The week before leaving to visit the Apurina Tribe, I heard lots of colorful stories of low hanging snakes in the trees along the unusually high river and creatures crawling through the Indian encampment at night Others told me that I should bring my own food unless I like fresh alligator meat for which this tribe is famous. Even my well seasoned guides were expressing concern about the mosquitoes which we were going to encounter!
So in preparation I bought some knee high rubber boots (I did not want to go barefoot again in the jungle), insect repellent, and I had a mosquito net custom made for my hammock. Also, since I'm not fond of alligator, I bought a few cans of sardines for emergency snacks. To show good will I also bought some coffee, sugar and candy to give as gifts. I wrapped all my equipment in plastic to protect it from water in case anything happened to the canoe and my guides were armed with a shotgun and machetes. To be honest, this missionary was excited about the journey but a little apprehensive of what we were going to encounter!
So after a lot of prayer and drenching myself with repellent I was ready! My guides Ze and Antonio picked me up at the dock in the city. We began our 4 hour journey into the jungle Friday, March 19, 2010! For approximately 1/2 hour we travelled down the very wide Purus River before turning into a very narrow passage called Black Water. As we crossed into the small river the color of the water dramatically changed from milky brown to dark black with a mirror like surface.
At this point I began to see some of the most beautiful views of God's creation that I have ever seen in my life! Everything around me was lush green vegetation with lots of birds and exceptionally large, bright blue butterflies. I was just starting to stretch my legs and relax my tense apprehensive body when our first crisis took place!
If you log on to Google Earth you can see that these waterways wind through the jungle like serpents. If we just followed the river it would take us twice the amount of time and gasoline to get to our destination. So the natives go through what they call "holes" in the rainforest to use as shortcuts. These passages are basically swamps with many low hanging trees and other vegetation. On their first attempt to take a shorcut my guides got stuck in one of these swamps which had no outlet. It was then I found out that it had been years since my 52 year old driver Ze had made this trip, and many of the old holes he knew were now impassible!
As my guides jumped out of the boat to push us out of our situation all I could do was pray and look up to see if I could spot any of those low hanging creatures I heard about before they spotted me. I did see one, very long legged spider (each leg 4-6 inches) slowly crawling up one of the trees next to me. I sensed he did not like our intrusion into his world and I kept my eye on him! After a handful of unsuccessful attempts, my jungle river guides started to catch on as to what a real shortcut looked like. From then on it was smooth sailing. However I still kept looking up spiritually and physically every time we passed through one of those jungle holes!
When we arrived at the Indian camp, we went straight to the hut of the chief of the tribe, Azmar. He had been expecting us as Antonio had communicated with him, via mutual friends, that we were coming. He greeted us very warmly. I found out later that it was "illegal" for us to visit this tribe without first getting permission from Funai, the government agency that controls all the indigenous territories. They have an unofficial policy which is designed to keep missionaries out of these areas so as to "protect" Indian culture and religion. This tribe has not had anyone stay with them since a young lawyer from Sao Paulo visited 4 years ago to find himself and participate in their magic tea ceremonies. To the best of my knowledge I believe I am the first missionary, at least in recent times, to live with this tribe!
Communication was easy since they speak Portuguese! After introducing myself, and cracking a few jokes about the dead end holes, the children of the tribe slowly started to gather around me. I began winning their hearts by giving them some of the candy that I brought. Then I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures of them which made me an instant celebrity. I am not sure that some of them had ever seen pictures of themselves! One after the other they were asking me to take their picturre and show it to them.
Soon I left the men and the hut for a tour of the village with the kids as my guides. They laughed really hard, watching this old white man trying to balance himself crossing a bridge made from a tree. It was there, after they were done laughing at me, that I seized the opportunity to pray with them all to receive Jesus! When I asked them if they wanted to pray, they looked at me with their sweet, big, brown eyes and with smiles on their faces eagerly nodded their heads in agreement! Wow! I was here only a short time and most of the little children of the tribe received the Lord! I was really encouraged!
I spent the rest of the afternoon with the kids, meeting members of the tribe, exploring, videoing and taking pictures. In the evening about 6:00 PM the tribe was getting together for their magic tea (Daime) ceremony. The chief came to me to ask if I wanted to participate. I had already prayed the Lord would give me wisdom as I knew I would be confronted with this situation. I did not want to offend my host but I also didn't want to drink the kool aid so I politely declined the invitation.
Everything worked out very well and I ended up having dinner on the floor, (they don't use tables) with Azmar's wife who stayed back to take care of the kids. After eating I took the opportunity to pray with her to receive the Lord! She is not an Indian. She is a black 29 year old Brazilian. She married the chief when she was 15 and he was about 40. They currently have 5 children.
I found that many of the girls of the tribe marry very early. There was even a 9 year old Apurina Indian who gave birth, according to news articles that I read prior to coming here. At 12 and 13 they are already looking for husbands and age difference doesn't seem to be a factor! Each family lives separately in their own huts with their own kids. They seem to be monogamous as far as I could tell from my short visit.
