Saturday, March 29, 2008

Looking Back and Looking Forward

I grew up in a working class neighborhood in the City of Chicago. In elementary school our history teacher told us that none of us could ever become President of the United States because all of us were either Catholics or Jews. "Only White Protestants can become President," she said.

I don't know if any of us were particularly disappointed by not being able to become President, but we were all pretty curious about what was a Protestant? Most had never met one. That's how segregated and divided America was at the time -- not just racially but also in terms of religion and ethnic background. Everyone lived cloistered in their "own" neighborhood, on their "own" block, and in their "own" familiar mindset.

Later, at the dawn of the 60's, when I was 21 years old something was happening that was about to change everything. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was running for President of the United States. We knew that if a Catholic could become President -- well, anything might be possible. He was elected and I went on from the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago's West Side to do graduate studies at Columbia University in New York.

My field was American government and politics. My special research interest was race and poverty in large cities. My first publication (with two colleagues) was about a public referendum in New York City that attempted to create a civilian review board for cases of alleged police brutality (largely against blacks). My first teaching position was at Oberlin College in Ohio where I became active in the civil rights movement. Then I advanced to the mega campus of the University of Illinois where I conducted research about grassroots citizen participation in the anti-poverty programs of the City of Chicago.

On the campus the Vietnam War was taking over as the number one political priority. It was a cauldron of seething and roiling resentments combined with the biggest and most promising possibilities that anyone had ever imagined. WE were the revolution. Then came 1968 -- the assassination of Martin Luther King in April and of Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy in June and, in August, the Democratic Nominating Convention brought violence to the streets of Chicago. I had had enough!

Many of us began the process of walking away from America, mostly in our minds but also on the ground. "America was and is and will always be America," we thought, "it's time to try something else." No one could have imagined that someday it might all lead from Chicago to something like this...

Friday, March 28, 2008

POST # 100

Wow! Can it really be?

I've wondered for a few days about what might be an appropriate topic. Some have suggested that I write about my decision to live in Brazil, but I think that there's something a lot more important than that.

I know that very few people have the time to follow the links I provide, so let me simply repost from a recent edition of treehugger. I believe that this truly is the only way that we are going to be able to protect our forests. I would like you consider that it might be applied to saving the Amazon forest. How? I don't really know the answer but maybe we can start a conversation about it.

I know a little place called Vila Fortaleza that might be appropriate for some kind of a demonstration project but it will take a lot of help from our friends. Maybe there are other places and people that would be interested in creating projects. Maybe we can create a network.
Maybe we can be part of a movement.

Here is the repost from treehugger.


by Tim McGee, Helena, MT, USA on 03.23.08
Science & Technology


Deep, rich, black soil is a farmers dream come true. Healthy soil is full of life, with entire communities living just below our feet. Healthy soil can retain and purify water, provide an abundance of food, and even act as way to sequester carbon dioxide. One key to getting there is amending soil with biochar. Biochar is what you get when biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen through a process called pyrolysis. When incorporated into soil, biochar provides the structural habitat needed for a rich community of micro-organisms to take hold. Incorporating biochar into soil can also act as a way to sequester carbon.

Carbon dioxide sequestration was not likely the original goal of biochar, or terra preta, developed thousands of years ago by the Native Americans in the Amazon region. But today, as we recognize the cost of emitting green house gases, we also recognize the wisdom of using biochar as micro-habitat to improve our soils. Biochar is a classic win-win scenario, a solution that can provide us with a valuable tool for fighting climate change, world hunger, poverty, and energy shortages all at the same time. Sound good?

Tim Flannery, a regular fixture here at TreeHugger, was interviewed this week by Beyond Zero (Listen to the Podcast), and discussed the benefits of biochar, or terra preta, as a sequestration technique.

One of the clear benefits Tim sees of biochar for carbon dioxide sequestration is that it is easily measured. You can literally weigh the carbon before you use it for soil amendment. This ease of measurement makes biochar easy to manage in any carbon sequestration calculations, which are notoriously difficult to quantify.

Another point Tim made is that when biochar is added to the soil, it is at a much lower risk of returning to the atmosphere than if it were carbon in a living forest. Biochar is mostly inert, and is known to stay in the soil for thousands of years. It is also not subjected to the risk of being blown down in a hurricane, or cut down, or otherwise placed in a process for a more rapid return of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

As a sequestration technology, biochar is simple, easy, and proven. Although sequestration alone might be enough of a reason to consider biochar, the benefits of biochar in agriculture are really the reason this solution is gaining momentum quickly. The use of biochar has been shown to increase water retention, microbial activity, uptake of minerals by plants, as well as continued deposition of healthy soil. Two new organizations have emerged that highlight the multi-faceted solution of biochar.


The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) has emerged as the center for biochar research and development. The IBI:

"Provides a platform for the international exchange of information and activities in support of biochar research, development, demonstration and commercialization. It advocates biochar as a strategy to:

* improve the Earth’s soils;
* help mitigate the anthropogenic greenhouse effect by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering atmospheric carbon in a stable soil carbon pool; and
* improve water quality by retaining agrochemicals.

