Friday, August 1, 2008

Queen Jurema

JUREMA THE QUEEN - The Sacred Plant of Brazilian Northeastern Backlands (1)

The Jurema is settled on a unique place among Brazilian anthropological studies. The term itself contains multiple denotations, which are associated on a complex symbolism (MOTA & BARROS, 1990:171). Besides the botanical sense (2), the word Jurema has at least three other meanings:

1. Liquid preparation based upon the plant’s elements, for medical and mystical purposes, external and internal, as the sacred drink, "Wine of Jurema";
2. Magical-religious ceremony, led by pajés, shamans, healers, mourners, “’Pais de Santo’ (3), or Jurema masters who prepare and drink this "wine" and / or give it to initiate or to customers;
3. Jurema also being a spiritual entity, a "cabocla" (4), or a divinity, evoked both by the remnant Indians, direct heirs of the Catimbó ceremonies, as well as the African Brazilian cult of Umbanda.
For Professor José Maria Tavares de Andrade (5), this "semiotic complex" called Jurema, represents, until this day, in this term characteristic multi-significance, a point of view and an ethnic resistance of the autochthonous northeasters, "the leitmotiv of a cultural feature, which distinguishes the native component of popular, regional and national culture.” Let’s check the complete quote:
“In a first stage of colonization, the indigenous people resistance in the Northeast did not allow Jurema, as sacred tree, to be known in its uses and meanings, then not being documented by settlers and foreigners. On a second historical period, Jurema represents a ritualistic element connected to the armed resistance of the native people or even the war undertaken against enemies from their own alliances. Even at this point in which Jurema is starting to be documented, its significance is not yet understood but its use is already a reason for repression, imprisonment and assassination of Indians. (...) As the rolling compressor of colonization goes on, an attempt of political, economical and also cultural domination, a new form of resistance is undertaken: The Jurema takes over a central place in popular religiosity, and not only in the indigenous Catimbó.
It is before the black element that Jurema ensures hers recognition as an autochthonous entity (spirit, divinity, cabocla), "owner of the land." Jurema is then absorbed by African-Brazilian cults, even with the upcoming of "Candomblés de Caboclo´s” (6). In the last decades, it was in the context of Umbanda - a new-born religion, in plain process of systematization and national expansion - that Jurema was integrated into the sacred cosmology, into the pantheon of national religion. We noticed in several states of the northeast the "Lines of Jurema," among the lines and religious affiliations of Umbanda. In recent years, and together with the properly Brazilian religious movement, the Jurema continues as the "hard nucleus,” secret, flag or symbol for the remaining indigenous, on their "ethnical political movement," in the context of defending their human rights, their reserved areas and theirs autonomy and recognition within Brazilian social and cultural pluralism.” (ANDRADE, 1992:2)
It is not hard to understand why Jurema used to be sacred to the northeastern Indians even before the arrival of the white people. According to Andrade, "linguistic roots for the word Yu'rema in the Tupi language are a strong indication that the primary use, including ceremonial, of the Jurema´s wine, is not only a legacy for and from indigenous and regional culture, but also certainly existed before the presence of the white settlers".
Besides its hallucinogenic characteristics (7) and its proven use in wars and rituals of social transition, the Jurema, while plant, plays a central role in the semi-arid northeastern ecosystem of the caatingas (8): during the long periods of drought, when the landscape of the backlands become gray and red, only Jurema and the mandacaru cactus resist green and with water reserves. In fact, at the height of the drought, the bark of the Jurema gets dry but its interior remains blooming. When the rain returns, the dry peel falls off and the tree reappears young. This phenomenon gives room to a long mythology of legends and songs involving the seasonality cycles of death / rebirth. But, unlike the mandacaru, from which the countryman can take water during the drought, the water from the Jurema is completely inaccessible to human use. In the case of Jurema, the existence of water attracts small insects and then various levels of small predators of the backland’s ecosystem food chain. The snakes are common in the ‘juremal’, both because of the existence of a good quantity of food and also because of the protection given by the thorny branches, preventing the area from larger animals. This fact also penetrated popular mythology, and is a theme for song and ritualistic hymns and ‘chamadas’, which is’ calls’, in which the snakes spiritually protect the tree, as well as the tree, with its spines, protects their guardians reptiles. Thus, the juremal is the center of resistance to drought for organic life, around which orbit the entire 'non-human' (actually, non-mammal) ecosystem of the caatinga, ands reigns in northeastern backlands since immemorial times, kept away from any attempt of socialization: It is only a dangerous place full of taboos, under many aspects.
