Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gerobatrachus matercula

The last pure remnants of Uruguay's indigenous Charrua Indians—who were almost completely exterminated by the Spanish and Portuguese prior to the country’s independence—reside, no longer nomadic, on the southeast base of Mount Catedral, the highest of the rather minuscule but lovely Sierra de Carapé range. Of note, aside from their preserved culture, is the remarkable role
the Charrua play in the local ecosystem.

A few knobby green hills lie between their settlement and the small lake called Embalse des Espejos, which is home to El Ébuacató (Gerobatrachus matercula), a species of amphibian unique in all the world. The dominant female (the male being a tiny parasite) is an unsightly creature of up to two feet in length with bubble-shaped eyes at the top of its head, a loose and unwieldy womb-sac on its belly (which can be stretched out to several times its original size), and an abnormally large vulva just above its tail.

The rite of manhood among the Charrua dictates that a boy who has reached his seventeenth year must journey by himself to the edge of the lake and spill his semen, along with a sample of his blood, into the water. The youth is then compelled to live alone in a hut at the edge of the settlement for six months. At the end of this period, he is likely to be visited by a replica of himself—identical in general appearance and fairly accurate even at a closer glance. This doppelganger will by instinct feel a murderous hostility towards the youth, and the two will fight each other to the death. Usually the original boy, being well-trained as a warrior, will prevail, in which case he will eat the brain and heart of his double—an action now thought to be a kind of osmotic process linked to the prodigious lifespans of Charruan males—and its carcass is then tossed back into the lake to be devoured. Should the replica win, as does happen from time to time, it will still die within the space of a week.

But Camilo did not die. A week after he had strangled and partially eaten his father-twin, his screams of bewilderment and incomprehension, coming from the tent where he was bound, had not lost their vigor. The others in the settlement had no idea what to do, for this had never been known to happen. Had they made a mistake? No—this victor was not the boy they had sent off to the lake months before. He had no grasp of any language, did not recognize the woman who claimed him, at first, as her son, and possessed all the telltale signs of one from the lake: the clammy but supple flesh, the segmented bronze eyes, the broad skull, the flat, wide lips, the underdeveloped thumb, and the fondness for water.

A year went by, and he only grew stronger. Being as sharp-witted as the original boy, he caught up quickly in his learning, mastering the local tongue as well as Spanish. He took up carving, and made ingenious masks that he would slip on when he passed by the children who found him frightening. The months passed... and still he did not die.

They never truly accepted him. Some believed he should be slaughtered and thrown back to those who bore him. Word quickly spread to the people at the institute in Montevideo who studied the tribe, and they wasted no time in luring him away to be examined. They kept their findings secret. Camilo, comforted by the mere indifference of those he met in the city, decided to stay there, and study.

Adopting a Spanish name, he gained admission to the Universidad de la República and immersed himself in his education. In this new and stimulating domain, no one feared him: he was Camilo, an Indian with strange eyes, and nothing more. His future, he realized, was his own, and he enjoyed the luxury of indecision that these cloistered years provided.

But by 1992, Camilo des Espejos knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to take over the weekday overnight slot at Montevideo’s leading adult contemporary FM station and sweeten the airwaves with continuous soft hits. For over a decade, Camilo has remained the lite favorites champion of the greater Montevideo area, spinning laid back classics and smooth chart toppers on Radio DeLaLuna (99.44 FM; streaming online at http://www.delaluna.fm/). He’s on Monday thru Thursday 11:30 PM – 4:00 AM. Wednesday is Urban AC Groove night, and check out his special one-hour Friday Magic Countdown at 7:00 PM, where valuable prizes go to anyone who takes the Magic Challenge and correctly names the Hot Tune Half Second song clip. (Just last Friday, Graciela Parrado identified Christina Aguilera's latest and won an iPhone and 140,000 pesos cash!)

Camilo’s known for sustaining the mood with soft rock and less talk. And though he keeps the chatter to a minimum, listeners agree that his charisma shines through. He promises to make your listening experience as smooth as the surface of the lake he was born in all those years ago. Whether you’re working the evening shift, chilling out or drifting off, listen to Camilo and he'll keep you relaxed all night!

— From a Radio FM DeLaLuna press release dated 7/19/07. Translated from the Spanish by Sabiunne Treabill.