The Pirahãs Tribe from the Amazon Region of Brazil are the center of a documentary on how a missionary, Dan Everett, came to convert the tribe and instead wound up being the one converted. <i>The Grammar of Happiness</i> a one-hour documentary airs May 12 at 9 p.m. on the Smithsonian Channel.

The Grammar of Happiness: How an Indigenous Tribe Changed a Missionaries Views Airs May 12

Dominique Godrèche
5/12/12

When twenty-five year old missionary Dan Everett landed among the Pirahãs Tribe in 1977, with the intention of evangelizing the lost Amazonian community, he could not possibly envision the idea that he would, one day, become “one of them.”

But it took him only a few years before he reevaluated his faith, and his “mission” among one of the most isolated tribes of Amazonia, a four-day boat ride from the town of Porto Velho, Brazil.

Everett lived among the Pirahãs for eight years, with his ex-wife and children, patiently learning their unwritten language by repeating the name of each object: he discovered a unique linguistic system, with no other tense then the present, no numbers, and no colors. This new perception of reality revolutionized his life. The Pirahas live in the immediacy, do not keep possessions, or wealth, do not plan for the future, or project themselves in the past; and do not work more then they need to. Their stunning melodious language covers the range of spoken, whistled, sung, hummed sounds. When hunting, they communicate by whistles, akin to the natural sounds of their Amazonian environment.

This remarkable adventure is released in the documentary, The Grammar of Happiness, directed by Australians filmmakers Michael O’ Neil and Randall Wood.

Shot in 2009 and 2010, the film depicts the life of this small tribe, living on the edge of the impressive Maici River, in the heart of Amazonia. The one-hour documentary film will be aired on the Smithsonian Channel on Saturday May 12, at 9 p.m.

Soon after his arrival, the film shows an indigenous member approach Everett and say, “we know why you are here: you want to tell us about Jesus. We like you, but we do not want to hear any more about Jesus: we are not Americans.”

The more than 400 Pirahãs are settled in four villages along the river, visiting each other constantly by canoe.

“It took me six years to achieve this film,” O’Neil said in an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network. “And at one point, the process had become so difficult, that we were going to call it the Grammar of Unhappiness! But the Pirahãs were welcoming, generous, and helping. And [Everett] was very patient, remaining present during all those years. I was appealed by his story of multiple conversions: from a rock star to a Christian missionary, then an atheist, and an academist. And getting to know the Pirahãs, I was fascinated by how different we can be, and at the same time, so similar.”

Everett, today a professor of linguistics at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, 10 miles outside of Boston, remembers, “I used to be a passionate believer, but living with the Pirahãs, I realized that trying to convert people is just another form of colonialism.”

Resilient and happy, the Pirahãs taught Everett another way of life, through their hyper presence, and their openness, welcoming his desire of knowledge for their language.

“We do not want any strangers here,” insists an elder in the film. “Only Pirahãs!”

After 30 years among the Pirahãs, Everett was adopted into the tribe. “Dan speaks Pirahã,” his Pirahã teacher confirmed in the documentary.

The Grammar of Happiness reveals this improbable encounter between one of the most ancient tribes in the world, with a North American, whose life, transformed by their astonishing philosophy of life, ended up converting his values while researching their secret language – until today.

Watch the trailer for The Grammar of Happiness below:

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Fantastic. I am looking forward to watching it on ABC Monday. Shame we can't do lots more on our Australian AboriginalPeoples - the oldest living culture in the history of the world. Too few people have heard or witnessed some Aboriginal principles for living - eg Kanyini, unconditional love and responsibility for everyone and everything - Anangu from Uluru. Jan Bourke Adelaide, South Australia

Matin 's picture
Matin
Submitted by Matin on
That way of life is connected to a social relation/order in which its material base or foundation is the common ownership of the means of sustaining life or production.
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