________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 31. . . .April 12, 2013


Amazonia: Indigenous Tales From Brazil.

Daniel Munduruku, reteller.
Illustrated by Nikolai Popov.
Translated by Jane Springer.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/
House of Anansi Press, 2013.
96 pp., hardcover, $24.95.
ISBN 978-1-55498-185-4.

Subject Headings:
Tales-Amazon River Region.
Indians of South America-Brazil-Folklore-Juvenile literature.
Indians of South America-Amazon River Region-Folklore-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Gail de Vos.




The elders say that long ago the parrot was a boy, who often went hunting with his father. The boy always carried his little bow and arrow with him.

"This is how a boy learns," his father would say.

The boy would prop his head in his hands and listen respectfully to his father's words. The two went everywhere together. They went to the fishery, and while the father caught gigantic fish like the golden dorado and the pacu, the boy would be happy to land a small fish like a tetra.

"Tetras are just my size," the boy thought to himself contentedly.

When they returned to the village, the fish were always roasted on the coals. The hunted game was also cooked on the fire. In days of abundance, there was plenty of food, and no one went hungry. In days of hardship, hunger was the same for everyone. Everyone experienced feast or famine---all were treated equally.

But as time passed, the boy was no longer satisfied with his share. He took larger and larger pieces of food and even began to hide some away to eat when no one was watching. (From the beginning of "The Parrot Who Sings Kra-Kra-Kra." Bororo Myth, pp. 59-60.)

An attractive package, or repackaging as the case may be, of 12 indigenous tales from Brazil originally collected, illustrated and published in Russia. The original book, illustrated by Nicolai Popov, was long out of print when author Daniel Munduruku was asked to select and retell the tales from this academic collection he felt were most representative of the people of the Amazon. Twelve of Popov's softly coloured and evocative full page illustrations for the selected tales are included in this volume. Munduruku’s stories are simply, but eloquently, translated by Jane Springer. After providing the translation for the author’s introduction, Springer comments that: "These tales were passed on through a resilient oral tradition until many were written down in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The stories presented here by Daniel Munduruku are faithful to the original records." Unfortunately for this academic and storyteller, this is the only source note that is provided for the stories themselves, a slight quibble perhaps but a disappointment nonetheless.

When the dance is done they are not two things any more. They danced around and shared so much that they became one brand new thing.

      The stories are followed by a glossary of terms needed to fully understand and put into context terms not defined in the stories themselves. For example, in the excerpt above, the explanations for "golden dorado" is "a large river fish"; "pacu" is "an omnivorous freshwater fish related to the piranha"; and a "tetra" is "a small fish with a horizontal iridescent blue strip on each side."(94-95)

      Reflective of the people and the environment, these tales have not been sanitized for young readers. The myths, pourquoi tales and folktales in the collection include murders, chaos, transformations, seductions, gluttony, and other universal situations and motifs but in a gentle way that is not intended to shock the reader or glorify the dangers inherent in the Amazon for its original inhabitants. These are tales that are real and breathe life into several cultures in this far and distant land. The retold tales include myths from the Munduruku, Manao, Bororo, Umutina, Apinajé, Terena, Tupi and Anambé peoples and range from just a few pages to much longer entries. All of the tales are easy to read aloud by young readers and would provide fodder for storytellers interested in telling the tales orally, bringing them full circle to their origins.

Highly Recommended.

Gail de Vos teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and is the author of nine books on storytelling and folklore.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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