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The Yanomami Essay

1384 words - 6 pages

Tribes have been present since the beginning of time. They are often smart, innovative and self-sufficient, all without the use of modern technology. A prime example of this is the Yanomami tribe. They are one of the last completely isolated and non-urbanized tribes in the world. The Yanomami have managed to stay secluded from society for over a hundred years and now this is starting to change. Cities along the Brazilian- Venezuelan border are expanding and occupying Yanomami land. Along with the expansion of Brazil and Venezuela, gold miners are invading the tribes land and destroying their environment and their health. The tribe has no real way of protecting themselves; they do not use or ...view middle of the document...

The tribe believes that when Yopo is taken they are given a power to interact with the spirits of plants and animals. This religion is called animism. Only a shaman can take this hallucinogen and only men can trained to hold this title. (2) Another unique aspect about the Yanomami is that they partake in bi-lateral cross-cousin marriages. Their attitude towards sex, marriage and divorce is very laid back. This fact is foreign to Westerners, but they also have traditional, old fashioned views about the roles of men and women. The men’s role is to gather, hunt and provide for the family, and the women are caretakers of the children. Their culture is unlike any in North America though, and it has developed throughout hundreds of years without any influences, but now people are starting to intrude on their land and threaten their way of life.

The 70 000 square miles of land that the Yanomami live on is very valuable; full of materials and resources. It is desirable to many and the tribe is unable to protect themselves from those destroying their land. (5) Davi Kopenawa is a shaman and spokesperson for the Yanomami. In an interview he explains the damage that has been done to their land and to their morality. He says "they see what is happening to our community... They are terrified of the miners and the [polluted] rivers". (6) Davi Kopenawa also wrote a book with anthropologist Bruce Albert outlining firsthand accounts about what the "garimpeiros" or prospectors have and will do to their land because of gold mining. "They soiled the rivers with yellowish mire and filled them with 'xawaro' epidemic fumes from their machines". (6)The miners have come onto the tribes land in search of gold. They mine and dig up all the trees, destroying the soil and water. The Yanomami shaman says that it is the trees that give their land value of growth. Due to the fact that they live on land with great worth, along to the Venezuela - Brazil border, the Yanomami's existence is in danger.

Anthropologists have been arguing for years about how noble the Yanomami tribe is and this debate has tarnished their reputation. The negative perception that some people have about the tribe is creating less sympathy for them and more of an opportunity for the tribe’s destruction. (3) In 1968 one anthropologist published a book that started this whole debate about the Yanomami. His name is Napoleon Chagnon and his book is titled "The Yanomamo: The Fierce People". In his book he makes accounts of the tribe being violent. It’s hard to feel sympathy for people described as "burly, filthy and hideous". (4) Their bad reputation also stems from their male honour. Status within the tribe is one of the most important things and the men of the Yanomami are willing to be violent to achieve it. In 1988 Chagnon found that of all living Yanomami over the age of 40, two thirds of them have lost one or more family members to violence. (3) The tribe also lacks sympathy from...

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