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Matt Norman

Making the Marubo Drum


Posted from: Parana
While in the Marubo village we have set up our camp inside a portakabin-style hut that they use as a school. We are of great entertainment to the village and there are always a few Marubo who are happy to sit, chill and smile at us. It’s quite a stinky smelling place, full of hammocks and our eating area. Today Bruce and Philippe will move out and into the longhouse to spend a few nights as guests of a family. Apart from Rob with his asbestos-strength insides, we’ve all been slowly going down with tummy bugs - and the sight of one of us lying on the floor or running for the bushes has not been an uncommon sight. Even Bruce, who never gets ill, is suffering.

Today we set off with a group of Marubo men and young boys for the start of what should be a fascinating two-day event that will end in a rather special tickling ceremony. It's a short walk to the river and then into two rickety canoes for the short journey to the other side of the bank followed by a 10-minute walk into the jungle. Here a young man has already selected a suitable large tree and has started chopping it down with an axe. The aim is to make a very special ceremonial drum. With a mix of wanting to have Bruce involved, and the Marubo humour of sitting back and watching the new guy do all of the work, they hand Bruce the axe and say that it is his honour to chop the tree down.

Bruce is left to chop down a tree
Bruce is left to chop down a tree

After 40 minutes of sweat and chopping, the tree topples to much excitement and the next process begins. For shooting we lock the camera off pointing at the log so that the next stage can be later edited as a series of five-second shots dissolved next to one another to demonstrate the long process. First a narrow 40 x 10cm section is hollowed out from the centre of the entire length using axes and a sharp hard wood stick. Part of the way through it starts to rain so in seconds a shelter is made with huge palm leaves. Once the storm passes the work continues with a tag system taking place between the men. Several young boys play nearby while the older ones collect vines and start to strip them down lengthways, making rope. The drum is hit with sticks but needs more work.

As we wait and film this slow process we are munched on by the mozzies that engulf us. The Marubo walk around wearing practically nothing and are untouched, yet any pale foreign skin is instantly attacked by biting insects. Pete has made a bad call of wearing shorts, sandals and a t-shirt and is itching and hopping like crazy. While waiting, Bruce and the rest of the crew are painted with the traditional red paint and given hats made out of vines.

Matt paints a pretty picture
Matt paints a pretty picture

Keen not to leave me out (as I’m filming), a young man paints my arms as I’m shooting and then asks me to stop to have my face painted like the others. He uses a small fine stick which he dips into the shell of a tree fruit. As he pulls the stick out it’s covered in the red sticky colouring and he then uses this stick to draw the lines and patterns on my face. It was very relaxing to have this done as he went precisely about the process of dipping-drawing-dipping until he was happy with the geometric design. The oldest man called it a day and, wearing their hats which made them look like birds, the men formed a line and proceeded to skip back through the forest making high-pitched bird calls as they did so.

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