By Vanessa Scott
SC Staff Writer
Walking past David Good on campus, you might guess that he is just a regular student. But his indigenous roots include much more than studying and taking things around him for granted. On Thursday, April 5, Mr. Good welcomed the ESU community into his life as he shared his story, titled, My Amazonian Adventure, in which he describes his search for his mother who lives among the Yanomami in the Amazon jungle
So who are the Yanomami? Well, according to the dictionary they are members of the South American Indian people who live in widely scattered villages along the Brazil-Venezuela border. But if you were to ask Mr. Good, he’d tell you there’s much more to these people than that.
Mr. Good explains that the Yanomami are one of the last traditional tribes to exist today. Because they live so deep in the jungle, it is hard for people to reach them.
“There is a diffusion of technology that never reached the majority of the Yanomami. Some villages are constantly exposed to outsiders but most are still isolated and far from the influences of the Yanomami,” he says. “Therefore, they have retained their traditional culture for thousands of years. With a counting system that consists of one, two and many, no written language, [and] no concept of biomedicine or germ theory, they are known to be one of the last relatively isolated traditional societies to exist today.”
His father, Kenneth Good, is an American anthropologist who went to the jungle to study the protein intake of the Yanomami and how it related to warfare. He ended up staying there for 12 years and developed a friendship with a girl named Yarima. He was encouraged to marry if he was going to be staying in the jungle and he agreed.
Despite being from different cultural backgrounds, Kenneth and Yarima developed a friendship that blossomed into love. When Yarima became pregnant with Mr. Good, his father decided it would be best for her to have the baby in the United States to avoid complications.
“They loved each other immensely and the decision for them to start a life in America was a decision made as a couple—a couple that battled all odds with the support of each other,” says Mr. Good.
Kenneth and Yarima resided in Rutherford, New Jersey for a few years. Hidden from American society, Yarima did not understand the U.S. and the way we live. While staying in a hotel, she passed a mirror and ran and hid because she didn’t know what it was. One time, Kenneth had to chase her down the street to cover her up after she walked out naked. Yarima did not understand why we need clothes. She struggled with the things we see every day and think nothing of.
As time went on, it became harder for her to deal with the isolation of being away from the jungle. Although his mother seemed lonely with the slow conformity, Mr. Good recalls a happy mother and family.
“I have many memories of my mother,” he says, “going to malls, riding the roller coasters, attending festivals and fairs, dancing to music, wrestling playfully with my father, on and on. We were a happy family.”
On one of their return trips back to the jungle, Yarima made the heart wrenching decision to stay among her people. At just five years old, this would be the last time Mr. Good would see his mother.
“I battled life living without my mother as I initially internalized her leaving as abandonment,” he says. “I was self-conscious of my indigenous background and struggled to understand my identity. Why did she leave? Is she alive? Does she think about us? Is she ok? Would she ever want to see me again?”
Mr. Good grew up struggling to find his identity. “I grew up wondering ‘why are my friend’s moms driving them to soccer practice and my mom is naked in the jungle eating tarantellas?’”
Nineteen years later, upon completing a Bachelor’s in Biology from East Stroudsburg University, Mr. Good decided it was time to find his mother.
“I claimed myself emotionally and physically ready to embark on the quest to find my mother,” he said. “Though she was thousands of miles away and worlds apart, my mother had always been in my thoughts. I missed her for so many years and dreamed of the day when we could be together again, to hold each other and pick up from where we left off.”
Without hesitation, he set off on July 24, 2011 to walk the same ground he had 19 years earlier. With the help of Venezuelan anthropologist Hortensia Caballero, he embarked to find his mother. Flying from Newark airport to Caracas, Venezuela was the easy part. From there, they traveled upriver and through the rapids where it is very easy to capsize. These same rapids that Mr. Good crossed not only scare outsiders away, but they are the same waters his father capsized in, becoming stranded before being rescued by some Yanomami who happened to be fishing.
When Mr. Good and Hortensia finally arrived, he set up his hammock as the villagers crowded around, touching his face. He met and discovered his half-brother who went and got their mother.
Mr. Good recounts, “I was waiting in the hammock, and she walked in with a basket of plantains. Even though we couldn’t speak the same language and [we] were from two different worlds, the cultural barrier does not dissolve the bond a mother has for her children. We both held each other and cried.”
While there, he met his uncle who gave him his Yanomami name, “Año-poweh,” meaning, “detour.” He also dealt with the shocking discovery that he had two wives whom he was expected to have kids with.
“I’m still going through the struggle (and culture shock) of being in the jungle and who would have thought I’d be having marital issues,” he says, laughing. Despite the fact that he couldn’t remember their names, he joked how he referred to them as “wife number one and wife number two.” He never officially married wife one or two, but calls it an ongoing conflict, yet to be resolved.
While in the jungle, Mr. Good was welcomed to food many wouldn’t think of trying today. Although he felt more at ease with plantains and some jelly and crackers he’d brought with him, he also tried snake, grubs, piranhas, wild boars, crabs, and termites.
After three months, Mr. Good decided to depart his second home and return to the states.
“I’m very proud to be Yanomami. This is the beginning of a very bright future for me and my family,” he says. “I need two worlds to survive.”
Mr. Good is now pursuing his Masters of Biology at ESU and is already looking forward to returning to the depths of the jungle. He hopes to learn the language of the Yanomami so he can fluently communicate with his family.
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