Amazonian Kichwa value Erythrina poeppigiana (Kichwa: Chuku Yura) in the Fabaceae family as a tree with great powers of social and sexual attraction.  Many species of birds flock to the tree to feed on its flowers and later on its seeds.  What is striking about the tree’s ability to attract birds is the sheer quantity of the birds, the fact that the birds are of many different species, and the fact that the birds are almost always there when the tree is in bloom.   Runa attribute this power to attract birds to a symbiotic relationship between the chawa mangu oriole and flowering tree itself.   The chuku flowers attract the oriole and the oriole calls attract many other species of birds to the tree.  According to tradition, in beginning times the tree was a man and the oriole was his wife.   The couple had many friends who were attracted to the asua (manioc chicha, sometimes called manioc “beer” by anthropologists) they offered.   The friends and relatives of the couple have now turned into the many species of birds who still drink at the social gatherings put on by the couple.  Instead of chicha they now drink the flowers of the tree.   When the tree blooms, its green leaves drop off so that the bright orange of the flowers stand alone.  Because the trees grow along river banks their bright orange color can be seen from far away. Hence the physical beauty of the tree stands out more clearly than that of other trees.  The orange flowers are said to be the headdress or clothes of the chuku spirit man hidden in the tree. The powers of social and sexual attraction once possessed by the dynamic couple now inhere in the tree.  They can be acquired by humans who enter into empathetic union with the tree and his oriole wife by singing songs to the chuku tree and by reflecting on the story of how the chuku was transformed from a human man into the tree in beginning times (click for video of the story).     


Erythrina poeppigiana tree in bloom with oriole nests

Different birds feeding on the flowers of Erythrina poeppigiana.  Drawing by Estela Dagua

Chuku Flowers as the feather headdress (tawasamba) of the tree man.   Drawing by Estela Dagua.