Davi Kopenawa Yanomami was born 34 years ago in Toototobi, Brazil, in the heart of the Yan
Davi Kopenawa Yanomami was born 34 years ago in Toototobi, Brazil,
in the heart of the Yanomami territory called Kopenawa. Davi learned
Portuguese with missionaries from the New Tribes Mission, who worked
with recently contacted groups in the region. He witnessed the
disappearance of a good part of this wife's family--victims of
disease brought to the Yanomami territory by workers building the
Perimetral Norte readway, which was started int early 1970's.
He began working for FUNAI, the Brazilian government's Indian
organization, 10 years ago at attraction posts for other Indians who
were considered by FUNAI to be "uncontacted." He also worked in
various Yanomami villages accompanying health workers. Now he is the
head of the Indian post of FUNAI in Demii, in the center of Yanomami
territory. He is the son-in-law of the traditional leader, with whom he
apprenticed to be a shaman (a spiritual leader).
Ever since the great rubber tapper invasion into Yanomami
territory in 1987, Davi has set out to defend his people's land and to
fight for the creation of the Yanomami Park and for the removal of the
rubber tappers. He has received death threats fro the rubber tappers
employers. In this context, he received an award from the United
Nations Environmental Program in 1988, adding his name to a list of
distinguished recipients such a Chico Mendes, the assassinated leader
of the rubber tappers of Acre.
AN OPEN LETTER TO ALL PEOPLES OF THE EARTH from Davi Kopenawa Yanomami.
" The government is not respecting us. He thinks of us a animals. We
have the right to protest. People from the outside please help us...
If we don't do something , they won't be able to help. If we send them
a letter, they will put pressure on our government, stir things up. I
am thinking of many things. I am Yanomami.
We Yanomami thought that the white man was good to us. Now I am
seeing that is is the last invasion of indigenous land--the rest has
already been invaded. They came to take our land. They are taking it.
Other people from the outside are teaching the Brazilian people
how to destroy our land. The same thing happened to our brothers in
North America and now it happens on our land.
The government shouldn\t do this. He knows that we are the oldest
Brazilians, that we were born here, that we are called Yanomami. Our
name is known throughout the world.
We know about money, shoes, clothes; (but) few Yanomami understand
what is happening. The government took us by surprise. I am beginning
to understand. The government doesn't know our customs or thoughts. We
also don't know the customs and thoughts of the government.
They only know money, and our thoughts are on the land. Our
interest is to preserve the land, to not create disease for the
Brazilian people, nor the Indians.
Miners and squatters don't have land--that is why they invade
Indian land. If they had their own land, they wouldn't invade our
I also see white people suffering in the city, hunger, everthing
is expensive, homelessness, lack of food, everyone is suffering. They
are worried, but they don't have the courage to pressure our
president [Jose Sarney, president of Brazil].He is also deceiving his
people because Sarney is telling other nations that they are not
destroying our land, making roads, mining our land.
The government is also telling other rich men, when he asks for
money from outside, the rich man gives money to mistreat our land. The
rivers, the fish, the jungles are asking for help, but the government
doesn't know how to listen. He says that we are going to die of hunger
if we shut the mine. If they don't quit mining, then yes, we will die
of hunger. But if they stop mining we can plant manioc, banana, sweet
potatoes, papaya, cana, peach palm, and nobody will die of hunger.
We Yanomami want our own land. We don't want to lose our customs.
We have still not lost our language or the land. This is why we fight.
This government (says it) is our chief, but it is not helping the
Brazilian people to live in peace. We are united, all of the
Indians of Brazil, we don't want to fight with other relations.
They are already starting to deceive us, like what happened to the
Macuxi and other Indians. They start by saying that the priest is not
good, that he doesn\t give presents, that Davi is not good. They
put brother against brother to weaken us. The other Yanomami chiefs
who have never been here, that have never had contact with whites,
don't know what is happening here. I know. They are trying to use me
because I am well known, but I won't let them. So they use the weaker
ones first, other chiefs that don't speak Portuguese--they think that
the miners are their friends, and will always be their friends.
The miner gives them food, and clothes, but time passes and the
whites start to say that the Indian isn't good for anything, that he
doesn\t work, only begs,and they will call us vultures, those who
do not hunt anymore, don't fish, live off of scraps, the scraps from
the plates of the whites. They no longer know how to work, to fish,
they only ask. They forget how to pick fruit in the jungle, they
forget their customs, they forget their language.
I don't want to lose this; into my community I don't want to allow
the miner to enter. I want to continue as it was before.
I am very worried about our childern. They are going to suffer
more now. I always remember the grand-children. They are going to
suffer more than we if we dont fight to defend, to save the life of
our peoples.The government says that the land is not ours. We can
fish, make gardens, hunt,use the lake, river. He says that we are
using government land, but the land is ours. We have known it (since
The government is not good. We (give) but he does not give. This
is why it is costing us the demarcation, this is why he doesn't want
to demarcate the Yanomami land.
Within the Yanomami land there are many things that he wants to
use, there are minerals, gold, tin ore, wood, (the land) can be used
And he only speaks to us from hiding, from his office, he doesn\t
call us to decide,to see if the Indian agrees.
