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The Falling Sky

The Falling Sky

Davi Kopenawa
Bruce Albert
Nicholas Elliott
Alison Dundy
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Falling Sky
    Book Description:

    Anthropologist Bruce Albert captures the poetic voice of Davi Kopenawa, shaman and spokesman for the Yanomami of the Brazilian Amazon, in this unique reading experience--a coming-of-age story, historical account, and shamanic philosophy, but most of all an impassioned plea to respect native rights and preserve the Amazon rainforest.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72611-6
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Jean Malaurie

    An extraordinary man makes himself heard in this book: Davi Kopenawa. His breadth of vision and the meticulous care with which he describes the Yanomami cosmology and way of life take us on a voyage into an Amerindian spirit world. It is a world that may be imaginary for us, but it is profoundly real for him, as he sees thexapiri(images of the mythological animal ancestors), speaks to them, and shares his life with them.

    This voice is that of a prophet: “The forest is alive. The white people persist in destroying it. We are dying one after...

  4. Maps
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  5. Setting the Scene
    (pp. 1-10)
    B. A.

    This book—a life story, autoethnography, and cosmoecological manifesto—is an invitation to travel in the history and mind of Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami shaman. Born in the northern Brazilian Amazon along the upper Rio Toototobi, a region that was at that time very remote from the world of white people, Davi Kopenawa has been confronted in his extraordinary life with a series of representatives from the encroaching frontier: field agents of the Indian Protection Service (SPI),¹ soldiers, missionaries, road workers, gold prospectors, and ranchers. His stories and reflections, which I recorded in his language, transcribed, translated, and then arranged and...

  6. Words Given
    (pp. 11-14)

    Long ago you came to live among us and you spoke like a ghost.¹ Little by little you learned to imitate our language and to laugh with us. We were young and at the beginning you did not know me. Our ways of thinking and our lives were different because you are the son of those other people we callnapë pë.² Your professors had not taught you to dream like we do. Yet you came to me and you became my friend. You put yourself by my side and later you wanted to know the words of thexapiri,...


    • CHAPTER 1 Drawn Words
      (pp. 17-26)

      Without our knowledge, outsiders decided to travel up the rivers and penetrated our forest. We didn’t know anything about them. We did not even know why they wanted to approach us. Yet one day they came all the way to our bigMarakanahouse on the upper Rio Toototobi. I was a tiny little child at the time. They wanted to give me a name, “Yosi.”¹ But I found this word very ugly and I did not want it. It sounded likeYoasi,Omama’s bad brother. I told myself that with a name like that my people would make fun...

    • CHAPTER 2 The First Shaman
      (pp. 27-33)

      It wasOmamawho created the land and the forest, the wind that shakes its leaves, and the rivers whose water we drink. It is he who gave us life and made us many. Our elders have made us hear his name from the beginning.Omamaand his brotherYoasifirst came to existence alone. They did not have a father or a mother. Before them, in the beginning of time, only the people we callyarori¹ existed. These ancestors were human beings with animal names. They constantly metamorphosed. Gradually, they became the game we arrow and eat today. Then...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Xapiri’s Gaze
      (pp. 34-54)

      When I was a very young child, my thought was still in oblivion. Yet in dreams I often saw strange and frightening beings we callyai thë.¹ This is why I was often heard talking and crying in the night. At the time we lived inMarakana, an old house on the upper Rio Toototobi.² Only a few children in our house dreamed this way. We did not yet know what troubled our sleep, but already thexapiricame to us. This is why later, once we were adults, we wanted to drink theyãkoanapowder to become shamans. The...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Animal Ancestors
      (pp. 55-74)

      Thexapiriare the images of theyaroriancestors who turned into animals in the beginning of time. This is their real name. You call them “spirits,” but they are other.¹ They came into existence when the forest was still young. The shaman elders have always made them dance and we continue to do like them to this day. When the sun rises in the sky’s chest, thexapirisleep. When it comes down again in the afternoon, dawn begins to break for them and they wake up. Our night is their day. While we sleep, the spirits are awake,...

