At the beginning of the world by the waters of the Orinoco River there was no day. The people had only wooden torches to light their villages. By the flicker of their fires, neither day nor night truly existed.
In the midst one village lived a chief with two daughters. News came to the chief of a man somewhere who kept the light. The man called to his old daughter and said, “Go and see where this young light keeper is, and ring some light to me.” Then he blew on her face so that the hebus of the bush, water, and sky might leave her safe.
The young woman, wearing her most lovely mauritia apron, packed herself a small sack, and left. Just outside the village she found many roads on which to travel. She didn’t know which one to take. The one she finally chose led her to the house of Deer. He greeted her with his soft eyes and his antlers like fuzzy tree branches above his smooth ears. She stayed with Deer a long time, laughing, talking, and loving with him. When at last she returned to her father, however, she did not have the light.
The father decided to send his younger daughter. “Go and see where the young light keeper is, and bring some light to me.” He blew on her face. ‘I will play my flute for you too” he said.
The young woman combed out her hair and set off. She, too, came to the many roads and could not decide which one to take. But she heard the faint sound of her father’s flute, and a feeling about the roads crept over her. They seemed to have faces, and she chose the one that seemed strong and old. Finally, after much walking, she came to the house of the light keeper.
The light keeper’s face was a young as the road had seemed old. “I have come to meet you,” she said, “and to get from you some light for my father.”
“I have been waiting for you,” the light keeper answered. “Now that you have arrived, come stay with me.”
The young man took up a box, made of tightly woven itiriti leaves that he had at his side. Carefully, so that the dreams inside would not spill out, he opened it. The light colored his sinewy arms brown and his teeth white. It poured a sheen over her black hair and dark eyes.
And so the young woman discovered light. After showing it to her, the young man closed the lid of the itiriti leaf box.
But every day, the light keeper opened the box, so that he and the young woman could enjoy themselves in the light. They laughed and played sweetly as honey wine.
But it happened that one day the young woman remembered she had to return to her father and bring to him what he had sent her to find. The light keeper held the woman close. Then, as a present, he gave her the itiriti box filled with dreams and light. “I want you to take this with you,” he said
The young woman found her father asleep in his hammock. “Father,” she whispered, “the hebus have left me safe, and I have brought you light.”
The chief woke fully and welcomed her. She showed him the light trapped in the leaf box. He hung the box from one of the stilts that held up his house. Its drams drifted out, and rays of the light touched the crinkled water of the Orinoco, the fan-shaped leaves of the ite palm, and the yellow-red fruits of the merey.
Word spread to all the neighboring villages that a family down the river had light. People traveled to see it for themselves inside the house of the chief. They marveled at the light and at the new pictures that came while they slept. The man and his daughters fried fish after shimmering fish for their guests. Even their porch filled with people, until the slim stilts of the house could no longer hold the weight of so many. But since the light’s clarity was so much more agreeable than the fire lit darkness, no one left.
Finally, the chief could not stand so many people. “I am going to end this, he said. “We all want the light, so here it goes.”
With a wonderfully strong toss, he hurled the itiriti box and its light into the sky. The body of the light flew to the East and the box rolled to the West. The body of the light became the sun. And the box, tightly woven of leaves as it was, turned into the moon.
On one side was the sun, and on the other, the moon.
But because the chief’s throw had been so powerful, the sun and the moon moved very rapidly. The day and the night were very short, with sunrise and sunset following quick upon each other.
The chief had an idea. “Bring me,” he said to his younger daughter, “a little turtle.”
The young woman brought a small gray turtle cupped in her hands. The father blew on the turtle and then waited until the sun was just overhead. “Sun! I’m giving you a present! He called out. “Take this turtle to be your friend. She is yours. I give her to you. Wait for her!” Then he took up his flute.
The little turtle journeyed up to the sun, the sweet notes of the flute warbling beneath her. Ad because turtles do not hurry, Sun had to wait a long time for his gift. When Turtle finally reached him, Sun walked very slowly across the sky so that he might keep step with his new companion. Moon ambled across the sky so as not to interrupt the beginning of this new friendship.
And to this day, when Sun gets up in the morning almost always he travels at Turtle’s pace, so that the day lasts just long enough until the night comes to the world by the Orinoco River.