After leaving the rubber plantation, another 45 minute boat ride took us to a small Indian village. Here, only 5 large families remain; barely clinging to their ancestor’s time honored way of life. No electricity or running water. No electronics or cell phones. No toilets. They use the river as their water source for everything. Their homes have thatched roofs and they sleep in hammocks. They grow some of their own food, and the men hunt in the vast jungle that surrounds them. I mentioned in an earlier post that there used to be over 5 million Amerindians living in the Amazon. Now there are less then 200,000 and their traditional way of life is vaporizing. We felt honored to be here.
Their village is strategically situated on top of a small hill, away for the water’s edge, but with a clear view of the lagoon. In the “old days” spotters climbed the trees with poison arrows dipped in snake venom and stood ready to launch them at enemies and intruders. Some of us, on the cusp of heat stroke, did look delirious and menacing, but no one got shot. Friends were greeted heartily at the shoreline.
We were invited into a large ceremonial tent, and welcomed by the chief. Our guide warned in advance, that we would be invited to participate in the dancing, and to pay close attention to the sequence of steps. To say “no” would be an insult. The look of genuine terror on the faces of the more reticent passengers was priceless. But, there was no place to escape to, except the deep, dark, wilderness. Not an option.
And, it was awesome! Being invited to join in a primal, ancient, ritual. WOW. Even the would be escapees were feverish with joy at the end.
We learned that the younger children are now going to mainstream school in Manaus. A school-boat picks them up for their 2 hour (one way) journey. Our guide said there is no pressure from “modern society” for the kids to go to school. The chief and parents have made this painful decision because the tribe keeps shrinking, and they know it will eventually cease to exist. They want the kids to be prepared to deal with the chaos of the modern world.
There was no chatter in the boat on the way back to Manaus. We were stunned silent.
On our deck, after drinking a gallon of water, we watched the setting sun light up the muddled jumble of ferries in the harbor. They would all leave by late evening, groaning under the weight of people and cargo, and destined for other towns on the river.
We spent the night here, before starting our journey back out towards the Atlantic ocean. In 3 days, over 600 miles away, we will stop in Santarem for the day. Then, another 400 miles will bring us back to the mouth of the river.
Despite being deeply weary after our stimulating day, I had trouble falling asleep. I kept thinking about the few remaining families in the Indian village, and how they keep their ancestors alive through dance. What is it like to sleep in a hammock, in such utter, complete darkness? What does the jungle sound like when the sun goes down? Are they scared of all the things they cannot see? I would be. And, how do the parents feel when they watch the school-boat take their children away from the village for the day? It made me feel so sad. Some say it’s progress. But, is it? Really?
Santarem next, stay tuned…