Yaokwa, the Enawene Nawe people's ritual for the maintenance of social and cosmic order


Inscribed in 2011 (6.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

© IPHAN 2009
The Enawene Nawe people live in the basin of the Juruena River in the southern Amazon rainforest. They perform the Yaokwa ritual every year during the drought period to honour the Yakairiti spirits, thereby ensuring cosmic and social order for the different clans. The ritual links local biodiversity to a complex, symbolic cosmology that connects the different but inseparable domains of society, culture and nature. It is integrated into their everyday activities over the course of seven months during which the clans alternate responsibilities: one group embarks on fishing expeditions throughout the area while another prepares offerings of rock salt, fish and ritual food for the spirits, and performs music and dance. The ritual combines knowledge of agriculture, food processing, handicrafts (costumes, tools and musical instruments) and the construction of houses and fishing dams. Yaokwa and the local biodiversity it celebrates represent an extremely delicate and fragile ecosystem whose continuity depends directly on its conservation. However, both are now seriously threatened by deforestation and invasive practices, including intensive mining and logging, extensive livestock activity, water pollution, degradation of headwaters, unregulated processes of urban settlement, construction of roads, waterways and dams, drainage and diversion of rivers, burning of forests and illegal fishing and trade in wildlife.