Davi Yanomami Kopenava
Little known in his own country, David Yanomami Kopenava is the most respected Brazilian indigenous leadership. Has been awarded by the UN, secured a territory larger than Portugal for his people and has the best-selling biography in French. In its biggest interview ever published, the fruit of two days of conversation David speaks of life, nature and lack of hope for the future: “I’m not sad, I’m disgusted”.
Difficult not to feel some guilt talking with David Kopenava Yanomami. During the two days that the report of the Trip followed the main routine indigenous leadership, he relieved in Brazilian anything the bar for us, white men, or napë: points to the Alliance of the reporter to exemplify how we are accustomed to gold, silver and other natural riches that come from, for example, panning that for centuries destroy indigenous lands and kills their people. Do not see hope in the future, whether Indians or of what he calls the people of the city: “Or we’ll die burned, or we die drowned”. Criticizes all rulers of Brazil and abroad, yesterday and today, and think in the Rio + 20 had no interest in hearing it. Do not get tired of repeating that the Indians have never been respected and that whites do not understand the importance of preserving nature. “Why would you go to school? To learn how to be a destructor? Our consciousness is another. Earth is our life, sustains the belly, is our joy. It is good to feel, look … it’s good to hear singing macaws, the trees stirring, rain. ”
David Kopenava has 58 years (estimated) lives in the region of Serra do Demini airfield, where he was born, near the border between Amazonas and Roraima with Venezuela. It is in the northern hemisphere of the globe, and there it comes after two hours of flight with a single from Boa Vista or after a ten-day journey by boat from the capital Roraima. Kopenava seen near parent, grandparents, uncles and virtually his entire family and hundreds of other “relatives” (as calls other Yanomami) die of illnesses from contact with non-indigenous. Part arrived with Evangelical missionaries who lived in his tribe for years, and that almost made him change the pajelanças by Jesus. David survived these epidemics and, teen, managed to free himself of beliefs and also resist the temptations of the city. Today is interpreter of Funai, shaman, head of the Indian tour of your region and President of Hutukara Association Yanomami – “an Indian Embassy next to the white man”, he explains.
But David Kopenava is much more than that. Is the most respected and well articulated the Brazilian indigenous leadership, whose asset is able to live in traditionalism and focus provided by the life in the village and, at the same time, have the understanding and the Portuguese needed to enter the political game of “our” society. In this way, with one foot in each canoe, was mainly responsible for the demarcation of the Yanomami land, which occupies a territory larger than Portugal and was made official by Fernando Collor in time of Eco 92 – “he was forced by Governments around the world to do this”. Already spoke at the UN and in other international forums and received the Global 500 environmental award United Nations (only Brazilian in addition to Chico Mendes to receive the honor). Is well known and heard outside than inside of Brazil. To have an idea, it’s entry in Wikipedias in English, French, German and Dutch, but is ignored in the version in Portuguese. His biography La chute of ciel, writing from testimonials to French anthropologist Bruce Albert, who know there is 30 years, was best seller in France, where it was launched in 2010. In translation, is expected to leave only in 2013 by here, by Companhia das Letras. This Lord of brown skin and easy smile, however, doesn’t give a damn about this international hype. Arrives in London or the United States and goes straight to the middle of the Woods spend days without clothes alongside their “relatives”, away from the whole paraphernalia that we call civilization. Especially away from the Portuguese, who considers “a poison” used to manipulate its people.
On the first day with David, we spent more than ten hours in the middle of a dirt road south of Boa Vista, cutting terra Yanomami snippet. David bypassed a serious quarrel between the two villages, which had started by a misunderstanding and had already caused up to death. The leader spoke with one hand, with another, went to market in the nearest village and took food for most others. Intense and extremely tiring journey, but David sees as part of its work. The next day was more quiet, talked most of the time at the headquarters of Hutukara, on the edge of the huge and beautiful White River, which cuts through Boa Vista.
At the end of the meeting, it was the strong impression that nobody relates so well with nature as the people who were born in the midst of her since she emerged on the planet. “Protect this all is not only priority of Indian, is a priority for everyone,” says David in his chat straight Yanomami at the same time nuisance, bruising and difficult to disagree. “We talk, but white does not want to listen to, not. We care about our country, and all the rest. There is only one planet, has no other. If you stop this here, if you destroy everything, will give to change to another? ”
“The Jaguar looks in stone a good hole to live. Monkey is the same thing. The mutum is in the trees, where the nature you want. But the white man must have fridge, freezer, bed, phone. Are customs quite different “
As it is your job to defend the indigenous people? The main thing is the Hutukara Yanomami Association [of what David is founder and President], which has eight years. I thought and dreamed to create the Hutukara. She has no connection with the Funai and defends land, health, culture, the Yanomami people’s right. And not only of Roraima.
