Below is an old letter from Davi Kopenawa, but the same could be expressed today. Why does someone who lives deep in the jungle, travel so far... by river, train and plane, leaving his home and crossing so many worlds?
TO ALL PEOPLES OF THE EARTH
-from Davi Kopenawa Yanomami.
" The government is not respecting us. He thinks of us a animals. We have the right to protest. People from the outside please help us... If we don't do something , they won't be able to help. If we send them a letter, they will put pressure on our government, stir things up. I am thinking of many things. I am Yanomami.
We Yanomami thought that the white man was good to us. Now I am seeing that is is the last invasion of indigenous land--the rest has
already been invaded. They came to take our land. They are taking it.
Other people from the outside are teaching the Brazilian people how to destroy our land. The same thing happened to our brothers in North America and now it happens on our land.
The government shouldn't do this. He knows that we are the oldest
Brazilians, that we were born here, that we are called Yanomami. Our name is known throughout the world.
We know about money, shoes, clothes; (but) few Yanomami understand what is happening. The government took us by surprise. I am beginning to understand. The government doesn't know our customs or thoughts. We also don't know the customs and thoughts of the government.
They only know money, and our thoughts are on the land. Our
interest is to preserve the land, to not create disease for the
Brazilian people, nor the Indians.
Miners and squatters don't have land--that is why they invade
Indian land. If they had their own land, they wouldn't invade our area.
I also see white people suffering in the city, hunger, everthing is expensive, homelessness, lack of food, everyone is suffering. They are worried, but they don't have the courage to pressure our president [Jose Sarney, president of Brazil].He is also deceiving his people because Sarney is telling other nations that they are not destroying our land, making roads, mining our land.
The government is also telling other rich men, when he asks for money from outside, the rich man gives money to mistreat our land. The rivers, the fish, the jungles are asking for help, but the government doesn't know how to listen. He says that we are going to die of hunger if we shut the mine. If they don't quit mining, then yes, we will die of hunger. But if they stop mining we can plant manioc, banana, sweet potatoes, papaya, cana, peach palm, and nobody will die of hunger.
We Yanomami want our own land. We don't want to lose our customs. We have still not lost our language or the land. This is why we fight. This government (says it) is our chief, but it is not helping the Brazilian people to live in peace. We are united, all of the Indians of Brazil, we don't want to fight with other relations.
They are already starting to deceive us, like what happened to the Macuxi and other Indians. They start by saying that the priest is not good, that he doesn\t give presents, that Davi is not good. They put brother against brother to weaken us. The other Yanomami chiefs who have never been here, that have never had contact with whites, don't know what is happening here. I know. They are trying to use me because I am well known, but I won't let them. So they use the weaker ones first, other chiefs that don't speak Portuguese--they think that the miners are their friends, and will always be their friends.
The miner gives them food, and clothes, but time passes and the whites start to say that the Indian isn't good for anything, that he doesn't work, only begs,and they will call us vultures, those who do not hunt anymore, don't fish, live off of scraps, the scraps from the plates of the whites. They no longer know how to work, to fish, they only ask. They forget how to pick fruit in the jungle, they forget their customs, they forget their language.
I don't want to lose this; into my community I don't want to allow the miner to enter. I want to continue as it was before.
I am very worried about our childern. They are going to suffer more now. I always remember the grand-children. They are going to suffer more than we if we dont fight to defend, to save the life of our peoples.The government says that the land is not ours. We can fish, make gardens, hunt,use the lake, river. He says that we are using government land, but the land is ours. We have known it (since time's beginning).
The government is not good. We (give) but he does not give. This is why it is costing us the demarcation, this is why he doesn't want to demarcate the Yanomami land.
Within the Yanomami land there are many things that he wants to use, there are minerals, gold, tin ore, wood, (the land) can be used for planting. And he only speaks to us from hiding, from his office, he doesn\t call us to decide,to see if the Indian agrees.
But I am not for myself in this fight, no, I am fighting to
defend my people, the Yanomami. And not only my people, but also the Wapixana, Ingariko, Macuxi, and other relations. We are trying to help.
We can give support to those who don't know how to defend
themselves, explain what is happening to those who don\t understand.
We Yanomami are dying of malaria gripe, dysentery, veneral
disease, measles,chicken pox., and other diseases that the Indian as yet doesn\t know of, brought in from the outside by the miners. We are not able to cure the disease. The shamans can\t cure them.
