On Sound And Movement

- Melody

The sound and movement in Santo Daime processions play crucial roles in standardizing and regulating doctrine practice and use of physical space. By sound I am referring to music produced by various instruments, as well as the singing that typifies all Santo Daime processions to varying degrees. By movement I am referring to the dance-like steps taken by participants which typically accompany the singing of the hymnals provided that the physical space utilized allows for it. This chapter will be divided in two parts elucidating the significance of each of these respectively.
Although every procession is initiated by the ringing of a bell next to the church entrance, the sources of sound that overpower Santo Daime processions is typically composed of three distinct parts which occur in the following temporal order: The singing by the principle female vocalist that sits in the front center row, holding the esteemed title of the “puxadora” (the one who pulls); the accompaniment of musical instruments to the tune of the puxadora; and finally the singing of all other participants. The puxadora in particular occupies one of the most important and powerful positions in the entire procession, and thus in the whole Santo Daime experience. This vital role is always occupied by a woman, and her status is reflected by the immediate proximity to the center table in the middle of the three group spaces on the women’s side of the church (see chapter On Physical Space). The puxadora is typically a young, talented singer that not only is expected to be present at all processions regardless of frequency and length, but is also expected to know by memory every hymnal that will be recited, from the lyrics to tone as well as the melody. Thus, the puxadora is expected to lead the congregation by setting the tone which the musicians are to play their instruments to, and all else are to accompany by singing along. Consequently, the puxadora undeniably has an astounding degree of power and control in Santo Daime church and community, and thus she and her family enjoy the rewards of this prestigious status; of this fact I was made keenly aware when one quiet mid-day I ran into an elderly lady that first introduced herself not by name but rather by identifying as the puxadora’s mother. What is quite striking indeed is the amount of autonomy and authority with which the principle puxadora in Céu do Mapiá conducted her responsibilities; for example, when on occasion the musicians would fail to follow in tune due to their lack of knowledge of the particular hymnal, lack of experience, or sheer fatigue, the puxadora would in a very astringent way halt the procession and sharply correct the musician. She did this with complete and utter dominance of the space which, in those particular moments, she unequivocally and completely controlled without question.
Being the first to begin each and every hymnal, the puxadora is expected to lead the group, and this she does by attempting to maintain the loudest and most melodic tone of voice throughout the procession, no matter its length. I invite you to imagine the mental aptitude it must take to know the lyrics, melody, style, tone, and order of thousands of hymnals, and to simultaneously have the physical and psychological fortitude to sing these for hours on end, sometimes as often as every other day, even while under the influence of arguably the strongest psychoactive substance which is not infrequently also coupled with a heavy dose of cannabis. To say that this ability is merely extraordinary, stupendous, fantastic, or remarkable is, in my observation of the deed performed, a severe understatement. In my eyes that ability which is embodied and expressed by the puxadora is nothing less than prodigious. And I doubt it not that it is for these reasons the puxadora retains a very special status within the church and thus within the community, which also allows her to travel so extensively with the various padrinhos as a vital part of their coveted “comitiva”, or musical entourage. Also, this role remains one of the few ways in which a woman in the community is able to earn a wage, as well as probably the only reasonable way in which she is able to leave the community and experience far corners of the world, although I was given conflicting information whether or not the puxadora is actually paid. Considering the lack of work opportunities for women in Céu do Mapiá outside of the household that don ́t include the main two of cooking and cleaning with the exception of teaching at the school, the role of the puxadora is as coveted as it is difficult to maintain. Without the padrinhos the procession still continues, but without the puxadora it is difficult to imagine how this could happen, thus, in my observations, the puxadora occupies one of the most important roles in the church, and thus in Céu do Mapiá, even though not once in my numerous participations has her contribution been publically recognized as is the case in all church processions where men yell out triumphantly "Viva!" followed by some respected individual ́s name regularly between hymnals.
The second important factor that relates to sound in the church is the musical accompaniment created by various musicians that encircle the central table. The instruments used always include one or more guitars, and typically include some percussion instruments, and on rare occasions even a flute or harmonica. Also, the use of maracas is universal and has an important role of keeping the beat, something that is very important especially during the deepest states of trance. In my experience the instrument playing was reserved to the male side of the church, save for the maracas which were found randomly throughout the ceremonial space. In my opinion the music is exceptionally beautiful, with perhaps the most enchanting parts taking place in the recess during the middle of the ceremony when the musicians lightly play whatever soft tunes they desire. As one foreign Daimista told me in an interview in Céu do Mapiá, gleaming with joy after the conclusion of the singing of his favorite hymnal, "When you fall in love with the music, you will fall in love with Santo Daime, and you will want to keep coming back to the jungle for more!"94 To some extent I can recognize the truth in this, for I do not think it is incorrect to identify Céu do Mapiá as a musical society first and foremost, and a religious one second.
Finally, accompanying the puxadora and musicians as the rest of the congregation each of whom is expected to participate in the singing. Each hymnal has a specific format regarding to how the lines are to be recited, and the puxadora ́s voice leads the others in this regard. What follows is a word about the hymnals which paints a clearer picture of the role of sound in Santo Daime processions.