'People in the west live squeezed together, frenzied as wasps in the nest' - A Shaman's Perspective

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An indigenous Yanomami leader and shaman from Brazil shares his views on wealth, the environment and politics

Years ago I met a young Amazonian shaman, or spiritual leader, on his first visit to London. As we went down the escalator into the London Underground I could see he was nervous. All these white people rushing around under the city must be spirits or ghosts, he said. When we emerged, he was himself nearly white, shaken from his cosmological introduction to Britain.

That man was Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, who has since been dubbed the Dalai Lama of the Rainforest and is considered one of the most influential tribal leaders in Brazil. The Yanomami number about 30,000 and occupy a vast territory stretching across northern Brazil and southern Venezuela. They only made full contact with the west in the 1950s when their lands were overrun by thousands of gold prospectors and loggers. After waves of epidemics and cultural and environmental devastation, one in three of all Yanomami, including Davi’s mother, died.