The Amazon Feature

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Tales from the Mist

The immense Amazon region is fertile ground not only for flora and fauna but also for legends, which are an integral part of local culture and are remarkably consistent throughout the region.

One particularly creepy legend is that of Curupira, who appears as a nude and savage indigenous child whose feet are turned backward. He is said to lure people into the jungle, causing them to become irreversibly lost. As the story goes, white men cut off his feet before killing him; a god sewed Curupira's feet on backward and returned him to the forest to exact revenge. Some people claim you can solicit Curupira's help for hunting and crop failures. As payment, you must bring him tobacco, matches, and a bottle of liquor—the latter of which he will down in one swig to seal the pact. If you ever tell anyone about the agreement, Curupira will hunt you down and stab you to death with his long, sharp fingernails.

Several tales explain the origins of important fruits and vegetables. Guaraná, for example, was the name of a young child beloved by all. As the story goes, he was killed by the jealous god Jurupari, who disguised himself as a snake. Lightning struck as the village gathered around Guaraná's body and wept. At that moment the lightning god, Tupã, ordered the villagers to bury the child's eyes. The guaraná fruit (which actually resembles eyes) sprouted from the burial spot.

In a legend explaining the origins of the açaí fruit (a rich, dark-purple fruit endemic to the Amazon), the chief of a starving tribe ordered all babies to be sacrificed to end the famine. The chief's daughter, Iaça, had a beautiful baby. Before its sacrifice, she found the child holding a palm tree, and then he suddenly vanished. The tree then became full of açaí (which is Iaça spelled backward), from which a wine was made that saved the tribe and ended the sacrifices. To this day, Amazonians call the cold soup made from the fruit vinho (wine).

The legend of the native water flower vitória régia begins with a beautiful girl who wished to become a star in the heavens. She trekked to the highest point in the land and tried in vain to touch the moon. Iaci—the god of the moon—was awed by the girl's beauty. He knew that a mortal could never join the astral kingdom, so he decided to use his powers to immortalize the girl on earth instead. He transformed her into a stunning flower with an alluring scent. Realizing that he needed something fitting to help display this "star," he stretched a palm leaf and created a lily pad, and thus the vitória régia came to be.

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