The Nobel Prize of Nature

27 November, 2019
By Marco Levi

… and the winner is: nature

One of the four recipients of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award 2019 – the other important Swedish prize, also known as the “alternative Nobel” – is a key name in the fight for the environment: Davi Kopenawa, alongside the Hutukara Yanomami association from Brazil.

These are the words used by the jury to motivate their decision:

For their bravery and determination in protecting both the Amazon forest and its biodiversity, the land as well as the culture of indigenous populations

Davi was born in the late 1950s near the spring wells of Rio Tootobi, in the Amazonas state, Brazil.

What makes his towering figure really interesting to us, beyond his strenuous defense of the Amazon against the green holocaust caused by rampant capitalism, is the fact that he is a shaman. Therefore, Davi could be seen, in a way, as nature’s conscience fighting to defend nature itself, or, in a wider sense, life as a whole.

 

Capitalism as virus

It is perhaps not widely known that, after the arrival of the Europeans, the most tragic genocides that decimated the peoples of the Americas were not caused by weapons, but by outbreaks. The white conquistadors, and later colonists and gold diggers, violently penetrated territories, untouched for millennia, spreading diseases hitherto unknown to the natives and, most crucially, their immune systems. An epidemic was what killed Davi’s parents, too, just as his entire community. While still a child, the shaman witnessed the end of his home, his atavistic kingdom of trees, rituals, oxygen, humans and magic.

Yet Davi didn’t lose heart, he actually resisted. Until becoming the loudest voice speaking on behalf of his constantly endangered, immense forest. In the 1980s, for instance, he finally managed to establish inviolable frontiers for indigenous populations such as the Yanomami; while in the ‘90s he was able to stop new laws that would have turned the entire Amazon into a bloody ore body.

“The mines won’t bring any good. They will bring many problems, lots of disease and lots of evil, Indian-killing people”

 

When you kill the forest, you kill the sky and the earth

It is no coincidence how, since the early ‘70s, Davi was introduced to shamanism. What is shamanism? In short: an awakening.
Shamans reach a state of consciousness that is mistakenly seen as “supernatural”, if not downright “occult”. The reality, however, is quite different. Supernatural, if anything, is the state of mental enchantment so typical of modern mankind, the exile from nature, the fever dream of turning oneself into image. Shamans, on the other hand, embody the exact opposite: the natural state, namely cosmic energy. The power of the shamans is none other than the power of sky and ground. Nothing else.
In that sense, Davi’s environmental struggle for the preservation of the Amazon takes on a new, far wider meaning. For each native community that he saves, for each tree and inch of land, he is saving the energy of all of humanity, the breath of the origin, still locked deep in the rainforest, as in every heart.


Photo by Nate Johnston on Unsplash