The Yamomami live on the Venezuelan-Brazilian border and are considered to be the largest indigenous ethnic group in the Amazon region with roughly 35,000 members. They occupy 36,294 sq. miles of the northern Amazon, an area about the same size as Indiana.
The Yanomami live in large, circular houses called yanos, which can house up to 400 people.
The central area is used for rituals, feasts - such as the harvesting of the peach palm fruit, and the reahu (funeral feast) - and games.
Every family has one central fire, which they all sleep beside in hammocks.
- The Yanomami believe in equality and democracy; they have no chiefs and all rules are decided by consensus after a large amount of debating.
However, men and women still have distinct roles; women farm while men mainly hunt using a plant extract (curare) to poison their prey, which ranges from tapir to monkey. Hunting is considered extremely honorable and meat is prized among the tribe.
Hunters never eat meat that they have killed and instead share it with friends and family, only receiving meat from other hunters.
Women, on the other hand, take care of 80% of the tribe's diet; tending crops and an average of 60 gardens along with collecting nuts, shellfish, insects, and 15 types of valuable wild honey. They grow a great deal of tobacco and plantains.
However, both men and women go on communal fishing trips. They bundle timbó (fish poison) up in vines, then drop them in the water. The liquid stuns the fish which then rise to the water’s surface to be scooped into baskets. They use nine species of vine just for fish poisoning!
In the Amazon, there is a surprising number of leisure time, as work only takes roughly four hours a day. So many Yanomami develop hobbies or visit other communities (that they are allied with), just like we do. However, not all tribes are on good terms; the Yanomami are almost constantly at war with other Yanomami.
They believe that every object, place, plant, and animal possess a spirit
Some spirits are malevolent, which are believed to cause disease.
The Yanomami have one higher power, the supreme Omame, who is considered the creator of the known physical and spiritual world.
Shamans control these spirits by inhaling a hallucinogenic snuff called yakoana. In these visions, the shamans see the spirits (xapiripë).
"Only those who know the xapiripë can see them because the xapiripë are very small and bright like light. There are many, many xapiripë, thousands of xapiripë like stars. They are beautiful, and decorated with parrot feathers and painted with urucum (annatto) and others have oraikok, others have earrings and use black dye and they dance very beautifully and sing differently."
The Yanomami practice endocannibalism by consuming the ashes of the dead. When a person dies, they are wrapped in leaves and placed in the forest for the insects to eat. The bones are then cremated into ashes, which are mixed with a soup made of bananas and consumed by the community. The Yanomami believes this keeps the spirit of their loved one alive and strengthens them as a being.
The Yanomami do not wear many clothes, choosing instead to decorate their bodies with beads and paint; women wear beautiful halter-neck adornments. Men only wear loincloths so as to not overheat.
The tribe first came into contact with outsiders in 1940 when the Brazilian government sent officials to define the border with Venezuela.
Long ago, the Yonomami Tribe's earliest ancestors probably migrated across the Bering Straits between Asia and America some 15,000 years ago, making their way slowly down to South America.
1940 - The Brazilian Government’s Indian Protection Service and many missionary groups established themselves near the tribe, spreading flurries of foreign diseases that wiped out thousands.
1970 - a federal road was built through Yanomami territory, bringing in alcohol, colonists, and illegal logging corporations. Bulldozers, which the tribe had no prior notice of, drove through the community of Opiktheri. The influx of disease wiped out two villages.
1980's -In the 1980’s, a gold rush brought in 40,000 miners who shot and killed the natives, infecting them with disease and destroying their villages. 20% of the entire Yanomami population died in just seven years.
Colonial Interference (1940 - present)
1992 - Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, a Yanomami shaman and activist apart of Survival International, finally made the Yanomami’s land into “Yanomami Park”, granting it national park privileges and defining borders between the natives and the outside world. The miners were expelled.
The Yanomami still do not even have ownership over their own land because the government refuses to recognize tribal land ownership, despite having signed the international law (ILO Convention 169) guaranteeing it.
1993 - A group of miners entered the village of Haximú and murdered 16 Yanomami including a baby. Court found five miners guilty of genocide, a rare occurrence.
2004: Yanomami across eleven regions of Brazil met to form their own organisation, which they called Hutukara, to defend their rights. Later, Brazil's National Health Foundation (FUNASA) took charge of Yanomami health care and ever since, the Yanomami have increasingly denounced the chaotic and corrupt health care system, which is neglecting the medical supplies and equipment needed to keep tribe members alive.
2011: The Yanomami in Venezuela formed their own organization called Horonami to defend their rights.
Sadly, many want to cut down the Yanomami's land to expand mining territory and colonize the open land.
Groups combat this, such as David Good, (anthropologist) and his wife Yarima, who launched ‘The Good Project’.
Yanomami-Hlife eV is building schools and medical stations in Brazil and Venezuela for the Yanomami tribe.
It is unknown what will come of the Yanomami tribe, as they could either be wiped out by modern civilization or the various groups trying to help may succeed in teaching the world about such a fascinating tribe and stop the genocide, poisoning, and deforestation that continues to hurt the Yanomami today.
However one can also try and help. You can donate to Survival Internation or even write a letter to the Brazilian government.
Thousands of gold-miners, since the 1980's gold rush, continue to illegally work on Yanomami land, transmitting deadly diseases like malaria and polluting the rivers and forest with mercury.
Cattle ranchers and illegal farming coalitions are invading and deforesting the rainforest.
On top of that, because of the new and unreliable health care plan, Yanomami health is suffering and critical medical care is not reaching them, especially in Venezuela.
Many non-natives want the Yanomami's land reduced in size and opened up to mining, ranching and colonization. The Brazilian congress is currently debating a bill which, if approved, would permit large-scale mining on the Yanomami and other tribes' lands.
On top of this, the Brazilian army has built barracks in the Yanomami heartlands where soldiers have prostituted Yanomami women, spreading STD's.
I did not get in contact with my tribe as they are rather isolated.