The Yawanawa project is a collaboration to preserve the culture of the Yawanawa and the Amazonian rainforest it depends on.

Why should we care about the Yawanawa?

The Yawanawa Project presents an innovative approach to preserve an indigenous culture and the Amazonian rainforest it depends on. 

The visionary behind our project is Putanny Yawanawa, one of the first two Yawanawa women shamans.  

This project is a collaboration by the Yawanawa and a group of people who look at indigenous entheogenic medicines with diverse neurobiological, pharmacological, anthropological or spiritual interests, but who share the conviction that the knowledge of how to safely provide for entheogenic experiences ought to be regarded as world cultural heritage. 

This shared appreciation allows participants with very different backgrounds, indigenous or urban and from various countries, to find common ground in working together towards the preservation of this heritage. 

We have the hope that this expertise can be monetized and form a revenue stream for the Yawanawa in a way that will allow the tribe to continue a lifestyle that sustains their environment. In part we arrived at this approach by studying various alternative models of aid that have been tried before but that failed. 

An important aspect of this project will be to entice at least a few members of the tribe's younger generation to devote themselves to learn the "profession" of a shaman* because otherwise the tribe will lose this living tradition that has survived millennia.

*Per the request of Nanaputanny and the rest of the Yawanawa, in addition to the development of the Paje Garden and the Sacred Village, one main focus of the Yawanawa Project at this time is to support 7 tribesmen who, since the inauguration of our project on Oct 2011, have chosen and been initiated to become pajes/shamans.    

The men are undergoing a full-time study with their 99 year old elder, paje and keeper of their wisdom "Yawa," to learn the Yawanawa healing modalities, working with the plant medicines, communing & working with the spirits, and everything it takes to become a paje.  

To avoid having these men abandon their studies and their tribal life, and go to the cities to work to support themselves and their families, we invite you to consider making a donation.  Your contribution helps pay for food, gas for boat transportation, tools, supplies, etc... and ensures that our Yawanawa initiates continue immersed in their shamanic studies, keeping their culture and tradition alive. Please visit our donations page to contribute.   The Yawanawa thank you in advance. 


An Article on Al Jazeera about the Yawanawa and other tribes in the Amazon working with Corporations

posted Jan 11, 2013, 12:13 PM by Midori Takata   [ updated Jan 11, 2013, 12:14 PM ]

Original post: Al Jazeera

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - The songs of the Yawanawa tribe have an honesty that seems to penetrate the soul. Adorned in impressive head dresses, the tribal leaders who arrived from Acre, in the Amazon rainforest, home to the world's richest ecosystems, ushered in the spirits to commence the tribe's annual festival.

It is a rare occurrence to witness Yawanawa rituals in the modern metropolis of Rio, thousands of miles away from the home of the tribe - a parallel universe to the burgeoning metropolis. But over the final days of June, a few members of the remote community led the celebration in the outskirts of Rio on a piece of open land with rich foliage, which came close to resembling their ancestral home.

Choosing to commemorate this unique gathering in an urban setting was thought to be one way of reviving cultural pride among the tribe's younger generations, in a bid to restore faith in a way of life that has faced repeated threats of extinction over the past 200 years.

Scenes from the Yawanawa festival
[Zack Embree/Al Jazeera]

Like the Yawanawa, hundreds of Amazonian communities were encouraged by European settlers to exploit the rubber, forestry and mineral resources of their land - turning a great profit for the settlers, while fostering a dependency on continued trade.

The economic interests of those first European settlers, and those who followed, inevitably damaged the environmentally conscious practices that had remained unhindered for thousands of years.

The impact went as far as to make many cultural traditions, languages and methods of preserving the equilibrium of the Amazon extinct.

Before the 19th century, 1000 indigenous languages were spoken in the Amazon basin. Today, only 160 have survived. An estimated 40 million indigenous people lived in Brazil when European settlers arrived. Their numbers have now dwindled to fewer than one million. But those who remain stand strong.

