In my previous post about the Amazon women, Icamiabas, or women without husbands on the Rio Nhamundá in Brazil, I was thrilled to find actual documented evidence of an encounter with the women by a man named Eduardo Barros Prado in the 1950s. I located this information in the chapter: Matriarchal Cultures in South America in Heide Goettner-Abendroth’s book Matriarchal Societies. I subsequently went on to locate the book, The Lure of the Amazon, by Prado and read his report for myself which has additional fascinating information about the Icamiabas I wish to share in this post.
To catch yourself up, you may want to read the previous post first: Icamiabas: Amazon Warrior Women in Precontact Americas
A local of Manaus, Prado, long fascinated by the stories of the Amazon women, seeks them out. The book details adventures he has as a guide on the Rio Amazon and the rainforest leading to three chapters about his successful meeting with the Amazon women of Rio Nhamundá.
He too has heard of a Lake of the Mirror of the Moon and the muiraquitãs: the jade talismans that the women receive from the Mother of the Lake after a series of rituals with the moon.
“The legend was that when under the water the stones could be moulded as desired and that, once in contact with the air, they crystallised for ever”(104).
Kunite, a friend of Prado, refers to the women as a matriarchy and reveals that his grandmother had a muiraquitã handed down to her which was a powerful healing tool as well as a protective talisman.
“There is plenty of evidence that the Amazons of South America did at one time exist and they they got on well with their neighbors, the Guacaries, the Mundurucus of the lower Amazon and Baries, near Tapajoz. . . Every year the Macuxis of the Alto Oyapoc and the Uraricuera zone, in the region of the Branco river, near to the present frontier with Venezuela, visited the tribe for the procreation of children. They had to make a long and difficult journey, crossing the Cachorro, Mapeura and Cumina rivers, besides facing danger of attack from the Emerillon, not to speak of the risk of shortage of provisions. The women were also visited by the Parintintins, another powerful tribe”(102-103).
Kunite declines the offer to go with Prado to search out the Icamiabas so Prado recruits his friend Yauaperi to act as his guide upriver. After flying up in a small plane, they near the settlement in canoes on the river. (This trip precedes the one detailed by Alex Shoumatoff in his book, In Southern Light, by 30 years.)
When they approach, though Prado feels conflicted about it, his guides assure him the only way to gain access to the world of the Amazons, Icamiabas, is by making a call of the love bird, the uyrapuru that their suitors use to let them know they have arrived.
If the suitors hear a call back, they know that the women will receive them. It was the time of year when the suitors were expected.
The imitated call of the bird from his friend was well received and “almost immediately the bonfires of the camp of the Ycomiabas* began to revive while the dull throb of drums could be heard”(107). They could also detect the songs of flutes. The women began coming out the forest toward the banks of the river to greet the suitors who had arrived at the same time.
Prado and his group held back, preparing the gifts they had brought for the women to present the next day. Luckily, Yauaperi spoke the dialect of the women and could serve as interpreter for Prado.
In the morning Prado decides to do reconnaissance as well as try to impress the women by flying over the area in the small plane, thinking their chances of reception would be increased if that worked. From the air he is able to see a large village in the forest with 3 paths leading toward a lake surrounded by imposing mountains, the Yacura, the Lake of the Mirror of the Moon. He realizes he is indeed at the actual location of the legendary Icamiabas.
Impressed by the large and neatly organized settlement, he circles in the air again, and this time identifies 6 paths from the lake leading to six separate villages which form a neat geometric design with cultivated land between them full of bananas, manioc, maize and other neatly cared for crops.
The women wave to the plane from the ground, welcoming them. Prado is dropped off by the driver of the plane and some of the women come to greet him, then lead him toward one of the villages. He describes some as having lots of hair all over their bodies and others having none, some tattooed, some not, all possessing a long, quite lovely, head of hair and all also wearing fringes. They march him, almost as in formation up into the large village. He notices there are no children present. Reaching a clearing in front of a large residence, they stop in front of “three women of commanding stature, in a waiting attitude”(112).
Prado is then handed a gourd full of a drink which he assumes it must be proper for him to consume all of at once. So he does and becomes very ill. The next day, once recovered, he learns that he drank all of the aphrodisiac they had prepared for the suitors. He was meant to take but one sip. After getting over his embarrassment and making it clear he and his group did not come as suitors, they are invited into the compound as guests.
In the village, Prado meets a descendent of the infamous Queen Canory whom the conquistadors reported on, who invites him to accompany her on an alligator hunt. The Icamiabas hunt with a “fisga,” a hinged harpoon with a short handle, very skillfully. He also witnesses three young women succeed in hunting and killing a jaguar. The women are powerful, confident and composed.
“The elders would not hear of us using our own supplies and produced an abundance of fish, game, fruits, eggs, nuts, flour, pheasants and various drinks. Our life with them was a succession of banquets, the younger women, or girls, carrying out the hunting and foraging expeditions while the older women made the preparations.
The women were always keen to hear of other places and customs. The younger ones were well disciplined and their interest in us never overstepped the bounds of good manners. Not did they resent questions about themselves”(117).
Because he has inquired about the children, one day the Chieftainess takes him ten miles on the lake by canoe to a beach which leads to a village of symmetrical houses in the forest— the village of male children headed up by some of the elders of the Icamiabas. This is where the male children are raised until they are 8 years old. After that they are sent back with suitors once ceremonies are completed. The boys speak of how they are excited to go out into the larger world.
The girls live in a separate village closer to their mothers.
Since the suitors arrived they have camped thirty miles away on the river, resting from their long journey and waiting for the full moon and the ceremony.
Meanwhile, some of the adolescent women are being prepared for the ceremony by the older women. They are tattooed with geometric forms for the event with patterns that Prado notes look similar to designs he has seen elsewhere, including in the area of Lake Titicaca in Peru. He wonders how this remote tribe came to know of these same designs.
The suitors come and begin to perform various dances, including daring acrobatics, to display themselves to the available women. They will feast and remain for a two week period of further ritual which Prado does not feel he should stick around for.
However, he is invited to return to observe their departure. When he does, he witnesses the Icamiabas singing their goodbyes as the men paddle off with some of the boys in canoes.
© Theresa C. Dintino 2023
* many of the words are have slight spelling variations in Prado’s book.
Featured image: subvertivo-lab-q on unsplash
The Lure of the Amazon by Eduardo Barros Prado. London, Souvenir Press, 1959.