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Matt Norman

The Beating of the Sacred Drum

Posted from: Parana
Day two of the tickling ceremony and excitement was growing as we followed the group of men down to the riverbank. Bruce was right in among them as they climbed into a canoe. There were already too many people in it but we really wanted this sequence so Pete and I crammed ourselves in and kept filming.

Typical Marubo style, they laughed at the precarious nature of our canoe as it slowly made its way across the river, with the water level just centimetres from the boat’s rim. Making it worse, lots of us were standing up so movement from anyone wobbled down the whole canoe and we all held our breath. I reflected that Rob would be over the moon that we had kept with the action but not too impressed if we had flipped the canoe over and wiped out the HD camera.

Bruce joins in with the Marubo log ceremony
Bruce joins in with the Marubo log ceremony

We all breathed again when we reached the bank. Pete was first off and a combination of wearing flip-flops and feeling ill meant he jumped, landed, slipped and was suddenly face down in the mud. I felt sorry for him but the action carried on right past him and we had no choice but to keep on Bruce’s shoulder and follow the action.

Back in the mozzie-filled jungle the men used long branches to loop rope vines under the heavy log and tied these to a long pole down its length. Then everyone took the strain and tried to lift it but nothing happened. Due to the massive weight more men took the strain and the log was slowly lifted. They then proceeded, with sweat already washing the paint from their faces, to carry it along the twisting jungle path to the riverbank.

Jungle humidity can be a real problem and the camera's eyepiece had steamed up so I tried clearing it but with no luck so resorted to pointing it in the right direction and continuing to shoot. Due to the large weight, the men would stop and rest every five metres or so. Suddenly some of the Marubo women turned up dressed stunningly with hundreds of bright white beads and red paint across their faces in a single striking band at eye level.

Among them was one who stood out being paler and much taller than the rest. It was Laura, who with no choice in the matter, had been adopted by the women, dressed traditionally and was joining in with their side of the occasion today. As quickly as they had arrived the Marubo women, including Laura, had disappeared again.

Finally at the river bank the log was hauled onto the small creaking canoe. Bruce and I were quickly onboard next to it but poor Pete was by now very ill and had disappeared in the bushes. Pete would be able to pick up the next canoe with Rob so with a real momentum our canoe carried on. Safely across and approaching the other bank there were many more men waiting to help carry the drum up the steep hill and back to the longhouse.

Getting up this slope was a slow process and when Pete rejoined us he was almost ghostly white and suffering from a bad tummy. Not the ideal conditions to work in but Pete knew this was a one-off moment so he did his best to keep recording sound while taking rests and from time to time disappearing into the bushes.

Once up the hill the men suddenly found some extra energy and around the corner could be seen approaching a large group of women who were fantastically dressed. Their daughters of all ages had joined them and were equally well turned out with matching beads and face paint. We had been told to expect that traditionally the women would tickle their men folk or others they took a fancy to while they were carrying the log.

The Marubo women
The Marubo women

This did not happen but rather, every time the men rested, the women and young girls would creep up on the panting man from behind and tickle him around the midriff. It was a lovely time for everyone and the Marubo were having such gentle fun. Shooting-wise I was particularly happy with some low hand-held tracking shots in and around the young Marubo girls as they crept up on their dads to tickle them. The camera really felt immersed in their world.

Now nearing the longhouse, a red light was flashing in the eyepiece, warning that the tape had almost run out but changing now could miss the moment the drum enters through the door to its sacred resting place. Rob and I whispered that we would go for it and just keep running as Bruce was right in there sweating and grunting with warriors who were carrying it and, with luck shining our way, we got the shot with five seconds of tape to spare.

Inside the longhouse the bark was stripped off the log. It had been kept on up until now to make carrying easier, as without the bark it was very slippery. Then with one huge effort and lots of shouts it was raised up and hung in two strong vine loops and instantly booming echoes reverberated around the longhouse as the drumming began. The beating of this now sacred drum would carry on way into the early hours of the next morning


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