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Rob Sullivan

The Last of the Marubo Shaman


Posted from: Parana
We've just spent a week filming with the Marubo people, the most powerful tribe in Vale do Javari, a vast indigenous reserve in the far West of Brazil. We chose the remote village of Parana for our filming, because it's home to a very young and very gifted Shaman called Robson.

As a young child Robson was tormented by vivid nightmares, to the point where he was terrified to go to sleep. He was the star pupil at the local Missionary School at Vida Nova and helped translate the gospels into Marubo. His Christian teachers arranged a place for him at an American university to continue his studies but fate intervened: he became seriously ill and was unable to travel. Instead he returned to the Marubo people, and was healed by the powerful shamans of the Curucao, and it was here that he started to understand the visions that had troubled him since he was a child. He spent four months without eating anything, just drinking Ayahuasca, taking 'Apé' (the ritual tobacco snuff of the Marubo) and learning the sacred pathways around the world of the spirits.

Robson, a highly respected healer and visionary
Marubo shaman Robson

Robson’s individual skills as a Shaman are unique in all of the tribes of Javari: he is a specialist in leading the souls of the dead towards their rightful afterlife destiny. Night after night he lies in his hammock in the doorway of the longhouse and leaves his earthly body to travel through the various layers of the Marubo cosmos in search of lost souls. He is the son of the ancient Anaconda people, and travels down to the depths of the river to commune with the spirits.

Aged just 27, he is widely acknowledged as the most powerful shaman in the valley. He leads his village in all forms of ritual: teaching the ancient Marubo songs and dances to the next generation, and initiating all-night shamanic sessions treating various illnesses with his fellow shamans, using a mixture of herbs, song and the sheer power of belief. As a person he is shy and playful, yet carries an other-worldly presence about him and has an almost messianic status in the village.

But there is also an over-riding feeling of melancholy about him too, as if he is carrying the weight of his people’s problems on his slender shoulders. He says the spirits have told him he is the last of the Marubo shaman and he fears for the future of his people. Despite being the strongest group in the region, the Marubo face an uncertain path ahead as their culture collides with the outside world. Beset by diseases introduced by the white man, his people are slowly dying. Despite their fierce pride and sense of identity he knows they will struggle to survive.

It was an extraordinary week for us spending time in his company, and watching him tremor and chant as he moved into trance. He embraced us warmly as we left and is keen for the world to hear his message, but through all his dances and songs the sadness never quite leaves his eyes.

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