Then help the Yanomami villages of Venezuela also? Yes, all are my relatives. Know and speak on behalf of them, but do not work there, we support from afar. And the situation is much worse than here. Venezuela does not protect the Yanomami people. Have land to live, but not demarcated, Government there don’t want then have much more mining here.
David speaks at National Conference
And what is the difference between the form of the indigenous people see nature and the Earth and the way that others see? We are very different. The people of the Earth is different. Napë, non-Indian, thinks only take goods of the Earth, let it grow … Meanwhile the people of Earth continues to suffer. Look around here [points to Yanomami territory south of Boa Vista, which were crossing], everything tipped. Farmer leading to create boi, sell to other eating and he make money. It takes money and keeps clearing, creating boi, opening more farms … Napë thinks only of money, put more wood or whatever to sell, negotiate with other countries. We think different. The beauty of the Earth is very important to us. The way that nature has created have to be preserved, it has to be very careful. Nature brings joy, the forest to us Indians is very important. The forest is a home, and is much prettier than the city. The city is like paper, is how this car there in front: white, seems a role played at the ground. The forest, the forest is different. Green, beautiful, alive. I’m thinking … why the white man does not learn? For those who go to school? To learn how to be a destructor? Our consciousness is another. Earth is our life, sustains our belly, our joy, gives food is good thing to feel, look … it’s good to hear singing macaws, see the trees stirring, the rain.
And it’s even the panning the main problem of the indigenous lands in Roraima? Yes. Here doesn’t have much timber, is more informal. But it has also, on this road even farmer has [North Diametral, dirt road that crosses this portion of the Yanomami territory]. Has gold mining and diamond. In the Ericó community and the Bushmaster is only gold. But it is worse in Xidei and in Homoxi, Maloca Paapiu: there is the heart of the mining. And on top of the River Catrimani as well. [All localities in demarcated indigenous land.]
And this situation has always been so, no Government has done nothing to help? It was nice in the Collor Government, it took 40 thousand Yanomami land prospectors, dynamited more than 100 tracks [of clandestine aircraft] and made everything. But he did it because it was pressed by other Governments around the world, it was the time of Eco 92. Still mining just stopped five months. After was coming back. This happens because the man has not land and prospectors town has no service to him, then it gets addicted to panning indigenous land. The Government took them, but offered no place to live, work, sourdough fish, ox … then it comes back.
And the other Presidents? Lula took office and did nothing for the Yanomami, but made for other people, creating the Raposa Serra do Sol [reservation with more than 1.7 million hectares in Northern Roraima, where villages Ingaricó, Macuxi, Patamona, Taurepangue, Yarebana and Uapixana]. And I spoke with him two times, looking eyes. Current Government also doesn’t do much, so keep fighting. The problem is that each Government leaves for another address and nobody does anything. Is as dirty pan. If you do not wash, the other also not lava, and will only worsen.
His first contact with whites was with pastors, with them you learned Portuguese. As it was, and as it is today the presence of churches in communities? This weakened, downplayed. The Church that I met and saw were believers, pastors of England, United States and Canada that arrived in my community and were there living with us, preaching the Gospel to the Yanomami, but we couldn’t understand. I was small, had 10 years. Pastor arrived with his wife and son, learned our language and began to teach religion and read the Bible in Yanomami. First I found interesting. Spoke that God commanded them to our land, who ordered to help not to fight, not to make war and do not sin.
And what sin was? Do not know what is sin … means that it cannot, it seems … They said that he could not fight, could not lie and could not.
Lie and fight everything well, but without dating is difficult, huh? … [Laughs] Yeah, everyone boyfr. But they spoke that had to be so, because Jesus was going to come back to our land and everyone would go to heaven.
But you believe in something else, doesn’t it? Was Oman [indigenous deity] that created everything. And when the Earth, man of the forest. We are all children of Oman, he’s here but nobody sees. Look, the federal Government thinks that what got under the Earth is him, but I do not believe. Am Yanomami, son of Yanomami, how will I find that Government owns everything that’s under the Earth? They invented it. But we know the land owner.
And as you left the shepherds aside and returned to Oman? The pastor wanted to end our pagelança, wanted to put the Gospel in place of the shaman. At first I believed, but then grew up, had 15, 20 years, and discovered that the pastor did what he talked to everyone not to do: pastor made sin. Dated India and did not like. Said that it was a sin, but sin. Dated my cousin. Then said: “pastor, you’re very liar, you’re wrong, I don’t believe in you”. From there I began to think better and return to my creator Oman. I was almost forgetting, almost did not believe more … Today I do not want more evangelical with my people, I do not accept that come to catechize. But has the community that has pastor, has father.
