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Across Unknown South America by Landor

THE Bororos were superstitious to a degree


other countries, such as in Central Africa among the Shilucks and the Nuers of the Sobat River (Sudan), and the natives on Lake Tchad, I have seen a similar method adopted in a far more perfected fashion. The Shilucks, for instance, cleverly built big boats of fascines--large enough to carry a great number of warriors. Such was not the case with the bundles of _burity_ of the Indians--which merely served for one or at the most two people at a time, and then only until the bundle became soaked, when it went to the bottom.


Bororo Superstitions--The Bororo Language--Bororo Music

[Illustration: Bororo Indians.]

THE Bororos were superstitious to a degree. They believed in evil spirits. Some of these, they said, inhabited the earth; others were invisible and lived "all over the air," to use their expression. The aerial ones were not so bad as those on earth. It was to the latter that their invocations were made--not directly, but through a special individual called the _barih_, a kind of medicine man, who, shouting at the top of his voice while gazing skyward, offered gifts of food, meat, fish and grain to the _boppe_ or spirits invoked. There were two kinds of _barih_: a superior one with abnormal powers, and an inferior one. The _barih_ eventually pretended that the spirit had entered his body.

He then began to devour the food himself, in order to appease the hunger of his internal guest and become on friendly terms with him. The wife of the _barih_, who on those occasions stood by his side, was generally asked to partake of the meal, but only after the _barih_ had half chewed the various viands, when he gracefully took them with his fingers from his own mouth and placed them between the expectant lips of his better half. She sometimes accepted them--sometimes not. All according to her appetite, I suppose, and perhaps to the temporary terms on which she was that day with her husband.

The Bororos, curiously enough, spoke constantly of the hippopotamus--_ajie_, as they called it--and even imitated to perfection the sounds made by that amphibious animal. This was indeed strange, because the hippopotamus did not exist in South America, nor has it ever been known to exist there. The women of the Bororos were in perfect terror of the _ajie_, which was supposed to appear sometimes breaking through the earth. Personally, I believed that the _ajie_ was a clever ruse of the Bororo men, in order to keep their women at home when they went on hunting expeditions. Boys were trained to whirl round from the end of a long pole a rectangular, flat piece of wood attached to a long fibre or a string. Its violent rotation round the pole, with the revolutions of the tablet around itself at different speeds, reproduced to perfection the sounds of blowing and snorting of the hippopotamus. The whizzing of this device could be heard at astonishing distances. The credulous women were rendered absolutely miserable when they heard the unwelcome sounds of the _ajie_, and, truly believing in its approach, retired quickly to their huts, where, shivering with fright, they cried and implored to have their lives spared.

The boy who whirled the magic tablet was, of course, bound to keep the secret of the _ajie_ from the women. Let me tell you that one of the chief virtues of the Bororo men, old and young, was the fidelity with which they could keep secrets. The youngest children were amazing at keeping secrets even from their own mothers. There were things that Bororo women were not allowed to know. Boys attended the tribal meetings of men, and had never been known to reveal the secrets there discussed either to their sisters or mothers.

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