A story from Brazil (from the Karajae and Apinaye peoples of the central and northern Amazonian plateau)
As Retold by Elizabeth Murray
There was once a boy named Uaica and because he was small and sickly, the other boys in his tribe picked on him and teased him. He had a grandfather who tried to protect him but when his grandfather wasn’t there, Uaica would go alone into the rainforest.
The trees spread out a green canopy above him and hanging from their branches were bright, flowering vines that filled the air with sweet smells. And the birds sang. And Uaica felt happy and content with his animal friends.
One day as he was walking in the jungle and looking up into the beautiful canopy of leaves, orchards, monkeys and birds, he stumbled over something. When he looked down, he was surprised to see a tapir which seemed to be… asleep. And right next to it was a sloth, also asleep. And a little further on he found even more animals – monkeys, a caiman, a jaguar family and even a huge anaconda snake – all sound… asleep, lying at the base of a huge tree
This was very strange, very strange.
Very carefully Uiaca stepped over and around the sleeping animals to look more closely at the tree. But as he did this, he suddenly felt so veerrry drowsy. He felt a huge yawn coming over him and then, suddenly, his legs were like rubber and he just slumped down on the ground and was sound asleep. And as he slept, he dreamt.
He dreamed of animals, some familiar, others strange. He dreamed also of people. Some were family and friends. Others, strangers. They were sitting together singing. And then, in his dream, an old man got up and came to him.
“I am Sina-a, child of Jaguar,” he said. And the boy knew about this Jaguar Man, who, among his people, was said to be a great teacher. And when Sina-a began telling his stories, the boy listened. He learned how Jaguar Man had stolen fire from eagle, how he had created food plants from the ashes of a dead snake, even how he alone had once owned all the night on earth in a time of eternal day.
When Uiaca awoke, the sun had set, it was nearly dark. The animals had vanished and he was alone. He ran home in the fading light.
The very next morning, before breakfast, Uiaca was eager to go back into the forest. He found the huge tree again and as before, was overcome by an immense stupor and slumped down ….into a deep sleep. It was the same as before, with all the animals, and the singing. And again Jaguar Man came to him and told him stories. And as before, Uiaca woke up at sunset, returning home when it was too late to eat.
For many days it went on like this, Uaica leaving in the morning, before breakfast, returning late, after the evening meal. He wasn’t eating and he was beginning to grow thin
In his dream, Sinah-a, the Jaguar Man noticed this and said, “My boy, you are growing very thin. I have shown you much of my world but now you must stay away. For if you come back again, you might never leave.”
And Uaica agreed.
Back in the village, the boy was hungry and his grandfather had food for him. “Where have you been going?” asked his grandfather. ” You leave early, before the morning meal and come home when there is no food left.” And the story tumbled out, about the tree and the animals and the stories from Jaguar Man.
The next day he took his grandfather into the forest, to the place of the great tree. “There grandfather. Walk under that tree and there your journey will begin.” But remembering the words of Jaguar Man, Uiaca was careful to stay at a distance.
Soon his grandfather was snoring. And before long, animals gathered around him, also falling to sleep. Uiaca was SO tempted to join his grandfather and the animals dreaming there under the tree but he remembered the warming of Jaguar Man and stayed away.
His grandfather slept only briefly. And when he woke up, he looked upset. ” You should tell no one about this dreaming tree,” his grandfather said. “It is very powerful and anyone who sleeps under it must be very strong with their own power from the forest deep in their hearts. If someone is not strong in their heart with goodness they will take this knowledge from the dreaming tree for their own power and they could do evil. You are strong in spirit Uaica, now you must eat and be strong in body, too. It is time for you to stay away.”
So Uaica promised not to return.
When they returned to the village, they heard that a boy named Xibute had fallen ill. Uaica knew this Xibute well for he had been one of his cruelest bullies. No cure could be found for the ailing boy and it appeared that he would die. But since his time with Jaguar Man, Uaica had learned the gift of healing. And when he laid his hands on Xibute, the sick boy, was cured.
People in the village could not believe that the scrawny boy, Uaica, could have any powers at all. But after that, sick people began seeking him out. And again and again Uaica healed their ailments.
Then, one night while sleeping, Jaguar Man appeared to the boy in a dream. He said, “You have passed the great tests. You stayed away from the dreaming tree, as I told you to. And then you showed kindness toward your enemy. Now I will teach you more powers so that you may care for your people as I once did.”
And that night and every night thereafter, Uaica visited Jaguar Man in his dreams. The boy was taught more of the secret healing ways and wisdom he had begun to learn at the base of the tree.
