Tribal Odyssey - The Yawalapiti   View more episodes

Aired at 06:00 PM on Sunday, May 09, 2010 (5/9/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:00:32Narrator: It's the first morning after the eclipse, and the cycle of ceremonies continues.
00:00:37A group of musicians awaken the village with their flutes.
00:00:42[ Tribal flutes playing, bells jingling rhythmically ] this is called the tiquara ceremony, where the flutes must pass from house to house throughout the whole morning.
00:00:58Inside the longhouses, young women are being painted up to join the procession.
00:01:07Both mother and daughter want to please the spirits of the eclipse and show them the effort they've made to enchant them.
00:01:18The flute procession continues along the ring of houses, heralding the day of the dances ahead.
00:01:26Grass fibers are tied in a girdle around the girl's waist.
00:01:30A short reed provides the final detail.
00:01:33It's alluring, and it shows off her feminine beauty.
00:01:43As the flute procession grows, the musicians pick up beautifully adorned women as they move from one house to the next.
00:01:54[ Flutes, bells continue ] the women of the tiquara stand with their backs to the flutes.
00:02:07They're not supposed to look at the musicians till they join them.
00:02:23Around midday, the villagers begin the long and exuberant process of body decoration.
00:02:30[ Speaking native language ] the first layer of body paint is a shiny oil.
00:02:44This works as a base layer that will prevent the colorful paint from rubbing off in the heat of the dance.
00:02:55These paintings are often of butterflies, but they also paint snakes, jaguars, or any colorful combination that appeals to the artist.
00:03:06The tools of the trade are nothing more than a red dye " the seeds of the plant form an oily paste, leaving their hands smeared in a vivid, natural paint.
00:03:23[ All cheering ] once the painting is over, the leaders call to let the village know that the rehearsals for the next eclipse ceremony are ready to begin.
00:03:36[ Cheering continues ] [ all cheering ] the yawalapiti rehearse all the dances, which gives everyone a chance to warm up and remember their moves.
00:04:04The dance is called the topinawana.
00:04:10By late afternoon, it's in full swing.
00:04:14[ Drumming rhythmically ] the drummer and singer keep time, which the dancers follow with their steps.
00:04:26If the rhythm speeds up, the dancers must speed up, too.
00:04:33The women hold on to the men to keep time.
00:04:36So long as they know the moves of the dance, any woman can dance with any man.
00:04:45The whole dance tells a mythical story about spirits of the water world.
00:04:50The movements of the dance,especially the swinging of arms, symbolize fish swimming in water.
00:05:05[ Cheering continues ] as the dance continues in the center of the village, chief aritana watches eagerly.
00:05:15Close-by is the shaman, irah, ever watchful.
00:05:23The day draws to a close.
00:05:25Aritana is pleased that the dance has gone well.
00:05:29This means that the cycle of ceremonies can continue tomorrow.
00:05:34So long as the spirits are happy, he has nothing to fear.
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00:09:41Narrator: Dawn on the second day after the eclipse.
00:09:46Even with the ceremonies in full swing, the tribes still need to catch food.
00:09:52[ Animal chittering ] two elders, hanaco and ualupay, have gone spearfishing.
00:09:57Fishing is central to the yawalapiti way of life and the main occupation of the men.
00:10:08From an early age, they're taught how to use fish traps, poison plants, and bows to hunt fish.
00:10:18The arrows are made specially to catch fish.
00:10:22The two prongs have a higher chance of hitting the slippery flesh than a single point.
00:10:28The rest is down to skill and accuracy.
00:10:33The hunter must not only be able to spot the fish through the water's glare, but aim through the surface which distorts the true position of the fish.
00:10:48Hanaco makes a strike.
00:10:52The arrow stays in the fish,which allows him to retrieve it.
00:11:03It's a perfect shot.
00:11:07Back at the village, the wrestling training commences.
00:11:11The young wrestlers head for a central space in front of the men's hut.
00:11:17Just because it's a practice match doesn't mean that it's not a very real contest.
00:11:24Wrestling here is often known as "huka-huka" after the taunting sounds they make.
00:11:30These mimic the roar of a jaguar and are intended to frighten and intimidate.
00:11:38Winning is straightforward -- just throw your opponent on his back.
