Project status: Completed
Summary of Project
The Foundation’s substantial support for this project has enabled the building of the Shaman’s House, resulting in the teaching of several apprentices. It has also helped to preserve much of snuff-jaguar shaman Mandu da Silva’s knowledge through the publication of FSS Field Associate Robin Wright’s book Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon and through various video and audio recordings. It is our hope that the people will continue to be inspired to restore their shamanic traditions into the future.
Mandu Manuel da Silva’s yearly stipend of $500 as a Foundation Living Treasure of Shamanism will continue throughout his lifetime.
REPORT FROM FSS FIELD ASSOCIATE ROBIN M. WRIGHT (April 19, 2013)
Following years of exchanging ideas with the Baniwa shaman Mandu da Silva, his son Alberto and daughter Ercilia, we developed a project to construct a House of Shamans’ Knowledge, in the Baniwa village of Uapui, tributary of the Aiary River, Northwest Amazon, Brazil. With the assistance of the Foundation, the House was built and inaugurated in 2009. (See the report in the Foundation’s Shamanism Annual, December 2009, Issue 22.) The idea of the House is to serve as a place for instruction of young apprentices, for healing rituals to take place, and for making small gardens of herbal remedies for community use. Baniwa shamanism was, until the House was concretized, on the brink of disappearing since the few remaining shamans were very elderly and weak. Most of the Baniwa, also, are evangelical; consequently, only a few villages still had shamans actively working at the beginning of this century in Brazil. Mandu is the only true “jaguar shaman” (the highest degree) alive and is also the most experienced and respected, having practiced for over 50 years. Even though he is in his 80s now, he continues to treat patients and to instruct young apprentices. For the first few years of its existence, the coordinators of the House of Shamans’ Knowledge at Uapui have produced a short film on the shamans’ training; tape-recorded a great deal of Mandu’s extensive knowledge; and have continued working on finishing the House (internal divisions, store-room for equipment, maintenance of the thatch roof). Mandu’s son-in-law has now assumed coordination of the maintenance of the House, while Ercilia has kept up with her recording of her father’s knowledge. Recently, the apprentices, at my request, produced a series of drawings of the spirit-people, the deities and demiurges in their cosmos.
Current Situation. One important Baniwa community is located in the suburban region of the municipal capitol of the Northwest Amazon (total population of the village is around 35 who live approximately 20 kilometers alongside the only road that leads from the municipal airport to the city, the largest indigenous city in Brazil). The chief of this community, Luis, has recently spearheaded a revitalization movement in his community, on the model of the Shamans’ House of Knowledge in Uapui. Luis’ people built their own House of Knowledge in the style of the ancient longhouses. Once the House was completed, his nephew Moises, a trained filmmaker, produced a 30-minute film on traditional dance-festivals and initiation rites which were re-activated after many decades of not being held. Last year, they decided to bring shamanism back into their lives, and went to Venezuela to invite a shaman relative of theirs to teach a group of apprentices, including Moises, which the shaman agreed to do. They are also keen on filming and documenting the sacred sites in the region, which is very important for the shamans since in many of these places, the deities or groups of spirits reside. Between the House of Shamans Knowledge in Uapui, and the House of Knowledge at the suburban community, the Baniwa are truly strengthening the practice of the shamans, rescuing it from its near-oblivion and establishing its fundamental importance to their culture and religious traditions. This moment, in short, is of major importance for the consolidation of shamanism in Baniwa communities which have for over half-a-century been extremely hesitant to practice given the disapproval of fundamentalist missionaries. Today, the moment is one of a return and a strengthening of one of the most important institutions for their culture.
Living Treasure Mandu da Silva, snuff-jaguar shaman of the Baniwa people of Northwest Amazonia, has requested assistance from the Foundation in order to complete recordings of his knowledge, so that it may be available for future generations of Baniwa shamans. Mandu has been at the heart of the Baniwa Shamanic Revitalization project sponsored by the Foundation. Thanks to the generosity of FSS members and donors, great progress has been made, including the building of the Shaman’s House of Knowledge. (See history below.) Through Dr. Robin Wright, FSS Field Associate and coordinator of the project, Mandu recently reported that the stipend he received from the Brazilian government, for work he did some time ago to maintain an airstrip, was abruptly discontinued. Without the stipend, his living situation has become very difficult, making it hard to continue his work with the ongoing revitalization efforts. He is in his eighties and has been recording, with the aid of his daughter Ercilia, his specialized knowledge as the only remaining snuff-jaguar shaman — in order to preserve it for his apprentices and future Baniwa shamans. Dr. Wright has been translating his recordings to be preserved, too, in the Foundation’s Shamanic Knowledge Conservatory.
