Davi Yanomami, the “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest,” wins “Alternative Nobel Prize”

September 25, 2019

Davi Yanomami, who has won this year’s Right Livelihood Award © Fiona Watson/Survival

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Renowned Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa, the “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest,” has won this year’s Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.”

Davi led his people’s 20-year campaign to protect their Amazonian territory. Combined with the Yanomami territory in Venezuela, it is the largest area of rainforest under Indigenous control anywhere in the world.

Davi is the President of Hutukara, the Yanomami organization, who share the award with him. He first travelled outside Brazil in 1989, when Survival International, which won that year’s Right Livelihood Award, invited him to Europe to accept the prize on its behalf.

Davi outside the UK’s House of Commons on his first trip outside Brazil, with Survival. 1989. © Survival

Subsequently Survival organized Davi’s first trip to the USA in 1991, where he met the then-UN Secretary General, members of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and American senators to raise awareness of the impending genocide of the Yanomami, as gold miners flooded into their rainforest bringing deadly epidemics and chronic violence.

Since then he has travelled extensively, campaigning to protect the Amazon from destruction by mining, ranching, logging, road-building and fire.

In 2010 he wrote The Falling Sky, the first book by a Yanomami. An exploration of Yanomami cosmology, as well as a deeply moving account of his people’s struggle to survive epidemics and violence, it was described by Survival’s Director Stephen Corry as “one of the most important books of our time.”

Davi has frequently been threatened by the gold miners and politicians who target the resources inside the Yanomami territory. He lives in his community, Watoriki (the Windy Mountain), practising shamanism. His father in law, Lourival, was one of the oldest and most respected Yanomami shamans. He is married to Fátima and they have six children and many grandchildren.

Davi has won many prizes and awards in his lifetime, including the UN Global 500 award, and an honorable mention by the jury of Spain’s Bartolomé de las Casas Prize.

Davi said today: “I am very happy that the RLA prize people didn’t forget me. It has come at just the right time. I’m very happy. They trust me and Hutukara and those who defend the forest and Planet Earth. This gives me the strength to carry on fighting to defend the soul of the Amazon.

“We, the peoples of the planet, need to protect our cultural heritage as Omame [the Creator] taught us – to live well, caring for our land so that future generations can continue to use it.

“I trust Survival International’s work very much. It’s 50 years old and continues to support us, and carries on fighting and helping my people.”

Survival International Director Stephen Corry said today: “Davi is unique. His ideology is continually informed by his shamanism. His book is the most detailed and honest account of Amazon beliefs ever recorded. He remains unimpressed and entirely unswayed by the supposed benefits of the industrialized world, which he sees through with penetrating gaze. He remains by far the most consistent and effective Indigenous voice raised in defence of Amazonia, and so of our wider world. Survival International has supported the Yanomami for 50 years and been working with Davi for most of that time. No one deserves this prize more.”

Notes to Editors:
- Survival’s Media Kit contains a bio, photos, video and more.
- In recent years the Yanomami territory has been invaded by 10-20,000 goldminers, who have polluted the rivers with mercury and attacked Yanomami villagers. Some of the miners are just a few miles from uncontacted Yanomami communities.
- In 2004 Davi founded Hutukara, the Yanomami association which advocates for Yanomami rights and runs land protection, education and health care projects. He is currently its President.
- Earlier this year Davi and other leaders organized the biggest ever protest for Indigenous rights worldwide, in reaction to President Bolsonaro’s war on Indigenous people.
- The other winners of this year’s award are: Greta Thunberg, Aminatou Haidar and Guo Jianmei
- The award ceremony will take place on December 4 in Stockholm.