Graduate Biology Student Discovers Destiny in His Maternal Rainforest Lineage
David Good ’11, an ESU graduate biology student, is one-fourth Italian and one-fourth German. The other half of his familial blood flows from the Amazon Rainforest, directly through his mother, a full-blooded member of the Yanomami tribe. It was with his Amazon family that David discovered confirmation of his dream to bridge two worlds.
Good’s father, Dr. Kenneth Good, an anthropologist, had lived among the Yanomami for 12 years. Somewhere in that time he fell in love with a young Yanomami woman and married her according to tribal customs; marriage vows they repeated later in the United States. Eventually, Dr. Good asked his wife, Yarima, to return to New Jersey and live with him “in his village.” Yarima, perhaps a bit nervously, since she had never ventured much farther than the next village, accepted. Dr. and Mrs. Good did not make the plane flight alone, however, for Yarima was pregnant, and just a few months shy of giving birth to David.
Family life was happy though; Dr. Good was teaching, and eventually the couple added two more children to their small tribe. David spent his childhood, at least it’s first five years, with feet in two cultures, playing stick-ball with his American friends one month and toting his bow and arrow through the jungle to hunt lizards with his Yanomami cousins the next. The family made four or five lengthy visits to Yarima’s village; but eventually homesickness became too much and David’s mother made the heartrending decision to return to the jungle, alone, to stay.
Fast forward 19 years to July, 2011. David is now an ESU grad, with his bachelor’s degree in biology. He is also a young man who, though for a long time struggled with what he saw as “abandonment,” has come to terms with his mother’s need to return to life in the jungle and her vastly different culture; one she had known for nearly 45 years.
But the need to see her again was all-consuming and David, with much training and a bit of help, embarked on a journey down Venezuela’s Orinoco River to his mother’s village. “I love my mother with all my heart,” says David. “When we were finally together we held each other and wept. I knew the cultural barrier could not dissolve our bonds. The past is in the past. I’m completely at peace with this now.”
In the three months he spent with his relatives, David never felt treated as an outsider, or “nabuh,” in the Yanomami language. “I was one of them,” he says. “I felt a deep connection with my people.” Perhaps that feeling of belonging reinforced David Good’s decision to continue on for his master’s degree in biology, for which he is already in his first year at ESU’s graduate school. His goal is to return to the Rainforest to live and work among his people.
Those who feel the outside world’s influences most keenly are the young. One concern David has is that western culture could completely smother the Yanomami way of life. During his stay, many of the tribe’s teenagers asked David why he would come to the jungle when he lives in America, which they view as a kind of wonderland. “I told them,” he says, “that ‘the Yanomami are a proud and great people, and I come here because I am half Yanomami and am proud of that.’ I was happy to see their faces light up.”
But modern civilization does spread change – not all of it bad, of course. Although, doctors sometimes do clash with the Yanomami health system, a system based on shamanism. “The doctors have a real need to communicate and to gain my people’s trust,” David says. “There are lives at stake. My dream, like my dad’s, is to live in two worlds for extended periods. I’m just a novice now, but when I’m a bit older and have this education, I believe I can serve as a bridge.”