The IBI also promotes:

*sustainable co-production of clean energy and other bio-based products as part of the biochar process;
* efficient biomass utilization in developing country agriculture; and
* cost-effective utilization of urban, agricultural and forest co products."

Biochar begins to answer problems surrounding biodiversity, water purity, deforestation, hunger, and poverty. As we recognize the 'services' healthy soil can provide biochar continues to gain value as a strategy to mitigate many of these issues at the same time. Another important new organization centered around biochar as a multi-faceted solution is the Biochar Fund.


"The Biochar Fund is a social profit fund that completely changes the way in which chronic hunger, deforestation, energy access and climate change are addressed amongst the world's poorest populations: small subsistence farmers at the tropical forest frontier. The fund's systemic interventions create a synergy that breaks and reverses an environmentally destructive, unsustainable and socially catastrophic land use cycle. By doing so, we help communities gain the knowledge, tools and financial means needed to lift themselves out of poverty once and for all. Simultaneously, the biochar concept has the capacity to help tackle climate change in a significant and cost-effective way. It allows us to actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” Biochar offers us the opportunity to stop destroying our soils, enhance the communities that live under our feet, and create sustainable human communities as well. For more on biochar and recent developments please follow the links below to a wealth of information.

:: Beyond Zero Emissions
:: The International Biochar Initiative (IBI)
:: Biochar Fund

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Encounter for a New Horizon
Vila Fortaleza January 2008


Forró is the popular dance form from Northeastern Brazil where Mestre Irineu was born. In its modern form it is a vigorous dance like a polka but more rhythmic and hip twisting and it has been remixed into forms that are currently popular throughout Brazil, and even in the USA.

In Vila Fortaleza it is danced mostly in the old-fashioned waltz style. Here are the words (in italics) of Padrinho Luiz Mendes recalling forró in the days of Mestre Irienu.

"He provided dance parties. Mestre danced a lot and his favorite dance was precisely the forró. He liked the forró. He was a good and beautiful dancer and was fun in a party. I happened to be in a party that lasted the whole night, but there was a time in the past where they danced for three consecutive nights. ....

"Drinking Daime at a forró… boy, it made a party of it...."

"It is a [spiritual] work. It is a work that gives joy to witness, to dance with your mother, drinking Daime, mirando [visioning], the most beautiful thing that one can appreciate. “Oh! But I don't know how to dance!” The orchestra teaches, the Daime teaches, placing everything in the right way as it should: dancing and mirando."




"There is an expression he [Mestre Irineu] used when he was going to ask a lady for a dance. It is a thing so rich, so rich, the force of this expression upon asking a lady for a dance.... He would stand up and say: “A lady made of silver to dance with a gentleman made of gold.”

"It is very pleasant, it is very good to dance with your woman, to dance with your sister and to dance, finally, with all the ladies, mostly the ones that also took the Daime, because in order for it to work is recommended that the gentleman drinks Daime and the lady also drinks Daime. But it is good, it is very good, it is like a dream that we are just remembering."

"And let’s dance, and let’s cheer up."

Saturnino singing a Luiz Gonzaga classic.

The song complains about the loss of good air, water, land and of Chico Mendes. At the song's end, Saturnino changes the lyrics slightly to include Mestre Irineu. Chico Mendes and Raimundo Irineu Serra both launched globally significant movements -- political and spiritual -- giving new hope to people and nature from the forests of Acre.

On this night most of the forró musicians (and many guests) were from the local township of Caipixaba which borders on Xapuri where Chico Mendes fought to save the rainforest from the ravages logging and ranching and was murdered in 1988. Across the last 20 years the politics of the area has become more progressive with Acre State programs of land-use planning and sustainable economic development. The old tensions between those who want to preserve and those who want to exploit are being eased in the process.

Today, of course, there are new pressures. Signs of globalization are everywhere. There is sugar cane being planted for ethanol



and even gas and oil prospecting (in northern Acre). The road to the west coast is being paved in Peru where, unfortunately, violence and murder have flared up again and illegal logging has penetrated onto Indian lands in Brazil.

The situation is more tranquil in Acre, for sure, but the pressure to develop economically through exports is great. Already, a new bridge to Peru has been opened connecting the roads of Acre and Brazil to Asia and the markets of the Pacific Rim.


On this night of forró at Vila Fortaleza another bridge is being built -- between local people from the rural ranching culture and Santo Daime visitors from the urban centers and abroad. Here, in tiny Vila Fortaleza, they are singing and dancing along the "inner road" of Santo Daime where the important "export products" are friendship and joy. Perhaps, this exuberance and happiness may also have global significance.

Here are some photos:

















View all the photos here.

NOTE: I think it's important to state that the Daime-Forró shown in this post is not a common experience along the Santo Daime path, and it is not presented by the Luiz Mendes group outside of the home ground of Vila Fortaleza.