Before the arrival of settlers, only the Indians of the backwoods of Rio Grande do Norte, the Kariris and Jê (or Tapuios), used to drink Jurema. (SANGIRARDI JR., 1983) These tribes that hold the rites of Jurema, however, fought together with the Dutchman and were completely destroyed by the Portuguese forces. The Jurema as ethnic identity was then historically built in secret during the period of colonization, going up to distant coastal tribes who had no tradition with the drink. The use of Jurema was tolerated and accepted by the catholic Portuguese while it was directed against the French and the Dutch invaders, but its religious use was condemned as witchcraft. There are several historical records (XVI and XVII century) about the military effectiveness of the ‘juremers warriors’. This dual permission / condemnation favored a secret and silent expansion of the Jurema, leading the use of drink to be known up to Maranhao. (ANDRADE, 1992:9)
And that was how, in this contradictory context, the Jurema was ratified as being an indigenous ethnic practice and has mixed with the African cults. And, in these cults, it is not a matter of minimizing the plant to a 'spirit' of a cabocla as we know to happen in Umbanda: the African Candomblé recognizes Jurema as an Orisha, the only one genuinely Brazilian (9). The Jurema reached the empire as rather complex religious form of cultural resistance, keeping alive its warrior and marginal character and yet experienced a new cycle of popular religiousness - the masters of Jurema in northeastern Catimbó, which, until the first half of the twentieth century used the beverage to undo spells and enchantments in Ceará, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte. (CASCUDO, 1978).
Although, despite being set as a complex rich in variations, most anthropological studies on Jurema describes only the Toré, a party of the northeastern Indians in which the drink is ritually consumed. The oldest known report is from 1946, when Oswaldo Gonçalves de Lima described the continuous shamanic use for the Jurema´s wine among the Indians ‘Pankararu do Brejo dos Padres’, in the south of Pernambuco.
Around 1980, some researchers advocate the extinction of the celebration of the Jurema cults (SCHULTES & Hofmann, cited by Ott, 2002:673). However, it is known that some ceremonial forms associated with the Toré have been surviving among the Xucuru, from Serra Ararobá in Pernanbuco; the Kariri-xocó from the border of Alagoas and Sergipe (MOTA, 1987); the Atickum-Umã in Pernambuco (GRÜNEWALD, 1995), the Truká (BATISTA, 1995) and numerous other groups spread around the northeastern backlands (Pinto, 1995). Moreover, during the second half of the twentieth century, the indigenous ceremony of the Toré has been symbolically adopted by Umbanda groups along the northeastern coast.
From this point on, many irrespondable questions can be made: What happened to Jurema? How was it transformed from a shamanic practice, from a popular-ethnic secret manifestation for Indians and Africans into in a simple 'cabocla of the line of Oxossi ' (10) without any relation to the plant and its consumption? How such a significant tradition disappears without leaving any evidence?
However, we will only understand the true meaning of Jurema, the main reason for its' sacredness', its mysterious disappearance and its current mythical reconstruction, if we relate it to the whole contemporary discussion on enteogenic genesis or ’enteogenesis'.

Enteogenesis means 'divine origin' (Theo = God, Genesis = Origin). The word 'enteogens', however, emerged as an alternative for the denomination ‘hallucinogens' to designate the use of chemicals substances for mystical, religious or cognitive purposes. According to its defenders, the denomination 'hallucinogen' for substances that promote a psychological effect, leading to changes in perception and consciousness is prejudicial because impute the sense of alienation and numbness. The enteogenesis, then, would not be alienating use of drugs - as prescribed by numerous thinkers of Counterculture.
