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Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo Shaman's Story Paperback – January 1, 2000
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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."
I had devoured a good chunk of the book by the time I turned on my computer and learned the terrible news from New York. I kept reading; there seemed to be a connection. The book is an absolutely mind-blower of a story, but if we were to translate the events it describes into a thesis, one sub-point of that thesis would be: "Mass murder and sincere spirituality are not mutually exclusive, by any means." As Ritchie put it, "(Ex-shaman and Yamomamo Indian Shoefoot) has no problem understanding the Columbine High School massacre or any other killing spree. The spirits of anger and hatred that own and drive a person are spirits he has known personally." It occured to me that we have the same choice as confronts the "converted" village in this book: to seek justice with mercy and caution, and danger to ourselves, or to pass on forgiveness and descend to the level of our enemies. While in Taiwan, I was asked to speak about the relationship between Christianity and Islam, and found myself wishing I'd brought the book along. Jungleman puts so many things so well.
This is not a book you want to read your children to sleep by. It might not even work for your church (still less, coven) book-of-the-month club. Besides being full of violence, its message will be a challenge to skeptics and those who are attracted to the occult. But anyone who is untouched by it, by the pain, beauty, pathos, irony, and danger of being human that it reveals, of living in a spiritual jungle as responsible beings, must have a heart of stone. Jungleman reminds us that before a person is a "native" and subject of anthropological study, he is a human being -- and that "social scientists" and missionaries forget their common humanity and responsibility to Yai Pada, the Great Spirit, at their own peril. As a student of world religions who has written a bit about the occult in Asian traditions and the idea of God in Asian belief systems, I found a great deal that was a priori credible in this inside description of the Yanomamo culture, though of course I have no means of vouching for the specific accuracy of the events it records.
Mark Ritchie's earlier book, God in the Pits, is also worth a read, though it is not as mind-blowning as this book. I also recommend Peace Child, by Don Richardson, which comes close to resembling Spirit of the Rainforest, though more conventional in approach, it is also a remarkable true story of a stone-age tribe that meets Jesus.
author, Jesus and the Religions of Man // ...