00:11:47Each match usually has two or three rounds and lasts from a few seconds to quarter of an hour.
00:11:54[ Both grunting ] here, tumen is playing another strong and experienced player.
00:12:02He knows the champion's tricks and resists his onslaughts.
00:12:19Eventually tumen accepts that the contest is a draw.
00:12:24Winning will have to wait for another time.
00:12:33While the men train for the afternoon's exchange ceremony, the women stay inside the longhouses.
00:12:40Longhouses are made from wood and grass thatch.
00:12:45Larger than a passenger jet, the houses take up to a year to build.
00:12:52Up to 40 people live in each one of these huts.
00:12:57Husbands, wives, children, and grandparents all share the same space.
00:13:05[ Speaking native language ] the threatening presence of a storm has brought an end to the wrestling training.
00:13:32Still in the wake of the eclipse, a powerful rainstorm driving through their village could be seen as a sign that the spirits are not happy.
00:13:47Only tumen, the champion wrestler, braves the oncoming storm.
00:13:54It's brought the cycle of ceremonies to a watery standstill.
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00:17:54Narrator: It's now the third day after the eclipse, and problems are mounting.
00:17:59The eclipse ceremonies have been brought to a standstill by bad weather, and now the villagers are complaining of headaches and nightmares.
00:18:08These are all the concerns and worries for on-- chief aritana.
00:18:15Aritana knows what's happening to his people's morale.
00:18:19He's heard the rumors.
00:18:21One of the young men in the village suffered from nightmares during the night and is blaming the presence of a bad spirit.
00:18:30Tatao is the chief's nephew, and he's decided to performa painful bloodletting ceremony.
00:18:37Bloodletting is practiced by all the xingu indians, a ritual that dates back centuries.
00:18:45The scratching implement is made from sharp fish teeth.
00:18:57Tatao's wife, arica, has also chosen to perform the healing rite.
00:19:03It's exactly the same for women.
00:19:06They also endure the scratching with no show of pain or suffering.
00:19:25Aritana knows that there's also a second problem brewing, this time with his other nephew, the shaman.
00:19:34Irah is distrusted by some members of the community.
00:19:39He was brought up in another xingu tribe where he was thrown out because of accusations of sorcery.
00:19:46Now rumors are spreading that, after all, it's not supernatural spirits causing problems, but his use of black magic.
00:19:56Aritana is wary of gossip, and as chief, knows that he mustkeep harmony amongst his people.
00:20:05[ Speaking native language ] aritana knows that once a rumor has started, it will be difficult to hold back.
00:20:35In times of trouble, the chief turns to his gods for guidance.
00:20:41[ Speaking native language ] as the village lingers in the wake of an eclipse and a canceled pequi festival, aritana makes a decision that excites the villagers.
00:21:05They will not only wrestle as planned after the exchange ceremony,but the women will wrestle, too.
00:21:13But, first, it's time for the exchange ceremony.
00:21:18" one-half of the village is pretending to be a neighboring tribe who've come to trade their goods with the yawalapiti.
00:21:32It's a demonstration ceremony, but they're as excited as if it were the real thing since xingu indians love to trade.
00:21:43Aritana uses the occasion to show his support for irah.
00:21:48Perhaps the happy occasion will help to make any rumors of sorcery disappear.
00:21:54[ Speaking native language ] traditionally, exchange ceremonies are a chance for neighboring communities to formally meet, gather news, and resolve any unsettled disputes.
00:22:08Ooluxi exchange ceremonies like this have been taking place for centuries.
00:22:13[ All cheering ] [ speaking native language ] after the exchange ceremony, it's time for the wrestling contest.
00:22:43Although the wrestlers are fighting to keep both their chief and the spirits happy, they're also young men, and as competitive young men, they want to win.
00:22:56[ Speaking native language ] from an early age, all young men are taught basic wrestling skills.
00:23:16It teaches them the discipline and customs of the tribe.
00:23:21Wrestling, they believe, educates them in the ways of life.
00:23:26Losing and winning are momentary states.
00:23:29You will always stand up to fight another day.
00:23:39[ Cheering ] stepping into the ring is also stepping into an ancient lineage of cha every time they wrestle, the xingu tradition lives on another day.
