Text taken from the Traditional Ayahuasca Communities' magazine
on "The Citizen Irineu Serra", by Antonio Alves.



The Citizen Irineu Serra, by Antonio Alves

Mestre Irineu, in the center of the photo, united with the fraternity in Alto Santo. The photo is presumably from the 50s, after his marriage to Mrs. Peregrina, who is on his right hand side in the photo, and before his trip to Maranhão in 1957.

Everything that the community has realized and secured throughout its history has a source of inspiration. It is a Brazilian citizen -- now also recognized as a citizen of Acre -- called Irineu. His behavior, his way of living, of acting, of relating to the government and society in general, in organizing his community and especially his religious doctrine, is where all the values that formed this Alto Santo way of citizenship reside.

The story of Mestre is reasonably well known. He was born in Maranhão in the late 19th century and came to Acre by the end of the first rubber plantations boom in 1912. He worked as a rubber tapper in the region of Xapuri and Brasiléia, and it was in these forests, near the border with Peru, that he was introduced to Ayahuasca by way of the brothers Antonio and André Costa. He was part of the CRF, the Circle of Faith and Regeneration, the entity that brought together the Costa brothers and other ayahuasqueiros who lived near the village of Brasilia, today Brasiléia. At that time he received a spiritual enlightenment from the Queen of the Forest, who is Our Lady of Conception: a religious doctrine that he would learn, develop and teach over many years. Then he came to Rio Branco and participated in a commission which demarcated the limits and borders of the territory and worked in various places, towns and villages of the Purus valley and Acre. He enlisted in the military police in the early 20s. It was there that he met Fontenele de Castro, who would later be a great state authority, and also several other important figures in the history and politics of Acre.

In the police he learned the structure, language and hierarchy of the military, which would be important in the formation of his religious center and community. In 1930, he left the barracks and settled as a farmer just outside the small town of Rio Branco, in the region where later there would be formed the districts of Vila Ivonete, Conquista and Manoel Julião. At that time he was beginning to be called "Master" and became known as a healer. Disciples began to gather around him and the community grew large. So it was that he organized his religious center: uniforms, hymns, liturgy, calendar of celebrations and activities, with an increasingly detailed structure.

In 1945, Mestre moved to the other side of the São Francisco creek, on an allotment of land known as "Espalhado". He settled on the highest ground and named it "Summit of the Holy Cross", which people shortened to "Alto Santo" [Holy Summit]. There the community is still situated today.

The doctrine of Irineu Serra is expressed in hymns, so people learn to sing while some others learn to play instruments, especially the guitar. They had to build a headquarters, with benches and tables and chairs. For this they had to work as carpenters, masons and craftsmen. They lived in the forest and had to treat their health with herbs and medicinal plants. To make the Daime they had to know the cycles of nature, to distinguish the vine and the leaf, the periods of growth and the blossom of the trees, a complex knowledge of the forest and of its biodiversity. When they wanted to teach the children literacy, Mestre Irineu founded the "Cruzeiro School", and those who were literate were the first teachers.

In other words, what formed around Mestre Irineu was not just a survival community nor only a religious community, but a production center of culture, of the development of knowledge. The set of skills which were articulated around the person and life of Mestre Irineu -- developed by him and by the people who participate in the community -- is what provides the basis for a model of citizenship. The citizen Irineu is a model citizen, because he serves as an example for other people to also become citizens. His behavior, a practical expression of his doctrine, guides people to avoid laziness, to respect the law, to have good habits and morally acceptable customs; in short, to not be harmful to society, but rather to form a healthy society with the values ​​of honesty, work, solidarity and justice.

Add to this ideology one important detail, derived from religious experience and with implications for this entire way of life: respect for the forest and all the beings that inhabit it. Said in this way, it seems a general and abstract proposition. But let's imagine the details and the endless day-to-day situations... One of the Alto Santo elders once told me of a time when he felt, during an hinário work, a sharp pain in his leg. He went to talk with Mestre the next day, who gave him the following teaching: sometimes -- he said -- a man is working in the fields and takes a break for lunch. When he gets home, he rests his machete by sticking it into the branch of a tree, for example a cashew tree, and he removes it after lunch to return to the fields. He does not notice that, needlessly, he offended a living being. The tree feels pain when it is cut. At night, that man feels a pain in his leg, or arm, and does not know why. Whoever lives in this world has the right to cut down trees to create a field and provide for his family. But one has to ask permission, has to know how to proceed according to necessity, to never be wasteful nor have the intention of being destructful.

For more than 40 years he lived in community, teaching and learning, shaping the values ​​and behavior of several generations. Around Mestre and his doctrine there has formed a people with a strong identity and high self-esteem, keepers of knowledge and skill sets essential for a dignified life -- well above mere survival in poverty. And above all, people that hold an essentially Christian ethic: strict and fair, yet generous and caring at the same time.


[1] Antonio Alves is a journalist who resides in Acre State and attends CICLU-Alto Santo, the headquarters of the doctrine, where he is a member of the board of the Area of Environmental Protection Irineu Serra. English review by Moonvine.