Of shamanism and planetary crisis

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Jadran Mimica. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau4.2.021


Of shamanism and planetary crisis

Jadran MIMICA, University of Sydney

Comment on Kopenawa, Davi and Bruce Albert. 2013. The falling sky: Words of a Yanomami shaman. Translated by Nicholas Elliott and Alison Dundy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

This is an outstanding work of ethnography and a painfully moving human document. First and last it is an engrossing self-account by a Yanomami shaman whose life became dedicated to the struggle for the preservation of the naked life of his people and their life-habitat. In the process, he gradually gained national and international recognition and acclaim in the highest Brazilian and international institutional forums, including the United Nations. Without diminishing the centrality of Davi Kopenawa’s self-account, it must be stated that this long and dense book is also a testimony to Bruce Albert as an ethnographer extraordinaire; his dedication to long-term anthropological work among the Yanomami has been conterminous with his activism to better their plight. On both accounts Albert deserves the deepest respect from fellow ethnographers wherever their research-areas might be.

Although a New Guinea ethnographer I have always had intense interest in Amazonian life-worlds and languages. It was due to a former student of mine who did his doctoral research with two Yanomami groups in Venezuela that I first learned about Davi Kopenawa as a shaman, activist, and a prophet (Jokic 2003). Subsequently, Zelko Jokic spent five more years working among the Venezuelan Yanomami in connection with the state health-service delivery. It was his good fortune to meet Kopenawa, who was visiting the local Yanomami, and thus gain some personal impressions of the man. My first acquaintance with the snippets of his self-account was through the writings of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (2007). Although I do not subscribe to his Deleuzean take on Amazonian cosmologies and social structure, I was intrigued by the glimpse into Kopenawa’s visionary imagination available in Viveiros de Castro’s piece. I therefore welcomed the opportunity to read the complete self-account now available in English translation and contribute to the HAU book symposium.

There is already a rich corpus of texts on Yanomami cosmovision, mythopoeia, shamanistic practices, and experience, including such ethno-cinematographic classics as Napoleon Chagnon and Timothy Asch’s Magical death (1973) and Children’s magical death (1974), and the extremely difficult to access Manuel de Pedra’s Inicia-con de un shaman (1980). Nevertheless, Kopenawa’s lengthy self-account is unique not just in respect of the density of its formidable details but, especially, due to the biographical context and trajectory of the development of his shamanistic personality and consciousness. His trajectory commences with his childhood dreaming and tentative intimations of the myriad spirit denizens (xapiri) that populate the Yanomami life-world. Then as a youth he was exposed to the Christian teachings of the Anglo-American New Tribes Missionaries, while as a young adult he worked as an interpreter for the Indian Protection Agency (FUNAI). All these experiences eventually became consummated and integrated through his shamanistic initiation. Thereafter, they flourished and transformed, correlatively to his political activism, into a cosmo-ecological shamanic soteriology, which feeds into current Western megapolitan sensibilities and concerns with the planetary ecological crisis, the an-thropocene, and the posthuman condition, as well as forecasts of the impending global collapse. In this regard some parts of Kopenawa’s self-account tend to oscillate between the two poles of a cognitive-affective register, which I call eco-sermo-shamanizing or eco-shamano-sermonizing, depending on which aspect (shamanic or sermonic) may happen to be dominant.

In terms of the Western historical chronology, Kopenawa’s life trajectory in the nineteen-fifties and sixties unfolded in relation to the intrusions and the permanent establishment of outsiders (principally FUNAI and missionaries) in his people’s life-world. Then in the seventies there followed the construction of the Perimetral Norte highway, while in the late eighties the Yanomami territory in the state of Roraima was swarmed by some 40,000 gold prospectors (garimpeiros) who unleashed human and ecological devastation. A continuation of the first concerted European conquest and settling of the Americas in the sixteenth century, this most recent phase of the civilizing process visited upon the Yanomami a motley assortment of goods, fumes, and smoke, the latter two being the chief substantial ingredients featuring in the Yanomami understanding of deadly infectious diseases such as measles, malaria, pneumonia, dysentery, STDs, hepatitis, and tuberculosis. Ko-penawa himself survived the last named foreign import into his life-world, which in the eighties turned the Brazilian economic “development” of the Amazonian “void spaces” into the frontier danse macabre. In the period of the Roraima gold rush alone out of some 9,000–10,000 Brazilian Yanomami about 2000 perished or, about 13–20 percent of the Yanomami population (Macmillan 1995; Ramos 1998). It was also in the eighties that Kopenawa committed himself fully to the spirit denizens of his life-world, or in a different cosmo-ontological register—the Yanomami mundus imaginalis (Corbin 1972), by becoming initiated through the tutelage of his father-in-law who was also a famed shaman. Kopenawa thereby brought to fruition his shamanistic calling that began in childhood. Concurrently he began to act as a committed activist and representative of his people; the latter extension of his identity was codified in his full name as Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, legally ratified as such by the Brazilian state.