Timothy Leary (11) , among others less famous, defended the revolutionary character of psychedelic experience through drugs. For Leary, the states of altered consciousness provoke deep existential changes, changes in personality, making people more aware of themselves.
Also Carlos Castaneda (12), anthropologist converted to the 'Toltec witchcraft' system, started up in the tradition using the 'plants of power', mainly Datura (the 'grass of evil ') and Peyote (the 'mescalito') (13). The drug here is used to break with the ordinary description of reality, with common perception of the world, as a way to feel present in other dimensional universes.
Drug may hallucinate and heal, balance and make mad, wonder and addict. It is a paradox, a device of apparently contrary functions. Among the Brazilian authors who thought the issue of drugs within the Michel Foucault’s perspective of forms of subjection, Edson Passetti is perhaps the one who best described the central role of this device in contemporary society.
“The drug is thought as a medical product able to reinsert an individual within social normality. It is also a hallucinogen capable - when used outside its area of containment - to promote or generate distortions in the individual’s personality. On both sides, the drug affects the so-called soul of the subject, either by retrieving it or by losing it. Thus, within the most perfect order of things, drugs are disease and cure, crime and law, which use is regulated by government agencies.
(...) The relations between drug and soul, this thing that can be rationally captured, organized and exposed so that the individual can live a supposed earthly plenitude, that religions do not provide - and precisely due to this principle contributes to the religion reproduction -, aims to combat the despicable in and out of the individual, correcting the parts or the sum. (PASSETTI, 1991: .56-57)”
The researcher Terence McKenna (14), turns the cognitive nature of drugs and psichodelic experience in counterculture into a 'etnopharmacology', that is, a systematic study of the entheogens consumption traditions. McKenna - author of several books on different psychoactive substances and contemporary religiosity (1993, 1995 and 1996) - establishes a strategic association between three hypothesis from other authors, which will become the canons of the entheogenic movement:

1. The hypothesis that it was through the ingestion of psychoactive chemicals that the monkeys had become aware of themselves (Levi Strauss), initiating the development of the human species. In this scenario, it is suggested that all our experience with holyness originally derived from the consumption of chemical substances.
2. The possibility of constructing "artificial paradise" or a social utopia made from chemically altered consciousness (Charles Baudelaire and Aldous Huxley). From this second hipotesis stems the idea that the future is a return to archaic memory.
3. The idea of Gaia (James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis) according to which the Earth’s biosphere is actually a living organism. So, rather than being power devices for social control (the drugs), the psychoactive substances would primarily function as re-connection between man and the telluric planet. From these assumptions, a baffling set of questions are possible: "Would we still be evolving nature’s eternal laws? There would be a kingdom beyond space and time which would ensure the standards and the conditions for creativity and organization, and the emerging evolutionary process - or the universe is to build itself while it moves on? The causes of things would be in the past or in the future? There would be some hiperdimensional object, which would push us forward? Would history be only a shadow that eschatology projects behind itself? Would us, the human beings, be imagining or being imagined? Would history be, in a sense, a co-creation - an unstable partnership, chronically involving and coward between us and the Hiperdimensional Standards Maker? Could it be that the visionary vegetables are our enhancers and our guides, and would the teo-botanic be the key to all this? Would chaos be purely chaotic, or would it hold the dynamics of all creativity? What connection would exist between the physical light and the light of consciousness? How would we transpose our fundamental limits in order to enter a new period of human adventure? “(MCKENNA, 1994.)
