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Ann Théato, International Psychic Medium and Spiritual Tutor, investigates psychic development, mediumship techniques, and paranormal science, so that you can come to understand your own innate psychic ability and expand your knowledge, whilst learning to develop a curious mind.
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This Week’s Episode
DON’T SLEEP THERE ARE SNAKES
Daniel Everett (1951) was born in Holtville, California. A famed linguist, for eight of the last thirty years, Daniel Everett immersed himself in the Pirahã culture and other Amazonian people to uncover how language began, how it has evolved, and how it continues to impact our daily lives.
I want to talk to you about this culture – a culture who have no influences, no persuasion from the outside world, no history, no belief system, no laws, no regulations, no rules, no government, no monarchy, no word for worry, no advertising, no fairy stories, no myths or legends, no fiction and no spiritual framework on which to hang a belief system.
In this episode, I explore what it might be like, if we were able to free ourselves from all that we know and all that we have learned and all the untruths that we have been told or forced to believe in, and to go back to our natural human state? Where would we be spiritually? What is our natural spiritual self? The Pirahã tribe could possibly be the closest we can get to exploring this.
- What is our natural spiritual state
How can we free ourselves from current thinking
What life is like in the Amazon jungle
Why tribe members are equal in wealth
The importance of laughter
The importance of getting through challenges alone
Why the dream state is a continuation of consciousness
How Amazonian tribes channel spirit
Why cultures can get by without any concept of God
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Psychic Matters Resources
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Episode 76 Resources
Here are some resources referred to in Episode 76, which you may find helpful.
Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes by Daniel Everett
How Language Began – TEDx talk with Daniel Everett
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Hello everybody, my name is Ann Théato and welcome to episode 76 of the Psychic Matters podcast. In this week’s episode I thought I would do a book review for a book that really touched my heart and touched my mind when I first read it, which was about 15 years ago. And I thought, do you know what, I’m going to share this with my listeners on Psychic Matters because it contains concepts and themes, that I think you guys are going to find really, really fascinating and worthy of discussion. It’s one of those books that has touched my mind, touched my heart and made me deeply think and deeply consider all things, and I thought do you know what, I think this will make a really interesting episode.
Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes: Life & Language in the Amazonian Jungle by Daniel Everett
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Take a deep breath in, and as you breath out, breath out this world, breath out all your problems, everything you hold onto, your troubles and your woes. Just keep breathing in this way, gently in and out. And as you do so, let this world physical that surrounds you fade away into a gentle, gentle mist.
On your next in-breath, the mists begin to clear, and you find yourself sitting in very comfortable clothes, on softer than soft white sand, the sun in the sky above you warming your hair, warming your forehead, warming your face. Begin to breathe in this new world – the freshness of this new environment. You are bare footed, and the sand is warm beneath your feet. As you open your eyes, you see in front of you a beautiful velvet smooth river with the clearest water, sparkling occasionally in the sun. This is the Maici River, deep in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest. On the opposite bank, and as far as the eye can see in either direction, tall emerald trees line the riverbank; flaming macaws perched in the branches. You can hear monkey calls, toucan cries and the occasional roar of a jaguar.
Turn your head and observe – to the left and to the right of you, four or five thatched-roof houses on stilts. You are amongst the people of the Pirahã tribe.
There are children, laughing, chasing one another, dogs are barking. Small cook fires smoulder, you catch the faint smell of smoke drifting your way. Brown skinned women, with black hair, wear collarless mid-length dresses, stained dark brown from dirt and smoke. The men wear gym shorts and loincloths. Children are naked; baby’s bottoms are calloused from scooting across the ground.
Notice the most striking thing about them – how happy everyone seems. Smiles decorate every face. Not one person looks sullen or withdrawn.
These are the Pirahã people of the Brazilian Amazon. No outsider has ever been able to understand the Pirahã. They are the least-studied people in the world and speakers of one of the word’s more unusual languages – Pirahã is not known to be related to any other living human language.
But one man, a white American linguist called Daniel Everett, moved his very young family to the Brazilian jungle in the hope of studying the language; translating the bible and helping this Amazonian tribe find God. His income and expenses were paid by the evangelical churches in USA so that he could “change the Pirahã’ hearts” and persuade them to worship the God he believed in and to accept the morality and the culture that goes along with believing in the Christian god.
The trouble was – the Piranha’s have no God. They have no creation theory.
I want to talk to you about this culture – a culture who have no influences, no persuasion from the outside world, no history, no belief system, no laws, no regulations, no rules, no government, no monarchy, no word for worry, no advertising, no fairy stories, no myths or legends, no fiction and no spiritual framework on which to hang a belief system. The Pirahã showed Daniel Everett that there is dignity and deep satisfaction in facing life and death without the comfort of heaven or the fear of hell and in sailing toward the great abyss with a smile.
What would it be like, if we were able to free ourselves from all that we know and all that we have learned and all the untruths that we have been told or forced to believe in, and to go back to our natural human state? Where would we be spiritually? What is our natural spiritual self? The Pirahã tribe could possibly be the closest we can get to exploring this.
It is not easy for a Western family to prepare to live in an Amazonian village. When Daniel and his wife purchased supplies, they anticipated and bought for up to 6 months of family isolation in the jungle. They bought laundry soap; birthday & Christmas presents that had to be planned for months in advance. They spent hundreds of dollars on all kinds of things from aspirin to snake anti-venom & malaria treatments. They bought schoolbooks & school supplies so their children could study; hundreds of litres of gasoline, kerosene, propane, dozens of cans of meat, a propane fueled refrigerator, dried milk, flour, rice, beans, toilet paper, trade items for the Pirahã and so on and so forth.
Take yourself back to that beach I spoke of at the beginning. Take a closer look at the houses on stilts that you see. Pirahã don’t need houses to display wealth, because all Pirahã are equal in wealth. They don’t need houses for privacy, because privacy is not a strong value. But if they need privacy for sex or relieving themselves, they have the entire jungle around themselves or they can jump in a canoe and leave the leave the village. Houses don’t need heating or cooling; the jungle provides a perfect climate for lightly clothed human bodies. Houses are just a place to sleep with moderate protection from the rain and sun.
At nighttime, the Pirahã don’t say to each other, “Sleep well,” they call out to each other, “Don’t sleep there are snakes”. – by not sleeping they can “harden themselves” and that is a value they all share.
There is danger all around in jungle and sleeping soundly can leave you defenseless from attack by numerous predators. So, if you snore, jaguars may think a pig is nearby and come and eat you. Hence, “Don’t sleep there are snakes,” for the same reason. They laugh the Pirahã do, and they talk for a good part of the night. And people don’t actually sleep for hours at a time. They also consider hunger a very useful way to toughen themselves up, going without eating for a day or two
The Pirahã material culture is among the simplest known. They produce very few tools, almost no art. If they need to carry something in a basket, they will weave one on the spot from wet palm leaves and after one or two uses, the basket becomes dried out and fragile and it is abandoned. Pirahã enjoy each day as it comes, they don’t plan for the future. They don’t store food. And as a result, they invest no more effort in something than is necessary for minimal function.
Daniel Everett, while he was there, attempted to teach the Pirahã to learn to count but they don’t have any words for numbers. Over a period of eight months, he tried in vain to teach them the Portuguese numbers used by the Brazilians for one, two, three but in the end, not a single person could count to ten.
They don’t have any words for colors. They can describe colors — they see colors — but they’ll say things like, “That looks like blood,” or “That looks like the urucum plant,” or “That looks like water” or “That’s not quite yet ripe,” or “That’s transparent,” or “That looks like it has an opaque eye.” And they are the sort of ways that they describe different colors.
They make necklaces from seeds and homespun cotton string to ward off the evil spirits the Pirahã see almost daily. The necklaces are bright coloured, because they believe like wild animals, spirits are more likely to attack when startled.
