by Marian Leal Ferreira
Tell me about the mirror. We always thought you were different because you never looked in the mirror. My wife always used to say: 'Mariana's house doesn't have a mirror.' Look at yourself in that piece of glass I gave you. Why do you insist on being an Indian? I can't tell you who I am if you don't tell me who you are. Tell me who you are. Look in the mirror and tell me who you are.
I want to listen, but I have to speak. Sabino's words suspend my certainties, consuming mirages of a past I long to keep hidden. Sabino insists on asking me about disentanglements, turning points, historical scars. The cracked, multiple angles of the broken mirror I hold between my fingers tell me nothing about myself. Better still, they say too much.
While visiting the Xingu Indian Park in 1990, where most of the Kayabi population now live, Sabino asked me to write down his life-history so that "the children can read in school [at the Tuiararé village (1)] the history of the Kayabi, and the white men can learn what it means to be Kayabi today." Narrated inninterruptedly for eight days in the Kayabi language, the history was preceded by our conversation about his current status as a uriat. After having his soul abducted by añang , a malignant spirit, Sabino became partially paralyzed, "finally able to rest," in his own words.
His current situation as a uriat conflicts with the signs of disease and disability health professionals in Brasília, the country's capital, had warned me of. He was now, according to them, "severely impaired," a "useless old man" who had recently suffered a stroke. To my surprise, and in response to my concerns about how he felt and managed to get along with his left arm and leg paralyzed, Sabino said he had never been so relaxed and at ease in his whole life.
You also think I am diseased, don't you? Doctors keep telling me how diseased I am, giving me medicine, telling me to exercise. But you just don't understand; you don't understand because you know nothing about me. If you only knew how much I suffered my whole life since my mother's death when I was four years old; my life on the rubber plantations; working for Funai [the National Indian Foundation], or its predecessor, SPI, on attraction fronts and everything else, then you would understand how I feel. Now I can finally rest, look after the Kayabi people in my dreams, talk to them, advise them, tell them stories and sing to them. I don't need to walk or run, do hard work in the gardens, hunt or fish, construct houses or canoes. See the young men working outside? They are almost done building houses for this big village I always dreamed of. Now listen to me, just listen.
Sabino's gaze turns backwards, but there is no return. Spaces void of love and dreams. Promises that never become: the return to a territory the Kayabi abandoned in the late 1950s in exchange for beads, cups of coffee, firearms, and antibiotics (2). The Kayabi geography has been overtaken by añang, malignant spirits that insist on probing into the celestial realm of the cosmos. Añang claim the fame for deeds the Kayabi attribute to Tuiararé, the Creator of mankind. Sabino's eye explores a "no man's land," identifying perverse beings that threaten the Kayabi universe.
The añang are all over the place. They are mean, mean just like the white men that have made our people suffer so much. Actually, I think the añang are white men's spirits since they are the meanest beings. The white men kill us with their firearms and deadly illnesses. The añang kill us with their mamaévévé [magical objects] and their also deadly illnesses. All the same, huh? I saw añang in many different occasions when I worked on rubber plantations, but they were never able to capture my soul. All they did was make me ill, but I soon got better. Only last year was añang able to steal my soul. But luckily I recovered it.
Kidnapped by añang (3), Sabino's soul wanders aimlessly, beyond terrestrial frontiers, into the depths of time and space through the different domains of the Kayabi cosmos. In flight, the uriat communicates with different spirits, animals, animated objects, and people, Kayabi or not. The uriat's extraordinary capacity to communicate with such different beings through songs, discourse or dreams is what grants him so much respect from his own people. This mystical or cosmic voyage is a product of the abduction of his soul. It reveals, in dreams or in trances, his own symbolic death and ressurection. Sabino departs from a more immediate level of reality into a higher state of consciousness. The shaman, in ecstasy, gradually becomes acquainted with the spiritual realm and learns different chants, the core of several Kayabi healing therapies.
In the early 1930s, Sabino and his mother, among other Kayabi born in villages spread along the Teles Pires River, in the state of Mato Grosso, Central-Brazil, moved to the Pedro Dantas Indian Post. This was the first administrative unit set up by the former Indian Protection Service (SPI) to "pacify" the isolated Kayabi. While some groups remained hostile to such civilizing attempts, either attacking "pacifying fronts," missionary posts, rubber camps and prospecting sites, or else moving away from pioneers who had recently reached their territories, others sought employment, health care or refuge at these settlements. Employment, health care and refuge have meant slavery, sickness, and death to several native Brazilian peoples for centuries, as it also did to Sabino and his close kin.
