The secret writing of the Samaúma
SAMAÚMA is a very huge tree from Amazon Forest, but it can be found all over Brasil. Many indigenous peoples from brazilian forest take samaúma as a library. Its large roots are a kind of device whereby, through beats, it is possible to communicate within the forest, through the reverberation of sound. In this proposal, SAMAÚMA presents for us other ways of writing with which we’re going to perform. Taking a tree as a collective body and as a crowd of different beings, like animals, microorganisms and plants, our role will be to create a translatory experience of multiple writings and bodies. In this way, this writing of a community of beings metabolised in the body of SAMAÚMA makes us think of the power of reading it as a cosmopolitical writing and gives us a chance to notice that writing is a trace existing in multiple senses. The SAMAÚMA’S body is full of life blood creating a pathway that connects sinuous lines around the trunk. Pathway as a writing. Lines as a materiality of writing. SAMAÚMA is a cellular and ancestral element that connects live technologies to do, to see and to say the writing. Aside and expanding the meaning of metaphors beyond language, SAMAÚMA shows the gestures of reading and listening. If the writing is an expression, the materiality is connecting moving procedures beyond words and letters. The text of writing is an alive body, strong, like the SAMAÚMA trunk. A trunk, a tree with an enormous capacity to express their own language. The language of the forest, full of life. And we can read the SAMAÚMA, their leaves, flowers and fruits because this living creature also communicates to other trees expanding a sensitive body with fabolous skills. SAMAÚMA give to us the possibility to address the writing in t(h)ree directions:
- the importance of a cosmopolitical writing that we can observe from the SAMAÚMA’S body,
- the sense of communication that SAMAÚMA offer to their communities as a shelter or sound and,
- as translating experience that stimulates experimental writings opening meanings and sensitive connections with the epistemologies of the forest peoples.
It’s urgent to review what kind of knowledge we are taking for our lives. It’s urgent to learn from SAMAÚMA’S trees things that we are losing on earth. It’s urgent to write as SAMAÚMA the policies of living listening to all living beings and their forms of language in the universe.
Introduction | The secret and the reading
Firstly, there is a secret in Samaúma’s writing. There’s profound knowledge as secrets keep in it themselves. The forest’s secrets may be her survival. The indigenous people – original folks, indeed. Here in Brazil, Latin America. They have been known from keeping secrets– how to listen to them. Like an earth song. Earth secrets. As guardians of the planet. A secret which teaches how to live as nature, as part of Earth. That’s why. There is a power structure that wants to swallow these folks, their origins, their secrets. The secret is not denied for those whom respect the secret. This piece of work is not about reading literally or about a well-done reading. It’s about reading like touching a trunk.
In the process of creating the images for the video presented at CARPA7 – Colloquium on Artistic Research: Elastic Writing, our interest was to bring the great Samaúma tree closer to different body graphs. Writing, outlining with painted lines, and overlaying the body with a projection of photographs of Samaúma were strategies used as resources for artistic research.
Thinking about different body graphs brought textural, both physical and written text or spoken words. From a series of photographs and short videos, the investigation of a collective tree body adds a cosmopolitical thought superimposed on images that complexify the understanding of graphs.
What are possible artistic spellings that are inscribed on top of the graphs? Different captures: photography and filming, projecting images in movement and choreo-graphy drawing a corporal writing that pauses or moves a still image from the photo to emphasize the video movement. Here we observe that the play of overlapping created between body and tree weaves a dramaturgy in which the spoken and written text with soundscapes reveal a mixed environment where the writing is drawn on the large projected body of the Samaúma.
We could think of a dramaturgy of overlays in which the telluric play with the tree guides the visual making of the space. A tree trunk, a woman’s breast. Hands and top of leaves. Tree roots superimposed on fabric. Walks between the bark of the tree and the ground that supports it. Spins that reveal skin, bark, concrete wall, paper, fabric, shadow, smoke and light. The body in movement relates landscapes, pointing out ways of writing that merge as images in movement.