00:24:24[ Grunting ] [ all cheer ] after the break, the women not only show the men how to fight, but they also perform the most beautiful dance of all to bring back the pequi festival.
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00:28:24Narrator: now it's the women's turn.
00:28:30Their participation in the cycle of ceremonies will help chief aritana to keep the eclipse spirits happy.
00:28:40Tican, the organizer of the women's wrestling, is first into the ring.
00:28:46She's playing one of her best friends, but that doesn't make it friendly.
00:28:51They use the same moves and same skills as the male wrestlers.
00:28:55There are no special rules just because they're women.
00:29:05[ All cheer ] arica, from the same household as tican, now enters.
00:29:15Although shy, she's got a reputation for being a formidable wrestler.
00:29:33[ Shouting in native language ] [ all cheer ] [ speaking native language ] central to a woman's role in yawalapiti society is harvesting manioc.
00:30:23The manioc grows in large plantations on the outskirts of the village.
00:30:29The plants quickly grow into tall bushes.
00:30:32It's the roots they're after.
00:30:36Gathering manioc is strenuous work.
00:30:38Without this simple vegetable, the community would starve.
00:30:44[ Speaking native language ] because of their skills in transforming vegetables into bread, women are at the heart of the community's daily survival.
00:31:14If no one brings fish back from the river, at least there will be bread on the plate.
00:31:22Making that bread is a skillful task.
00:31:25The women make it look easy, but only because they've been doing it since childhood.
00:31:35The first stage of bread-making is to scrape the tough outer skin of the manioc.
00:31:41Then the vegetable has to be squashed to a pulp and sit.
00:31:51The vegetable pulp is then washed to drain the natural toxins that would otherwise make a person ill.
00:31:58This, in turn, is squeezed several times till it's purified.
00:32:04The sticky dough is then left in the sun to dry.
00:32:16Dried manioc flour is called "beiju," which is cooked on a wide clay plate over the fire.
00:32:24The gluten in the beiju is sticky enough to hold the bread in one piece.
00:32:39Another preserve of the women is their exquisite body decorations.
00:32:44Like the bread-making, they do this together, usually outside the houses.
00:32:52Solidarity is strong between the women, united by one overriding fact of life -- hard work.
00:33:00[ Speaking native language ] the women usually marry around the age of 16, traditionally to a man chosen by their family.
00:33:27But times are changing.
00:33:30Tican divorced her chosen husband against her parents' wishes and later remarried.
00:33:36[ Speaking native language ] today tican and her friends are preparing for the yamurikuma ceremony.
00:34:09They want to be as beautiful as possible to show the enchantment of the woman's dance.
00:34:16[ Singing in native language ] [ bells jingling rhythmically ] yamurikumas are so special that they're usually performed just once a year.
00:34:31[ Singing continues ] during yamurikumas, women are allowed to don the headdresses usually worn by men.
00:34:48The dazzling colors of the headdresses come from birds, such as the toucan.
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00:37:48Relief and a feeling of contentment descend on the yawalapiti.
00:37:54With the eclipse ceremonies behind them, they can now look forward once again to the pequi festival.
00:38:03The pequi festival is back on the agenda now that the eclipse ceremonies are over.
00:38:13The villagers have gone to the swamp to cut wood for the bird carvings.
00:38:19Traditionally, they use wood from a special tree which only grows in waterlogged soil.
00:38:25All these preparations are to celebrate the pequi tree, which has been important to xingu indians since ancient times.
00:38:34Its fruit provides oil and can be cooked and eaten " back at the village, the birds begin to take shape.
00:38:51Bird carving is a man's job, and each one of them takes great pride in his handiwork.
00:39:05All the carvings depict hummingbirds, the bird which represents the guardian of the pequi tree.
00:39:15Once the carvings are ready, it's time to bring the hummingbirds to life with decoration.
00:39:22The yawalapiti use the juice of a wild fruit called urucum to get the red color.
00:39:37Finally, the hummingbirds are ready.
00:39:42As far as the yawalapiti are concerned, and imbued with the invisible force of the hummingbird spirits.
00:39:52The birds are left in the most sacred space of the village -- in front of the men's hut, where the ancestors are buried.
