Thursday, February 16, 2012
For millennia the women of these tribes have had the responsibility of making a beverage called caxiri - traditionally men are forbidden to make the drink. Making caxiri is both a culinary and a religious task, because the drink plays in important role in shamanistic tribal ceremonies. Made from manioc, caxiri is allowed to ferment naturally for a few days before it is consumed, by which time it has a low level of alcohol. For the Amerindians, caxiri, when drunk, opens a pathway to the supernatural world. Both the drink, and the gourd in which it is served become supernatural entities, and when consumed, they allow the drinker access to their world.
The recipe for this traditional ritual drink hasn't changed in thousands of years, nor has the restriction of its use to religious ceremony. What is threatening caxiri today is a result of the increasing contact of tribe members with the greater Brazilian culture and that culture's love of sugar and alcohol. Younger tribe members, many of whom have visited one of the larger cities along the rivers of the Amazon, have learned that if sugar is added to the drink before it ferments, the resulting drink has a much higher alcohol content and can be used to get drunk without thought of ceremony or religion. Or, if one doesn't want to wait even the few days that natural fermentation requires, all one needs to do is add cachaça to make a potent cocktail.
The non-ritual drinking of caxiri, especially in its more potent forms, has caused severe social problems in many tribal homelands and caused an increase in the non-traditional problem of alcohol abuse.
True caxiri, made ritually and consumed ceremonially, is under siege - the adulterated drink, often made by young men in disobedience to ritual tradition, and its use as an intoxicant threatens its original purpose as a route to spiritual enlightenment.