Sunday, 16 August 2009

The annual running of the boundaries

"Almost twenty years after first visiting Chinchero," writes Wade Davis, "I returned to participate in an astonishing ritual, the mujon omiento, the annual running of the boundaries. Since the time of the Inca, the [Peruvian] town has been divided into three ayullus, or communities, the most traditional of which us Cuper, the home of my compadres and, to my mind, the most beautiful, for its lands encompass Antakillqa and all the soaring ridges that separate Chinchero from the sacred valley of the Urumbamba. Within Cuper are four hamlets, and once each year, at the height of the rainy season, the entire male population, save those elders physically incapable of the feat, runs the boundaries of their respective communities. It is a race but also a pilgrimage, for the frontiers are marked by mounds of earth, holy sites where prayers are uttered and ritual gestures lay claim to the land. The distance travelled by the members of each hamlet varies. The track I was to follow, that of Pucamarca, covers some 15 miltes (24km), but the route crosses two Andean ridges, dropping a thousand feet (300m) from the plaza of Chinchero to the base of Antakillqa, then ascending three thousand feet (900m) to a summit spur before descending to the valley on the far side, only to climb once more to reach the grasslands of the high puna and the long trail home.

"At the head of each contingent would dart the way-laka, the strongest and fleetest of the youths, transformed for the day from male to female. Dressed in heavy woolen skirts and a cloak of indigo, wearing a woman's hat and delicate lace, the waylaka would fly up the ridges, white banner in hand. At every boundary marker, the transvestite must dance, a rhythmic turn that like a vortex draws to teh peaks the energy of the women left behind in the villages far below. Each of the four hamlets of Cuper has its own trajectory, just as each of the three ayullus has its own land to traverse. By the end of the day, all of Chinchero would be reclaimed: the rich plains and verdant fields of Ayullupunqu; the lakes, waterfalls, mountains and cliffs of Cuper; the gorges of Yanacona, where wild things thrive and rushing streams carry away the rains of the Urubamba.

"This much I knew as I approached the plaza on the morning of the event. Before dawn, the blowing of the conch shells had awoken the town, and the waylakas, once dressed, had walked from house to house, saluting the various authorities: the curaca and alcalde; the officers of the church; and the embarados, those charged with the preservation of tradition. At each threshold, coca had been exchanged, fermented maize chica imbibed and a cross of flowers hung in reverence above the doorway. For two hours, the procession had moved from door to door, musicians in tow, until it encompassed al of the community and drew everyone in celebration to the plaza where women waited, food in hand: baskets of potatoes and spicy piquante, flasks of chicha and steaming plates of vegetables. There I lingered, with gifts of coca for all. At my side was my godson, Armando. A grown man now, father of an infant girl.. he had returned to Chinchero to be with me for the day.

"What I could never have anticipated was the excitement and the rush of adrenaline, the sensation of imminent flight as the entire assembly of men, prompted by some unspoken signal, began to surge toward the end of the plaza. With a shout, the waylaka sprang down through the ruins, carrying with him more than a hundred runners and dozens of young boys who scattered across the slopes that funnelled downward toward a narrow dirt track. The trail fell away through a copse of eucalyptus and passed along the banks of a creek that dropped to the valley floor. A mile or two on, the waylaka paused for an instant, took a measure of the men, caught is breath and was off, dashing through thickets of buddleja and polylepis as the rest of us scrambled to keep sight of his white banner. Crossing the creek draw, we moved up the face of Antakillqa. Here, at last, the pace slowed to something less than a full run. Still, the men leaned into the slope with an intensity and determination unlike anything I had ever known. Less than two hours after leaving the village, we reached the summit ridge, a climb of several thousand feet.

"There we paused, as the waylaka planted his banner atop a mujon, a tall mound of dirt, the first of the border markers. The authorities added their ceremonial staffs, and as the men piled on dirt to augment the size of the mujon, Jon Jeronimo, the curaca, sang rich invocations that broke into a cheer for the wellbeing of the entire community. By the point, the runners were as restless as race horses, frantic to move. A salutation, a prayer, a generous farewell to those of Cuper Pueblo, another of the hamlets, who would track north, (how cool is that? To navigate the borders of your land along with your neighbours) and we of Pucamarca were off, heading east across the backside of the mountain to a second mujon located on a dramatic promontory overlooking all of the Urubamba. Beyond the hamlets and farms of the sacred valley, clouds swirled across the flanks of even higher mountains, as great shafts of sunlight fell upon the river and the fields far below.