    • CAHPTER 5 The Initiation
      (pp. 75-96)

      Once I was an adult, thexapiricontinued to frighten me in my sleep, just like they had during my childhood inMarakana. But I had not drunk theyãkoanayet, and I did not really know them. I was still an ordinary person; my chest was empty. In my dreams, I only caught sight of them as dazzling white down feathers, in the form of a distant swarm of light. I did not have any idea of what they really were! I continuously became ghost at night and never slept peacefully. This is why my stepfather always wanted to...

    • CHAPTER 6 Spirits’ Houses
      (pp. 97-112)

      When you die under the effect of theyãkoanafor the first time, thexapiriwho come to dance for you do not yet have a home in which to settle. After having sung and danced for a long time, they remain standing or squat down and think: “Hou!If this place stays empty, if there is no house for us, we won’t stay here!” This is why the firstxapiricalled by our elders are those who will open the clearing where the initiate’s spirits’ house will be built. The first to come are images of birds who know...

    • CHAPTER 7 Image and Skin
      (pp. 113-128)

      White people often ask me why one day I decided to ask the elders to give me their spirits. I answer that I became a shaman to be able to heal my people. This is the truth. If thexapiridid not avenge us by repelling evil beings and epidemic fumes, we would always be sick. In the beginning of time,Omamaadvised our ancestors: “If you drink theyãkoanayou will be able to bring back the image of your children captured by evil beings. If you cannot call thexapirito protect them, you will be a pitiful...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Sky and the Forest
      (pp. 129-152)

      Sometimes, when the sky makes threatening noises, women and children whimper and cry in fear. These are not empty cries! We all fear being crushed by the falling sky, the way our ancestors were in the beginning of time. I still remember an occasion when that nearly happened to us! I was young then.¹ We were camping in the forest, near a small stream that flows into the Rio Mapulaú. I had accompanied a few elders on the search for a young woman of theUxi uRiver who had been taken away by a man from a house in...


    • CHAPTER 9 Outsider Images
      (pp. 155-167)

      Long ago the white people did not exist.¹ This is what the elders taught me when I was a child. At the time,Omamalived in the forest with his brotherYoasiand his wifeThuëyoma, whom the shamans also callPaonakare. His father-in-lawTëpërësikilived in a house under the water. There was no one else. It was so.Omamahad given us life long before he created the white people and it was also he who possessed metal before they did. The first pieces of iron that our ancestors used were those thatOmamaleft in the forest...

    • CHAPTER 10 First Contacts
      (pp. 168-185)

      My father died when I was still a very young child. The elders told me that he was killed by enemyokasorcerers. He had been working alone in his garden for a long time when he began to get hungry. He went off into the forest to collectyoi sipalm fruits. Theokatook advantage of this to blow a sorcery powder on him with their blowpipes. He started to feel sick and to lose consciousness. Then they took hold of him and shattered his limbs, his neck, and his back. I was told that their group was...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Mission
      (pp. 186-204)

      My elders met the people ofTeosifor the first time by going to visit theXamathariwho had settled near the Ajuricaba Outpost, downstream on the Rio Demini.¹ These white people, whom they had never seen before, told them they wanted to know theirMarakanahouse and visit it. This was at the beginning of the rainy season. The outsiders invited them to get into a heavy motorboat and traveled up the river with them. After a few days, they reached the mouth of the Rio Toototobi. All our people were gathered in a vast forest camp. There were...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 12 Becoming a White Man?
      (pp. 205-220)

      When I was a child, the missionaries really wanted to make me knowTeosi. I never forget this old-time of the Toototobi Mission. Sometimes I think about it. I tell myself that maybeTeosiexists. I really don’t know. What I do know is that for a long time now I have not wanted to hear his words anymore. The missionaries deceived us long ago! Too often, I listened to them tell us: “Sesusiwill come! He will come down to you! He will come soon!” But time has passed and I still haven’t seen him! I finally got tired...

