THE STORY OF THE JANOAI: The Amazon AA Visiting SchoolProfile
by Nacho Marti, AAVS Amazon Director, First Year Studio Master and Technical Studies Tutor
14 August 2018
Mamori Lake, Amazon Rainforest
This is The Story of the Janoai, or Why one should never mix pork and beef in the Amazon rainforest. I have written before about the adventures and memories that I have gathered over 13 years of conducting workshops in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, and I have shared some of these anecdotes, discoveries and magical encounters from the analytical point of view of an architect. Over many years at the AA, I have enjoyed the pleasures of approaching architecture using scientific methods, explaining design decisions rationally and using facts and numbers to justify my views. I have naturally extended this approach to other aspects of my life by trying to rationalise concepts relating to the abstract, the spiritual and the supernatural. However, there is an episode that I experienced at Mamori Lake for which, after many years, I have still not found a logical explanation. It happened eleven years ago, and I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
Amazon Visiting School Directors Nacho Marti and Marko Brajovic cooking in an improvised hut with Jerson in the background. August 2007.
Allow me to take some time to explain the context of this strange event. At that time, electricity had not arrived at Mamori Lake. We were just beginning to run the workshops and were on a very tight budget that did not allow us to employ people to help us with the cooking or cleaning. Together with a partner, I would prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for twelve people during a week while conducting the course, and yes, that included doing the washing up after every meal. To make things more fun, we had no kitchen and we had to cook with a portable gas stove in an improvised hut made with palm leaves. The only tap that we had was outside the kitchen, tied to a tree at a height of 50 centimetres, which meant that we had to break every law of ergonomics to do the washing up. Normally, this was done right after the meal but not after dinner since it was dark and the preferred time for mosquitoes to bite. That meant that all the dirty dishes, pans and pots had to be left in water and washed in the morning before breakfast. I still have vivid memories of the alarm ringing at 6 am, forcing me to wake up and wash up for an hour.
In terms of diet, we were quite limited due to the absence of electricity and hence the absence of a fridge. We had to buy all the food for the week in Manaus, load it on our backs and take it to Mamori Lake by boat. Once in the jungle, we stored the food in a large Styrofoam box filled with ice which worked perfectly until the fourth day, when the ice melted, and all the groceries floated happily and chaotically in the water.
The heat made the food perish more quickly and we had to adjust our diet according to the expiry date of the food. This was especially important when it came to meat and this is how the story unfolds: one day we had to eat canned beef ragu for lunch and pork calabresa stew for dinner, a fatal combination known in Portuguese as misturada, which unfortunately invokes a mythical creature called Janoai.
Amazon Visiting School Director Nacho Marti doing the washing up in Mamori Lake. August 2007
As usual, on the night of the event, we finished dinner and left the pans soaking outside in water. The pans were large and didn’t fit in the plastic basin, so we left them on the floor. Although submerged in water, the leftover calabresa emitted a strong meat smell which, of course, was very tempting to any meat-loving creature of the jungle. After an enjoyable and relaxed talk around the table that extended until late at night, we all went to sleep, some of us to a bedroom and some others to a hammock in the common area. In my case, I slept in a single room whose door kept on opening, so I latched it from the inside every night. Soon after turning the generator off and going to bed, we had the first sighting of the mythical creature.
The two people sleeping on hammocks in the main living area heard noises in the front yard, as if someone was washing up. Knowing that we were all sleeping, and no one was generous enough to do the washing up that late, they got scared and ran for a flashlight to see what was making that noise. When they directed the light at the pans they saw the dark silhouette of a creature larger than a dog with bright red eyes drinking the calabresa-spiced water in the pan. They started shouting, “a jaguar, a jaguar! and came running to my room to kindly share their fears with me. However, since my door was locked, they couldn’t get in. I remember being pretty exhausted that night and indigestion from the calabresa stew along with several caipirinhas had put me to sleep quickly and profoundly. In my dreams, I remember hearing someone knocking on my door insistently while shouting something about a jaguar in the front yard, but they didn’t manage to wake me up.
The heavy meal made me agitated for most of the night, conjuring a very bizarre nightmare. In my dream, I could hear something scratching the wall of the lodge from the outside as if it was trying to climb up my not-jaguar-proof mosquito net window. After attempting to climb up for a bit, the beast managed to jump through the window and attack me in my bed. My reaction was to roll to dodge the animal and as a result I fell loudly onto the wooden floor. Still asleep, I went back to bed. And again, I remember hearing someone banging on my door insistently asking if I was alright, but I couldn’t wake up to reply.
The next morning, the moment I left my room, my partner looked at me with worry and asked if I was alright. He explained how they thought that the animal they saw drinking from the pan had entered my room from the window and attacked me. They heard a loud noise coming from my room soon after seeing the beast and feared for my life. I replied that I had had a very agitated night, dreaming that a jaguar jumped through my window and attacked me. I was not going to eat calabresa stew with caipirinhas ever again.
When our friend and local guide Jerson arrived after breakfast, we all ran to explain to him what had happened. He didn’t hesitate to quickly say that the beast was not a jaguar but a Janoai, a half dog- half duck ferocious mythical creature that is attracted by humans mixing two types of meat. I found that hard to believe and I put my rational mind to work. I thought it was more probable that the creature we saw was the neighbours’ dog, a large rottweiler, or perhaps a capybara. But when I explained my dream to Jerson, his faced changed. He took me outside the house to check the wall of my room and when I saw it, I began to panic. There were long reddish-brown stains under the window that Jerson described as dry blood. He said the blood-covered Janoai had tried to climb my wall and managed to attack me in my dreams. The mosquito net was not broken so the beast had managed to metaphysically jump from the wall into my dream quite skilfully, I have to say. I will never know what the beast drinking from the pan was, what or who stained the wall in red, if the whole thing was a prank by the locals, or if there is indeed this paranormal creature that gracefully jumps from walls into the dreams of people struggling to digest a heavy meal. In any case, I am very grateful to have lived through such an original experience.
I am happy to share this tale and other similar stories this summer with students from around the world in the next edition of the Amazon AA Visiting School. In late August, we will continue to explore tropical architectures that resist and adapt to climate change and we will built a prototype of an experimental floating structure in Mamori Lake. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience and, although we now have a kitchen, a fridge and an amazing cook in Mamori, who knows if we will be visited again by the Janoai.
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