His grandfather built for him a special house, a place to sleep and to dream. And together they planted a garden with special, healing plants. And Xibute – that boy who had been his enemy and whose life he had saved – became his closest friend and helper, for not only had his body been healed but most importantly his heart had grown deeper and fuller like the great Amazon river during rainy season.
As time passed, Uaica began to see beautiful things in his dream journey, things he never had seen before – things that he thought would be wonderful gifts for his friend, Xibute and his grandfather – brightly feathered necklaces and headbands and bracelets. In his waking life, he began making these beautiful things using bright feathers and shells, nuts and bones and animal fur. His dreams inspired him and showed him beautiful ideas no one in his tribe had ever seen before.
But sadly, when the rest of the tribe saw these treasures he’d made, they were envious. Instead of asking the creative boy to show them how he made these things, they said, “He thinks he is better than us!” And they began plotting among themselves to find a way to kill him!
They decided to wait until he was eating. And hid themselves near Uaica’s house. Toward the end of the afternoon, he returned from the river with his grandfather. with a fish they had caught for their supper. The boys waited quietly while Uaica prepared the fish. Then, when he sat down to eat with his grandfather, his enemies crept out of the bushes.
And just at the point when one of them was about to raise his club, suddenly Uaica stood up! “I have learned many things in the dream world! I can even see without turning around!”
And then poof! In a blink he had vanished! He and his grandfather and Xibute, their house and their garden – all vanished from sight. And his enemies were left alone in an empty field!
Uaica had taken Xibute and his grandfather and all their belongings deep underground….and then they came up again in a new place!
The elders of the tribe were frantic to find him for no one else had his powers of healing. So they sent out a party of scouts to find him.
When they found him far away, they begged him to return to the tribe and finally he agreed to do so. And for a while things went well. But before long, his enemies were plotting again.
They proposed to give a great feast in Uaica’s honor. But once again it was a trap. A man crept up and just when he raised his club over Uaica’s head, Uaica was prepared. He could see even though his back was turned, and the club cracked open a large rock lying on the ground.
And into that crack went Uaica, his grandfather, Xibute and all their belongings! They disappeared down into the crevice of that rock. Only his voice came to them one last time, thundering out to them from deep within the rock –
“This time we shall not return for you do not appreciate what I give you!” And then they were gone forever.
There are many stories among the Jurana people about the great shaman, Uaica, the one with the eyes in the back of his head. And it is said by some that even to this day, he dreams inside that rock where he learns the stories and healing wisdom from Jaguar Man. And sometimes he sends these teachings back to those with loving hearts. And we, too, can receive his wisdom in our dreams if we have loving hearts and ask to receive the ancient healing wisdom to use for good.
This intriguing story introduces many elements of initiation into the role of healer as practiced by traditional shamans in the Amazon rainforest. This is a world I have come to know first hand in my work with the Pachamama Alliance.
I have had the privilege of working with the Achuar, an intact indigineous tribe in the Ecuadorian basin. They are a dream culture – waking up each morning at 3:30 to share their dreams and to plan the day according to the guidance they receive. They also ingest three different types of teaching plants which connect them to their ancestors, the power and the knowledge of their forest, and the animals which inhabit it. Every person searches for his Arutum, or guiding vision, which comes from the forest. If a big decision must be made, a person might take one of the visionary plants and go to sleep next to a big tree for three to five days to find a answer, much like the character in this story. It was through this kind of trance-induced teaching that Achuar elders and shamans were originally warned that in seven years their forest and way of life would be under threat so that they must seek a partnership with committed people from the modern world in the North. This was the vision behind the founding of the Pachamama Alliance in 1996.
With the help of the Pachama Alliance, the Achuar are now learning to map their territory, to organize their tribes, and to develop communication skills with the outer world. This kind of assistance is enabling them to save their forest and their way of life.
Among many Amazon peoples, the traditional shaman is still a very powerful man who helps guide visions and healing ceremonies. Medicinal plants are known by most elders and are collected when needed. Women grow the gardens, encouraging the growth of plants through song and personal relationship.
I like telling the “The Amazon Dreaming Tree” as a way to open up discussion about the rainforest and the indigineous people who know its mysteries so profoundly.
I first heard this tale from Cristy West, then explored different versions in Laurence Yep’s Tree of Dreams (Bridgewater Books) and Douglas Gifford’s Warriors, Gods and Spirits from Central and South American Mythology (Schocken).
Photographer, artist and landscape consultant, Elizabeth Murray is also the author of five books on gardening, including Cultivating Sacred Space: Gardening for the Soul. Through her work with the Pachama Alliance, she hopes to support the rainforest by “changing the dream of the North.” To learn more about Elizabeth, please visit her website at http://www.elizabethmurray.com
Information about the Pachamama Alliance can be found at www.Pachamama.org