliation:
Brown University, Rhode Island
Javier Uriarte
Affiliation:
Stony Brook University, State University of New York
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Summary

He collected together from all parts of the world the strangest instruments that could be found, either in the tombs of dead nations or among the few savage tribes that have survived contact with Western civilizations, and loved to touch and try them. He had the mysterious juruparis of the Rio Negro Indians, that women are not allowed to look at, and that even youths may not see till they have been subjected to fasting and scourging…

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The translation of a major Amerindian myth

The myth of the Yurupary [yërëparí] is the foundational narrative of a patriarchal Amazonian religious system. It was widely spread and highly diversified among the language families of the Tupí-Guaraní, Tukano, and Arawak from the Vaupés River in the northeast Amazon. This area suffered ‘white penetration’ from the sixteenth century onwards, first in the territories of what is now Brazil, and later in Colombian territory. The myth, which should properly be considered in the plural, is a product of a wealth of stories. At the end of the nineteenth century, a native called Maximiano José Roberto, who was culturally linked to the Yurupary, gave the Italian ethnologist, count, jurist, explorer, geographer, photographer, and poet Ermanno Stradelli, who had arrived in Brazil in 1879, a compiled and unified version of the myth, drafted in ñe’engatú [Nheengatu]—the lingua franca of the Amazon, standardized and imposed by the Jesuits. From this point on, the narrative would experience a process of trans- and intro-mission that would lead to its translation into Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, and its dissociation from the complex of myths and rituals of which it was a part. In the process, it was stripped out of its multiform oral fabric and turned into a ‘legend’, a text for reading (Latin legendum, “which is to be read”) and publication. Written by Stradelli in 1890 from the text in ñe’engatú, this first version of Yurupary, entitled “Leggenda dell’ Jurupary” [The Legend of the Yurupary], was published in two instalments of the Bollettino della Società Geografica Italiana.

In view of this trajectory, I propose a differentiation between a written narrative—the “Leggenda”—on the one hand, and an oral, pluri-narrative system on the other.

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Intimate Frontiers
A Literary Geography of the Amazon
, pp. 208 - 226
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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