Name stems
from the word
which means
“human beings”
Have been called the most primitive and
culturally intact people in the world
 The Yanomami make up a culturelinguistic group composed of
at least four adjacent
subgroups who speak
languages of the same family
 Population:
currently 21,000-
 Location: occupy the Amazonian
border between
Venezuela and
Brazil (approx.
No genetic, anthropometric or linguistic
resemblance with their neighbors
 Thought to be descendents of an
indigenous group that remained relatively
isolated for a remote period of time
 According to their oral tradition, they
originated from the copulation of the
demiurge Omama with the daughter of the
aquatic monster Teperesiki, owner of
cultivated plants
– demiurge means a powerful creative force
Live in hundreds of small villages
– Each containing 40-300 individuals
– Scattered thinly throughout the Amazon
Grouped by families in one large
communal dwelling called a
– This disc-shaped structure with an open-air central plaza
is an earthly version of their gods' abode
Hunt and fish over a wide area and tend gardens
in harmony with the forest
Villages are autonomous but constantly interact
with each other
Distance between villages varies from a few
hours walk to a ten day walk
 Marry
in Bilateral Cross Cousin
– A form of direct exchange in which two
lineages or families establish permanent
alliances and exchanges
through marriages to
each other’s women
First Generation: Two men
marry each other’s sisters to
establish the alliance
 Second Generation: The
triangle marked EGO marries
his bilateral cross cousin, who
is at the same time both his
mother’s brother’s daughter
and father’s sister’s daughter
This pattern continues through successive
Members of the same localized lineage are forbidden
from marrying. This is called Lineage Exogamy
Bilateral cross cousin marriage system and cosettlement of intermarrying lineages establishes
– Marriages are solely contracted within a particular social
group, range, or relationship
– Helps highlight community identity, uniqueness, and status
Although marriage is patrilocal, a husband must
live with his parents-in-law for several years
performing bride service.
Polygyny is permitted
– 10-20% of all males at any time are polygynists
Each village is an autonomous political entity
– free to make war or peace with other villages
Coalitions between villages are important
Age, sex, and personal accomplishments are
important in status differentiation
– Mature men dominate positions of political authority and
religious practice
– High status is earned, not
The village headman is the
dominant political leader
– Comes from the largest local
– The lead headman must settle
disputes and deal with allies and
Foraging is the most ancient technique
humans use to exploit the environment
 Important resources are obtained through
palm fruits
brazil nuts
palm heart
cashew fruit
Allocate more than twice as much time to
foraging and gathering as they do to
 Men specialize in risky tree climbing to
shake loose fruit
Main source of dietary protein
 And an important social and ritual role for
 Good hunters are differentiated from bad
hunters based
on skills in locating
and stalking game
 Most hunting is done
by individuals or
pairs, but organized
group hunts do
Bows and arrows, measuring
about 2 meters in length, are
the main weapons used in
 Received guns from trading with
 Specialized quivers depending
on the game:
– large tips for big game
– poisoned pencil-shaped tips for
– harpoon points for birds and small
Most villages are near major rivers and
small streams
 Even though fish here are usually small,
fishing is important for all ages and sexes,
especially in the dry season
 Use a variety of techniques
– catching
– stream poisioning
 use
a vegetable poison to stun fish and cause them
to rise to the surface where they can be grabbed or
shot with a small bow and arrow
– archery techniques
Engage in slash-and-burn horticulture
 They clear the forest by burning it and
then they plant:
– plantains (similar to bananas)
– cassava (used for its edible starchy root )
– plants used for relishes, medicines, and other
technology sources
After 2-3 years, the garden is abandoned
and allowed to grow back into a forest
 Farming video (fast forward to 2:00)
Both men and women participate in
 Both sexes share in planting
 Some gardening tasks are specialized
according to sex:
– Men do the heavy work of felling large trees,
slashing the undergrowth, and burning the
– Women do the daily tasks of weeding and
Warfare and feuding is common
Feuds are self-perpetuating
– they lack any formal mechanism to
prevent aggrieved parties from
exacting the amount of vengeance
they deem fit
Most combat is in raids
– dispatch the enemy and abduct
women if possible
Main goal is to kill the men responsible for the feud
– others may also be killed in the process
Peace between villages may develop if conflict has
remained dormant for a long period
Reconciliation begins with a series of ceremonially
festive visits
– if old feuding does not flare, visits may lead to joint raids
and intermarriage between villages to solidify alliances
Very little contact with the outside world until the
Since 1987, have seen about 10% of the
population die by massacres and diseases
brought by invaders
Thousands of miners illegally rushed into the
territory after gold was discovered on their land
in the 1980s
Flights from supply plains and noise from pumps
have scared away game animals
Mercury dumped in rivers ascends through the
food chain and affects child development
– Child mortality rates are increasing while birth rates are
Miners have brought in diseases
 Begging, prostitution, and drunkenness
have also been introduced in their culture
 In 1993, a group of miners tried to
exterminate the village of Haximu, killing
16 Yanomami
– It was classified as genocide
State and local politicians are continuing
to fight to reduce the Yanomami territory
to have access to rich mineral deposits
– This allows gold prospectors to be replaced by
large scale commercial mining operations,
which will continue to devastate Yanomami
land and people
Called yopo or yãkõana
Used to evoke the spiritual world
The shaman (the spiritual leader) goes into
a trance-like state and summons a spirit to
help with the problems of the village
Under the drugs, the shaman imitates the
songs and actions of the spirit that they
Sometimes the rituals work, but not always
This drug use is very painful, it usually
causes headaches and nausea
It is blown into the nasal cavity by a long
Shaman taking drugs video (fast forward to 1:30)
Yanomamo using the hallucinogenic yopo
 When
relatives die, their bodies are
cremated and their ashes are eaten
to preserve the life of the dead
 After someone dies, their name is
never allowed to be spoken again
– If someone wishes to make reference to
a deceased person, they must describe
the person (i.e. my mother’s uncle)
instead of using their name
Their numbering system is one, two, and
more than two
Their spiritual traditions are shaped by the
belief that the natural and spiritual worlds
are a unified force; nature creates
everything; and all is sacred.
 They believe that their fate is linked to the
fate of the environment, and with its
destruction, humanity is committing
Although it may seem that the Yanamamo are
very different from our present day society, there
are some similarities between the two:
Family units
Mourning the dead
Body art
– Morality
– Hierarchy and high
– Social interactions
– Medical use of drugs
– Tit-for-tat relationships
– Socialization of children
(boys by men and girls
by women)

YANOMAMO - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill