“Uncle Prejaka! Where are you going?”
I turned to the twelve-year-old Canela boy running after me and shouted, “For my sun-going-down jog. I sit so much, I’m getting fat.”
His bare feet kicking up the hot, loose sand, my young nephew caught up to me, saying, “I’ll run with you.”
“Okay,” I said, thinking, This kid will quickly get bored with me lumbering along behind him. I was wrong.
We jogged along the narrow sandy path, brushing by tall grasses and bushes of every kind lining the sides. Then it began.
“Uncle!” he called back, over his shoulder.
“See that plant over there?” he asked, running backward and looking at a non-descript little bush.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Do you know what it’s called?
“It’s a cwajap ho.”
“Do you know what it’s good for?”
“For a stomach ache. It makes it go away.”
“Do you know how to prepare it?”
“Well, you take some of the leaves, put them in a bit of water, and boil them with some salt. Then you let it stand and cool off, and then you drink it all at once. You only have to do it once and your stomach ache goes away.”
“Oh,” I puffed.
A minute later he indicated another bush and the whole routine started again — he, asking the questions and I, admitting I didn’t know the answers. This time it was a twyncahi par bush. You soak the inner bark in water, then drink it to stop vomiting.
The next one was a plant root that was good for pains in the chest. Then some more plants with leaves that were good for diarrhea. Next a type of grass that, he told me with a grin, was good for building stamina in running. I took careful note of that one!
I had slowed down to a walk and was jotting down the information in my ever-present dog-eared notebook. Then it struck me. My young Canela nephew had never been to school a day in his life and could neither read nor write. Yet, during the half hour we had been in the bush together, he had taught his college-educated, multi-lingual, well-traveled, foreign uncle the names, medicinal values and method of preparation of dozens of trees, bushes, and plants.
That night Jo and I sat at our little study table and I turned up the wick to adjust the flame in the kerosene lamp. I laid my books and papers in the little circle of light. Then, as I told Jo about my jog, I copied the information into our dictionary and cultural files.
Later, before falling asleep under our bed mosquito net, I thought, I came to the Brazilian jungle thinking I would teach the Canelas. Turns out even the kids know more than I do about the things that matter to them!
This was not the first time the Canela culture surprised me. I was amazed at how well the Canela culture equips people to come to grips with the issues in their lives in the jungle.
The Canela year, for instance, divides into set seasons for field work and for festivals. There is, therefore, a balance between a season to work in small, family groups in scattered and isolated fields, and a season to relax together with everyone in the village. They spend months working to provide food for the physical needs of their growing families. They follow this by months of merriment and culturally relevant festivals that pass on the values of the culture, and meet their social and psychological needs.
Sometimes people are astonished at how complicated and beautifully intricate the Canela language is. I have been asked, “How can illiterate jungle people, barely out of the stone age, develop such an intricate language?”
The answer, of course, is, “They didn’t invent their language. It was given to them by their Creator.”
What’s more, just as God invented the Canela language, He also guided the development of the many positive aspects of their culture.