Continuing the series on “The Spirit of the Rainforest” that was introduced in the previous post, this post will give a brief summary about the book. Hopefully this summary will provide a foundation for what will be discussed in future posts as the Yanomamo culture is compared and contrasted to our own culture. Following that will be a post on an outsiders look on how to share the gospel with a community like this
This post will take us through the book from the opening raid, the barbaric results, and the consequential fear to new way of peace, love, and forgiveness that is introduced. As one village becomes an example and a light for others, Spirit of the Rainforestprovides a case study for tribal missions in a very difficult environment.
Summary of Spirit of the Rainforest
Told from the perspective of a shaman named Jungleman, Spirit of the Rainforest provides the reader with a glimpse into the life of a shaman, their dependence on the spirits of the jungle, and the role of a shaman in the village. Jungleman grew from a boy scared of these spirit encounters to one of the most powerful Yanomamo shamans. Eventually, he began to teach other shamans how to use the spirits for various purposes including healing, cursing, and sexual fantasies. Jungleman’s account of the Yanomamo tribe provides readers unprecedented access to a vastly different culture as he describes the Yanomamo customs that includes their reasons for fighting, wars, treatment of women and children, the effect of the nabas (term for foreigners), and the role of spirits.
The book begins by describing a conflict between two villages, Honey and Mouth that epitomizes the Yanomamo struggle between the old culture (Mouth) with the new culture (Honey) that is being introduced by some of the nabas. The old culture includes revenge, fighting, guilt and fear, is contrasted with this new way of life that is peace, love and respect. Honey has thrown away the old Yanomamo customs and spirits and has started following the great spirit Yai Pada’s new ways. Honey flourishes under the new ways and soon becomes the envy of the other villages that are experiencing difficulties.
The Yanomamo culture of vengeance and loyalty is introduced early on through the raid on Potato Village. This one story sums up the Yanomamo tradition. The extent of the raid can vary from two opposing warriors clubbing each other to more serious raids where every male is killed and the women are assaulted, raped, and carried off to become wives of the raiding village. Children in the raided village are often killed, or occasionally captured to become slaves. Many village raids were spurred on by the killing of a relative that was a result of a revenge killing; this became an endless cycle of raids and fighting that sparked more revenge. The assaults on the women and children were to stop future generations from exacting revenge on that tribe. Often this tradition would fail as different tribes retaliate for those relatives showing familial loyalty by raiding the attacking village.
The Yanomamo’s discovered that the great spirit they thought was evil and would kill their children was actually a good spirit named Yai Pada. Jungleman’s apprentice Shoefoot, threw away his spirits to follow Yai Pada, and soon Shoefoot and his village Honey, begin changing. Honey becomes the envy of the Yanomamo’s as they flourish under this new culture of peace, love, and respect. Every shaman that visits this village is met with the same response from their spirits pleading not to be thrown away. As the story concludes, many Yanomamo villages tired of dying and spiritual ineffectiveness, rebuke the old ways to follow Yai Pada.