Yanomami Indians of the Amazon Rainforest are a group of South American Indians tribes that include many different groups. They live in 200- 250 villages in the Amazon frontier region in a forested area scattered along the Venezuela-Brazil borderlands, most in the northern part of Brazil. In the 1990s their numbers have started diminishing, so the governments of Brazil and Venezuela claimed large areas of land as a Yanomami homeland to try to save them from extinction. The Yanomami is the largest and almost last isolated Indian tribe in the world.
All of the Yanomami's materials and food come from the rainforest. Because of the warm climate, the Yanomami have no need for much clothing. The Indians of the Amazon Basin have survived for thousands of years by farming, hunting, and fishing in the Amazon River. The Yanomami only grow enough crops to feed their tribe.
Hunting and fishing have always been an important source of food for the Yanomami people, but with the deforestation of the rainforest, many of the animals that the Yanomami hunt are becoming extinct. The Yanomami are very nomadic because of this loss of hunted animals. Many of the rivers and lakes of the Amazon are becoming polluted, and this is killing off many of the fish that the people use for food. Life seems to becoming more and more difficult for these people who are used to hunting and fishing.
The villages of these people appear to consist of two or more small, unrelated families that exchange women in marriage. A hereditary headman oversees each village. Living together in large families, they build large circular huts called malocas. At night, the young people sleep outside in hammocks hung from trees. They usually build small fires for cooking and warmth at night.
The Yanomami face problems within their own villages. As a village grows, it becomes very hard for the people to hold the village together through kinship and marriage ties or by the strength of the headman. Many villages break apart before they reach 125 people because of violent club fights between the people of the village. Blood relatives may sometimes become enemies, and this also causes villages to break up. Because of the frequent hostilities, villages are often moved and are usually no closer together than several days' walk; however, friendly villages may be only a few minutes from each other. The headman helps organize raids of other villages.
There are many different aspects of a village. Each village is like a little nation, and it proceeds with many of the same actions as a nation. The villages ally themselves with others, so the stronger will not take advantage of the weaker villages. When a village has alliances, they are able to call upon each other for help in raiding other villages or to ask for protection from friends. Allies cannot be always be trusted because the people sometimes betray each other. For example, abducting the women of visiting friends is nothing unusual. To the Yanomami, alliances seem to be essential, but they have developed an intricate social system that permit them to cover their real intentions and focus more on trade.
The Yanomami have not developed a written language. They use rhetoric, plays on words, chanting, story telling and animated eloquence to preserve their history and to entertain themselves.
There are some important aspects of the Yanomami Indians which are important to their society and culture but which may seem meaningless to us. The games the children play often anticipate the life of adult warriors. The constant practice at play and in hunting will train the village boys to be excellent hunters and warriors when they face the enemy. To the young Yanomami, beauty is also valued, and since they have no skills with metals or gems, they express the beauty in personal adornment.
Another threat for the Yanomami people is the increased contact with outsiders. In the 1970's, gold was discovered in the region. There were an estimated 80,000 miners in the region by 1987. These miners brought many diseases such as hepatitis and tuberculosis just as the Spanish had brought diseases to the New World in the 1500's. These diseases killed many of the Yanomami people because of the lack of medical attention and natural immunity. In their search for gold, these miners also cut many trees causing a great deal of environmental damage and forced the Yanomami off their land. In 1990, the Brazilian government issued a federal court order to remove all miners from the Amazon Basin. This came after a shooting in which 16 Yanomami were killed. The government ordered the destruction of over 100 landing strips in the Amazon Basin. Since this court order, the Yanomami are more protected.
We should appreciate their culture and leave it alone.