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Day 1: Demini, Roraima

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Young children are always held close.
Michael Palin - BrazilIt's the end of the day. The celebrants have dispersed back to their hammocks to sleep off the effects of the pupunha. Some will have taken a pinch or two of the hallucinogenic snuff which keeps hunger and thirst at bay. It's made from a tree resin called epena and little jars of it hang from the timber pillars, for public use. As if parodying the mood in the yano, a baby tree sloth which is being kept as a pet eases itself extremely slowly along one of the beams. The only outside activity is a woman with a broom chasing a black-bristled peccary, or wild pig, that has been shuffling round the place all day, getting the dogs very irritated. She ushers it fiercely out through one of the doors, where it stands, snorting resentfully, before lowering its great round snout and resuming its hoovering in the dust.

Once night falls there is little to pierce the darkness other than the embers of small fires which are lit around the maloca to keep the insects away and provide some warmth in the early hours. Like everyone else I sleep in a hammock. The man next to me is wild-haired and a bit confused. He has a black wad of chewing tobacco permanently lodged in his lower jaw. He seems generally ignored by the others in the community, and swings gently in his hammock murmuring to himself. Cockroaches scuttle around by the fence as I clean my teeth.

I wake in the middle of the night. It's very dark and very quiet, but I need to answer the call of nature. I switch on my torch and head for one of the entrances, only to find all the doors shut and fastened. I ease one open and walk to the nearest bushes. Fireflies dance around. Then a grunt and a snuffle nearby makes me freeze. It's the peccary, a few paces away and eyeing me with malevolence. By the time I return to the yano I find a woman standing by the door. She lets me in, smiles, pushes it shut and secures it with a peg. It's a hostile world out there and I feel embarrassed that I might have momentarily jeopardized the collective security.
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The dancers circle the yano, the roundhouse. Women and men in separate groups.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 1: Demini, Roraima
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Demini, Roraima
  • Book page no: 20

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