After that, later, you just turning shaman … Haven’t met my dad, he died of illness when I was little, my mother told me. Since childhood I suffered with my people. Many relatives have died of measles, malaria, tuberculosis, diseases of white that kill up to today. Died brother, grandfather, aunt … There I was disgusted with man city. But I am protected from large medicine man, then survived and spent to be fighter. [And after that episode with the pastors] I started talking to my great shaman, who calls Ken and is my father-in-law. He’s alive, lives in the village. I needed the force of nature. There was a month just taking yãkoãna [hallucinogenic plant given by shamans] to dream of. Dreamed of xabori, the spirit of the forest, and it was very good. This is my root, and he spoke to me to stick with it.
Then you do the healing work, rituals? … Yes, I am healing work with yãkoãna. Call the xabori and he gets along with me, then heal my children, my wife, my brothers. Just use yãkoãna to give a light, to get ver. so we pajé use, is the tradition.
And you’ve done other shamanic rituals with other plants, such as ayahuasca? Ever experienced ayahuasca, was interesting, learned a lot. But it is very strong, you take five cups and is a long time [under the effect of hallucinogen]. With yãkoãna is faster, even if you take ten blown [a herb compound is blown on the nose by another person, with a straw long]. But with many blown you falls to the ground, began to vomit and shit all … [Laughs]
Tomorrow you embarks for the Rio + 20, what do you expect? I’m expecting a miracle [laughs]. The Government is the big boss, and if Government does not give orders to help indigenous people, it does not help anything. The invasion of our lands have more than 500 years and continues. [The end of Rio + 20 talked again with David, this time by phone. He had participated in some meetings, as one, behind closed doors, between the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon and 12 indigenous leaders. Didn’t come out very happy: “to save the planet the whites need to change your thinking and your way of acting. I came to the Rio + 20 because the people of the forest can help make this change. But few people took interest in hear me “]
“I’ve wanted to be white. I thought: ‘ I’m in the city, know walking on the street, drive, eat, fork and knife, I watch TV, I’ll look white woman for me ‘. Today I have no doubt: am Yanomami. Can I use clothes, use shoe, but my soul is not false “
Indigenous lands make up about 13% of the national territory and almost half of the Amazon. There are those who believe that with the growth of world population that all space is starting to draw more attention from the market, of the white … You feel it? I’ve thought about it a long time. White … not like to call white always, call Napë. So Napë ‘re growing too, the city grew, and also came a lot of people out. In Europe has more land, so they arrive here, and only increases the population of Indian people. We are concerned, it is serious problem. A lot of people got used to it here [hillside in the reporter’s Alliance], either gold, silver and precious stones. And also good land to make brick, taking wood … What nature put underneath the Earth turned as young woman. Everyone wants to look, wants to use, everyone wants to eat. And also say that Government is not Government but not planted, the nature that put there. Up here is Indian pro brushed, planting cassava, making banana, sugar cane … Indian food. But white wants to take the goods of the Earth, already learned long ago that thought. Napë don’t want to preserve nature, taking care of the Earth. Only wants to destroy, take forest wealth, negotiate wood to country where does not have. And still have the problem of biopiracy and Prospector. The name already says: gold prospecting, make hole … Killed my people on behalf of gold and diamond. Want to make stone earring pras women beautiful and adorn them staying home, decorate, shop adorn everything … the thought, the world is so white.
[The car passes through a farm gate in Yanomami territory] What this proximity of white farms and of the represents to the Indians? Has very farmer, rice field, soybean planter. There in the Xingu River, for example, the Earth’s whole farm surrounded Tikuna soy. And soy is very bad for Earth, ends with the head of the River. And this is important, not only Indian pro, head of the River is important to everyone. And now the children of the people of the earth do not grow more as in the past, do not want to live in the communities … The Xingu is getting so they come out of the village and go to town. There are a week, used soon and do not want to go back.
during a visit to Paris
Why not want to return, which attracts both in town? For us the city costume is very strong, handles our thinking. Portuguese is a poison. Is a poison that enters the head and makes you forget your community, mother, father … the city destroys the community thought. Do not think more like hunting, in the village, don’t think about anything. New Indian only wants to know cell phone, TV, CD, car, game, party, internet. It handles indium, thinking it is on the machine. And fell on the machine it was, is no longer how to return. I know because me was almost so.
