Let me take you on a journey; a journey of wonder and adventure; a journey that even most Brazilians don’t often undertake. This is a journey into the heart of the Amazon and the land of the indigenous tribes. After lengthy flights and a dangerous nine-hour drive on a long and broken dirt road, we finally arrive to Tarauaca—the last small city before we hop on a tiny boat, venturing into the jungle to the mysterious land of the Huni Kuin, one of the indigenous tribes of the Amazon. Once we are seated in the boat, a magical journey unfolds. Distancing ourselves from civilization, we wade deeper into the enchanted and enveloping presence of the Amazon forest.
Each day of travel increases the feeling of isolation as WIFI and modern-day comforts become mirage-like entities in the distance. Our surroundings have now become a soothing vista of nothing but trees, wild animals, and tropical birds, peppered by new and interesting sounds. After five days of travel we arrive at a magical village and meet even more magical people—the Huni Kuin. Huni Kuin means “Real People” and when we meet them, we truly understand why this is a fitting name. This village of the Huni Kuin is called Novo Futuro, which means, “New Future”. For most of us, their way of living was challenging to become accustomed to because we were used to the amenities of our comfortable homes and cars, and the fast pace of our day-to-day lives, but once we settled in and got to know their rhythm, a deeper understanding of nature emerged.
The Huni Kuin live in a natural surrender to life, to the forces of nature, and to the rhythm of Mother Earth. It was a stark comparison to evaluate the differences in our upbringings. I have witnessed western mothers running after their children exclaiming, “Don’t touch that; there might be a snake; don’t go alone!” However, here in the jungle, the Huni Kuin teach their children a different lesson: Listen. Trust your senses. Trust your intuition. If a child sees a snake on his path, he has no fear. He hastily walks away, avoiding the snake, knowing his fear will only call it closer.
One of the most significant moments I witnessed on this journey occurred when a mother left her two-year-old daughter by herself while she tended to other matters deeper in the jungle. I sat observing the scene from an adjacent hut. The child, left alone, was playing by herself with a small chick. She was singing, dancing, and completely unaware or unmoved by the fact that her mother just left. After a few minutes of solitary play, she decided to leave the hut. A bit worried, I continued to monitor her. The little girl climbed down a small ladder and walked barefoot toward a large bin filled with water. She struggled a bit but managed to climb in and bathe herself in the container, playing and singing out loud. Once she tired herself out, she finished bathing, climbed out unaided with a bit of a struggle, and stood naked on the earth for a few moments to dry in the sun. She then walked back, climbed the ladder to her hut, and played in her home until her mother’s return much later.
When her mother came back, she fondly kissed her and began to prepare dinner, unaware, unaffected, and entirely not worried about her child. Having witnessed the intensity with which western parents protect their children, I was profoundly moved by the lessons of this parental interaction.
In what stage and in what circumstances did we as humans lose the trust and faith in ourselves to understand that nature is an ally that exists to guide us, and is in fact not a frightening front in need of subduing or conquering?
The Huni Kuin are the happiest people I’ve ever encountered. Their days are filled with singing, dancing, hunting, gathering, and building, all with the spirit of “Só Alegria”— only joy! These people are spiritual giants and their inner strength comes from their connection to the earth, the rivers, and the animals. After witnessing their lifestyle, it seems that, with all of our technology and comfort, perhaps we have missed something quite profound that carries within it the powerful elixir of life itself.
In the two and a half weeks that I spent in the presence of the Huni Kuin, something in their silent joy and happy innocence infected me with a profound sense of peace. It is indeed quite challenging to express in words how far I have come in terms of my resulting innate connection to nature and the ways in which this connection is critical to the health of my body, mind, and soul.
I had only begun to realize how deeply I’d fallen in love with the Huni Kuin on the last day as we boarded our tiny boats and began our return journey. The entire village came out to hug us and wave their final goodbyes. Witnessing them standing on the bank of the river with their faces painted, ancient traditions proudly on display with feathers, color, and sound, I realized that I would be leaving a piece of my heart in the heart of the Amazon.
In my experience, indigenous peoples find it challenging to understand our depression, addictions, anxiety, and ambitions. I have asked their medicine men and women why it is that we are so different from one another and what it is that we westerners are missing that is causing our spirits to be suppressed and frustrated. In all my years of traveling and meeting these magical beings, I almost always receive the same answer:
“You don’t have your feet in the earth.”
Perhaps this message of nature calling us back and reminding us of our innate connection is an imperative one. Not only is this important to us as individuals, but perhaps it is even more vital as a global reminder. We are so collectively focused on taking from the earth that we forgot to walk with Her and heed Her call to come back home; back to our heart.