The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman. Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert. Harvard University Press. November 2013.
Tyler Cowen: "For those who are willing to swerve in the direction of the mystical, I recommend this strongly."
From a review at the LSE blog, Review of Books:
Kopenawa tells the story of his journey back to shamanism and traditional spiritual customs. As a teenager, he learns the white people’s language and works for FUNAI, or Fundação Nacional do Índio, a Brazilian government foundation under the military dictatorship at the time. As an interpreter between members of isolated tribes and officials in Manaus, Kopenawa becomes aware of white people’s plans to divide the Amazonian forest, and learns of the bombings and shootings they resort to when Indigenous people such as the Waimiri-Atroari refuse them entry to their land. Through the work of the CCPY, or Comissão Pró-Yanomami, a non-govermental charity aiming at preserving areas of the forest for the Yanomami people, Kopenawa realises that he has to fight for land rights.The arrival of gold prospectors on Yanomami land is concomitant with the awakening of his activist consciousness: “These new words about protecting the forest came to me gradually, […] until they formed a long path in my mind” (p.262). Despite Indigenous resistance, prospectors keep coming in increasing numbers, wrecking havoc on the local wildlife and rivers. The numerous deaths of elders succumbing to epidemics or murdered by prospectors and the military mean that soon there is no-one left to pass on their wisdom, values, and traditions to the young who, to Kopenawa’s dismay, stop hunting and working the gardens to beg food and goods from white people. This loss of transmission also translates for the Yanomami in the impossibility to defend themselves and carry on living like their ancestors.
Selections at Harvard UP:
“When they think their land is getting spoiled, the white people speak of “pollution.” In our language, when sickness spreads relentlessly through the forest, we say that xawara [epidemic fumes] have seized it and that it becomes ghost.”—Davi Kopenawa