Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series about the use of Somatic Experiencing® with indigenous people of Brazil’s Amazon basin. Enjoy!
The tropical rainforest can be seen as a thermometer to measure the state of the planet. More than half of the animal species and plants live here and the forest’s ecosystem and resources are essential for preventing poverty and climate change. However, most of the indigenous people living in the rainforest do not know about the importance the forest has to the globe; they have enough fights to win, just trying to survive themselves.
Xingu is a multi-ethnic indigenous territory in the Mato Grosso area of Brazil’s Amazon basin, established in the early 1960s by the Vilas Boas brothers. The size of the area is 27,000 square kilometers, about the same as Belgium. It holds 14 ethnic groups, 11 of them original and 3 from neighboring areas: 4,600 people altogether. There are 14 indigenous languages spoken and some of the men also speak Portuguese. People from outside are not allowed into the area without authorization from the government as well as from indigenous leaders.
The Yudjá tribe, or the Juruna, has a population of 400 people who are a minority in the area of the Xingu. They live in three different camps, one of them receiving us from the 28th to the 30th of November, 2014.
We— Sonia Gômes Silva, SE™ Trauma Institute senior faculty member; Christian H. Thommessen, vice president of the SETI board; and Cathrine S. Thommessen, an SEP— formed a small Somatic Experiencing team hailing from Brazil to Norway. We traveled together with Dr. Duarte Guerra, M.D. and three other men who would help and support the team. Dr. Duarte works as medical and psychiatric doctor with the Yudjá every three months. Arriving in Xingu late in the evening, we also met with dentists Eduardo and Rosa Biral who work with different tribes, living together with them most of the year.
The morning after our arrival we were welcomed by the tribe dancing and singing, wearing traditional costumes. They were all painted and carrying beautiful handmade jewelry. After the ceremony we met with the chief, his wife, and helpers— and were surrounded by several curious others— to exchange gifts and to discuss various socio-political and socio-cultural matters. They told us about the following concerns.
Western culture is moving closer, influencing the Yudjá in negative ways. The roads were about to be enhanced, which led the tribe to move to this new camp where we were staying (about 45 minutes, by speed boat in the Xingu river, from the old camp). Before the influence of the whites, the Yudjá had no chronic diseases. They were concerned about loosing the pride and dignity of their own culture. They were especially worried about their young people meeting with the Western culture and falling into drinking and alcoholism; they had already seen the beginning of this.
During the meeting we were told that the Yudjá were in need of a solar internet system, to be connected so they would be able to communicate their needs and protect their rights. Christian seized this possibility to be of any help, assuring them that he would take care of the financial part of this project. Dr. Duarte assured the Yudjá that he would take care of the practicalities.
Cathrine and Christian told the Yudjá about the Rainforest Foundation Norway, a non-governmental organization providing aid to indigenous peoples in rainforests around the world, Brazil included. The chief of the tribe was given a paper from the foundation called “Schools in the Rainforest” which included projects and pictures from Xingu. Cathrine promised to report the tribe’s concerns back to the Norwegian foundation.
During an evening meeting the same night with the whole tribe, Sonia made a speech that was translated into local language. She spoke about the indigenous people’s strength and uniqueness, supporting them in their beliefs and cultural values. People were encouraged to continue to develop spiritual awareness as a foundation for moving more easily into other levels of healing. Sonia supported them to fortify their habits to practice ceremonies, to evoke their senses, and to be at one with nature.
In the past, Dr. Duarte had clinically assisted a large part of this tribe in various matters. This time one of the Yudjá needed special care since he had not responded to earlier medical treatment. There was a strong belief within the tribe that his illness— with symptoms like dizziness, fever, anemia, and low platelets— was caused by a spell (black magic). Sonia was asked to work with him as therapist.
Next week > SE Session with a Xingu Tribesman
Co-authors Sonia Gômes Silva and Cathrine S. Thommessen joined an international team in 2014 for an expedition to Xingu National Park to work with Brazil’s indigenous tribes. Sonia is a senior professional training faculty member at the SE Trauma Institute, a clinical psychologist, a Rolfer®, and a Rolfing movement practitioner. She is based in São Paulo, Brazil. Cathrine is an SE practitioner, movement educator, and movement therapist based in Oslo, Norway.
Photos by Eduardo Biral, all rights reserved (used here with permission)