This week H2 has been running a promotional spot for a rerun of Ancient Aliens (S03E05) in which Giorgio Tsoukalos rhapsodizes about the way an Amazonian cult outfit (below right) looks so much like an "astronaut suit" (below left) that it must be proof that the aliens visited:
I don't see it. There is no oxygen pack, for one thing. Among other things this looks is:
1. A beekeeper.
2. An old-timey scuba-diver.
3. The Venus of Willendorf
Or, you know, anyone who's fat.
This particular straw man (literally, I guess) is the Kayapo tribe's revered and feared shaman Bep Kororot. In The Gold of the Gods (1973), Erich von Daniken made a big (and racist) deal of how the suits worn by the "wild Indians" resembled astronauts' suits even as far back as 1952, "At a time when the clothing and equipment of astronauts was still not familiar to all us Europeans, let along these wild Indians!" (pp.144-146). Von Daniken then quotes the legend of Bep Kororot as told by Joao Americo Peret, who had already expressed sympathy for the ancient astronaut theory before relating the story to von Daniken and therefore had every reason to subtly shade the tale to make it sound as though this were an extraterrestrial being who descended from the sky. This is what Peret said in the 1970s, when talking with von Daniken:
The funny thing, of course, is that old Von Daniken presented this as though it was his own discovery. But this figure was well known to Claude Levi-Strauss, who reported on him in The Raw and the Cooked (1983), using anthropological reports collected years earlier. In standard anthropological reports, Bep Kororoti is correctly identified not as an ancient astronaut but as a human being, a deceased shaman who exercises spiritual power from beyond the grave. It would be a bit difficult for an alien wearing a spacesuit--one who does not breathe oxygen--to have mated with earth women and produced children, as Bep Kororoti did. Surely even the "wild Indians" would have noticed if one of their number were another species and unable to breathe air.
Most importantly, Bep Kororoti is the protector of bees in Kayapo myth. That's the real reason for the suit. As I mentioned above, it looks like a beekeeper's suit because it is: it represents the beekeeping ancestor spirit.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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