    • CHAPTER 13 The Road
      (pp. 221-239)

      After my recovery from tuberculosis, I came back among my people and resumed my life in the forest. Then time passed and one day Chico, the former missionary I had met in the hospital, appeared at Toototobi again. Now he worked for FUNAI. He had come up the river to our house to recruit people who could help him. He wanted to make friendly contact¹ on the upper Rio Catrimani with Yanomami who had never seen white people, in a distant forest without any trails. He was doing this work for FUNAI because at the time the white people were...

    • CHAPTER 14 Dreaming the Forest
      (pp. 240-260)

      One day I accompanied Amâncio in his FUNAI pickup from the Ajarani Outpost we worked at to the end of the new road. For the first time, we came to the foot of the rocky peaks that we callWatorikɨ, the Wind Mountain, and that the white people call the Serra do Demini. There, we found the barracks from an old roadwork site. Everything had been abandoned since the beginning of the last rainy season. Amâncio liked this place very much, because the forest is very beautiful there, and full of enthusiasm he instantly told me: “We’re going to open...

    • CHAPTER 15 Earth Eaters
      (pp. 261-281)

      Since I had started working for FUNAI again, I had seen the white people tear up the ground in the forest to open a road through it. I had seen them cut down the forest’s trees and set fire to it to plant grass for their cattle. I knew the empty land and diseases they left along their path. Yet despite all this, I still knew little about them. It was only once thegarimpeirosarrived where we live that I really understood what these outsiders were capable of doing! These fierce men appeared in the forest suddenly, coming from...

    • CHAPTER 16 Cannibal Gold
      (pp. 282-296)

      The things that white people work so hard to extract from the depths of the earth, minerals and oil,¹ are not foods. These are evil and dangerous things, saturated with coughs and fevers,² whichOmamawas the only one to know. But long ago he decided to hide them very deep under the forest’s floor so they could not make us sick. To protect us, he did not want anyone to be able to touch them. This is why they must be left where he has always kept them buried. The forest is the flesh and skin of our earth,...


    • CHAPTER 17 Talking to White People
      (pp. 299-315)

      Our great men—those we callpata thë pë¹—usually address the people of their house a little before dawn or shortly after dark. They exhort them to hunt and work in their gardens. They tell about the beginning of time when our ancestors turned into game and they speak with wisdom. We call thishereamuu.² Only the oldest men speak like this. But me, I had to learn to discourse in front of outsiders when I was very young. It is true! I was already addressing the white people harshly before I even dared to speak like my elders...

    • CHAPTER 18 Stone Houses
      (pp. 316-325)

      The journeys I made to defend our forest against the gold prospectors eventually led me far beyond Brazil. One day, white people who had heard my name called me from a very distant land of which I knew nothing, England. I accepted their invitation because I was curious to meet these distant people who seemed to have friendship for us.¹ It was the first time that I left our house atWatorikɨto fly in an airplane for so long. It was so far away that I arrived in the land of the ancient white people, which they call Europe....

    • CHAPTER 19 Merchandise Love
      (pp. 326-340)

      In the beginning the first white people’s land looked like ours. It was a land where they were as few as we are now in our forest. Yet little by little their thought strayed onto a dark and tangled path. Their wisest ancestors, those whomOmamacreated and gave his words to, died. Their sons and grandsons had very many children in their turn. They started to reject the sayings of their elders as lies, and little by little they forgot them. They cleared their entire forest to open bigger and bigger gardens.Omamahad taught their fathers the use...

    • CHAPTER 20 In the City
      (pp. 341-356)

      Before I knew the white people ancestors’ land, I was used to traveling in dream, very far from the forest, and sometimes contemplated the image of their cities in my sleep. In the night I often saw a multitude of very tall houses sparkling with lights, the interiors of which seemed to be entirely covered in game skins, as smooth and silky as a deer’s coat. When I woke, I was puzzled and asked the shamans of our house: “What are these strange things that appeared to me while I was sleeping? What will happen to me?” They answered: “Ma!...

