Facing the big beats

A documentary by Jérôme SEGUR

Big beats have fascinated mankind since the dawn of time. Our ancestors, who could not equal their power and were sometimes prey themselves, believed they had supernatural powers: gods or demons, and sometimes half-human creatures, their mystery stems from our deepest beliefs.

In Thailand today, a group of monks are raising tigers according to Buddhist principles. They refuse violence of any kind, convinced that the cats are reincarnations of their ancestors.

The Mati Indians live in the western reaches of Brazil, deep in the inaccessible regions of the Amazon forest. They believe the jaguar is not an animal, but a rival and an equal. A master of the elements, it symbolizes life and death.

In Sub-Sahara Africa, Masai live along the borders of Kenya and Tanzania. But these nomadic shepherds share their land with the lion, and confrontations are inevitable between man and beast.

In the Sunderbans mangrove forest of India, the tiger rules supreme. The men have only a single recourse to escape its attacks: pray to the goddess Bababibi — or else stop going into the forest altogether. 

Big beats were feared in the earliest civilizations. In ancient Egypt, Sekhmet, the goddess of anger and war, was represented with the head of a lion. During the Republic of Venice, the lion became the city’s symbol. It embodied domination, honesty, the sun and fire.

Big beats continue to fascinate us today. Some people in the West, evoking the initiatory riles of an earlier age, pit themselves against the felines, risking their lives.

For the Indians of the Amazon, the jaguar is a civilizing hero, which transmitted its knowledge to man. Our ancestors may have held the same beliefs, when they drew images of lionesses in the Lascaux cave. Or perhaps they were paying tribute to the most powerful animal on earth—to this supreme hunter they tried to emulate.