Yawanawa Tribe: Critical Lessons From This Indigenous Culture

Deep in the jungles of Brazil, many days from western civilization, and eight hours from cell service, the Yawanawa tribe live with similar customs as they have for thousands of years.

Like most indigenous people, they are not free from western influence, but as the guardians of almost half a million acres of Brazilian rainforest, they have maintained many of their practices.

The Yawanawa people (also known as Yaminawa, Jaminawa, and “people of the wild boar”) are small in number with only 1,000 – 1,600 remaining members of the tribe.

The Yawanawa have remained in harmony with their environment and serve as an example to western culture with relevant practices, such as the ceremonial use of ayahuasca, that are becoming powerful forces on a global stage.

Reaching the Yawanawa

Contact with the Yawanawa tribe in Brazil is challenging. Our handmade beaded Yawanawa bracelets made from women of the tribe require a major effort simply to communicate.

The last time we ordered, a man named Edilino traveled by boat with the bracelets up to the city of Tarauaca. This was the closest city where he and the tribe could receive Western Union payment

In fact, the tribe was so isolated the payment for the bracelets was used to purchase supplies, such as soap, in Tarauaca for the village.

Needless to say, we were very pleased to support the Yawanawa in this direct way.

To provide more context about how remote and isolated the Yawanawa people are, here is a brief itinerary a friend of Oyasin took in order to reach the tribe:

  • 24 hours of flight (from Texas to Brazil)
  • 8 – 10 hour drive to Tarauaca, Brazil
  • 2 – 3 hour drive to Harbor Town, Brazil
  • 6 hour boat ride to Sete Estellas (Yawanawa village)
  • 3 hour boat ride to Mutum (another Yawanawa village)

In fact, if you look on a map, you will see the Yawanawa live so deep in the interior of Brazil, it is closer to the west coast and Peru than the major Brazilian cities on the coast!


Who Are the Yawanawa?

The translation of Yawanawa is “people of the wild boar” and as this name implies, they are subsistence hunters living in tribal communities deep on the Amazon jungle.

The approximately 1,000 – 1,600 Yawanawa live in 8 tribal villages along the Gregorio River in a way similar to their ancestors.

Between 1880 until today, rubber tapping and large-scale commercialization of the Amazon basin led to the destruction and degradation of numerous indigenous peoples.

The Yawanawa were largely spared due, in part, to leadership of specific Yawanawa spiritual leaders and their allies.

The people now have limited contact with the outside world, which allows them to prosper in some ways while maintaining a firm grasp on their traditional values and spiritual beliefs.

yawanawa friends

Tata and Matsini: Spiritual Leaders of the Yawanawa

One of the reasons the Yawanawa tribe has maintained a distinct hold on their culture and spiritual practices is due to the strong spiritual leaders.

Until recently, the spiritual elder and shaman of the tribe was Tata who lived to be 103 years old and was responsible for safeguarding the traditions and legacy during colonization.

Due to his and allies’ efforts, the tribe survived the most challenging moments and started a revival that Matsini carries today.

After the passing of Tata, the torch of spiritual elder of the Yawanawa passed to Matsini who maintains the traditions of music, ceremony, healing, and sacred plant knowledge.

Yawanawa and Ayahuasca

One of the fascinating aspects of the Yawanawa people is their relationship to plant medicines, many of which are leaving the indigenous people and coming to a western context.

Ayahuasca is one of the most well-known plant medicines, which is a hallucinogenic brew (also known as an entheogen) that creates a wide variety of psychoactive effects.

These ayahuasca ceremonies maintain elements of spiritual practice, rites of passage, and healing, which is garnering interest from a wide array of government and research organizations.

It isn’t required to include spiritual and ceremonial practices with the use of ayahuasca, but for many people in the western world bereft of spiritual connectedness, it’s greatly appreciated.

Beyond ayahuasca, the Yawanawa utilize dozens of other plants in ceremonial settings, for medicinal purposes, and for learning about the environment and oneself.

At Risk: Defending a Traditional Way of Life

Even with positive intentions, westerners can bring unwanted disturbances to the traditional elements of the tribe.

Of course, we must help them as best as we can, but not assume that we know better than them as was the norm during colonization.

This is one of the reasons our Yawanawa bracelets are made by hand by women of the tribe. These women spend around 6 hours creating intricate designs and patterns that relate to their environment.

For the first time, the money generated from these handmade items goes back to the women so they may buy goods rather than simply bartering.

By the same token, we do not want to overwhelm the tribe with orders, which will alter the economic, social, and cultural fabric of the community.

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Luckily, there are numerous organizations that have the defense of the Yawanawa in mind. The non-profit Survival International seeks to protect tribal people across the globe [1].

Other organizations, such as the Sofie Foundation, have put together projects that benefit the Yawanawa people including documentaries and other awareness media [2]

How Can You Help?

In developing Oyasin, we committed to supporting indigenous tribes, our environment, and our understanding of psychedelic sciences.

Every order plants a tree, but orders of Yawanawa handmade bracelets go even further in supporting the tribe.

For each purchase, we donate a portion of the proceeds to the tribe directly so that they may purchase life-saving items including radios and other equipment.

If you’d like to donate directly (rather than through the purchase of their handmade Yawanawa jewelry), feel free to contact us so that we can connect you with the right people.

  1. https://www.survivalinternational.org/Nixiwaka
  2. http://www.sofiefoundation.org/yawanawa/