This strength was evident at the indigenous summit that took place alongside the Rio+20 sustainability conference, where 500 tribes from across the globe, gathered at Kari Oca, a native Indian site, to sign a new pact that proposed pragmatic solutions to preserve biodiversity and counter climate change. It was the largest gathering since 1992, when the first Earth Summit took place in Rio.

Chief Biraci Yawanawa, who led the ceremony, is a man who seems to have a warm glow about him. His pragmatism is evident in the initiatives that he and his community have undertaken in terms of creating sustainable methods of using their natural resources and regaling their rich heritage to the wider community.

"We have much to learn from the Western world and they can learn from us," he told Al Jazeera. "Our youth has benefited from the education present in cities, but we also want Brazilians to know more about our ancient culture and the importance of preservation through mutual respect."

Situated deep in the Amazon, where electricity is largely only a possibility through harnessing solar energy, the Yawanawa have eagerly espoused the advent of technology, especially the internet, in gaining access to the world. They have been joined by several other tribes who have teamed up with technological giants such as Google.

Technology for preservation

Due to the remoteness of the regions that the Yawanawa and other tribes have called home for thousands of years, very little is known, even within Brazil, about their cultural heritage, their role as the "keepers of the Amazon" and how their existence is inextricably bound to the preservation of the forests and waterways of their land.

In order to rectify this communication gap, leaders of some of these communities decided that a "written" record of their history, location and geography would imbibe strong cultural values among current and future generations, help them better preserve their habitat and aid in tracking illegal logging and other environmentally hazardous activity. Google has been a prime collaborator in such "cultural mapping and institutional strengthening" programmes.

At Rio+20, Google's outreach team unveiled the outcome of their project with the Surui indigenous people, a 1,200 strong tribe living in the northwestern Brazilian state of Rondonia. The result of this collaboration is a three-dimensional map of the tribe's location, including photos, video and satellite images. The five-year process entailed extensive training for the younger members of the tribe, from research to data collection and use of the technology.

"The community members did all the work and also determined the type of data collected and how it would be visualised. The first map was then produced by them on paper, together with professional cartographers and GIS experts, who then transformed the map into a GIS database," Vasco van Roosmalen, Director of Equipe de Conservacao da Amazonia (ECAM) explained.

Chief Almir, who pioneered the project for the Surui, is confident that using technology to communicate with the world is his tribe's best chance of ensuring their own long term survival and that of their ancestral territory.

"With technology, we have been able to combine science and our traditional knowledge to gain a better understanding of our forests and the challenges we face, and to attract partners and support to find and implement solutions," he told Al Jazeera. "Technology like the internet and handheld Android phones - which can collect and send data instantly - allow us to communicate directly what is happening in our forests to our partners, the government and to the global public."

Emboldened by this success, Google has formulated a wide ranging program to help other tribes of the Amazon, including the Yawanawa, and others across the world. So far, their conservation program has managed to implement partnerships with 20 distinct groups. The eventual goal is to make the technology and skills accessible and affordable to communities worldwide, allowing them to independently implement mapping systems.

Young members of the Yawanawa dance at the festival
[Zack Embree/Al Jazeera]

"Like the Surui, the Yawanawa are an amazing community who have been at the forefront in developing innovative partnerships," remarked Roosmalen. "Their partnership with the cosmetics company Aveda was years ahead of its time. They will certainly take this process to another level."

Partnering with 'civil society'

Although Rio+20 brought little consolation to ecologists, in terms of governments' pledges to counter climate change and depleting biodiversity, the collaborative efforts of hundreds of civil society organisations that convened in the capital were, to many activists, the most redeeming features of the event.

Groups ranging from global movements such as Greenpeace to local organisations from rural communities showcased their ongoing efforts on the ground, their perspectives of what sustainable development should entail, and long term solutions for issues that directly impact their communities and livelihoods. Some 200 such organisations gathered in Rio to observe the UN-led proceedings.

