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Ashaninka spirituality and forest conservation Corrêa Fortes, Alice

Abstract

This research was carried out in the Apiwtxa village of the Ashaninka people, located on the banks of the Amônia river, in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, on the border with Peru. Living in one of the most biodiverse regions of the planet, this community stands out both for the strength and depth of its spirituality and for its commitment to stewardship of the environment; with a population of but 900, the Ashaninka of Apiwtxa have within the last twenty years planted more than two million trees. In this study, I analyze the connection between the traditional spiritual practices of the Ashaninka people, with the use of ayahuasca, and the propensity of this people to preserve nature, and to achieve a genuinely sustainable development, combining ancestral mandates inspired in part by mythology, with contemporary practices informed by a scientific understanding of forest ecology. As metaphysical convictions inform behavior, a space of reciprocal respect is created whereby indigenous principles mediate the connection between humans and the forest. Indigenous peoples may well be the best guardians of the world's forests and its biodiversity; where indigenous lands are legally demarcated and secured, carbon sequestration is greater and deforestation is demonstrably less. What do they know, and how do they manage their forests? How much of their worldview, which generates sustainability and conservation, comes from a particular cosmology? What does it mean to consider plants as teachers? What is the relationship between Ashaninka spirituality and their propensity to conserve and regenerate the environment around them? In this research, with the invaluable collaboration of Moisés Piyãko, a revered elder and shaman, I explore this relationship, its origins, precepts, and consequences. Analyzing cosmological aspects, ritualistic norms, and the application of this form of knowledge (not only linked to an ancestral past, but also pointing a way forward), I seek to show how this connection exists and is essential for the choices that this community made and makes. In this way, this study is also a tribute to the plurality of worldviews, the diversity of cultures and the richness they bring us, with its potential for exchanges and teachings. Supplementary material available at: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/78112

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