Reports - Brazil

Davi Kopenawa Yanomami

Reading time: 9 minutes



Once the darkness becomes present, we’ll dream again

On the occasion of the exhibition Claudia Andujar y la lucha Yanomami [Claudia Andujar and the Yanomami Struggle] at MUAC, we got the opportunity to talk to Davi Kopenawa —shaman and Yanomami leader— about the dreams and the imminent fall of the sky.

danie valencia sepúlveda: Before we begin I’d very much like to express all my admiration and respect for the strength and the courage with which you make visible the struggle of the Yanomami people in the presence of the slaughter unleashed by the governments heirs of colonial violence.

Thinking about the work of Brazilian photographer Claudia Andujar and the registry of many moments within the struggle of your people located in Brazil, I’d like to come up with a couple of provocations about dreams and what’s sensible, mainly regarding what you and Bruce Albert presented in that famous book La Chute du ciel: Paroles d’un chaman yanomami [The fall of the sky: words of a yanomami shaman]. What importance do dreams have for our sensibility’s transformation?

Davi Kopenawa Yanomami: To understand dreams is important to talk a little about the way of thinking of our people. It’s easier to start from the way we think. Omama is our creator, the creator of the earth, of the jungle, and of all that inhabits them, despite there being people who think differently. Then, those who keep the knowledge about dreams are the Pajé, they are the ones who keep the history, not on paper but in the thoughts that are kept in the head, they keep the knowledge of the people Yanomami, the knowledge about dreams and all knowledge in general. We know the world as Urihi, also as hutukara, who looks after us.

The history of Omama tells the beginning of the whole world, the earth, the sky, the clarity, the darkness, the Moon, the Sun. Omama took care of putting all that together. The first event he performed was to bring darkness; Titiri is the darkness, though Omama didn’t know it because during that time on our earth it was something new and there was not too much thinking as there is now, it was just beginning to grow. Then my people Yanomami realized we didn’t have darkness, there was clarity all the time, everything was always clear, and that was the reason why they couldn’t sleep, they used fallen leaves to make some smoke around the campings with the intention to get some sleep, but they wouldn’t get it; they couldn’t dream.

Time went by and years went by, then Omama’s son —I believe he was his son or his grandson— was born, grew older, and became a hunter; his father didn’t choose him, he simply was born, turned ten years old and started hunting, that’s when he found Titiri-darkness singing in the woods. The hunter-child, curious for knowing where the singing came from, walked until he found where it came from. Titiri-darkness sang just like the mutum. Do you know the mutum?

Dvs: No.

DKY: I think that here [in Mexico] there aren’t any, only in Brazil, the place where Omama was born. The mutum is a bird. Back then, the mutum was sitting on a branch of a tree in the woods; it was dark around it, outside all was clear, except for the place where the mutum was. This story is very ancient and very long for our children and grandchildren to learn it, for it was where darkness was formed.

The hunter-child got very close to where the mutum sang, it could be heard in several different places, the first place was in the water of the river, the hunter always vigilant to know how come it was singing, he managed to understand when a mutum sang —m-hu-hum-hum-uhm-hum-hum—, it would turn to look at him but the hunter wouldn’t get scared, the mutum kept singing uhm-hum-hum, then the boy got much closer, he got 10 meters closer, saw darkness around and saw the bird sitting, singing and telling tales about which was to be the name for the places, the river, the different regions. It was then, once he was inside the darkness, that he decided to lay down and had a dream, the first thing he dreamt was Titiri-darkness singing: m-hum-hum-hum. The boy woke up and Titiri carried on singing, so he stood up and went back home to call on the others: his uncles, his siblings, his father.

He got there and told his father he had just found a place he couldn’t approach too much because it was very dark, that there was a bird singing he couldn’t manage to see either but that it sang the names of the places and spaces around, afterward the child laid down and thus he managed to dream. They walked until they reached the place where the mutum was singing and Titiri began to sing —mhum-hum-hum—, the xapiri heard it too: “Titiri is the first bird of the darkness, let’s kill it, throw an arrow at it, so once it falls it shall spread the darkness”, and then hearing this the people decided to go out there, this time closer.

They got there and 120 meters further up there when they arrived they started to think about the best way to kill it, so they saw the child hunter, asked him to climb the tree to use a spear with poison while another one awaited to choke it. Once they decided about it the hunter climbed near with his spear while another one was there ready to choke it. He used the spear: Clackchiii! And the bird started to fall spreading noise and once it fell to the ground darkness fell too.