Reflecting on the various sections of the text, it was the second part (Metal smoke, 155–299) that left a deep impression on me, especially since Kopenawa’s inimitable account of these intrusive events is paralleled, in the footnotes, by Albert’s selection from the official documents and accounts by the personnel of the Indian protection services and the New Tribes Missionaries, all participants in the local situation. These parallel accounts enhance the virulent gravity and violence of the Brazilian Amazon development that started after World War II as the nation’s Marcha para o Oeste (March to the West; Ramos 1984, 1998; Macmillan 1995). Regarding the importance of Albert’s footnotes—nearly one hundred pages in all—they are an integral complement to the main text, which also bears Albert’s imprint as Kopenawa’s dedicated translator and editor. The long process of the recording of their conversations, transcription, translation, and editing of a manuscript “of more than a thousand pages of transcripts” (Kopenawa and Albert 2013: 451) is detailed in the last chapter of the book (How this book was written). Albert writes: “I sought to keep together ethnographic accuracy and esthetic concerns, make the text readable, convey the poetic and contrastive conceptual effects of Yanomami speech, and bring out the voice of the narrator, at times indignant, jovial, or poignant” (453). To my mind, the English translation is a testimony to Albert’s success in producing a text in which Kopenawa’s own account is masterfully integrated with “documentary fidelity, and the ‘pleasure of the text’” (ibid).

If there is a question of striking “the right balance” in this text, then I would highlight, on one hand, the richness of the details pertaining to Yanomami sha-manistic experience and action, the cosmo-ontological vistas that Kopenawa’s account has thereby opened up, and, on another, the palpability of his personality that saturates every page. Concerning the latter, among numerous memorable passages that one could cite, the encounter at the Demini Outpost with “Zeca Diabo, Ze the Devil,” the leader of a group of garimpeiros, and his Yanomami guide, conveys a mood of deadly anger, harshness, anguish, suffering, and death caused by the gold rush and, simultaneously, a dose of the compassion Kopenawa felt for this “fierce and fearless man.” This characterization was conveyed to Kopenawa and his group by Zeca Diabo’s gang of prospectors in advance of his arrival. Having landed and spent some twenty-four hours in the forest walking and looking unsuccessfully for his men, Zeca Diabo returned to the airstrip. Although diabolical, if only in his name, this white man now “was a sorry sight. He was only wearing flip-flops and his feet were swollen and in blisters. His shorts had rubbed against his inner thighs and his skin was raw. His guide was worried to see that we were so furious at him. As soon as they arrived, I told them: ‘All you can do now is walk back to where you came from! No airplane will come to get you!’” (273–74). Kopenawa’s group kept him at the airstrip for three days preventing the airplane from landing. Eventually they got “tired of this affair,”

and we let him land. To be finished with it, we painted Zeca Diabo from head to toe with a black dye made of annatto pulp and soot. We only left his shorts on. This is how we sent him back to the city, completely painted black! As soon as he saw the airplane on the airstrip he started frenetically running in its direction, no matter how fierce he pretended to be. . . . Zeca Diabo barely had time to climb aboard before the pilot, as afraid as he was, turned on the airstrip and hastily took off again! Zeca Diabo never tried to come to our home, nor did any other garimpeiro for that matter! (Kopenawa and Albert 2013: 274)

In the hindsight of the subsequent developments (which catapulted Kopenawa onto the national and international political scene), this past victorious outcome was not translated into the permanent condition of indigenous life uniformly realized and insured throughout the Yanomami territory. The pressures from mining, ranching, and disease are ongoing. In the anticipation of the Rio “Earth Summit,” the Brazilian president did officially recognize in 1992 the “Yanomami Indigenous Territory,” which insured its integrity as opposed to the previous salami design to slice the territory into so many individual holdings as there are Yanomami groups living in it. This, of course, would have made it easier to alienate the land. Finally, in 2004 the Yanomami Rights Organization Hutukara was established with Kopenawa as its president. Despite all this and numerous honors that were bestowed upon Kopenawa, the truth is that the well-being of the Yano-mami and their life-world is brittle and under continuous, if fluctuating, threat no matter what assurances to the contrary and services he and his Hutikora NGO may procure from the Brazilian government and such organizations as Survival International. All that, including international support of every color, may easily end up in the fumes and smoke that, all along, have been devouring the Yano-mami and their rain forest.

