Introduction › Amazon Highway › Almir's Trip › Lapetanha › Ceremony › The Training › The Rain Forest

The Surui village of Lapetanha comprises several acres of concrete huts and thatched longhouses scattered across a shallow slope at the forest's edge. Two dozen Surui, painted and dressed in ceremonial garb, greet us as we arrive. Beneath a small shelter in the village center we enjoy a round of celebratory speeches, the most resonant of which comes from Chief Itabira, the Surui cultural leader. Itabira is a man of the old ways; his grandfather is said to have enjoyed 40 wives and "died of happiness." 14 at first contact, he witnessed the near-extinction of the tribe; when he ponders what has happened to his people, he says, he wants to cry. Years ago he famously brought a bow and arrow to Brasilia to lead the battle for formal acceptance of the Surui's land claims. The agreement he negotiated became the model for 24 other demarcations for indigenous tribes.

Our visit represents the next stage in the Surui struggle to survive in the modern world, and the upcoming ceremonies are a crucial first step in this new relationship. We came here with a "Google agenda" of trainings and laptops and curricula, but Chief Almir had a different priority-launching our partnership in the proper, formal manner. The Surui have been anticipating our arrival for months: preparing the right foods, putting in running water and a shower, spending weeks building a maloca (a traditional longhouse), rehearsing the welcome ceremony. This last serves a crucial dual purpose: it gives the Surui a chance to express their gratitude for our visit, and it gives us a chance to experience Surui culture and adjust our internal clocks to indigenous time (see Rebecca's text box, below).

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