Mestre Irineu: A man of many dimensions.

Worker. Black man. Northeasterner. Migrant. Caboclo. River-dweller. Rubber tapper. Man without land. Saint. Shaman. Leader. Medium. Spiritualist. Shaman. Healer. Poet. Composer. Teacher. Mestre Irineu was all of these things. A legendary man from the Northeast of Brazil to the Amazon, from popular festivals to the most sacred corner of the forest; from music and dance to the most syncretic, more universalist faith. To the rhythm of the maraca, saints, angels, enchanted people, caboclos, orixás, entities, divinities, all united in the magical feast that makes the Astral fit in a mind, in a thought. In this firmament of infinite possibilities, a Master.

Born at the time of the formation of the First Brazilian Republic, Mestre Irineu was the synthesis of possibilities and the result of the contradictions of a diverse and oppressive Brazil, generous and excluding, all at the same time, in different times, in all spaces. His life was the example of “overcoming”. Mestre Irineu denied that it was impossible for a man of his own origin to find the fullness of human experience.

In this sense, Irineu is an allegory of Brazil. He is the vitality that overcomes violence, exclusion, illiteracy and hunger. It is our diversity generously feeding Brazilian and foreign souls. A Master that sprouts in the Forest, like vine and leaf, water and fire. And that illuminates everything.

Mestre Irineu was the grandson of slaves. At the beginning of the 20th century, he migrated from Maranhão to Acre where he settled down and carried out various jobs such as rubber tapping and policing. On the outskirts of the city of Rio Branco, he began to develop spiritualist activities with the psychoactive drink ayahuasca. In 1930 he founded a religious center that would later become known as the “Santo Daime”. The rural community which he established hosted countless immigrants and rubber tappers who were driven out of the forest due to a collapse of the rubber economy. Mestre Irineu and his doctrine were subject to numerous persecutions and prejudices caused by the predominance of black people among his early followers. There were many fears among the elites in relation to cultural movements that were afro-indiginenous in origin.

As a defense strategy for himself and his community, Mestre Irineu developed strong ties with some influential politicians of his time, including governors and army authorities. Today, his participation in the colonization of the Acre Territory (that would later become the State of Acre) is considered of great importance. The religious movement he founded takes on emblematic characteristics of Acre’s identity, reminiscent of those played by Candomblé in Bahia.

The text of the book presented here makes a systematization of the data already known about the history of Mestre Irineu and the Daime, in addition to bringing a precious collection of testimonies from the first participants of this religious movement, many of them in advanced age or already read. The work also emphasizes the influence of Afro-Brazilian culture in the development of the doctrine preached by Mestre Irineu.

This book is a work to preserve the memory of the beginnings of this religious cult, emphasizing the importance of the Daime, a symbol of Brazilian cultural hybridism, bringing together different origins in our system of meanings, and highlighting the presence of the matrix of African origin, so far little emphasis in this process.

This book is also a milestone, not only because it becomes a mandatory reference, for its pioneering and revealing nature, but because it is a clear effort and contribution of two scholars for greater effectiveness of public policies on psychoactive substances that are often stigmatized and simplified by the name of “drugs”. For a public debate more consistent with the pluralism, diversity and democracy we want. We cannot ignore that it is human nature to seek to expand the horizon of reality. There is also no doubt that this is an issue with a strong cultural impact. Its gravity and solution demand a broad understanding.

Decriminalization is not enough, the issue is complex, we need complex strategies and the contextualization of each case. The fact is that we have only recently begun to recognize the legality of cultural uses of certain psychoactive substances linked to rituals.
We need to incorporate an “anthropological” understanding of the subject, an approach more focused on the behavior and symbolic goods aroused by the different cultural uses of psychoactive substances. This also allows us this precious book.

Brasilia, December 15, 2010
Juca Ferreira
Minister of State for Culture

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