There was a terrible time, for Daniel while he was out there, when his wife and children were near death with malaria. At that time, Daniel found out some important things about the Pirahã that he was not understanding or successfully appreciating. He was really hurt that the Pirahã did not show more empathy for him or his situation. Being so caught up in his own terrible crisis, it didn’t occur to him that the Pirahã went through what he was agonizing over on a regular basis. And that their lot was worse than his.
Every Pirahã member has seen a close family member die. They have seen and touched the bodies of their loved ones and have buried them in the forest near their home. They had no medical doctor or hospital to turn to for help. When someone gets too ill to work among the Pirahã, no matter how easily the disease might be treatable by Western medicine, there is a significant chance that the person will die. The neighbours and family do not bring casseroles to a Pirahã funeral. If your mother, your child or your husband dies, you still have to hunt fish and gather food. No-one will do this for you.
The Pirahã have no way of knowing that Westerners expect to live nearly twice as long as they do. And not only expect to live longer but consider it their right to do so. It is important to state that the Pirahã are not indifferent to death. Their pain and concern is exactly the same as ours – they would paddle for days in a canoe for help if they thought they could save a child. But the Pirahã do not act as though the rest of the world had a duty to help him or her in their need. They do not suspend normal daily activities just because someone is sick or dying. This is practicality, not callousness. When Daniel was there, he witnessed a woman die in childbirth – it was a breech birth. She was in agony, but no one went to her aid. She and her baby died on the beach because the Pirahã believe that people must be strong and get through difficulties on their own.
In a land without doctors, you have to get tough or die.
When someone dies, he or she is buried. There is a relative lack of ritual within the Pirahã. There are some loosely followed traditions surrounding burial, but there is no ritual. The dead are buried in a sitting position with many of their belongings placed beside them – never more than a dozen or so small objects, because the Pirahã accumulate so little materially in the course of their lives. And often they bury their dead face down and they never, never build a coffin. If the deceased is large, they will be buried in a sitting position, because it requires less digging. The dead are buried almost immediately. One or two close relatives will usually dig the grave, close to the river, with the effect, that after a couple of years, the grave has been washed away by erosion.
Pirahã laugh about everything. They laugh at their own misfortune: when someone’s hut blows over in a rainstorm, the occupants laugh more loudly than anyone else. They laugh when they catch a lot of fish. They laugh when they catch no fish. They are never demanding they are never rude. They are patient happy and kind. Pirahã humour works because of their strong sense of community. They can show sarcasm, they can play practical jokes because they are knitted together tightly in a community of trust. Not complete trust because there is stealing and unfaithfulness, but mainly trust that each member of the community will understand every other member of the community and share the same values.
If someone arrives in the village, no one says anything.
If someone helps you – expressions of gratitude can come later, with a reciprocal gift, or an unexpected act of kindness such as helping you carry something. If someone has done something hurtful – they have no words for ‘I’m sorry.’ The way to express penitence is by actions, not words.
Dances bring the village together. There are no musical instruments – just clapping, singing and stomping of feet. Spirits appear in dances, in which the man playing the role of the spirit claims to be possessed by that spirit.
Spirits can tell the village what it should not have done or what it should not do. Spirits can single out individuals or simply talk to the group as a whole.
For the Pirahã – the universe is like a layer cake, each layer is marked by a boundary called a bigi. There are worlds above the sky and worlds beneath the ground. Upper layer, lower layer – our layer.
Knowledge about the upper layer or upper bigi, must come therefore, from information supplied by living eyewitnesses. The layers themselves are visible to the naked eye – the earth, the sky. The inhabitants of the layers are seen because these other beings come down from the sky and walk about the jungle – the Pirahã see their tracks from time to time. Pirahã even see the beings themselves, lurking as ghostly shadows in the jungle darkness.
Importantly, the Pirahã can walk about the bigi in their dreams. To the Pirahã, dreams are a continuation of real and immediate experience. To the Pirahã, you see one way awake and another way while asleep but both ways of seeing are real experiences. If I dream of a spirit that can solve my problems and my dreaming is no different from my conscious observations, then this spirit is within the bounds of my immediate experience.
