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Brazil

Day 2: Demini, Roraima

Michael Palin - BrazilI'm woken by what sounds like torrential rain but is in fact a powerful wind rushing through the thatch roof above me. A voice starts up, loud and clear, not far from me. A man speaks for almost half an hour, as if delivering a sermon. No one reacts and later I can find no one who can tell me what he was talking about. The man who was lying next to me last night has gone and someone else is in his place. I swing myself out of my hammock, take my towel and washbag and walk across the plaza to a stream that runs at the back of the village. No one else is about. I strip off, leave my clothes on a granite boulder and lie flat in the cool, clear, shallow water. Yellow butterflies flutter just above the surface and the tall trees lead my eyes to a distant blue handkerchief of sky.

I'm washed and dressed by the time the first Yanomami come down to the stream. The young men walk with arms folded, and they greet me with an amused smile. Some of them bid me good morning in Portuguese. Back at the maloca the peccary's found its way in again and is being harried by the dogs. It stands its ground: ugly, surly, but impressively unafraid.

The community seems depleted this morning. I'm told that many of the young men and women are out at the gardens some way away. One or two of the older women have begun to prepare their staple diet. Manioc, or cassava, is one of the oldest cultivated foods known to man but it requires careful preparation as it contains toxic elements. Rendering it safely edible is a laborious and time-consuming process involving peeling, grating, grinding and boiling. When the manioc pulp is ready it's rolled into thin white discs which are thrown up onto the thatched roof to dry.

I'm struck by how well the maloca seems to work. Everything they have is potentially shared. There are no walls behind which things can be hoarded unnoticed. The bond between mothers and children seems particularly strong. Small babies spend most of their time in flesh-to-flesh contact with their mothers and I have hardly heard any of the crying or scolding that we in our enlightened world might take for granted.
There are elders but no bosses in the maloca. Davi, who is their shaman and the spokesman for many Indian tribes, is a man of dignity and a very clear sense of what the future holds. He wears a fine feather headdress for our interview, which begins inauspiciously.

'Davi,' I ask, 'You live here in one of the most remote parts of the world...'

The remainder of my question is drowned out by the sound of an aircraft coming low over the trees. Much laughter. Start again.

'Davi, being so cut off from the rest of the world, do you...'

'Sorry, we'll have to stop,' says Seb, our sound man. He motions upwards. 'Another plane.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 2: Demini, Roraima
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Demini, Roraima
  • Book page no: 25

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