The merchandise brought to the Pedro Dantas Post by Inário [an SPI employee] was contaminated with measles. All the Kayabi fell sick. First, ten of them, and then my mother. None of the white men got sick. The health-aid, Antonio Pretenso [also hired by SPI], did not take good care of us. He administered 'snake medication' [anti-venom serum] to the dying Kayabi, to help kill them faster. As soon as he gave people the shot, they would die. And this is how this guy helped the measles kill the Kayabi people.... In two weeks, 198 people died; only 40 survived.
Sabino and I retreat into dialogue; he asks me how I feel. My tears drop onto the dusted floor of his thatched-roof house, weaving words of dismay and stupefaction through my meaningless scribbles. "You write like a bird swiftly running on a beach," says Matareiyup, the uriat's son. The revealing gesture is yet to come: cracked images of a small round mirror Sabino gracefully places on my lap. "You need a mirror," he tells me once again, after timeless repetitions of a reflectionless stage I went through in the early 1980s. My mirrorless house in the Xingu Indian Park conflicted with the white men's ontology of better knowing the other through its own opaque reflection on a screen. I shiver and close my eyes. So does the shaman, Sabino, the uriat.
In flight, Sabino's body swallows the world. The cosmic journey is one of identification, of naming exquisite beings that inhabit different cosmic realms. By equating añang with colonizers, the causes of evil are sinisterly revealed. Sabino intervenes in a once "supernatural" cosmos, made less super and even less natural by providing its interlocutors with names: governmental pacifying agents, experts in Indian affairs, missionaries, rubber-tappers, gold prospectors, city marshals, health officials, photographers, anthropologists. The so-called modernizers of an "empty space"--Central-Brazil.
A theatrical space is produced. Indians are phantasms that haunt the white men; invisible entities which the colonizer's desire does not want to fix in the picture of a world named "new." The discovery of remote or empty regions of the planet was the founding basis for a perverse geometral relation which pretended to catch, manipulate and capture the phantasms it refused to see in its field of vision. Refused to see because of the very fragmented bodies it made decay, left rotting, moribund states of pitiless anger, the images of death.
Still crying for his mother, Sabino traveled several days by canoe with uncle Kawaip, one of the survivors of the measles epidemic, to meet captain Júlio. Sabino's older brother, Júlio, had remained hostile to the white men's "pacifying" attempts until then. Outraged by the news, Júlio set off with Sabino back to the Indian Post in order to kill the men who had murdered the Kayabi. They were obviously all gone by then and captain Júlio became the leader of the Kayabi who had not succumbed. His commitment to revenge the death of his people was struck short by his own death in the next measles epidemic, five years later. The SPI employees arbitrarily named Sabino the chief of the Indian Post, which had its name changed by the SPI to Bezerra Indian Post after some infamous Indian "pacifier."
I told them I did not want to be the chief, that I was married and had a wife and kids to look after. But they did not care. They told me I would be punished, I would be sent to Campo Grande [now the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul, where the SPI headquarters for the area were located] to work for them, if I didn't accept the position.
The cracked mirror falls from my lap; Sabino opens his eyes. Embarrassed, I sweat profusely. The heat is tremendous. He tells me to go bathe in the Xingu River, and I do. Dripping wet, I make my way back to the low stool he points me to, a headless armadillo hand-carved by Matareiyup. "The Kayabi were once headhunters," he says; "that's what drove white men crazy. Because we chopped off their heads when they tortured, raped and killed us, they thought we were brutes, animals. So they started treating us like animals. They never understood what headhunting was all about." The barbarity of the colonists' own social relations was thus reflected back onto Brazilian Indian policy, but as imputed to the savages or evil figures they wished to colonize.
Juliana, Sabino's wife, hands me an anamorphous object carefully wrapped in cotton fiber. It is a white man's skull. "Here, hold the dead. Does it frighten you?" It is stuffed with light brown hair. I recognize it as my own, the waist-long, braided hair I once cut, back in 1982 or 83, and that vanished misteriously from the basket above the fire-place. "It was once your hair, we needed it badly then for a dance, but now you may have it." No refusal accepted, as it is a gift.
