And what more does Pojucan fear? a voice within him asked. What has he done to make his people see him worse than an enemy?
It was true. Even those they took prisoner were more welcome in the clan, for as long as permitted by the elders. The sisters of his people would take the captives into their hammocks; they would be feasted and fed; songs would be sung about them. But, for Pojucan, there was only silence. And more than this, for Aruanã had observed that other men looked at his father as if he were invisible.
Aruanã emerged from the trees at the top of a gentle rise that sloped toward the village. An ugly tangle of scorched creeper and shrub marked where his people had slashed and burned the forest. Trees that had survived the flames stood black and stark against the sky; others lay uprooted and shattered in the ash. Farther down, beyond this uncleared land, were patchworks of plantings of manioc. In the language of his people, mandi meant bread and oca the house.
The village below was the largest his people had built, and had been enclosed by a double stockade of heavy posts lashed together with vines - two great circles that protected the five dwellings arranged around a central clearing. These malocas were no rude forest huts but the grand lodges of the five great families of the clan, and in each there lived more than a hundred men, women, and children. Two bowshots in length, or sixty paces, ten paces broad and of the same height, they were raised by an elaborate framework of beams and rafters held together with twigs and creepers and thatched with the fine fronds of the pindoba palm.
Aruanã passed through the stockade and was heading toward his maloca when a boy came up to him and announced: "Naurú has asked for the feathers of Macaw. We have been called to listen this night."
Aruanã was delighted: This meant that he would soon be taking his first step toward manhood.
Naurú, the pagé - prophet, seer, medicine man - had been keeping his eye on this group of boys for some time. Now he had given the word that the brilliant red and blue macaw feathers of his rattles needed replacing, his way of indicating that the boys must prepare for initiation.
UTabajara, the elder of Aruanã's maloca, summoned his wives, and for two hours submitted himself to their attentions. There was Potira, little more than a child, with small, firm breasts and wide eyes; Sumá, who swam like a fish and had a magnificent body that brought great pleasure when he was alone with her; and Moema, "Old Mother," who had come first and never let the others forget this.
When Tabajara's body had to be painted, Old Mother would not let anyone else collect the colors from the fruit of the genipapo and the berry of the urucu tree - the one blue-black, the other an orangy red. Her fingers traced the most striking patterns on Tabajara's flesh. Sharp black strokes accented the permanently tattooed marks on his chest - as many stripes as the enemy he had slain. She filled in between the slashes with the red of the urucu. From his midriff down, she divided the marked part of his body into sections, painting half red, the other black, and repeated these designs on his back.
Of course, she could make life difficult, with her sharp tongue and interfering ways; still, he'd secretly allow that there was more in Old Mother than in the others.
He saw Aruanã enter the maloca and caught Old Mother's look as she followed the boy's progress toward the far end of the house.
"I see his unhappiness," Old Mother said. "It is not good that a boy must live with this."
"A boy must learn many things," Tabajara replied, "beginning with what he hears this night."
"This is the trouble of-"
"One who must not be named," he said quickly.
Copyright Errol Uys. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this excerpt contact the author at http://www.erroluys.com.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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