The Yaokwa ritual integrates complex relationships of a symbolic order and links the domains of the society, culture and environment of the Enawene Nawe people. For seven months they commune with the Yakairiti, subterranean spirits who possess an insatiable hunger and must be fed. A constant exchange is established with these spirits to maintain the social and cosmic order of the group; those exchanges constitute the Yaokwa ritual and provide the main source of food for both the spirits and the Enawene Nawe themselves. Between 2007 and 2009, construction began on eight hydroelectric plants that damaged fish stocks in the region, thus jeopardizing the ritual and the source of food of this indigenous group. The main objective of the safeguarding is to protect the biodiversity of the region and the integrity of the belief system that governs the production and transmission of knowledge associated with the ritual.
In its Decision 6.COM 8.3 adopted at the time of inscribing this element on the Urgent Safeguarding List, the Committee expressed some concerns, in particular as to the degree of involvement of the Enawene Nawe in the implementation of the safeguarding plan. As a consequence of these concerns, the Committee invited Brazil to submit a report on the implementation of these measures, for examination by the Committee at its eighth session, in conformity with Paragraph 161 of the Operational Directives.
The Committee decided that the Yaokwa ritual ‘constitutes a pillar of the life and universe of the Enawene Nawe people, and the entire society, including the youngest members, is involved in its practice and transmission’ and so fulfilled criterion U.1. In its Decision, the Committee invited Brazil ‘to ensure that the safeguarding measures regarding the protection of the territory of the Enawene Nawe people are more fully associated with measures concerning the intangible cultural heritage aspects of Yaokwa’ and ‘to detail the safeguarding plan in order to define clearly the expenses and responsibilities and ensure the full participation of the community.’
Assessment of its viability and current risks
Generally, the focus in this report is on the quality and availability of environmental resources required for the continuity of the way of life of the Enawene Nawe people. Although this is a fundamental issue as reflected in Brazil’s nomination as regards criterion U.2, it cannot be separated from the cultural dimension of the ritual and the continued integrity of the belief system within which the ritual operates. As is mentioned in section B.1 of the report, the Yaokwa ritual integrates complex relationships of a symbolic order and links different domains of society, culture and nature.
The report notes several potential threats to and/or negative impacts on the element and its continued viability from: (i) the building of dams on the upper reaches of the river and the consequent reliance on frozen fish stocks supplied by outside agents; (ii) possible introduction of fish farming as a source of fish; (iii) exposure to pollution of the river system and lands by cattle ranching, mining activities and soya production in areas bordering their territory; (iv) the incorporation of petrol as an element of the ritual and the increased speed and distance of travel now possible (following the introduction of outboard motors); and (v) increased contact with the outside world, including the weekly telephone calls to the Instituto de Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional (IPHAN).
Because of these rapid environmental and territorial changes the Enawene Nawe are becoming disorientated and make mistakes in the reading and interpretation of the natural signs, e.g. planting their maize too early and arriving too late at their traditional fishing spots, etc. In addition, the lack of fish in the rivers has compromised both the continuity of the element and the traditional subsistence fishing of the Enawene Nawe people. Since they organize their social life around the ritual it is also having serious social impacts on them.
The remoteness of the Enawene Nawe may, until recently, have helped to protect the element from outside interference but now makes it more difficult to apply safeguarding measures in the form of an Action Plan.
An important dimension of the safeguarding of this ritual is the potential impact – both negative and positive – of contact with outside agents and new technologies. For example, the replacement of rowing boats by boats equipped with outboard motors in the late 1990s has greatly facilitated activities associated with the Yaokwa ritual and so ‘shows that some Western objects have been successfully incorporated into the local system while reinforcing cultural traditions’ (section B.3c). This has also greatly increased their contact with the outside world and, now, the community members seek support from town councils, the Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI), IPHAN and NGOs to buy petrol that has become not only a necessary resource for the ritual but also integrated into its belief system – without it, the subterranean spirits will be angered.
