When Naurú approached him, Aruanã's earlier bravado vanished under the icy stare of the keeper of the sacred rattles.
"I know this boy," Naurú said, not mumbling now but in a voice that all might hear. "He is from your maloca."
"There are three children in my house who seek your feathers," Tabajara replied. "Aruanã is one." Tabajara approached any confrontation with Naurú with extreme caution.
The village had no chief as such, the elders sharing in its leadership, but Tabajara's presence was generally acknowledged as the most imposing, especially when Tabajara led the warriors of the clan. Only one other man held a position of equal respect - Naurú.
"Why, when he stood up, did I feel something dark arise between us?"
"I cannot answer this," Tabajara said. He quickly saw that it had been a serious mistake to put the boy where he would attract attention.
"This is the child of a man who has brought dishonor to his people," Naurú continued.
Aruanã was trembling.
"Does Naurú wish this boy kept from the search for the feathers?" Tabajara asked.
"No, he must go," the pagé said immediately. "But I am curious, elder, why you still have the father in your maloca. It is bad for the village to be reminded of the shame he has brought. He may not be seen, but he is among us."
Tabajara knew that the death of the nameless one was being demanded. He saw the agony in the boy's face and wondered if, young as he was, he realized it.
"What you have said, Naurú, rests heavily with me. I will beseech the ancestors to help one who should have been more wakeful." Tabajara was determined that the matter be taken no further this night, and shifted his talk back to the boys. "Go - sit with the others!" he told Aruanã.
He saw Naurú scuttle away, pushing through the crowd toward the hut of the sacred rattles. Tabajara's opinion of the pagé wavered between dread of his powers and disgust at the manner in which he sometimes abused them. Naurú had had many opportunities to address this problem of Pojucan but had waited until tonight, when he could raise it before the village.
Until his last battle, few men could match Pojucan as warrior or hunter. He seemed destined to be the next leader of the maloca.
Two Great Rains past, the men of the clan had attacked their enemies' village. The battle raged for hours. Many on both sides were slain, until the clan's warriors were driven back into the forest, leaving the dead and those captured by the enemy, Pojucan among the latter.
Three sunrises after the clan had returned to their own village, Pojucan came wandering back. He had escaped from the enemy, and it was this flight that damned him.
Prisoners were always killed but it was a glorious death that promised entry to Land of the Grandfather. To flee was to banish all hope of reaching this warriors' paradise and to become a man without a country - a nameless no-warrior.
Tabajara had found Pojucan's behavior inexplicable, and the memory of it troubled him greatly.
He accepted a gourd of beer passed to him and drank deeply.
The boys, not knowing what was expected of them, sat motionless as others began to drift away from the clearing, until Old Mother, bringing a fresh supply of beer, saw them and erupted with laughter:
"Aieee! What foolishness! Are you to sit until Macaw calls? Get up! Go to your hammocks and ask your fathers how you must hunt Macaw."
Aruanã's eyes adjusted to the smoky atmosphere inside the longhouse. Twenty families dwelt here, their hammocks slung on either side of a central walkway. Their disregard for possessions, other than the fine works of feather, was evident in the few items stored within this area-earthen pots, bows and arrows, clubs, stone axes, a digging stick. Each family kept a fire burning day and night, its glowing embers as much for cooking as for warding off malevolent spirits.
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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