Introdution to "The Jaguar Children/Os meninos Jaguar"

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by Marcia Theophilo

This "book-poem" begins with a magic rite. The Goddess Jaguar, who incarnates all the forces of nature, transmits her strength to the children in order to protect them just like a mother protects her own children. Gathered in thousands around the Goddess-Mother, the children have to leave the forest and begin their migration towards the big city, because 'civilized' man has invaded their world. In the book there are six children who represent the entire infant population, and they have the names of flowers that grow in the Amazon: Jupicahy, Urucú, Pajurá (boys), Tauarí, Ararí, Mangalô (girls).

During the first centuries of colonisation, the Amazon-Indians, in order to escape the massacre, migrated towards the north. These were significant exodus', of which the march by the group named Tupi towards the "land where one does not die" is an example. The theme of this book is also that of an exodus. Not the exodus of an entire people, but only of its children, and not towards a paradise, but towards the civilisation of the cities that are mindlessly killing their own children.
When the Amazon-Indian children make their way, with their parents, towards the big cities, they are treated as outcast and have to adjust to living on the metropolis' periphery. This is apparently an ancient story which dates back to the fifteen hundreds, yet the colonizers' position and their absolute disdain for the people continues. Racial discrimination in Brazil is expressed in the form of rejection, and the tribal culture, shattered to the point of being unrecognisable, survives in the favelas - the Brazilian bidonvilles.
It is here that the immigrant children, in whose memory resides their archaic culture, gather in groups; desperately hanging on to each other in order not to be crushed right away, because union at least makes for strength and solidarity, which means having greater chances of survival in a world where battle is the order of the day. But in the favelas those teachings that the older generation transmitted to them no longer exist, given that these are the children of very young, inexperienced, immature parents who are ill-equipped to deal with the system of the big metropolis. So the children try to find their way, as best they can, in the asphalt jungle. The ancient spiritual fathers are no longer there, and in their place, criminals, schooled by the corrupt culture of the big city, assume the guide of this immense nation of children: using them for their own gain, manipulating for their own profit (drug dealings and prostitution constitute the principal means of sustenance). The groups of drug dealers and policemen - the true criminal bands organised in the Brazilian metropolis - shoot at sight at the children and the new 'adult-children', who have already become criminals that are more, or less aware of the existing organisation. Here also, as in the forest, there are children who are stronger, more resistant and more courageous than others. The tribal culture, that taught them the art of hunting and war, turned them into early adults also, but this was a totally different type of system. The culture of the forest demanded courage and strength as indispensable tools for survival, whilst in the big metropolis these same tools are used to defend themselves from the new beasts and from the new hostile environment. And so, unwittingly, the children become criminals, are dragged into a vortex of delinquency and are easily misdirected by the corrupt system which no longer transmits moral values to them. Primarily it's the boys who become delinquents, whilst the girls are soon pushed into prostitution.
This is a population of children who have parents that are almost the same age as them: a population of children starving and drugged in a man-created forest of cables and technologies (which is the city); damned in their immense solitude.
The city is therefore a symbol of another forest: more dangerous, less humane. A forest wherein different laws govern: where other things count more than life. Where the weakest (and amongst these are the children) are abandoned to themselves when they are no longer of use to the stringent laws of economy. A forest in which the desperate little ones defend themselves as best they can. To survive they steal and are killed; kill or let themselves die as do the whales or the dolphins when they are stranded on a beach.
The cultural reality of the Amazon-Indian child is different from that of the Western child who lives in an individual family nucleus, whilst the Indian child always lives with all the other components of the tribe and grows up in the company of his peers: under the vigilance of the elders of the village (his being the tribal culture). There, throughout the day, the parents dedicate themselves to their individual work assuming duties which are precise and clearly set down. Hunting, fishing, and the warrior activities for the men whilst the women cultivate grains, pick wild fruits and medicinal grasses. The child, who is prepared for life almost always in groups, "in society" with others, with the tribe, with the village, must learn early to defend himself and to survive by affronting the magnificent forces of nature which, if on the one hand are his friends, also represent his major enemies.
The constant presence of the adults, of all the adults, instils in the children a feeling of great security and strong protection. In the tribe they enjoy not only the closeness and the guidance of their carnal parents, but above all that of their spiritual parents - the elders of the village, who look after them and transmit, with care, ancient teachings of ethical values which coincide with the ways of living in nature - with nature. Yes, battling to defend themselves from her but always in harmony with her - as an integral part of her.
As is customary in the most ancient civilisations, a fundamental aspect of their life is the ritual. Here man expresses, in theatrical form, his most profound experiences: repeating the actions and words that the elders transmit orally to the young from generation to generation.
