The Life and Culture of Yanomamo Indians

Published 10 Oct 2017

According to Charito Ushinahua (2008) the Yanomamo Indians are also called “Yanomami, Guaharibo, Guaica, Guajaribo, Ianomami, Yanoama, Yanomama, Yanomame, and Xiriana” (par. 2) The term “Yanomami” means “human being.”

This Indian tribe live in the southern area of Venezuela and north of Brazil. Ushinahua (2008) says there are about 30,000 Yanomamo Indians living in the mentioned areas. (par. 1) This tribe is subdivided into four language families as follows: “Yanoma (Yanomam), Sanuma, Ninam, and Yanam.” (Ushinahua, 2008, par. 1)

Yanomamo Indians are communal and live in a house called “shabono.” There are roofed areas where individual families live. They supply themselves with food by fishing and hunting in the Amazon Rainforest. When a certain area is already depleted of resources, they move their village to another area.

Both men and women do not wear any clothing except that men wear a belt for support. They also decorate themselves with feathers and flowers .” (Ushinahua, 2008, par. 4) As seen in photos, there are ones who have facial pierces of wooden sticks that go across the face. There are also some that apply different colors of inks across their faces and bodies which are tattoo-like.

According to Ushinahua, (2008) each shabono is politically and economically independent from other shabonos (par. 4) Communities practice incest or marrying within the family circle: “Community members typically marry within the community with a cross-cousin, that is with the offspring of a paternal aunt or maternal uncle.” (Ushinahua, 2008, par. 4) Aside from this, it is common, even expected that the man marries several wives.

The Yanomamo tribe like other tribes that live in the Amazon, believe in animism. They believe that every plant (be it a shrub or grass) have life, have an animal spirit in them. “The Yanomami refer to these shamanic spirits as xapiripe(sometimes called hekura or hekurape).” (Ushinahua, 2008, par. 5) One must use “yopo” or “bene” which are hallucinogens, in order to see the shaman spirits. The “yopo” is taken from a virola tree. After hunting, the yopo is blown towards the nasal cavities by one man to another using some wooden tool. They believe that once the yopo is transferred, energy is transferred as well. The person then is able to control spirits and gives him the power to heal others and the power to hurt enemies.

According to Ushinahua (2008), it was in 1980 when several members of the yanomamo tribe died because of the invasion of miners in their territory. There was an estimated death of 2,000 Indians. These deaths were caused by the massacres. They also died of illnesses incurred from mercury that affected the tribe’s source of food and drinking water.

The yanomamo Indians are under threat because of the richness of gold in the area where they live. With this, the Brazilian government has placed some protection in the year 1992. The gold miners were displeased and were found guilty of genocide, having committed in 1993 a crime known as the “Haximu Massacre.” Ushinahua, (2008) says that to this date, there is still the political issue of reducing the tribe’s territory so that the mining operations can take place.

It is worthy to note the leader of the yanomamo Indians, Davi Kopenawa foretold the destruction. He said that at one point, the Amazon forest will be destroyed. He enumerated the trees, the creeks, the lands, even the spirits will all die should the forest be killed by “the whites.” As he states: “The forest-land will become dry and empty. The shamans will no longer be able to deter the smoke-epidemics and the malefic beings who make us ill. And so everyone will die.’ (Ushinahua, 2008, par. 5)


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