tube as concept, synaesthesia, Northwest Amazonian mythology, models of the body, Yuruparí, Galen, music, Monteverdi, hair


The tube, as both object and concept, has cropped up from time to time in the ethnography of lowland South America, most notably in Rivière and Lévi-Strauss’s discussions of blowpipes, hair tubes and pottery and in Hill and Wright's writings on Yuruparí flutes and trumpets. Using data from Northwest Amazonia, this paper first seeks to provide a more rigorous definition of the tube as a concept, exploring its various manifestations and relating these to the body as an image of totalization and detotalization. With reference to myths about creation and Yuruparí, the paper then argues that flows from tubes provide an abstract, generic model of human reproduction, growth and creativity and explores parallels between Amerindian and pre-Enlightenment European ideas of the human body and its fluids. Involving both the visual and acoustic registers, creativity as flow also implies synaesthesia, an issue that figures prominently in Tukanoan myths about yagé where the blood of birth gives rise to undifferentiated speech, music and ornament that are then differentiated as the baby’s body is dismembered. The paper concludes by suggesting that the peculiar emphasis on tubes and synaesthesia in Northwest Amazonian thought may have to do with conceptual issues related to patriliny and exogamy.