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August 5, 2014

Reference Librarian Alison Dundy, HVACLS, Co-translates Book on Yanomani Shaman, Wins Prestigious Prize

Alison Dundy, a reference librarian at the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies, has co-translated a book,

"The Fallling Sky" has been translated by Empire State College labor school librarian Alison Dundy and her colleague Nicholas Elliott. It is "a life story, autoethnography and cosmoecological manifesto," spoken by a Yanomami shaman.

Alison Dundy, a reference librarian at the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies, has co-translated a book, "The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman," by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, which has been published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Dundy and her co-translator, Nicholas Elliott, recently won the prestigious French-American Foundation translation award for their work on the English version of Kopenawa's words.

As Bruce Albert describes the book, it is, "a life story, autoethnography and cosmoecological manifesto" spoken by Kopenawa, a renowned Yanomani shaman and indigenous rights activist, in conversations with Albert, a French anthropologist and colleague of Kopenawa, who then translated his words into French.

"The Falling Sky" is a remarkable first-person account of the life story and cosmo-ecological thought of Kopenawa, shaman and spokesman for the Yanomami of the Brazilian Amazon. Representing a people whose very existence is in jeopardy, Kopenawa paints an unforgettable picture of Yanomami culture, past and present, in the heart of the rainforest -- a world where ancient indigenous knowledge and shamanic traditions cope with the global geopolitics of an insatiable natural resources extraction industry.

In richly evocative language, Kopenawa recounts his initiation and experience as a shaman, as well as his first encounters with outsiders: government officials, missionaries, road workers, cattle ranchers and gold prospectors. He vividly describes the ensuing cultural repression, environmental devastation and deaths resulting from epidemics and violence. To counter these threats, Kopenawa became a global ambassador for his endangered people. "The Falling Sky" follows him from his native village in the northern Amazon to Brazilian cities and finally on transatlantic flights bound for European and American capitals. These travels constitute a shamanic critique of Western industrial society, whose endless material greed, mass violence and ecological blindness contrast sharply with Yanomami cultural values.

Albert, a close friend since the 1970s, superbly captures Kopenawa’s intense, poetic voice. This collaborative work provides a unique reading experience that is at the same time a coming-of-age story, a historical account and a shamanic philosophy, but most of all an impassioned plea to respect native rights and preserve the Amazon rainforest.

 “There is no way to describe the scope and power of the book in a brief notice. But a bit of both is conveyed by the following description by Kopenawa of his intention, which can be found in his brief preface, ‘Words Given,’" commented HVACLS Dean Michael Merrill.

(From the book)

"I would like white people to stop thinking that our forest is dead and placed here without reason. I would like them to listen to the voice of the xapiri [spirits] who play here incessantly, dancing on their glittering mirrors. Maybe they will want to defend it with us? I would also like their sons and daughters to understand our words. I would like them to make friendship with our sons and daughters in order not to grow up in ignorance. For if this forest is entirely devastated, no other forest will ever be born."

An interview with Dundy can be viewed at

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