And how did you manage to avoid the temptations of the city? I wanted to be white. Am Yanomami, but thought: want to turn white. I’m in the city, know walking on the street, bike, car. I’m looking toilet, eating food “plastic”, using spoon, fork, everything. I was about 14 years old, was new, was when I was a year or two in Manaus. Lived at a friend’s House and found it beautiful, didn’t want to come back to the village. Thought up: “I will seek white woman for me”. But my friend spoke: “look, David, here in the city is different, you may not think that you will marry. White woman is hard, want to own a home, car, mobile phone, television, new clothes, money in the Bank “.
But come to dating some white woman? No, no.
And as you went back to your village? Funai took me back to my house. I searched them, was with Miss too much of all my brothers and I really wanted to come back. My friend who lived with me directed me to come back. There after I was there a little and a little in the city, because I turned Funai, gave interpreter job to work with my people. Today I have no doubt: am Yanomami. Can I use clothes, use shoe, but my soul is of the Yanomami of truth. Is not false.
David, we are here talking about destruction, problems … will not have an agreement to save the Earth? As has no other Land, our people is also only one, we and you. Then need to sit to Exchange idea. Discuss together how to use our planet and our country, which is so rich, so pretty and have clean water. But Sao Paulo, England or the United States does not want to know to keep the living Earth, the forest standing. Want to drop everything and do good. But have to think in the future, what will happen to future generations, or a hundred years our planet will turn a football field without tree, bird or clean water, without beauty nor Indian. And when Indian and forest, there end will be the end of the world.
“The man of the city will also die. Will begin to suffer, to fight, to kill relative. Will want to buy forest, come with tractor over here and the destruction will swallow the whole world. It is not only the Indian who will die “
And as you think will be the life of the indigenous people in a few decades? I think that will happen. The people of the Earth will suffer. In a hundred years will not even reach, indigenous people are surrounded. My children are here, but my grandchildren the whites will try to buy. Indian not know trick, lie. Will want to be friend, say that Indian has to change, so will improve. Lie. White has money goes well. What has no money is evil. Without leadership and without Indian land will suffer more than today, will start learning Portuguese, like the city. Indian falls easy, has no resistance to defend his culture. Today our children already so at school, use clothes, cuts hair like yours, use perfume, mobile … So, I am worried about the future.
You don’t see any hope? I see some hope, but if Sunrise traditional leader. To ensure our survival need leadership from the village. Native leader who lives in the city will not take care of his people, not. My hope is that it will more equal I, Raoni, Aílton Krenak equal … community leaders to continue to defend, fight and publicize.
You come to know these other indigenous leaders, as the caciqueRaoni? I Am my uncle. I am his friend. He lives in Altamira, Kaiapó is. I knew when I started the fight and I was invited to a meeting of indigenous leaders in Brasilia, there I met other leaders like him, Aílton Krenak, Álvaro Tukano, Paulinho Paiakan.
And Indian politics, as the cacique xavante Mário Juruna, does lack? The Juruna was federal Deputy, but did not do much of anything. White was elected him. If they had been the Indians, the relatives, he’d last longer. I think it was purchased with money … It is good to have more Indian politics, but have to be Indian, of the village. Macuxi and Wapixana some relatives tried to elect, but failed. I even thought I apply, but would not have money to walk away and campaigning. I was going to leave by PT.
With his wife and two of the five children, photo of the year 1990
Think apply in any election in the future? I’m thinking, but I’m not wanting to not much. I even want to be friend of politicians, but they do not want to be my friends … so I’ll continue filling the bag of politicians. [Laughs]
His story is not common, nor its day to day you was born on the border with Venezuela, lives there today, but passes periods in the city, traveling through Europe … How does to keep their roots? My home is in Demini Ridge [serra in Yanomami territory, between Roraima and Amazonas], live there. I’m in Boa Vista about two months a year. So if you do not have problem of health, mining, invasion. If you have, get more to resolve, but when it comes time to always come back to the village. Here the Hutukara is like the Yanomami, represents our Embassy people along to whites. Before white man looked down to talk with Indian, is now olho no olho, that was born the Yanomami Association Hutukara. To fight better, to talk with a journalist, talking with television, make the document to send it to the authority.
As you comes from his village to here? Of single-engine aircraft. Gives a couple of hours. And you can go by boat as well. You get out of here, descends to Caracaraí by rio Branco. Goes to Barcelos, picks up the rio Negro rising and will going to my house. It takes about ten days.