Objectives and results
The safeguarding strategy presented by Brazil to the Committee had the dual aim of (a) strengthening the protection of the Enawene Nawe people’s environment and (b) strengthening their material, financial and organizational capacities in order to provide them with the means to manage and protect their land and to defend their interests with greater self-reliance.
In the measures described in the report, there is a tendency to focus heavily on protecting the Enawene Nawe’s land and its resources rather than on specific intangible cultural heritage safeguarding objectives, the latter not being very clearly set out. As a result, few measures or actions aimed at enhancing the viability of the ritual practices per se have been mentioned.
It would appear that the response thus far has been a rather pragmatic one in the face of the need for an emergency response and that neither of the two main objectives (preserving the area’s biodiversity and safeguarding the cultural practices of the Enawene Nawe) has yet been achieved. For example, the reliance on frozen or farmed fish mentioned in the report would fail to fulfil the first objective and would also be likely to undermine the second.
The Yaokwa ritual was recognized as Brazilian Intangible Cultural Heritage in November 2010 by IPHAN, at the initiative of the Enawene Nawe people. This recognition places a legal obligation on the Government to put in place a 10-year safeguarding plan. However, it appears that this plan has not yet been fully developed and that the development of the plan depends upon the fulfilment of the fourth of the safeguarding activities undertaken thus far listed in section B.3b of the report and below:
- Action 1: Ethnographic diagnostic of the current socio-cultural context of the element with the view of planning and implementing the safeguarding policy.
- Action 2: Photographic record of the Yaokwa Ritual of 2012.
- Action 3: Signing of a cooperation agreement for the transfer of funds from IPHAN to FUNAI to supplement the quantity of fish purchased for the Enawene Nawe people; this emergency action was carried out by FUNAI in order to prevent a food crisis.
- Action 4: Meetings with representatives of different governmental institutions for the formulation of integrated and coordinated public policies for the Enawene Nawe.
The fourth action described is the precursor to defining specific safeguarding measures and part of the institutional context of the Plan. The detail of the ‘integrated and coordinated public policies’ planned is not made clear, nor the results of the meetings. The report consequently does not describe any safeguarding activities in detail, nor does it explain sufficiently their purpose or rationale.
The rationale behind the first action mentioned can be found in section B.3e which states that ‘there is almost no contact between this ethnic group and society surrounding their territories, a fact that makes their participation in the planning and implementing of safeguarding actions difficult.’
It should be noted that the third action described (supplementing the supply of fish through and Agreement with FUNAI) is an ‘emergency action’ and receives over US$200,000 in support (as compared with the US$23,000 provided for the first two listed actions). It would therefore have been helpful to receive more information about its rationale and potential long-term effects.
Timetable and budget
In the report, the four actions listed above are described as taking place in 2012. Despite the fact that the report appears to focus mostly on actions designed to respond to threats associated with the environmental resources on which the ritual relies, Action 1 suggests that future safeguarding approach will be more strongly oriented towards socio-cultural aspects. Action 2 also has a cultural basis and is aimed at responding to the documentation requirement of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. Action 3 is described as an emergency action. Action 4 directly responds to the need for a coordinated policy approach when dealing with the question of sustainability in relation to intangible cultural heritage and, as a result, is one that could be viewed as a good practice in this regard.
No further information is available concerning the planned measures or activities for the rest of the ten-year period of the plan (until 2020?) and so it is not possible to comment on this. It should be noted that ‘the completion of a safeguarding plan with the participation of this ethnic group is a challenge still to be faced in 2013’ (section B.4) which strongly suggests that the long-term Action Plan was not yet completed at the time of writing the present report.
Overall effectiveness of the safeguarding activities
The fact that IPHAN, the main implementing agency, does not have internal or external experts on the Enawene Nawe ethnic group constitutes a major challenge. Another important one that is presumably faced by other countries consists in having intangible cultural heritage elements whose safeguarding implicates environmental, social, economic and other relevant aspects of national policy-making.
