Is Yaokwa, the ritual of cosmic and social order to be vanished?

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Yaokwa, a ritual practiced by enáuenês-nauês, known also as Salumã, an Indian tribe of Mato Grosso, in Brazil, marks the dry season, during which enáuênes-nauês interact with the creatures of the underworld, called Yakairiti.

Offerings are made for these spirits to calm down their insatiable hunger. In exchange of the relief the food given bring to them, the spirits maintain the social and cosmic order. The preparation of Yaokwa begins in January, cassava harvest time, also the best time to build  fishing traps in rivers Joaquin Rios, Arimena, Black River and Nhambiquara.

The fishermen remove all adornments that can identify them as human, so as to represent the beings of the underworld, the Yakairiti.

The village is divided into nine rituals clans. And after two months of fishing, each clan offers salt to the group of fishermen/ Yakairiti, in exchange for fish. The salt consumption symbolizes the communication between spirits and humans.

On the way back to the village, the fishermen/Yakairiti, again representing the beings of the underworld, encounter the residents of the village. And, after the ritual songs, they again exchange fish for drinks, prepared with cassava and maize.

The ritual lasting months, in the following weeks, the food is to be consumed in night banquets with music, songs and dances to pay tribute and communicate with the world of spirits.

Indeed, constantly maintaining balance and harmony between nature and the spiritual world is essential, as the Enawene Nawe universe has two levels and they are between the two.

The upper level is the living place of Enore Nawe, or celestial spirits, who are the masters of honey and of certain flying insects. They accompany the Enawene Nawein during their fishing parties or their expeditions, and protect them against the dangers of the world surrounding the village. The subterranean level is the realm of yakairiti. The spirits of the world below are of highest importance as the yakairiti are the masters of natural resources, and if you exhaust the earth and the fish, yakairiti will take revenge and kill all the Enawene Nawe…

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UNESCO recognized their importance a few years ago, but are they to be disappear anyway?

In August 2006, has started a process to acknowledge the Yaokwa ritual as a Brazilian intangible UNESCO heritage, after Iphan studies pointed to the risks posed by factors such as the acts of woodcutters and miners in the area, as well as the construction of small hydroelectric dams, changing the natural and social landscape. The request was approved in 2011 with the inscription of Yaokwa in the registry of UNESCO Cultural Heritage, enhancing the urgent need of protecting it. The decision was taken during the meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage in Bali, on the grounds that the Yaokwa « is an extremely delicate and fragile ecosystem whose continuity depends directly on its conservation ».

But today, things are far to be sorted out as the brazilian government announced it would begin the construction of a series of hydroelectric dams upstream of their territory. The Indians oppose the dams which pollute water and will remove the fish that are an essential part of their diet, and by extension that will threaten their forest as well as their rituals and traditions.

Indeed, not polluting their river is all the more of the utmost importance as the Enawene Nawe are one of very few tribes in the world who do not eat red meat. They are expert fishermen catching fish with timbó, a poisonous juice made out of a woody vine. The natural poison is put in the water, so the fishes will rise to the surface, asphyxiated.

Will they have to flee again?

Unfortunately, due to other tribes attacks, they already had to flee, finding no rest in their nomadism and being compelled to abandon their religious centers:

Salumã people had to flee from their primary local source, in the 1940’s, in response to frequent attacks of the Rikbaktsa tribe. They then moved to the inhabited region known as Serra do Norte, where they built villages and dams. In the 1950s, they reached the Iquê margins, which expelled the Nambikwara and from which they were expelled again a few years later. They continued moving up the river Camararé, to settle near a small tributary, the river Spring, inside the Nambikwara territory. There remained until the 1980’s, when they migrated back to the Iquê, where they remain until 2012.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of recognition in their importance by the brasilian governement, will this tribe have to flee again?

Will their beautilful art and tradition is condemned to disappear?

To know more of their art and traditions, find below:

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