Aruanã's people were Tupiniquin, one of the great tribes of the forest. The Tupiniquin lived beyond the farthest rivers, up to the lands of the Tupinambá. He had heard the names of other tribes as well, but he could not remember them all, and called them, mostly, The Enemy. Whenever there was a war, there would be prisoners, and they would always boast about their own villages, how much greater they were than the clan's. He never believed a word of this, but he listened to them, and learned about the tribes and lands they had come from.
Twice in his own lifetime the clan had moved its village.
The last move had led to a startling discovery for Aruanã.
One morning soon after the clan had raised its new malocas, the men left the village at sunrise and made for the river, where they boarded three dugouts.
"Where are we going, Father?" Aruanã was to ask this question again and again, but each time Pojucan only laughed and told him to wait.
They paddled downstream. After a bend, the river began to widen, and there was a low, rumbling noise.
"Father, what is it?" he asked uncertainly.
Before Pojucan could reply, the river was gone, and the earth itself was fast disappearing as they swept forward, onto the widest, bluest, most expansive stretch of water.
Behind him, Aruanã saw white sand backed by tall, graceful palms; behind the palms the earth rose, with patches of forest on the heights.
Between the white sand and the place where the water met the sky lay a line of foaming white. At sight of it, the men shouted from one canoe to the other, warnings to turn back. This was done, but the first craft to paddle toward the land was almost at the white sands when it was swamped.
The canoes of Pojucan and Tabajara raced toward the scene, but so close to shore had it occurred that by the time they got there, the warriors were already on the sands, laughing at their misfortune and delightedly pointing out that "Bluewater" had turned the urucu dye on their bodies a deep mahogany hue.
Aruanã fell asleep this night remembering a glorious day when he first saw Bluewater that flowed to the end of the earth.
He awoke before anyone else in the maloca but did not rise from his hammock, and was lying there when he saw Aruanã stir. His son also did not get up immediately but sat in the net, clearly uncertain as to whether or not he should set out for the forest, since it was still dark outside. Pojucan did not let the boy see that he was awake. Go now, he willed the youngster. When the fat and the lazy have wiped the sleep from their eyes, you will be across the river. Go now, my son!
It pleased him that no sooner had his thoughts ended than Aruanã climbed out of the hammock. He watched the boy squat by one of the pots at the fire and throw back mouthfuls of manioc. Then Aruanã lifted the bark container with his arrows, slung it over shoulder, and took up his bow. He paused briefly and looked back toward the hammocks. Then he made for the low opening at the end of the maloca, pushed aside the woven mat that covered it, and was gone.
Soon after Aruanã left, Pojucan swung out of his hammock: One man there was who was permitted to speak to a no-warrior, and Pojucan went to seek him at a neighboring maloca.
The man was at his hammock, and greeted Pojucan cheerfully enough. He was lean, with light, almost yellow skin and a sharp nose that had earned him the sobriquet Long Beak in the village. His real name was Ubiratan. Whether he was a prisoner of the village was moot. Some elders held that he had been captured by their canoes; others argued that this "capture" had occurred after the strange craft he'd ridden into the bay at the end of the clan's river had been destroyed in the white waters. As the prisoner theory had prevailed, no one paid much attention to Ubiratan's talking with no-warrior, particularly in the beginning, when he could not properly understand his dialect.
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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