- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Island Lake Press; Second Edition edition (January 1, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780964695238
- ISBN-13: 978-0964695238
- ASIN: 0964695235
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.7 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 88 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #179,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo Shaman's Story Second Edition Edition
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It's interesting for several reasons. It makes you reconsider what the impact Westerners truly have on the societies they are helping. One thing is very clear is that as it states in 1 Corinthians 13, works (and help) without love is nothing. Going in, thinking we are "above" them without befriending and walking along beside them is meaningless.
The story is an account of a group of Yanomamo Indians through several generations told from the point of view of the shaman, Jungleman. It is a harsh and brutal society, the worst actions prompted by their spirit guides. That is part of the uniqueness of the account, that the shamans step from one world to the next like walking through a door. Often that spirit world interjects itself uninvited.
Beyond staying alive, the driving force behind the culture is one of revenge, getting one up on their enemies. The savage rape and murder that is a standard practice as recorded in this book is confirmed in other first person accounts.
The account shifts when Shoefoot, the apprentice of Jungleman, makes the decision to follow Christ, and in doing so, "throws away his spirits." This begins a clear demarcation between those living in brutality and the new Christ followers who form a new village called Honey Village.
This is not written as an evangelical text at all. It is all just very straightforward, but the underlying message is one of transformation through Christ.
It was also interesting to read in the appendix of the push back from people reading it (you can see some of in the reviews and comments as well.) I'm not sure what bothers people more about the book, that it paints an unflattering picture of anthropologists and their exploitation and observing the people like they were animals or that it so clearly proclaims the message that Jesus saves.
In the appendix, the author relays an exchange between Shoefoot and a college student when Shoefoot came to the U.S. for a tour. The student asked, "Why can't you get rid of the spirits without being religious?" To which Shoefoot replied, "I don't know any other way."
Because in their culture, after hosting the spirits throughout their life and following their directions, once they were done with you they killed you. Jungleman resisted Jesus, even though he felt the stirring in his spirit every time he visited the Christ followers in Honey Village year after year, until the moment his spirits turned on him and tried to kill him. Then he called on Jesus.
There are so many clear illustrations of spiritual principles in the book that it's hard to remember that it wasn't written as a book for spiritual development. Some things that stood out to me:
~ Jungleman said "When you spend time with your spirits, more will come." It is good to remember that when we refuse to let go of thoughts and actions outside of God's will, the unclean spirits we are making room for in our lives call their friends.
~ The Yanomamo believers understood very clearly, probably better than the Western church does, that when you decide to follow Jesus you have to "throw away" the old spirits. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 1 Corinthians 5:17 One of the Yanomamo believers identified very quickly when a professed Christian with hidden sexual sin was in their midst while the Western believers were completely unaware, because they recognized the spirit. They didn't understand how someone could be a Christian and still have those spirits. Good question.
~ The story clearly illustrates the lie of the demonic. Their spirits claimed to be helping them while they were wreaking havoc and destruction in their lives. They had to hide in the jungle, walking from place to place starving, because they had attacked another village and were in fear for their lives. The children were fed last and the old and weak were left to die alone.
Again, this isn't a Christian book, but it is a book about Christ because he is the true hero of the story. In the appendix, the author shared that when the book was first published several Christian organizations pulled back from promoting it because some people felt there was too much violence, rape, and murder in it. The incidences are written factually, not salaciously.
To that I would also say, have you read the Bible? Specifically Judges 20 and 21? This book reminded me exactly of that, what society looks like when everyone does what is "right in his own eyes."
Understanding why this book is interesting requires a bit of background. In the early modern era, humanists questioned the divinity of Christ and especially the doctrine of the atonement. The atonement suggested that Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3-6) and it implied that humans were inherently sinful (Genesis 3:6). By contrast, the humanists believed that humanity was basically good (and was not in need of Christ’s atonement or absolute moral standards) and they sought to build a utopia without God. In this context, the idea of a noble savage arose—primitive human beings untainted by civilization who were inherently good, not evil .
Enter Jungleman, a Shaman  living among the Yanomanö people of the Amazon rainforests of Columbia who was untouched by the corrupted influence of civilization. Spirit of the Rainforest is the narrative of his life told from his perspective (8). Richie writes in his introduction:
The Yanomamö are one of the world’s most mysterious peoples. Small, rarely over five feet tall, they have the speed, strength, and agility of a jungle cat. Their woman can tote their own weight up and down a jungle trail that would challenge me even if I were empty handed. Their men can call, track, and shoot anything that breathes in a jungle that is hostile enough to kill anyone but a trained survivalist (7).
As a young warrior, Jungleman invited demons from the spirit world into his heart and mind. These demons offer him knowledge of far off events and strength in defeating his enemies. Jungleman knows these demons by animal names, such as Jaguar Spirit, Monkey Spirit, and so on. For example, Ritchie writes about Jaguar Spirit, the dominant, warrior or hunting spirit:
“Don’t go in here.” [Referring to a Christian village] Jaguar Spirit told me. “There’s too much danger here. We are afraid.” It was the first time I had ever heard fear coming from Jaguar Spirit, and it made me feel poor inside. My hands began to flutter and I held my bow tight to make them stop. (97)
But these spirits cannot be trusted and will abandon and turn on a Shaman when he shows weakness (like not following their advice to kill someone—especially children in a competing village) or for growing old.
Much of the violence among Yanomanö people historically arose in fights over women. The Yanomanö traditionally practiced polygamy and raided other villages to procure young women. Such raids were not easily forgotten because people would be killed and families broken up. Consequently, longstanding blood vendettas existed among neighboring villages.
Jungleman eventually comes to know Christ. His spirits abandoned him. In turn, he abandoned his warrior ways and becomes an advocate for the right of Yanomanö women to marry men of their own choosing.
Those who want to believe the noble savage myth (or to disbelieve the existence of the spiritual world) will be disappointed with Ritchie’s Spirit of the Rainforest. Critics question Ritchie’s claim that he simply wrote down what he was told (8). I was not disappointed and found his accounts credible, in part, because his accounts of Yanomanö life are consistent with accounts of other native cultures. For example, the purpose of head-hunting in pre-modern Taiwan was:
To gain a head, as noted earlier, was to qualify a young man to gain the young woman he wished to marry. Revenge for the death of a loved one was also the occasion to take an enemy head .
There is also striking consistency in the influence of a Monkey Spirit (a spirit of lust acted out indiscriminately) in jungle culture and our own.
Ritchie's Spirit of the Rainforest is a page turner and a great book to take along to the beach—reality is so much more interesting than fantasy. As a narrative, this book lends itself to becoming a good screen play .
 spirit-of-the-rainforest website.
 The film, The Wild Child (1970) by Francois Truffaut chronicles the story of an abandoned child in 1798 who lived in the woods alone. When he was discovered, he could not speak and was suspicious of other people. A French scientist takes him in attempting to educate him and to learn from him as a potential validation of the noble savage hypothesis (wikipedia cite: The_Wild_Child).
 A shaman is a term that replaced the politically incorrect term, witch doctor.
 Ralph Covell. 1998. Pentecost of the Hills in Taiwan. Pasadena: Hope Publishing House. Page 26.
 Another film about Amazon tribal life is: End of a Spear (2006). This film re-enacts the story of Mincayani, Waodani warrior, who leads the raid that kills Steve Saint's father and four other missionaries in 1956.