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The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman
by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, Nicholas Elliott, Alison Dundy


This book is a powerful and moving account of Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami shaman, and his lifelong struggle to protect his people and the Amazon rainforest from the destructive forces of the modern world.

Part 1: Becoming Other

The book opens with Kopenawa's childhood memories of early encounters with white people, who he describes as the "People of Merchandise." These encounters introduced destructive diseases and forced him to confront the threat they pose to his traditional way of life.

Kopenawa recounts his shamanic initiation, learning to see and communicate with the xapiri, the spirit-images of the animal ancestors. He describes the xapiri's role in defending the forest and its people, and details the importance of drinking the hallucinogenic yãkoana powder to achieve a shamanic state.

Part 2: Metal Smoke

This section explores Kopenawa's experiences with white people from the time of his youth until the deadly gold rush that ravaged Yanomami lands in the 1980s. He describes his early encounters with missionaries, soldiers, and government agents. He then reflects on the arrival of gold prospectors, whom he calls “earth eaters,” and their destructive impact on the forest and his people.

Part 3: The Falling Sky

The third part follows Kopenawa's journeys to denounce the attacks on his people and the destruction of the rainforest. He travels to Brazil, Europe, and the United States to speak out against the encroachment of the "People of Merchandise." His encounters with different societies highlight the disparities between the Yanomami way of life and Western civilization.

Kopenawa's account is filled with vivid descriptions of Yanomami traditions, cosmology, and shamanic practices. He warns of the dangers of "metal smoke" - a concept he uses to describe the destructive forces of modern industry and its accompanying epidemics. He sees the destruction of the rainforest as a threat not just to his people, but to all humanity.

He concludes with a chilling warning, a cosmoecological prophecy about the death of the shamans and the falling sky, a symbolic representation of the ecological collapse that he believes will follow if the forest is destroyed.

Key Themes

  • The Intertwined Fate of Humans and Nature: The book highlights the inextricable link between the Yanomami and the Amazon rainforest. Their survival is dependent on the well-being of the forest, and its destruction threatens their very existence.
  • The Dangers of the "People of Merchandise": Kopenawa critiques the Western world's pursuit of material wealth and its impact on the natural world. He blames the "People of Merchandise" for spreading deadly epidemics and devastating the rainforest.
  • The Power of Shamanism: Kopenawa celebrates the wisdom of traditional Yanomami knowledge and the vital role of shamans in protecting the forest and healing the sick. He warns of the dangers of losing this knowledge and the potential ecological collapse that may follow.
  • The Importance of Cross-Cultural Dialogue: The book calls for understanding between different cultures and for recognition of the value of traditional knowledge. It emphasizes the need for a more ethical and responsible approach to the relationship between humans and the natural world.

Overall, "The Falling Sky" is a powerful testament to the wisdom of a traditional society confronting the destructive force of the modern world. It's a book that challenges readers to reconsider their relationship with nature and to recognize the value of indigenous knowledge in finding solutions to the ecological crisis facing the planet.