CAPA ROLF LINES 2000-03-Summer

Among the Yanumami of the Rain Forest

Pages: 6-9
Year: 2000
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

ROLF LINES, Vol -XXVIII nº 03 Summer – 2000

Volume: 28

[Fonte: Rolf Lines SUmmer 2000]

Ray: Tell me more about your experiences.

Mario: We flew into Caracas, then went to Puerto Ayacucho, the base for the missionaries who work with the nearby Indian community. The region is the size of the state of Colorado and a part of the Amazon rain forest. The people I saw live on the Orinoco River. The Venezuelan government controls this territory, which is maintained as a national reserve.

Ray: What was it like when you first arrived?

Mario: From Port Ayacucho we took a flight to the first mission named Esmeralda. Port Ayacucho is under military control and entry is restricted. I was able to get in because my brother in law filed papers explaining our reasons for visiting him. You might also get permission if you presented a specific project to the Venezuelan government. My brother in law asked that we put our camera and video equipment away when we arrived, because the government won’t let you take pictures or movies there.

Ray: Why?

Mario: The Indians don’t like it because they are convinced that when you take a person’s picture, you take something from him.

Ray: Like part of his soul?

Mario: Yes. My brother in law said that once they shot some film of the natives and a year later showed it to them. The Indians were very afraid because, since the film had been shot, one of the villagers had died. They told the missionaries to put this film away since it upset them very much.

Ray: Tell us more about what you saw when you first went there.

Mario: From Esmeralda the missionaries took us by boat to Mayaca, a second village along the river about 80 kilometers away. We spent all day on the river. It was incredible. I felt so very alone. I could see only river and forest all around me. I rarely saw animals, normally they were invisible in the forest. I was impressed by the trees, which are about 25 meters high. Visibility into the forest is only about five to six meters. The missionaries found that if they went into the forest, they would get lost almost immediately. For this reason, we never went anywhere without an Indian guide.

Ray: Describe the villages.

Mario: All the villages are close to the river and very simple. The trees are cleared in a small area, maybe 50 meters in diameter, and the families live together in long open structures along the edge of the forest. They are born there, they grow up there, they suffer there, they make love there and they die there. They have only fire to protect them. They keep fires burning all the time to keep away mosquitoes and other pests.

Ray: And how did it affect you, being in this place?

Mario: First of all, I was affected very much by the weather – it is really hot and humid. Also, it was strange how the Indians looked at us – they were curious, touching us often, but not aggressively.

The Yanumami don’t experience our kind of stress. Their stress is a fear of mosquitoes, malaria, wild animals, or perhaps falling out of a tree. They don’t have the level of technology we have. They have to protect themselves, and they have to do this very efficiently, doing everything for themselves. Another problem is that they really have nothing: there is only the forest, fire, animals, the river, nothing else.

Oh yes, I forgot. About 100 years ago the missionaries introduced the machete. The Yanumami cut everything with this. They also have bows and arrows for hunting and fishing. The point is that when you are in the forest, you are totally self-reliant. These people are totally autonomous. For this reason, you cannot find any “bosses” there. Each person is independent, and yet they live in a community. This is like the Rolfing community! We are autonomous in our work and we don’t need each other for help with our sessions. I might decide tomorrow to Rolf somewhere new, taking only my hands and my knowledge. It is the same thing for the Yanumami. They are in the forest and they have to know everything about the forest and its conditions. And they are autonomous because one Indian cannot help another when he is alone in the jungle. Each must rely on his own experience and knowledge of the water, seasons, animals, forest; etc.

For this reason, they can move whenever they want. They decide for themselves. Normally, a man can decide how many wives he will have, usually one to three. The husband promises to provide food and protection for the family every day, and the wife has the responsibility of raising the children. She usually spends most of her life in the small village, unless the family moves elsewhere.

Ray: What do they eat?

Mario: Only fish, meat and fruit, no vegetables. And, I think in terms of nutrition, that this is a good combination.

Ray: Tell me something about the natural selection process in the forest.

Mario: The forest determines how you live – you have to adapt to it or die. You have to adapt biochemically to live there. When a baby is born, the Yanumami first inspect it to see that it is healthy. If so, the mother immediately puts the baby to her breast, and the entire community becomes responsible for its survival. However, when an imperfect child is born, the parents dispose of the baby – they simply leave it in the forest and it is gone overnight – probably eaten almost immediately. For us, this is horrible. For the Yanumami, if you are not perfect, and you live in the community, everyone has to help you. If the men of the village participate in this, they don’t have time to hunt or fish and everyone in the village suffers. For this reason, they always dispose of imperfect babies. The missionaries understand this and realize that they must not force their morality on the native people and must respect their culture.

Ray: Tell us more about their culture.

Mario: They learn from their parents to be very self-sufficient at an early age. They learn to hunt, they learn about the forest, and to how to make string from cotton plants to make hammocks. The Yanumami sleep in hammocks to protect themselves from insects and other animals crawling on the ground. Children normally sleep with their parents in the same hammock for many years, then make their own hammocks when they are about 12 or 13 years old.

I realized the importance of the language of the skin. The Yanumami touch continuously. The child is continuously with his mother. Can you imagine the neurological effect of this constant contact? Sometimes in our culture we lack this kind of interface. I remember before going there I read a book called Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, by Ashley Montagu. You cannot imagine how neurologically important this contact is for babies over many years. Their integration of neurological data largely comes from this bonding with their mothers and fathers in the forest. Therefore, they are wellintegrated not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically.

Ray: They are more integrated than we are?

Mario: Yes. For this reason I ask, who is better? Who is more reasonable? I don’t know because they are suffering like me, they are loving like me, they are reproducing like me, they are eating like me. They have to do the same things as me, because they are human like me.

I saw this bonding as a good example of integration. And I think Rolfing® is another way to integrate. I don’t say it is a new way. Ida Rolf was the first to speak about integration, and because of her work it is now easy to speak about it. My background is in chemistry; I was surprised when I studied about entropy, about atoms and molecules – even then, I knew something was missing. When I encountered the philosophy of Ida Rolf, I began to understand much more.

Ray: It was the missing piece?

Mario: It was that missing piece. Now it’s clear. Ida Rolf said that it is not possible to change human chemistry without first changing physical structure. I thought about this for a long time, and now it’s clear to me. She was not only a scientist, she had a lot of intuition. She understood that structure was common ground among all people. You can find structure everywhere – in the universe, the solar system, economies, societies. We encounter structure everywhere, but 30 years ago you never heard about physical structure. Structure was seen outside of us, but we ourselves also represent structure. Ida was very intelligent to introduce these notions of external science into human structure, and I thank her for that.

Ray: That was her genius.

Mario: I think so.

Ray: Tell me something about how the Yanumami move.

Mario: The first time I saw them walking, I found it quite strange. You see, when we walk, we normally have a lot of space in which to move and our legs are normally parallel. The space you take up is about the width of your pelvis, maybe one half meter or more; or, you might walk with your legs out. This is not possible in the dense forest, where you can only walk along very narrow paths and must place one foot in front of the other. When we Rolfers watch a man walking, we ask if he is using his psoas. This question never arises when watching the Yanumami – they walk perfectly. When they walk in this narrow space they seem to be using psoas, of course, but – in my analysis – they seem to be using iliacus more because of the way their pelvis sways when then walk through the forest.

Ray: Did you get a chance to palpate any of them?

Mario: No, it was not possible.

Ray: They wouldn’t allow it?

Mario: No, I tried it. I could only touch them in greeting or when saying good bye, that sort of thing. I realized that perhaps their structure was determined by natural law, by the forest. I suppose their structure is not really perfect perhaps “wellintegrated” is a better term.

Ray: So they have a very different structure than we do.

Mario: I think so. Their structure is the result of natural selection in a different way than ours is. Because when we have problems, we have so many instruments and institutions to support us. They don’t have this. If they are not in good physical and physiological health, and also wellintegrated, they will not survive. Perhaps, only 50% of their children survive past their third year. Those who survive into adulthood usually live to be about 50.

Ray: So this helped you better understand what Dr. Rolf meant by “line”?

Mario: Yes, of course, both in terms of what structure means for us here and for the Yanumami. What I believe is that structure is a catalyst for organic function and biochemical function. Only those whose structure and biochemistry are perfectly adapted to this environment will survive.

Ray: When you talked about gait, you didn’t say anything about how the Yanumami run. What is that like?

Mario: Since there is not a lot of room in the forest, it is unusual for them to run, unless perhaps they are chasing game. They almost always walk. They are well-adapted for walking. If they try to run, it is rather like very fast walking. You see, they maintain a rigid trunk, because they are always holding a wide field of peripheral vision, so their running is very strange, more hopping than running. Also, they don’t lean into gravity as we do when we run.

Once my brother-in-law said to me, “Look, they don’t know how to run.” I said: “No, they run this way because they don’t have options.” They walk perfectly, and can walk for weeks in the forest without tiring. I realized that man was originally designed only for walking. When we first came from the trees and placed our feet on the ground, we walked rather than ran. Now, we run and lift weights, but perhaps we are doing physiological movements for which we were not originally designed.

Ray: What happens to these people when they move to the city?

Mario: After being exposed to Western culture, they have the option to stay in the jungle or go to Port Ayacucho or Caracas. When they go there, they must adapt very quickly, and, this is very hard for them. They get sick. This surprised me. I realized that perhaps healthy means a wellintegrated system that can adapt to your environment. If you move quickly to a new culture, you cannot adapt, you lose your line and change your biochemical system and therefore get sick.

This issue raises serious questions for the Venezuelan government and the missionaries. They are engaged in a three-phrase process to introduce the Yanumami to Western culture. The first phase was to establish relations with them and to learn about their culture. The second phase was to record their language. My brother in law and a linguist worked nearly 30 years creating a phonetic language for these people; through their efforts, there is now an internationally accepted Yanumami language. At the same time, since the Yanumami live in Venezuela, they are taught Spanish. Phase III is about integrating them into Western culture. In this project, the Venezuelans must always respect the Yanumami culture, otherwise, they might open the door too fast and destroy everything because the native people are not prepared for the impact of our culture. We know that this assimilation has failed in the past consider Peru, Bolivia, or Ecuador. In these countries, the Indians were not wellintegrated into the culture and remained marginalized. Most turned to drugs, crime and prostitution.

They became parasites. But since the missionaries are not only religiously inclined but also humanistic, they are working to defend the Indians’ human rights in Venezuela.

Now, the Indians are organizing themselves into more of a community and they are communicating more. The missionaries are spending a lot of time with the young people, developing schools. Once the young have been properly prepared, they have the option to remain and try to produce something of value to the community or to move to the city. This remains the biggest challenge for the future.

Ray: How has this experience impacted your work?

Mario: I was really surprised when I saw these people because it confirmed some theories that we’re speaking about in the class I’m assisting. I realized that they had only O-legs, no X-legs. I saw about 700 Indians of all ages, and I didn’t see one X-leg pattern. They were true Sultan internals. Some may have been incongruent in the shoulder girdle, for example, but internal was the exclusive type. This might be genetic, perhaps because of their Mongolian origin, or perhaps it is because of how they walk in the forest.

I found their movement very economical, and very proportional throughout their structure – legs, feet, thigh, pelvis, lumbars, shoulders and head. They resemble snakes moving in space. They seem weightless. This is essential – it is not possible when walking for hours in the forest to say, “I’m tired, I need to rest now.” You have to recuperate very quickly.

Their feet also surprised me: all three arches are balanced. I was surprised because I saw the same feet in the Venezuelan forest as in the picture of the Aboriginal footprint in Ida’s book. I was also surprised because their babies use their feet like we use our hands – if you ask a Yanumami child to pick up a pen, he is more likely to use his feet than his hands. Perhaps we have lost some use of our, legs and pelvis because we spend too much time in cars, in the office. The Yanumami have no offices!

This experience confirmed that Ida Rolf was right. When the structure and everything are organized, not only is the line well-integrated, but we can then walk with fluidity in gravity. With their organization, the Yanumami don’t expend excess energy. Everything is in the correct place to allow maximum function of their organs. I was happy in one way, but sad in another, because there was no need for me to Rolf in the forest, they are so well-integrated.

It is my opinion that our way in the future is to go to space, like astronauts. But perhaps we cannot live without gravity. I think what the Yanumami demonstrated to me is that we come from gravity. We may have to create the same gravity in space, or our systems will get confused and things go wrong. We will just have to see what happens in the future. But for now, we have to live in gravity, we have to know that our life is here and now, and we have to be aware of this physical reality.

We may be able to support ourselves or resist stress using different means, but I think the best way to integrate human structure is in three-dimensional space. The Yanumami demonstrated this to me. I believe I touched with my hand during these two weeks in the forest what we were in the past, maybe a half-million years ago. That for me was truly incredible.

Ray: It must have been. Thank you very much.

Mario: Thank you.

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