"We pounded on across the backside of teh mountain and then straight down at a full run through dense tufts of ichu grass and meadows of lupine and rue. Another mujon, more prayers, handfulls of coca all around, blessings and shouts, and a mad dash off the mountain to the valley floor, where, mercifully, we older men rested for a few minutes in the courtyard of a farmstead owned by a beautiful elderly woman who greeted us with a great ceramic urn of frothy chicha. One of the authorities withdrew from his pocket a sheet of paper listing the names of the men and began to take attendance. Participation in the mujonomiento is obligatory, and those who fail to appear must pay a fine to the community. As the names were called, I glanced up and was stunned to see the waylaka, silhouetted on the skyline hundreds of feet above us, banner in hand, moving on.

"So the day went. The rains began in early afternoon, and the winds blew fiercely by four. By then nothing mattered but the energy of the group, the trail at our feet and the distant slope of yet another ridge to climb. Warmed by alcohol and coca leaves, the runners fell into reverie, a curious state of joy and release, almost like a trance.

"Darkness was upon us as we rushed down the final canyon on a broad muddy track where the water ran together like mercury and disappeared beneath the stones. Approaching the valley floor and the hamlet of Cuper Alto, where women and children waited, the rain-soaked runners closed ranks behind the waylaka to emerge from the mountains as a single force, an entire community that had affirmed through ritual its sense of place and belonging. In making the sacrifice, the men had reclaimed a birthright and rendered sacred a homeland. Once reunited with their families, they drank and sang, toasting their good fortune as the women served great steaming bowls of soup from iron cauldrons. And of course, late into the night, the waylakas danced."

-Light at the Edge of the World, p58 - 63

Man Play in Brazil

Wade Davis describes Harvard anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis's games with the Bororo men of Brazil.

All males of the community were divided into age sets spanning five years. "Thus, all boys aged five to ten, for example, or men thirty to thirty-five, were united as members of a named age set.

"Several times a year, the age sets would divide into two teams for a race, with cohorts 1, 3, 5 and 7 going up against 2, 4, 6 and 8, an arrangement that ensured that each side would have a similar mix of infants, boys, men and elders. The race itself entailed each side carrying a large and heavy log for long distances across the savannah, a marathon of dust, sweat and endurance that left every participant spent and exhausted.

"Maybury-Lewis loved the excitement and avidly took park, though... he found the ritual confusing. For one thing, no one was particularly concerned that the logs carried by each side be of similar weight. For another, it was not uncommon for the leading side to pause in the midst of the race, allowing the other to catch up. The first time Maybury-Lewis ran, his team did well, crossing the finishing line hours ahead of the opposition. He revelled in the victory, until he noticed that all of his teammates were downcast. The next time they raced, several weeks later, the other side won decisively, and everyone seemed crestfallen. Totally bewildered, Maybury-Lewis took part in yet a third race. This time, to the disappointment of the competitor in him, the sides approached and crossed the line at the same instant. To his utter surprise, both teams and the entire community erupted in a whirlwind of celebration.

"'The goal wasn't to win,' he recalled with a smile, 'it was to arrive together.'"

- Wade Davis, Light at the Edge of the World, p25

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Ecstasy according to Wikipedia

"Ecstasy is subjective experience of total involvement of the subject, with an object of his or her awareness. Because total involvement with an object of our interest is not our ordinary experience since we are ordinarily aware also of other objects, the ecstasy is an example of altered state of consciousness characterized by diminished awareness of other objects or total lack of the awareness of surroundings and everything around the object. For instance, if one is concentrating on a physical task, then one might cease to be aware of any intellectual thoughts. On the other hand, making a spirit journey in an ecstatic trance involves the cessation of voluntary bodily movement.

"For the duration of the ecstasy the ecstatic is out of touch with ordinary life and is capable neither of communication with other people nor of undertaking normal actions. Although the experience is usually brief in physical time (from momentary to about half an hour), there are records of such experiences lasting several days or even more, and of recurring experiences of ecstasy during one's lifetime. Subjective perception of time, space and/or self may strongly change or disappear during ecstasy. The word is often used in mild sense, to refer to any heightened state of consciousness or intense pleasant experience. It is also used more specifically to denote states of awareness of non-ordinary mental spaces, which may be perceived as spiritual (the latter type of ecstasy often takes the form of religious ecstasy). Some religious people hold the view that true religious ecstasy occurs only in context of their religion (e.g. as a gift from the deity whom they worship) and it cannot be induced by natural means (human activities). They consider ecstasy as a way of contacting with the divine and usually value the experience as highly desirable."
source: Wikipedia
Everything I've read and heard about ecstasy so far views it as a state of being connected with, or dissolved in, the divine. The four times I've experienced it, it seemed that way to me, I experienced such a different state of being and a sense of sometimes overwhelming goodness, other times, overwhelming love. "Like being dissolved in god's heart," I remember explaining it back then.
What are secular perceptions / explanations / productions of ecstasy through non-drug means?

