I spent a month living in the South American rainforest, all of which I have no recollection, being only two years old. Based on what my parents told me, living among the indigenous Amerindian people was a unique and very interesting experience.
We lived in a thatched hut, and at night slept in hammocks. It was quite usual to see an entire Amerindian family living together in one large thatched hut, with their hammocks slung between poles. Hammocks suspended above ground protected the family from snakes, ground ants, and other creatures. Hammocks were also very comfortable to sleep in, and their portability impressed Christopher Columbus who introduced them to Europe.
During the day, the Amerindians hunted and fished for food. Their methods were very creative and effective. Fish were caught in the rivers and streams in an unorthodox manner. A plant called “woorari” also known as “curare” was grounded in large pots and made into a paste. When sprinkled in streams, fish would become temporarily stunned and float to the surface where they were collected in baskets. Woorari was also used in hunting animals; it was rubbed on the tip of darts and shot from blowguns. The little prick from the woorari dart caused muscle paralysis in the animals and brought them down. Although woorari or curare is considered a poison, it is harmless when taken orally. Animals and fish caught by using the woorari preparation can be safely eaten.
Some fish were also hunted with spears because of their large size. My parents’ favorite fish was the “arapaima”, a large fresh water fish that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 400 pounds. On several occasions my father accompanied hunting parties in canoes looking for the arapaima. When one was caught, it was cooked over open flame, and was an occasion for a communal feast accompanied by the drinking of ‘piwari’, a drink made from fermented cassava. If offered piwari, be careful because it is an intoxicant!
Cassava is a root that is also used by the Amerindians to make “casareep” a meat preservative. The cassava juice is extracted and boiled to remove the poisonous elements and the result is a thick brown liquid.
Meat cooked in casareep can be preserved for days or even weeks, ideal for hunters who may be traveling for days. Hunters also had a creative way of capturing monkeys unharmed. A small round pot or gourd with a very small opening was filled with molasses or sticky fruit and tied to a tree. When the monkey put his hand in the hole to grab the molasses or fruit, his balled fist was trapped inside the gourd, and he was easily caught. We were given a monkey by the Amerindians, and he was kept as a pet inside the fenced compound.
I was not allowed to venture outside the fence alone. While my parents were working during the day, I had a native Amerindian nanny who cared for me. One day, when she was not looking, I apparently wandered off and found my way outside. A search of the compound and surrounding areas proved fruitless, and no one could find me much to the consternation of my parents.
I will continue the story of how I was reunited with my parents in my next post!