The Pirahã only talk about things that they have experienced themselves or something that has been witnessed by someone alive during the lifetime of the speaker.
The Pirahã asked about Daniel’s God – what does your god do?
And Daniel said, “Well, he made the stars, and he made the earth”
“Well, the Pirahã s say that these things were not made. “
And Daniel says, “Okay. So, what was the world like long ago, before there were Pirahã? Who made the trees and who made the water?”
And the Pirahã say, “What?”
“Who made the trees and who made the water?”
And the Pirahã replied, “Nobody made the trees, and nobody made the water; they’re just trees and they’re water.”
And Daniel presses the point, “You know, a long time ago, when there weren’t any trees.”
And the Pirahã say, “You saw a time when there were no trees?”
And Daniel says, “No, no,. . .”
And he Pirahã say, “We don’t talk about that. The trees were always here, and the water was always here, unless you know that they weren’t.”
One of the tribe once said to Dan, “Hey Dan, I want to talk to you. You’ve been here for a long time, and we know that you love this beautiful place. We have lots of fish here and you don’t have that in the States. But you know, we’ve had people tell us about Jesus before. Somebody else told us about Jesus, and then the other guy came and told us about Jesus, and now you’re telling us about Jesus, and we really like you but, see, we’re not Americans and we don’t want to know about Jesus. We like to drink, and we like to have a good time, and we like to have sex with multiple partners of both sexes. So, we really don’t want to hear about that. You can stay here. We like you, we like your kids, but we don’t want to hear about Jesus or God anymore, we’re tired of that.”
A group of men at another village said, “Dan, so tell us a little bit more about Jesus. Is he brown like us or is he white like you? And how tall is he? And what sorts of things does he know how to do? Does he like to hunt and fish and stuff, or what does he do?”
And Dan said, “Well, you know, I don’t know what color he is, I never saw him.”
And the Pirahã say, “You never saw him?”
And the Pirahã say, “Well, your dad saw him then,” because you can give information that was told to you by somebody who was alive at the time.
“No, my dad never saw him.”
And the Pirahã say, “Well, who saw him?”
And Dan said, “Well, they’re all dead; it was a long time ago.”
And the Pirahã say, “Why are you telling us about this guy? If you never saw him, and you don’t know anyone who ever saw him?”
and those are the two basic forms of evidence for the Pirahã.
They have individual spirits – and they believe that they see them regularly. There are entities that take on the shape of things in the environment. They’ll call a jaguar a spirit, or a tree a spirit. Spirit doesn’t really mean for them what it means for us.
The kind of spirit they most commonly speak of is called a Kaoaibogi (fast mouth). This spirit is responsible for a range of good and bad things that happen to the Pirahã s. It can kill them or give good advice, depending on its whim.
The Kaoaibogi belong to one of the two sets of animate, humanoid creatures that populate the Pirahã world. The first type is Xibiisi (entities that have blood like the Pirahã s themselves or foreigners) and Xibiishiaba – without bloods). The Pirahã s are not always sure that all American’s have blood, as they are so white.
People with blood in their veins are called Xibiisi – you can tell xibiisi by the colour of their skin – their blood makes their skin dark. Those without blood, all spirits, are generally light-skinned and blond. So, for them, dark-skinned peoples are humans and light-skinned peoples are traditionally not humans – although the Pirahã concede that some white people may indeed be Xibiisi as they have seen Daniel and a couple of other white people bleed.
One day the Pirahã were talking about Dan as he emerged from the river. And they asked one another, “is this the same Dan who entered the river, or is it a spirit?”
And you might remember the story of the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus who lived in 450BC, and he was famous for his insistence on ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe, as he stated in his famous saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice”. And what he meant by that was the water that we stepped into the first time is no longer there. The banks have been altered by the flow so that they are not exactly the same. The fish are in a different place, there are different oxygen levels in the water, etc., So, apparently, we step into a different river each time.
