Into and out of the forest : change and community in Céu do Mapiá

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Lowell, Jonathan Thomas

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Céu do Mapiá is a community of people living in the rainforest in the southwestern quadrant of Brazil. It was founded in 1983 by ex-rubber tapper Sebastião Mota de Melo and a collection of followers of the religion known as “Santo Daime.” These men and women were seeking to create a “New World,” separating themselves from a society that was undergoing a great deal of upheaval as the period marked the initial phases of major deforestation in the Amazon. The community, therefore, offered a chance of escape from the devastation around them and the freedom to practice their religious beliefs. ‘The Holy Gift,’ as it translates in Portuguese, Santo Daime is a religion that melds together popular Roman Catholicism and indigenous ayahuasca use, as well as Afro-Brazilian spirit possession, Amazonian encantaria, and most recently, New Age beliefs and concepts. Ayahuasca is a concoction of two plants, B. caapi and P. viridis, that produces psychotropic effects and has been widely consumed among indigenous tribes in the Amazon. However, in the context of Santo Daime, it has been deemed a kind of sacrament, the central force of a religious movement that has expanded from its corner in the Amazon into urban centers across Brazil and into Europe, North America, and Japan. Though maintaining a fairly small following of 10,000, Santo Daime has become a global religious movement. This thesis attempts to unravel two seemingly contradictory processes embodied in the community of Céu do Mapiá: separation and expansion. First, I outline the trajectory of the community from its initial ideals to its later entanglements with state and other international actors. Second, I trace the network of people, ideas, and goods that have become a part of Santo Daime’s international expansion. Third, I discuss the contemporary everyday rhythms in the communities and how they have been shaped by the various relationships that have developed through this expansion, positing that place is a nexus of relations.



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