00:40:02There they'll stand till it's time for the bird ceremony to begin.
00:40:09That night, something unexpected unfolds in the village.
00:40:15There is talk of sorcery.
00:40:21Behind closed doors, villagers are talking about an incident that has just taken place.
00:40:26A woman named karay is suffering in the wake of a severe fit.
00:40:33In a delirious trance, she ran over to irah's house and accused him of witchcraft.
00:40:39Four days earlier, the shaman predicted that something bad would happen, but not even irah could have guessed that it would happen to him.
00:40:51Now the shaman's house stands empty.
00:40:55He's fled yawalapiti in fear of his life.
00:40:59Though it's only an accusation, xingu indians in the past have been known to kill sorcerers.
00:41:07Karay's family have sent a canoe upriver to fetch her father.
00:41:13He's a famous shaman, who they believe can break the spell.
00:41:17Inside the longhouses, the villagers are unsure whether irah is to blame.
00:41:23Either way, xingu indians fear supernatural spirits, but even more, they fear sorcerers.
00:41:33[ Speaking native language ] before dawn, the renowned shaman has already arrived and begun his healing ceremony.
00:41:54First he inhales smoke, which is considered sacred.
00:41:58[ Moaning ] there's no narcotic in the cigar, and the trance is self-induced.
00:42:05This is the gift of a healer -- to be able to quickly slip into another state of consciousness.
00:42:12The healing ritual is, by nature, intense.
00:42:17The medicine man is fighting black magic.
00:42:22[ Woman shouting in native language ] the shaman has now entered the world that only a medicine man sees and understands.
00:42:32He'll see shapes and objects that tell him what's causing his daughter's illness.
00:42:38A piece of string that he's found nearby suddenly becomes a physical representation of the spell that's strangling karay's soul.
00:42:49He cuts through the string, symbolically releasing the spell.
00:42:57Smoke is associated with the spirit world and is a constant part of the healing ritual.
00:43:05Karay now relies on her father to remove the power of the sickness through hands-on contact.
00:43:11[ Chanting in native language ] [ speaking in native language ] word has quickly spread that karay has recovered.
00:43:54The villagers waste no time in getting back to the pequi festival.
00:43:58Even aritana is pleased.
00:44:02They've decided to continue with the alukaka games interrupted four days ago by the eclipse.
00:44:09Starting at the far end of the line, the women try to break off one man at a time.
00:44:16They're allowed to pull, grapple, tickle, thump, pry, and squeeze.
00:44:22This, of course, can be painful for the men, and for those watching, highly amusing.
00:44:34Soon the line will be down to one man -- tumen, the champion wrestler.
00:44:42He must resist all the women together.
00:44:51[ All cheering ] [ cheering ] [ speaking native language ] the alukaka games are now over.
00:45:35They began five days ago before the eclipse interrupted the festive occasion and brought great change to their village.
00:45:42It's been a great pressure on their chief, aritana, who makes sure that even these last moments are followed according to tradition.
00:45:51Having got this close to the climax of the pequi festival, they wouldn't want to anger the eclipse spirits now.
00:45:59The dance of the pequi birds is the grand finale of the festival.
00:46:05Inside the longhouses, the women wait to join the procession.
00:46:09[ All cheering ] [ bells jingling rhythmically ] [ cheering continues ] each longhouse receives the procession, which moves from house to house throughout the afternoon.
00:46:40[ Singing in native language ] visible to all on the tall poles are the sacred hummingbirds.
00:46:51The yawalapiti believe that they have come to life and are carrying the hummingbirds' spirits around the village.
00:47:01Whoo! whoo!
00:47:03Narrator: The bird ceremony lasts many hours.
00:47:07By the end of the afternoon, the hummingbirds will have involved the chief, the villagers, and even some of the children.
00:47:19The ceremony comes to an end where it began -- next to the men's hut, the most sacred place for the yawalapiti.
00:47:37[ Speaking native language ] behind the village, the hummingbirds are quickly carried away by the elders.
00:48:16The yawalapiti believe that just as they brought them to life, so they must be allowed to fly away.
00:48:23The hummingbirds live in the trees and rivers beyond their settlement, whereall the other spirits live, too.
00:48:32There they'll leavethe hummingbird carvings.
