In Tikuna cosmology, humans were created from plants, they are one and the same. The Wone tree, the Ceiba pentandra, is regarded as the tree of life and the Genipa americana a sacred fruit which formed part of the creation of the first people. In the Tikuna creation myth, the landscape is inhabited by beings of all forms, human, non-human and vegetal.
[3D Image by Imka]
Abel Santos is a Tikuna anthropologist and linguist from the Colombian Amazon who grew up with Tikuna elders and has dedicated his professional life to investigating Tikuna cosmology and preserving the language by working across communities in the Amazon. Abel has given us permission to translate some of his work exploring the Tikuna creation myth and the role of the Ceiba pentandra and Genipa Americana, or ‘Wone’ and ‘Huito’.
The land was completely dark, the Wone tree covered it, covered it with its leaves, its huge roots and thick trunk. The woven branches and leaves did not allow the light of the world above to pass through. In this land lived immortals, and twin brothers Yoí and Ípi, the sons of Ngṵtapa (the first immortal created by Mowíchina, who was destined to create mortal beings).
The brothers decided to cut down the Wone tree to bring light to the world. As the tree fell it created the Amazon river and the branches its many rivers. The tree did not want to die, the brothers had to remove its heart; upon pulling it out, several immortal beings stole Wone's heart. The last to snatch it was tintin (Myoprocta acouchy), who stowed it on the top of Mount Woruapü; and from the heart grew the umarí tree (Poraqueiba sericea). In time it bore fruit; the last fruit to fall became a woman, Ariana, who would be Ipi’s wife.
Yoí was the wiser of the two brothers and Ípi the mischievous one. Yoí wanted to hide his wife from Ípi and he placed her inside a flute. When Ípi discovers Ariana, he impregnates her against her will and Yoí punishes him by sending him to find the huito fruit so that the new-born child can be painted and purified. The brothers went to look for huito, Ípi went up to the bush to pick green huito fruits. When Ípi began to grate the fruit, he also grated himself and was incorporated into the huito mass. Yoí squeezed this mass, took out the huito juice, and threw the mixture, which contained Ípi's meat, into the Yḭtaküchiü̃ stream. This mixture reached the Amazon river, and there it was transformed into fish. Ípi also transformed into a fish; his forehead was shiny, because it had been struck with gold in the depths of the Amazon River.
Yoí's son was smeared with the juice of huito and was bathed with the water of Yḭtaküchiü; for this reason, nowadays new-born Tikunas are bathed and painted with huito, to protect them from diseases and other diseases of nature; and to be able to grow and acquire Tikuna knowledge and wisdom.
At the end of a lunar cycle, Yoí waited for it to rain and the creek to grow, which was the colour of indigo due to the mixture of huito. From that moment on the lake was called Eware, which means painted huito, huito waters. As the creek grew, the fish came up from the mouth of the Amazon River and entered the Eware creek, where Yoí waited to fish. He and Ariana got ready to fish. Those who came out of the water, upon hitting the ground, were transformed into people, into yunatü. When the fish touched the land, they were immediately turned into humans.
The Tikunas name and read the earth's surface as parts of the human body. A plant has nachaküü (arms), náchinü (buttocks), naparà (legs), maüñe (heart), nàpaküü (armpits), nátamü (between the leg), and others. The surface of the earth has nakawḛ (back), nátaneka (belly), nátapṵ̈ (chest), naerù (head), náetü (eyes), nakütá (legs). The Tikuna see in the beings of nature a body with the same characteristics and qualities of the human, because before they were people and now, they continue to be.
This track has been created as part of an ongoing cross-disciplinary collaboration - ROOTS -between Abel Santos, filmmaker Camilla French and Jemma Foster exploring person-plant relations via the Tikuna creation myth. Jemma took recordings of the Ceiba pentandra in the Amazon rainforest using a device that measures biodata - electromagnetic fluctuations between the leaves of plants - and converts them into MIDI code. Sound designer Imka then analysed the recording as being in the tone of A minor.
Using this scale, he added a compilation of real and virtual instruments to create the soundscape for the track, along with handmade automation for pressure, pitch slide, attack, release, sustain, along with other devices to control the notes being printed in real time. This was then integrated with the audio recordings of Abel Santos, narrating the Tikuna myth of the Genipa Americana. Abel’s wish is for this track to preserve the knowledge of the elders - many of whom have been wiped out by Covid 19 - and to encourage younger Tikuna to learn their ancestral language.
The result is a new musical language that transcends species boundaries and honours shared person-plant origins. The accompanying digital artwork is a 3D render created by Imka using plant based extensions to convey a representation of the shared life force - known in Tikuna as du-ügü - of people and plants, as the huito fruit and the human heart.