The Yawanawá Tribe
The Yawanawá (Laminaua, Jaminawa, Yaminawá) are an indigenous people of about 1,300 people, living in small towns along the Gregorio River: Their homeland Acre (Brazil), and also in Madre de Dios (Peru) and Bolivia.
The Yaminawá language belongs to the Panoan language family. Linguists estimate that fewer than 1600 people speak the language. Very few Yawanawá speak Spanish or Portuguese, and their literacy rate is extremely low.
Interview with a Yawanawá
Nixiwaka Yawanawá resides in London and works with Survival International to raise awareness of the rights of the indigenous Amazonians. His town, Yawanawá, is made up of more than 900 people.
Êwê anê Nixiwaka, Ê Yawanawa ihuhu, êwê yurahûki kânu, pênâku hiash. Mâ ika ânu, matuvê iwânâ, mahu tapipai ê uitamêa. Nênuashê kashê êwê yurahâu ravâna ipai.
My name is Nixiwaka. I am from the Yawanawás. I intend to return to my people one day, but first I want to stay in the UK for a while so that I can help my people when I return.
The name Yawanawá translates as ‘The people of the wild boar’, because as a people we are always together, when we hunt and in life in general. We are a herd. I was born in Kaxinawa, the most sacred part of the lands of the Yawanawás, where my people come from. Kaxinawa is the place where my grandfather and all our great bosses are buried.
We have people known as “jungle doctors.” They know everything there is to know about medicinal plants. They say that this world is a beautiful place to live and that we all have a responsibility to take care of it.
I know that Western medicine is now making use of our plants and remedies that we Yawanawás have used for centuries. From tree bark to frog saliva, we have the answers for both remedies and poisons.
Women smear a type of potato plant called “rau” on their belly to get pregnant. Other plants, such as the so-called “hukâshupa” is used by lovers to foster successful relationships. It is the juice of three ground plants that is applied as a perfume to attract a lover. The jungle is a magical place.
I believe that perhaps the Western world can learn from us to live a more harmonious life and at peace with our environment, combining Yawanawá knowledge with Western ideas.
Since ancient times, the Yawanawás have used “rumê” (a type of snuff made from the bark of a specific tree) as part of our tradition and culture. We normally use “rumê” during our sacred ceremonies with ayahuasca, which we call “uni”.
We have bananas, papaya, sugar cane and cassava or yuca juice (called “caiçuma”) for breakfast. And meat, if it was left over from last night’s dinner. For lunch, there is cassava again, with green plantains and plantain porridge. We had meat and fish for dinner.
My favorite time of the day in the jungle is in the late afternoon, at sunset, when I take our sacred medicine. They all meet in a wide area of open land. At sunset, the birds return to the tacana trees to rest, and the songs of the makukaus birds surround us. It is a very quiet time of day. I miss.
Our land is our home, our friend and comrade. We respect our land very much and we have a responsibility to take care of it.