Ubiratan came from a people he called Tapajós, who had never made war with the Tupiniquin. Ubiratan was not clear about the distance between this place and his village, but he had been gone four Great Rains and the stars themselves had changed their place in the sky.
He regarded the Tupiniquin as a simple people compared with his own. The Tupiniquin thought themselves a great nation, but their malocas were buried in the forest, they had little trade with one another, and, what surprised him most, they had never talked of a great chief, one man who directed the affairs of all the tribes. At the head of his own Tapajós was such a person, a man of authority, whose word was obeyed throughout the land, who could call upon the warriors of every village, and whose name was honored wherever the Tapajós lived-and feared by tribes who dwelt farther along Mother of Rivers.
It was an order of this great chief that, indirectly, was the cause of Ubiratan's present misfortune. A skilled potter, he had been sent to the farthest village in the land to fetch the blue earth that Tapajós potters used for their finest vessels. The field of clay lay beyond the last Tapajós settlement, in a no-man's-land. Here a band of enemy warriors attacked Ubiratan and took him captive, dragging him to their canoes and riding the powerful currents to the very end of Mother of Rivers.
One day the headman of the village where he was held captive announced that he was taking two canoe parties on a long journey, and selected Ubiratan to join them. Instead of heading upriver, the boats went far beyond the largest island and down along the mainland. One disappeared in a storm; Ubiratan's was wrecked in a bay.
Separated from his companions, often near starvation, he struggled down the coast till he found a clan of fishermen whose canoes were like none he had ever seen.
These jangadas were built of six to eight balsa logs, roughly equal in size, laid side by side and lashed together with lianas. To catch the wind, a great woven mat was suspended from two mangrove wood poles erected upon the log platform in an A-position and supported with lianas. Within a short time, Ubiratan had mastered this wind-canoe and could send it rushing across the water as fast as the best of them, directing its course from the stern with the great paddle positioned there.
Ubiratan would sometimes take a jangada out by himself. The last time he did this, he was caught in a sudden squall and driven to the white waters, where the jangada was lost and the Tupiniquin captured him.
It was this man to whom Pojucan now turned for help. "You were in the clearing last night?" he asked.
"I heard Naurú," Ubiratan replied.
"I expect Tabajara to act, even before this sun has gone."
"You show no fear?"
"I am not afraid: I have lived two Great Rains since my last death and am ready to face this one."
"Ah, yes, it is so," Ubiratan said. "But how have you lived?"
Ubiratan had found it strange that a man could be an exile among his own people for the reason Pojucan was: To live to fight an enemy again must surely be more worthy than to be slain before the women and children of his village.
They walked beyond the village, heading toward the canoes, until they arrived at a place on the river where the mist was beginning to rise.
"My boy is already in the forest," Pojucan said. "Gone before any other. He will be first to get Macaw's feathers, the son of no-warrior." He laughed joylessly.
"Tell me, Ubiratan, is it so different for you? Wandering from the Tapajós, away from the sight of your people?"
"In my spirit it is the same, I agree."
"Must Ubiratan, son of the Tapaj6s, lost from his people, stay among the Tupiniquin, forever gone from Mother of Rivers?"
Copyright Errol Uys. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this excerpt contact the author at http://www.erroluys.com.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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