Yanomamo: People of the Rainforest
Located in the Amazon Basin of Southern Venezuela and Northern Brazil, the Yanomamo are an indigenous group numbering close to 23,000. They utilize slash and burn horticulture, hunting and gathering to survive within their ecosystem. Napoleon Chagnon termed the group, “fierce people”, citing their numerous disputes within non-allied villages. Aside from their periodic warfare, they have managed to build and sustain their unique culture through adaptations to their environment for generations.
Yanomamo families may live together as simply nuclear, polygnous, or extended (Ramos 1995, 188). Each house may have somewhere between one to six family compartments (Ramos 1995, 36). Alcida Rita Ramos explains that the nuclear family is very often so entangled in the web of kinship that, in order to define it, it is necessary to go through relatives who are primary neither to the husband nor to the wife (1995, 188). She states, "the wife may be the mother of a mans children, the daughter of his mothers brother, and the daughter of his fathers sister" (1995, 188). Frank A Salamone further explains the confusing kinship system they maintain by explaining that children of siblings of the opposite sex on both mothers and fathers side is the preferred marriage termed "bilateral cross-cousin marriage" (1997, 40). Apparently, another explanation for the difficulty in defining direct and indirect kin among the Yanomamo is in part due to their use of Teknonymy (Salamone 1997, 42). Ramos explains that Teknonymy does not allow for the use of personal names, meaning individuals are referred to, for example, as 'daughter of Suli' or 'husband of Suli' (1995, 188). In families, men do outrank women in status (Salamone 1997, 48). Women have little, if anything, to say about to whom they are married since marriages are often arranged for them before puberty (Salamone 1997, 40). Marriages are viewed as a mechanism to set up and strengthen relationships between family groups, though men are actually allowed to beat their wives (Salamone 1997, 40).
Their are approximately 22,500 Yanomamo spread among roughly 225 villages in the Amazon Basin (Salamone 1997, 34). Each village acts autonomously, but has alliances with other villages that carry on warfare periodically with disputing villages (Salamone 1997, 47). Salamone explains that no single person leads a Yanomamo village and political decisions are made by individual villages by consensus (1997,47). He further explains that though a number of researchers refer to the Yanomamo as an egalitarian society, the Yanomamo see themselves as more of an achievement based society in which people may gain prestigious status, though no one person can speak for the group (1997, 47). To support this claim, Ramos identifies the Yanomamo community as its most meaningful political unit, with the village as its territorial base (1995, 109)....