You spoke of concern for the future of his people. And the future of the man who lives in the big city, as imagine that going to be? He will die. The city is a fight. Fight between white. So stealing, has no place to work, what to eat … Will begin to suffer, fight, kill relative. And there will want to buy piece of forest, grow here. The white costume is this is already hundreds of years. Will think: indigenous land is too big, let’s go pick up. There will come the tractor, heavy machine. Machine will come as large snake that swallows everyone. It is not only Indian who will die, no, all Brazilian citizens will lose, destruction will engulf everybody, go forest surfacing. Will not have more tree, bird, clean water, nothing … the fight of you will be water.
A lot of people speaks: “but why would the Indians need so much land?” … Always speak it. First, we need to grow as well. If the Government take care of our health, our population grows. And also because we are nomads, is the usual. When I was little, inhabit four places. Is a year or two, there land and hunting are weak and dumb Indian. White does not change, only leaves the city increase. And speaks: “Indian need great land to do what? It does not produce “. But our land does not need to produce. Will sell what? To where? Already everything produced is time: hunting, fish, rivers, trees, everything is there to use Indian pro remedy’s there.
The indigenous people living in the forest since forever. In this coexistence so close with the animals, there is something What have you learned from them? We have village and hunted, and they also hunt and have place to live. To make hollow use traditional knowledge, we took leaf, vine and do. And the House of the Jaguar, as is? She looks in stone a good hole to live. Monkey is the same thing. And mutum? It is in the trees, because it is there that the nature wants it to be. The fish, the same thing, is in rio. Jabuti, cotia, all is well, all has in nature as we do. You have also, but there is different. You have bed, fridge, freezer, telephone, bathroom to shit indoors, shower to bathe inside the House, are customs quite different. We take bath in the River.
“You do not have another planet. The people of the Earth is also one us and you. Then need to sit to Exchange idea. You need to think about the future, about how to use our planet and our country that is so rich and beautiful and has clean water “
And have you seen any climate change? Speak that’s polluted, that climate change is coming, that it’s raining or not raining, it’s warmer … This is all the white error showing. Population increases, the amount of car, plane, factory, oil. Here in Boa Vista, even a few years ago had dry weather as ever. Dried much forest and there ended up clearing. I have two thoughts: or we will die, or we die drowned. Woman speaks on television where it’s raining or not and that is natural, but people don’t believe. Once filled the river and came to ask what David felt. I don’t think anything, you think, this is error of yours, am I’m defending country, the Yanomami and you who so poisoning the air.
I am not Indian and I have a child of 1 year and a half. What do you recommend that I teach him? You have to teach the small child which is the right way. Has many paths, but he needs to learn to protect the country from it. Not me nor you, it is he who will protect the Brazil. Then put in school with good lecturer, him think and learn that what is good for us is good for you too.
We were talking about drink … This is one of the problems brought by the proximity of white men? The drink is a general problem, not only is the Indian. Is one of the worst problems we have in the city, in the communities, everywhere … And will not end ever. The people of the land took the first costume was * caxiri liquor is drunk [alcoholic beverage indigenous cassava-based], now is beer, rum.
pages of the book La Chute du Ciel, the biography of Kopenava published in France
And other drugs like marijuana, cocaine or crack, have arrived at villages? Maybe in other people. For here, but it will happen. With Indian walking along with the white man will end up happening.
Indians have different relationship with time. I read that there is no certainty about his own age, for example … I’m not worried about my age. We are not we just know more or less. Speak that is 58 years, but calculated [area].
Then neither celebrates anniversary … Does not have this birthday, party, cake. Don’t worry about it, I’m worried with my son, my grandson.
What is the main lesson that we should learn from the Napës nature? Has half the population of non-Indians who’re already listening, learning, starting to talk in nature preservation. But it’s still little. The Indian has to talk more and you have to listen more. We have to fight together. The most important is to have the Covenant, not be with prejudice, not to be enemies. And remember that tree is not meat, do not have to do anything, just leave that there’re already saved.
[Suddenly, a Fox runs in front of the car, diverting the attention of David who just admired the animal. Quite different from when an Armadillo had crossed the runway minutes earlier, provoking cries of “Hits!”, of David and of the driver, the two eye on animal meat.]
Tatu I know is yummy, but Fox is good eating, David? [Laughing] Fox is not very good, but around here we hunted tapir, pig-do-mato, mutum, Parrot, Macaw, peccary, paca, turtle, alligator …
… Cobra also? If you do not think anything else, eat snake.
And ounce? Of Course! Ounce is better than hot dog!
The spellings and way of using indigenous words were checked by ISA and follow the conventions of the Brazilian Association of anthropology.
Thanks: Moreno S, Marcos de Oliveira and the entire staff of ISA (socioambiental.org) and all of the Yanomami Association Hutukara (hutukara.org), in particular Maurice Yekuana.