Legends of the Mangyiniki

“It was not always so,” said the Mangyiniki chieftain, his shift from exuberance to solemnity seemingly reflected by the reed god-masks arrayed around the hut.

“Once, we were not warriors. There were devils who walked on the land as scaled beasts, with blood that ran not hot and red, but cold and blue. And they held our ancestors in bondage, working them to the bone for their wicked plans. But the sky-gods saw all, and punished them, and the sky itself fell on them and we escaped. But they linger, even now, in the deep jungles, and make new plans. They come, sometimes, to speak with us, and we have seen their patterned monoliths.”

I shivered in the tropical heat. My host, brightly clad in feathers and warpaint, could not have been more different from the birdlike white-haired nursemaid who once terrified my juvenile mind with her Ullsberger peasant folktales, full of lurking snakes and lizards who stole naughty children to rebuild their ancient dominion of slavery. Yet the chieftain’s tale seemed eerily familiar, a common footprint in the primordial fears of humanity. What horror did our distant ancestors endure that has scarred us so? And did it indelibly mark these reptiles too?