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Matt Norman

Becoming Marubo


Posted from: Parana
The heat was sweltering and an excitement was building around the village as the men and women had separated into two groups and from a distance were making eyes at one another. The groups were about 100 metres apart with the men standing proudly in a line and the women up a slope huddled together and giggling and pointing at the men. Bruce was stood in the middle of the line of men wearing matching white beads and body paint. Pete and I were filming some shots among the women and they were quite flirty and funny.

Suddenly one of the women stepped forward and skipped the distance between the two groups so we followed her as she then picked a man of her fancy, took his hand and then the two of them skipped hand in hand towards the longhouse. This happened again and again as the remaining men each puffed out their chests in order to not be left last. The women had run out and six men including Bruce were left standing - a bit like the ones left over after picking sides at a school PE session so they shrugged their shoulders with some 'who-cares' male bonding.

Bruce in traditional Marubo dress
Bruce in traditional Marubo dress

Meanwhile back in our ever-stinky base-camp hut Laura was rapidly turning into a paramedic with syringes and epi-pens at the ready in case Bruce had a reaction during the ritual and Bruce had joined her to double check things over by sat phone with the doctor back in the UK.

In the longhouse the atmosphere felt very special as the ritual began with a slow beating drum. The elders sat in a line on the usual log and were side lit by the orange flickering glow of candles. Rob, being in charge, really didn’t want to be the one to have to phone back to the UK saying we had killed Bruce so he was also helping Laura with the med kit and liaising with the doctor in the UK.

The ants, still wriggling like crazy and angry as anything, were collected by Robson the shaman for the ceremony to begin. The first warrior stepped forward out of the shadows and knelt before the chief. He then held out his wrist and the ant being held on the end of the stick was rubbed over the red painted dot on the man's skin. Nothing happened for about 10 seconds and suddenly he yelped loudly and sprang back holding his wrist. Everyone hooted with laughter at this. Even in the most serious of ceremonies the Marubo are hysterical and such fun. Next the warrior held forward his hand and received a sting between each of his five knuckles followed by his ears and forehead.

This carried on as the warriors formed a line and each in turn had their stings. Bruce was reassured that the med kit was ready and joined the line to great anticipation from the Marubo. As Bruce held out his arms the atmosphere was fantastic but the camera battery was getting low. I didn’t have time to change it so had to nervously cross my fingers that it wouldn’t run out during this one-off moment. After a few seconds Bruce was stung but to the crowd's surprise jumped back with a laugh rather than a yelp.

Bruce takes part in the ant ceremony
Bruce takes part in the ant ceremony

This caused quite a stir with half of the warriors discussing that he was maybe the toughest man going and half that he hadn’t been stung properly and should be stung again. The chief inspected Bruce's arms and could see the sting marks so it was announced that Bruce had completed the ritual and was now an honorary Marubu. Pete and I were offered a chance to be stung but we both suddenly looked busy with the excuse that we had more shots to get around the longhouse.

The rest of the evening was finished with more dancing. The Marubo are just so funny. They are a recent amalgamation of tribes set up by one man about one hundred years ago. They are a stunning-looking people but as they lack a long history do not have the amazing old dancing traditions of other tribes. The Marubo men and women dance in separate groups and seem to be the Brazilian equivalent of British Morris dancers with none of the rhythm evident everywhere else in Brazil.

The dancers huddle in a circle before each dance while arguing over which dance moves they will do. Once agreed they will form a line before walking in a circle while dragging their feet and once in a while throw in an odd skip or shuffle. It’s a sort of wedding conga gone wrong. Once finished they form another huddle to dicuss how it went and options for another dance move. This goes on for hours. It’s very funny and they so enjoy it when we join in the dances with them. The best times were when the congas would go from inside to the outside of the longhouse and then around a few times in the moonlight before going back in. Out of all of the journey so far this Marubo village is by far my favourite location as the people are so amazing and lovely. They just are beautiful people and really want us to be part of their family and community while being here.

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