What does it mean to say that something or someone is the same this instant as they were a minute ago? What does it mean to say that I am the same person I was when I was a toddler? None of my cells are the same. Few if any of my thoughts are. To the Pirahã, people are not the same in each phase of their lives. One day, Daniel was talking to Kohoi, a Pirahã man, but he would not answer. Eventually the Pirahã responded “were you talking to me? My name is Tiappahai. There is no Kohoi here. Once I was called Kohoi, but he is gone now and Tiaapahai is here.”
The Pirahã see spirits in their mind, and they talk to spirit people that you can’t see and they channel spirit beings too. Dan was invited one evening to see them, in what would be the equivalent of our trance mediumship. The sky was resplendent with stars, large river frogs were croaking. Some Pirahã were seated on logs facing the jungle. Pirahã children were laughing and giggling. After some time waiting, they heard a falsetto voice, and a man dressed as a recently deceased Pirahã woman emerged from the jungle. He wore a cloth on his head to represent the long hair of the woman and a dress. And the spirit spoke of how cold and dark it was under the ground where she was buried. She talked about what it felt like to die and how there were other spirits under the ground. The spirit being channeled, spoke in a rhythm different from normal Pirahã speech.
Then the spirit left and went back into the jungle. Within a few minutes, the same Pirahã man came back out of the jungle speaking in a low gruff voice – another spirit – warning the Pirahã and dispensing advice. MostPirahã men however, over the years, would speak as a spirit in this way and channel spirit in this way.
The next day, Dan tried to tell the Pirahã man who was channeling spirit the night before, how much he enjoyed seeing the spirits, but he refused to acknowledge knowing anything about it, saying he wasn’t there… For the Pirahã these encounters with spirits are similar to western culture’s séances and mediums. We often can’t remember what it is we have channeled.
The main reason that no missionary for nearly 300 years has had any impact on the Pirahã and putting religion upon them, is because all Pirahã can only believe in stories told from the actual experience of the speaker or someone who had seen the event and reported it to the speaker. And that is the reason that the Bible, Koran, the Vedas etc can never be translated or even discussed among the Pirahã, because they involve stories for which there is no living eyewitness.
Daniel Everett became influenced by the Pirahã concept of truth, his belief in Christianity slowly diminished and eventually the missionary became an atheist. He did not tell anyone about his atheism for many yearswhen he finally did, his marriage ended in divorce and two of his three children broke off all contact with him.
So, what do we learn? Many of the problems that face all of us in the world are the same from culture to culture. They can vary as the culture plays a bigger role in setting the problems, but the biological problems — survival, happiness, food, clothing, shelter, they are all universal. Lots of religious people argue that God is an essential ingredient of all cultures. But that can’t be correct – because as proven by the Pirahã, there are cultures that get by just fine without any concept of God.
Our European culture has over 2000 years of Christianity affecting it and it has given us the concept of guilt. Guilt is something that the Pirahã do not have. We live in guilt and Christianity takes away our guilt. The Pirahã don’t live in guilt because they have no concept of what that is. We have been made lost by religion, in many respects. The idea that a man died on a cross 2,000 years ago that nobody ever saw, and nobody knows anybody who ever saw him on the cross, perhaps shouldn’t have any relevance to my happiness or my life in any way today.
So, to conclude, there exists a remote tribe in the Amazonian Rainforest – the Pirahã tribe –a culture who have no history, no outside influences and no spiritual framework on which to hang a belief, yet they meet spirit people in their dream state; they are adept at trance Mediumship; they channel spirit people and higher beings, and they interact with spirits on a daily basis.
There is no definitive answer here. But I invite you to consider what you’ve heard.
For those of you who are interested, please do head over to our group FB page, PM where we can open up a discussion on the topics raised in this podcast.
And don’t forget to head over to my website where you can find a full transcript of this episode on the show notes.
My name is Ann Théato and thank you for listening to Psychic Matters.
Reach by Christopher Lloyd Clarke. Licensed by Enlightened Audio.