I turn away from the skull, the hair, the woman. "Where are your children? Did they get to use the tupai [sling for carrying children] I taught you to weave?" Juliana insists, while tightly wrapping my knees in cotton. "You always tie them too tight," I reply, but she does not seem to listen. "Tonight we will dance." I am afraid they will then ask me to carry the skull around. I ask Sabino to go on with his narrative, but he asks me instead what I dreamed of at night, what I usually dream about during the day. Swallowed by fright, the sharp edge of the broken mirror I hold tightly onto cuts my thumb; blood taints the bird's tracks on the sand, the bleached piece of paper that holds my nothingness. Where am I in the story I write? How to convey in words my ineffable dreams that I have never told anyone about, that cannot be spoken about?
"I often dream I am falling down, falling from places I want to escape from," I tell the shaman. "Do you feel like going back to São Paulo, abandoning us once more like you did back then? Were you frightened, as you are now?" "Why do you do this to me?" I ask, "Why do you insist?" "Tell me about the mirror," he says, "why you don't like them. I am curious; your house never had a mirror, why is that?"
Caught by Sabino's piercing gaze, I am both fascinated and helpless. No use staring away from the cracked mirror that gives me my double, both the I I try to escape from, and the me I cannot hold within myself. Sabino's glasses reflect my dissociated self; I am deceived by my own reflection, taken into the lure of the shaman's gaze. No use closing my eyes, the gaze is not all about vision, anyway. It is about power and control. The uriat's visions make me give up control of myself, like a knife cutting through my flesh. "Mirrors," I murmur, "mirrors."
Being the chief of the Bezerra Post actually meant supervising the Kayabi who worked for rubber-tappers, attesting to the intimate articulation between the federal government's policy for Indian affairs and the colonizing fronts of Central-Brazil. Besides the machetes, hoes, axes, and scythes Sabino needed to clear trails and paths with on rubber plantations, he was also given fabric for the women whose husbands worked as rubber-gatherers, and a dagger, a rifle and "500 bullets to keep the situation under control." The Kayabi were often sexually abused by non-Indians at the rubber camps, and Sabino was supposed to prevent conflicts between them.
SPI also ordered me to contact those Kayabi that had not been pacified yet, that were still savages. They convinced me by saying that they could all be dying of some sort of disease and we had to protect them. But I guess what they really wanted were more Indians to work on the [rubber] plantations. They knew how hard we worked, and that we also knew our way around pretty well in the jungle. So my first real task was to attract the isolated Kayabi by giving them mirrors, fabric, fishing hooks, machetes and other tools, and promising them that they would soon have much more of whatever they needed or wanted. More and more mirrors were yet to come, see
In flight, the shaman is blinded by the sun reflecting on silver-mirrored surfaces: aluminum-roofed houses, mercury-saturated rivers, metal-glowing airplanes. Further inland, hanging from twisted tropical branches, cheap-framed mirrors, strategically placed by Indian "pacifiers" to unleash the imaginary of the child they want to tame. Zenith of the modern man, mirrors create fictions, produce knowledges. What is the fiction that creates the Indian in the mirror?
"I have always wondered why it is that white men are attracted to mirrors, and why it is that they make us attracted to them. What do you think?" asks Sabino, perceiving my perturbation with the cracked piece of reflecting glass he has given me and that I do not know where to place.
I must give up my fairy tales, hidden secrets I never thought of sharing with anyone. Sabino's speech, as any other, calls for a reply. My silence, tears, sighs, facial expressions and gestures are not enough. The uriat wants me to to ascribe meanings to my self with spoken words, to create something, someone, within a world of words.
My flight is one of marvels, of mirrored images coming to reality in flashes of line and light. Ruby reminiscences of my first encounter in 1978 with a Xavante Indian, Mario Juruna, in the city of Barra do Garças, Central-Brazil. My nineteen years of age seemed to be all of a sudden enveloped by clouds of red dust that tainted altogether bodies, images, and thoughts during the prolonged Central-Brazilian drought season. At the hotel where I was to wait for transportation to the Kuluene Indian Reservation, the manager points to a hammock in the corner of the cafeteria: "no vacancies."
