My guide book said that aside from standing on the beach where the Portuguese first landed in Brazil there was not much to do in Porto Seguro except hang out at Passarela do Alcool, better known as Alcohol Boardwalk, They were wrong.
Grant at That Hostel in Itaunas suggested I stay at Residential das Araras. In my usual manner, I took the wrong bus and ended up along the main coast highway. I stopped at a nice hotel and asked directions. Three woman in the lobby conferred. One of them wearing a wrinkle free linen dress looked at me over glasses
perched low on her nose, as if I were for sale. It’s the moment when grandma rover meets grandma high-end consumer. “Nice glasses.” I complemented her. She smiled. “Thank you.” and proceeded to tell me where she bought them, and other details about their style. One of them called the hostel. Paul said he would come on his bike to meet me. I misunderstood the communication. There was no excuse this time as Paul is American. We speak the same language.
He finally found me wandering along the side of the highway. As we walked to his hostel he told me he was a Moonie. Now, I knew there were endangered cultures in the area, but I didn’t consider the members of the Unification Church; I had the Pataxos in mind.
Actually, the Unification Church was declared by Moon to be defunct and the so-called cult is now known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), in my mind, a title difficult to argue with. Nevertheless, once a Moonie, always a Moonie I think, at least based on my study of one.
Paul and his lovely, Brazilian wife whom he married along with 1,998 other couples in Madison Square Garden in l982, have two boys and two girls.The oldest girl is studying in South Korea and serving as a FFWPU missionary. The rest live at home. They could not have been friendlier or more accommodating.
The time I was there I was the only guest. Paul and I spent hours discussing life. One of his daughters had a series of seizures after her immunization shots as a baby and is now autistic, We talked of special needs and the unwieldy System in the US that serves them. We talked marriage, death, and politics. We talked about the indigenous Pataxos people who lived only a short walk away in a small part of the 10% that is left of the vast Atlantic rain forest. We talked about the greedy corporate people who want them extinguished-have wanted them gone almost since Vasco de Gama set foot on the continent.
I looked up the history of these gentle folks. They have been systematically purged by white ranchers and miners, with the backing of the country of Brazil for decades. When they proved impossible to murder easily their water was poisoned, traps were set to maim and kill them, and small-pox infected clothes given to them. All for fat corporate purses.
On Sunday he took me there. Paul’s feisty Labrador dog ran ahead of us as we walked through the rain forest that is now mostly second growth, but at least it’s thriving for the time being. The first sight we came to as we walked through the gate that defined the Pataxos land was of a woman and children washing clothes in a clear creek. We all smiled, said hello, and kept to our business. A few minutes later, walking up the hill to the small village, we met a member of the community, on his way down in a truck, a long straight tree about 10″ in diameter dragging out of the bed. Paul introduced me in Portuguese. The man was apparently an elder or tribal chief, but dressed in everyday clothes no different from what we wear. A few hundred feet further we came upon the village. Only 32 families live there now. They must divide up the community in order to survive. A few dogs barked in the distance and we could hear children playing, but we didn’t see them. The huts, similar to palapas in Mexico, had palm frond roofs, and stone walls. No nails were used. The Joists were held together with intricate knotted vines. Everything was simple and clean. We looked at the nursery where they keep indigenous plants: for medicine and so they can reforest with flora that belongs there, and the hut of the shaman/ medicine man. The school, on vacation at the time, had posters on the walls, and words written in what I assumed was the Pataxos language the same as you would see in any school. I thought of the old Quaker tune. ‘Tis a gift to be simple.’
I’ve never understood how money can be more important than people’s lives, but my travels have convinced me otherwise. We’ve, and it’s been white people, my race if not me personally, that have systematically destroyed countless cultures, environments including our own, and its inhabitants for personal wealth. If anyone fancies himself immune to this ruinous madness be aware, you are not.
When we left the village Paul took me to see the clay mounds.Undulating in the light they seemed to breathe. The sheer loveliness of them, and their significance for the Pataxos silenced me as meditation does.These people don’t use harmful chemical compounds for all of their painting, including their bodies during festival days, they use the natural ocher, magenta, blue, and red dyes in the clay. There’s a balancing act going on in Brazil and sitting on the heavy end of the see-saw are big-assed men weighing it down with their money bags. None of us are secure from the rampaging greed that is taking over our globe. It’s just that the folks who can’t defend themselves are always the first to go.
Paul believes in peace, harmony and grace. He translates for small tours to the Pataxos village and explains their fragile existence to those who come to the Residential das Araras. I am passing it on to you.
The town of Porto Seguro has a good opportunity to get more space in the guide book than a short paragraph that says to continue on after a night of debauchery on the alcohol boardwalk.
Note: the photos of the people were taken from public images taken during the UN Rio+environmental summit. I felt it would have been too invasive to have taken photos of them during their daily lives.-r