Dr. Wright says: “I wish to express my deep gratitude for all the Foundation has been doing to help Mandu, his family, and the recording of the shaman’s knowledge. It is a tribute to Mandu that he has taken very seriously this transmission to the group of young apprentices under his instruction. It is safe to say that there is now no danger that the traditions will be ‘lost’ due to a lack of incentive; concretely, there are at least four shamans who have been instructed sufficiently that they will continue making and reproducing worlds, according to traditions. This is deeply rewarding to all involved.”
Many heartfelt thanks to you all,
Robin M. Wright
Please consider making a donation to support Mandu in his efforts and keep the Baniwa revitalization alive. You may make a one-time donation or a monthly ongoing donation to help Mandu. Any assistance is welcome and will make so much difference to Mandu and his people. Thank you.
The shamanic revitalization of the Baniwa people of Northwest Amazonia continues to progress and needs your continuing support.
The goals of the project, as described in 2009 by Dr. Robin M. Wright, FSS Field Associate, and Alberto and Ercilia, son and daughter of snuff-jaguar shaman Mandu da Silva: 1. The traditions of shamanism and initiation rituals (with their specialized chants), as well as the use of plant medicines will be conserved and revitalized; 2. A greater part of the Baniwa population will become more aware of the value of revitalizing their traditional culture, as well as the value of the books that will be produced collectively for use in schools and courses; and 3. A traditional longhouse will be built, which will serve as a Cultural Center that will contain an organized library of books, tapes, and other audio-visual material that will serve the needs of the schools of the region of the Aiary River.
In 2009, thanks to the generous support of Foundation for Shamanic Studies members and donors, the traditional longhouse was built, called the Shamans’ School of Knowledge (Malikai Dapana), and Mandu gained 15 apprentices, including his grandson Joao Joaquim de Lima da Silva. The young man says that it is important to cultivate the knowledge of his grandfather. “I do not want our culture to die with my grandfather.” See article in Portuguese. (More info below; see the video.)
Much positive publicity was gained for the revitalization, with articles appearing in publications in several languages and on the website. If you google Malikai Dapana, you will find numerous sites with news reports about the House, including one report written by a young Baniwa student who is from an evangelical community that is trying to recover his culture’s traditions (lost after North American evangelical missionaries converted his community and others in the 1960s). Here is a sample article in Portuguese (use Google translate tools for an English translation).
Continuing objectives include:
1. Several printed booklets (20-30 pages each), colorfully illustrated by Baniwa artists, on the shamans’ work, written by Alberto, Ercilia, or other shamans of Mandu’s village of Uapui, such as apprentice Plinio, all of whom are grade school teachers. The booklets will be for use in the grade schools, not just the Shamans’ School, so that the knowledge of the shamans will be a regular part of the educational curricula in Baniwa schools. One, very important booklet will be the “Story of Kuwai.” Since last Spring, Robin and his son, Michael, who is an artist, have been working on a graphic representation of this story, animated with drawings of each episode. A preliminary version of the first episode has been completed, but Michael wants to show what he has done to a young Baniwa artist from Uapui and before making the final version.
2. Editing, and narration of film footage of the following: a. the making of parika (footage already obtained); b. the rites of initiation (footage partially obtained); c. interviews with other shamans of Uapui (Mandu’s brother Mario, Mandu’s son-in-law Jose Felipe, Mandu’s sons Sergio and Alberto), and of the village called Pana-pana. Robin has been invited to participate in an initiation rite this November, which will be filmed by Michael Wright. Robin plans to interview one elderly shaman of Pana-pana, who has a special knowledge and power derived from a sacred stone, called miyake. Robin does not have records of this kind of shamanism, but it is a kind that differs from the usual techniques of extraction. The sacred stone has multiple sides, each of which is supposed to have power to cure a specific sickness.
3. Most critical, finishing the construction of the Shamans’ House, and of a small office inside the House where all of the research material and recording equipment can be safely stored. Robin intends to make copies of all of his transcriptions of tapes of shamans’ cures and orations to be deposited in this library of the House. This material consists of several dozen CDs, over 100 tapes, notebooks of transcriptions, and hundreds of photos. Another copy of all of this material will be deposited in an appropriate institution in the USA.
