Thursday, January 28, 2010

More Matses, Sapo, Spirituality

Okay, so the fellow doing the research that I mentioned in yesterday's post has written back, asking a couple of things. First, he wanted to know which Matses would be best to talk with about the Matses world view. HA! That's a good one: Hunt, eat, sleep.
He also wondered about people utilizing sapo, frog sweat, in England who all discuss spiritual elements related to it that allegedly come from the indigenous.
So, hope I'm not boring you but here are the answers to his questions.

The man to talk with regarding the Matses world view is Pepe, the man who serves the sapo on my trips. Other than that I would have said Pablo, but he recently died. Pablo was brilliant.
As far as Matses heirarchy goes, even headman is only my term. The only word I know that intimates one is "curaca"--a Spanish word or might be general jungle idiom-- since I forget the Matses word for it--which signifies a man with several women, or wives. The man with several wives, the curaca, is always powerful because he's the man who can provide for all his children and wives; in Pablo's case, there were four that I knew and at least one other had died. Pepe has only one. My friend Wilfredo, two. Papa Viejo had six, and Pepe's wife Irene is one of his children. The curaca must be brilliant in the jungle in order to feed so many mouths, and must know medicines to keep his children healthy. So generally the curaka is the village headman, not a result of voting or whatnot, simply because he's got the biggest balls.
Now as to talking with the Matses: it's difficult to get the truth out of them as most have been browbeaten by missionaries and will give you the answer they were taught to give. For instance, missionaries say it's very bad to have more than one wife, so a Matses man will say he has one wife, as a rule, even if he has two or three.
Now, with more government intervention into the Matses lives--like having to vote these days, and having identification cards (except for the few old antiguas still living who are exempted because no one can get them to do anything they don't want to do), each village has an official representative and there are other official positions as well. But those are imposed positions, not traditional ones. So the guy who's an official representative these days may not be the real head guy in the camp at all; he's just the one the Peruvian authorities can most easily deal with. You'll know the curaca when you see him. (Of course, it's really the women who are in charge, but no one will ever admit that to you. A man who has four wives is considered powerful, yes, but he also has four women telling him what to do and how badly he's getting it done.)
That's one problem. The second problem is that you'll be talking with them in Spanish and when they learn spanish they learn concepts that don't exist in Matses. So it's very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Just be aware of that.
As to the've got to remember that prior to my writing about this stuff it was entirely unknown. Other tribes might have used it but there is no record of that happening. My suspicion is that the tribes near the Matses utilized it as well, but when we talk about northeastern Brazil....well, I'm thinking that's more recently introduced. And gringos, who misread 99% of what they see and are told--and I made and make my share of errors on the same count--are likely adding a layer they would like to see there. I can't even imagine what that spirituality would be. Are they saying that they're taking the spirit of the frog into them? If they are, they should probably modify that to say they're taking the spirit of the frog's protective poison into them, not the spirit of the frog, unless they'd say the same about being bitten by a poisonous snake.
On the other hand, if they're really talking about taking it very seriously, and if giving it a claim of spirituality helps them get that across to newcomers, then it's probably a good little invention. Because this is not a substance you should be taking on a whim. It is serious business. Won't kill you because it's all bioactive, but will scare the daylights out of you.
Does that help?

No comments: