Fulni-O

The Spiritism Film begins by showing indigenous people preparing to enter into communion with what is most sacred to them. These people knew how to commune directly with sacred spirits , without need of priests or church. Shamans, the spiritual leaders of indigenous communities, were historically the first human beings to communicate with benevolent spirits and share the benefit with others–to further mental and physical health. They also knew how to dispel the negative effects of energies that could cause personal and social problems.

We asked a special group of Fulni-O indians to portray this communion for our film. This particular group are well known for their extraordinary ability as healers who are profoundly spiritual.

Below is an article about the tribe. Like many indigenous people throughout the world, the Fulni-O have been marginalized and are struggling to survive. It is a sad story, as they hold deep knowledge of healing and how to lead a peaceful life in balance with Nature—wisdom that we need ourselves if human beings are to survive on this planet.

We have only one lung left…

by Emma Bragdon

You and I know that the Amazon rain forest is being cut down. What you may not know is that the tribal people who are caretakers of the forests, who know how to steward the forests, are requesting help for their survival. Their human rights are being abused. They are appealing to the international human rights community for help.

If we help them live, we not only help our brothers and sisters, we preserve a way to regenerate the forest, the lungs of the earth. When we don’t help them, and they become extinct, we lose the wisdom of how to regenerate the forest, and its medicinal plants.

At least twenty-five percent of all modern drugs came originally from rainforests. Over two thousand tropical plants have been identified by scientists as having anti-cancer properties. Less than one percent of the world’s tropical forest plants have been tested for pharmaceutical properties. The tribal leaders of the Fulni-O recently sent a representative of their tribe to find someone to present their situation:

We sat on the tile floor of the unfurnished shop in a poor village in the interior of Brazil. Just outside the open door, trucks roared by on the pitted asphalt highway. Fumes from three nearby brick factories mixed with car exhaust. The air was heavy with toxins. Sweating from the 90 degree heat and humidity made the dirty air cling to our skin. In this town, in 2003, 300 Reais, (a hundred US dollars) supports a family of four for a month.

My new friend, Aristedes, is a brave, a “warrior”, appointed by his tribal leaders, to be the spokesman of the Fulni-O (“people near the river”) from Northeast Brazil. I’m a psychologist from Vermont, USA, writing a book on Kardecist Spiritism, a spiritual path that is a way of life for millions of Brazilians.

Dressed in cut-offs, barefoot, bare-chested, Aristedes, (given name: Thafkexkyaxkya), sat on a small stool, puffing on a handmade pipe. Like indigenous people in North America, he didn’t inhale the smoke; instead, he drew it into his mouth, and then blew it out. The tobacco he used was organically grown in his village. From doing ceremony with a Lakota medicine woman, I knew this way of “smoking.” It’s a way to communicate with beneficent spirits, the invisible ones who watch over us. As you draw in the smoke, you invite “inspiration”, you bring the wisdom of the invisible Spirit into you, let it mix with your body, mind, and soul. As you exhale, you share your inspiration, prayer and beingness. Sometimes you aim the “exhalation” in the direction of someone else, to assist in his/her purification. This kind of smoking is always a path of communion between human and spirit realms. (The Fulni-0 do not smoke cigarettes nor drink alcohol. They also don’t use any kind of mind-altering drug or plant substance.)

Just thirty-four years old, Aristedes had been sent out by the council of twelve chiefs of his tribe, traveling four days and four nights by bus, with his wife, two daughters, and three other couples. Sent to make money. Sent to find people who could help his tribe. Sent to bring their gifts to the outside world.

“Our people are known for healing. We know the Forests. We know the Amazon rain forest. We know how to help the forest grow. We can grow beans in soils where no other people can grow beans. We have studied the plants of the forest. We know what plants we need to stay healthy. Even though my people do not have enough food and water, we stay healthy because we know how to heal. Other tribes ask us to come to their villages to help them heal. They don’t want us to leave.”

“All healers are part of us. Healers who connect to us have more success. We can give them strength in their healing. We stand for unity and brotherhood with all mankind. We are in complete connection to the earth and the universe and all of our brothers and sisters.”

My companion, Johann, a physician from South Africa, had struggled with asthma all his life. He was using a medication in a hand-held inhaler to control his asthma and also struggling with a constant ringing in his left ear. Our Western medicine had not been able to cure him.

I asked Aristedes if he could help Johann. He contemplated a moment. Then, went into the storeroom and brought out a small plastic bottle of oil. He told me, “This oil is from the Amazon Rain forest. It is the oil from a rare plant there. Take 3 drops a day. It will cure asthma within days or weeks.” About the tinnitus he said, “Tell Johann to come and visit us. We have an oil from a particular bottom fish that lives in lakes in Brazil. We put this fish oil in the ear. It will cure his problem.”

Most medicine people, shamans and medicine women, go into an altered state of consciousness before they diagnose or treat. Not Aristedes. He is able to “see” into the body, into the mind, into the soul of a person, without taking anything to alter himself—without “channeling” another being. He is so integrated with the spiritual dimensions, he has immediate access to “second sight”.

Proof of this power came out when he performed a sacred blessing on me. He took my hands between his, closed his eyes, and spoke in his native language: Yathe. Energy streamed into me. Like a swollen river in the spring, I felt myself as a container of Spirit, simply aware, that is all that I am: Infinite Spirit moving through a landscape that shapes it for the moment. Spirit being articulated by my gifts and my limitations. This identification with Spirit was a healing, a time of transcendence, an epiphany. It galvanized my inner sense of mission in a palpable way.

Aristedes has taken on the mantle of leadership, devoting his personal life to be of service to his people and the earth itself. His ability to heal comes from an extraordinary spiritual depth. When he looks at you, you feel he is looking directly into your soul, and revealing not only his own soul but also the nature of the earth and sky. Only thirty-four, he seems to embody the voice of Perennial Wisdom:

“We know how to stay in balance because we do “Ouricuri” (spiritual retreat) for three months each year. Those who maintain our customs go together to a small area that is secluded, away from our homes and other people. No one who was not born into our tradition is allowed to come to us at this time. The women stay together, separate from the men. We live outdoors. We do ceremony and pray. This community time is so sacred to us we never talk about what happens. Not between ourselves and not with others.

We have not lost the power of our ancestors. We still have the power of the sun, the air, and the earth in the palm of our hand. We want support to get water and our forest back. The forest has great meaning for us, it is a part of us. We are one body only: the forest, the water, and the Indian.

The most important thing is our language, because that is what moves all these powers. We want to preserve that language and teach it to our children. We are the true guardians of the forest.”

Brazil lost more than ninety million acres of tropical forest between 1980-1990. In Brazil, an average of one indigenous culture a year became extinct during the last century. In the past 500 years the Fulni-O have reduced from a population of 800,000 to 5,500. Some 100 species become extinct every day due to tropical deforestation.

“Today, no one breathes clean air anymore. In the old days, our people lived to be 120 to 130 years old. It was the forest that would regenerate us. Today, we live to be 70 or 80 years old. The forest gives us our life. [As the forest dies, we lose our ability to regenerate.] The white man together with the Indian need to work to preserve and rebuild the forest so we all can live.”

The Fulni-O philosophy is simple: “Always do things for the betterment of mankind, the environment, and all living things.”

What goes on in Ouricuri? Perhaps it is similar to the story told by Malidoma Some in his book, “Of Water and the Spirit”. By his account, over a period of days in the wilderness, boys of his native Dagara tribe in West Africa, age eleven, are initiated into adulthood by elders, Malidoma tells about boys who must jump into thin air, disappear, travel in parallel universes, and then find their way “home” to the earth realms. After he “disappeared” this way in the desert, Malidoma found himself inside a mountain, in darkness, having to make his way to the surface, and back to his people. These initiations are so challenging, some boys get lost in other dimensions, and never return. Those that do find their way home, are fully identified with their true mission in life, and embody the strength to complete that mission. They also have the eyes to recognize and empower another’s true nature. Another human being. A child. An animal. A bean crop. A forest. A town.

Remember the adage, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you strong”. In this case, the strength comes in paranormal ability, wisdom, healing, fortitude, and communion with the earth.

Just what we need in our current crises. Our health care management is the most expensive in the world, and we are not winning the war against degenerative diseases. In fact, we rank 37th in the world vis a vis our health. One in three women in the US get cancer. We are polluting our own nest and devastating our natural resources. We have lost the ability to care for the earth that sustains us. We denigrate and discriminate against indigenous people who can preserve communion with the earth and live a “sustainable” life.

Areas being deforested in the Amazon Rain Forest are mainly used for agriculture and pastures for livestock. The wood is sold by large multi-national companies to international markets in the form of wood chips. The soil in the Amazon forest is useless without the forest itself. Its quality is very acidic and the region is prone to constant floods. Therefore, after deforestation, the land is soon abandoned and becomes like a desert.

Aristedes people are thirsty. The water that belongs to the tribe has been diverted to the white men who invaded and took possession of large tracts of their tribal lands. The tribe receives the dirty leftovers from this piracy– non-potable, polluted water. This means the Fulni-O don’t have water to drink or wash with. Worse, there has been a drought for the last four years. They have no way to water their crops. The river, Rio Ipanema, which was their water source, has dried up. When they tried to dig their own wells, they found the ground water saline and undrinkable. They have fifty agricultural technicians in their village, all of whom were trained in farming by a governmental agency, but without water, they can not farm. They have to buy water and don’t have the money to buy either water or a purification system to treat the water they have. An option is to put in a pipeline from the Rio Sao Francisco, a river that is 150 kilometers from their village. But, they don’t know if this is feasible.

In the 1800’s the Fulni-0’s land rights were recognized by the government, but the government still owns their land. Any gold found on their land belongs to the government. Even though they were given the land, as their place, their reservation, they cannot claim its natural resources. The whites have stripped it of its trees, fenced in their privatized farms, built a highway through the middle of the reservation, and forced the Fulni-O into a smaller and smaller area. (Even the sacred forested area they had used for their annual ceremony was burned off so only scrub remains.)

The local whites have no recognition that the native people know how to help us out of the environmental problems we have created. In fact, they have burned down the homes of the Fulni-O, and hired guns, like private armies, so the Fulni-O do not dare take a stand against them.

I met Aristedes in the bare shop he had rented to sell his tribe’s handcrafts. Necklaces of bright red beads, the seeds of the “Brazil” tree, were displayed on the floor, amidst other small articles. Although the Fulni-0 are experts in the art of weaving, they have a hard time finding raw materials for the production of baskets, mats and other pieces. Thus, they now work with wood, making bowls, combs and other objects with purely commercial intent. Colorful headdresses made of red, green, blue and yellow feathers sewn into a plain white string crowns hung from the walls. Some of these were favorite pieces for their dances, and thus invested, through ceremony, with the energy of love. Everything was for sale.

Why doesn’t the government help the Fulni-O? It was only in 1999 that the native people in Brazil were given the right to vote and to have passports. The government offers some protection to the people if they are physically terrorized, but they offer no protection against those who invade their land. If white men encroach on the land, the government will not demand they leave. The Fulni-O gave permission for a chapel to be built on their land in 1959—but no permission for 60,000 people to establish a town around that chapel, and use up the water that fed the tribal community. The government does not confront these intruders, in fact the cattle ranchers have government supporters.

What keeps this inequity in place? The indigenous people have no participation in government. The bureau set up to protect them, the “National Foundation for the Indians”, is run by Brazilians of European descent who do not want to recognize the rights of the indigenous Indians. No international organization has done anything to expose the problem and effectively rectify it. There are organizations that have come in, but all have been manipulated by corrupt agents of the Brazilian government.

