The Yanomamo are a tribe of twenty thousand who live in about two hundred and fifty widely dispersed villages in Brazil and Venezuela. It was first thought that the Yanomamo were a group of hunter-gatherers, but contrary to that thought they actually cultivate their own crops for food. They also hunt and forage, but only as needed. While the Yanomamo travel for several weeks when the jungle fruits and vegetables are ripe, they are a tribal society settled in villages, which break into small groups to go off on collecting expeditions. During such expeditions, game such as wild pigs, large and small birds, monkeys, deer, rodents, and anteaters, are hunted. The bulk of the Yanomamo food, more than eighty percent, is grown in their village gardens. The size of the garden is dictated by the size of the family it must feed. Because village headmen will have the responsibility of entertaining visitors and sponsoring feasts, they plant and care for larger plots. Plantain is their most important domesticated crop. Manioc, taro, and sweet potatoes are also cultivated along with cane, used for arrow manufacture, and tobacco, a crop of central importance. All women, men, and children chew tobacco daily and guard it jealously. The Yanomamo word for being poor is literally translated as without tobacco. Cotton is also grown in the village gardens to provide the materials for hammocks and clothes. The Yanomamo envision the universe as having four layers hovering atop one another with a thin layer of space between them. The top most layer is empty, the second is sort of like Christianity’s heaven where the souls of the deceased go after death except there isn’t any pearly gates and the dead continue on in their after lives as they would down on Earth. The third layer is the one where the Yanomamo live in, which they say was created when a piece of the second layer fell off. The bottom most layer, the Yanomamo say, was created when the sky fell to earth on top of a particular settlement, and pushed it down through to the underside; the people of the settlement were forced to eat each other. The belief that souls are regularly carried off to be eaten below reflects the Yanomamo’s fear of cannibalism. The soul plays a central part in the spiritual world of the Yanomamo. The soul consists of two pieces the one that continues into the afterlife and the one that is freed upon cremation and lives in the jungle. The Yanomamo believe that after death on the way to topmost layer they come to a fork guarded by a spirit which directs them which way to go guided by the generosity shown by soul’s mortal owner. They believe that if directed to the underworld, they can lie out of it and go down the preferred route. The only type of leadership is that of the headman whose main purpose is to host visitors. In the Yanomamo culture, it is commonplace and expected behavior that women are physically disciplined by their husbands for almost any infraction ranging from being too slow with the preparation of food to suspected infidelity, such punishment for these infractions can be murder. The Yanomamo are a violent culture, but yet in attempts to avoid warfare, males often enter formalized duels of chest pounding and side-slapping, the Yanomamo are often on hallucinogens during such encounters. The duels can escalate into fighting with clubs, which are actually ten-foot poles with one end sharpened to a point. True warfare begins when one village raids another and kills as many of the enemy as possible and escape without being detected. Another such way of warfare is nomobori, dastardly trick. During this men from a village say they received machetes and cooking pots by praying to a previously unknown spirit and once the other village’s men kneel down and bow their heads, the raiders hack them to death with the machetes and take the village’s women.

The Yanomamo are one of few societies, which have not been affected by influences of the outside world until recent times. Due to the drastic destruction of their natural environment, the Rainforest, as well as the disease and challenges facing this culture through contact with outside cultures, the Yanomamo traditional culture is facing rapid extinction, if nothing is done to prevent this. In 1972, missionaries sent many of the Yanomamo to boarding schools for deculturing and many contracted measles, dysentery, hepatitis, malaria, influenza, and colds resulting in about half the population dying out. In 1987, forty thousand prospectors came looking for gold finding that the Yanomamo were in the way the tried to get rid of those hindering their mining operations, this introduced them to guns which led to over-hunting and less game to hunt. In 1991, Venezuela set up a preserved area for them, but more recently local governments have more local power and will probably bring more outsiders in contact with the Yanomamo. In 1993, Yanomamo were massacred in Brazil because of no protection and repeatedly lies to N. Chagnon & others trying to protect them.

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