The Amazon Is a Dangerous Place If You Live on a Bunch of Gold
Photos by Claudia Andujar
Last week, news broke that back in July illegal goldminers allegedly wiped out an entire village of indigenous Yanomami in the Amazon. Reports suggest that they did this by raining down machine gun fire and crude explosives from helicopters. Only three of the Yanomami villagers survived—the men were out hunting at the time of the attack and returned to find the bodies of their friends and families burning in a mass grave, an apparent attempt by the attackers to cover their tracks.
The remoteness of the settlement, in the south of Venezuela near the border with Brazil, is one of the reasons why the news didn't reach the outside world earlier. The main motive behind the attack seems to be the goldminers' desire to exploit the land. The Venezuelan government did an investigation, but claimed to find no evidence of the massacre.
A couple of weeks ago, we got in touch with Survival International, who are working for tribal people's rights, to see if we could run the photos of Yanomami shamans that Claudia Andujar had donated to the organization. The Yanomami in Claudia's pictures live in Brazil, not Venezuela, but nevertheless give a precious insight into a culture that is increasingly endangered and (I guess justifiably) wary of outsiders.
Typically, "shaman" are men and women who specialize in communicating with the natural world and its spirits; people who have a heightened awareness of the divine and the intangible.
"Omama, our creator, made us think and talk with the soul of the forest, the soul of the mountain and with the soul of the moon, sun and stars," Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa told Claudia when she visited their village.
Shamans have many roles. They are variously healers and priests, custodians of their people's sacred rituals, weather diviners, cosmologists, dream tellers, and keepers of botanical knowledge. Yanomami shamans command thunder storms and caution the wind. They prevent the sky from falling down and use their powers to ensure hunting successes, cure human diseases, and put flight to hostile spirits. The shamans give orders to the sun, and instruct the spirits to speak to the moon.
This morning, Survival International released their own statement regarding the massacre:
"The government’s denial that a massacre has taken place is not unusual in these circumstances and should be treated with a huge amount of caution. We do not believe the investigating team has even reached the area where it happened. It is quite normal in these circumstances for there to be a long lapse before the facts can be sensibly established (if indeed they ever can).
"Some have suggested that no massacre took place and are claiming to know more than the Indians on site who reported this. Again, this is not unusual in these circumstances. We are calling for all illegal miners to be removed from Yanomami territory, and the perpetrators of the massacre to be brought to justice."
Survival International is an organization working for tribal people's rights worldwide. If you'd like to show them some support, click here.
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