The mother who became a hummingbird

Sergio Sister, Não, 1970, Ecoline, oily crayon and hydrographic on paper, 32 x 45 cm


an indigenous myth


There are many brothers and sisters of our indigenous people who are dying because of Covid-19 and the neglect of the genocidal and ethnocidal policies of the current Government.

I dedicate to them this beautiful myth-story of the Amazonian peoples about the meaning of death and the entry into supreme Happiness. It also goes for the relatives of the thousands of deceased because of the Coronavirus. They deserve our solidarity and also our words of comfort.

We often wonder: how do deceased people get to heaven? There is a conviction among peoples that everyone should take a trip. On this trip there are tests to pass. According to this account of the Amazonian peoples, each one must purify himself, become light in order to be able to dive into that world of joy and celebration where all the ancestors and deceased relatives are.

Our sadness is that, because of the neglect of the current authorities who despise and even hate the original peoples, many shamans are dying, victims of Covid-19. With them disappears an entire library of knowledge that they inherited, enriched and always pass on to new generations. With his death there is a painful break with this tradition. They and we suffer and become poorer. To all of them our deep solidarity and compassion, also suffering the pain they suffer:

The myth

In many Amazonian tribes it is believed that the dead turn into butterflies. During the time needed for purification, each one takes on a suitable form. Those that are purified soon are very white, with a few hours of life and with white colors. They penetrate directly into the world of happiness.

The ones that need more time are smaller, lighter and multicolored. And the ones that need a lot of time are bigger, heavier and darker in color.

They all fly from flower to flower, sucking nectar and bracing themselves to carry their own weight as they soar into the sky, where they will live happily with all their ancestors and relatives who are just on the other side of life. The following story is told in that forest:

Coaciaba, was a young Indian woman, slender and of rare beauty. She had become a widow very early on, as her husband, a valiant warrior, had fallen under an enemy arrow. She took care of her only daughter, Guanambi, with extreme affection.

To alleviate the endless longing for her husband, she would walk, when she could, along the riverbanks, watching the butterflies or in the meadow, near the swidden, where hummingbirds and other insects also fluttered.

From so much sadness, Coaciaba ended up dying. He doesn't just die of illness, old age or because of a malignant virus of nature. He also dies for longing for the person he loves.

Guanambi, the daughter, was completely alone. Inconsolable, she cried a lot, especially when her mother used to take her for a walk. Even as a little girl, she just wanted to visit her mother's grave. She didn't want to live anymore. She asked her and the spirits to come and get her and take her to where her mother was.

With so much sadness, Guanambi was wasting away day after day until she too died. Her relatives were greatly distressed, with so much disgrace befalling the same family.

But, curiously, his spirit did not turn into a butterfly like the other Indians of the tribe. He was trapped inside a beautiful lilac flower, close to his mother's grave. That way he could stay with his mother, as he had asked the spirits.

Mother Coaciaba, whose spirit had indeed been transformed into a butterfly, fluttered from flower to flower sucking nectar to strengthen herself and begin her journey to heaven.

One day, at dusk, zigzagging from flower to flower, he landed on a beautiful lilac flower. As she sucked the nectar, she heard a sweet, sad cry. Her heart shuddered and nearly fainted with emotion. She recognized inside her the little voice of her dear daughter Guanambi. How could she be trapped there? She recovered from the emotion and said:

-Dear daughter, mom is here with you. Don't worry, I'll set you free so we can fly to heaven together.

But he soon realized that she was a tiny butterfly and that he wouldn't have the strength to open the petals, break the flower and free his darling daughter. She then withdrew to a corner and, in tears, begged the creator Spirit and all the ancestors of the tribe:

-For love of my husband, valiant warrior, killed in defense of all his relatives, for compassion on my orphaned daughter, Guanambi, trapped in the heart of the lilac flower, I implore you, beneficent Spirit, and all of you, elders of our tribe: transform me into a swift and agile bird, equipped with a pointed beak to break the lilac flower and free my dear little girl.

So much was the compassion awakened by Coaciaba that the creator Spirit and the elders of the tribe answered his plea without delay. They transformed it into a beautiful hummingbird, light, agile, which immediately landed on the lilac flower. She whispered in a voice full of tenderness:

-Daughter, it's me, your mother. Do not panic. I was turned into a hummingbird to come and free you.

With its pointed beak, it carefully removed petal by petal until it opened the heart of the flower. There was Guanambi smiling, stretching his arms towards his mother.

Purified and embraced, they flew high, higher and higher until they reached the sky together.

Since then, the following custom has been introduced among Amazonian indigenous peoples: whenever an orphaned child dies, its little body is covered with lilac flowers, as if it were inside a large flower, in the certainty that the mother, in the form of a hummingbird , come and get her to, embraced, fly to heaven, where they will be eternally together and happy with all the ancestors and with all the other relatives.

*Leonardo Boff, writer and theologian, is the author, among other books, of The Marriage of Heaven and Earth (Sea of ​​Ideas).


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