By the time we arrived, the mukuari had been in full swing for several hours. It had little to do with the usual ceremonial dances, and although the participants performed dance movements to the loud rhythm of the drums, the essence of the ceremony consisted not in dancing but in something else: in mutual flogging. All the dancers wore various hideous masks, and as they danced, they dealt each other painful blows with barbed rods.
The purpose of the rite seemed clear: first, to appease the soul of the deceased by showing him what suffering his death had caused to the living, and, secondly, to drive his soul away with a display of ferocious violence. All adult men were required to take part in the dance, and it was to last non-stop for twenty-four hours.
Looking at the dancers in their terrifying masks, yelling and howling, and incessantly flogging each other, and hearing the powerful rhythm of drums made a huge impression. The whole performance seemed to draw everyone into a kind of whirlpool, overpower the soul, impose a strange hypnotic trance: everyone seemed to be as if under a spell.
After watching the dance for a while, I asked Manauri who was sitting next to me:
“Do all men take part in the mukuari? Is there no exception?”
“No. There is no exception. All adult men must dance. I danced in the morning, at the very beginning.”
And he showed me where the barbed rods had torn his skin.
“You, Yan?” he echoed my question and fell deep in thought.
Several elders sat under the toldo along with us: Mabukuli, the chief of the Turtles, Yaki, the head of the Arakanga, and Konauro of the Caimans. They now debated amongst themselves whether I should participate in the rite but did not come to a clear judgment: the deceased sorcerer had had a powerful spirit and strained himself greatly to destroy me, yet my magic had proven stronger than his and I had defeated him. Was the sorcerer’s soul even capable of threatening me now?
“Most certainly not,” replied some leaders, convinced of my magic power, while others shook their heads doubtfully.
Lasana, sat behind me and listened to the debate with wrapped attention without saying a single word. I looked at her:
“And you, Lasana, what do you say to this?”
“I think you should dance,” she replied without the slightest hesitation.
“Do you think Carapana can still harm me?” I asked surprised.
“No. You have defeated his evil spirit and he cannot harm you anymore.”
“Then why dance?”
“In order to…” she began and hesitated searching for the correct expression. “To show that you are with us in body and soul.”
Her words elicited a murmur of appreciation among the chiefs.
“A smart woman,” someone said.
“Very well then,” I said and I ordered Lasana to bring me my jaguar skin. If my fellow Arawaks were going to whack me with those barbed rods, I was not going among them without some protection.
When she returned, I threw the skin over my head and back and tied a liana around my waist, to make sure the thing would not flap around as I danced. The beast had been a monster and my head fit completely into its skull so that I looked out through the beast’s eye sockets. Someone gave me a stout rod, but I demanded another for my left hand. If those fellows were going to whip me, I was not going to take it lying down.
“Very well, take two rods,” Manauri agreed, admonishing me at the same time: “But remember, the more heavily you lay your rod on someone, the more respect and honor you show him.”
Apparently, the dancers reserved the most respect and honor for me, because as soon as I jumped into their midst and they recognized me by the jaguar skin and my height, they began to lay about me with gusto. I was not amiss in showing my own honor and respect to them. The skin of the jaguar reached only to my calves, and my legs were bare below, so my companions quickly discovered my weak point and went for my shins and calves mercilessly. In order to protect myself, I jumped in all directions while trying not to fall out of the rhythm imposed on us by the drums, but for all my dodging, I still I got a pretty good whipping.
The dance, though apparently chaotic and confused, nevertheless followed a certain order: namely, the dancers moved about in a circle about thirty paces in diameter. To complete the ritual, it was enough to complete one circumambulation. So, by the time I finally found myself again opposite the toldo, I had done duty: I dealt with fury the last blows to right and left and jumped out of the circle.
The drums, as if to honor my departure, went into a deafening coda, then went back to normal tempo, and I went back to my seat among the elders. Everyone expressed polite appreciation for my performance.