"Who are you?" asks Mario, a Xavante well-known in Brazil during the 1970s for carrying a tape-recorder around to "record the white men's words so that they can't lie all the time." "Mariana." "So you've come," he replies, shaving a scarce beard off his round bold face. Mario turns the mirror he uses towards me, while I stare at the tokens of modernity he has chosen to wear: a digital clock, a silver-coated necklace, and a golden ring. "Did you expect to see me naked?"
"This is you in the mirror, you're another one of them." As I wipe the red dust off my sunburnt face, I see myself in the eyes of the Other. "Your eyes are green, tell me where you come from." No use staring away from my own reflection; the image I do not want to assume is reflected back onto me by Mario's expanding and contracting pupils. The bright sun blinds my field of vision, I am nowhere to be found.
"Is that when you decided to become one of us?" asks Sabino, refering to the transformation that took place in Barra do Garças, when I tried to assume a particular image, that of an Indian. The drama of the mirror stage played out in our first encounter gave rise to a sucession of fantasies that extended far beyond body-images to a form of their totalities. Fantasies of an I that could never be formed in its totality: "you will never be one of us." The knot of imaginary servitude was nevertheless tied bewteen my own Ego and those of the spectators I needed to put on stage. Mirrors, however, put me on stage, fulfilling my first object of desire to be recognized by the other I longed to be.
Back to the rubber-gatherers' main settlement, after "successfully" having "pacified" Kayabi Indians from several different villages along the Teles Pires River, Sabino was told by Akamá, an elderly Kayabi woman who cooked for the men at the camp, that several Kayabi women had been raped during his absence. Ready to kill the aggressors, Sabino was calmed down by his "boss," Antonio Bernardino, who promised to "take care" of it the following day. And so he did.
Bernardino asked me to join the three men that had been found guilty of abusing the women and himself on a small trip in his Toyota truck. We stopped at a clearance where he made the men dig their own graves, and I myself had to guide them to the very edge of the graves only to see them make the sign of the cross, be shot one by one by Bernardino, and fall dead into their tombs.
"Do you believe in God?", asks Sabino's wife, revealing a purple plastic crucifix inside her bra. "This is the God we have been told over and over to believe in." My flight is one of anger, fostered by the pitiless interlocution I have helped to constitute. "Do you believe in God?" she insists.
"You have no God, you have nobody; is that why you want to become one of us?" says Sabino, showing me a picture of the Kayabi gathered around a flag pole on "Independence Day."
"This is your God," says Juliana, "Brazil." Here, you can make a dress out of this for you."
The moth-eaten, foul-smelling yellow and green Brazilian banner she hands me weaves images of a grotesque-utopian banquet for all the world. Well into the 1980s, Federal employees often held banquets in the Xingu Park for "illustrious" visitors of far away lands. Seeking the primordial matrixes of their long forgotten pasts--the evolutionary stance they cannot get rid of--, they feasted on imported wine, grapes, Swiss cheese and caviar, brought in the country's airforce planes for an adventurous day among "savages." (4). The gastronomic ceremony ended with the Indians avidly cleaning up left-overs off their "guests" plates, while panties were distributed to women, sugar-candy to children and soccer T-shirts to men.
"You feed us left-overs," says Juliana, "left-over food, left-over land, left-over clothes, left-over medicine."
"You?" I ask, "why do you include me?"
"Look in the mirror, the mirror."
Tired of working for the SPI who demanded much from the Indians but did not honor their promises of industrialized gifts, in the mid-fifties Sabino was employed by rubber-gatherers themselves as an "inspector." He was told to kill rubber-tappers that did not obey him, in exchange for plenty of clothing, tools, a hammock, blankets and food--powdered milk, rice, beans, tomato paste, pasta, coffee, and sugar. Several years later, in the early 1960s, he declined Prepori Kayabi's invitation to move to the Park. Prepori had recently abandoned his original territory in Northwestern Mato Grosso where the Kayabi were constantly being harassed by incoming settlers, for the "safety" of the Xingu boundaries and the "generosity" of the Villas Boas brothers (5).
Sabino blows the yawacan (jaguar bone whistle) and sings, in trance. "He is calling mamaé to cure you," says Juliana.
"But I am not sick," I reply, "am I?" "You have no God, you told us, where is your aéan, your soul?" asks Juliana. "It is probably wandering up there," the woman replies, pointing to the sky. To my understanding, she was pointing to the domains of death and the beyond, to the unreachable and the intractable I had never dealt with consistently. "Do you ever pray?", she asks.