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SAMAÚMA is an enormous tree from the Amazon Forest, but it can also be found all over Brazil. Many indigenous peoples understand samaúma as a living library. Its large roots are a kind of device to communicate within the forest, through the reverberation of sounds. In this proposal, SAMAÚMA presents us with a different way of writing. Considering the tree as a collective body and as a crowd of different beings, animals, microorganisms, plants, our role is to create a translatory experience of multiple writings and bodies. This writing works as a community of beings metabolised in the body of SAMAÚMA. It makes us think about a cosmopolitical writing and it gives us a chance to notice that writing is a trace existing in multiple senses. The SAMAÚMA’s body is full of life, like running blood, creating a pathway that connects sinuous lines around the trunk. Pathway as writing. Lines as a manifestation of writing. SAMAÚMA is an ancestral cellular element that connects alive technologies. A tree with a fabulous capacity to express their own language. The language of the forest.
For the original people of the Amazon, such as the Huni Kuin people in Acre, northern Brazil, the samaúma is The Majesty. These people usually settle near it. In their language, they call it Shunu. They say that it is the library of the forest and it has other names too, such as: ladder to heaven, tree of life, mother of trees.
The tree has a leafy, open crown and a huge size of 50 to 70 meters, with species that reach up to 90 meters, among the largest on the planet. The trunk reaches 3 meters in diameter and the root structure is called sapopema. When found with others of the same species, the sapopema creates places where people of the forest can live. The sound of sapopema echoes in the forest as a means of communication, as poetic expression.
In traditional botanics the samaúma is called Ceiba pentandra. All parts of the tree are worth using: the leaves, stems, seeds, fruits, roots. The kapok of the fruits, for example, is a fiber similar to cotton, which is used for weaving. Its other parts accumulate several healing properties as well.
The shaman as well as samaúma are libraries of the forest. Pajé Agostinho Ika Muru, of the Huni Kuin people, teaches us about a dream of a living book. He says, answering the question of “Why the living book?”: “Because nature is alive, the herbs that have transformed themselves are alive, and the researchers are alive. The living book as “an organism that integrates various beings that inhabit the planet: people, animals, plants, spirits,” he teaches us (Ika Muru 2012).
From the time when you talk to the animals, the plants, the spirits, from the time when you know that everything is alive, from the cosmovisions of the forest people, the living book is the forest where the ancestral people of the huni kuin live.
A book, therefore, whose authorship is of nature itself. Or as the Brazilian researcher Maria Inês de Almeida puts it very well: the living book is reborn on paper because it is alive and growing in the forest. If there is no forest, there is no book, there is no us. For these forest people, the herbage are ancestors, they are relatives.
And the body of the forest, a mystical book? Who is given it to read? Cacique Tadeu says: “the dream (of the living book) is to show this to the world and start to cure the world” (Ika Muru & Quinet 2017). Wouldn’t the healing be in realizing that everything is alive? That plants are teachers, our relatives from other times that have been transformed into plants? How to read the world then, through the key of the living book?
The Huni Kuin people have taught us about the possibility of thinking about the book as a living organism, as a mediator of the poetics of existence, that is, as acts of invoking life. This allows us to fray the experience of the book overflowing the paper, with a notion of writing also expanded to the waters, the plants, the medicine, the stones, the territory, from indigenous perspectives. Writings that free themselves from the word and freely create other textualities, in their multiplicities of bodies. Writings that are still mute for many people.
At a time when Brazil is experiencing the imminence of the approval of bills with disastrous repercussions for the future of the planet Earth, amidst the strengthening of land grabbing, deforestation and mining in the current extreme right-wing government …. Insofar as indigenous territories are under constant threats of repossession, with unstable land demarcations, especially in the current political situation in our country, listening to the writing of Samaúma is a cosmopolitical stance, inasmuch as it aims to strengthen the indigenous territories themselves, so vulnerable to the finances commands and the interests of economic power, so immense in living libraries and ancestral wisdom.
