In 1969 I played host, along with a couple of anthropologists, to two Indians whose tribe, the Patajós, had been contacted in the southernmost part of the State of Bahia only a couple of years previously.
This was to be their first excursion out of the jungle and in to the big city of Salvador. Some missionaries had already taught them the rudiments of so-called civilized living: how to dress in tee shirt and jeans; the intricacies of the knife and fork; the chair and the table.
But nothing could adequately prepare them for the lift with sliding doors up to the seventh floor. I needed to go and come several times, poking my head out of my window and waving, before they could be enticed into it.
They were frightened of the great height from the window and needed to wash having met new friends. The sight of water coming from the taps left them in a state of utter bewilderment.
One of them said that only that morning ‘our women walked three kilometers and brought us water as always’.
Lunch went off without much of a mishap until the pudding, an oval dish piled high with ice-cream, was set in the center of the table.
This was an unfortunate experiment dreamed up by the anthropologists who wanted to see what their reaction would be to food that clearly was steaming and yet wasn’t hot.
Their reaction was only too predictable and the ice cream delivered a cruel shock to their system. They then went off in a car to look at traffic and swimming pools.
Precisely what the anthropologists got out of all this apart from a cheap thrill at seeing the simple world of the Indian turned upside down in such a brutal way, I do not know.
Naturally I did find meeting and being with the Indians extremely exciting and it was almost certainly this that made me start to think I was wasting too much time on trivialities and that there were other far more important things that demanded my attention.
Link to the book The Banker Who Turned to Voodoo
Paul Williams was once a naïve but intrepid young man, fresh from university in the 1960s, who took a well-paid banking job in Brazil for which he was ill-suited, at a time when the country hardly figured on the world stage.
Inspired by Brazil’s rich African heritage and the remarkable powers of voodoo priests to heal the sick, he gave up banking and returned to live as a research student in remote communities, examining how serious illnesses are cured by herbs, flogging and fumigation.
He now divides his time between two converted houses: an old chocolate factory just yards from Winchester Cathedral (England), and a former stone olive mill with an Arab bath in the hills between Granada and Malaga (Spain). In rare moments of repose he fondly remembers being a Housemaster at Winchester College where he taught languages for many years. He has been happily married since 1971.
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