Ayahuasca-based rituals involve a very strong psychoactive substance that is often purgative and extremely difficult. In no sense can they be considered as "party drugs." In order to achieve what is shown above, there must be a very strong spiritual container and many well-practiced people. Fortunately, that is what exists at Vila Fortaleza.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Resurrection of the Earth
seems like a perfect post for an Easter Sunday.

But, first I'd like you to consider an image -- a photo montage created by the Brazilian visionary artist and designer Guta.


I'm sure that Guta would have presented a much more professional-looking rendering of this magnificent image. (I simply "posterized" a poor photo of his work.) It captures the interweaving of two great Brazilian religious traditions -- Aparecida and Santo Daime -- both of which manifest the spiritual energy of this Brazilian
and universal Goddess. And, now, I have an additional connection in mind.

Back in November I reported a newspaper article that said:

"God is Brazilian",
said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in response to his government's announcement that massive new oil reserves had been discovered offshore.
But, it turns out that there is more than one kind of Black Gold. The recent "rediscovery" of Terra Preta soils of the ancient Amazonian Indians may prove to be more valuable than off-shore oil. If God is Brazilian, She just might be Black.

This image is of the much-revered Black Madonna of Brazil, Nossa Senhora de Conceição Aparecida -- Our Lady of Conception Who Appeared.


The story is that a statue of the Virgin made around 1650 was somehow lost. Then, in 1717, some government people were traveling north to the gold mining region of Minas Gerais where the precious metal was called Ouro Preto due to a dark coating on the nuggets. Along the way fishermen cast their nets in a river hoping to catch fish for a big banquet. Instead of fish, they found the statue -- all darkened by years in the river bed. The travelers went on but the statue was kept in a little family shrine.

Soon the statue appeared to have healing and wish-granting powers -- at least for some faithful ones -- and a cult began to grow around it. As time passed, it had to be housed in larger and larger quarters and came to be venerated throughout Brazil. In 1929, the Virgin was proclaimed Queen of Brazil and its official Patron Saint. Today its Basilica, in the city of Aparecida near São Paulo, receives about 7 million visitors yearly and is the largest Marian shrine in the world.

From the first time I saw this great Black Madonna, this symbol appeared to me as more than an artifact of the Catholic Church. Indeed, it seemed even more like an icon of the power of the earth.

Nowadays, there is an emerging parallel story. As the world searches for solutions to hunger, fuel shortages, deforestation and climate change, Terra Preta soil from deep in Amazônia may be emerging as as a way to heal the earth. YES, biochar -- the modern equivalent of Terra Preta de Indios -- may be rising into our awareness truly as the resurrection of the earth.

And, yes, the Goddess is Black.


Can you imagine fighting hunger, energy poverty, deforestation and climate change SIMULTANEOUSLY?

Please stay tuned.

Finados at Ceu de Maria

At the top of a mountain, high above the city of São Paulo,


sits a beautiful Santo Daime church called Ceu de Maria.


In this most lovely place,


people gathered to make the Holy Friday spiritual ritual of "Finados" -- as are called the four companions of Mestre Irineu -- who together with him received the foundation of the Doctrine of the Santo Daime. Now, as the ritual unfolded, the people would sing and dance and remember.


And the remembrance would also include the great founders of Mapia who have passed on --

Padrinho Sebastião


and Madrinha Cristina


and now the man who had co-founded and helped to lead this church of Ceu de Maria and who, until the previous night, had lived in this house atop the hill.


Orlando Villas Boas, or "Orlandino" -- as he was known to all -- had been a grande amigo. His passage gave a profound and poignant significance to the mass that was sung at the end of this spiritual work.


I did not not have the pleasure of having known "Orlandino" but the energy of a great love was present throughout the day.

I'm not sure how to best express it? Maybe like this...

Earlier in the spiritual work -- while singing the hymns of Maria Damião -- I had thought of the child Saint John and the man who had grown to manifest his energies


and I had thought of the ones who are coming...




and I had called out Viva as Crianças.

There are a few more photos here.

(Note: The wonderful photo montages that decorate the church here and in Mapia are done by Carlos Gustavo N. Pereira. Thank you "Guta" for such marvelous works.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Teatro de Amazônia

Presenting a performance of tales of Amazônia, full of music, mystery, strange beings and human follies.

Teatro de Amazõnia 07 January 2008

Sometimes you get lucky as a photographer. On this night, the community was presenting a theater of tales from Amazônia at the Salão do Cipô in the forest clearing now lit by torch light. Into this setting there arrived shamanic energies, human follies, romance, enchantments and strange beings somehow all mixed up together into a performance that delighted everyone.

I could not follow the plot-lines at all, and the flash on my camera was somehow set incorrectly so that I had to really "push" the images later in the computer. But the results were fantastic, much better than anything I might have gotten "correctly." I really can't tell you much (anything really) about the story line but I believe the images somehow capture it without words.

































All the photos.