The following excerpt is taken from
Amazon Worldspp. 60-61, Sinchi Sacha Foundation
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“I am going to tell you about how the canoe came to be.”
“They say that, in the beginning, two men held on to a balsa tree while the god, Tumbahuay, chopped it down at its base. Once the tree had been felled, it was no longer a tree but a canoe, ready for sailing.
“But one day the men thought the tree was going to crush them and, frightened, they moved off to the side. So the canoe fell to the ground and split in two. As a punishment, Tumbahuay condemed them to suffer the building of canoes on their own.” Cesar Payaguaje, Secoya
Making a canoe is a time-consuming task, one not always undertaken willingly. Thus, it is no surprise that, in the mythology of Amazon peoples, the gods occasionally impose this task as punishment.
One begins by felling a large cedar, cinnamon, chucho, or ahuano tree which is left on the ground for several months until it is completely dry. The trunk must be straight and flawless, from 5 – 12 meters long, and at least 80 centimeters in diameter. The first task involves cutting the surface of the trunk until a flat “face” is formed; from this surface, the trunk is hollowed with an axe until a cavity 50 centimeters deep is formed. Care must be taken that the walls remain vertical. The horizontal bottom is formed with an adze.
The ends of the canoe must be properly formed so that the prow is shaped like the head of a boa and the stern like the tail of a fish.
Next, the outer part of the trunk is worked, taking care that both the walls are the same so that the balance is assured. When the canoe has been fully shaped, it is transported to the river; there it is burned to make it waterproofed, any remaining flaws are smoothed, and the interior space is widened. This last is accomplished by filling the canoe with dried leaves which are kept in place with small sticks. Then the canoe is placed upside down and a fire is started within. While the wood is still hot, the inside is scraped with an adze, and a number of crosspieces are placed from wall to wall to stretch the canoe. Because the edges can be easily damaged during the burning, they are covered with a protective coat of mud.
Building a canoe is an arduous task which requires several persons. This is why canoes are made in a minga, a system of reciprocal communal labor, which implies that services offered will be returned in a similar project to benefit another community member.