Lines, traces, sound
The sound of leaves moving through wind. There is a secret sound in her trunk. The capacity of expressing and communicating. The wind works with Samaúma’s body. Velocity of air crashing the sound of Earth bursting grounds. Precise and slow. Sounds. The land signs have to travel carefully. Roots are taking care of a potential message.
Trough time, the sound of the Samaúma touches a variety of species. Saps, insects, mosses, fungus. An altruistic neighbourhood. Visual and electric communication. All plants can produce and exchange speeches.
But if the Samaúma produces sound, can she hear and speak? Is the sound a writing choreographed trough wind?
Just as Mother Earth sustains trees, beings, and all forms that we see; the Great Sun sustains our spirit. The Great Moon sustains our soul. Our bodies carry their memory. Also our grandparents and our greatgrandparents initiated our present existence.
We must honor this bond, this circle, this continuous breath. To honor is to give thanks. Lines, traces, sounds. To give thanks is to strengthen the roots and release the loving essence that initiated them, recognizing the divine source from which everything comes, everything goes, in a virtuous circle. The letter easten alphabet is something young for our experience of wor(l)ds. Our following of register the existence the experience of being into lines, in signs, in multiple bodies and books. Could a Samaúma be a book? How it sounds? Which surfaces, soil, which tree we’re gonna read the writing we must read to survive?
These folks who are keep themselves as a guardian of a rain forest, people who we raised into it. They know how to respect and how to read the forest as well. There are all writing and lessons and advice and power of existing, vitality. The forest is a huge body who breathe. The forest sweets, makes rain, there is a big river – bigger than the amazon river – in the sky of amazon forest. The sweltering, the sweating water of life, sky rivers, rainbows.
Samaúma as a living technology
Who makes up the world? What illusion do we live by thinking that there is only one type of writing? If there are different positions in front of reality, there are different inscriptions of existence, writings, spellings for different peoples, different communities of living people.
At the end of the 1980s, the Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa came out of the forest to say that he was seeing holes in the sky. That the smoke from the xawara epidemic, the smoke from this civilization was opening holes in the sky and that they were dancing in the forest to hold up the sky because the holes could make it collapse. The “civilized science” as Kaká Werá puts it did not listen to the shaman, but times later, as at ECO-92, these holes were called “rupture of the ozone layer” by that science (Werá 2002, 64).
There are two technologies at stake here. That of the master-plant responsible for the connection that opens a time of dream and mirages where we see beings, to our eyes, invisible, imperceptible. And there is dance as the magical technology of sustaining the sky. Davi Kopenawa teaches us in The Fall of the Sky, a work in partnership with Bruce Albert:
Meanwhile, in the silence of the forest, we shamans drink the dust of the yãkoana hi trees, which is the food of the xapiri. These then take our image into dreamtime. This is why we are able to hear their chants and contemplate their performing dances while we sleep. This is our school, where we learn the real things.(Kopenawa & Albert 2015, 77)
In the 1990s, Canadian scientist Jeremy Narby hypothesizes that forest shamans could access biomolecular information and that the double helix of DNA molecules could be a pair of intertwined cosmic snakes that are visible to these shamans (Narby 2018, 121). The microscope is a technology developed in the 16th century. Forest medicines are millenary, much older than the microscope, and give sight to many realities, worlds, beings. Technologies often discovered from dreams and other modes of communication with the many realms, existences.
