*The Falling Sky*

by on July 15, 2014 at 2:06 am in Books, Education, Medicine, Philosophy | Permalink

The subtitle is Words of a Yanomami Shaman, and the shaman is Davi Kopenawa from the Amazon, with transcription and assistance from French anthropologist Bruce Albert.  Imagine 487 pp. of a highly intelligent, articulate shaman telling you what he thinks, and perhaps more importantly telling you what he thinks about.  Here is one bit:

As children, we gradually start to think straight.  We realize that the xapiri [spirits] really exist and that the elders’ words are true.  Little by little, we understand that the shamans do not behave as ghosts without a reason.  Our thought fixes itself on the spirits’ words, and then we really want to see them.  We take hold of the idea that later we will be able to ask the elders to blow the yakoana into our nostrils and give us the xapiri’s songs.  This is how it happened for me a long time ago.  The spirits often came to visit me in dreams.  This is how they started to know me well.

For those who are willing to swerve in the direction of the mystical, I recommend this strongly, read the Amazon reviews at the first link above.  Here is a brief excerpt from one: “This is an astonishing book, a gripping story, and a poetic revelation of an entirely different world view than our own. Every single page sparkles with provocative meditations on the impact that industrial societies have on the environment and the role of Yanomami shamans in protecting it for the sake of all humanity.”  You won’t find cost-benefit analysis here.  Here are some selections from the book.  Here is one blog review from LSE.  Google is not turning up too many other reviews, but this came out in late 2013 and it is a truly significant work deserving of further attention and it is rather dramatically under-reviewed.

Michael G. Heller July 15, 2014 at 4:32 am

Something else Davi Kopenawa once said:

“This is the way heaven will end up splitting. Many Yanomami shamans have already died and they will certainly claim vengeance. When shamans die their assistant spirits get extremely angry. They see that the white men lead their fathers, the shamans, to death. They will want to shatter heaven to pieces so that it will fall down onto the earth, they will also make the sun fall down, and everything will get dark… We want to tell all this to the white men, but they refuse to listen…”

That’s from a book called ‘Primitivism and Identity in Latin America’. The moral might be don’t do anything to upset a shaman, or he will shower hailstones down upon thee, and all hell will be let loose on the white man. It’s really time to send out the civilising ideology of good capitalism into the Brazilian jungle, instead of Christian missionaries who upset the natives, and anthropologists and publishers who in their own self-interest encourage the natives to carry on living in the sad and catastrophic world of magic.

Ray Lopez July 15, 2014 at 7:54 am

I recall a master chess player who was a Christian Amazon missionary, as I recall, who tried to convert the heathen Yanomano, and I’ve read Napoleon Chagnon’s book on his early expeditions, which sound a bit racist, dated, insensitive, not-PC* and/or it was clear the natives were trying to get metal tools from him rather than interact with him neutrally, and then there’s this observation from a chess goddess: http://goddesschess.blogspot.com/2008/10/slow-death-of-yanomami.html

Seems to me that when cultures clash, especially in the violent south of the border areas (where murder rates, esp in Venezuela, are 50x the USA’s) you will get the more materially advanced culture to “win”.

* in particular Chagnon pointed out that to him it seemed the Yanomani were not “stewards” of the forest, since they always seemed to deforest the place and/or exploit it without concern for regeneration, and only because there were not so many of them and the jungle was so robust did the environment stay pristine. Seems to make sense with what I’ve read about other hunter-gatherers and/or primitive farmer communities, including the medieval Europeans and the old growth forests of Europe (now long gone largely).

Millian July 15, 2014 at 5:16 am

Left or right, racism is acceptable as long as it’s in the service of the correct people.

dearieme July 15, 2014 at 6:18 am

“the impact that industrial societies have on the environment and the role of [insert noble savage] in protecting it for the sake of all humanity”: these secular creeds are growing like weeds.

The Anti-Gnostic July 15, 2014 at 7:28 am

Too bad for the shamans that it’s all about enabling r-selected growth, and raising Third World consumption to industrialized world levels via immigration and globalism. That’s why the debate has moved to incorporeal notions like “climate change” instead of pollution and flora/fauna preservation.

Ben July 15, 2014 at 8:14 am

Wow, only five comments — I guess MR types aren’t quite as catholic in tastes as our host is. Along the same lines,

Jeffrey Kripal: *Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred* (Chicago, 2011)

Wade Davis *The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World* (CBC Massey Lecture, 2009)

Daniel Everett, *Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle* (Pantheon, 2008)

Rupert Ross, *Dancing with a Ghost: Exploring Indian Reality* (Penguin, 2009)

***

Check out the glowing reviews on Amazon for the above…

The Anti-Gnostic July 15, 2014 at 8:47 am

In the 70′s the (basically Germanic) granola-movement was all over Native American concern for the environment. Since it turns out North American natives like pick-up trucks, casinos and video games as much as anybody else, I guess the Amazonian animists are all that’s left.

Edward Burke July 15, 2014 at 9:24 am

Carlos Castaneda’s shamanic fantasies and fictions doubtless continue to perform their disservice to anthropological and ethnographic studies decades later.

Donald Pretari July 15, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Bought it. Kindle.

Alan July 15, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Tyler is not like his acolytes. Tyler is human.

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