September 30, 2011

The Hunter in the Rye: Ergot, Sedges and Hunting Magic in the Peruvian Amazon

Abanti draws the string of a palm wood bow all the way to his ear, aiming the razor-sharp bamboo tip of an arrow straight up into the rain forest canopy. Eighty feet above, a large spider monkey eats Pouteria fruits, unaware of the human predator below. Then the black silhouette flinches, a fruit drops, and the monkey leaps to another branch.  “Wary. May have heard us,” he whispers to his brother-in-law as he releases the tension on the bow in a smooth snap.

"The muscles across his back stand out in relief as he draws and aims the taut bow."
He steps quietly, bending back a few spindly palms that block his view, never taking his eyes off the monkey high overhead. Once again he takes up his stance, but this time he removes a small cluster of plant bulbs from a net bag slung across his back. The bulbs are the roots of an alkaloid-rich sedge variety used for the specific purpose of hunting spider monkey. Snapping off a piece, he chews the bitter, aromatic quid, then rubs the masticated root onto his bow and arrow. Still watching the monkey, he spits a fine, turpentine-smelling spray upward. “Straight up, straight to the heart, no branches, fly straight and fast,” he mumbles to the bow, to the arrow, to the monkey, to himself.