To visit the Upsonilongo tribe - and offhand I'm not certain why you'd want to, I went principally because of research grants - you have to follow many lacksadaisical bends of the Amazon, and a few whose sharp swiftness will amaze you. You might feel as if your boat were drifting along the bank of a giant sinewy anaconda, that usually slept quiet, but every once in a while awoke and sent alarming ripples through its skin as it rapidly slithered and perhaps a hump of it suddenly uprose: or possibly not. (The colleague who first proposed this metaphor spent a certain amount of involuntary time, in the past few years, institutionalized. I'm not suggesting the two incidents are related.)

Between the steamy heat of the jungle, droplets of dew from massive overhang of vines and trees, spray spewing up from the river, you're likely at almost every point of the journey to be prodigiously wet and dripping. If any part of your trip coincides with rain season (and if any part of it does, much of it will; this is not a short season) forget it, unless you're under thoroughly battened-down shelter you'll be taking on and shedding more water in a minute than your body weight. Most of us, in the wider world, shower regularly it's true, but it doesn't prepare you: this continuous drip, if it goes on any length of time, is a surprisingly unpleasant experience. On the plus side, it eliminates the need for isometrics. On the plus-plus side, if I'm ever faced with a water cannon I'm sure it will offer no surprises, much less terrors.

Anyone familiar with the classic tale of Popol Vu and a few other elementary mythic constructs of the Amazon tribes will find little that doesn't scream "copy cat" in the timid formulations of the  Upsonilongo. They do seem to have them all, I'll give them that, like a scholarly compendium, but at the cost of having none of them in anything close to its freshest and liveliest form. (Originality is largely a matter of discovering some new interpretation of old material. Blues singers were known to credit themselves as the authors of songs already written, published and recorded by others, having changed a place name here, a phrase there, a bridge or chord change somewhere else. More often than not they were exaggerating, but sometimes they were entirely justified in thinking three or four such microscopic changes amounted to a fresh whole composition. Francois Truffaut as a schoolboy once copied out a story by Balzac and presented it to his teacher as his own work. He was later well-known for both original and adapted screenplays.)

One element only of mythic ritual among the Upsonilongo was truly unique - so much so I made it the subject of two degree theses and a scholarly volume - the blood flute of the Shaman. This is named first of all for its colour, from a dye unique to that region though shared by the Upsonilongo with, according to some counts, upward of a hundred distinct rival tribes. Second and most important, it is called so because if anybody other than the Shaman places lips to the stops in the flute, according to long-standing tradition, a violent hemorrhage will result. ("Blood pouring like vomit from rotten swallowed meat" would be an exact translation of the Upsonilongo term used here.)

This taboo applies to, but doesn't only affect, non-Shamans. The flute-blower is conscious of the gods' protection, which is never complete ("How is the flute kept plentiful in blood? What passes from the lips of the Holy Man?") and may at any time be withdrawn - though the only time I'm aware of so sudden a hemorrhage eliminating a Shaman, I would have said the cause of death had more to do with a suspicious-looking dagger slash across the throat if every suspect hadn't been present and armed. I was also cautious about telling them my opinion of their originality, since I anticipated they'd be touchy on the subject, and as it was they were forever asserting their manhood by touching their weapons.)

It is true that every Shaman who's been medically examined has tested anemic - but too few have submitted to such examination for the results to be more than suggestive and anecdotal.

As for the myth that once long ago all Upsonilongo were male, until one unhappily touched his "flute" with this flute, leading to controlled hemmorhage once each cycle of the moon for 'his' unfortunate progeny… well I dedicated half the four hundred pages of my book to the lore collecting around this, but feel in a non-scholarly context, the less said about it the better.

Blood blisters. Bloodshot eyes. Blood worms on the leg or as we would call them, varicose veins. Dreams of blood. Holy dreams of rivers of blood. These and other figures in Upsonilongo mythology, none without direct or arcane reference to taboos surrounding the use, storage or deployment of the blood flute, whose most important function is in the hunt ritual, before which the blood song is played to encourage the animals pursued to surrender their vital areas to penetration by arrow, dagger, javelin or dart. (I suppose it's no stretch to discover the Upsonilongo are the only primitive tribe we know to have invented blood sausage - though numerous neighbouring tribes trade for this delicacy.)

I touched my lips to the flute once and blew - unobserved and not afterwards discovered. It was something I had to do - what kind of scientist trembles before empirical verification? Since there's only one of me, any evidence I can give is only anecdotal, but I certainly haven't been cursed. True, at irregular intervals I spit up inconvenient quantities of blood - in two instances more than I could have spared without considerable transfusion. But this is not the effect of a curse nor even, as some have suggested, a psychosomatic response. On the contrary, it falls entirely within the paramaters of a pre-existent condition. One that prevents further field research of this kind in future.

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