In 1918 Rafael Karsten, the earliest professional ethnographer to work among the Shuar discovered what for him was an odd practice: “It is common that at the great feasts the women address their songs to certain beautiful birds of the forest, which are then personified and spoken to.  Among these birds the toucan (tsukanga) the cock-of-the-rock (sumga), the pugi (mashu), and the wild turkey (kuyu) play the principle roles, and the dancing women address them, giving them all sorts of pet names, praising their brilliant plumage, their walk, etc. (335-336).


”At the great feasts,... it is customary, that, after the day’s main ceremonies have taken place, the women appear dancing solo at the drinking bouts, accompanying themselves with chants and songs which are directed to certain animals, especially certain beautiful birds of the forest....   Birds addressed in this way are, for instance, the tucan (Rhamphastus), called tsukanga, the cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola crocea), called sumga, the great wild turkey (Crax elector), called mashu, and the pheasant (Penelope), called kuyu by the Jiibaros. The birds are personified by the dancing woman and spoken to as if they were human beings.  She gives them all sorts of pet names, calling herself the wife, mother, or sister of the particular bird addressed ad praising its brilliant feather dress, its proud walk, etc.  Songs of this category are probably comparatively numerous, but they are very simple and all much of the same kind.” (Head-hunters of Western Amazonas, 497)


“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.