The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman Hardcover – 8 Nov 2013
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Kopenawa provides a fascinating glimpse into his life as well as into Yanomami cultural beliefs and practices, setting his story against the various threats the Yanomami people and their forest have faced since the 1960s...Kopenawa's story is eloquent, engaging, and thought-provoking, exuding heartfelt wisdom. This extraordinary and richly detailed work is an outstanding explication of the Yanomami worldview as well as a plea to all people to respect and preserve the rain forest. --Elizabeth Salt"Library Journal (starred review)" (10/01/2013)
"Ultimately, it is Kopenawa's voice that tells us who he is, who his people are, and who we are to them. It is complex and nuanced; I'd go so far as to call The Falling Skya literary treasure: invaluable as academic reading, but also a must for anyone who wants to understand more of the diverse beauty and wonder of existence." --Daniel L. Everett, New Scientist, 18 November 2013
"This unique book challenges us to look anew at the infamous indigenous Yanomami culture, and ourselves." --New Scientist Best Books of 2013, December 2013
Anthropologists and other specialists will find much to relish in this beautifully crafted evocation of Yanomami culture and philosophy. Based on hundred of hours of interviews taped in native language, it is enriched by almost a hundred pages of footnotes, ethnobiological and geographic glossaries, bibliographical references, detailed indexes and, last but not least, an easy by Bruce Albert on how he wrote the book. --Tmes Literary Supplement
About the Author
Davi Kopenawa is a shaman and an internationally known spokesperson of the Brazilian Yanomami.
Bruce Albert, a French anthropologist who has worked with the Yanomami in Brazil since 1975, is Research Director at the Research Institute for Development (IRD), Paris, and Associate Researcher at the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), Sao Paulo.
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The authorship of this gem is unprecedented: rather than being yet another in a long list of studies of the Yanomami written by outsiders, “The Falling Sky” is the first book narrated by a Yanomami author, Davi Kopenawa. No other treatise offers this insider‘s perspective; no other narrative takes us so intimately into the confidences of the Yanomami people; no other account so dramatically unravels the extraordinary complexity of Yanomami philosophy. None of our self-critiques of what our industrial societies are doing to the environment rings quite so authentically as Davi Kopenawa's, written as it is from a point of view that is unique, startling, and riveting. Besides his intriguing explanations of Yanomami beliefs, Kopenawa is also a sort of indigenous anthropologist studying Western society, turning the tables on who studies whom. As perceptive as many Western anthropologists have been, none has the vantage point that Kopenawa does as someone who grew up Yanomami and, based on later intercultural experiences, learned how to translate Yanomami concepts to foreigners in a way that no one else has ever succeeded in doing. He says, “I did not learn to think about the things of the forest by setting my eyes on paper skins. I saw them for real by drinking my elders’ breath of life… I had my account drawn in the white people’s language so it could be heard far from the forest. Maybe they will finally understand my words… Then their thoughts about us will cease being so dark and twisted and maybe they will even wind up losing the will to destroy us. If so, our people will stop dying in silence, unbeknownst to all, like turtles hidden on the forest floor” (p. 23).
Only someone with an ethnocentric bias, like Alice Friedemann, who reviewed this book without even reading it (!), would so categorically dismiss such a ground-breaking book or urge potential readers to buy an entirely different book, written by an American academic whose anti-Yanomami biases have been criticized for decades by numerous commentators. Native voices have been silenced for centuries by repressive colonial powers: did Alice really have to add insult to injury by censoring “The Falling Sky”? Isn’t it time we just stop listening to our own babbling and, for once, hear what a survivor from one of the last remote tribes has to say? She pretends to offer apologies to Kopenawa as she goes on a witch hunt after Bruce Albert, the anthropologist who interviewed Kopenawa and helped him prepare the book for publication, but her mea culpa rings hollow, since she advises skipping the book altogether. More turtles may die unbeknownst to all…
For correctives to Alice Friedemann’s warped review, readers should check out the pointed replies to her post offered by professionals who are familiar with the Yanomami. It is especially worthwhile to read Bruce Albert’s refutation of her unwarranted attacks on him and his defense of Davi Kopenawa; unfortunately, his remarks are buried in the “Comments” link under Alice’s review, but readers can access it through the appropriate button.
The extraordinary friendship and collaboration between Kopenawa and French anthropologist Bruce Albert gradually developed over several decades. Their book is the product of 93 hours of interviews, most conducted during 1989-1992 and 1993-2001. Albert transcribed the recordings into over 1,000 pages, all in the Yanomami language. Albert frames the main text, which is exclusively the most careful translation of Kopenawa's own thoughts, with supplemental material reflecting only the very highest quality of scholarship and science. This is all solidly grounded in Albert's regular fieldwork in basic and applied anthropology with the Yanomami since March 1975.
This tome is certainly by far one of the most important and illuminating books I have ever read in my four decades in anthropology. It is destined to become a classic in the history of anthropology, and, more importantly, a benchmark in the Yanomami's own history. In the outside world this book should be relevant not only to serious students of the Yanomami, but to anyone interested in the Amazon forests and its peoples, shamanism, anthropology of religion, culture contact and change, and advocacy and human rights, or cultural, historical, political, and spiritual ecologies, among many other subjects.
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