Name of State Party
Name of element
Yaokwa, the Enawene Nawe people’s ritual for the maintenance of social and cosmic order
Apiaka language and culture (2012)
Yaokwa, the Enawene Nawe people's ritual for the maintenance of social and cosmic order (2011)
The Yaokwa Ritual integrates complex relationships of a symbolic order and links the domains of the society, culture and environment of the Enawenê Nawê. For seven months this indigenous people common with the Yakairiti, the 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. Exchanges that constitute the Yaokwa Ritual and provide the main source of food for both the spirits and the Enawenê Nawê themselves.
Between 2007 and 2009, construction began on eight hydroelectric plants that damaged fishing in the region, jeopardising the ritual and the source of food of this indigenous group, who do not hunt nor eat red meat.
The main objective of the safeguarding is to protect the biodiversity of the region and the integrity of the belief system, which governs the production and transmission of the knowledge associated with the ritual.
The safeguarding action will be implemented within ten years. In order to meet the challenges that lie beyond the remit of the National Institute for Historical and Artistic Heritage-IPHAN, a body that operates only within the area of culture, partnerships are being forged with other government bodies to coordinate actions and find balance between social development and the maintenance of this heritage.
The inscription of the element has already had a positive impact, strengthening the case for the suspension of the environmental licences for the construction of the hydroelectric power plants in 2012.
Other relevant information
The Yaokwa ritual of the Enawenê Nawê indigenous people is the main ceremonial ritual of the Aruak ethnic group, whose traditional territory, covering an area of 742,080 hectares, is located in the state of Mato Grosso in the centre west of Brazil. The Enawenê Nawê people live in a single village in the valley of the Juruena River and have a population of nearly 700 people.
Orientated by the cosmology of the Enawenê Nawê and regulated by the cycles of nature, the Yaokwa Ritual integrates complex relationships of a symbolic order and link different domains of their society, culture and nature. The start of the ritual signals the start of the Enawenê Nawê calendar year, when the majority of the men from the village embark upon the task of building dams and traps where large quantities of fish are collected and preserved to be taken to the village and consumed over six months.
The ritual runs for all of the dry season, a period marked by interactions with the feared beings of the subterranean and celestial worlds, the Yakairiti and Enore Nawê, respectively. The Yakairiti are, from the perspective of the indigenous people, condemned to live with an insatiable hunger and depend upon the Enawenê Nawê to satisfy their voracious desires for vegetable salt, fish and other dishes derived from maize and manioc. And so, the Enawenê Nawê must establish a relationship of constant exchange with these spirits in order to maintain the social and cosmic order of things. An exchange that occurs through a complex ritual cycle across the calendar year. The Yaokwa ritual begins in January with the collecting of manioc and raw materials such as tree barks and seed pods, for the construction of the “Mata” - a central feature of the fishing traps that will be connected to the fishing dams to be constructed along the length of the rivers. Each year from February to April all the males, including boys of all ages, leave the village to head for the fishing camps. Only women, babies and the men who belong to the clans that act as hosts for that given period remain in the village.
The exact moment of departure is dictated by both the blossoming of the “gramínia ohã” flower and by the lunar cycle. These signs mark the start of the “piracema”, the migratory movements of the fish from the river delta back to the river beds where they spawn. Arriving at the camps, the fishermen and their sons, begin the construction of the fishing dams, which must follow strict procedures to avoid breaking under the force of the water. At the camp the preparation and ritual distribution of the vegetable salt and the curing of fish take place.
At the dams, the fishing lasts two months and is directed by the elders, those knowledgeable of the signs emitted by nature that indicate each stage of the rite. The fish and the vegetables produced and stored provide for the festive banquets that occur daily for a few more months, on nights illuminated by bonfires and accompanied by songs with flutes and dances. The festive banquets feed both the people and the subterranean beings, the Yakairiti, who, once satisfied, influence the natural world in favour of the wellbeing of the Enawenê Nawê people.
On the return journey, all of the boats coming from different camps converge at the meeting point, near the village, one or two days before the triumphal return of the fishermen to the village via the “Path of the Yaokwa”. Some hosts come to this meeting point with welcome offerings and arrange the details of the big arrival at the village.
