Saturday, 19 January 2008

Around Brazil – Crazy Town Ceremonies

It was only a week or two but the area left on impression on four of us that will last a lifetime. We went to school, we went to church, we went driving, we went camping, and we went out on a boat. If it all sounds like a Surrey Sunday School outing, it was about as far removed from that as possible. We met the family of Uncle Mad, who bizarrely all seemed sane. He´d downsized from living with three women as his wives to just one, but children from these and other women kept appearing at the house. (“Meu filho” Another?)

After the oldest student by decades had taken us to his school to embarrass his English teacher, and for a night of heavy drinking, he drove us around Crazy Town in a friend´s Beetle – to the train station and Wood River, and on to a deserted mansion on the banks where Uncle Mad said a friend of his lived. Nobody answered the gate. We did some off-roading along the historic tracks and stopped to look at some of the rapids that made them necessary. We were joined by three women of various ages who lit candles, chanted a little in some strange language and threw offerings at the water. We stood quietly by and watched candomblé with interest, wondering which orixas were receiving the offers and which were listening. They left food and drink behind, possibly for Iemenjá, the goddess of the sea. Crazy Town is a whole long way from her home, but I guess people have to make do as best they can. Other foods, candles, gifts and incense marked it out as a spiritual spot but not for us. We left the booze behind though, which did show a certain level of respect I thought.

The ceremony had seemed like a lament for some lost loved one. Our first of the day. On the way home we stopped off at the local branch of the Santo Daime Church. They too were holding a ceremony that night to honour their ex-chief who´d died ten years before. We were invited to attend. How could travel-happy gringos refuse an offer to witness such a cultural event?

Especially when it involved ayahuasca. (

The ceremony takes place in an open church, all white except for the chessboard floor. The participants all wore white except for the green sash of the ladies and girls. We sat around the edges of the church while hours of hymns were chanted to the accompaniment of shaking maracas made from latas full of dried peas. This may sound more tedious than any other religious ceremony, but not with the help of ayahuasca. Used by Amazonian Indians in their own shamanic ceremonies, the drink is made from fermented vines and barks which together give it hallucinogenic properties. This and the rhythm of the chants and the beats of the beads help to transform the experience into a riot of colours, geometric shapes and contacts with the spirit world, if that´s your kind of thing.

After a glass of the bitter elixir, I never made it as far as the next dimension. It was too fascinating in my own to leave it, with generations of both sexes from twelve to twelvety taking a full part in the ceremony. They were going through until dawn, including a man who had known Blondie´s father many moons and many miles away. He´d ended up in Crazy Town because of the ceremonies. Or maybe because of ayahuasca. I couldn´t blame him. It nearly convinced me to stay too. We had to be sensible and duck out at half time though. We were heading into the jungle the next day.

No comments: