Deep in the wilds of the Amazon rainforest, the Waiapi tribe is ready for its favourite activity: drinking vast quantities of homemade beer.
Waiapi women grate manioc to prepare Caxiri, a craft beer imbibed daily by men, women and children when is not sour yet, at the Waiapi village in Amapa state in Brazil.
Draining the salad-bowl-sized gourd, usually in one go, they send for a refill, which is scooped from an enormous hollowed-out log resembling a canoe, only brimming with beer.
The tribesmen of Manilha village, dressed in red loincloths, black-and-red body art, and sashes made of bright beads, soon get merrily drunk.
The party, which kicks off after lunch and continues late into the star-filled night, was called in honour of the Waiapi river spirit, a giant anaconda-like serpent called Sucuri who demands constant appeasement.
But the Waiapi need little excuse to organize drinking sessions, preferably with a sing-song.
“When you drink, your vision changes. You lose shame. Happiness comes and your feet start moving,” says Japarupi Waiapi, a 45-year-old chief visiting from a neighbouring community.
The Waiapi are self-sufficient, able to do without electricity, phones, cars, most clothes or even money. But while everything they need for survival can be found in the forest, daily life as hunters and subsistence farmers can be gruelling.
Sometimes the tribesmen start in the morning for a casual sitdown and couple of pints. Sometimes it’s an elaborate affair, a full-blown party, with other villages invited and going on all night.
“These caxiri bouts were mentioned by numerous travellers in French Guiana in the 1800s. There is no doubt that getting drunk was an important Waiapi tradition,” wrote anthropologist Alan Tormaid Campbell, who lived with the Waiapi in the 1970s, learned their language, and wrote a 2002 book “Getting to know Waiwai
Behind the scenes, though, it takes back-breaking work to make the tradition happen. And women, who drink caxiri in lesser quantities, are responsible.
Caxiri is brewed from cassava or yams, with beige or purple versions, coming in varying degrees of potency.
Within hours, the revellers at Manilha’s party had drunk their way through the entire canoe of beer. Fortunately, a second canoe load awaited at the other end of the village.
The increasingly enthusiastic musicians, huddling together and holding on to each other, played the same two notes over and over in a tireless, hypnotic rhythm.
Dancing in a bobbing motion, they shuffled through the village like mad pipers. That’s the life of the Waiapi