The internationally respected Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa will be visiting California in April to talk about protecting the rainforests and his spiritual life, both of which are connected in his recent book. He will be traveling with Survival International (SI) Research Director Fiona Watson, an ally of the Yanomami and friend to Kopenawa for more than 20 years.
It was with SI’s assistance that the Yanomami were able to partially secure their territory in Brazil in 1992. Gold prospectors, known as garimpeiros in Brazil, had invaded Yanomami lands in the 1980s, killing whoever got in their way and causing severe contamination of the waters and lands.
While the close to 35,000 Yanomami people in Brazil and Venezuela have received some protection and assistance, problems from illegal mining and other invasions are still a serious problem as Kopenawa has noted in many speeches and international appearances over the last decade.
Kopenawa will also be discussing his new book, The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman which he co-authored with Anthropologist Bruce Albert, at a conference at the University of California, Berkeley in the last week of April.
The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman is the first book ever written by a Yanomami and was listed among the top 10 science books of 2013 by New Scientist magazine. In this account of his life as a shaman Kopenawa goes into great detail about his first encounters with the gold prospectors, the garimpeiros, and how they had devastated both the forests and river.
“They started digging into the ground in every direction like herds of peccaries,” he wrote of the garimpeiros, likening them to the peccaries or musk-hogs of the forest.
“They soiled the rivers with yellowish mire and filled them with xawara epidemic fumes from their machines. Then my chest filled up with anger and worry again when I saw them ravage the river’s sources with the avidity of scrawny dogs. All this to find gold, so the white people can use it to make themselves teeth and ornaments or keep it locked in their houses! At the time, I had just learned to defend our forest’s limits. I was not yet used to the idea that I also needed to defend its trees, game, watercourses, and fish. But I soon understood that the gold prospectors were land eaters who would destroy everything.”
As part of his recent visit Kopenawa along with SI’s Watson, will discuss a recent legislative effort in Brazil that could reverse some of the advances made on behalf of the Yanomami and the rainforest.
“Davi’s visit to the USA comes at a pivotal time for Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples,” Watson asserted, “as congress and government seek to weaken their hard won rights. As Brazil prepares to host the Soccer World Cup, it is crucial that the American people and supporters around the world rally behind Indigenous Peoples like Davi in their battle to protect the Amazon rainforest and its peoples.”