One day a jabutí went down to the sea to drink. A whale saw him and called out:—"What are you doing, jabutí?" To which the latter responded:
"I am drinking, because I am thirsty."
Then the whale made sport of the tortoise because of his short legs, but the latter replied:—"If my legs are short, I am stronger than you, and can pull you on shore."
The whale laughed, and said:—"Let me see you do it!"
"Well," said the jabutí, "just wait until I go into the forest and pull a sipó!"
Away went the tortoise into the forest, and there he encountered a tapir who demanded, "What are you looking after, jabutí?"
"I am looking after a sipó."
"And what are you going to do with the sipó?" asked the tapir.
"I want it to pull you down to the sea."
"Ya!" exclaimed the tapir, surprised, "I'll pull you into the forest, and, what's more, I'll kill you; but never mind, let's try who may be the stronger! Go get your sipó!" The tortoise went off, and presently came back with a very long sipó, one end of which he tied around the body of the tapir.
"Now," said the jabutí, "wait here until I go down to the sea. When I shake the sipó, run with all your might into the forest." Having attached one end to the tapir, he dragged the other down to the sea, and fastened it to the tail of the whale. This accomplished, he said, "I will go up into the forest, and when I shake the sipó, pull as hard as you can, for I am going to draw you on shore."
The jabuti then went into the wood, midway between the whale and the tapir, shook the sipó, and awaited the result. First the whale, swimming vigorously, dragged the tapir backward to the sea, but the latter, resisting with all his might, finally gained a firm foothold, and began to get the better of the whale, drawing him in toward the shore. Then the whale made another effort, and, in this manner, they kept tugging against one another, each thinking the tortoise at the other end of the sipó, until at last, both gave up the struggle from sheer exhaustion.
The tortoise went down to the shore to see the whale, who said: "Well! you are strong, jabutí; I am very tired."
The tortoise then untied the sipó from the whale, and having dipped himself in the water, presented himself to the tapir, who thought the tortoise had been pulling against him in the water.
"Well tapir," said the jabuti, "you see that I am the stronger."
The tortoise then released the tapir, who went off saying:—"It is true, jabuti, you are indeed strong."
In the Lingua Geral, the word I have rendered "whale," is pirá-asú, literally, the big fish, this being the name applied by the Indians to the cetacean which is to them, the fish par excellence. It cannot be the Amazonian dolphin, because this bears the name píra-yauára, or tiger-fish. The word paraná, which I have translated "sea," is applied also to a river. Maciel assured me that the big fish was a "balêa do mar grande"—a whale of the ocean.
Dr. Pimentel has kindly sent me a variant of this myth, which I give in a somewhat condensed form.
A jabutí who had been surrounded by the rise of the river, threw himself into the water to reach terra firma. In the middle of the stream he met the cobra grande, or mythical great serpent. "Adeos, comadre," said the to the snake.
"Adeos, compadre," replied the latter, "where are you going?"
"I am going," said the tortoise, "to cut down a fruit-tree, to get something to eat."
"What? Are you strong enough for that?" asked the cobra astonished.
"Ora! Do you think so little of me as to doubt it? Let us see which is the stronger. But I shall have to be on land, because in the water, I have no strength."
"And I," added the cobra grande, "must remain in the water, for on land I have no strength."
The tortoise begged the cobra to carry him to land. The snake assented, and the jabutí, climbing on his back, was quickly deposited on shore.
The day for the trial was set, and the jabutí went away, intending not to return.
A few days after, a jaguar came across the tortoise, and was about to dash him to pieces against a tree and devour him, but the jabutí did not forget himself, and said to the onça:—"O jaguar, you treat me in this way because I am on land. If I were in the water you would not dare do so."
The jaguar was not very hungry, and being curious as to what the jabutí would do in the water, carried him down to the river and threw him in.
As soon as the cobra grande saw the tortoise, he took him to task for not having kept his appointment. The jabutí excused himself as best he could, and said that he would immediately get a sipó, so that the two might pull, one at one end, the other at the other, to determine which was the stronger. Then, going close in shore, he said to the jaguar:—"Cut a long sipó."
The jaguar did so. Then the jabuti said:—"Give me one end, and when I make a signal, pull with all your might." But the jabutí gave his end of the sipó to the cobra grande, and told him to wait until he had reached the land. The jabutí then gave the signal, and hid himself, and the cobra and jaguar began to tug at the sipó, each thinking the tortoise at the other end.
The jabutí had stipulated that the one who was vanquished in the struggle, should forfeit his life. Both jaguar and cobra soon became fatigued, and abandoning the contest, fled as fast as possible, while the jabutí escaped.
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