Your ongoing support is urgently needed to keep this preservation and revitalization project going. Mandu is now in his eighties and it is critical to see that his knowledge is preserved and passed on to his apprentices. Please consider a generous donation to this project. $15,000 would make it possible to create the booklets, obtain more recordings and video to preserve Mandu’s and the local shamans’ knowledge, and complete construction of the Shamans’ House of Knowledge. You may donate easily and securely online. Select the Fund to Save Shamanic Knowledge. Thank you!
BANIWA SHAMANIC REVITALIZATION
The Foundation is pleased to fund a new project, the Baniwa Shamanic Revitalization, involving one of the last jaguar-shamans, “Mandu” Manuel da Silva, of the Baniwa people of the Aiary River, the northwest Amazon, Brazil. Mandu’s correct title is “snuff-jaguar” (dzato dzauika). There are several types of shamans among the Baniwa; the most important and powerful is the “snuff-jaguar,” of which Mandu is the last.
Dr. Robin M. Wright, a professor of Religion and Anthropology, recently appointed as a Foundation Field Associate for the northwest Amazon, brought this important effort to our attention. The Foundation is entirely funding the project, which includes the filming and creation of a documentary record of the last jaguar-shaman’s practice and knowledge; organizing meetings to discuss aspects of indigenous culture and shamanic traditions; and the construction of a shaman’s center, which will serve as a catalyst for activities to strengthen and revitalize indigenous culture of the Baniwa of the Aiary River.
Your contributions to the Foundation make this unique preservation effort possible — please continue reading to see how you can support this inspiring revitalization.
Update September 7, 2009. Dr. Wright has been sending regular updates about the Baniwa Shamanic Revitalization of the Aiary River and the last jaguar-shaman, Living Treasure Mandu Manuel da Silva. Here is his report showing how the support of the Foundation is making a difference and helping to preserve endangered shamanic knowledge:
I have been in touch with Manuel’s family regularly, and I can tell you that (1) they have purchased the video camera and are beginning to tape Manuel’s explanations of shamanism, and his telling his autobiography; (2) Manuel’s son, Alberto, has been busy organizing the meeting of chanters with Manuel, to discuss the future of shamanism among the Baniwa. Alberto would like to hold the meeting within 30 days. At that time, they will also discuss the building of a shamans’ center and curing house. Priority number one is the “Shamans’ House”, or Malirida’pan which is the name of the new shamans’ center constructed by the Baniwa of the Aiary River. In my last telephone conversation with Mandu’s family, they informed me that everyone is now at the Center, filming (with the camera purchased from the funds) the completion and final touches on the house. So, Mandu’s daughter Ercilia learned how to manage the film camera and is putting it to good use. Once the inauguration date is set, I will be going to officially present Mandu with his “Living Treasure” award.
Ercilia has continued to tape and film interviews with her father, recording that precious knowledge which only he knows and which will be a source of great value for all those who wish to become shamans in the future and all those who wish to know of the jaguar-shaman’s understanding of the cosmos and healing.
She has filmed the work that has been done so far in constructing the center, and will be sending me a copy of the film footage, which I will then send to you. According to her, everyone in the village is elated and excited with the new Center, anxious for the Inauguration festival. She stated that Alberto would really like someone from the Foundation to go along with me to the village for the inauguration festival and presentation of the Living Treasure award. She emphasized that it would be very important for someone from the Foundation to be there. Right now, they are planning to have the inauguration on December 24 (I know it’s Christmas Eve – which may or may not have some significance for this event for them). They insisted that I be there too; and while I am a physically handicapped person, with difficulties in mobility, I will certainly make an effort to make the 2 1/2 day trip by motorboat to the village. My son will help me, as will Alberto, to get around, especially in traversing two major waterfalls along the way.
On a more somber note, Mandu and his wife have had a bout with the flu (the swine flu), but it is testament to the efficacy of their practice of fasting, that they have gotten over the worst part of it and are recovering. Unfortunately, a kin of theirs died from this flu.
I must say that this whole project has been and is a very uplifting experience for the people of the village. What is going on is a revitalization – which is what we wanted to achieve in the first place.
Update September 22, 2009. Robin says that the shaman’s house is now finished. “It is huge!” he reports. “It is set off from the rest of the village where the shamans can practice at ease. Perfect location, with a place for patients to sit. It’s like a hospital, but a shaman’s hospital.” There are also five tapes so far of Mandu telling his life story from childhood to adult, as well as a separate tape with the sacred story of how the deities acquired shamans’ powers from the great harpy eagle and from the Tree of Life.