The fishermen at the port and the hosts at the village, the women and the babies will all be dressed and decorated appropriately for this moment. The arrival is also marked with the commencement of musical performances and dances in the village.
It is of interest to note that the children actively participate in the tasks related to the Yaokwa, the boys accompany their fathers to the dams and are allocated certain tasks according to their age, as well as keen observation of the adult proceedings. The youngest ones entertain themselves with games that simulate the building of dams, in the case of the boys, and the preparation of the food dishes, in the case of the girls.
The Enawenê Nawê distinguishes themselves by being skilled fishermen, divers and navigators of their waterways. Experience of the network of waterways is in itself a field of knowledge (one of spatial and temporal orientation), a vital source of resources for the Enawenê Nawê, as most of their pathways are by water. Traditionally and until today they do not hunt nor consume red meat. And so the fish collected from the Yaokwa Ritual constitute their principal source of protein.
As a Form of Expression, the Yaokwa Ritual continues to be transmitted to younger generations without any significant alterations in its ceremonial rites. However the ritual has suffered serious impacts due to the changes in the environment.
One of the greatest threats is the construction of ten small hydroelectric power plants on the Juruena River. In addition, the Enawenê Nawê territory is increasingly faced with other threats of invasion and exposed to the pollution of the rivers and lands by cattle ranching, mining activities and soya production in areas bordering the territory.
The commencement of a series of hydroelectric projects along a 110 km stretch of the Juruena River, from 2007 to 2009, with eight small hydroelectric power plants, has been of significant impact to the region. The dam fishing methods of the Enawenê Nawê have been seriously undermined and the ability of the indigenous people to feed themselves affected. The changes in the river topology and the consequent disappearance of fish have led the Enawenê Nawê to reflect upon the events through religiously symbolic parameters, and they have come to believe that the spirits of the subterranean world have brought catastrophes to the village due to the lack of offerings made.
These rapid environmental and territorial changes are interfering with the specific readings, essential to the ritual. And so the Enawenê Nawê are entering a state of disorientation. They have been making mistakes in the reading and interpretation of the signs from nature, causing them to plant maize too early, to arrive too late at the traditional fishing spots, etc.
The absence of fish in the rivers compromised the continuity of this element and also the existence of this indigenous population, who organise their social life around the ritual and have traditionally feed themselves from the fish collected from the dam fishing traps. In that sense, the safeguarding actions conducted so far are understood to be emergency actions.
Since 2008, the ritual occurs with frozen fish purchased by the National Indian Foundation - FUNAI, the government agency charged with the preservation of indigenous communities. In 2012 70 tonnes of fish were required to supply the Yaokwa Ritual, 10 tonnes being acquired with National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage-IPHAN resources that were passed onto FUNAI through a Technical Cooperation Agreement.
In 2006 the non-governmental organisation, Operation Amazon Native - OPAN, with the consent and authorisation of three clans of the Enawenê Nawe ethnic group, aware of the licences given for the construction of hydroelectric centres on the Juruena River, asked the National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage-IPHAN to open a process for declaring the Yaokwa Ritual as Cultural Heritage of Brazil. OPAN was responsible for the proclamation process through a partnership co-signed with IPHAN.
The research activities designed to identify and register the Yaokwa Ritual were conducted throughout 2008 by a multidisciplinary team of experts from OPAN, with the contribution of indigenous leaders and the supervision of anthropologists from the local office of IPHAN in Mato Grosso and the Department of Intangible Heritage - DPI/IPHAN. In November 2009, the documentation prepared for the declaration of the Yaokwa Ritual as Brazilian Intangible Cultural Heritage, was accepted by IPHAN. In November 2010 the Brazilian Consulting Council for Cultural Heritage voted unanimously for the inscription of the Ritual of Yaokwa of the Enawenê Nawê people in the “Book of Celebrations” as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Brazil.
