Republic of bananas
During the hot days of Summer, the purple bananas are ready to be eaten. They hang on the banana trees planted among the cocoa plantation of my father’s farm in Uruará, a small village next to Altamira, a major city in the Brazilian Rain Forest.
It was a Saturday afternoon and my brother Muca and I decided to look for bananas in the plantation 3 miles away from the farmhouse. At that time, I was nine years old and my brother eleven. We started our walk stepping on the carpet of foliage covered by the natural ceiling made of branches, leaves and fruits of the cocoa trees. These trees can grow eighteen feet high and, because their leaves are wide and abundant, they hardly allow the sunlight to shine on the ground, creating a noir atmosphere over the huge area they cover.
From time to time, monkeys jumping on the branches disturbed our concentration. We could see cotias, a miniature kind of deer, eating the seeds of cocoa fruits, and jiboias, the typical snake of the region, wrapped around tree trunks.
Finally, we found the banana trees. They were placed in a clearing with no cocoa trees. Besides our favorite bananas, there were a myriad of other tropical species such as nanica, apple banana, silver, gold banana and the ox’s horn kind. Using a machete, my brother cut down a big branch of purple bananas. It was so heavy that despite using a piece of wood to balance the weight of the branch on our shoulders, it looked as if we couldn’t handle it. With some effort, we started our walk back home.
Until that point of our adventure, we really hadn’t paid attention to the jungle itself, even though we had been distracted by the monkeys in the trees. Suddenly, we heard several strong and threatening noises, and part of the trees on the south side swung, creating a requiem hymn with the icy wind blown from the north. My brother looked back and showed through his face the same fear that was making my body shake like those branches above us. We felt ourselves the prey of the forest. It seemed as if the whole jungle were looking at us, watching our steps, the movements of our heads and of our eyes. Even walking, we felt static, frozen from the top of our heads to the last toes of our feet. We saw faces and movements everywhere, and the sounds of the forest puzzled our notion of reality. We were doubtful if we were walking forward or sideways. The fear had taken control of us.
Then, we somehow woke up from that nightmare. We looked at each other and tried to run, as fast as we could, but we couldn’t. Our legs were as heavy as big stones. Trying to keep the last drop of consciousness, we breathed deeply for a couple of times and once again tried to run. Now it worked, and we ran and ran, as fast as we could, jumping logs, brooks, bushes, whatever we found in front of us. At this time, the appetizing branch of purple bananas was only a vague memory, lost somewhere in the forest.
Arriving at home, we told Paxu, the old Indian man who used to work for my father, about our frustrating and terrifying adventure in the jungle. Watching our excitement, he told us a fantastic story of gods and spirits that live in the forest and protect it. Mapinguary, a huge monkey with jaguar face, protects the trees, the highest part of the jungle; he blows the wind that makes the trees shake and sing the morbid song that nauseates the impostor. Curare, the man with back feet, shouts and instructs the lower part of the forest to cause the fear sensation in intruders through noises and grunting sounds.
According to Paxu, all of these things had happened to us because we hadn’t followed the required ritual to enter the jungle and to collect bananas. “First of all”, he said, “you should have said the phrase 'Mighty Forest, allow us to enter you' and waited until the bird Tisiu had sung four straight times. Then, after finding the banana trees, you should have asked them to take one of their offspring, a branch of purple banana”, he added.
For a long time after that terrifying episode in the jungle, even though we weren’t sure if Paxu’s teachings were real or only a fruit of his imagination, we never entered the forest without saying first this 'mighty phrase' and asking permission to the banana trees to take one of their broods. Curiously, we never had to leave a branch of purple bananas behind us and run madly back home anymore.