The killing of carnival

Earlier I posted about the creation of Carnival.

Now, more from Queen Barbara

At some point, in town after town throughout the northern Christian world, the music stops. Carnival costumes are put away or sold; dramas that once engaged a town's entire population are canceled; festive rituals are forgotten or preserved only in tame and truncated form. The ecstatic possibility, which had first been driven from the sacred precincts of the church, was now harried from the streets and public squares."

The suppression of traditional festivities, occurring largely in the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, took many forms. Sometimes it came swiftly and absolutely, when, for example, a town council suddenly broke with tradition by refusing to grant a permit for the celebrations or a church denied the use of its churchyard. Or the change might come slowly, with authorities first limiting festivities to Sundays, then, in a classic catch-22, prohibiting all recreations and sports on the Sabbath. In other places the festivities were attacked in a piecemeal fashion: some German towns banned masking in the late fifteenth century; in mid sixteenth-century Bearn, the queen issued ordinances outlawing singing and feasting. Dancing, masking, revelling in the streets – the ingredients of carnival, or festivities in general, could be outlawed one by one.

"The wave of repression.. extended from Scotland south to parts of Italy and eastwards to Russia and Ukraine, [targeted] almost every opportunity for revelry and play.” (p97-8)

The explanation offered by Max Weber in the late nineteenth century and richly expanded on by the historians E.P. Thompson and Christopher Hill in the late twentieth is that the repression of festivities was, in a sense, a by-product of the emergence of capitalism. The middle classes had to learn to calculate, save, and 'defer gratification'; the lower classes had to be transformed into a disciplined, factory-ready, working class – meaning far fewer holidays and the new necessity of showing up for work sober and on time, six days a week. Peasants had worked hard too, of course, but in seasonally determined bursts; the new industrialism required ceaseless labour, all year round.” p100

Was this changed forced upon people, or were they compliant?

A mixture of both, Barbara suggests. “Protestantism – especially in its ascetic, Calvinist form – played a major role in convincing large numbers of people not only that unremitting, disciplined labour was good for their souls, but that festivities were positively sinful, along with mere idleness... Protestantism, serving as the ideological handmaiden of the new capitalism, “descended like a frost on the life of 'Merrie old England'” as Weber put it, destroying in its icy grip the usual Christmas festivites, the maypole, the games, and all traditional forms of group pleasure.” (p101)

There was more.

As tensions rose between different wealth groups, festivities where all came together became the cooking pot for that friction, which increasingly boiled over into violence.
Until the 15th century, knights and noblemen and women revelled, according to Barbara, along with the peasants. By the turn of the 16th Century, retreat behind masks became retreat altogether and the establishment of totally separate festivities.

Upper class festivities started out as raucous as the community revelries, but gradually became restrained and solemn so that by the late 18th century, according to historian Robert Darnton, the poor and working class "had all the fun" while the elite could only “parade about solemnly in processions generales.” (quoted by Barbara, p113).

"Has our culture lost something?" asks Stuart Brown.

Yes, I think so. But fear not! The Fun Fed is here! :)
And Hide and Seek. And Come out and Play. And even, though slightly different, the
Celebration Activists. And the Nomadic Academy of Fools. And everything in this blog and much, much more besides.

Something in our culture is twisting and turning. New (old) things are being born again.

Playing for dancers

The Findhorn week ends with The Concert which is Fantastic. I'm in the guitars section in the scratch orchestra and we play our guts out for the dancers who dance and whoop in appreciation and I get blood blisters on my fingers from strumming so hard, faster and faster these wild gypsy tunes, getting the power of the sound and rhythm all the way out into the hall with the band, and the blisters burst and bleed and I don't really feel it because I'm pumped with adrenalin and the rhythm keeps going and everyone's there, everyone from the week I've known in different ways now together in their gladrags looking beautiful and playing/ singing / dancing their hearts out and I am grinning ear to ear and fantastic.

This is my kind of performance. Everyone in the room is either playing, or dancing, or singing. There is no audience, only participants. Most people have practiced pieces so that we can be co-ordinated, and we feed each other and it's totally brilliant.

The most fun in the world

One night at Glastonbury festival about ten years ago, I gave myself the mission of finding the best fun in the whole festival. I left my friends and set off on a solo expedition through gigs, dance tents, weird tents, campfires, conversations, kitchens, scores of people, and even the first aid tent to see how fun it was to try to help people who were feeling fucked up.

Finally I made my way up to the stone circle, where the tradition is for all those still awake to gather and to see the sunrise in with drumming, dancing and bedtime reefers. After a whole night's exploration I came back to my friends and the dawn found me lying literally in a pile of them. Ah, I thought happily. This is the best fun in the whole of Glastonbury.