But I am not for myself in this fight, no , I am fighting to
defend my people, the Yanomami. And not only my people, but also the
Wapixana, Ingariko, Macuxi, and other relations. We are trying to help.
We can give support to those who don't know how to defend
themselves, explain what is happening to those who don\t understand.
We Yanomami are dying of malaria gripe, dysentery, veneral
disease, measles,chicken pox., and other diseases that the Indian as
yet doesn\t know of, brought in from the outside by the miners. We
are not able to cure the disease. The shamans can\t cure them.
Disease of bullets, shamans can't cure. Diseases of Indian can be
cured, but not of white people.
I always ask FUNAI, but FUNAI doesn't take any recourses. I also
asked the president, Jose Sarney, to remove the miners from Yanomami
land. The president promised to remove the miners immediately, but he
did nothing , only allowed them to continue invading ou land.
We Yanomami think that he does not like to help the Indian people
of Brazil. I know that he is against us. He does not want to demarcate
I received a lot of news from relations that live at the head of
Catrimani River, from the Macujai River head of the Catrimani River,
from the Macujai River and the Parmiu River, on the border of
Venezuela. The relations told me thah there are four empty villages;
everyone died--childern, adults, young people.In the Xideatheri,
Ahuahipiktheri, and Pahaiatheri villatges, everyone died, and others
continue to die because of lack of help.
FUNAI knows that many Yanomami are dying, but it isn't doing
anything. A few people in FUNAI want to work, but they dont have any
support. In their communites on the Macujai River, my relations are
hurt by the miners. They have learned to drink cachaca (cane
alcohol) and are now sick and dont know what to do. And there is also
a lot of venereal disease and malaria.
On the Catrimani River and on the platueau of Lobo De Almada
River, the miners are setting up their homes. They constructed road,
made gardens and now they want to build a town, This is going to be
very dangerous for the Yanomami people. I know that if they build a
town there , it won't be good because the Yanomami will begin to get
The Opiktheri are being deceived by Zeca Diabo, a mining company
that is trying to create conflict among the Indians. Zeca Diabo is the
one that will help get food , give clothes teach us to work, make a
rocado, plant and harvest, for the Yanomami to become accustomed to
work, so that later they can work for Zeca Diabo, but I don\t think it
is good for the whites to teach the Yanomani how to work.
For many years we have known how to plant, clean, weave. Yanomami
don't die of humger, they only die of disease; they have everthing to
survive where there are no miners. My relatives are not asking for
food from the whites, they only ask when the miners will be finished
with everything. And we have domestic animals: tapir, wild pig,
turkey, pecary. We plant bananas, we have everything in our forest.
We dont need to learn how (for the white man) to work so that we can
pick up the customs of white people. The custom of the white people
is very complicated for us Yanomami. Our custom is better than that
of whites, because we preserve the rivers, flood plains, lakes,
mountains, the hunt , the fish, the fruits, acai, bacaba, inga, burit,
Brazil nut, cocoa, what we have, what Omam created.
I , Davi Kipenawa Yanomami, want to preserve all of this. The
white man doesn\t have respect for nature, he does not know what is
good, he has to learn with us.
The government took our land and divided it into tiny pieces. The
national forest is also ours. (The Brazilian government has divided it
into the islands,) ... to fool the Indian, to leave him imprisoned
like a pig in the pen.
We Yanomami want an area that is ours forever. For our people, to
be able to live in peace, without conflicts with the government, the
military, the miners, with anyone. The Yanomami dont want to invade
other peoples land. The Yanomami respect the land of the whites.
On the Surucucus plateau two more Yanomami were killed in August.
FUNAI did nothing. The police never captured these criminals. We
Yanomami do not like--we are disgusted with--FUNAI and the government,
because the government does not want to solve our problem., the
problem of the Yanomami territory.
Our land has many pleteaus. Within the plateaus live Xapori,
Hekura,the spirits of nature. Within the mountains exist the paths of
Xapori, nobody can see them, only the shaman knows the way. The
plateaus are sacred places, places where the first Yanomami were born,
where their ashes are buried.
Our ancestors have left their spirits in these places. We Yanomami
want these areas to be respected, we dont want them destroyed. We want
these places preserved so we dont destroy our history and our spirit.
We call the Kekura to cure our sick. For many years we have used
them , they don't end. Omam left these spiritss to help the Yanomami
Omam is very imprortant to Yanomami Indians, the Macuxi,
the Wapixana, and all of the whites, all of the blacks, he gave origin
to everyone, to the entire world; for this reason it is important to
preserve the land where his spirit lives.
I would like it if the whites know of this ancient history, that
they respect it. We Yanomami want the whites on the side of the Indian
to not invade our land. We want the whites to help defend--not
I, Davi Kipenawa Yanomami, want to help the whites learn with us
how to make the world a better place."
----Translated from Portuguese by Karen Beacham. Printed
in CULTURAL SURVIVAL, a periodical dedicated to preserving the Earths
indigenous peoples. For subscription information, write Cultural
Survival,Inc., 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank