In the Baniwa Indian community of Itacoatiara-Mirim, in the upper Rio Negro of the Amazon, we did a series of films with small children, documenting their history, myths, and creativity. One of the most interesting films, however, was an unexpected interview with the local shaman, Seu Mário. He explained the philosophy of memory among the Baniwa, which is very different from what we think about memory in the European tradition. Here, it isn't mostly about ideas kept in the mind, but the repetition of actions by a body or a community.
Here is a transcript of the interview:
Entrevista with Mário Joaquim, Baniwa Shaman and Marta da Silva, musician and dancer.
[As children dance in the background.} Tell us what it means for children to be learning Baniwa dance and music.
Mário: It is wonderful to see them present our culture. They show their knowledge and learn culture, just like I learned many years ago from my father. I was 12 when I learned the long japurutu pipe, the cariçu flute. Even when we left the headwaters of the Aiari River and came here, he kept playing. He even played in Manaus, and in Paris, you know?
Marta. We did it when we were a kid, and dancing is the way to learn and never forget. That's why the traditional can't die. We like it you come from outside to join us in the greathouse, because it says the tradition is important, and we keep doing it.
What was it like to learn the dabucuri?
I learned so much as a boy. Back then it was buried music -- I think you call it sacred? Women and girls couldn't see the instruments, nor could a boy without the right blessings. Do the rite, and you could participate. That's what we call culture. What we call education. It's the way to teach not to steal, not to kill. But you, even with this camera, you'll forget what I say, because you don't dance, don't inscribe it in your hearts.
What do you remember of your father's lessons?
Your memory is in your body, not your head. He taught me to wake early to work, and I still wake before the sun. You sleep to much, you forget. You don't go into the field, don't have time to bless. And when I wake early, I remember, and don't lose my thoughts in dreams.
My father taught me to bless. I inscribed it in my heart by doing it, not by repeating the words. If you know how to use it, to do it, you learn. Inscribed on your heart isn't like being written on paper. You learn it and it is always with you. Culture, music, blessings, you remember when your body does it. Remembering is doing the motion again and again, saying the words again and again. But sleep too much and you lose it.
So you remember in your body? Not in your mind?
It's not like you. You inscribe your memory in that camera, you record it. Or on paper. We inscribe on our hearts. People inscribe in their hearts. That's all there is.