Peaking through the canopy at the twinkling symphony of stars, it isn’t difficult to understand why the Cofan people of the Amazon River Basin believe they have descended to earth from the Milky Way. The river holds the spirit of the mighty anaconda, the jungle is the place of the jaguar spirit, and the Universe above is where the human spirit resides. Everything in the jungle is magical and alive with the most mystical display occurring out of physical reach beyond the sky.
It is irresistibly oppressing here, especially at night. As dusk falls, the primeval screeching and squawking of monkeys and parrots tapers off, overpowered by decibels of billions of unseen insects and reptiles humming in unison. Millions of shades of green dissolve into a deep blackness only dreamt of in the darkest corners of nightmares. Thundering storms pass through saturating the jungle with intense downpours offering some relief from the heat, but the humidity is unescapable. It makes you want to shed your skin while attempting sleep, as you try to figure out if that scorpion is climbing on the inside or the outside of your mosquito net.
Beliefs of ancestors traveling between dimensions in the vast open spaces of the Milky Way would have provided at least some kind of solace amongst such absolute domination of the surrounding environment. Even if one were to reach the heights of the canopy atop the tallest Kapok tree, the scene wouldn’t be one of relief or escape. With thick jungle stretching in every direction to the low horizon, there would be no absconding this imprisoning oasis without assistance.
Each and every plant here sings at a different frequency. Only the highly attuned who know the jungle implicitly can decipher the complex code of the forest. Shamans are trained from birth to interact on a different level with plants and animals, and have to ability to walk with ancient ancestors in the milky way. These select few men and women are at the epicentre of Cofan society acting as doctor, councillor, historian, story teller, and botanical specialist.
Despite the dense humidity, or maybe because of it, the stars here in the thick of the jungle have a sparkle all of their own. The cold, pure light contrasts heavily with the mass amounts of living things which makes them all that more special and alien. Standing on a wooden dock at the edge of the Napo river, I can’t tear myself away.
- February 2015