The Yanomami





The Yanomami are a people of approximately 24`000and they live in South America. About 15`000 live in Venezuela and 9`000 in Brazil. Their territory is the size of Austria. Scientists think that the Yanomami have lived in this area since the firs people arrived in South America, about 50`000 years ago. The Yanomami live in 350 scattered villages in the forest. Every 3-4 years they change their place of living to look for a new area where they can lay out gardens on new and fertile ground. There are five different subdivisions of Yanomami, the Schamatari, Waika, Sanema, Schirischana and the Guajahbo. The Brazilians call them the most primitive people in the world, because the Yanomami have lived in a totally isolation from the outside world for years and so heve kept their traditions. The Yanomami are using very simple tools, taking food from the forest by hunting, fishing, and collecting fruit, insects, frogs and other things


The Yanomami in ancient times:

1000 years ago the Yanomami lived along the rivers Orinoco and Parima with only one language. 700 years ago they split up into sub-groups and developed different languages. In the 18th century they spread themselves in the area around the Orinoco and later in the 19th century scattered themselves further. Up to the end of the 19th century the Yanomami only had contact with their neighbouring tribes. The first contacts with white people go back to the years 1910-1940. Between 1940 and 60 the first missionaries got into touch with them and the Indian protection established its posts. But the Yanomami infected themselves with illnesses caused by civilization, which caused many deaths among the Yanomami. Between 1970 and 1980 the Yanomami were exposed to constant contact with the regional border by development projects of the state. From that they suffered large losses, cultural and geographical ones. When in 1980 rich mineral stores were discovered in the Yanomami area, many gold diggers broke into the country. And again this had serious consequences: The gold diggers contaminated the rivers and stirred up the earth to discover gold and through that, they prepared an ideal place for the malaria flies.


The Yanomami today:

A community (30-100 people) has no chief but every family has a speaker which stand up for the interests of his people. There is a shaman who heals diseases and gives protection against bad daemons. If there are differences of opinion which can’t be settled, then families have the right to split off from the community and live in their own village. From time to time the Yanomami steal women from other villages to prevent incest. Yanomami never kill for stock and a hunter never eats the meat of an animal which he has killed. Women are collecting, fishing or cultivating their gardens or little fields. The women produce 30 per cent of food needed. Men are hunting pumas, chicken birds, sloths and other animals. The Yanomami are walking around naked and they only wear a thin cord around their hips. For ceremonies they fix feather decorations on their shoulders. To decorate the face, they put flowers and little sticks through nose and ears. If a member of the community dies, the others burn the dead body and pulverize the bones to a fine powder. The Yanomami believe that only that way the soul of the deceased will be free and find peace.


The future of the Yanomami: 

In the meantime approx. 70 per cent of the Yanomami have got infected with malaria, while in some areas the number has risen to 90 per cent. But the health authority is neither able nor is it ready to ensure an appropriate supply of medicine. Since 1987 it has come to armed arguments between the Yanomami and the gold diggers again and again. The gold diggers hunt the game of the Yanomami, waste their fields, rape their wives and murder men who oppose them. But until today the invasion of the gold diggers has more or less been tolerated by the national authorities. The protection of the Yanomami territory is questioned again and again. The interests of local politicians and others are more highly valued than the interests of the Indians. But the area in its previous size is an indispensable condition for physical, social and cultural survival of the Yanomami. Therefore the area must be patrolled because of the gold digger invasions. The Indians still must fight for their survival, but their destruction had been prevented by international protests. 


Maëlle and Linda