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Frequently Asked Questions: September 2020



QUESTION 1:

Wow, this is an amazing story... but don’t you have concerns about ...hmm well "our civilized world" has many illnesses and she might not have the antibodies. Like when Europeans came to America (the continent) and their diseases (smallpox, measles, flu) killed most of the indigenous population ... (and now we have Covid-19)

RESPONSE:

This raises a very interesting and valid concern which comes up quite a bit. Before I get into answering this question as it pertains to my mother, I’d like to discuss a quick point.

First, we must elucidate the characterization of the Yanomami people in the 21st century. Yes, I’m aware, that in popular media and in the headlines, they are often represented as isolated peoples with little to minimal contact with the outside world.


And that is true! Most are very isolated and don’t have frequent contact with non-Yanomami, or napë. I contend there are Yanomami communities that have never seen an outsider. However, there are numerous communities all throughout Yanomami territory that have daily, or frequent, contact with non-Yanomami agents ranging from medical personnel, schools, government functionaries, missionaries, NGOs, visitors, scientists, and on and on.

Let’s take the Mavaca regions of the Upper Orinoco as an example. In that area, there are Yanomami who received training, since the 1970s, in Yanomami Bilingual and Intercultural schools. These communities have learned to read and write in Spanish and in Yanomami as well as other subjects.


Now, in 2020, a bilingual and intercultural education is a highly cherished and supported by the Yanomami people. In fact, the mayor of the Upper Orinoco municipality is a Yanomami from the Mavaca region. This is testament to how the Yanomami want self-representation and agency in how they integrate with the nation state systems.

Today, there are Yanomami schoolteachers, Yanomami medics, Yanomami politicians, etc. Inevitably so, integration involves more than the transculturation process. Outside microbes also become integrated and historically they have devastated the Yanomami. Measles. The flu. Tuberculosis. Malaria.


Terrible epidemics are often directly link to the gold mining, mostly illegal, that is occurring in Yanomami territory. The damage has already been done to these regions. Over time, I suspect that in certain areas there will be a seroprevalence of antibodies found in select communities. I’m not an immunologist and not sure, at a population level, the process works.

This brings to mind the issue surrounding vaccinations which is topic for another day.

Anyway, The point I’m trying to make is that the Yanomami people have already been exposed to a dynamic and varying degrees of outside exposure and we can’t homogenize their characteristics as remote, isolated, and uncontacted like the Native Americans were when the first Europeans came over.


Nevertheless, these concerns are extremely valid and pressing. Because, if the Yanomami that traverse between their two worlds contract a novel infection, they could easily spread the pathogen to communities of the interior that are at much higher risk for morbidity and mortality. Additionally, they don’t have access to medical intervention. Covid-19 is affecting the Yanomami people right now. Read this article: https://news.mongabay.com/2020/08/deaths-of-yanomami-babies-from-covid-19-bring-anguish-to-mothers/


As far as my mother, well, she is unique. She spent almost 6 years here in the US. She received all the vaccination regimens for that time. She is an interesting case. When I travel, I am up on my vaccinations. Flu, Measles, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, etc.

When I’m in the village I don’t share any of my utensils or items. It may be a futile effort, but I really try at least to decrease the risk of spreading any of my imported microbes to my Yanomami family. It’s challenging at times because they don’t understand germ theory or communicability of pathogens.


When I don’t share an item, like my drinking cup, they get frustrated. A culture clash for sure.




QUESTION 2

If you have played non-Yanomami music to them: What was the reaction? When I am looking at this YT video, I am seeing thumbnails of church organs to the right. Any idea of what they would make of seeing and hearing a whole orchestra making music together?

RESPONSE:

Yes! I have played music for the Yanomami. And they absolutely love it. In fact, it’s my mother who makes the initial request. With my smartphone, I’ll put on tunes like Michael Jackson. My mother loved his music as well as songs from Gloria Estefan and Elvis Presley. I’m a punk rock/hard rock type of guy. So, I played an entire 21 Pilots album and they really liked it!

I really don’t have any idea of what they would think of an orchestra. My opinion is that it may be overwhelming with all the strange noises and how loud it would be. In the US, I asked mom if she would like to go to a concert, after I showed her an example on YouTube. She quickly said no because she was afraid of how loud it would be.


One of my fond memories is when we were at a restaurant in Nevada. On a screen was a loop of maybe 60 seconds of an Aretha Franklin music video. In the video was a choreography of women dancing to her song Think. Mom’s smile grew so wide and she was entranced tuning out everything that going on around her. I think it brought back a happy memory. I wanted to ask her so many questions but why ruin such a peaceful, and happy moment for mom. So, I sat and admired her.

QUESTION 3 (Two-part)

Your nephew and niece... are they son and daughter of your brother Ricky? Or another Yanomami brother?

You look just like your brother because both of you look like your mom :) I’m so crushed to hear about your brother's passing--what happened


RESPONSE:

In this video, none were children of my brother, Ricky. Before I left, he had four children, that I was aware of. I was close to his first two, which were boys. In Yanomami culture, I would call them my sons, and they would call me father.

I don’t know their real Yanomami names, but I called them Felipe and Fernando. My mom taught them to call me Dada. A word she learned while she was here in the US. My heart aches with the loss of their father.


I won’t get into too many details. But summarily, there was a hunting accident and large branch had crashed down on him, ultimately killing him. It was a freak accident for sure. But not too uncommon. In fact, where I live here in the Poconos, a woman was killed several years ago by a tree. She was driving and the tree toppled and smashed into her van.


There was a time when I was hiking when a storm had hit. In the middle of the woods, there large branches all around me that fell. Any one of those would have done some extensive damage if it had hit me. It was freak accident, what happened to my brother. He was full of so much ambition. He really wanted to come to the US to do projects with me and meet my family and friends here.


I just hope that Felipe and Fernando know that they have a father up here that always thinks about them and is trying everything he can to get back home to them. Maybe, someday, they will carry on their father’s torch and become a part of this walk to protect the Yanomami people and their Amazonian home




To learn more about the Good Project and support its work with the Yanomami please visit jointhegoodproject.org


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