Journalism from the center of the world

Since we didn’t know the miners, since we didn’t know the way they worked, we started calling them peccaries [because they travel in packs and grub in the earth]. But peccaries are animals, and they don’t leave marks like that. They don’t provoke anger; they just live in beautiful forests where there is no filth and where the waters don’t cause disease. But the holes dug by miners are like wounds in the earth because they cut down the forest, and when they cut down trees, these wounds appear. So for me, these aren’t the marks of peccaries; they are the marks of the napëpë [non-indigenous]. The tracks left by the napëpë are like flesh-eating wounds, and the hole keeps getting bigger.

My father-in-law, who was a great shaman, taught me about these red marks in the earth. He used to say: “This earth that the napëpë are destroying, don’t think it is red earth, as if it were annatto. Don’t be fooled! It is your blood. It is the blood of the earth flowing.” He spoke to me about this and that is why I am explaining it, so you, napëpë, will begin to think correctly. When the big machinery arrives to dig holes, the wound keeps getting bigger and bigger. The water used to wash the gold is left full of diseases, which travel far and spread. Diseases don’t go upriver; they go to the sea, and so what I see with my eyes looks ugly.

We, Yanomami, don’t only feel sad for ourselves; we also feel sad for the forest. Since the forest is suffering, we, Yanomami, suffer too; since the waters are dirty, our blood gets dirty too; since the fish were also contaminated and died, our children are dying too. You, napëpë, don’t think it is just us, Yanomami, who are suffering. The forest, trees, water, animals, and fish are also being killed; they are sick now too. The first time the miners invaded our land [in the late 1980s], there were 40,000 of them. It was awful! More than one thousand of my people have died! Malaria doesn’t go away; it is still there. Malaria arrived with mining; then it spread and so has made us die.

In 2015, the miners started coming back. Their numbers increased on the Uraricoera River, on the Mucajaí River, and also at the headwaters of the Catrimani River. And when Jair Bolsonaro became president, he sent a flood of miners onto our land. He made more miners come to our land by saying “Go and dig! Because in my land, in Brazil, there is gold! In my Brazil, our cultural heritage is my gold. It belongs to the government! The Yanomami, the people who live in the forest, the forest is theirs; but the subsoil, what is underneath, that’s mine!”

These men of power want profit. They are not thinking about giving up this land. Only if the land had no gold, diamonds, or cassiterite would they give it up. That’s why I have fought, myself, a Yanomami fighting. It wasn’t FUNAI [Brazil’s federal agency of indigenous affairs]; it wasn’t the napëpë. And I fight because I want my people to live well and healthy. I keep persisting, I keep trying; I don’t want to give up. I am not alone. Today you are many: women, young people and older people, and there are the napëpë who want to defend the forest. Although they live over there, in commodities land, they have an eye on our struggle. We have joined together and fought with them; we continue protecting the forests. If we give up, if we fear the napëpë who are authorities, then we will really begin to suffer.

If mining is legalized on our lands and they put heavy machinery on our land, then we will really disappear. I will go on fighting, today and tomorrow. Within the Yanomami community, no young people are interested in fighting with me, because today the young people in the cities, in our communities, and those who are ribeirinhos [members of traditional forest communities] are always on their phones. Since they have become cell phone people, they don’t engage in the struggle. Their eyes are glued to money; they want to be friends with the miners. The napëpë who are ruining the forest, the ranchers who raise cattle, the deforesters, if they don’t quit, the forest will die first. Today, those who were dedicated to protecting us are dead. FUNAI used to take care of and protect us, but Bolsonaro killed it. And then he also killed IBAMA [Brazil’s environmental protection agency], and then he killed ICMBio [Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation],  the agency that carries the name of my friend, Chico Mendes, who was also killed.

Our ancestors always protected the forest very well. This is true! You did not reach a destroyed land; the napëpë reached a beautiful green land. The man you call Pedro Álvares Cabral did not discover this land; we had been living here a long time. They were the ones who were angry at us, and today their children are still angry. That’s why they say: “Let’s wipe out this forest. Let’s put pastures in everywhere to raise cattle, plant soybeans, rice, and corn, plant sugarcane to make fuel, and for mining.” The Amazon is unique; there is only one. Another one will not appear.

 

The forest disappears. If they keep on burning and cutting down trees, then the places where forests stand today will continue turning into land that looks like a soccer field. If we, Yanomami, did not exist, this is what [the forest] would become; it would disappear, and the rain would also stop falling. Ever since my fathers-in-law, great shamans, explained this to me, I have kept [their words] in my ears. They told me this: “When we are gone, you will go on protecting. When you sleep, listen to the forest. When we, peoples of the forest, have disappeared, when the trees have disappeared and the forest is completely empty, without those who defend it, then the earth will take revenge. The earth will be furious and, when it becomes angry, it will cause a great rain to fall, and it will also be very hot.” I have two thoughts: either we will burn to death, or we will drown. So this is how my fathers-in-law, who were shamans, taught me, and now I stand by these words. When we, Yanomami, have disappeared, what will happen?

There are great numbers of napëpë, but they will die too. Big cities will be flooded; cities lying near rivers and seas will be swallowed up by the force of the waters. The cities that are not flooded will become so hot that the ground will crack open; the waters will dry up and so the napëpë will die of thirst. This is how I hear it in my dreams; these are my thoughts.

When the forest becomes hostile, we will do shamanism and the xapiripë [spirits who assist shamans] will forbid the rain from falling endlessly, so it doesn’t rebel against us, causing us to suffer. When we, shamans, say this to the rain, other xapiripë guarantee us good food. This is the only way the world will become good again. This is what we do, and if we didn’t do things this way, the world would become very hostile.

We need to have a big international campaign now, which will be heard by the authorities and guarantee us protection. I would like ten-, eleven-, and twelve-year-old boys and girls, who do not know Brazil’s problems, to listen to me. Young people today need to create projects to protect the forests. They need to fight and defend the Amazon. I would like these young people to be interested in learning about the reality of my Yanomami people, what their parents didn’t know. Young people need to know the Yanomami, the Macuxi, the Ye’̀kwana, so they can unite with and forge alliances with the indigenous children living in our villages.

Davi Kopenawa Yanomami (Born in Toototobi, Amazonas, Brazil, 1956) is a shaman and the most well-known leader of the Yanomami people. He is the president and founder of the Hutukara Yanomami Association and co-author of The Falling Sky:  Words of a Yanomami Shaman (Harvard University Press, 2013). In 1992, he played a key role in the demarcation of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory. He received the UN Global 500 environmental award in 1988, an Order of Merit from the Brazilian Culture Ministry in 2009, and the Right Livelihood Award, known as the ‘Alternative Nobel’, in 2019.

Translated from Yanomami to Portuguese by: Ana Maria Machado
Translated from Portuguese to English by: Diane Whitty

The shaman Davi Kopenawa next to his village, Demini. Photomontage by Pablo Albarenga