In the civil society-led events at Rio+20, "indigenous rights" - as related to preserving biodiversity and ecosystems - featured heavily, especially given 1.4 billion acres of rich rainforest that occupies the host nation's Amazon basin. The hundreds of indigenous tribes that have been its protectors for thousands of years were a central focus of these discussions.

Over recent years, ties between local environmental organisations and indigenous communities have strengthened, with the aim of re-connecting the severed bonds between urban centres and faraway, traditional settlements.

The Brazil-based Instituto Guardioes de Floresta (IGF) aims to bridge this communication gap by relaying the tribes' ancient knowledge of sustainable living through documentary films, books and cultural exchanges.

"Due to the 'un-sustainability' of our current way of life on the Earth, it is time we re-think our actions as part of a global transition towards a new consciousness," said Mauro Lacombe, programme coordinator at IGF. "It is time to establish alternative ways of living and relating to each other and the planet."

Along with aiding indigenous groups to record their ancestral knowledge in traditional medicine for posterity, IGF facilitates training in new methods of sustainable development for the communities, and cultural exchanges and exhibitions that convey the history and importance of ancient tribal practices to the outside world.

The week-long festival was one such effort, organised by IGF, to coincide with the Rio+20 that brought together government delegates, NGO workers and corporations.

"Corporations are all too often viewed as opponents of indigenous people - but this can be changed by entering into a new relationship and showing a new model of relationship between indigenous people and corporations, one that is based on mutual respect, reciprocity and trust."

- Pearl Gottschalk, Lush Cosmetics

Allying with the private sphere

Many civil society organisations attending Rio+20 explicitly rejected the idea of corporations as innovators of sustainable development. And many NGOs treat the idea of commodifying nature as items of environmental "capital" to create "green economies" with scepticism because it does not, in their eyes, address long term solutions independent of a profit-driven agenda. However, corporations do have the resources and capacity to become important allies in aiding marginalised communities.

Socially minded initiatives led by the private sector have existed years before the idea of a "green economy" became the focus of the UN in Rio.

In addition to non-profit organisations, "ethical corporations" are increasingly collaborating with indigenous communities. The Charitypot campaign of UK-based Lush Cosmetics, for example, donates all profits from sales of specific products towards sustainable development projects for Amazonian tribes.

Pearl Gottschalk, Lush's ambassador for charitable giving has travelled to many of these hard-to-reach communities. Based on her observation of proceedings at the Rio conference, she said that governments are sorely lagging in their commitments towards the rights of indigenous people as guaranteed under international conventions - the primary ones being ILO Convention 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"Partnering with these communities aligns with our values of environmental preservation by supporting those who are the original caretakers of the planet and most affected by development on their traditional territory," commented Gottschalk.

The company has collaborated with tribal members in successfully implementing sustainable production systems in agro-forestry, reforestation of natural springs and biocultural protection programmes - efforts that governments could easily emulate on a much larger scale, provided the political will exists.

Give these cases of success, the general concept of corporations as "leading partners" in creating sustainable and environmentally friendly economies, as propagated by the UN, is not an entirely hollow concept.

As explained by Gottschalk: "Corporations are all too often viewed as opponents of indigenous people but this can be changed by entering into a new relationship and showing a new model of relationship between indigenous people and corporations, one that is based on mutual respect, reciprocity and trust."

Roosmalen, meanwhile, pointed out that the greatest strength of private enterprises is that they are able to move at a pace that overly bureaucratic UN mechanisms and government initiatives cannot achieve.

"The private sphere brings a tremendous suite of tools, knowledge and resources to the table," he said. "When properly deployed and in partnership with groups who understand community processes, they can make all the difference."

Grassroots organisations such as IGF say they have benefited from teaming up with both the private sector and governmental organisations in implementing their programmes.

A constellation of governmental, non-governmental and private enterprises working collaboratively and in conjunction with each other, while - most importantly - heeding the needs of the afflicted communities appears to be the only "sustainable" solution to many of the challenges faced by indigenous groups - regardless of the myriad resolutions passed at international gatherings.

