Júlia Yawanawa is a prominent female tribe leader in the Yawanawá village of Mutum. She has a very active approach toward the preservation of all aspects of Yawanawá culture and helps promote festivals, pop-up yawá markets, group encounters and educational programs. She helped create the Yawanawá Cooperative, which focuses (among other things) on the preservation of the tribe’s manufacturing culture and organizes the trade of their intricately woven bracelets and clothes in the cities.
She is the sister of Mariazinha, wife of Biracy, leader of the nearby village of Nova Esperança (New Hope), the biggest and most important Yawanawá village.
In her village, there are two female shamans: Pajé Raimunda Putanny Yawanawá and her sister Pajé Kátia Hushashu Yawanawá. They are the first female Yawanawá shamans and also the first (known) female shamans in all of Brazil.
To become shamans, the sisters had to go against the grain of yawanawá culture, that dictated that all shamans should be men, and prove that they were capable of the life-long position. They had to go through an initiation that consisted of a year-long isolation in the forest, during which they could only eat raw foods and a special corn-based drink. They could not drink water during that whole period and at one point participated in the ritualized drinking of the saliva from a boa constrictor (in this way also drinking the wisdom of the snake).
They were successful in their trials and pledged a sacred oath to the Rare (Hareh) plant, the sacred plant of the Yawanawá people.
Speaking of her experience, Raimunda stated: “Today I know who I am. I am at peace. My language and my culture are rich and beautiful. They are our identity. I know of the beauty and the strength of nature. I feel the power of thought. When it is firm, there is nothing impossible and there is nothing that is superior or inferior. We are equals in the passage through life. Each one with their function and the power of their desires, which must be used for the benefit of all.”
In 2006, on International Women’s Day (March 8th), the sister shamans were given a prize for Outstanding Woman Citizenship by the Brazilian Senate. The two traveled by boat, car and plane for a whole day to be present at the ceremony in the country’s capital and sang a Yawanawá chant in honor of all the women of Brazil, deeply moving the audience of politicians.