    • CHAPTER 21 From One War to Another
      (pp. 357-369)

      During my distant trips to the white people’s lands, I sometimes heard them claim that we are warlike and that we spend our time shooting arrows at each other.¹ Obviously, those who say such things do not know us, and their words are false or are just lies. It is true that our long-ago elders engaged in raids, just like the white people had their own wars. But theirs proved far more dangerous and fierce than ours. We never killed each other without restraint, the way they did. We do not have bombs that burn houses and all their inhabitants....

    • CHAPTER 22 The Flowers of Dream
      (pp. 370-380)

      The power of theyãkoanapowder comes from the trees of our land. So when the shamans’ eyes die under its effect, they can call down theurihinariforest spirits,¹ themãu unariwater spirits, and theyarorianimal ancestor spirits. This is why they are the only ones who truly know the forest. Our elders knew nothing of the way the white people draw their words.² But they have made these images dance since the beginning of time. For their part, the white people know nothing of the things of the forest, for they cannot really see them.³ All...

    • CHAPTER 23 The Spirit of the Forest
      (pp. 381-400)

      As I have said, the shamans’ thought spreads everywhere under the ground and under the water, beyond the sky and in the most distant regions. They know the innumerable words of these places and those of the beings from the beginning of time. This is the reason they love the forest and want to defend it. But on the contrary, the minds of the white people’s great men only contain the drawing of the tangled words they stare at on their paper skins. Their thoughts cannot travel very far. They remain stopped at their feet, and it is impossible for...

    • CHAPTER 24 The Shamans’ Death
      (pp. 401-411)

      When a shaman becomes very old and wants to stop living, or when he is very sick and dying, his spirits finally abandon him. Then he remains alone and empty before dying away like a firebrand in the hearth. Once left to decay, his spirit house will collapse by itself. This is how things go. Thexapiriflee far away from their father as soon as he dies. They return to where they lived in the past, in all the hills and mountains of the forest and on the sky’s back. They will only come back to visit human beings...

  10. Words of Omama
    (pp. 412-423)

    When I was young and not yet a shaman, I did not know how to dream. I was ignorant and I slept like a stone on the ground. I was unable to see the things of the forest in my sleep. Later I understood that I should not forget the words ofOmama, which have come down to us from the beginning of time. So I asked my elders to give me thexapiri’s songs so I could truly dream. Before then, what I was able to see when I dreamed was too close. I did not yet possess the...

  11. How This Book Was Written
    (pp. 424-456)
    B. A.

    I was trained in anthropology at a time and place (University of Paris X Nanterre in the early 1970s) when the norm was to view the ego as suspect, and all subjective or reflexive thoughts as unseemly intrusions on theory.¹ So it is with a little embarrassment, as well as relief, that I here transgress that positivist convention. At the same time, I have no intention of giving in, late in life, to a kind of postmodern “introspectionby-proxy” in which, under the pretext of deconstruction, the narcissistic verbosity of the ethnographer finally overwhelms the voice of his interlocutor.

    So, while...

  12. APPENDIX A. Ethnonym, Language, and Orthography
    (pp. 459-461)
    B. A.
  13. APPENDIX B. The Yanomami in Brazil
    (pp. 462-468)
    B. A.
  14. APPENDIX C. Watorikɨ
    (pp. 469-475)
    B. A.
  15. APPENDIX D. The Haximu Massacre
    (pp. 476-488)
    B. A.
  16. Notes
    (pp. 489-574)
  17. Ethnobiological Glossary
    (pp. 575-586)
  18. Geographic Glossary
    (pp. 587-594)
  19. References
    (pp. 595-608)
  20. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 609-610)
    B. A.
  21. Index
    (pp. 611-623)