Regarding the white people’s ways of being, I am inclined to think that Proud-hon’s immortal verdict—”Property is theft”—may serve as the most apposite vehicle for conveying Kopenawa’s sanguine formulations predicated upon his moral self-image, which subsumes his idealized view of the traditional Yanomami ethos and socio-economic existence in contrast to that of the whites.

On the contrary, they [whites] are used to greedily hoarding their goods and keeping them locked up. In fact, they always carry many keys on them, which are for houses where they keep their merchandise hidden. They live in constant fear that it could be stolen. They only give it away sparingly, in exchange for paper skins (money) they also accumulate, thinking they will become great men. Overjoyed, they probably tell themselves: “I am part of the people of merchandise and factories! I possess all these things alone! I am so clever! I am an important man, a rich man! (Kopenawa and Albert 2013: 338)

As for me, I do not have a taste for possessing much merchandise. . . . I do not want to keep such things in my mind. For me, only the forest is a precious good. (337)

Kopenawa’s appreciation of the whites as rapacious liars was borne out of his entire life-experience of dealing with the encroaching white outsiders, especially the prospectors. His activism-related sojourns into the Brazilian and overseas towns and metropolises had only reinforced it. Articulated especially in the chapters nineteen (Merchandise love) and twenty (In the city) his bleak and black view of the wide-white-world is best characterized as a politico-economic welt-stimmung (world-mood) brought about by his soul’s disrupted communion with the spirits of the rainforest, his matrixial anima mundi.

In their cities, one cannot learn things of the dream. People there do not know how to bring down the spirits of the forest and the animal ancestors’ images. They only set their gaze on what surrounds them: merchandise, television, and money. . . . Their cities are vast and full of multitude of beautiful objects they desire, but as soon as they are old or weakened by sickness, they suddenly have to abandon all that, which is quickly erased from their minds. All that remains is for them to die alone and empty. . . . These are the thoughts that occupy my nights in those big cities where I can never fall asleep. (Kopenawa and Albert 2013: 356)

Regarding my “textual pleasure” experienced while reading about the shamanistic reality of which Kopenawa provides a formidable image, I was greatly aided by my prior internalization of the variants of their cosmology and mythopoeia available in the published corpus of Yanomami ethnography, including Jokic’s (2003) phenom-enological account. This ethnographer himself had also undergone the shamanistic initiation concurrently with his Yanomami companion, thus experiencing the process of becoming “other with yakoana” (hallucinogenic snuff), which delivers one from the mode of existence limited by the life of the flesh: “eating, laughing, copulating, speaking in vain, and sleeping without dreaming much” (Kopenawa and Albert 2013: 422). In this respect it is fair to say that there have always been some white individuals, ethnographers among them, who endeavored in no uncertain terms to see with the mind’s eye, with or without hallucinogens or, more spiritually, entheogens, the mundus imaginalis of other life worlds, and to affirm these in the fullness of their existential realities. Speaking for myself, that is exactly the order of my appreciation of Kopenawa’s words and the apocalyptic foreboding enunciated by the image of the “falling sky” that entitles the work as a whole. At the same time and by the same token I also know that in the present predicament of humanity, indexed by the concept of the Anthropocene, it will take a more radical mobilization of human imaginal powers, knowledge and will-to-self-transformation than what is at work in the demiurgic enterprise of the Yanomami shamans bent on preventing the planetary sky from crushing down onto the earth. In various places of his self-account Kopenawa implores his readers to recognize this cosmically critical undertaking of his fellow-shamans. I hasten to add that my remark doesn’t deny the value of all the work done by Kopenawa and his fellow Yanomami shamans, in collaboration with their dedicated ethnographers and activists, most importantly in this context being Albert and his colleagues Claudia Andujar, Alcida Ramos, Carlo Zaquini, and Kenneth Taylor.

