* in progress... (2015- )
en bora | an amazonian shaman contemporary tale
“- We came to learn the songs and stories to heal. Then the grandfather said: - Grandchildren, you will be able to learn and without a doubt, he said, I will teach you everything, from the beginning to the end.”
Part of "The Origin of Coca Plant" tale, story written by Aladino
The forest is much more than a cluster of green canopies. It is made of rich biodiversity, shaped by a complex cosmopolitical arena of living beings…and at the core of it all lays its protagonist: The Shaman. The Shaman sees. He sees beyond sight. He is an indigenous spiritual leader who can reach far into the realm of the extra-physical. By harnessing his intimate connection with the forces of nature, the Shaman can heal others. The forest’s best-hidden secrets are under his care. The Shaman is a historian among his people, for he holds the ancestral knowledge passed down from generation to generation by means of tales. Wise is the Shaman, for more tales mean more power. Master of the forest, it is he who holds the key to all realms. The Shaman speaks with the spirits that inhabit the woods; with his forefathers; with the future. In a western world concept, the Shaman is considered a scientist or a clergyman by Amazon's native population.
Aladino Mimico is a Shaman; a Native South American living in a world that knows no such labels. Rather, he is a Bora, which is what his ethnic group is called. He lives in Pebas, a remote village in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, near the border between Brasil and Peru. Today, Aladino lives exiled in his own land. Younger Bora leave their villages seeking a more promising, modern life in the city. Two of his own children have taken such a path, thus dwindling the numbers of an already small population. Those who stay in Pebas have to face the issues of an ever-globalized world. They watch as their way of life deteriorates, slowly losing faith and interest in their local culture. Illegal mining, timber harvesting, and arson play a role, as well as social issues such as depression, alcoholism, child mortality… and coca: one of the most important plants to the Bora Shamans.
Coca leaves, used by indigenous people for over a millennium, has been tarnished by modern times. While Shamans have upheld the traditions for over a millennium, the leaves are now being used beyond religious rituals, symbols or dogmas: Coca is the main ingredient for cocaine. It has an alluring power over local people to harvest and traffic it and, hand-in-hand with the slow death of their cultural identity, coca has become a sole means of survival, the only way left for them to make a living. Tradition has changed. For few now live who respect it.
“Do not despair when something happens to you, I will be looking after you until you exist in this world.”
Part of "The Origin of Coca Plant" tale, story written by Aladino
Ííbíí pííve tiná ume is the Bora expression for “the origin of coca”. This very expression tells the most important story of Bora’s culture. The first man to ever walk the Earth was a Bora. Abuelo, The God of All Creation, told the First Man that if he was to live in this world, he had to learn how to use coca. God then instructed and guided him on how to plant, harvest and consume the leaf.
God’s guidance came with a grievous warning: he who consumed the coca leaf would have the power to speak directly to Abuelo, however, a deadly curse would befall he who consumed it without respect. Abuse the plant and be forever trapped in its grasp. The coca will only let go once life has vanished from his body.
Aladino speaks to the forest spirits who guide him on how to heal others. To do so, he consumes great amounts of coca, tobacco, and alcohol. Aladino is a Shaman. But Aladino is also a man. He is both sacred and profane. The leaf that he should rule over has ended up ruling over him. As the ancient fable warns, he who abuses the coca is damned by it.
Under coca’s curse, Aladino had a conversation with Death. His ailments were far too powerful to be washed away by the forest’s healing power. He had to go to the hospital. He needed the white man. Technology. He had to leave the forest to save himself. After dancing with Death and with Western Medicine, Aladino believes he has become the character of his own cautionary tale, a warning to his people. The giant scar he now carries in his belly won’t ever let him forget it. Aladino has survived his ordeal and is now seeking self-discovery. Thus, he sets out on a quest - the most dangerous one he has ever faced. The locals no longer trust in him and his healing powers. The mystical entanglement has put every certainty he has ever known to the test. Isolation. From his peers. From his family. From his people. On borrowed time, alone in a dying world, isolation could spell the end for Aladino. But it could also be the key to reconnect with everything.
The project started five years ago aiming to investigate native spirituality, cultural diversity and the countless alternative means to live in my continent. At its core, I wanted to unveil the stories that my own land refuses to tell us. However, the project has grown into something much larger than anything defined by a photography checklist or traditional research parameters. When working with these long-term, personal photography projects, one must never forget that native knowledge is something that is earned first by the ordeal of the body and the need of reaching the limits of one’s own thoughts. Only then it is possible to discover such knowledge. It is a permanent exercise in decolonizing one’s way of thinking. It means challenging latent, rooted anthropocentrism.
Political and macroeconomic forces pressure us into believing that there is but one way of living: that in which we are the established consumers and the planet is our supplier. How do we integrate our environment into our very essence? Aladino might be the last one standing who is capable of making the world understand their true connection with the environment. Unfortunately, his mere existence is an outrage, for it shreds the long-accepted anthropological history and exposes what has always been behind the forest’s green curtain. The shaman has become a supporting role under the sun. In another possible world, bio-centered, where what really matters is life, Aladino has to be a vital agent. Aladino’s own blood reveals how his world has transformed. He is the embodiment of the worst impacts of the problems of the 21stcentury: supra explorations of nature and all its impacts on the indigenous populations around the globe.
Aladino is a scientist who challenges common sense: the mirror needs to be shattered so that we are able to see the different perspectives of a world that was once real. To really understand what he's been through, we all need to be inside his head. See what he sees and feel what he feels. To realize the contemporary challenges around him. The anthropologic theory called The Amerindian Perspective, elaborated by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro has to be a guide point trying to understand all this. The project desires to reach this theory for the viewer through images, creating a spiritual visual map of a region that is under constant attack, the Amazon.