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The People of the RiverNature and Identity in Black Amazonia, 1835-1945$
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Oscar de la Torre

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469643243

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469643243.001.0001

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Killing the Big Snake

Killing the Big Snake

Myth and History in the Trombetas River, 1800–1888

(p.32) Chapter Two Killing the Big Snake
The People of the River

Oscar de la Torre

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter takes the story of the Big Snake, a famous oral tradition among maroon descendants in the Trombetas river (called mocambeiros in the region), as a symbol of their relocation to new residential spaces below the waterfalls, where they would fully enjoy their hard-won freedom right after abolition. The chapter places the narrative in conversation with “outside sources that can be checked and certified as independent,” such as police and governmental reports, travel accounts, genealogical trees, and interviews with the mocambeiros. With this I seek to generate a dialogue between narrative and written sources and to dig as deep as possible into its key natural and topological symbols. I considered the tradition of the Big Snake a “hypothesis,” a source that could enter into dialogue with, and even correct, “other perspectives just as much as other perspectives [could] correct” it. The story of the Big Snake also uses the river’s natural geography to sustain an interpretation of the maroons’ origins that emphasized autonomy and community. Finally, it bears witness to the sheer centrality of the natural landscape for the viability of maroon communities in Amazonia.

Keywords:   Mocambos, Trombetas river, marronage, snakes, Amazonian folklore, transition to freedom

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