At the end of 2011 IPHAN made various attempts to maintain the partnership with OPAN, the entity that had been communicating with the Enawenê Nawê, all without success. This was due to misunderstandings between the NGO and the indigenous people, causing the organisation to remove itself from the process of accompanying the safeguarding actions as well as from the management of projects related to the Enawenê Nawê.
Since them IPHAN have been seeking new partners to work with this indigenous group, considering that the Enawenê Nawê people speak little or no Portuguese and that the majority of them have no understanding of the codes of the mainstream society. One of this new partner is the National Foundation for the Indigenous People-FUNAI, the Brazilian government body linked to the Ministry of Justice that has the mission of promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and monitoring their lands, preventing practices that either encroach upon resources of indigenous heritage or place the preservation of these communities at risk.
The Yaokwa Ritual entails an understanding of how the Enawenê Nawê perceives their society and their surrounding environment. In that sense, the main objective of the measures for safeguarding this ritual involves two fundamental aspects.
The first being the protection of the biodiversity that characterises the region where the Enawenê Nawê live. And, the second being the integrity of the logic that governs the system of production and transmission of knowledge associated with this ritual. This safeguarding, according to Brazilian National Programme of Intangible Heritage-PNPI, is implemented for a period of ten years at which point its title as Brazilian Intangible Cultural Heritage will be revaluated. The greatest challenge is to deal with the economic interests and development projects that threaten to encroach upon the Enawenê Nawê traditional territories. Projects that have been provoking changes in the environment, devastating zones proximate to this indigenous lands.
To face the complexities of this safeguarding IPHAN has looked to forge links with other governmental institutions responsible for the indigenous peoples and the environment so that together they develop partnerships and integrated actions that reach a balance between improvements in infrastructure for society and the maintenance of fundamental aspects of the traditional cultures.
To this end, at the beginning of 2012, IPHAN strengthened its links with FUNAI with the objective of signing a partnership for developing joint actions for the safeguarding of the elements of indigenous ethnic groups declared as Cultural Heritage of Brazil. In relation to the Yaokwa Ritual, IPHAN requested permission from FUNAI for the permanence of technical consultants from the local office of IPHAN in Mato Grosso during the construction of the fishing dam, and for FUNAI to provide water transport and language interpreters. To reach the indigenous lands it is necessary to fly an hour and a half from Cuiabá, capital of Mato Grosso to the city of Juina, in the interior of the state, from there it is an hour by car to the mooring point on the river with a further eight hours by boat to the village of the Enawnê Nawê.
The support of FUNAI enabled a ten-day expedition to the village with an anthropologist and a photographer during the ritual period, allowing for a renewal of dialogue with the Enawnê Nawê and an updating of the photographic documentation of the village and fishing dam construction. On this occasion, as the collective fishing had not been very successful nor productive enough to feed the Enawenê Nawê people and their subterranean spirits, the indigenous leaders petitioned the IPHAN consultants to return to the city of Cuiabá to help them to obtain more fish.
And so, a technical cooperation agreement was signed between IPHAN and FUNAI, establishing budgetary and financial cooperation. And with this 70 tonnes of fish were purchased for the Enawenê Nawê to conduct the Yaokwa Ritual.
FUNAI also invited IPHAN to participate in meetings with the companies responsible for the construction of the hydroelectric plants on the Juruena River and the Federal Prosecutors Office of Mato Grosso that resulted in the suspension of operating licences for the construction of the hydroelectric plants until a Territorial Management Plan was conducted of this region.
IPHAN was also invited by the Federal Prosecutors Office of Mato Grosso to participate in conciliatory meetings between the Enawenê Nawê community and these construction companies. In the meetings the Enawenê Nawê people are negotiating a compensation of US $ 10.000 per month for 20 years from these companies. This financial compensation is going to be used for the purchasing of fish, the maintenance of boats and other essential items, so guaranteeing the continuity of the Yaokwa Ritual.
Additionally meetings with the Ministry of Fisheries are being held aiming at developing solutions such as the construction of fish farms and the appropriate training for the indigenous people to maintain said farms, which would then restock the river network of the Enawenê Nawê indigenous lands.
• Ethnographic diagnostic of the current socio-cultural context of the element with the view of planning and implementing the safeguarding policy.