Just a short time ago Western culture set the human being as the master of nature, giving him the right to manipulate it at will. This is a dream of omnipotence from which we are awaking. We are beginning to become aware of the frightening damages of this dream: of the terrible threats which these damages represent if we don't stop in time. We are beginning to see that humanity is not above nature or life, but a small piece of her: a part of the whole. Yet the Amazon forest, this 'all together' of life, which is very rich and precious for the whole world, is systematically being destroyed by bulldozers - machines put into action by those who still believe themselves to be the lords and masters of nature. And this is being done for the sole purpose of satisfying their limited and immediate economic interests without seeing or wishing to see those further away in time. Destruction reigns. The forest known as "the lung of the world" is being annihilated, thus depriving future generations of the very possibility of breathing. This in order to exploit the soil and subsoil of the forest to its maximum, weather it be for two or for twenty years. Vast areas are being cleared of trees, leaving a land wherein nothing will live again: neither the muricí tree, nor the guaraná liana, nor the parrot, nor the orchid, nor man.
We known, by now, that humanity's well-being which is created through destruction is only temporary and therefore, in a certain sense, fictitious. We know that true well-being and the planet's ultimate survival depends on man's capacity to conciliate progress with the conservation of nature. And we know that to do this the engines of the bulldozers must be turned off and the voice of those who knew how to live and use their world without destroying it must be listened to.
There is a tribe of the Amazon forest that has sixteen different ways in its language to describe the colour green. Only in the depths of this forest can so many shades and meanings be perceived. Destroyed are the men able to perceive sixteen different shades of green; destroyed are all possibilities of a meeting with them, and now we shall forever remain human beings for whom green is only green.
Perhaps humanity has gained in velocity of movement but who can say that movement is more precious than colour?
The forest, the house of the Goddess Jaguar, is depicted in the second part of the book. The people who live in the Immense Forest have lived there for millenniums. They belong to her as does the capivara or the caititu; like the guabiraba tree or the mangaba tree; just as the Immense River and her nymphs belongs to her. The forest is a world, a living organism which breathes and each being, each element, is an indispensable part of her. This is an understanding which the Amazon-Indians have never lost. In their society waste does not exist: if animals are killed it is only for eating because each life is precious, not only for itself but for the life of mankind. And this is being in nature without feeling superior to any part of her, no matter how small it might be. To live together with others in a close relationship of symbiosis is the life of the Amazon-Indians in the forest: to live and make use of the environment in which one lives without destroying it. This is the great teaching of those who have never considered themselves masters of the trees and of the animals, but their companions.
Every thing in nature has a soul. The non-material component or "karo" transmigrates after physical death first into the body of various animals, then in that of a number of birds and finally into a variety of natural elements. All that which lives has a joint soul which at times incarnates in fire, at times in a stone, at times in a person, at times in an animal . . . Being part of the world, living in nature. The very names the Amazon-Indians have are names of flowers or animals or other living beings. This is how these people name themselves in order to reinforce, yet again, their profound tie with nature.
The Jaguar children are the offspring of the forest's ancient humanity. They are her children like the air, the boto, the mancaco, the tapiro - like the very jaguar. The latter is a symbol to emulate, an emblem of strength and great courage, an indispensable talents for surviving and growing in the forest. In the Amazon the child lives in the village in total freedom. He plays and the play itself teaches him to live in the immense forest; to defend himself from her dangers; to procure food for himself and to know her trees, her rains, her animals, her myths. These are nothing else but the voices of life, of birth, of the night, of the light: the incarnations of Eros. They belong to that collective patrimony of man who, through mythology, traces his origins in the course of encounters with various civilisations. The divinities of the forest are the spirits of rivers, of plants, of water, of birds; of the river dolphin, of the jaguar. The jaguar symbolizes the oldest, the strongest Pre-Columbian divinity.
In the forest the children play at imitating the animals.
The revolution of the jaguar children is a poetic revolution - a revolution of conscience. Their violence is not directed as an attack on something, but in defence of life - of all life.
This 'book-poem' which is inspired by pantheistic mysticism represents an entire world. Its verses are small prayers backed up by a fast, pressing rhythm. Through the poetry I want to bring to light the sacred quality of life and of those extraordinary values which we are losing. It is not a poem dedicated solely to the puppies of man, but also to all that which sprouts and all that which is born, like water which gushes limpid from a spring, or a blossoming flower. It is a poem dedicated to the most tender and most delicate part of the universe: to all that which still needs to evolve, grow, mature. A poem dedicated to all of that which is still considered useless to progress because it has nothing to do with consumerism and therefore is looked down upon, trampled on or simply not considered.
The vast population of children begins thus its migration towards the city: begins its rebellion, its denunciation of the defilement of the world.
Perhaps someone will hear them.

 

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