Matthew Pallamary’s acclaimed novel Land Without Evil [Mystic Ink Publishing], recently performed as an aerial acrobatic stage show, narrates the true story of a young man of the Guaraní people of South America facing European conquest and conversion to Catholicism in the 1700s.
Twirling in the Sky – A Novel and Show on the Healing Intermediary Between Life and Death
The young protagonist, named Avá-Tapé, trains with his father to become a paí, a solitary individual living on the threshold between humans and the divine [could be called a “shaman”]. He is, however, drawn into the protection of a Jesuit mission amid slave raids, epidemic disease, and the systematic destruction of his culture and home.
Performed through a collaboration with Agent Red and the aerial arts troupe Sky Candy from Austin, Texas, the show included almost 50 artists, dancers, contortionists, performers, singers, musicians, and actors with a focus on shamanism and the wild of the tropical forest.
“Your heart is in another place when you sing to the plants,” Avá-Nembiará said one day to his son while pounding the soft yellow skin and seeds of the algaroba pod into a pulp. “It is time to let your spirit wander farther from your body.” -“Land Without Evil” By Matthew Pallamary
Journey back two hundred and fifty years, into a long-forgotten world, where nature speaks through plants, and song pours forth from cascading waterfalls. A place where the rhythm of the feathered rattle is believed to bring you closer to your Creator. A world where mysticism and innate spirituality conflict with Christianity.
According to the Guaraní belief system there is no such thing as “illness.” In a mindset where everything is Spirit, outside forces cause imbalance to occur. When the unwanted spirit or energy is removed, then the physical body releases it, restoring the balance. Practicioners of shamanism intermediate between the human and spirit worlds, treating ailments or illness by mending the soul.
Agent Red and Sky Candy Performing Land Without Evil.
Jesuit Missions and the Messianic Quest for the Land Without Evil
Jesuit missionaries arrived in 1558 to convert the Guaraní to Catholicism. In the southeastern region in the area of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina they formed settlements known as reductions among the Indians.
With the use of Indian labor, the reductions became economically successful. Bandeirante slave traders made repeated incursions into the missions, abducting up to 60,000, and disease claimed thousands of others, under which the missions provided only nominal protection.
The Jesuits were impressed, however, by the Guaraní’s messianic quest for Ywy Mará Ey [the Land Without Evil]. As their prophets promised, in this mystical land there would no longer be misfortune and the Guaranís would live among the gods. As their shamans could not protect them from the destruction of their culture, for some the search for Land Without Evil became a craving for surrender and death.
The resistance by the Jesuit reductions to slave raids, as well as their high degree of autonomy and economic success, have been cited as contributing factors to the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Americas in 1767. Despite the dismantling of the missions, the Guaraní people, their culture and language, have survived into the present day.
The Story of Avá-Tapé
Raised in the traditions of the Guaraní people, then Mission educated by the Jesuits, Avá-Tapé sees the truth and beauty in both worlds, but he can only live in one. Neither the Jesuits, nor his father, the tribe’s shaman, will accept less than absolute allegiance, so Avá-Tapé is forced to choose between them.
Shamanism, religious bigotry, history, imperialism, coming of age, and a touching love story drive this narrative of the demise and ultimate triumph of an indigenous people and their traditions. Facing both a physical and spiritual quest, Avá-Tapé, inspired by his devotion to his people and his love for the beautiful Kuná-Maino, emerges as the most powerful shaman of them all, leading his tribe to the mythical LAND WITHOUT EVIL.
Matthew Pallamary on shamanism.
Excerpt from Land Without Evil, By Matthew Pallamary
Avá-Nembiará dropped his net, unwrapped it, and spoke to the ailing woman. “Do not fear, our magic is strong. The spirit of the plants will battle your sickness.”
Avá-Tapé wanted to speak too but could find no words. He had let fear strike his heart but he wouldn’t let the darkness steal his soul again. He would help his father drive it from this house and these people.
“It is the white man’s cattle that has brought sickness,” Avá-Nembiará said. “It is full of techo-achy [base passions and evil appetites of humans]. Only more time in the fire can kill this sickness that lives in it, but still is heavy for the spirit — and still it brings the anang [jaguar] in hunting packs.”
The woman watched in silence while Avá-Nembiará chanted and shredded tobacco leaves into a gourd. Avá-Tapé went back out into the rain, collected wood, and started a fire in the hearth. Meanwhile, after adding small portions of other herbs and water, his father stirred the mixture over a fire, producing a strong, bitter-smelling liquid. When it grew sticky, he propped the woman up in the crook of his arm and held a cup to her lips.
“Drink fast,” he said. “Do not think of the taste.”
The woman looked up at him, put thin trembling fingers over his, and tipped the cup up. After two swallows, her hands dropped, but Avá-Nembiará kept the cup to her lips, forcing her to drink the rest. She grimaced and a gamut of agonies passed over her drawn face before she grabbed her stomach and tilted to the side. Avá-Nembiará put a gourd bowl beside her.
She jerked twice and vomited a brown-white mass of worms into the gourd.
Avá-Tapé rushed outside, turned his face to the sky, and let the rain fall upon his eyes, into his mouth, down his cheeks, and through his hair, as if cleansing him of the smell an taste of death. Part of him grew stronger with every confrontation, part of him weakened as if each healing took something from him. Death seemed to be seeping into him a little at a time, robbing him of life.
– Land Without Evil, By Matthew Pallamary
Land Without Evil was performed in collaboration with Executive Producers, Sarah Agent Red Johnston and Winnie Hsia. The show was directed by Agent Red and Sky Candy co-founder and Artistic Director, Chelsea Laumen. Told through aerials and acrobatics, dance, capoeira, flow arts, spoken word, ASL, and singing. Rehearsals and performance are the subject of a PBS series, Arts in Context, premiering nationally January 2013.
Matthew Pallamary on “Land Without Evil.”