"I...I...I...." My words are caught in this other scene, one that frightens me to the limits of the impossible. "My legs," I mumble, "my legs are paralyzed, I cannot move."
"Your aéan has been captured, too, Mariana; Añang has gotten to you as well." Matareiyup, Sabino's son, translates the chant:
I see everywhere
Thus I remain
Everything has been tamed
"He is taming the spirits," says Juliana. "He is naming them one by one: Ouacapeun [Black Wood], Yurupininun [Mouth painted with black dots], Aucoun [Black Hair], Uyupchinin [Noisy Arrow], Caawot [Dark Woods].... Hold on to the mirror, don't let go of yourself."
First I will tame them for you
"He is trying to extract the mamaévévé, the magical object that's been causing you harm, from your body."
"My legs," I murmur, "I cannot move my legs."
"Just keep still."
Everything will be all right
'I will cure'
'Don't be afraid
That's what he told me
Hi ê wá wá, hi ê hi ê...Hi ê wá, hi ê wá... Hi ê wá wá, hi ê wá...
Juliana lights a cigar and blows, blows my legs, my hips, my arms, my lifeless limbs. I am no longer in control; my dissociated self ... father ... husband ... children ... fright ... corpses ... body ... hypnosis ... spirits ... blood ... ambitions ... memories, reminiscences. The mirror, where is the mirror?
"Here, this is what was troubling you," says Sabino, handing me the cracked mirror I had been desperately clinging onto.
"If it was troubling me, why do you give it back to me?"
"You've stared through it long enough. Now I can go on."
From 1966 to 1974, Sabino worked for the Villas Boas brothers in the Xingu Indian Park which had been officially created by the Brazilian Government in 1961. He served them as a cook, housekeeper and gardener, worked as a nurse and a "pacifier" in different "wild Indian attraction fronts." In 1968, for example, he was sent, against his will, to "pacify" the Indians that lived in the south of the Park, who were known to be "sorcerers."
I myself was scared to death. Nobody liked being there. The Indians could bewitch my children, and my wife didn't want to go. But Cláudio Villas Boas said the boat was already waiting for me. He kept insisting that I would have plenty of milk there to feed my recently born twins. He was so mad at me that we decided to leave. But it was the same; as we arrived we saw nothing. The Post was a wreck and I was supposed to fix it up and keep the Indians that lived there quiet.
The exquisite sensations I experience hardly allow me to take notes. My whole body shivers, my head spins, and I can barely keep up with the shaman's speech. There are too many questions I want to ask; moments for concluding make me anxious. "Why me?" I ask, "Why the mirror?"
"I have cured you.You are responsible now, you. You have tamed the mirror. Tell your children the history, your own history. Show them the mirror. Do you have mirrors in your house in São Paulo? You should."
Only in his late 40s, when the Villas Boas retired and left the Xingu Park for good, was Sabino able to be with his own family and kin, plant his own gardens, fish and hunt for his wife and kids, gather around the fire at night to sing and tell stories. As a political leader of a faction of the Kayabi population, he was always known for his generosity towards other Xingu peoples as well. When the Panará Indians were brought into the Xingu Park in 1975, for example, and were too weak to work (6), they found food and shelter at Sabino's village. But only at the age of 62, after having his soul abducted, was Sabino finally able to rest.
When I look at my life from above, watching myself go through such hardships and tragedies, I realize why I was constantly mad at the white men, at myself and at my own people. So much anger in our lives, so much suffering. And now that I'm able to look back from above, now that my legs can't take me anywhere and that my arms can't do any work, I feel free. Free to be a real Kayabi, to dream of those bad days that are gone and to think of my son Yawariup as the chief of the Diauarum Indian Post, elected by the Indians. The first elections in the Xingu Park!
Do you know why I insist? I insist because in my flights I cannot dissociate mirrors from my own representations of myself or ourselves; I cannot help associating mirrors with the uniqueness of humanity. Like an evil eye, mirrors unleash the imaginary, thrusting meanings between the movements assumed in the image and the reflected environment. I insist because I have identified myself with ourselves, precipitating the I within the me, through a mirror stage. Not only myself, ourselves. Sabino and Mariana. Both I's as ideations, idolatries, ids, idiosyncrasies-I's disguised as We's in the process of becoming.
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