Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": JOURNEY TO THE LAND OF THE GRANDFATHER

A GUARAYU BELIEF (EASTERN BOLIVIA)


Soon after burial the liberated soul of the deceased started on a long and dangerous journey to the land of the mythical ancestor, Tamoi, or Grandfather, who lived somewhere in the west. It had to choose first between two paths. One was wide and easy. The other was narrow and obstructed with weeds and tobacco plants, but it followed this if it was wide and courageous. Soon the soul came to a large river which it had to cross on the back of a ferocious alligator. The alligator ferried the soul over only if it knew how to accompany the alligator's chant by rhythmically stamping its bamboo tube. It then came to another river which it could pass only by jumping on a tree trunk that floated at great speed to and fro between the two banks. if the soul fell, palometa fish would tear it to pieces. Shortly after this it neared the abode of Izotamoi, Grandfather of Worms, who looked enormous from a distance but became smaller and smaller as he was approached. If the deceased had been a bad man, however, the process was reversed; the Grandfather of Worms grew to gigantic proportions and cleaved the sinner in two. Next, the soul had to travel through a dark region where it lit its way by burning a bunch of straw which relatives had put in the grave. However, it had to carry its torch behind its back lest the light be put out by huge bats. When the soul arrived near a beautiful ceiba tree full of humming birds, it washed itself in a brook and shot a few of these birds, without hurting them, and plucked their feathers for Tamoi's headdress. Then the soul kicked the ceiba trunk to notify its relatives that it had reached that place. The next obstacle was the Itacaru, two rocks which clashed and recofled on its path. The stones allowed the soul a short interval to pass through if it knew how to address them.

At a crossroad the soul was examined by a gallinazo bird, who made sure that, like all good Guarayu, it had perforated lips and ears. If it did not possess these mutilations, it was misled by the bird. Two further ordeals awaited the journeying soul; it had to endure being tickled by a monkey without laughing, and to walk past a magic tree without listening to the voices which issued from it and without even looking at it. The tree was endowed with complete knowledge of the soul's past life. To resist these temptations, the soul pounded its stamping tube on the ground. A further danger took the form of coloured grasses which blinded the soul and caused it to lose its way. Finally the soul arrived at a large avenue lined with blossoming trees full of harmonious birds and knew then that it had reached the land of the Grandfather. It announced its arrival by stamping the ground with its bamboo tube. The Grandfather welcomed the soul with friendly words and washed it with a magic water which restored its youth and good looks. From then on, the soul lived happily, drinking chicha and carrying on the routine activities of its former life.


Alfred Metraux, The Native Tribes of Eastern Bolivia and Western Matto Grosso, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 134 (Washington, D.C., 1942), PP. 105-6

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