Writing my time travel novel Dryad required a all sorts of research from watching YouTube videos to reading scholarly books. The story spans from modern day Los Angeles to 17th century Colombia. I researched such diverse topics as Greek mythology, Amazon trees and wildlife, Jesuit missions and French corsairs.
But the subject I found most interesting was the shaman practices of the Tukano tribes. Rainforest Shamans by renowned anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff describes in detail the practices of tribes such as the Tukano who live in the rainforests of Colombia and Venezuela.
I don’t like to include too much “did you know” material in my novels because it feels forced and takes away from the plot. So there were many facts about these rainforest tribes that didn’t make it into Dryad. Luckily, I have this blog so you can find out about some stuff that I included and didn’t include in the novel.
Hunting and Health
Hunting is a big part of the Tukano lifestyle, but it is also connected with shamanic theories of illness and health. The Tukano believe that some illnesses are a result of animals taking revenge on the hunters.
A shaman will ask a patient about his hunting experience in trying to figure out the cause of an illness. I portray this process in an excerpt from Dryad:
The wizened old face crinkled in puzzlement as he looked at his patient. He asked a question in his language, which Father Montoya translated as, “Tell him about your hunting experience.”
“Umm… we didn’t hunt on our journey,” Rodney said, “We already had food supplies with us.”
“He means in general,” Father Montoya said, “He needs to know this in order to find out whether an animal spirit is trying to take revenge on you. How has your hunting been?”
“Is this how he usually interviews patients?” Rodney asked.
“I don’t know,” Rodney shrugged, “I’ve never done any hunting in my life. Only surfing.”
As it often happens when researching a novel, the research material blends serendipitously with the plot and even the theme of my novel. Dryad has an obvious environmental theme, and I was amazed to find out the extent to which awareness of environmental interconnection is woven into Tukano mythology.
Hunting is seen as taking away the sun’s energy, which is present in all beings. In order to keep this energy in balance, certain rules have to be followed.
One interesting set of rules I read about though I didn’t include in the novel is that hunting is also connected with sexuality and dreams. There are certain rules that require the hunter to abstain from sexual contact for several days before a hunt. Even if the hunter happens to have a dream of a sexual nature, then he cannot hunt for a certain period of time.
On one hand, there is a mythological explanation for this, as sex and food are considered closely linked. On the other hand, there are also practical and environmental considerations. By introducing all of these stringent rules, the shamans ensure that the hunters don’t kill a great number of animals, thereby preserving the limited number of creatures available on the territory of their tribe.
Another fascinating chapter is devoted to an interview with a hunter regarding tapir avoidance. Tapir meat is eaten more rarely than other meat due to the spiritual qualities associated with these creatures.
“The [tapirs] are people, like us. They have their houses, their tapir houses.” The hunter said that by this he meant the supernatural abodes in hills and rock formations in the deep forest, where all game animals in spirit form are said to dwell under the care of the Master of Animals.
Needless to say, I had to use this mystical quality of tapirs in the novel. I won’t give away the story, but let’s just say that I made the tapirs seem very creepy!
After watching this video, you may agree that there’s something creepy about tapirs….