In 1918 Rafael Karsten, the earliest professional ethnographer to work among the Shuar wrote about the difficulty of translating Shuar women’s songs to birds:


“I was confronted with one of my most difficult tasks in trying to write down these songs....  To note down songs of this kind, it is first  and foremost necessary to know the language of the Indians perfectly.  But besides this, the Jibaro women in their poetry frequently contract words and phrases so as to make them almost unintelligible, especially since they are able to recite the verses only singing, which makes the pronunciation of the words still more indistinct.  If afterwords I mentioned sundry words to them the meaning of which I had not been able to catch, the woman in most cases could not explain it to me, however correctly I might pronounce it.


The words and the melody which accompanies them is to the Indian one and the same thing.  Both spontaneously proceed from the same sentiment and cannot be separated. ....this connection in so intimate that the whole song would fail of its effect unless it were recited in the right tune.  The very rhythm is supposed to possess some mysterious effect which is regarded as being almost as important as the power inherent in the words.  The weight which the Indians attach to the musical side of their poetry from this point of view is intelligible, but at the same time it makes us understand how essentially the latter, precisely on account of its practical aim, differs from the poetry of civilized peoples.  Head-Hunters 496.