Genipa americana   Family: Rubiaceae  Kichwa: Wituk (Pastaza); Ituk (Napo);   Shuar/Achuar: Sua

Wituk Warmi/ Genipa Woman (right) painting the toucan black.   Her sister Manduru Warmi/Bixis Orellana Woman (left) paints the Amazonian erd squirrel red with her red fruit.  By Estela Dagua

Andes and Amazon Field School, Artists Workshop 2009

 Genipa americana is a primary agent of beauty in the traditions of the Runa and Shuar communities of eastern Ecuador.   Its fruit produces a bright black dye that is used as a face paint and hair dye.  So beautiful and mysterious is this dye that it is believed to be an agent of creation.  In Amazonian Quichua, Zaparo and Shuar origin stories Huituc (Genipa) was once a sensuous human girl. After Huituc and her sister Manduru mature through a series of amorous misadventures they turn into the trees hat impart beauty and mystery to other species: Bixis orellana, the source of red face paint and Genipa americana, the source of black face paint.  The two sisters then transform the various beginning time people into various species of plants and animals by painting them various shades of red, reddish brown, and black.

Genipa is also the agent of creation in two other key origin stories. In one story a lover comes to the hammock of a young girl in the dark of the night but leaves before dawn.  To learn his identity the girl decides to mark his face with huituc.  In the morning she discovers that the boy with the black marks on his face is her brother.  The boy ascends into the sky to become the moon still marked dark spots of the huituc.   In another story a hunter foolishly plays with huituc until his whole body turns black.  His wife, who feels disgust at living with a man of a different color, finally decides to paint herself black with huituc also.  When her relatives reject them the pair climb into the trees and become black wooly monkeys.  Now when hunters are going to find these monkey they dream beautiful women are laughing, their faces painted black with huituc.

 

As an ingredient of female beauty Huituc is different from a hair dye or makeup color in Europe because Huituc is alive with personal mystery. The attraction in the huituc dye is the mysterious sensuality of a woman hidden in the tree. It is the beauty and odor of this woman that attracts birds and butterflies to the tree. To acquire the allure of this tree some women sought an emotional identity with her through an anent medicine song. In the following anent Elodia Dagua, her face painted with Huituc, sings from inside the identity of the Huituc. The song is similar to both a Psalm and a prayer. On the one hand it is based on acute attention to the way the huituc attracts different species at different levels of the tree. Starting at the top it describes how four different layers of the tree attract four different species. But the song goes beyond objective observation. Through the song the woman acquires an empathetic identity with the tree so that she herself flowers with its magnetic power attracting men the way the tree attracts birds and butterflies: "Sisu Huituc Woman, I stand flowering....on the lowest branch the hummingbird butterfly, just coming back to drink me, he drinks me, he drinks me."

Song to Susu Wituk, spirit woman behind Genipa americana.

 

The following song exemplifies the relationship between human women and the female spirits of plants believed to impart female beauty and attraction.   Susu Wituc, a wild variety of Genipa americana,  is the source of a black colorant used to paint beautiful designs on the face and body as well as to make hair grow longer, thicker, and blacker.

The attractive power of genipa is not however limited to its shiny black color.   Rather the plant is a woman with great powers of attraction manifest in her ability to attract pollinators to her flowers.   Although these powers of attraction are manifest in the shiny black color it is not enough to just put on the paint.  The woman must join her heart and emotions to the attractive plant woman who is the tree such that the tree works with her giving her its attractive power. In the following ritual song Eulodia Dawa  sings from inside the Genipa so that she becomes the Genipa woman and the genipa’s power of attraction become hers.   

 

Susu Wituc Woman

Susu Wituc Woman

I stand flowering

I stand flowering

Susu Wituc Woman

On the shore of a large lake

On the shore of a great lake 

I stand flowering

I stand flowering

On the shore of a great lake 

Susu Wituc Woman

Susu Wituc Woman

I stand flowering

I stand flowering

On the shore of a great lake 

On the highest  flowers

On the highest flowers

The fire humming bird drinks me

The fire humming bird drinks me 

The fire humming bird drinks from me

On the branches of the next  part

On the branches of the next  part

The fire tanager drinks  me

The fire tanager drinks me

The next part down

The Chaccha hummingbird drinks me

The Chaccha hummingbird drinks me

The Chaccha hummingbird drinks me

Later on the lowest branch

Later on the lowest branch

The hummingbird butterfly

Just drinking back he drinks me

He drinks me, he drinks me

The blue butterfly

On the lowest branch 

He just drinks me,  He drinks me

Susu Wituc Woman

Susu Wituc Woman

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