A Surreal Journey Into The Heart of Yanomami Shamanism

22 Aug 2018

Xapiri (2012) Directed by Leandro Lima e Gisela Motta, Laymert Garcia dos Santos e Stella Senra, Bruce Albert. Colour, sound, 54 mins


Text Sophie Pinchetti

Xapiri is a mesmerizing journey into the incredible and ancient world of Amazonian shamanism. This experimental film documents the shamanic practices of the indigenous Yanomami people, one of the most numerous, and best-known, forest-dwelling tribes in the Amazon River basin in South America.

‘Xapiri’ was filmed in the village of Watoriki Reserve, Roraima, in the Brazilian Amazon over the course of two annual meetings of shamans in March 2011 and March 2012, and included the collaboration of indigenous organization Hutukara Yanomami Association, Laboratory of Culture and Technology Channel/i21, Brazilian Cinematica and the Socio-Environmental Institute.

The directors have noted that the film was designed to have two different notions of the image : the Yanomami and ours. It is not, therefore, an attempt to explain shamanism, methods or procedures, but to make visible and sensitive, the way in which shamans “incorporate” the spirits or xapiri, in their bodies and their voices.

What follows are quotes about the xapiri, Yanomami shamanism and cosmovision by world renowned Yanomami spokesperson and shaman Davi Kopenawa, shared in his amazing book The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman published by Harvard University Press. The images are some of the mesmerizing shots from the Xapiri film. We are transfixed!



“When we drink the yakoana, its great power comes upon us by striking the nape of our neck. So we die and soon become ghosts. Meanwhile the spirits feed on the yakoana through us, who are their fathers.”




“They [the xapiri] are tiny, like luminous flecks of dust, invisible to ordinary people who have only ghost eyes. Only shamans can truly see them. The shiny mirrors they dance on are huge. Their songs are magnificent and powerful. Their thought is right and they work forcefully to protect us.”




“Their heads are covered in white down feathers, which cast a dazzling light, preceding them wherever they go. Only the xapiri are adorned this way. This is why they shine brightly, like stars moving through the forest.”




“Others yet have eyes behind their head! They are spirits of distant forests. They are truly other! It is so. Do not think that all the spirits are beautiful.”




“The spirits’ songs come from these very old trees since the beginning of time. Their fathers, the shamans, merely imitate them in order to let ordinary people hear their beauty. Do not believe the shamans sing at their own initiative! They reproduce the xapiri’s songs, which follow each other into their ears like into microphones.”




“Yanomami shamans do not work for money the way white people doctors do. They simply work so that they sky and forest remain in [place, so that we can hunt, plant our gardens, and live in good health. Our ancients did not know of money […] Money does not protect us, it does not fill our stomachs, it does not create our joy. For white people, it is different. They do not know how to dream with the spirits the way we do. They prefer to ignore that the shaman’s work is to protect the Earth, as much for us and our children as for them and theirs.”




“The Forest Is Alive. It can only die if the white people persist in destroying it. If they succeed, the rivers will disappear underground, the rivers will disappear underground, the soil will crumble, the trees will shrivel up, and the stones will crack in the heat. The dried-up earth will become empty and silent. The xapiri spirits who come down from the mountains to play on their mirrors in the forest will escape far away. Their shamans fathers will no longer be able to call them and make them dance to protect us.”





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