Follow Preethi Nallu on Twitter: @preethinallu

Correction: An earlier published version of this article erroneously identified Pearl Gottschalk, of Lush Cosmetics, and incorrectly stated that only ten per cent of profits from sales of products within the Charitypot campaign range were donated to sustainable development projects. We apologise for the errors.

Kanehu Yawanawa - traditional songs sang by the younger generations

posted Jan 9, 2013, 4:42 PM by Midori Takata   [ updated Jan 9, 2013, 4:45 PM ]

Kanehu Yawanawa - Yawanawa Festival 2012

During my visit to the Yawanawa tribe I had the great pleasure to stay in Nanaputanny and Chief Biraci's home.  I shared a room with one of Biraci's young daughters "Kanehu".   This is a video I recorded of her playing guitar and singing traditional Yawanawa songs.  Enjoy!

~Midori Takata

Yawanawa Pajes (Shamans)

posted Jan 9, 2013, 1:59 PM by Midori Takata   [ updated Jan 9, 2013, 3:57 PM ]

One important aspect of the Yawanawa Project is to preserve the Yawanawa culture and make sure its oral healing tradition is passed on to the next generations.   A way in which we are doing this is by enticing and supporting the younger generations to take on the "profession" of a paje (shaman).   

Nanaputanny and the rest of Yawanawa find this to be of utmost importance since their paje elders, and keepers of the Yawanawa wisdom "Yawa" and "Tata" are in their nineties.  If one of them were to pass on without teaching their knowledge, a library of information about the Yawanawa language, culture, the rainforest and its healing plant medicines would be forever lost.  

Since the inauguration of our project back in October 2011, 7 tribesmen have chosen and been initiated into Yawanawa shamanhood.  The process to become a paje isn't easy, it requires a lot of time, energy, discipline and dedication.  This is why a main focus of our fundraising is to support these men.  So that rather than having to abandon their shamanic studies and tribal life to go to the cities and work to support themselves and their families, through your donations they can continue immersed in their full-time initiation.   This way we ensure the Yawanawa healing tradition & culture is passed on and remains alive for future generations.  

Below please find an update given to us by Putanny Yawanawa regarding the men who have been initiated and the goals of this mission. 

~Midori Takata
Yawanawa Project Coordinator

(4 Yawanawa paje initiates and Nanaputanny & Midori of the Yawanawa Project in the center)

Background/training of Pajés (Shamans):

How many entered into the process of the dieta:

There were six* Yawanawas: Peu (23 years old), Tuykuru (30 years old), Yskuka (22 years old), Tenewa (17 years old), Mavi (34 years old), Tyma (75 years old).

The issue of formation/training of the new pajés:

For us to be able to give continuity to our tradition, to have the security that our knowledge and understanding is guarded and kept by the Yawanawa ourselves, that our children will not need to research in the museums nor with the anthropologists, but to be able to hear their own brother Yawanawa, our stories, songs, or medicines…our young people today are losing interest in learning our tradition, they are interested in external things outside our aldeia (indigenous village), our old people are already very elderly…

Description of what is developed during the training:


Prayers: during the process of the dieta they remain listening when the pajé is saying a prayer for the sick person. They go ahead and continue to listen so that they can have affinity, so that the prayer can penetrate their thoughts and heart, thus understanding the language of prayer is another Yawanawa, language of the spirits.

Power of the Word: The word has to be unique, the apprentice should not speak empty words, the word that comes out comes from the thought to the mouth and confirms what is in the heart.

Language: The Yawanawa language amongst our people is being used as a second language, during this process it is being rescued as a language. The apprenticeship, however, is only in Yawanawa.

Traditional songs: Our traditional songs are the songs that are passed from generation to generation. The apprentices listen to them to record them in their heart.

Received songs: Our received songs are those that, during the process of the dieta, are received in a dream, during  a vision with uni (miração with ayahuasca), inspiration in the moment that they are living, of an action, or a movement.

