Ceremony

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While we wait for the ceremonies to begin, we spend the early afternoon playing Frisbee with the boys (it so happens that our SketchUp colleague Catherine Moats from Boulder is a pro at Ultimate Frisbee) and practicing our archery skills with some older Surui (team member Sean Askay is a former archery instructor). Next we participate in a ceremony during which we get our arms, backs and torsos decorated with elaborate patterns of blue-black dots and lines in preparation for the evening's celebration. We're told that the ink, made from a fruit called the jenipapo, usually fades in a month - but can last longer if you're a jealous person.

This is not trivial, by the way; we're led to understand that it is very important to our Surui hosts that we wear the tattoos with pride. In many parts of Brazil this indigenous body artwork is considered dirty and ugly. Once emblazoned, we will notice, when out to dinner in the evenings in Cacoal, that our Surui tattooing attracts lots of negative attention from people involved with extractive industries like logging and mining. To their city neighbors, the Surui and their devotion to the land stand in the way of progress.

Which is kind of ironic, because the Surui themselves have already changed more than anyone. Lapetanha is hardly a Stone Age village. Some of the Surui have running water and electricity and, in Almir's house, there's a satellite dish and one very popular PlayStation. If anything, they're in danger of losing too much of their native culture; the tribal celebrations in which we're participating are mere echoes of a cultural inheritance they've been slowly losing ever since a "major missionary influence" began in recent years (Chief Almir's father, Maribop, was literally teaching some of his people how to do the ceremonial dance the day before we got there). One of the goals for both GEO and ACT Brazil is to help the tribe retain their cultural history. The maloca in which we're about to spend the night is a type the Surui are learning to build anew. These rituals that we're joining today are ones that they are re-learning to honor.

When the sun has dropped beneath the treeline and as the moon has risen, the Surui invite us to a glade just outside the village, where we stand as they march past in all their tribal finery. We follow the parade to the center of the village, and as a giant flock of scarlet macaws screech overhead, we all join in a celebratory dance. Finally, one by one we're approached by Almir, holding a large bowl filled with a fermented cassava drink. One swallow, and each of us becomes an honorary member of the Surui. We do, and we are.

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