Ethan Nahté works for a
conservation organization and has also worked with
animals for many years.
You can contact Ethan at
in the Amazon jungle among the members of
the Juma tribe, the fierce people,
the truth behind the legend of the Vampire bat.
Marima and Aroka had just killed the yaguara
which had been attacking their tribe along the
Igarapé do Mucuim. The Mucuim River snaked its way
through the heart of the Amazon Jungle, just west of the
The boys, both in their teens, were bleeding the
spotted beast before tying it to a nearby piece of
mahogany to transport back to their village. They were
of the Juma tribe, the “fierce” people, a tribe
numbering less than one hundred in the mid-twentieth
As Aroka slit the cat’s throat, the blood spurting
out across his hands, Marima asked, “Do you know the
story of the bloodsucking monkeys?”
Aroka looked up and shook his head. Although the
old men told stories around the nightly fires, sometimes
a story would be told within a hut and not to the entire
tribe for many generations, risking becoming lost to
time, like the Juma themselves.
Aroka was the last male in his hut. His father died
from disease after contact with explorers. It was the
last time his tribe had seen white men before they
disappeared even deeper into the forest. That was years
ago when Aroka was the size of a spider monkey.
His grandfather had died a couple of years later
while hunting caitetu munde, the giant peccary.
He killed the peccary, but not before he slipped in the
mud while throwing his spear, the hog goring him before
he succumbed. The meat was cooked at the funeral feast
in honor of his grandfather.
Marima continued as he lashed flexible vines and
reeds about the mahogany, “My father tells me this story
comes down to him from many grandfathers back. He says
that before white explorers crossed the great water and
invaded our lands, taking our gold, rubber, cashews and
parrots, all the people of the Amazon feared a certain
breed of monkey.”
“Which monkey?” Aroka asked.
“That has been forgotten, for the monkey no longer
exists. It would attack people, landing upon them and
biting their throat, killing the person but never eating
them, only sucking their blood. Because people feared
these monkeys, no one killed them for food… only for
“But when the Europeans arrived, wearing their
metal clothing, they were safe from attack. With their
sticks of thunder they killed all the bloodsucking
monkeys, but not before a monkey infected another.”
Aroka’s eyes widened in surprise. He asked, “Do you
mean a person became so cursed?”
“No, because to become one of the accursed, a
victim had to drink from the monkey after the monkey
drank from the victim. No person ever drank.”
“Then what did?” Aroka asked, impatient to learn
“One night while seeking a meal of insects, a bat,
no larger than my thumb, stopped to rest upon a leaf
high in a tree. The bat could sense something moving
nearby. At the last moment the bat dropped from the
leaf, just escaping the vicious strike of a young boa.
He fluttered down, banging his wing against a limb and
landing in a smaller tree.
“The smaller tree was the resting place of
bloodsucking monkeys. The stunned bat had landed on the
shoulder of one such monkey, startling it awake. The
monkey snatched the bat and bit into its back. The bat,
in pain and scared for its life, twisted around and bit
the monkey on the tongue, drawing blood and drinking it
down. The monkey howled and slung the little bat into
the darkness where it bounced against another large leaf
and slid down deep into the Parrot's Beak flower.
“The bat, weak from its injuries, lay there all
night, and for two more days and a night. On the third
night the bat arose, hungry. It scrambled out of the
flower and sought its prey, finding a large bug. But the
bat discovered it wasn't hungry for the meat, it only
wanted the blood. It decided that bugs were not going to
be large enough and it would take too many.”
“So what did it do?” Aroka anxiously asked,
enthralled by the tale of his friend. “Did the bat
“No,” Marima replied. “The bat first went after
monkeys, learning to quietly sneak up on them by landing
then hopping and crawling along a branch. Then they
would make a small cut in an ankle or leg and lap up the
blood. It didn't take much to fill him.
“The problem was that bats are very sociable and
live very close together in their colonies. The blood
curse spread quickly, infecting the other bats in that
colony and soon all of that particular bat became what
is known as a vampire bat. My grandfather says that from
his time around a white explorer he learned that there
are only three species of vampire bats in the world, all
here in South America.”
“So we are in danger?”
“No, Aroka. Once the white settlers brought over
horses and cattle, the bats learned to feed quietly on
these animals. It is rare that they bite a human. And
they never take enough blood to kill. But my grandfather
also said that most of the world is scared of bats,
fearing that they will drink their blood or turn into a
human-like creature and suck their blood. They are
feared because they once protected themselves.”
“That is crazy,” Aroka expressed in disbelief.
“Yes, but they make stories of it to scare people.
The people of the rainforest know it is a myth. As long
as we don't eat or harm the bats, we won't become
“I'm just glad there are no more bloodsucking
monkeys,” Aroka said.
Marima laughed while they began tying the legs of
the yaguara to the staff. As they lifted the body
he asked, “Have I told you about the Spirit Cat that
haunts this jungle?”
Aroka shook his head as they moved forward, unaware
of the reddish-yellow eyes watching, hidden in a tree
above as the jungle floor darkened with sunset.