Remember the Rainforest 1
(II) The spotted Indians. - The Indians of the tribes of the Purupurus,
and Amamatis are not the only ones in South America, where this anomaly of the skin appears. In Uarivau, a branch of the Japura, I observed some Indians of the Purupurus tribe, who had round, confluent, bluish-black spots on their faces, hands, and chest, and whose body was also sown covered with hard warts.
As for the white spots on the skin of Catauuixis, I also observed the same in the Japura Indians as in some people of color, in Minas and Bahia. This hereditary leprosy when the body is covered with fish-like scales (ichtyosis), also appears among the Manacicas, a horde of pigmys in Paraguay.
As for the rare phenomenon of spotted-skinned people, we must make the following considerations.
The Purus' headwaters are low, partly swampy and covered with tall, virgin forests, which, in the floods of the rivers, are filled with water. Purupurus have the habit of fleeing out of the thick emanations of the empty forest, moving to the river itself, and settling on trunks that arrive and pile up in coves in enormous piles, offering a faltering base for their miserable shacks . There they often suffer from the cold of the night, so that after a longer delay in the water, they need to warm up. Their food consists mainly of meat of amphibians and fish, in the middle of which they live, for the cultivation of the land is almost entirely unknown to them, and in the woods the pickings are meager. To these unfavorable influences are added two more personal habits, which can only harm the organism. One is methodical fasting, to which they give themselves with such rigor, at least once a year, in the last quarter or the new moon of August, when, besides boiled little fish, nothing is put in the mouth, and they almost let themselves die of starvation.
The maranuxaua (1) of the Purus, who approached us at Praia das Oncas, told us that, since three weeks, he had only eaten a little lizard. He showed us a bag of breadcrumbs with which he satisfied his hunger. The other problem may be the use of gator fat, often old and rancid, that they smear and that has a disgusting musky scent, so that the smell of these savages is perceived by the approach of other savages. Is it not that this singular use, besides the copious ingestion of gator meat, that even then they do not eat simply fresh, that produces, perhaps, some depressing effect on the moods? Most indigenous tribes deprecate alligator meat as a remedy, and, given that medicinal effects which are not without reason, are attributed to certain animals of related orders (e.g. the kingfish, as an aphrodisiac, and the pulverized lizard used against skin eruption), it is not therefore unlikely that there is a relationship between the chronic skin rash of the Purupurus and the Catauuixis and that great carnivorous lizard. In the hot climate, and in any case, the absorption of gator fat, often exerts pathogenic action on the whole body. These Indians still have the habit, scattered throughout South America, of rubbing the skin with the red paint of urucu.
It may be admitted that this paint, although it does not protect absolutely against insect bites (as has sometimes been advocated), nevertheless it does not have an influence on the organism, since the urucu, taken internally, causes, as we know, an effect identical to that of rhubarb. Also the slow and repeated baths can explain the disposition for many rashes, because in that country the bath does not produce an astringent and fortifying effect, since the water is generally warmer than the atmosphere. The pores of the skin are dilated when the Indians leave the bath and rest in the sand or go to the humid forest, so they absorb everything into their skin. It seems, however, that nature takes revenge precisely on that organ, the skin, whose development is disturbed and whose functions are altered by the operation of the tattoo and the paintings of all colors, already begun in adolescence and continued without interruption: yellow, with urucu; red, with the carajuru; blue, with the puca and the genipapiro;
black, with the fruits of the macucu (Ilex macucu) etc.
(1)Maranuxaua is a contraction of mara-tuxaua, "war leader". (Rev. Note, Inst. Hist. And Geogr. Bras.).