Hwërɨmamotima thë pë ã oni
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.
"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
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
"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
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
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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