Update November 8, 2009. We are excited to report that the Shamans’ Center, called “Shamans’ House”, or Malirida’pan has been completed and that the inauguration ceremony is planned for December 1. FSS Field Associate Robin Wright will attend and video the festivities, which will also be attended by the President of the Brazilian National Indian Agency. In addition, several shamans from Venezuela will be traveling from their village several days away to attend the ceremony.
Update December 18, 2009: Inauguration of the Shamans’ House of Knowledge
Robin Wright sent this initial report on his attendance at the Inauguration.
Just a note to let you know that I am back from the inauguration and that the initial goals of our project were fully realized. The Shamans’ House of Knowledge is a beautiful construction, marvelous architecture that is like the Baniwa people’s view of the cosmos materialized. They performed dances which I had never seen before – we filmed them all.
Best of all, there is now a large group of apprentices (12) to the two head shamans. This revitalization project can be credited for having been responsible for that. This is not the end of the project by any means, but just the beginning; the Shamans’ House of Knowledge has been inaugurated, and now we need to sustain it.
Mandu was very pleased with the Foundation’s Living Treasure award, as was his family, and the book of shamans’ photos which I had put together in the months before going.
When all is said and done, what we did – and the initiative came from a collaboration spanning three decades – was to stimulate the transmission of shamanic knowledge in light of the serious attrition suffered over the years from the evangelicals, old age, and flagging interest among the younger generation. Whether that will last only the future will tell; it may work out better than some of the “sustainable development” projects in the region which cost enormous amounts of money, but which produce precious little results.
Also, the Baniwa may have their first female shaman, Ercilia, the daughter of Mandu, who got so interested in what her father was taping that she is determined to become one. Nothing in the tradition says that women can’t be shamans.
February 2010 Update
Gathering of the Council. On January 29th, at the Friday evening event before the Council gathering, Dr. Robin W. Wright, Foundation Field Associate, gave a moving presentation about Living Treasure snuff-jaguar shaman “Mandu” Manuel da Silva and the inauguration ceremony for the Shamans’ House of Knowledge. This revitalization was undertaken at the specific invitation of the Baniwa people and Mandu and his family, who wish to preserve and pass on the shamanic knowledge of their people. Dr. Wright has been working with them for years to help them achieve this goal and the Foundation is honored to be able to assist by funding their efforts.
While much was achieved with the completion of the Shamans’ House, including 12 new apprentices for Mandu to teach, one of them his daughter Ercilia, ongoing assistance is needed to continue the revitalization. Mandu and his family are specifically requesting aid for the purchase of a new outboard motor for the boat used by the village. River travel is essential to communication among the various tribes along the river. It is how Mandu’s family contacted the other villages to let them know about the Shamans’ House and the way supplies are obtained. Their old motor is constantly breaking down and is not expected to last much longer.
April 5, 2010. Alberto, Mandu’s son, recently sent out an invitation to Dr. Wright and to the President of the National Indian Foundation, Marcio Meira, to participate in an initiation ceremony to be held in July of this year. The initiation ceremony is the highlight of Baniwa religious traditions and involves the playing of sacred flutes and trumpets; the shamans will be there to perform the all-important pepper-chants which are the most important rites of the ceremony.
The new motor for the village boat is essential to bring the various people together for this. Donations to help them obtain a new motor and for the purchase of fuel, as well as support for the recording and documentation of the initiation and of Mandu’s shamanic knowledge for future generations, are urgently needed now. Please help us by donating to the Fund to Save Shamanic Knowledge to continue this and other projects for another year.
To make a donation to help Mandu and his people:
- Donate easily and securely online at www.shamanism.org.
- Fax or phone in your credit card information, including your name, billing address, and phone number to FSS. Fax: (415) 897-4583; Phone: (415) 897-6416. Be sure to note the amount you wish to donate and that it is to “Save Shamanic Knowledge.” Click here for Printable Donation Form.
- A wire transfer directly to the FSS account is also possible. Contact Noelle at FSS at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- Mail a check made payable to FSS, noting “Save Shamanic Knowledge” on the check. Mail to: FSS, PO Box 1939, Mill Valley, CA 94942. Click here for Printable Donation Form.
Note: The Foundation is a public charitable 501(c)(3) organization and your contributions are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Contributions to the Funds to Save, Study, and Teach Shamanic Knowledge allow us to provide urgent indigenous assistance to the Baniwa and others, as well as to foster the return shamanic healing to contemporary society.