By Bia Labate and Matthew Meyer
 
The site bialabate.net, with the collaboration of Matthew Meyer, is publishing some interesting stuff on the topic Ayahuasca as cultural heritage of Brazil.
 
In 2008 a coalition of political alliances among some ayahuasca centers in Acre and Rondônia, the municipal and state governments of Acre, and the federal congresswoman Perpétua Almeida wrote a letter of request to IPHAN (Brazil’s National Institute of Historical and Artistic Patrimony) to designate ayahuasca use in religious rituals an element of Brazil`s immaterial cultural heritage (2008). (See version in English at: http://www.bialabate.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/IPHAN_Request_Ayahuasca_Cultural_Heritage_Brazil.pdf)
This happened, coincidentally, 2 months before Peru announced the recognition of the traditional medicinal use of ayahuasca by indigenous populations as cultural heritage of that country.
 
An intense and dynamic process is going on in Acre regarding this request. The discussion is quite advanced, but there are still important challenges to be overcome. Should the designation be approved, there will likely be important consequences for the ayahuasca community in Brazil and elsewhere. 
 
The idea here is to show the world what is happening in the bustling Acrean capital, whose activities often remain unknown to the rest of Brazil and overseas.

All of this is even more astounding if we think historically. Bia remembers that in 2003 she gave a talk at the “First Social Sciences and History Week” at Uninorte, a private university in Rio Branco. Before beginning, she asked the audience who had heard of ayahuasca, Daime, or Vegetal, and to her surprise, about a third of the students raised their hands to say they had never heard anything about it—and this right in Rio Branco!

During July, Bia traveled to the North of Brazil, where she launched her last two books at the Federal University of Acre (UFAC). She did some interviews and reports for this site. Matthew has translated this message and the letter of request into English, and commented the interviews here with Bia.
There follow some introductory comments on the interviews:

1.  Antônio Alves— journalist, poet, and political advisor (Rio Branco, July 2nd, 2009).
 
A member of the Centro de Iluminação Cristã Luz Univeral (CICLU-Alto Santo), Antônio Alves is one of the older characters in this drama and one of the main formulators of the process, in addition to being an extremely pleasant person. Toinho, as he is affectionately known, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the process and points out the special relationships of Santo Daime to the Acrean government, especially the last two administrations, both controlled by the Workers’ Party (PT), and his personal role in it as both a member of CICLU and an advisor to the government.
 
2. Marcos Vinícius Neves, president of the Garibaldi Brasil Foundation, the municipal culture foundation of Rio Branco, Acre (Rio Branco, July 10th, 2000).
 
Marcos Vinícius is a historian and archaeologist who now dedicates himself to public service, with the management of historical patrimony as one of his principal foci. In this interview, he gives a real history lesson on Acre, revealing to us the ins and outs of this fascinating process. As Marcos Vinícius teaches us, the government has supported this effort by the ayahuasca groups to shift discussion of ayahuasca from the “drugs question” to the “cultural agenda.” This effort sheds light on the interesting approach of the committee that formed around the appeal, which, according to Marcos Vinícius, is to emphasize the existence of an “ayahuasca culture” over the “ritual and religious use” of ayahuasca.

3.   Perpétua Almeida, federal congresswoman from the Communist Party of Brazil (Rio Branco, July 10th, 2009).
 
Perpétua tells us, in a sympathetic and accessible way, a little of her life’s trajectory (from the rubber camp to nuns’ school and to the Communist Party of Brazil), of how the idea to make this request came about, the political alliances that were formed for this to happen, the reaction of her colleagues in the congress and of the press, and so on.
 
As we can see in her answers, the recognition of ayahuasca seems to be associated, in the ayahuasca communities of Rio Branco, with a certain “pride in being Acrean” and to the desire to highlight Amazonian identity in Brazil. Beyond this, there appears the idea that the religious use of ayahuasca gave origin to the “only genuinely Brazilian religions.”

The three interviews, taken together, show that the image of ayahuasca as a “dangerous drug” is being reconstructed, little by little, and taking new shape in the public debate—could it be that it will become a new national symbol, like soccer, capoeira, samba, and umbanda?
 
Will this recognition take place? And what will become of the use of ayahuasca in Brazil over the next decades? Will there be a huge expansion? Will a future president of Brazil be an ayahuasqueiro? How about technical certification programs on the preparation of ayahuasca? A national holiday for the Queen of the Forest?
 
Whatever happens, the fact that a Communist congresswoman has put forward a request to recognize the religious use of ayahuasca seems to me to be quite Brazilian. :)
 
Listen to the interviews here: http://www.bialabate.net/texts/ayahuasca-como-patrimonio-imaterial-da-cultura-brasileira (All available in Portuguese)
 
The inteviews of Perpétua Almeida, like that of Marcos Vinícius, were videotaped. Bia will produce a limited edition DVD with both interviews, which will be donated to several universities, museums, archives of the ayahuasca religions, etc. Eventually (if we get funding) Matthew will translate these interviews into English.
 
Stay tuned for the next news.

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