Healing and invocation: The healings are done with the force of thoughts, the hands, and the confirmation of words, when they are in the dieta it is normal for people to become sick so that the healing can be done, so that the initiate can work. The healing has to be done with the use of rapé, during the process  with the drink uni, invoking the spirits to come do a healing on your behalf.

Time of the diet: Our dietas, of the Yawanawa people, for this sacred plant, are for one year. In truth, says the pajé, it is said that it is for your entire life.

What is the diet: Our dieta is a commitment you have with the spirits. The material need to be consecrated in order for the spirit to be able to be worked, with things that are not seen or touched but are felt.

-Don’t drink water, it has to be caiçuma (a traditional drink made with a mixture of water and fermented corn or manioc).

-Don’t eat sweets, not even fruits.

-Don’t eat salt.

-Don’t have contact with a woman, sexual relations

-Don’t eat meat

-You can’t eat any kind of fish

-You must eat and drink bitter things

-Use rapé

-Drink Uni

-Don’t be afraid

-Don’t be amongst other people (isolation)

-Eat slowly

-Walk slowly

-Use purifying plants

-Always be painted by nane and paxiti

-Always burn sacred incense (cepa)

-Be in the forest, among the plants, to be able to feel the affinity and dream.

Control of thoughts: During the dieta, you need to work a lot on your thoughts, control your mouth (words), your listening, your heart, your eyes. If your thoughts are controlled, your body obeys.

Blowing: When a person is on dieta, their blowing (puffing) is a healing blow, a blow of power and force of thought. It is as if it was a very strong wind cleaning everything that is bad. It’s done during the healing of a sick person, during the process of drinking, before an initiate is to go to sleep, and upon awakening in the morning he would blow to the heavens asking for good thoughts, he would blow to the forests asking for much abundance of food.

Pana’s dream: Pana was in a soccer field playing ball when suddenly from one side of the field, a smiling woman appeared, who shot an arrow. This arrow wounded his thigh. He woke up feeling sick with his leg hurting and throbbing, hot as if there was a tumor, it increased up to his arm and the young guy, without waiting any longer, was brought to the city by his father. He arrives at the hospital and the doctor gave him medication. He takes the medication but does not heal or feel better. The doctor does exams, but nothing shows up in any of the exams. Some people say that this was a hex (sorcery), his father loses hope, but then he remembers that the young Yawanawa made the sacred oath and are in the dieta in the sacred village, so he asks for help to bring his son all the way there. He arrives and the pajé says he is with the young men in the dieta, and the initiates begin to do the healing. In one week he begins to get better. And now Pana is married and ready to build a family and is healed!

By Nanaputanny Yawanawa

 Translation by Kristen Joy Galbreath

*As of Oct 2012 there are 7 paje initiates.


posted Feb 20, 2012, 10:04 PM by Midori Takata   [ updated Jan 9, 2013, 1:14 PM ]

Dear friends of the Yawanawa Project, 

We bring you some exciting news from the Amazon.  On October 2011 Paulo Roberto, Hartmut Neven, and Peter Read delivered the first batch of your donations to begin the first phase of the Yawanawa Project: The Paje Garden.  

The Paje Garden, which was received in a vision by shaman Nanaputanny (one of the first two women shamans of the Yawanawa), is an endeavor to assemble medicinal and sacramental plants which the Yawanawa have utilized for a multitude of cures and remedies.  And from which they have created formulas for insomnia, skin diseases, snake bite, fertility and contraception; also to increase or diminish libido, to reduce fever, back pain, rheumatism, diarrhea, gastritis, and more...

Since our visit during the Yawanawa Festival, they have gathered 29 of the first 100 plants listed; some which were thought to require long journeys through the jungle, but which were actually found closer to their village.

Currently those studying to be pajes/shamans are in a special retreat at the Sacred Village.  The retreat is an initiation that lasts several months and consists of the consumption and communion with "Muka" -The potato Muka, meaning bitter in several languages, is considered one of the most sacred powerful plants of the forest.  Through Muka the apprentices can see, learn and converse with the powerful spirits of the forest. 

