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Yanomami: People of the Past

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Yanomami: People of the Past

The Yanomami are a group of Indigenous people that live in the Amazon Rainforest, and are consider one of the largest indigenous groups to have maintained a traditional way of life. First contact with the Yanomami tribe was by Napoleon A. Chagnon in 1964. Since contact with the outside world the Yanomami have suffered continuous blows that devastate their way of life and have a lasting impact on their culture, and puts into question will they be people of the past? To fully understand what the world would lose if the Yanomami people do not survive, or end up being absorbed into a more modern population, you must first look at how they came to be. The first thing that you need to know is how they ended up in the Amazon Rainforest, and how they still preserve a traditional way of life. To fully understand their way of life you must investigate, what they live in, how they gather food, who is in charge, and family life. Then you need to learn about the effects that the outside world is having on the Yanomami, and how that could result in the destruction of an entire culture.

The name Yanomami is not what they call themselves, but a name that an anthropologist gave them, meaning; 'human beings'. (Yanomami Indians-Crystalinks, 2). The Yanomami people can be divided into four subgroups; Yanoma, Sanuma, Ninam, Yanam. These subgroups are based on linguistic differentiation. Like many other indigenous tribes in Latin America, the Yanomami had to migrate from somewhere. "Some believe that the Yanomami are descendants of the second wave of Paleo-Indians who migrated over the Bering Land Bridge" (Cruz et all, 126). As discussed in class, and in several books, there is evidence that suggest that three different waves of migration brought Native American people to the Americas. We know this because of the three different genetic make-ups that scientists have found in remains in North and South America. The Yanomami do not have a written language, so based on oral tradition and early documents about them we know that the Yanomami first settled in Parima mountain range.(Yanomami Indians-Crystalinks, 2). This is still where a good majority of the population is located. Eventually, the descendants of Yanomami people made it to the Amazon Rainforest, where some reside today. They live along the Brazilian-Venezuelan border, (See picture #1), and are divided into two different areas in where they settle. One area in which they live is relatively near river systems, which include the Orinoco, and the second area is deep in the Amazon Rainforest. Today about ninety-five percent of the Yanomami live deep in the Amazon Rainforest, which leaves five percent living along major rivers (Yanomai Indians-Crystalinks, 3). Many anthropologists believe that the Yanomami were able to disperse because of the acquisition of new plants for cultivation, metal tools through exchange and warfare with neighboring indigenous groups. (Bier, 3)

Instead of living in modern day homes where each family has their own place to live, the Yanomami live in communal houses called shabonos or yanos. A shabono can be described as a ring shaped structure with an opening in the center. (See picture #2) Shabonos can house up to 400 people. A Shabonos can consist of one extended family or several families. In the center of the shabono the Yanomami perform rituals, feasts and games. Each family has their own area with a fire, where they prepare and cook their food during the day. At night this area is where they hang their hammocks to sleep next to the fire to stay warm. Each family has wooden racks that hold fruits, and they hang their baskets, cooking utensils, and other tools from the wall. The Yanomami have no other possessions. (Schwartz, 1). The lay out of the areas outside of the village can be described as circles inside circles. These circles outline what types of activities are done in each area. The inner-most circle is where the community does individual fishing, smaller scale gatherings by the women, and short hunting trips. The second circle where families gather food from day to day and where individual hunting occurs. The third circle is where hunting trips that last up to weeks take place.(Yanomamo Indians, 3)

The Yanomami are considered semi-nomadic or hunter-gatherers, meaning they have temporary housing and move around based on the cultivation of their crops. The rainforest soil is not very fertile, so to cultivate plants the Yanomami typically use a technique called slash and burn. The slash and burn technique involves cutting and burning the Amazon rainforest, this allows the ground to be fertile for a short period of time. The Yanomami use this technique because it requires very simple tools and technique. Along with the slash and burn technique, the Yanomami must move their fields every few years so they do not exhaust the fields. The women tend to the gardens, which the food produced contributes to about 80% of their food (Ushinahua, 2). In the gardens, the Yanomami can grow up to sixty different crops. These crops include; bananas, plants for seasoning and plants that are medicine. Along with gardening, the women also collect nuts, shellfish and insect larvae. The men do the hunting, using bow and arrow, a dart gun, and even use a plant extract to poison their prey. Men hunt pumas, chicken, birds and sloths, and this only is 10% of their diet.(Yanomamo Indians, 11) Even though the meat from hunting is not a high percentage of their diet, meat is considered very prestigious and highly valued. When a man brings home meat from a hunt, he does not eat his own meat, but shares it with his friends and family and in return he will get meat from friends and family. If able to the Yanomami also fish, both men and women share this job, but they do not use a fishing pole or a spear. The Yanomami use poisonous vines, to stun the fish temporarily and are then able to scoop the fish out of the water with a basket. The Yanomami usually work around four hours per day to satisfy their needs, materials and food, this allows several hours per day for the Yanomami to relax and enjoy social activities. The Yanomami has also gained a substantial amount of knowledge about surrounding plant life. They have learned what plants are good from food, medicine and for house building.

Unlike modern societies, the Yanomami believe in equality. They do not have a chief, and to make a decision they come to an agreement. The agreement is usually made after long discussions and debates. To have some organization every family has a speaker who will represent the interests of his people (Lizot, 65). The Yanomami do have a hierarchy of levels that they have to resolve conflict within a village and between villages. This can range from arguing with a person all the way up to duels. The duels are comparable in modern



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