Manual of Yanomami traditional medicine

Instituto Socioambiental - ISA

Hwërɨmamotima thë pë ã oni

The "Manual of Yanomami traditional medicine" is the result of extensive work by Yanomami researchers. Young members of the community are being trained to carry out research aimed at reinforcing traditional knowledge and promoting a dialogue with other knowledge systems, indigenous and non-indigenous. The manual was inspired by the research of anthropologist Bruce Albert and botanist William Milliken, carried out between 1992 and 1994, and presents an extensive survey of medicinal plants used by the Yanomami to cure different diseases.

The Yanomami are one of the most numerous indigenous peoples in Brazil: a population of 22,000 people living in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, in the north of Brazil. Their territory is located on the borders of Brazil with Venezuela, with several communities in the neighbouring country. The Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) is working with the Yanomami to develop projects to ensure the protection of their territory, to strengthen their organizations and to value their culture.

The Yanomami have a different way of understanding what we call "nature." In their language Urihi a - forest-land - is a living entity that is part of a complex dynamic relationship between human and non-human beings, such as animals, plants and others.

"White people think that the forest was laid on the ground for no purpose, as if it was lifeless. This is not true. It is only silent because the xapiripë spirits restrain the malign beings and the anger of the storm beings. If the forest was dead, the trees would not have shiny leaves. Nor would there be water on earth. Our forest is alive, and if white people make us disappear in order to cut it down and live in our place, they will be poor and will end up suffering from hunger and thirst. " – David Kopenawa Yanomami

Shamanic spirit of the jatoba tree (Hymenaea parvifolia, arõ kohi), with nests of the Yellow-rumped Cacique (Cacicus cela, ayõkora)

The Yanomami healing system is based on the action of shamans. They are like a protective shield against the evil powers of humans and non-humans. They are tireless warriors of the invisible, dedicated to protecting the lives of the members of their communities.

When someone in the village falls sick, medicines collected from the forest are used in conjunction with the action of the shaman. Knowledge of these remedies was traditionally held and transmitted by older women who would apply them in conjunction with the healing work of shamans.

However, in the 1970s women from several Yanomami villages, holding the knowledge of forest remedies, died from outbreaks of measles and malaria brought by the invasion of the Yanomami territory by outsiders. As a result, knowledge of forest medicines was kept alive only through some of the survivors’ children.

At the beginning of the 1990s, research on Yanomami medicinal plants helped to revitalize traditional community medicine, as opposed to the manufactured medications that had been used to combat the diseases introduced following the invasion by prospectors in the late 1980s. After an intense process of political empowerment and training of Yanomami researchers, the study and use of traditional medicine have become community priorities.

Twenty years after the research, the situation of diseases introduced by outsiders had stabilized and less importance was attributed to manufactured medication. The knowledge of the elders started to awaken the interest of a new generation of Yanomami. Between 2012 and 2013 research workshops were held with nine young Yanomami researchers. This team extensively interviewed the elders, as well as other community members. The "Manual of Yanomami traditional medicine" is the result of this project of listening to, transmitting and systematizing knowledge.

"First the shamans would point out the leaves: 'when you see these leaves hanging in the woods, you rub the patient with them and the fever will decrease; when you rub the patient with saima hanaki leaves, rub the whole head and give them a full bath, that's it!' The elderly woman picked the leaves, tasted them with her tongue, kneaded them by hand, made a thick broth with them and bathed the patient: 'xaoo xaoo'. When older women were still numerous, this is what they did with the patients." – Justino Yanomami

Peperomia macrostachya (Vahl) A. Dietr.

Popular: A type of epiphytic

The leaves are used to treat flu

Saima hanaki

"After all had died here from an epidemic of sorcery, there were no older women and we were impoverished. However, despite being impoverished, other women who had survived continued treating us closely; other younger women, such as those sitting here, who had seen their mothers heal." – Justino Yanomami

"Our elders knew many treatments. When they had the tarantula itch caused by sorcery, they rubbed themselves with grated puu thotho fruits, with puu hana ki leaves and gratings from hwapoma hi, raina tihi and wapo kohi trees… When they had an itch, they rubbed themselves with grated hwapoma hi; in the old days they rubbed themselves with this. After the application, the itch would disappear; that was how they treated each other". – Justino Yanomami

Anaxagorea acuminata (Dun) A. St. -Hil.

Popular: Envira-de-jacu

The bark is used to relieve itches in general. It is also used to treat diseases introduced by outsiders

Raina tihi

Clathrotropis macrocarpa Ducke

Popular: Cabarí

The bark is used to treat strong fevers caused by diseases introduced by outsiders and itching resulting from contacts with tarantula spiders

Wapo kohi

Renealmia alpinia (Rottb.) Maas, Renealmia floribunda K. Schum

A type of herb

The stem is used to treat infections and swellings caused by sorcery

Maokori sina kɨ

Renealmia alpinia (Rottb.) Maas

Renealmia floribunda K. Schum

Spondias mombin L.

Popular: Hogplum

The fruits and leaves are used to treat frailty and diseases introduced by outsiders

Pirima ahu thotho
Puuhanaki - Folhas cheirosas
Instituto Socioambiental
Credits: Story

About the manual

Knowledge holders interviewed: Antonio, Jonas, Justino, Luana, Lucas, Madalena and Paulo Yanomami

Interviewers: Anita, Denise, Edmar, Ehuana, Guiomar, Junior, Morzaniel, Nílson, Salomé and Suanã Yanomami

Consultants: Bruce Albert (Institut de recherche pour le développement - IRD), William Milliken (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) and Vicente Coelho (Instituto Socioambiental - ISA)

Download the full publication at: http://isa.to/manual-dos-remedios-tradicionais-yanomami

The Exhibition

Curator: Marília Senlle
Text editors: Tatiane Klein and Gabriella Contoli
Special thanks: Alex Piaz, Beto Ricardo, Bruno Weis, Claudio Tavares, Estevão Benfica, Marcos Wesley, Moreno Saraiva and Tony Gross

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