To add insult to injury, the news sent out by radio to the tribal people is controlled and edited by racists within the governmental agencies. One result: the Indians are prevented from learning about their political and civil rights, nor do they hear the voice of their own people. Too poor to create and maintain their own radio station, the tribes have no ability to coordinate together — to organize, to create a united voice, to seek representation in government.

How did Aristedes know so much about the workings of the government? He had been appointed by the National Foundation for the Indians as a “Chef de Posta”, to manage and be accountable for governmental funds given to his people. He had been sent to the Amazon to work with the Yanomami tribe, but ended up leaving, disgusted with the racism and corruption he experienced in the office designated to help the people. However, Aristedes had become more aware of global environmental, and epidemiological concerns. Most other individuals who were appointed as representatives, were “bought out”, that is, with the promise of financial bonuses, they agreed to not challenge the manipulations of the Foundation. Aristedes was different. He could not be bought. He would not participate in the unwritten, but clear agenda he saw: “To turn Indians against Indians and erode the community from the inside”. Aristedes went to Brasilia, Brazil’s capital city, as an advocate for an “Indigenous Constitution of Brazil”, to bring the indigenous people together, to recognize and preserve their shared values. He has been leading vigils and protests outside the Federal Government Offices of the Public Minister in Brasilia, trying to get the attention of government and media to help his village.

“In the summer of 2003, one hundred warriors from my village came to Brasilia to hold demonstrations. They held a vigil outside the Public Ministry. Finally, the Federal Police was sent to Aguas Belas to protect us and avoid a massacre. The media sees the opportunity for a good story, but they only pay attention if there is a full on war. They would prefer to have a war to report, rather than help us avoid war. If there is to be a war, we know that the remaining indigenous people will be wiped out. We know our limitations. This intelligence pushes us to call upon the international community for support so we can avoid the war.

My mission is to save my tribe from extinction. I believe we can only do this by seeking help from the international community who care about human rights and the forests. My dream is to bring one hundred tribal leaders together to talk. We would sit together and share how we are being treated. We would share all the ways that our rights are not respected. We would unite together and ask for representation in government. We would find a way to be heard by the rest of the world. But we have no money to travel. We have no place to meet. We have no way to organize.”

Can you help? They need water. Their land is so fertile that if they have water, everything will begin to grow again. New wells have found only salinated water. They need protection. If we protect them, they will in turn be able to help us organize to revive this planet. If we don’t protect them, they will perish. And, we, the people of the earth, cannot live long on one lung, now becoming more clogged and dysfunctional. Let’s work together, with their wisdom and our technology, to preserve the wisdom traditions of these indigenous people and heal the forests, which are our lungs.

What you can do:
1) Contribute money through a non-profit org: www.healingjourneys.net/fulnio.htm. Financial support will be used for water tanks to store potable water, and providing a good education to the Fulni-O children. Josie Ravenwing, who has visited the Fulni-O lands on several occasions says, “For the Fulni-o, water is their present survival, education is their future.”

2) Help document the human rights violations taking place in their village. The Fulni-O are ready to receive visitors who will write or film their plight so it can be more visible in the international community.
3) Send an email to the Brazilian government. Urge them to bring water to the Fulni-O land at Aguas Belas, to help regenerate the land, to return the reservation land to the Fulni-O, and provide ample protection for the tribe.

Contact For More Information:

Josie Ravenwing: jravenwing@aol.com; 954-922-1596 in Florida
Go to www.healingjourneys.net and follow links to Fulni-O and “projects”


Emma Bragdon, PhD., is the author of “Spiritual Alliances: Discovering the Roots of Health at the Casa de Dom Inacio” and “Kardec’s Spiritism” and two other books on spiritual awakening. She is the Director of Spiritual Alliances and the Executive Producer of films on Brazilian Spiritualism.

In putting this article together we drew from interviews made by Jessica Theissen, Sunita Chetnik, and Pedro Tibow, as well as my own dialogues with Aristedes, aka Jaguar Man. Special thanks for Jessica’s patience and sensitive translating, and Josie Ravenwing’s editing!