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Matt Norman

Malaria and Marubo

Posted from: Parana
Today was very eventful. We woke up early at the missionary outpost to find that Alaina, our anthropologist and Marubo expert, who had only joined us the evening before, had developed flu-like symptoms and shivers. As we were at a medical outpost she was able to be immediately tested for malaria and unfortunately tested positive. This result meant that Alaina’s trip was over before it had started as, along with protecting her welfare, the Indigenous Reserve has strict rules for protecting those living there from incoming diseases.

It was obvious that Alaina cares very much for the Marubo people and she was very upset at not being able to come with us. Despite the fact that malaria is already widespread in the area the rules are very strict, in that everyone entering or being present in the area must have a clean health certificate. The rest of us were immediately given blood tests and luckily all screened negative. It was sad to lose Alaina and as we started to leave she had to fight back the tears.

We loaded our large equipment boat and almost immediately it broke down with a major engine problem that would take several days to fix. Not being able to be held up this long, we set out in two small wooden canoes and immediately this mode of transport felt much more appropriate for travelling this narrow, twisting tributary. The remainder of the journey to the Marubo village would take three hours and, with the small outboard motors gently chugging, the tranquillity along this stretch of river was beautiful. We were bathed in the warm glow of afternoon light as the sun dappled through the trees. Bruce was asleep so we picked up some lovely travelling shots from the canoes as we passed around the bends and under low overhanging trees.

The sun sets over the river
The sun sets over the river

Our driver warned us there were four more bends to go until we reached the Marubo village so, only having one chance at getting these arrival scenes, Pete and I checked over our sound and camera kits. We turned the final bend to see a stunning Marubo village perched on top of a high bank and bathed in golden sunlight. Village kids had spotted us and were running along the bank in excitement.

Once on land we were warmly greeted by the village Shaman – Robson, 27 years old, sporting striking blue shell-suit bottoms and a flat-top haircut. He beamed with a huge smile and gestured us up to the village and in the direction of the longhouse, a huge palm-roofed building and the centre of the community.

Marubo longhouse in Parana
Marubo longhouse in Parana

As longhouses are very dark inside I called Rob for the battery light and opened the case to find that he had accidentally carried up the wrong case. Bruce was about to enter the longhouse and we couldn’t miss that moment so with all of the excitement and commotion going on around us I asked Bruce to hold off entering while Rob sprinted back down the hill to the boat for the light.

Standing next to the door I took a peek with the HD camera into the longhouse to check how dark it was and the battery light was definitely needed. Suddenly two warriors pulled me into the darkness and with heavy HD camera still in hand I was hoisted up onto a young warrior’s shoulders and he commenced running the full length of the building and back again while holding me high in the air.

Hundreds of Marubo villagers were in reception lines packed either side along the full length of the inside of the longhouse and as I was paraded they cheered and hooted with laughter. I guess they were mistaking me for Bruce and I felt like a chief of anther tribe as they gave me this honour. This greeting is the warmest welcome they can bestow on a visitor and it was later explained that they were not welcoming us as visitors but embracing us as Marubo.

Matt Norman makes friends with a Marubo lady
Matt Norman makes friends with a Marubo lady

Once my parade was complete I was gently placed back down and nodded and smiled warmly to the chief, then exited from the dark longhouse and back into the bright scorching sun. Dripping in sweat, Rob arrived carrying the light. I smiled at him, not having the time to describe and still laughing to myself over what had just happened. As I secured the light Bruce approached and nodded that he was ready to enter first. I smiled back and we filmed a fantastic welcome. In turn each of the crew was bestowed by the honour. Those minutes when I was earlier alone in the longhouse were certainly one of the truly unique lifetime experiences that I’ll never forget.

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