As it was time to sleep, I set up my hammock and mosquito net on the front porch of the chief's hut in the open air. It is exciting and enchanting to sleep outside in the jungle with all of the sounds of the night in the background. I heard sounds of animals, birds and insects that I have never heard before in my life. I felt like I was transported to another world! Laying there I could imagine what missionaries felt centuries ago as they came to witness to the Indians of the Amazon for the first time!
Though Ze and Antonio were leaving in the morning to go back to Pauini, it was clear to me that my job was not done. As I layed in my hammock and prayed, I made the decision to stay and live with the tribe for at least a week or more, if they would have me. In the morning I asked Azmar if I could stay with them longer. He looked at me and smiled. He said I could stay as long as I didn't mind eating their food. Of course, I said that was no problem.
However I didn't quite realize what he was saying until a few days into my visit. What he meant was the following: Boiled fish with corn meal for breakfast, boiled fish with corn meal for lunch and boiled fish with corn meal for dinner! Ha! I soon discovered that they no longer grow vegetables and they don't have a lot of easily accessible fruit. They have some type of small wild potato occasionally and dig up some other root vegetables like mandioca from time to time. They live with little and sometimes no money so there are no condiments, seasonings, cooking oil etc.
After being there a few days, I explained to the chief that they had a very acidic diet which was not good. I tried to educate him as much as possible about the importance of fruit and vegetables and maintaining the right PH balance in the body. He understood and actually started taking the baking soda that I gave him to relieve the pain and inflamation in his leg. After a few nights he said it really helped and and asked me for more. So I gave him all the baking soda that I had brought with me! I told him I would also try to send him seeds so they could have vegetables to add to their boiled fish broth!
Some of the tribe members hunt and the diet varies a little from hut to hut since each family is pretty much responsible for its own sustenance. It was obvious that some were more industrious than others. I did have a few pieces of wild meat while I was there to accompany my fish and corn meal. I had Tapir, Cotia and Toucan! I am not sure of the translation of Tapir and Cotia and I'm not sure that I want to know! I reluctantly ate the Toucan but I passed on a few other wild birds that I was offered. Almost everything they eat and drink comes from the jungle or the river daily. Besides the fact that this tribe does wear clothes, it would be hard to find too many differences between the way they live and eat today and the way their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.
The next day Azmar and I talked for a long time and in the course of the conversation we talked about Daime. I told him that my Daime was Jesus and that when He came into my heart I went on a permanent trip that has lasted 37 years! He understood and liked the analogy. I took advantage of the moment to ask him if he wanted to pray with me to receive Jesus. At first, in pride, he hesitated and said something to the effect that he was already there. Then I don't remember what I said, but the next thing I recall is that we were praying together for him to receive Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
I also took the opportunity to lay hands on him and pray for his healing concerning some health problems he had told me about. After praying he sat there on the steps of the hut in deep meditation. He then thanked me for coming and praying with him and for him! The next day he gave me a unique and special bracelet he had made from the teeth of animals as a gift and expression of friendship.
Now that I knew the chief was on my side, I started to more openly and boldly go through the camp praying with individuals and small groups to get saved. A group of teenage girls all prayed with me to receive the Lord after taking their pictures. Then a group of young men gathered together at one of the huts listening for a long time as I explained to them what Jesus taught about love and what loving your neighbor as yourself really meant in practical terms. After about 1/2 hour of listening to me they all prayed to receive Jesus also!
This is where I came to know Antonio, a 30 year old half black and half Indian man who started coming to me at least twice a day for Bible classes and spiritual input. He wanted me to teach him everything I knew and kept caliing me doctor and prophet. He loves Bible prophecy and the chapters about the Antichrist! I kept telling him that I didn't think he had to worry too much abou the mark of the beast since the tribe hardly buys or sells anything and that he was in a perfect endtime survival situation already. Ha!
We usually got together every night while the tribe was having their ceremonies since he had stopped taking Daime a few years ago. One of those nights, among other things, he asked me if I could teach how to cast out demons. I told him that the first thing he needed was faith which he needed to pray for and it is not something he can be taught. I prayed with him that night to receive the gifts of the Spirit and that he would find his calling. It was a very special evening!
Antonio is also working on a project carving a canoe out of a tree trunk. I went with him one morning to watch. It was about an hour by foot further into the jungle. It was quite a trek for an old white man with rubber boots, but I made it only falling down and covering myself in mud once! I watched and filmed as he worked. It is amazing to see how he is carving this boat out of a tree trunk with an axe. He uses jungle vines for string and the charcoal of burnt wood for chalk to make plumb lines so he knows where to chop. When I asked him how he measured everything he stretched out the palm of his hand.
Also while I was sitting there in the middle of the jungle watching him, I realized that he was wearing a Detroit Tigers baseball cap! I told him that is the city I am from and the Tigers are a baseball team. He had no idea what the cap represented or even what baseball is. Ha! What a small world!
Concerning the literacy of the tribe there are only 5 members that can read and write and Antonio is one of them. In my discussions with the chief he expressed that this is one his main concerns for his people. We talked about the possibility of using solar powered computers to teach the kids and others. I told him I would think and pray about this idea.
