Song on the Origin of the White-mouthed tamarin and the Yellow-handed squirrel monkey

 

The song Yurak Shimi Chichiku is testimony to the Kichwa/Shuar belief that all animals were once human and that the human past persists in the present animal form.   This creates an expectation of discovering a hidden similarity in difference.  It is this expectation that is at the core of the Kichwa/Shuar sense of humor and beauty.  Skilled humor as well as art lies in heightening this sense of similarity while simultaneously heightening the difference.  The fewer the lines the artist uses to evoke this sense of incongruity the greater the skill.

 

Beginning time humans became the species they now are not through design, but through small foibles or accidental acts that had momentous consequences. The incongruity between the triviality of the act and the momentous quality of the result is a source of humor and wonder.     

 

White mouthed tamarin

White mouthed tamarin 

She made white (manioc) chicha

From that day until now 

She is the white mouthed tamarin 

 

Yuraj shimi chichiku                                   

Yuraj shimi chichiku                                    

Yuraj aswara rurashka

Chimandami kunagama

Yuraj shimi chichiku. (kutin)                     

 

Yellow handed squirrel monkey

The Yellow handed squirrel monkey

She made chonta chicha

From that day until now 

She is the yellow handed squirrel monkey

 

By the chicha storage vessel

By the chicha storage vessel

She stands dripping, dripping 

She stands dripping, dripping

She is the yellow handed squirrel monkey 

She kneads the chicha and serves it

Killu maki barisa

Killu maki barisa                                         
//Chunda aswara rurashka //               
Chimandami kunagama                                
Killu maki barisa                                         
                                       

Aswamanga tinapi                                  

Aswamanga tinapi                                 

Shiuta shiuta shayarin                                  
Shiuta shiuta shayarin                                 
Killu maki barisami                                       
llapishami upichiun  

 

Each species is set apart from its human past by a distinctive food and a distinctive coloring. Yet in these differences there must be a similarity that ties them to their hidden humanity.  This song focusses on the white mouth of the tamarin and the yellow hands of the squirrel monkey.  What do these differences mean?  At the core of the humanlike qualities that help people recognize similarity to animals is the sociability of serving aswa or chicha.  Although we sometimes cannot recognize it animals are serving aswa to each other.

 

According to this song the squirrel monkey and the tamarin were once human sisters who received their coloring from the different types of chicha they made:  the white faced tamarin from chewing manioc chicha; the yellow handed squirrel monkey from kneading yellow chonta chicha.  The fact that this ordinary female act of preparing chicha for guests would turn them permanently into their respective species of monkeys is humorous but endearing 

 

The song allows humans to feel the beauty of  these two species by focussing attention on their distinctive coloring in a way that heightens their analogical similarity in difference to humans

Purun Indillama, 3 toed sloth.  Photograph by Tod Swanson

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