That’s how the darkness came to the world. This is a very important story for the children of our Yanomami people.

After that, they stayed asleep for around half an hour, when they woke up they took the mutum with them to eat it. The Pajé told them: “We have hunted, we will take it home, now it is also our food, it is nourishment.” When they arrived they announced: “We have gotten darkness to sleep and rest, that way we shall dream all that composes the whole world: the Sun, the Moon, the darkness, the fog.” And thus everyone got to sleep and dream, they dreamt with the sea, with all the richness of the earth —it happens that during that time there were no invaders who exploited the land, there were no white men for fights and conflicts, and if they dreamt about conflicts they knew once awaken they’d have no choice and the conflicts could grow bigger. But during the first dream they had the land was abundant at birth because the land is very important to have food, it is what we feed on. But white people always bring conflict with them, they dream about that, about mistreating the land, about being a bad boss against the land, against the beauty of Omama. We’ve had dreams where white men bring diseases to stay in our land, that is a very ugly dream.

I cannot stay by the side of white men, they are all over the world, their populations grow and their cities grow, I can’t stay by their side because I dreamt of them stealing our lands, killing our children, killing our people, contaminating the water, killing fishes. I can’t kill my brother, betray my people. Omama is vigilant accompanying us and because of that we claim our right to the land.

The dream was born like that, it sprouted from a tree, a special tree that gives many flowers, in such way the dream goes by, spreading. It even reaches the mind of our non-indigenous enemies, that way they dream, but they don’t pay attention to their dreams, the only dreams they care about are those where they kill indigenous people, where they steal their lands, and increase our land’s value, our welfare in the market. I tell you this from my own voice because I’ve seen it.

dvs: Thank you very much, Sir. It’s an honor to listen to this story from your own voice. I would like to ask you for some reflection, for advice for young artists from the many indigenous communities who are approaching hostile spaces or who continue standing in struggle at the same time they share their experiences in the world of art.

DKY: I would like to send a message to all my brothers and sisters, to my relatives. Hutukara is keeping an eye on us, on our health, our thinking, and our struggle. White men came to steal our forest, our jungle. The creator of the world left us with different ways of thinking, but we can make ourselves understood by each other. Unlike white men who live in the cities, who exploit, finish with the trees for their own benefit and want to be the owner of everything, don’t have any responsibility because destroying is easy for them, though is not as easy to repair. Deforestation, the big holes on the land and the contamination of our rivers, and the death of our fish can’t be fixed; and, however, their only interest is money.

All governments are persistent in building one single language for everyone at the same time they prohibit us from speaking our own languages, white men in the government serve themselves while they continue deceiving everyone. They still dare to say there are indigenous people they call “acculturated”, as if we would turn white by speaking their language, by using their technology.

Then I want to share all the relatives who continue struggling in every territory, to them whose rights have been stolen in order to strengthen theirs [white man’s]: that this isn’t true, no matter how much we coexist with their culture it doesn’t change our blood, it doesn’t change our skin, it doesn’t change the way Omama created us and we will continue being indigenous people through the end. But we must be together, to organize ourselves against corrupt politicians and all kinds of invaders, to recover our lands and our rights for a home, to raise our children, to drink clean water. We must continue in the struggle through the end.

Glossary in order of appearance

For the Yanomami people, Omama is the creative force that also protects the forests, the jungles, and the Yanomami people themselves. Before Omama’s arrival, the land already existed inhabited by men* who constantly transmuted in animals and other beings, until Omama arrived and created another jungle, another biosphere.

Both for the Yaomami people and for other people in Brazil, the Pajé is a community leader who is in charge of protecting the oral history about the dreams, the life in the community, and their relation with the world.

Titiri (titiri-oscuridad)
It is the spirit of the night.

Bird from the Cracidae family that is found in the forests of Argentina, Bolivia and, mainly, Brazil. In the narration with Kavi Kopenawa, the mutum is inhabited by Titiri, that’s the reason why they identify its singing with the darkness, the same darkness which spreads once the bird is knocked down.

The xapiri are spirits created by Omama and are present for the shamans since they are children, they help the shamans (such as Davi Kopenawa) to communicate and keep the balance between Omama, the sky, the earth and everything that happens on it.


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