The tribe really lacks education in general. One man asked me if it was true that a man landed on the moon as he didn't believe it! I told him about the space station and he could hardly believe that also. Another young man asked me if the United States was close to Sao Paulo! Not having television in some ways is good, however they are also lacking basic knowledge of curent events and simple geography.
One evening the Daime ceremony took place at the chief's hut right next to my hammock. So without drinking the kool aid I participated. This is when I came to find out that the children also drink the herb. During their time together, which happens every night, they sing and chant about Jesus, Mary and Joseph, say the Our Father and Hail Mary and then drink the tea together, almost like communioin. I observed closely and no one was out of control or unconscious. One of the leaders of the group got a "message" and gave it to one of the older men who was laying on the floor. Other than that, nothing unusual happened. The ceremony finished almost like a Catholic mass where everyone is greeting, blessing and hugging each other. This "religion" seems to be a mixture of Catholisism, spiritism and hippieism!
I inquired a lot about what happens to folks on Daime. I got all kinds of answers as it seems to affect people differently. One man said he almost went crazy as he took too much and has never taken it again. Another said it was like drinking a lot of beer. One woman said her spirit leaves her body and she has astral voyages. Others said they see weird creatures. One man relived his childhood and another said he went to Israel on a spiritual trip!
Besides the spiritual experiences, it is one of my observations that this tribe also uses Daime for entertainment like others use alcohol. When 6:00 PM rolls around, it is like their equivalent of "happy hour." They have no electricity and consequently no television, radio, video games or computers. They have no form of entertainment besides the magic tea. It is free, abundant and gives them some relaxation.
One day a government official showed up to get their water pump working. It was then I found out they had solar energy that powered their water system constructed by the government. Their pumps stopped working about 3 months ago and since then all their and my drinking water has come from the river and they and I have been taking baths in the stream.
By the way, it's a refreshing way to start the day! I learned however to check out my surroundings before jumping in. The first morning I was there, while taking my bath, I heard some noises and could see eyes through the jungle foilage spying on me. It was some of the teen girls taking advantage of the fact that I thought I was alone. It was like a scene out of the movies! Ha!
I talked with the government official whose name is Bezleiro. He is 64 and has been working for Funasa, the government health department, for 42 years. He is in charge of maintaining the water systems for the Indians throughout the region. He had already heard about me as we have mutual friends back in the city. So there was no problem that I was there as far as he was concerned.
While he was working on the pump we had a few moments to talk privately about spiritual things. He said he is a Catholic but is not sure he is going to remain one. He humbly and with conviction prayed with me to receive Jesus into his heart. I also prayed for his healing as he was concerned that he might have pneumonia and was going for tests this week. He is a very kind man who payed for the repairs for the pump out of his own pocket. He said the government doesn't have any money alotted for water pump maintenance and he is not sure he will even get reimbursed!
As I went through the week I prayed with people daily to receive the Lord. With a few exceptions I tried to wait till I was alone with them to do so. By the end of the end week I knew who I still needed to pray with. A couple people were a little aloof and hard to reach. A couple of others I identified as the spiritual leaders of the tribe whose spiritual authority I did not want to immediately challenge until the time was right. They were the ones who led the Daime ceremonies.
The night before I was going to leave I prayed that the Lord would help me to pray with everyone in the tribe before my departure. I got up at daybreak as I knew I had a lot of work to do in very few hours. The first thing that happened was that I met two young men at the stream washing up. They had just arrived the night before. Though one of them had not met me yet and the other was somewhat surprised at my very direct question about receiving Jesus, they both ended up praying with me.
On my way back I went from hut to hut thanking everyone for how well they received me into the tribe. During those visits I prayed with each person that I had not already prayed with to receive Jesus as my parting gift to them. This approach worked very well and included the 2 spiritual leaders of the tribe!
There was only one, very old man who pretended not to hear me when I asked him if he wanted to pray and a handful of others that I was not able to get to. Almost the entire tribe of 40 people prayed with me to receive Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I prayed for the healing of many also.
As most of the tribe was together on Sunday morning for an early ceremony, I took the opportunity to thank them all and publicly prayed for the Lord's blessing and protection on their lives! I arrived back safely to Pauini without incident on Sunday March 28, 2010 after spending 9 fascinating and fruitful days with the Apurina Indians!
PS: You must be wondering why I haven't talked about the snakes and other jungle creatures that I saw and almost stepped on. The reason for that is; I didn't see any! I am sure they were there but as a result of your prayers for my protection they didn't appear! Also repellent during the day and my custom made mosquito net at night protected me from those creatures as well! Thank you for your prayers!
Also as another side note, Amazon weather is some of the best I have experienced in Brazil or anywhere else for that matter. As is the case anywhere in the summer, the days can be sunny and hot but the nights are cool and even sometimes chilly! I had to use a light blanket every night and some evenings I had to even put socks on to keep my feet warm! The thatched roofs also are extremely strong and kept me dry even through some very strong Amazon rain storms!
One more interesting tid bit. As you can see from some of the pictures I was one of the tallest people there! The chief and others are very short, maybe a little more than 4 feet tall. There have not been very many times in my life when I had to look down when talking to people other than small children. It was a nice feeling! Ha!