This is an astonishing book, a gripping story, and a poetic revelation of an entirely different world view than our own. Every single page sparkles with provocative meditations on the impact that industrial societies have on the environment and the role of Yanomami shamans in protecting it for the sake of all humanity. “The shamans do not only repel the dangerous things to protect the inhabitants of the forest. They also work to protect the white people who live under the same sky. This is why if [the shamans] die, the white people will remain alone and helpless on their ravaged land... If they persist in devastating the forest, all the unknown and dangerous beings that inhabit and defend it will take revenge....The sky, which is as sick from the white people's fumes as we are, will start moaning and begin to break apart" (pp. 404-405).
The authorship of this gem is unprecedented: rather than being yet another in a long list of studies of the Yanomami written by outsiders, “The Falling Sky” is the first book narrated by a Yanomami author, Davi Kopenawa. No other treatise offers this insider‘s perspective; no other narrative takes us so intimately into the confidences of the Yanomami people; no other account so dramatically unravels the extraordinary complexity of Yanomami philosophy. None of our self-critiques of what our industrial societies are doing to the environment rings quite so authentically as Davi Kopenawa's, written as it is from a point of view that is unique, startling, and riveting. Besides his intriguing explanations of Yanomami beliefs, Kopenawa is also a sort of indigenous anthropologist studying Western society, turning the tables on who studies whom. As perceptive as many Western anthropologists have been, none has the vantage point that Kopenawa does as someone who grew up Yanomami and, based on later intercultural experiences, learned how to translate Yanomami concepts to foreigners in a way that no one else has ever succeeded in doing. He says, “I did not learn to think about the things of the forest by setting my eyes on paper skins. I saw them for real by drinking my elders’ breath of life… I had my account drawn in the white people’s language so it could be heard far from the forest. Maybe they will finally understand my words… Then their thoughts about us will cease being so dark and twisted and maybe they will even wind up losing the will to destroy us. If so, our people will stop dying in silence, unbeknownst to all, like turtles hidden on the forest floor” (p. 23).
Only someone with an ethnocentric bias, like Alice Friedemann, who reviewed this book without even reading it (!), would so categorically dismiss such a ground-breaking book or urge potential readers to buy an entirely different book, written by an American academic whose anti-Yanomami biases have been criticized for decades by numerous commentators. Native voices have been silenced for centuries by repressive colonial powers: did Alice really have to add insult to injury by censoring “The Falling Sky”? Isn’t it time we just stop listening to our own babbling and, for once, hear what a survivor from one of the last remote tribes has to say? She pretends to offer apologies to Kopenawa as she goes on a witch hunt after Bruce Albert, the anthropologist who interviewed Kopenawa and helped him prepare the book for publication, but her mea culpa rings hollow, since she advises skipping the book altogether. More turtles may die unbeknownst to all…
For correctives to Alice Friedemann’s warped review, readers should check out the pointed replies to her post offered by professionals who are familiar with the Yanomami. It is especially worthwhile to read Bruce Albert’s refutation of her unwarranted attacks on him and his defense of Davi Kopenawa; unfortunately, his remarks are buried in the “Comments” link under Alice’s review, but readers can access it through the appropriate button.