Of the oriental cults that swept through the ancient Greek and Roman worlds,” writes Barbara, “Christianity is the only one to have survived in any form. The reason for its success, at least in the first two centuries, probably lies in a quality that the other cults never attained and, as far as we know, never tried to attain: namely, a sense of community that could outlast the emotional charge of the ceremonies and rituals themselves.” Dancing in the Streets, p72

One of the strongest kinds of gold I know is good love. I walk home alone thinking of this and of the desire that Hannah and I share to plug the Fun Fed's work into real communities, real relationships, real love, rather than bunches of strangers who come together for a few hours or days and then dissipate.

This kind of shared experience can have a powerful effect on relationships. Last night my guest-house-mates and I went to Ecstatic dance, which was wonderful. We saw such playful and beautiful sides of each other, and this morning at breakfast we were all playing and dancing and laughing around the kitchen together like a team of little groovers. We feel very close now.

I'd like us to weave this into real life.

I've been to a gazilion workshops and festivals and things in the four months I've been doing this work, and on my list of most fun or golden moments are:

Yodelling in the open back of Gilbert's truck with Jenny"
Chopping wood with Laura"
Washing up and singing Stevie Wonder while mopping the kitchen with Victor and Brian.”

I've changed location and community about once a week for the last 8 weeks, and more broadly been travelling for the last eight months. I miss my friends and family.

I have an almost ceaseless desire to eat cake. And I think what I really want is love. 

Friday, 7 August 2009

pink shoes, goats and beautiful men

I'm not making friends here very easily. I'm trying but nobody seems to want to be my friend. They're all middle aged. And mostly hippies. I try. I wear long floaty clothes. Christ, I'm almost in f****** robes. Let me in! “Aren't you disappointed there aren't more people of your own age here?” one asks me. “Yes! I'm not sure why...”  “I wouldn't have come when I was your age!” 

That's it. They all think I'm sad.

I go to the Greek Dancing which is fun for a bit, but soon wears off.

I keep wanting cake. What do I really want? Joy! The glow of friendship and love!

Not really knowing what to do, I wander home. I come across a fire, in the rain, musicians, drummers, people huddling, people my age! . !! .

If they were just talking I'd be scared off, but the wonderful thing about music is that you can just sidle up and listen and start humming and it's OK.

So I do. The rain drives us under a shelter and there's a beautiful man making rhythm with his body and in front of him is a blond woman in what looks like pyjamas, skinny legs, big boobs no bra, and she's dancing, dancing, wild, jumping, thrusting her neck forward, bouncing on her feet, to the noise of him, he's clapping his hands, and making noises, gutteral noises, animal noises, ey yeh ey oh ugh ugh.. and I realise they're quite similar to Chartwell's noises. The Beautiful Man is a tall black man with piles and piles of thin dreads wrapped elegantly around his beautiful head. I stand right by the pair, in awe, eyes wide open, maybe clapping along, I don't know, I can't quite believe my eyes, but I find it delightful, totally wonderfully delightful.

They end and we all applaud. Someone offers me chocolate. I gratefully accept. I feel accepted. Ahhh. Everything shifts downward an inch.

The rain stops and we go back to the fire. Beautiful man sits down with a drum and a rhythm wriggles out of him. Another drummer joins in. I sit down. I am happy here, I think. I am with my own kind. I do not want to move from here. A man grabs a silver tray – drum - and a pair of pink shoes – sticks – and begins to play. I get up and wander around. I come back with a spade. Best thing I can find. I sit with it between my legs and start tapping with my nails and knuckles. People dance. We are content. Next song, pink shoes are replaced by the two ends of bunjee chord, I find two twigs, great drumsticks, the neck of the spade is the best bit, we play. I get up and dance beside white PJs lady. We are happy.

The evening moves on. A man wearing cats ears arrives with a man wearing goats ears. Come to the cafe, they say. There'll be music.

We do. There is. They play. We join in.

Then the three Greek musicians from the festival arrive.

Bring your goats! I say

Pyjama dancing woman is sitting next to me.

Your what?

Their goats! They play amazing bagpipes made of goats.

“Yes yes!” she cries to them. “Do bring your goats.”

Twenty minutes later they arrive with goats. They begin to play along with the musicians. It's fantastic. Beautiful man has come alive. He's like the Peulth in Conference of the Birds. Music will come and go and entertainers will try and nothing will move him. And then something – a sound – will come – and it's Alive – it's really Alive – and he's Alive in response – sitting on the bench, arms outstretched now, back upright and arching slightly, and he's dancing, even with his face, looking around, dancing with his eyes, the music has him, then he's up on his feet and no-one can take their eyes off him.

Next song the greek lady singer sings and my.... wow... arshshs mmmm

The Greeks leave and it winds down

I feel tired

And go to bed