What prompts me to end on this note is that as I was rereading The falling sky I checked the www to see what the wide-white-world is saying-doing in regard to Kopenawa and his book. So, starting with the latest news (March 2014), I learned that the brand-name celebrity David Beckham, while promoting the forthcoming World Cup in Rio, visited the Yanomami Territory, “asking Davi Kopenawa for permission to enter their reserve”; there is a photograph of David shaking hands with Davi, both Davids, all smiles.1 Then the next month (April 22, “Earth Day”), Survival International scheduled for Davi, now advertised as “the Dalai Lama of the Rainforest,” a Californian tour where he will give a series of “enlightening talks.” The announcement says: “Connect with the Spirits of the Amazon. A once in a lifetime opportunity to listen to a unique voice from the heart of the rainforest, and his messages to the world”“ (survivalinternational.org/news/tribes/yanomami). Before that, in 2010 in Germany, a high-tech aesthetic project was launched, namely a “multimedia opera” involving principally German and Brazilian artists and academics.

It regards the collaboration with indigenous Amazonian groups as a long overdue dialogue between contemporary societies. . . . The rain forest is the protagonist of the opera. It is endowed with a voice not only by the multimedia works of German and Brazilian artists and scientists, but also by the Yanomami, one of the last great native peoples of South America. Native American cosmologies and shamanistic spirituality are contrasted with scientific and technological world views, providing new insights into all the issues facing the Amazon: bio-diversity, slash-and-burn land clearance, and genocide, but also bioengineering, nanotechnology and climate change. The complex interrelations between these areas of inquiry will give rise to art works that should enable the public to see and hear the world of the Amazon in a whole new way. (goethe.de/ins/pt/lis/prj/ama/lab/)

Asked what he thought about the effect, if any, of this production on the plight of the Yanomami, the Brazilian sociologist and activist Garcia dos Santos said that he was “very happy with the way the project went—both aesthetically and politically. Amazonas Music Theatre succeeded in aesthetically bringing out the complexity and intellectual depth of Yanomami culture. This kind of recognition is vital to achieving the political aims of the Yanomami. Now, after the project, we know the Yanomami are not a people of the past. On the contrary, their society is just as complex as ours, albeit in a completely different way” (goethe.de/ins/pt/lis/prj/ama/lab/).2

With all due respect to Garcia dos Santos’ good work, if this conceited formula “equal but different complexities” of the two societies does anything, it unduly glosses over the basic reality that one society, the Yanomami, remains oppressed by the national Brazilian one that, undoubtedly due to its “equal but different complexities,” is devouring the former through the continuation of mining, ranching, and diseases as indicated with predictable regularity by the Survival International news website: “But illegal mining continues, and a controversial bill currently discussed in Brazil’s parliament could open up Yanomami territory to large-scale mining, which would further devastate the Yanomami’s land and once again introduce dangerous diseases to the isolated tribe. Mining corporations have already filed over 650 requests to mine on Yanomami land” (2013). “But despite the Yanomami’s appeals, many miners continue to operate on their land, destroying the forest and polluting the rivers with mercury. The uncontacted Yanomami are particularly vulnerable to the diseases transmitted by the miners” (2014).

Now let me give some basic specificity to the supposedly “equal but different complexities” of the two societies. At the moment the total population of Brazil is on the cusp of 200 million, of which the Amerindians account for no more than 300 thousand. The garimpeiros by and large are the Brazilians with “a minimal level of education and in deplorable health conditions, most coming from a sizeable contingent of landless peasants (twenty million) and of the country’s urban unemployed, an assorted lot of adventurers” (Carvalho 1990, quoted in Ramos 1998: 210). In her earlier work Ramos (1995) wrote: “The great majority of these people were either underemployed or unemployed, small holders who had lost their lands, or urban workers who had lost their jobs. Victims of the country’s grossly unequal land and income distribution, these migratory human masses have been pushed off into Indian lands by the shock waves created by underdevelopment” (276). Thus the invaders are from predominantly poor and lower sectors of Brazilian society, a fact powerfully conveyed by Salgado’s famous photographs of the Serra Pelada gold rush. The massacres and brutalities these people inflicted upon the Indians are but an extension of the general hierarchical societal distribution and monopoly of economic wealth, violence, differential d/evaluation of human life and, following from this, the calibration and exercise of societal choices of life and death (Sartre 1974) in the nation state of Brazil. The Yanomami predicament shows this societal choice of violence and death in the most naked and starkest forms of application. Doubly vulnerable because of diseases, especially malaria and hepatitis, and their political-socio-economic marginality, they are deemed an expediently dispensable living people. The truth is that as a group, the garimpeiros themselves do not rate much higher on the scale of value of human life. But I suspect that even if not particularly lucid about it they know it all along. Accordingly, they are less hesitant to treat those below them with the same brutality that has coconstituted them as a “migratory human mass.” If there is a need to invoke here colonial history it is to remind oneself that everybody, especially the good citizens of Brazil, are where they are and live as they do, because all along the way, there were those who did and are doing the dirty work for the rest of the citizenry, who do not fathom the fact that the condition of their own especially morally edifying aesthetic and political life, and the piety of peaceful coexistence, is that somebody other than themselves is doing dirty work on their behalf. The Yanomami, to be sure, always did themselves their own violence and dirty work. Since they have their lives in their own hands all the time they have to do it, willy-nilly. That is why some of them fought and killed at least some of the prospectors despite the odds. If there is an equality of differences between the Yanomami and the prospectors, then that must be in the manner that each group is committed to itself, at a total price—their lives worth nothing more than their deaths, their appetites and desires worth their deprivations.

