Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami leader and shaman, elected to Brazilian Academy of Sciences
Davi Kopenawa

From December 2018 to April 2019, the Yanomami people were the subject of an extraordinary exhibition in São Paulo, The Yanomami Struggle, by photographer Claudia Andujar and the Moreira Sales Institute [IMS] which presented the Yanomamis’ courageous and painful story. Claudia Andujar lived among these people in the 1970s when they were still isolated in Amazonia. The show moved to the IMS in Rio de Janeiro and earlier this year was mounted at the Cartier Foundation in Paris but had to be interrupted soon after it opened because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Cartier space was reopened to visitors in June and closed again n September.

This month, the winners of the Right Livelihood Award were announced by the eponymous foundation. The prize has come to be known as the “Alternative Nobel.” Davi Kopenawa was one of them. He was cited by the jury for “his courageous determination to protect the forests and the biodiversity of Amazonia as well as the lands and culture of its indigenous peoples.” He was the only male recipient.

Ink and gouache portrait of the quartet of 2020 Right Livelihood Award winners, unsigned.

Three female activists were also chosen last week: the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg who mobilized four million climate demonstrators around the world, Sahrawi human rights defender Aminatou Haidar, and Chinese lawyer Guo Jianmei.

On December 4 in Stockholm, Sweden, Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa shared the prize of one million Swedish crowns (US$180,124) with the Hutukara Yanomami Association, which he co-founded and has run since 2004 to divulge his people’s culture.

The words and teachings of the shaman Davi Kopenawa, revealed in A Queda do Céu (The Falling Sky), which he wrote with anthropologist Bruce Albert, inspired the Yanomami and Ye’kwana Leadership Forum to produce the film A Mensagem do Xamã (The Shaman’s Message), which debuted in mid-November (viewable here).

With a running time of just over two minutes, narrated in the Yanomami language by Dário Kopenawa, Davi’s son, the film is a condensation of his reflections and spearheads the #ForaGarimpoForaCovid (#OutMiningOutCovid) campaign, launched in June, which requests that the Brazilian government immediately withdraw the illegal miners from designated tribal territories and combat COVID-19.

During the Amazon-Centro do Mundo meeting, in November 2019. Victor Moriyama for ISA

The campaign, supported by the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), among other institutions, ended last week with a special mobilization in Brasília. Dário Yanomami and Maurício Ye’kwana, representatives of the Yanomami and Ye’kwana Leadership Forum, traveled to Brasília to participate in a meeting of the Mixed Parliamentary Front in Defense of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, coordinated by Federal Deputy Joênia Wapichana.

During the meeting to denounce illegal mining of their lands, which also included chiefs of the Munduruku and Kayapó peoples, the two leaders handed over a list of 438,000 signatures collected in an online petition to federal deputies. The “Xawara report on the advance of Covid-18 in the Yanomami Indigenous Land and the State’s omission,” compiled recently, was also sent to executive and judicial authorities.

The #OutMiningOutCovid campaign launched an open letter in November. The delivery of the petition and the report in Brasília ended the campaign, which featured projections of the beautiful designs and words of artist Joseca Yanomami on the cupolas and towers of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

The campaign is over, but the struggle continues with the added and important reinforcement of Davi Kopenawa’s admission to the Brazilian Academy of Sciences as a collaborative member. May this partnership be long and prosperous! And may it bring many fruits for his people, the Yanomami, and for all the indigenous peoples of Brazil.

Translated for People’s World by Peter Lownds from the original publication by Instituto Socioambiental, Dec. 7, 2020.


Mônica Nunes
Mônica Nunes

Jornalista especializada em sustentabilidade. É editora e cofundadora do site Conexão Planeta. Journalist specializing in sustainability. She is the editor and co-founder of the website Conexão Planeta.