All that glitters doesn’t always shimmer: values during and beyond the pandemic

By Graham Harvey

“The earth shimmers”, Debbie Rose wrote of her learning-through-dancing among Aboriginal Australian hosts. The pulse of seasons informs the shimmering rhythms of dance which capture participants, encouraging them to flourish. It’s a fine vision, especially for those of us anticipating summer sunshine. But Rose contrasts this Aboriginal approach to the world with the cascading mass extinctions that follow from Western-originated efforts to separate humans from the world we exploit.

Tempting as it is to think here about the rhythms of isolation and permitted exercise, I propose to look at another stark contrast. The Coronavirus pandemic has decreased industrial production and consumption (except of loo rolls, it seems) and led to decreased share prices globally. As a result, gold is casting its glittery allure again.

The president of Brazil insists that Amazonia should be exploited, timber and minerals extracted, financial wealth gained. Amazonia’s rivers and soils are being polluted as miners quest for the lucrative glittering metal. Indigenous communities, already ravaged by “ordinary” diseases (measles and flu) now face the danger of Covid-19. In his book The Falling Sky (2018), the Yanomami author Davi Kopenawa writes about the devastation of previous epidemics. This new virus, already killing Indigenous people in many places, not only across South America, is likely to be worse.

Kopenawa also writes about the irrelevance of gold to his Yanomami people. What glows with value and life for them is the forest world which provides everything but requires careful respectful interaction. Kopenawa is a diplomat and also a shaman who gains knowledge from bright dancing spirits he calls Xapiri. The glitter of gold has an allure for miners. The liveliness of the forest and Xapiri captivate the Yanomami. The shimmer of these contrasts is one of many invitations to us to consider our values and our ambitions.



Kopenawa, Davi, and Bruce Albert. 2013. The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman. Cambridge: the Belknap Press of Harvard University.

Rose, Deborah B. 2017. “Shimmer: When all you love is being trashed” in Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan and Nils Bubant (eds). Arts of living on a damaged planet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. G51-G63.