I now come to the point of my refraction of Kopenawa’s and the Yanomami’s predicament through the prism of the www and what it tells me about the plight of indigenous Americans in the perspective of the historical dialectics of their incorporation into the wide-white-world of global capitalist civilization. For this purpose I will shift the perspective to the historical plight of the North Amerindians. The end of the nineteenth century in the United States saw the ending of the Indian Wars, that is, the terminal subjugation and relegation of the Native Americans to reservations (Utley 1984; Hagan 1993). This also was the time of the beginning of the United States’ transformation into a world power. In the aftermath of the eclipse of the Indian resistance Buffalo Bill Cody, one of the best known protagonists in the conquest of the Wild West frontier, turned this piece of human predicament—commonly known as history—into the world-famous “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show,” which toured both the United States and Europe to roaring success. The great Indian fighters such as Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, Sitting Bull, a holy man whose visions inspired and fuelled the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors at the Little Big Horn (1876), Rain-in-the-Face (the Sioux who supposedly killed Custer), the holy man Black Elk, and many other Plains Indians all had a stint in Buffalo Bill’s spectacular vivre performance at one time or another. Soon to be eclipsed by cinema, the Wild West shows were a very popular cultural form in this period. Even Geronimo in his old age appeared in similar shows, including the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, (Geronimo and Barrett [1906] 2005; Debo [1976] 2005). Given the state of technology, this was the closest the citizens of Western metropolises could “connect” with the history and spirit of the Wild West frontier, including seeing the most authentic indigenous participants in real historical events. At the time there was not as yet a global spiritual emergency taking possession of the Western citizenry, as is nowadays the case, so that there was no specifically spiritual interest (except for the great ethnographer James Mooney [1896] 1973; Kehoe 1989) in Sitting Bull’s visions and the Ghost Dance religion, on the account of which he was killed by the Indian agency police on December 15, 1890 at the Standing Rock Reservation.3 As for his participation in Buffalo Bill’s show, Sitting Bull toured with it for four months. Supposedly the audience liked him and he became a sort of a celebrity although it was alleged that during his performances he cursed the white audience in his native Lakota language (the veracity of which historians dispute). As Buffalo Bill was paying him $50 per week and he was also charging for being photographed, Sitting Bull made a fair bit of money, which he frequently gave to beggars and homeless people. This would certainly strike a cord with Kopenawa.

The latter, on the other hand, while in New York did visit a group of the Onon-daga Iroquois whose predicament made him realize “Hou! This is what the white people also want to do with us and all the other inhabitants of Brazil’s forest! This is what they have always done. They will kill all the game, the fish, and the trees. They will soil all the rivers and lakes, and they will finally take over what is left of our lands” (Kopenawa and Albert 2013: 353). In truth, the history of the Iroquois predicament is far more intricate, more depressing (Hauptman 1985; Snow 1996) and for that reason more instructive about what can and ought to be done for a more viable future. However, caught in the socio-economic vortex of the global capitalist civilization and its cultural imaginary, the plight of all North Amerindians can always be projected in brighter hues. For example, some 450 Indian reservations are havens for casinos (estimated revenues amount to well over 20 billion dollars a year); the Iroquois themselves (specifically the Mohawks) made their name as fearless construction workers on skyscrapers. On the aesthetic side there is no end to productions, from the literary to cinematographic and multimedia; say, from Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” and his lover Minnehaha to Terrence Malick’s and Disney’s version of Pocahontas; from John Ford’s Cheyenne autumn, Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man to Bruce Beresford’s Black robe, and beyond. In a similar vein, the Hollywood debut of a motley crew of a semblance of the Yanomami and (as far as I could tell) Xingu Indians was in Babenco’s At play in the fields of the Lord; and more recently, the Yanomami figure in the multimedia opera on the subject of “Amazonian anguish,” while their shaman and prophet has gained a spiritual recognition (the “Dalai Lama of the rainforest”) befitting the global civilization. Reflecting on the dynamics of the “virtual” dimension of this civilization, especially as articulated through the amplitudes of the www show-space, who is to prophesize what the ultimate effect The falling sky may have, if not on the fate of the planetary sky itself, then at least on the spirit of global capitalism,4 prodding it to reconnect with the Amazon rainforest as the hub of, one may say, the earth’s anima mundi?


