Yanomami means “human being”. This definition alone is what intrigued me enough to choose the Yanomami as my topic. The Yanomami
are located in the Amazon rainforests of Brazil and Venezuela. The Yanomami are an indigenous tribe, which is made up of
subdivisions of Indian villages that live in seclusion. Each household contains one to six family compartments. Social life
is organized around kinship relationships, descent from ancestors, and marriage. They are hunters and gatherers and tend small
garden plots. The Yanommami are believed to be the most primitive, culturally intact people in the world and the last culture
to come into contact with the modern world.
The Yanomami villages are grouped by families in a large communal dwelling
called a Shabono. The villages are scattered throughout the forest and contain 40 to 300 individuals. They cremate the dead,
crush the bones and then drink them in a final ceremony, which is intended to keep their loved ones with them forever. Within
the village, there are headmen, who keep order and have the responsibility of deciding the relationships with other villages.
The headmen are simultaneously peacemakers and warriors, known for their personal wit, wisdom and charisma, and have a reputation
for being what is called “waiteri”, which means fierce. Each village has it own rules, but does have alliances with other
villages, which can lead to ganging up together in warfare against disputing villages. Political decisions are made by consensus
within the village. All work together in equality, which is something modern man needs a lesson in.
Yanomami men marry
a woman who is his matrilateral cross cousin and his bilateral cross cousin. This means that the wife may be the mother of
a mans children, the daughter of his fathers sister and the daughter of his mothers brother. Marriages are set up to strengthen
relationships between family groups. Men definitely outrank women; in fact, men are allowed to beat their wives. Members
from the same localized lineage are forbidden from marrying. Marriages are usually arranged before puberty and the females
have no say in who they marry. The inter-marring groups form the core of the villages and reside together. The inter-village
feast is where political issues are resolved through trade and marriage arrangements.
The numbering system for the
Yanomami is one, two and more than two. The men carry quivers containing extra-carved wooden spears and arrows while hunting.
On the outside of the quiver they tie fire-making sticks. The women weave and decorate flat baskets and burdens baskets,
which are carried by a strap around the forehead. Red berries called onoto are used to dye the straps, their bodies and loin
cloths. The baskets are decorated with tradition Yanomami designs using masticated charcoal pigment. The Yanomami have been
very successful at gaining a superior balance and harmony with their environment.
The Yanomami believe that the natural
and spiritual world is a unified force, which means, nature creates everything, and is sacred. The belief in fate includes
the fate of all people and is tied into the fate of the environment. Their spiritual leader is a sharman. They have not discovered
the wheel, nor have they incorporated even 1% of modern man’s discoveries into their way of life. The only metal they use
is what is traded to them from outsiders. They are a closely knitted people and believe they are an achievement-based society.
A well-known and respected Yanomami medicine man named David Yanomami says, “if the white man does not stop his destruction
of the Mother Earth, the white men are doomed to extinction, along with the rain forest and the Yanomami.”