On the Day of the Tree, September 21, we will tell the mystical story of the reverent relationship that the Venezuelan Warao indigenous  have with the Buriti Palm, “Ojidu – Tree of Life.”

Dia da Árvore

Indispensable to human life and the equilibrium of the planet, trees are essential for the regulation of the temperature, the humidity of the air and rain; they maintain the quality of the water in the springs, they control erosion, they guarantee the maintenance of biodiversity, they produce fruit and seeds, besides providing wood, resins, and remedies, among other products.

Unfortunately, without becoming aware of their importance, human beings continue to log indiscriminately. To name just one Brazilian biome, from August 2017 to July of 2018, in the Amazon, almost 8 thousand square kilometers of vegetation were destroyed, which is to say, around 1.18 billion trees were cut down, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Awareness and Reverence

In contrast to this utilitarian and disrespectful relationship with nature, the Venezuelan indigenous people of the Warao ethnic group who live in the Pintolândia and Janokoida Shelters in Roraima, under the management of the Fraternity – International Humanitarian Federation (FIHF), provide the example of a respectful relationship and care for the trees and nature as a whole. Their whole life and livelihood is linked to the Buriti Palm, with which they produce food, handicrafts, clothing, and houses.

“We consider the Buriti Palm to be the forest of our land, a sacred tree, since the time of our ancestors; it is part of the life of the Warao Indians, because from it comes many foods and Buriti fiber, with which we make handicrafts,” says Ensismar.

This profound relationship is explained in their mythology, which the native Gricélia narrates: “A long time ago the Warao met a man they called Ojidu. He gave the Warao everything they needed; nets, fruit, flour; everything they needed, he got. One day, a very envious man killed him, and when he died, he became a Buriti Palm – Ojidu, our tree of life, everything we need, it gives us.”

Respect for the Cycles of Nature

“That tree cannot be mistreated; it also cannot be cut without asking the Buriti for permission – it is something sacred,” explains Ensismar, who also reinforces: “it is good to harvest when we are at the new moon and the full moon; during this period, the fruit, the palm, and the juruma (white flour similar to tapioca) are harvested.”

In her coexistence with the Warao, the missionary of the Fraternity (FIHF) and nun of the Grace Mercy Order, Sister Maria de Lourdes, was able to observe how these people experience a deep reverence for the Buriti Palm. When accompanying them in some harvestings of the Buriti fiber sprout in the city of Boa Vista, she perceived that there was something special, a connection with that moment, with the place, from the time of the arrival at the harvest site to the approach of the trees.

“Some, more elderly, were silent when they approached the tree they felt was ready for the removal of the bud from the palm, from which they extract the fiber. After removing the bud, they come down and say a typical prayer of thanks, sliding it through their hands, so that the tree will continue to give the fiber they need. With reverence and great simplicity, they take only what they need for a few weeks, without the intention of accumulating. They return at another time to harvest again from the trees that are now available for collection, respecting the cycle of the one that has just offered its bud,” says the nun.

“I feel, in this experience with the Warao people, that they live, every day, with the simplicity of looking for what is necessary for each moment in life. I have learned not to complicate things so much, to look more simply and reverently at everything that is offered to us in this life,” she concludes.

Look at the documentary Nona Anonamo, which tells about the handicrafts production of the Warao natives.

*Note.: The photos were taken in the period prior to the pandemic