The Yawanawa community is indigenous to the Amazon in the Brazilian State of Acre. With a total population of over 1200, the Yawanawa people live in villages nestled along the banks of the Gregório river; here they protect thousands of acres of rainforest.
The Yawanawa people's history is believed to go back millennia, with the first contact made with the western world only a little over a century ago. Despite the influence of external forces and continuous challenges from outsiders, the Yawanawa have managed to maintain their traditional way of life and preserve their culture.
The Yawanawa culture includes a deep connection to the natural world through ancestral wisdom, plant medicine and environmental stewardship and their traditional way of life is based on subsistence agriculture, hunting and fishing.
The Yawanawa Chiefs
The Yawanawa community is represented in this initiative by chiefs Biraci Nixiwaka Brasil, Putanny Yawanawa and Isku Kua Biraci Brasil Junior, leaders of the villages of Aldeia Sagrada and Nova Esperança.Read more →
Terra Indígena Rio Gregório
Under Nixiwaka's leadership, in 1984 the Yawanawa became the first tribe in the Amazonian region of Acre to legally demarcate their indigenous territory, as the Terra Indigena Rio Gregório. They expelled invaders from their lands and established themselves as active leaders for indigenous rights, both in the region and on a wider global scale.
The Terra Indígena Rio Gregório is a protected indigenous land that is located in the state of Acre, Brazil. The territory is located in the western part of the state, near the border with Peru and covers an area of 187,000 hectares.
The region is characterised by dense rainforests, with a high level of biodiversity and significant cultural importance to the local indigenous populations. The Rio Gregório river, which runs through the area, is an essential source of food, water, and transportation for the communities that have made their homes here since time immemorial.
Aldeia Sagrada and Nova Esperança
Aldeia Sagrada is the ancestral home of the Yawanawa people, where they are said to have lived since time immemorial. It is also the place where the first contact by Westerners was made and where the Yawanawa endured decades of oppression. After establishing Terra Indígena Rio Gregório, Nixiwaka recognised the need for a fresh start. In 1987, the last remaining missionaries still living on the land were sent away. The Yawanawa had endured a difficult history in the last decades in Aldeia Sagrada, and Nixiwaka saw the importance of leading the community away and allowing his people to begin a new chapter to renew their self esteem and reclaim their culture and traditions. In 1992, Nixiwaka founded aldeia Nova Esperança, and in 2002, hosted the first Yawa Festival in celebration of their traditional dances, songs, games and rituals that were previously forbidden. Every year, the festival receives guests from around the world, as well as other indigenous groups, to take part in the celebration. 20 years later, the Yawa Festival has inspired a thriving movement of cultural revival among the Yawanawá and other indigenous communities in the state of Acre and around Brazil.
Aldeia Sagrada Yawanawa © Camilla Coutinho
Since then, Nova Esperança remains the largest Yawanawa community, home to 45 families and a population of about 300 people, with a school, a cultural center, a large plant nursery and 4 fish ponds. Nova Esperança is now led by Nixiwaka’s son, Isku Kua. The village of Aldeia Sagrada had been long overgrown with jungle by the time Nixiwaka and Putanny returned in 2004. Over the years they visited often, and began rebuilding the village, the old ceremonial house and plant diet center, continuing the work of healing the wounds of Yawanawa history. In 2019, they moved back to Aldeia Sagrada, making it once again their permanent home. Today, Aldeia Sagrada is a space devoted to spirituality, strengthened by the presence of the burial grounds of the Yawanawa ancestors and with a garden of over 2,700 varieties of medicinal plants. Here the sacred initiations of Yawanawa spiritual leaders are carried out, through reflective isolation and strict plant diets, and the village has become a symbol of the resilience and strength of the Yawanawa people.
“The forest is magical. You can’t see it, it doesn’t leave a trace. This is nature how it is, this harmony, this is where everything began”
– Nixiwaka Yawanawa, Chief of Aldeia Sagrada
Aldeia Sagrada Yawanawa © Camilla Coutinho
Arts and Craftmanship
The Yawanawa are a very creative people with a long history of artistic expression. They are well known for their colourful, intricate beadwork, which is often used in the creation of ceremonial adornment. In Aldeia Sagrada, the sisters Nawashahu and Mukashahu make their art inspired by their spirituality and the memory and wisdom of their ancestors, mixing patterns, visions, and dreams that convey the history, strength, and beauty of the Yawanawa people.
The creation stories say that in ancestral times, when the Yawanawa people were born into the world, they received the gift of song. Music is deeply interwoven in all aspects of Yawanawa life. Until very recently, traditional Yawanawa culture did not include any musical instruments - their voice was their instrument, used to pray with and speak to the spirit world.
In the last decade, the Yawanawa youth have added instruments such as guitars, flutes and drums to their traditional rituals and prayers, and an exceptional musical culture has been growing deep in the Amazon rainforest. With their powerful voices and phenomenal music, the new generation of Yawanawa share the message of the forest and the wisdom of their ancestors with the world.
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