Sunday, 16 August 2009

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

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