Disease of bullets, shamans can't cure. Diseases of Indian can be cured, but not of white people.
I always ask FUNAI, but FUNAI doesn't take any recourses. I also asked the president, Jose Sarney, to remove the miners from Yanomami land. The president promised to remove the miners immediately, but he did nothing , only allowed them to continue invading ou land.
We Yanomami think that he does not like to help the Indian people of Brazil. I know that he is against us. He does not want to demarcate our land.
I received a lot of news from relations that live at the head of Catrimani River, from the Macujai River head of the Catrimani River, from the Macujai River and the Parmiu River, on the border of Venezuela. The relations told me thah there are four empty villages; everyone died--childern, adults, young people.In the Xideatheri,Ahuahipiktheri, and Pahaiatheri villatges, everyone died, and others continue to die because of lack of help.
FUNAI knows that many Yanomami are dying, but it isn't doing
anything. A few people in FUNAI want to work, but they dont have any support. In their communites on the Macujai River, my relations are hurt by the miners. They have learned to drink cachaca (cane alcohol) and are now sick and dont know what to do. And there is also a lot of venereal disease and malaria.
On the Catrimani River and on the platueau of Lobo De Almada
River, the miners are setting up their homes. They constructed road, made gardens and now they want to build a town, This is going to be very dangerous for the Yanomami people. I know that if they build a town there , it won't be good because the Yanomami will begin to get disease.
The Opiktheri are being deceived by Zeca Diabo, a mining company
that is trying to create conflict among the Indians. Zeca Diabo is the one that will help get food , give clothes teach us to work, make a rocado, plant and harvest, for the Yanomami to become accustomed to work, so that later they can work for Zeca Diabo, but I don\t think it is good for the whites to teach the Yanomani how to work.
For many years we have known how to plant, clean, weave. Yanomami don't die of humger, they only die of disease; they have everthing to survive where there are no miners. My relatives are not asking for food from the whites, they only ask when the miners will be finished with everything. And we have domestic animals: tapir, wild pig, turkey, pecary. We plant bananas, we have everything in our forest. We dont need to learn how (for the white man) to work so that we can pick up the customs of white people. The custom of the white people
is very complicated for us Yanomami. Our custom is better than that of whites, because we preserve the rivers, flood plains, lakes, mountains, the hunt , the fish, the fruits, acai, bacaba, inga, burit,
Brazil nut, cocoa, what we have, what Omam created.
I , Davi Kipenawa Yanomami, want to preserve all of this. The
white man doesn\t have respect for nature, he does not know what is good, he has to learn with us.
The government took our land and divided it into tiny pieces. The national forest is also ours. (The Brazilian government has divided it into the islands,) ... to fool the Indian, to leave him imprisoned like a pig in the pen.
We Yanomami want an area that is ours forever. For our people, to be able to live in peace, without conflicts with the government, the military, the miners, with anyone. The Yanomami dont want to invade other peoples land. The Yanomami respect the land of the whites.
On the Surucucus plateau two more Yanomami were killed in August. FUNAI did nothing. The police never captured these criminals. We Yanomami do not like--we are disgusted with--FUNAI and the government, because the government does not want to solve our problem., the problem of the Yanomami territory.
Our land has many pleteaus. Within the plateaus live Xapori,
Hekura,the spirits of nature. Within the mountains exist the paths of Xapori, nobody can see them, only the shaman knows the way. The plateaus are sacred places, places where the first Yanomami were born, where their ashes are buried.
Our ancestors have left their spirits in these places. We Yanomami want these areas to be respected, we dont want them destroyed. We want these places preserved so we dont destroy our history and our spirit.
We call the Kekura to cure our sick. For many years we have used them , they don't end. Omam left these spirits to help the Yanomamipeople.
Omam is very imprortant to Yanomami Indians, the Macuxi,
the Wapixana, and all of the whites, all of the blacks, he gave origin to everyone, to the entire world; for this reason it is important to preserve the land where his spirit lives.
I would like it if the whites know of this ancient history, that they respect it. We Yanomami want the whites on the side of the Indian to not invade our land. We want the whites to help defend--not endanger--our lives.
I, Davi Kipenawa Yanomami, want to help the whites learn with us how to make the world a better place."
----Translated from Portuguese by Karen Beacham. Printed in CULTURAL SURVIVAL, a periodical dedicated to preserving the Earths indigenous peoples. For subscription information, write Cultural Survival,Inc., 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138