Currently, on the Internet, one can find WebPages of religious groups related to the shamanic traditions with the Ayahuasca as well as pages from psychenauts and scholars. It is true that the ideas of the enteogenic movement let room for all sorts of excesses. To some, for example, the enteogenic mushroom would only be the physical body of a cosmic intelligence, coming from another planet to colonize the Earth. On the other hand, it is clear that the traditional groups disagree with these psychenauts at the same time that try a connection with McKenna’s ideas. Alex Polari, from the Santo Daime doctrine, for instance, wrote “Would the gods be Alkaloids” ? (15) But the truth is that the actual increase of traditional groups at international level (which use chemicals substances from power plants - Ayahuasca, Peyote, San Pedro) is in large part due to the enteogenic movement, and that this last one often ends up influencing and modifying those first ones - as we will see regarding Jurema ...

In order to understand this mythical recreation of Jurema on the current days, there are two fundamental contemporary reserches. In “The Jurema in ‘Indian Regime’: the Atikum affair” (GRÜNEWALD, 1995) one can observe the contrast between some symbolic aspects of these reconstitution of the ceremonial use of Jurema in the contemporary religious context and in its traditional context. The text deals with how, between 1943 and 1945, the caboclos from Uma´s Hills, descendants of unknown tribes, knowing that the Brazilian government had the Toré as a criterion for granting land for indigenous reserves, sought the Tuxá tribe in order to learn the ritual and to get the benefit. What really happened was that in 1949, when the caboclos Umã got to be considered Indians Atikums (suposedly the name of the tribe´s mythical ancestor). Thus, the Toré and the ritual use of Jurema are traditions to be displayed as ethnic certificates, recognized by the SPI (the Indian Protection Service) and later by, the FUNAI. Grünewald notices, however, that this is not merely a stratagem to ensure collective ownership of land, but that the caboclos Umã really began to believe in their new Atikum identity. Jurema gave these men more than a piece of land: gave an ethnic identity that unites a group separating it from others, giving it a place in time and in social space.
Another episode, slightly narrated in the text, cites the work of a Dutch foundation, Friends of the Forest - Ethnopharmacological agents & rituals and drug dependency treatment research. The foundation, together with Dutch universities and public authorities, applied free of charge rehabilitation treatment for people addicted to drugs (heroin, cocaine, alcohol, etc.) mainly using Ayahuasca. However, due to suspension on the supply by the entity that manages Santo Daime (16), which considered the therapeutic use of the beverage out of their religious precepts, "the friends of the forest" then began to search and use the same psichoactive principles extracted from other similar plants. In this "analogue ayahuasca," the Black Jurema (Mimosa Hostilis) is used in combination with Perganum Harmala seeds, a bush from the middle east well known for its sedative characteristics (17).
But that´s not all: the researchers of the foundation Friends of the Forest themselves describe their contact with the Atikun Indians and how they introduced the use of this new formula in some of its rituals (BARBOSA, 1998:27-28). According to them, the Atikum dont only recognized the potentialization on the effects of the Jurema by the Perganum Harmala, but also kept seeds of the bush to be planted in the northearsten drylands. The text suggests that there was a cultural assimilation of the sientific preparation techniques, imported from abroad by the "Atikum culture" and that this fact may be able to resurrect the tradition of Jurema (18).
The second contemporary key text to understand Jurema is the article “Pharmahuasca, anahuasca and black jurema: human pharmacology of oral DMT plus harmine (OTT, 2002), which investigates the hipotesis of psichoactive synergy between DMT and the b-carbonilas, the so-called 'Ayahuasca effect,' in different preparations: the pharmahuasca (synthetic capsules of DMT and Harmine), the anahuasca (bevageras prepared with different plants of ayahuasca, but with the same active ingredients) and the black Jurema. The idea of the 'Ayahuasca effect' (HOLMSTEDT-LINDGREN, 1967 in MOTA, 1990) is that the oral psichoactivity's of DMT dependends on the inhibition of the monoanima-oxidase (catabolic enzime MAO), caused by the simultaneous intake of b-carbonilas. In Ayahuasca, the simbolic female principle is represented by the leaf of Psichotria Viridis (Chacrona or Queen), bearer of DMT, and the male principle, the vine Banisteriopsis Caapi (Jagube or Mariri), which contains harmina and harmalina, MAO inhibitors that generate the psichoactivity. But neither the leaf nor the vines are psichoactive if taken separately.