A strict diet is designed by Yawa for each individual.  The diet requires them to fast from most foods, sugars, even water... the only liquid they are allowed to drink is the bitter kaizuma juice.  The retreat and dieta are intended to cleanse and purify the body, mind and soul in preparation for the path as a page and to commune with the Muka.  

We were delighted to hear that due to our visit, excitement was generated and several more apprentices than expected joined the initiation.  This in a very important piece and a big success to the project, as its main intention is to help preserve the Yawanawa culture for future generations.   

We await till the end of March to hear about how the retreat went and how the plant collection continues its progress.  We will bring you more news as they become available.  

We thank you for the contributions you made to help kick start the project.  We are still collecting donations to continue with the first phase, if you have the means and feel called please click on "donations" to contribute.

Thank you again, and please stay in touch.

Midori Takata 
for the Yawanawa Project


Song by Shaman / Paje Manoel Vicente Yawarani

posted Jan 26, 2012, 7:06 PM by Midori Takata   [ updated Jan 26, 2012, 7:07 PM ]

A beautiful song and video of shaman/Pajé Manoel Vicente Yawarani of the Yawanawa tribe.

Songs from the Yawanawa festival

posted Jan 17, 2012, 11:11 PM by Kevin Goslar   [ updated Jan 26, 2012, 7:00 PM ]

Ayahusca music recording session by the igarape at the Yawanawa Festival 2011, Acre, Brazil. This song calls the force of rapé, shuru, tobacco, and many animals of the forest. Musicians from left to right are Tuim Huni Kui, Ninawa Pai da Mata, Ninawa's brother, Thiago Moreno Maia.

Video from our Fundraiser event is online!

posted Jan 17, 2012, 10:47 PM by Kevin Goslar

Paulo Roberto Silva e Souza addresses the various aspects of the Yawanawa project. He talks about the Yawanawa tribe and their homeland, the most important medicinal and sacramental plants, makes the case why this knowledge is worth preserving, how it has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the working of the human mind, and reports on the progress the project has made so far.


posted Jan 17, 2012, 10:45 PM by Kevin Goslar

Festival Yawa

OCT 25-30

The festival takes place in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, in the state of Acre. For details about attending and participating in the Yawa Festival this OCT 25-30, please contact:

This Festival is a spiritual celebration of dancing, artistic movements and mystical histories from Yawanawá origin. This happening is a glance over a vivid culture and its links to their ancestors and its cultural traditions. People are allowed to participate just by a direct invitation from the organizers: doors were opened just for the Festival period and just for who might have a specific interest for their culture, contributing for the maintenance of the Tribe.

The Festival makes us think about the way we, occidental people, understand educational programs and how the Yawanawá people learn and use the natural resources in a sustainable way and even forbid irrational hunting guaranteeing animal reproduction.

During the day the Indians wear their typical skirt made of buriti’s straw, and hats made of Arara, parrot and hawk downs.  Typical food is served, art crafts are exposed, healthy flirts between women and men, dances and telling stories and playing very interesting and funny animal games: the wild jaguar, the big snake, the sexy monkey, the fierce bees and so on.

At night the Xamanic rituals happen. They are conducted for the cure of people and earth. Then the ‘Pagelança’ starts. It is the awakening for the inner knowledge and self-improvement. In this ritual they drink the ‘Sagrada UNI (or Ayahuasca ,or Daime): a mixture of Tobacco, ashes from the bark of TSUNU trees – considered one of the top ten Brazilian medicinal plants –, and the Sananga (eyewash made from roots juice). These are fundamental ingredients for the transformation and cure. Then, it begins the chant that represents the portal to take them to the level of their ancestral.

~ by Marcos Lopes

Fundraiser at Project Butterfly

posted Jul 26, 2011, 7:56 AM by Kevin Goslar   [ updated Aug 6, 2011, 1:44 PM ]

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