In this sense, the institutional context and relationships surrounding the safeguarding of the element are an integral part of the element’s safeguarding. For example, meetings between IPHAN, the Enawene Nawe people and FUNAI with the companies constructing the hydroelectric dams and the Prosecutor’s Office have led to a temporary suspension of dam-building. Moreover, the Enawene Nawe will receive compensation of US$10,000 per month over 20 years, which will be used for purchasing fish, maintaining their boats and other essential items, thus supporting the continuity of the Yaokwa Ritual. Discussions are also being held with the Ministry of Fisheries in order to develop solutions for the lack of fish, such as the construction of fish farms and the appropriate training for the indigenous people to maintain them, which would then restock the river network of the Enawene Nawe lands.
Such initiatives are worthwhile and, of course, address important needs of the Enawene Nawe as regards both the sustainability of their way of life and the continuance of the ritual. However, it is extremely important that there should be continuous evaluation of how such measures affect the ritual and its social and cultural meanings over time.
Community participation in present and future safeguarding activities
It seems that at present, there is not yet a high level of community participation in the design or implementation of the safeguarding measures described in the report. The Departamento do Patrimônio Imaterial (DPI) of IPHAN has been making efforts to find appropriate ways of involving the community in this. However, those efforts have faced several problems; in particular, after 2011, it was impossible to maintain the partnership that had been developed between the Enawene Nawe and the non-governmental organization Operation Amazon Native (OPAN). During 2012, IPHAN attempted to conclude a contract with an expert on the Enawene Nawe ethnic group but has not yet managed to identify a suitable professional specialized in this field.
Given their remote location, the Enawene Nawe people mainly have contact through weekly telephone contact with the local office of IPHAN in Mato Grosso State to exchange information on the activities of both parties.
It is clearly not easy to engage the local population in safeguarding efforts and the difficulties in finding external experts concerning the Enawene Nawe people and the problem of the withdrawal of OPAN from the safeguarding process have prevented IPHAN from establishing a more effective dialogue with this indigenous group for participating in sustainable safeguarding actions. The previous direct contact with the group appears to have been based on a relationship built by an anthropologist from OPAN and so was a relationship built on personal contact rather than more permanent lines of communication.
Due to the withdrawal of OPAN in 2011 and the absence of IPHAN from the area until the end of 2012, community participation in the safeguarding process is still at an initial stage and few community-driven safeguarding activities have thus far been defined. The ten-day expedition to the village with an anthropologist and a photographer during the ritual period (for Action 2 above) renewed dialogue between IPHAN and the Enawene Nawe people.
It is stated in the report that the challenge of completing a safeguarding plan with the participation of the Enawene Nawe will be faced in 2013. The report notes also that community participation will not be effective without an inter-institutional agreement between the different government bodies that operate within the areas that affect the viability of the ritual.
Since 2012, the Department of Intangible Heritage of the National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage (DPI/IPHAN) has been leading the safeguarding measures. The Operation Amazon Native (OPAN) represented the Enawene Nawe people between 2006 and 2011 in their communication with the Government, e.g. over declaring the Yaokwa ritual as a cultural heritage of Brazil and has worked on the ritual under the supervision of anthropologists from the local IPHAN office in Mato Grosso and the DPI/IPHAN. As mentioned before, in 2011, as a result of misunderstandings with the indigenous community, OPAN pulled out of the relationship.
IPHAN has built a relationship with the FUNAI, the government agency charged with the preservation of indigenous communities, and they now have a Technical Cooperation Agreement with the Foundation to supply fish for the ritual. They have also worked with the Federal Prosecutors Office, the Ministry of Fisheries and the companies responsible for the construction of hydroelectric plants on the Juruena River on various aspects of protection.
No specific association of the Enawene Nawe people exists and there is no information on who are the representatives of this group, what is their role and how are they representative of the group as a whole.
Participation of community in preparing the report
The remoteness of the bearer community and the fragility of communications with them have meant that they have not been directly involved in or consulted over the writing of the report.