00:48:34They hope that the spirits inside them will protect the fruit trees till they call on them once again for next year's pequi festival.
00:48:46[ Mid-tempo tribal flute plays ] Narrator: What happens when a 15-year-old girl has to honor a marriage arrangement made before she was born?
00:49:08[ Singing in native language ] how does a young boy cope with the ordeal of circumcision as he enters manhood?
00:49:17When a community is threatened with witchcraft, how can their ancestors give them protection from sickness and death?
00:49:26This is the story of a family who proudly maintain their traditional beliefs in the hope this will give them health and prosperity in the future.
00:49:41The himba live as their ancestors lived -- the lifestyle of the seminomadic tribe that has endured for thousands of years.
00:49:51Without electricity or running water, they build shelter from sticks and mud.
00:49:59And all of their personal possessions can fit on the back of a donkey.
00:50:05Their wealth, they'll tell you, comes from the beauty of this parched scrubland in a remote corner of namibia and angola in southwest africa.
00:50:18The daily life of the himba centers around family and managing herds of cattle, goats, and sheep.
00:50:26It is a harsh and demanding life.
00:50:29The namib desert, which adjoins this parched scrubland, is one of the driest in the world, and droughts are common.
00:50:37Finding sufficient water and good grazing land is difficult.
00:50:41For the himba, cattle are everything, providing them with both a means of survival and a form of currency, used even when negotiating the price of a bride.
00:50:51It is not just the physical lifethat is demanding of the himba.
00:50:55Their customs can be equally as harsh on their emotional lives.
00:51:01Verera is 15.
00:51:03She's about to marry a man she's never met.
00:51:08She has just been taken away from her family and, for the first time,to her future husband's village, which will be her new home.
00:51:17This is kumaipundo, the man she will marry.
00:51:21He went with his mother to collect her, but now the bride and groom must travel separately.
00:51:26They will not meet until they arrive at his village.
00:51:39The groom's mother, nguro, arranged the marriage.
00:51:42It's through the female side of the family that social bonds and inheritance are determined.
00:51:49His father, kamapia, is head of the family and over the next few weeks will be responsible for performing the wedding rituals.
00:51:58Verera's mother-in-law claimed her while she was still in her mother's womb.
00:52:04[ Speaking native language ] her future husband, kumaipundo, has known about the marriage arrangement all his life.
00:53:26Although they have not met, he has watched verera growing up from a distance.
00:54:13On verera's first night in the village, her future father-in-law rubs her stomach with his family's sacred butter fat to start the process of initiating her into the family.
00:54:30He teaches her about the new taboo she must now observe as she becomes part of her new husband's family.
00:54:50For verera, the observance of a new set of rules marks the end of her old life with her parents and everything she was accustomed to during her childhood.
00:55:02[ Cattle mooing ] [ men shouting in native language ] the next morning, a bull is slaughtered to celebrate the marriage.
00:55:21Wrestling an animal of this size to the ground with bare hands can be dangerous, even for men who have done it many times before.
00:55:29[ Shouting continues ] no part of the animal will be wasted.
00:55:41The skin will be used to make clothing.
00:55:44All the internal organs and offal will be eaten, even the bones.
00:56:04Before the meat is cooked, kamapia has another task to perform as spiritual head of the village.
00:56:17Living in a world full of suspicion and distrust, the himba try to see into the future by reading entrails.
00:56:27Kamapia follows paths of the arteries and identifies local villages and landmarks as if reading a road map.
00:57:00It's bad news for kamapia, who owns a lot of black oxen.
00:57:04He's an important man, and there are rumors that people jealous of his success are using witchcraft against him.
00:57:12But, for the moment,his son's wedding is a priority.
00:57:20Himba women work hard minding stock, collecting firewood, fetching water, and cooking.
00:57:26But it's the men who cook the meat for ritual celebrations.
00:58:05While the groom, kumaipundo, has spent the day in isolation outside, verera has been kept hidden away inside.
00:58:14Finally, she arrives for the first partof her 2-week marriage ceremony.
00:58:18Her bridesmaids are all from her husband's family.
00:58:23While verera will always be a member of her mother's clan and will pass this on to her children, at the same time, she must now become a memb