In the specific case of black Jurema, which presents a DMT concentration much higher than other plants and it is nowadays the main source of triptamines for the pharmahuascas and anahuascas, OTT investigates the so-called ‘propiciator agent' of its psichoactivity, refered to the loss or the lack of an ingredient to complement the Black Jurema wine, once its has not b-carbonilas. Rejecting (through chemical analysis) the chance that tobacco and the passion fruit juice consumed during Torés would provide the harminas needed for psichoactivity, the researcher suggests the possibility that "the wine of Jurema is potentially visionary on itself," provided that it is consumed in high doses (25 grams of bast, twice 125 ml of water at a time) prepared in the traditional way (pressing the beaten root in cold water without additives). Using this method, the researcher claims to have achieved the DMT like effects, but during less time. OTT suggests that there may be some other unknown catabolic enzyme (since there are no MAO in Jurema) or even a variation of the DMT, the complex DMT, which, according to him, would get to the brain without the need for additives or inhibitors.
I Particularly do not believe in Ott´s hipotesis that Jurema, under certain unkown conditions, is autopsichoactive; nor do I believe that the entheogenic movement revivals the ethnic identity "tradition" of its cults. I prefer to think that the mystery of the additional ingredient (bearer of harmina), possibly lost with the destruction of the tribes of the northeastern drylands, can still be discovered through botanical research. Moreover, the disappearance of the ingredient (or at least its hiding up to our days) well explains the decadence of the rituals.
We still do not know if the Atikum will really take forward the lessons of Dutch researchers. It is also not possible to know, at least through anthropological research, if indeed there is a secret Jurema tradition, who holds the knowledge of the MAO inhibitor ingredient. The truth is that today it is easier to find spiritual work with Jurema in Europe than in brazilian northeastern caatingas. We live a global mythical reconstruction process, in which a genuinely Brazilian plant, symbol of a part of our ethnic consciousness, is being reinvented in a contemporary global context and even being re-imported to the middle classes culturally more sophisticated of Brazilian society.
[1] Originally Sertão. In “In Brazil, the sertão (Portuguese term for backcountry or backlands) once referred to the vast hinterland of Brazil away from the Atlantic coastal regions where the Portuguese first settled in South America. In modern terms, "sertão" refers to the semi-arid region in Northeastern Brazil comprising parts of the states of Alagoas, Bahia, Pernambuco, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceará and Piauí.”
[2] Jurema´s ethno botany: Mimosa tenuiflora (Will.) Poiret (=M. hostilis Benth.) and other species of mimosaceas from Brazilian northeast, especially Hostilis, called Jurema Preta.
[3] The encarnated maximum authority in afro-brazilian ceremonies.
[4] Word used to designate people who are a mixture race of natives and Caucasians.
[5] Ph.D in Antropology GERSULP researcher, Strasbourg. Ming Anthony, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris.
[6] Candomblés are typical African cults, in this context transformed into an african-native-brazilian ritual. (translators note)
[7] Jurema has D.M.T. (Dimetril TriptaMina), the same psichoactive alkaloid from Ayahuasca.
[8] This word designates a type of dry land covered with crooked trees and also prickly plants, common in the northeast of Brazil
[9] A Jurema como nação:
[10] Oxóssi is the orisha related with the forest.
[11] Website in hommage to Leary:
[12] Website which is a international reference
[13] Complete information on Peyote:
[14] Biografphy in portuguese
[17] Also known as Syrius Rue, this plant is known since pre-historical times from the Mediterranean up to Central Asia. It is associated to the Arab flying carpets and the ancient tradition of sacred beverages (the Soma of the Rg Veda and Haoma of Persian Avesta).
[18] Indirectly, Grünewald´s text explain that the Friend of the Forest researchers got to now only a peripheral Catimbó work, staying far away from knowing the “true tradition” of the Toré. Nevertheless, the relations between Atikum and the Dutch kept on going, as one can see in


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