Chagnon, Napoleon, and Timothy Asch. 1973. Magical death. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources.

———. 1974. Children’s magical death. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources.

Corbin, Henry. 1972. “Mundus imaginalis or the imaginary and the imaginal.” Spring: An Annual of Archetypal Psychology and Jungian Thought: 1–19.

Debo, Angie. (1976) 2005. Geronimo: The man, his time, his place. London: Pimlico.

Geronimo and Barrett, S. M. (1906) 2005. Geronimo: My life as told to S. M. Barrett. New York: Dover.

Hagan, William T. 1993. American Indians. 3rd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hauptman, Laurence M. 1985. Iroquois struggle for survival: World War II to red power. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Jokic, Zeljko. 2003. “Hekura Mou: A phenomenological analysis of yanomami shamanism.” PhD Diss., Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney.

Kehoe, Alice Beck. 1989. The ghost dance: Ethnohistory and revitalization. New York: Holt, Reinhart, and Winston.

Kopenawa, Davi, and Bruce Albert. 2013. The falling sky: Words of a Yanomami shaman. Translated by Nicholas Elliott and Alison Dundy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Macmillan, Gordon. 1995. At the end of the rainbow? Gold, land, and people in the Brazilian Amazon. New York: Columbia University Press.

Mooney, James. (1896) 1973. The ghost-dance religion and Wounded Knee. New York: Dover.

Pedra, Manuel de. 1980. Iniciacion de un shaman. Caracas: Cochano Films.

Ramos, Alcida. 1984. “Frontier expansion and Indian peoples in the Brazilian Amazon.” In Frontier expansion in Amazonia, edited by Marianne Schmink and Charles H. Wood. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

———. 1995. Sanuma memories: A Yanomami ethnography in times of crisis. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Ramos, Alcida 1998. Indigenism: Ethnic politics in Brazil. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1974. Critique of dialectical reason. London: New Left Books.

Snow, Dean R. 1996. The Iroquois. Oxford: Blackwell.

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo 2007. “The crystal forest: Notes on the ontology of Amazonian spirits.” In “Perspectivism,” special issue, Inner Asia 9 (2): 153–72.

Utley, Robert, M. 1984. The Indian frontier of the American West 1846–1890. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.


Jadran Mimica
Department of Anthropology
University of Sydney
NSW 2006
Sydney, Australia


1. It is also reported that “Dario Yawarioma Yanomami, son of Davi and a coordinator of the Yanomami association, Hutukara told Globo news that, ‘We liked David’s visit a lot because he was very interested in the problems in the Yanomami reserve. He saw that there are many threats to the environment and to our culture. He showed he was concerned about the Yanomami people.’”

2. Significantly, Viveiros de Castro, who was initially consulted about this project, is reported by Joachim Bernauer, the director of the Goethe Institut in Lisbon, to have said, “there is no getting away from the fundamental differences between Amerindian ‘nature culture’ and Western civilization, which preclude any dialogue between the two. Hence his decision to break off his collaboration with our opera project, which is indeed committed to dialogue. Laymert Garcia dos Santos, on the other hand, does consider dialogue possible, and he points up the approach to virtuality as a basis for mutual understanding on a potentially very high level” (goethe.de/ins/pt/lis/prj/ama/lab/).

3. “In the end, Sitting Bull’s horse expressed the real outcome of the affair: the animal had been trained by Buffalo Bill to ‘dance’ when a gun was fired in the Wild West Show, and when it heard the gunfire as it was led to its master’s cabin, it began to dance. The Indians said that Sitting Bull had been martyred for refusing to give up his religion, but the faith would not die. The horse was now dancing the Ghost Dance. The white man could not kill the messiah’s fame” (Kehoe 1989: 21). It is hard not to reflect on this sad and ironic equine episode through the prism of the currently popular notion of pan-Amerindian “perspectivism.”

4. It, fortunately, does not subsume the whole of the contemporary human spirit.