Conclusions | Performative writing: t(h)ree wor(l)ds of Samaúma
Our commitment with the translation of Samaúma in the video is a way of enchanting data as the material of a word. It means that, in each word there are a lot of wor(l)ds. For guarani indigenous-people from Brazil, there’s magic in the saliva of every word. The word is an alive being. There’s body, a body that has the power to manifest wor(l)ds. What does the samaúma teach us? In our reading – or should we say in our translation, it shows – or should we say it performs: three words:
A translator is a wizard as Tiganá Santana teaches us (Santana 2018). So many teachers we recall in this text. A text like a fabric of leaves. Leaves as masters. The shaman is the one who removes, transforms, transmutes energies. What writing can be spell, what translation of this majestic tree is possible? Sumaúma is a library of secrets and writings. They are ancestors who turned into leaves to help us heal the world. We unlearn to read these secrets. Therefore, we conclude this text by calling attention to the fact that we need to learn new lessons from other teachers like Samaúma, like indigenous people. Another opening for the knowledge that is all around us on planet Earth.
Think(ing) through these words, we are accessing worlds. Feeling the vibration of this t(h)ree words. In the vídeo, the sound and the visual of the wor(l)d SAMAÚMA communicates something like a calling. It brings to the image a performative writing, the idea was to let the words be free. The word was being formed in action. Carrying energies, narratives, graphs as a tree does. Wisdom, healing, mystery, secret.
It’s not enough to say this is amazing, this is Samaúma, this is her secret writing. It’s all about reading life languages without letters. Sinuous lines, inscriptions. Like the mystic of life making her-self visible through the tree. Being, growing, living. How can we read an alive writting? Is there a kind of a cosmopolitical writing? Should we have committed to the cosmopolitical writing of this huge living book? The Earth as the living book? With lines, sounds, traces? A tree tells narratives that are coming from thousands of years. How can nature send secret messages and advices to help us postpone the End of the World, as Ailton Krenak proposes?
The secret writing of Samaúma is a cosmopolitical writing that requires us to be able to read other signs beyond an alphabet writing. In order to read it we need to be open and admit that Earth is a collective body. Who makes up the world? What illusion do we live in when thinking there is only one type of writing? If there are different perspectives of reality, not only from human beings, there are different graphs of existence, of writings, spellings for different peoples, different communities of living beings (Latour 2004).
As taught by Kaká Werá, “we are a continuation of our roots, we are the trunk, we will give fruits, which will become new roots and new trunks and future fruits”, it means that “our parents sustained our manifestation in the material world”. As an ancestor of us, Samaúma teaches in this piece of work that our body belongs to a collective body, full of different kinds of writings. This is the main conclusion of this artistic research.
Ika Muru, Agostinho Manduca Mateus (Org.). 2012. Una Hiwea: O Livro Vivo. Belo Horizonte: Faculdade de Letras/Literaterras/MEC/IPHAN.
Iká Muru, Agostinho Manduca Mateus; Quinet, Alexandre (Org.). 2017. Una Is Kayawa: Livro da Cura do Povo Huni Kuin do Rio Jordão. Rio de Janeiro: Dantes.
Kopenawa, Davi; Albert, Bruce. 2015. A queda do céu. Palavras de um xamã Yanomami. Translation: Beatriz Perrone-Moisés. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.
Latour, Bruno. 2004. Politics of nature: how to bring the sciences into democracy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Narby, Jeremy. 2018. A serpente cósmica: o DNA e as origens do saber. Translation:Jorge Bastos. Rio de Janeiro: Dantes.
Santana, Tiganá. 2018. Breves considerações sobre um traduzir negro ou tradução como feitiçaria. Florianópolis: Landa.
Werá, Kaka. 2002. Oré awé roiru’a ma – Todas as vezes que dissemos adeus – Whenever we said goodbye. São Paulo: TRIOM.
Laura Castro is a poet, performer and adjunct professor at University of Bahia, in Brazil, she works in the Interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts and the Postgraduate Programme in Visual Arts. Her research interests cross literature in its expanded field and the different material possibilities of writing.
Candice Didonet is an artist of the body and assistant professor at University of Paraíba in Brazil where she works at the Performing Arts Department. She holds a MA in Dance from the University of Bahia. Her research interests cross the connections between writing and performance bringing images that suggest cosmopolitical views to choreography.