• Photographic record of the Yaokwa Ritual of 2012
• Signing of a cooperation agreement for the transference of funds from IPHAN to FUNAI to supplement the quantity of fish purchased for the Enawenê Nawê people. This emergency action has been carried out by FUNAI in order to prevent a food crisis of this indigenous group.
• Meetings with representatives of different governmental institutions for the formulation of integrated and coordinated public policies for the Enawenê Nawê.
Contact between the Enawenê Nawê and Brazilian society began with Jesuit Anchieta mission in 1974. However up to the end of the 1990's it was very rare for this indigenous group to travel to the urban centres of the region, and these occasions were generally to deal with matters related to the regularisation of their territories and always accompanied by members of the Jesusit mission or OPAN.
This situation changed at the end of the 1990's, when the Enawenê Nawê acquired seven outboard motors, through negotiations with local farmers, their neighbours, in return for the opening of an illegal road across indigenous lands. From then on, the new speeds attained by substituting their rowing boats with these new motors came as a great advantage in fishing and swidden harvest expeditions, especially those of the Yaokwa Ritual. This situation shows that some western objects have been successfully incorporated into the local system while reinforcing cultural traditions.
The attempt of opening this illegal road catalysed the expansion of cultural references for the Enawenê Nawê in relation to the society surrounding their lands. In the present day, for the Enawenê Nawê to not have petrol means a limitation for the accomplishment of the ritual and so a source of anger for the subterranean spirits. Petrol became a new element to be pursued, a new need has been incorporated into their lives: the search for support of the town councils, FUNAI, IPHAN, non-governmental organisations and developers from the hydroelectric plant for the purchasing of petrol and fish.
Even today 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.
However, it is worth noting that the Enawenê Nawê leaders make weekly telephone contact with the local office of IPHAN in Mato Grosso state and, despite their poor Portuguese, an exchange of information takes place regarding the actions carried out by both parties.
As already mentioned in the previous questions it was not possible to maintain the partnership with the non-governmental organisation OPAN in the safeguarding process. During 2012 IPHAN made various efforts to contract an expert in the Enawenê Nawê ethnic group without success. This due to the lack of professionals specialized in this specific field. However efforts continue to find a suitable candidate for said contract.
Currently the safeguarding of the Yaokwa Ritual is concentrated in the Department of Intangible Heritage of IPHAN - DPI, the body of the Ministry of Culture that upholds the mission of promoting and coordinating the process of preservation of Brazilian cultural heritage, with the objective of strengthening identities, guaranteeing the right to memory and contributing to the socioeconomic development of the country. The DPI/IPHAN includes a technical team consisting of anthropologists, historians and museologist.
Action Description of action Time frame Executive body Funds
allocated Source of funding
Procurement of consultants Ethnographic diagnostic of the current socio-cultural context of the element with the view of planning and implementing the safeguarding policy 01/2012 to 12/2012 IPHAN/UNESCO,
International Cooperation Project For the Diffusion and Extension of Brazilian Intangible Cultural Heritage Policy US $18.000 Federal governmental
Photographic documentation Photographic record of the Yaokwa Ritual held in 2012 03/2012 IPHAN/UNESCO,
International Cooperation Project For the Diffusion and Extension of Brazilian Intangible Cultural Heritage Policy US $ 5.000 Federal governmental
Purchase of fish for the Yaokwa Ritual In 2012 funds were transferred from IPHAN to FUNAI to supplement the quantity of fish purchased for the Enawenê Nawê people.
This emergency action was carried out by FUNAI to prevent a food crisis of this indigenous group.
01/2012 to 08/2012 IPHAN
FUNAI US $ 42.500
170.000 Federal governmental
Coordination with government agencies Meetings with representatives of different governmental institutions for the formulation of integrated and coordinated public policies for the Enawenê Nawê 03/2012 to 11/2012 IPHAN Indirect expenses Federal governmental
Brazilian legislation for the safeguarding of elements declared cultural heritage of Brazil grants a period of ten years for the implementation of safeguarding actions foreseen in the “Dossier of Registry”, the study and documentation prepared for the inscription of an element in one of the books of Brazilian intangible cultural heritage. At the end of this ten-year period the title of Cultural Heritage of Brazil is revalidated.
