In more than one Brazilian tribe of Indians — and I am guessing that very similar patterns can be found in other cultures throughout the world — the Pajé begins his life as the strange one, the person that does not fit, the outcast within his tribe. He then goes out in a spiritual journey through the world, during which he doesn’t belong anywhere, he is completely lost and ultimately alone. In the end, he returns and can, finally, take his position as the tribe’s priest, magician and healer, second in authority only to the Cacique. Maybe Pajé can be accurately translated as shaman.
Now many — but I am really talking a big bunk of people here — many of my friends went to live abroad. And talking to then, i always get that feeling — if they don’t tell me outright — that they did so because they really couldn’t feel to belong here, in Brazil, with their family and friends — and they didn’t feel like playing the roles expected of them.
Now it all feels a bit naïve to me, that most of them will come back and become not only a part of everything that they didn’t believe in, but an important part, an honoured part.
I think living abroad is the contemporary form of the Pajé’s Journey.
It is foolish to explain away this Pajé Journey as a mere stage in his education, like it was just another class or a trainee experience. When he goes out not only he really feels a true disconnection that is likely one of the most painful experiences a human being can feel, not only that, but when he leaves a big part of himself dies. It is not only learning, but a deep and powerful personal transformation.
When he gets out there, in the world, he inevitably fails to find things that conform to his ideal. No matter how far and wide he travels, he never finds a “right” place, just many places that are “wrong” in different ways.
Nevertheless, amidst all his suffering, he finally finds something, but this thing is not in the outside, it is inside himself. What he finds is the capability to left go of his own constraints, to let go of the things he believed to be his true essence, his very soul. He discovers those things — hopes, beliefs, tastes, dreams, moral values, fears, desires — were no more than bad habits. And when he finds it he becomes free. This new freedom is akin to the ethnographers’ «alterity» or the Krishna «selflessness». It is no more and no less than the ability or willingness to see the other not through my own prejudices and expectations and structures, but simply see the other in the other’s own context.
When he finally does this, he can see the chains. He understands now the constraints that before he only felt. And it turns out those chains were hair-thin. He finally knows why he was unable to belong in his world, and it turns out it was more a matter of choice than of nature: A deep and powerful choice that he was unable to make, but a choice that was unavoidably and terribly his own.
At that point, if he comes back to his home place, he can be a part of society because he chose to, instead of because he was thrown into it, and that gives him power, a power that in some ways is even bigger than the Cacique’s, the tribe’s leader. And now, even thought he could change everything, he will not, in part because he has outgrown the need to, and in part because he cannot or will not put someone else through the same suffering he endured.
And, when I compare my friend abroad experiences to his archetypal Pajé’s journey, even if I can see how important and precious it is, I can’t help but be a little sceptical. Not because I think they are looking outside for something that exists only inside — I know there are some forms of cultural relativism that can only be achieved by really being outside your own culture. And not because I think they should change everything once they return — i know illusions of stability for mere illusions. I am septic because…
It is actually hard to explains but, in a way it is like i do not think they are sincere enough. I don’t think they have the strength to admit to themselves what they truly want. Not facing their transformation as what it actually is, not only will they make it more painful than it needs to be, they also face the risk of not completing the full circle, of not understanding the transformation once it has happened, and finally confusing their own experiences with needless morality, turning an open-ended trans-subjective experience into a mere censorship fable.
If the whole travel thing will in the end turn out to be just a bribe the Shaman gives to himself to become convinced of entering the social role he was destined to, shouldn’t he make his price real high? Isn’t it a bit empty to come back home and spend the rest of your life telling your tribe’s young people wishful stories about how glorious everything was abroad?
And even if the person does not come back home, does this mean he really understood what it was that drove him to wherever he went to? As I said, I think the freedom the traveller needs to conquer is inside himself, and so coming back home or settling abroad is of small consequence: What matters is to what extent he did manage to fulfill his own development.
For even if many Pajé share a common story, there are certainly greater and lesser ones. There are some few who have a deeper understanding of the freedom. A few that have really mastered their strength beauty. That have, to the fullest, became who they truly are.
And our big tribe, humanity, needs more than ever great healers and seers.
So, i would wish that the outcasts, the weird ones, the people who don’t belong, i would wish they could see their pain as the bigger pain it really is. I wish they would recognize not that they belong, but actually how much their lack of belonging is part of the overarching perspective, part of an extrapolating context.
For, as much as I love their tales from abroad, i can’t pretend to not hear how much “should” there is in their “was”, which is to say, i can’t pretend i don’t see the hidden judgements in their tales, and the demeaning. Exactly as the Pajé doesn’t find a “right” place but differently “wrong” ones, the person living abroad must learn that what he is going through is not a difference in quality of culture, or its power, that he is just exercising cultural elasticity, his own capability of dealing with things that are different at a visceral level.
Without realizing those things, and without realizing them consciously, I doubt the living abroad experience is much more than a youthful misdeed, a foolish rebellion. I do not think they are wrong in travelling, nor do I doubt all that they learned, and i am certainly not in a position to pass judgement in any of that — having neither lived abroad nor really researched any of this Pajé Journey stuff. I wish them all the best.
But I also wish they had the courage to face how enormously important they become because of those experiences.