time, night, ritual, mythology, ornaments, Northwest Amazonia, material culture


Based on a survey of published material complemented by original fieldwork, this paper shows that Northwest Amazonian Arawakan, Tukanoan and Makuan stories of the Origin of Night form parts of a single, more inclusive myth about the sequential creation of earth, trees, house-frames, roofing leaves, night, song and dance. Here a box of feather ornaments plays a central role as the container of both roofing leaves and night with leaves as feathers, the ornaments of the house-as-person. When placed on the house-frame as thatch, these ornament-leaves shut out the light causing "night." The feather box, a container of bright yellow feathers that order time, appears in myth as a manifestation of the sun and is paired with the rattle lance, another object with solar and lunar connotations. The lance measures the phases of nocturnal ritual dances by mimicking crickets whose changing noises mark the passage of night. More abstractly, the paper concerns the understanding of time in terms of changes of color and sound in the natural world; how time is given material form in ritual objects; and how the wild time of natural sounds is domesticated and controlled through ritual dances involving feather ornaments and sequences of song and dance.