Therme Art Program

THERME ART AND IMPACT ONE VISIT THE INDIGENOUS YAWANAWÁ COMMUNITY IN BRAZIL

24-28 September 2022 | Acre, Brazil

Therme Art, Impact One and One Health Research Centre (OHRC) visited the Yawanawá people of Aldeia Sagrada in Brazil, spending a week learning about harmonious coexistence with nature. The science and development-focused trip sought to illustrate the symbiosis between humans and their environment.

The team learned from the Yawanawá community about human existence in harmony with nature, the healing properties of plants growing on their land, and non-extractive human activities and architecture. Impact One and OHRC believe that our failure to grasp the effects that living in disconnected ecosystems has on our physical and mental wellbeing is a source of the relentless demolition of nature, and thus our own health, on a global scale. This scientific and development-focused trip sought to illustrate the symbiosis between humans and their environment and to build a long-lasting future collaboration with the Yawanawá community.

Following the introductory trip to Aldeia Sagrada, Impact One and OHRC visited Sao Paolo for three days to host a roundtable discussion as part of its ongoing Wellbeing Culture Forum series. Each panellist contributed their field of expertise to engage in a holistic conversation about indigenous culture, rituals, spirituality and plant medicine. 

Impact One and OHRC are invested in the sustained mission to promote a collective paradigm shift towards improved global physical and mental health by advocating the benefits of establishing a deeper sense of alignment with our natural world and other ancient forms of wisdom. Impact One and OHRC are further dedicated to creating impact-driven investment models that provide long-term revenue flows to fund existing biodiversity and land conservation practices, as well as custodianship of native ecosystems, taking place in the Amazon and beyond. 

Background

For thousands of years, the indigenous Yawanawá tribe––which translates to ‘The People of the Wild Boar’––has harmoniously existed in the state of Acre along the banks of the Rio Gregório in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. In recent centuries, however, their community witnessed the introduction of ethno-tourism combined with legal threats to their land from their own government. In the 14th century, the western world made its first contact with the Yawanawá people, creating a tumultuous period of conflict between rubber barons and protestant missionaries who occupied their land and outlawed Yawanawá language, culture, and tradition. 

In 1977, the Yawanawá indigenous land was recognised and delimited according to inaccurate perimeters. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Yawanawá community feared recrimination from the rubber barons and the construction of road BR-364, which was proposed to be built through the state of Acre. In the 1980s, chief Biraci Brazil Nixiwaka led his tribe to reconquer the rights over their ancestral land of 200.000 hectares. Through his resilient leadership, the Yawanawá became the first indigenous people in Acre to obtain official rights to their land. In 2005 the FUNAI created a working group to alter the demarcation of their indigenous land, awarding the Yawanawá and Katukina people with an additional 95.000 hectares. The Yawanawá have since upheld their sacred rituals, medicines, songs and dances, festivals, games, traditional body painting and adornment, art, and cuisine. 

Today 1.200 Yawanawá reside in Aldeia Sagrada, which remains dedicated to spiritual healing and practices and is home to both the burial grounds of the Yawanawá people’s ancestors and a vast garden that grows over 2.700 species of medicinal plants.

Biodiversity & Traditions

The Yawanawa territory in the Indigenous Land of Rio Gregório, located in Tarauacá Municipality of the Brazilian state of Acre, comprises 187.400 hectares of Amazonian rainforest. The maintenance and protection of this territory against extractive commercial operations is the result of continuing advocacy by the community, through the Sociocultural Association of Yawanawá (Associação Sociocultural Yawanawá), a cooperative organisation of the indigenous Amazonian Yawanawá people and their partners.

The Amazon Rainforest is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, home to the largest tropical forest in the world and host to an incredible 2,5 million species of insects, and 2.000 birds and mammals. At least 40.000 plant species, 3.000 fish, 1.294 birds, 427 mammals, 428 amphibians, and 378 reptiles have been scientifically classified in the region to date. While the Yawanawa territory has successfully maintained 95% of its biodiversity, aided by a variety of conservation and education efforts, the continued preservation of this crucial habitat remains more urgent than ever. 

The biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest contains innumerable sources of medicinal plants with myriad healing properties, only a small percentage of which have been studied and tested for active compounds to be used in modern medicine. The wealth of knowledge available on the properties and uses of medicinal plants is largely possessed by indigenous communities, including the Yawanawa, who over centuries have developed sophisticated systems of application, from diagnosis to treatment. The Yawanawa have actively incorporated plants such as Rume, Sacred Tea, Sananga, Kambo, Nipu plant baths, Urucum and Jenipapo into their healing and treatment repertoire. Its protection is crucial for planetary health to prosper due to its unique biodiversity, various indigenous cultures, climate regulation, gene banks, freshwater reservoirs, and more.

Over the last two decades, the Yawanawá community has seen a cultural revival incorporating festivals, spirituality, a return to studying shamnic science and medicine, and an overall pride in their culture and language. In 2002, the Yawanawá and Katukina opened their village Nueve Esperanza held a meeting at the old andiroba factory to reflect on they lost touch with their ancestors’ traditions and customs. During this period, the community asked their elders––such as Raimundo Tuin Kuru and shaman Tatá––ways they could revitalise their culture. They organised an annual week-long celebration of song, dance, art, traditional food and sacred rituals to strengthen their own identity and rights, which became the subject of a documentary they created called “Yawa, the History of the Yawanawá People.”