Although written by Mark Andrew Ritchie, the story of Spirit of the Rainforest is told completely through the eyes of Jungleman, a Yanomamö shaman. The book is his story and the story of his people. From his perspective, in addition to details of his own life Jungleman vividly describes many events for which he was not physically present and may not have even heard about second hand. The assumption of the book is that he saw or understood these things via the spirit world. Jungleman has three main purposes in narrating this story: to relate the intimate connection of his life and his people's lives to the spirit world, to describe the true life of the Yanomamö in both its glory and despair, and to show how the coming of outside peoples, naba, has affected their lives.
Jungleman tells how the spirits began to come to him when he was young. He was afraid of them, but his mother encouraged them to embrace them - he would one day become a great shaman. Throughout the book, Jungleman describes in detail how after coming into relationship with the spirit, many spirits lived inside his chest. He talked with them, asked them for advice, made love to the female spirits, and sought their power for revenge and healing. As a shaman, like the many other shamans, his life was completely enveloped in experiences involving the spirit world (which is intimately tied to the physical world). His people constantly sought the advice and help of the shamans, and he interacted in the spirit world for them. Most important was trying to save the spirits of children from the evil great spirit.
Jungleman shows the very hard life of his people. They live on small gardens the cultivate and the food the warriors bring home. These sources are only reliable, however, when they are at peace, something a village seems to rarely find. They are almost constantly at war with some other village or several other villages, caught up in a cycle of revenge. After they take revenge on a village or initiate a raid, there is a brief period of celebration, but then they begin to worry about the revenge of the attacked village and its allies. They enclose themselves inside their shabono and begin to suffer from lack of food and hygiene. Eventually, they separate into groups, roaming the jungle for food and protection. There is little food, however, and many die, especially the weak and young. Woman and children are treated especially cruelly, women often being raped by raiders, a much older fiancee, a village were they seek protection, or even men in their own village. Men, women, and most children are killed in raids, something of which some warriors have a hard time overcoming the trauma. Many of Jungleman's children and relatives die in his lifetime.
Jungleman describes his first interactions with the naba, how crazy these people seemed to him, yet they had many goods which his people desired. Many villages eventually moved closer to the naba in order to improve their lives. Jungleman describes the great conflicts that take place over many years between anthropologists, missionaries, and their methods of dealing with his people. His spirits become very upset and scared when he is close to the missionaries. He hates their village and he hates that his relatives in the Honey village have chosen to follow the great evil spirit, Yai Pada, who they now say in not evil. The exploitation of his people by many naba, even the missionaries at some points makes Jungleman angry as well. Eventually, Jungleman comes to accept Yai Pada, when Yai Pada rescues him from the attack of his own spirits when they had no more use for him. But Honey village, where most of the Christian converts live, must still struggle with what it means to be Yanomamö and follow Yai Pada and his way of peace. They face many challenges.
This book, in conjunction with the whole concept of the "middle zone" as described in Paul Hiebert's analytical model and taught in MR520, has completely opened my eyes to the possibilities of a much wider and real spirit world than I ever realized from my limited Western perspective. I believe Ritchie has succeeded in truly telling the people's own story. This story shows how intimately we are connected to the spirit world, even here in the West where we barely believe in its existence. That is Satan's lie to the West.
These people, and especially the shamans, live in constant contact with the spirit world which is as real, or more real, to them as the physical world. It is amazing how Satan has lied to these people, given them power, sometimes healed the sick, and how his spirits pretend to serve the shamans. In reality, however, these spirits are leading the Yanomamö ever further into their cycle of revenge and death. The spirits encourage the people to believe that sickness or an accident in their village is a result of a curse put on them by another village's shaman. And so they take revenge… The greatest lie Satan tells them is that God, Yai Pada, is an evil spirit, the great enemy. He twists the truth of God's glory and brightness to tell them that they would burn up if they ever entered his presence. What is amazing is how when a few shaman's eyes were opened to the truth, Yai Pada stepped in and demonstrated his ultimate power and authority over the other spirits. All the shaman's had to do was to ask Yai Pada.
Their is a great deal about both the missionaries,
the anthropologists, and even the author (Ritchie) that can be critiqued
from the stories related in this book. It is commendable of Ritchie that
he did not "pull any punches," so to speak, in telling the story truly
from Jungleman's emic perspective as a Yanomamö. Many of the missionaries
made huge cultural mistakes or forced certain things upon the people. The
anthropologists, on the other hand, wanted to "preserve the people's culture,"
even at the expense of the Yanomamö's health and livelihood. They
wanted to save the culture, but cared little for the people who comprised
that culture, and they were willing to exploit it for their own fame or
benefits. Other outsiders used the people for their own economic gain through
farming, sex, and a human "zoo." Despite their failures, however, some
of the missionaries have effectively opened the door that Satan had close
to Yai Pada. Shoefoot has become an evangelist among his own people, a
man of peace, and a pastor for his people.
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