Davi Kopenawa, one of the main leaders of the Yanomami people, was elected as a cooperating member of the ABC (Brazilian Academy of Sciences). He takes office on January 1st. He is the first Native to join the academy.
ABC was founded in 1916 and is one of the most traditional scientific associations in the country. As part of its workforce, it recognizes the most important Brazilian researchers who “can be considered the most legitimate representatives of the national scientific community”. The focus of the academy with its more than 900 members is on the scientific development of Brazil.
The indigenous leader was one of those who raised the most awareness of the risk of Covid-19 for the traditional population. In addition, Kopenawa has been a constant voice in the fight against violence against indigenous peoples and to prevent the harmful presence of mining in the Ianomami Indigenous Land (TI).
At the end of 2019, he and the Hutukara Yanomami Association received the Right Livelihood Award, the so-called “Alternative Nobel Prize” to honor those who offer practical and exemplary answers to the most pressing challenges they face today. The young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg was also honored in the same award.
Kopenawa is the author of “The Fall of Heaven – Words of a Yanomami Shaman”, a book by Companhia das Letras, alongside Bruce Albert.
Published in French in 2010 in the Terre Humaine collection, the story contains the shaman’s observations of predatory contact with the white man who has been a constant threat to his people since the 1960s. The book was written from his words An ethnologist with whom he has a long friendship – it was more than 40 years of contact between Bruce Albert, the ethnologist and writer, and the people of Davi Kopenawa.
According to a description by Companhia das Letras, the vocation of a shaman since early childhood, the result of a cosmological knowledge acquired through the use of powerful hallucinogens, is the first of the three pillars that structure this book. The second is the account of the advance of the whites through the forest and their procession of epidemics, violence and destruction. Finally, the authors bring with them the odyssey of the indigenous leader to denounce the destruction of his people.
Yanomami have been fighting gold mining for decades. The first systematic contacts between whites and them on Brazilian territory took place in the 1940s.
However, the contact with the “Napë” (whites) resulted in an enormous number of deaths from diseases such as influenza, measles and rubella, in addition to the massacres of the indigenous people.
“Napë” for Yanomami generally means miners who have caused serious conflicts within the territory and are still active in the region. One of the emblematic cases was the Haximu massacre (1993) in which 16 indigenous people died, mainly women, children and the elderly. The fact came after the murder of a gold digger.
Kopenawa said there was no point in fighting “napë” over their firearms, tractors and forest fires.