the Doctrine of Mestre Irineu that has lasted for 51 years
Interview by the journal Varadouro in 1981 with José das Neves,
one of the first disciples of Mestre Irineu.
Varadouro Journal, Year IV, April 1981, #20.
Rio Branco – AC.
The Daime, or Yagé, or Vine, is a drink made from a certain species of leaf and a vine that exists in the Western Amazon. In order to build the foundation for further study of the Santo Daime Doctrine, “Varadouro” collected some personal accounts from people who live the reality of Santo Daime up close. The interest in the Santo Daime Doctrine, which started in Acre with Raimundo Irineu Serra, Mestre Irineu, has crossed the borders of Acre and attracted the curiosity of people from many parts of Brazil, but also from other countries. Many articles have been written, but usually by outsiders, and so have always fallen short in their intent. Since the tradition as a whole has popular roots, born of very simple people, it has for a long time been wrapped in a veil of prejudice that is now being lifted. Our first contact was with the “Advisor” José das Neves, a native of Acre, from the district of Xapuri. A baker by profession and a close friend of Mestre Irineu, José das Neves is 73 years old, 40 of them lived by the side of Mestre.
José das NevesVaradouro: How did you meet Mestre Irineu?
José das Neves: I was 4 years old when he came to Xapuri. From there he went to the rubber plantations in Brasiléia and Bolivia, where he stayed for a long time. But the memory of this encounter remained with me, even though I was so young. In February 1930, aged 22, I moved to Rio Branco. I arrived in February and Mestre Irineu arrived in March*. By May he began his work here, by which time he was already 39 years old.
*Irineu arrived in Rio Branco on January 2, 1920 (HOLDERNES apud ALVES, 1984, p. 4). He might be referring to one of the moves made by Mestre Irineu within Rio Branco.
Varadouro: How did your encounter with Irineu come about? Were you invited by him?
José das Neves: There was a guy who knew him and who worked with me and told me that Irineu had arrived. So, through this knowledge I was able to get to know the Daime. He did not invite me; it was my initiative to go and drink Daime with him. In fact, he never invited anyone. I also never invited anyone. It is up to the person.
Varadouro: So, March last year completed 50 years of people drinking Daime in Rio Branco. How did the ceremony come about?
José das Neves: It was on May 26, 1930 that I started this work with him, and we worked until his demise, 41 years and 41 days later. There was no uniform at that time, and the work was a concentration. There were three of us. It’s been a long time. I’ve forgotten the name of the other companion*. One’s memory fades after 50 years.
*According to Paulo Moreira / Edward MacRae, the companion was Terto. Dona Francisca, Mestre’s companion, might have been present.
Varadouro: Tell us more about the beginning.
José das Neves: Our work started as a class. You gather four or five kids, build a classroom and begin teaching. Then, more children start to arrive, until there comes a point where you have 50 or 100 students. And the teachings get finer and purer every passing day. The teacher reveals things and the student learns the fundamentals of existence. At that time, it was the beginning of everything. From 1935 to 1940 Mestre started to develop and receive the moral foundations of the doctrine, the hymns, the music that comes from the astral, and nothing was made up.
Varadouro: A school always shapes the students, leaving them prepared. Did Mestre Irineu shape a lot of people?
José das Neves: Well, there were many students, more than a thousand, but not all strived to learn the same. There are many examples of people who took it seriously, and I will mention one: Maria Damião was once a student who worked for many years with Mestre. She died in 1949, but she learned and received a hymnbook, and for this she will live forever within the doctrine.
Varadouro: Did you also receive a hymnbook?
José das Neves: No, my work is the “concentration”. I am the advisor of Alto Santo. If a person arrives with a problem, I give advice according to their merits.
Varadouro: Do you also perform healing works?
José das Neves: Mestre Irineu performed the healing works. He had this power, and a good portion of the people who got into the Doctrine did so because they received a healing from it. Now, the one who heals is the Daime, but it needs the force of Mestre. Prior to us, there was no such work in Rio Branco. It was a secret of the forest. Mestre Irineu opened up this knowledge for other people so we could get to where we are today.
Varadouro: And have you never had any trouble with the law?
José das Neves: Mestre Irineu was highly respected and was a friend of influential politicians who frequented his house. But we had problems when they invented this thing of “toxicity” [drugs]. Now, if you want to know if this drink is pure and true, I will tell you that I have been working with it for 50 years. Then, if you asked me: “Boy, isn’t it poisonous?” – I would say, no. The deputy of the Federal Police told me: – “How could it be? Looking at you, it could never be toxic. You, at your age, with your body and lucidity… There is no reason for it to be considered toxic.”
Varadouro: And your wife? Has she always supported you in this work?
José das Neves: We have already been together for over 40 years now and she never questioned me on this matter, because she has also been drinking Daime for all these years. Now, tell me one thing, how old do you think she is? — Well, I guess about 68 years old — You see how things are, here is a woman who takes care of everything in the house and is ready for anything. She is eight years older than me, so she is over 80 years old.
Varadouro: I reckon that for a couple to have lived together for so many years and to have reached such a healthy old age they must have had a lot of harmony during the course of their life. Was this the case for you?
Mrs. Ester: He was a little rough in the beginning, but things improved over time.
José das Neves: But in the beginning it was like this… Do you see this stool? I would say “this here is a stool”. She would say “no, it’s a bench”. And a discussion would ensue. Until one day the Daime took hold of me and showed me that it could not be that way. So if I arrived home and said it was a stool and she said it was a bench, I would remain silent, but firm with my truth and she with hers. And what was the result of this? It strengthened my word and hers and we stopped arguing for nothing.
Varadouro: But the Daime comes from the forest and the forest is being destroyed; what’s going to happen?
José das Neves: If we destroy the forest, we may end up destroying the human race. We may end up destroying every living thing, because we live for the forest and the forest lives for us. If we wipe out the forest, we may as well wipe out humankind as well, because it will be worthless, do you know why? The forest gives us life. Life blows from there and covers the world.
Varadouro: And the Indians?
José das Neves: I think they are Brazilians superior to us. They come from the land, while we arrived here from other places, because when Brazil was discovered they were already here, they already spoke with nature.