Most of the safeguarding recommendations of the Yaokwa Ritual submitted to UNESCO in January 2011 and presented in the safeguarding recommendations of “Dossier of Registry” do not come under the remit of IPHAN. Therefore IPHAN has been prioritising communication with the diverse institutions that bear the responsibility for conducting said safeguarding actions.
In 2012 representatives of IPHAN and FUNAI have been meeting in order to coordinate the actions of these two institutions. As has already been said in previous questions a cooperation agreement was signed for the resolution of an urgent problem, the purchasing of fish. Currently another cooperation agreement is to be signed with the objective of enabling IPHAN to establish new links with other partners, such as governmental institutions who are able to attend to the needs of the Enawenê Nawê people.
Difficulties in finding experts in the Enawenê Nawê people and the withdrawal of OPAN from the safeguarding process have prevented IPHAN from establishing a more effective dialogue with this indigenous group towards implementing sustainable safeguarding actions. The realisation of the ethnographic expedition to the indigenous lands has assisted with the reestablishment of this dialogue, considering that following this expedition the Enawenê Nawê leaders started to phone weekly to the local office of IPHAN in Mato Grosso in order to know about the meeting of their demands.
IPHAN was also recognised as a legitimate actor in the actions of the Federal Prosecutor Office in favour of the Enawenê Nawê people, which will certainly guarantee future partnerships with these bearers. It is important to highlight the commencement of dialogue with the Ministry of Fisheries for the sustainable provision of fishing in the Enawenê Nawê territory. It was also possible to document the ritual in 2012, which updates the documentation of this heritage and allows for the identification of its dynamics.
In the third stage of the fieldwork conducted in 2008 the priority was to meet the Enawenê Nawê to discuss the safeguarding recommendations. The work was conducted by an anthropologist of OPAN, who was the research coordinator, interpreter, and dialogue mediator between the indigenous people and the technical officer of the local office of IPHAN in Mato Grosso. It is possible to infer from the report of the OPAN anthropologist that the safeguarding actions proposed in the Dossier are interpretations made by OPAN of the needs highlighted by the Enawenê Nawê people, which cite the Small Hydroelectric Plants as being the major threat to the Yaokwa Ritual.
After the declaration of the Yaokwa Ritual as Brazilian Intangible Cultural Heritage, OPAN withdrew from the safeguarding process, and IPHAN only returned to the indigenous area at the end of 2012. Hence the community participation of this safeguarding process is still entering its initial stage.
It is worth noting that the recommendations resultant from studies undertaken for the process of declaration of the Yaokwa Ritual as Brazilian Intangible Cultural Heritage are only recommendations of urgent actions. The completion of a safeguarding plan with the participation of this ethnic group is a challenge still to be faced in 2013. However this participation will be ineffective if there is no inter-institutional agreement between the different government bodies that operate within the areas that impact the viability of the ritual. For this reason the engaging of different government institutions was prioritized in 2012.
The request for urgent inclusion of the Yaokwa Ritual in the Safeguarding List was an initiative of the Enawenê Nawê people, suggested by OPAN and with the support of IPHAN as stated in the documentation sent to UNESCO in March 2010. This correspondence includes a letter signed by the Enawenê Nawê leaders requesting support from UNESCO for the maintenance of their rituals, as the area of the Rio Preto was not included in the demarcation of and the construction of the PCHs (Small Hydroelectric Plants) have jeopardised the fishing in the region. They affirm that they are not only concerned with the present situation but also with the future generations and the maintenance of their culture.
a. With the withdrawal of OPAN, IPHAN has been leading the safeguarding measures in partnership with FUNAI, the Federal Prosecutors Office and the Ministry of Fisheries.
b. Not applicable
The difficulties in communication with this indigenous people, as already mentioned in previous questions, has made the direct participation of these bearers unviable in the production of this report.
Jurema de Souza Machado
President of Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artistico Nacional (IPHAN)