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Yanomamo . Jungle Tribal Organization. Geography. Live in Northern Brazil and Southern Venezuela Live in dense tropical forest Thick canopy that keeps a good deal of light out Thick scrub brush and vines at ground level Hot and humid with regular rainfall. Background.

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Jungle Tribal Organization

  • Live in Northern Brazil and Southern Venezuela
  • Live in dense tropical forest
  • Thick canopy that keeps a good deal of light out
  • Thick scrub brush and vines at ground level
  • Hot and humid with regular rainfall
  • Tribal society composed of ~22,500 individuals
  • Around 250 villages in the entirety of their territory
    • Typically they are very far away from one another
    • Sometimes friendly towards one another but sometimes not
  • First contact may have occurred during the early 1600s with European traders
    • However, this is unclear
  • There was more prolonged and continuing contact during the height of the slave trade
  • Much of the contact was with missionaries
  • More modern contact has been with gold miners
    • Very problematic for the Yanomamo
  • Can contain as few as 40 individuals or as many as 300
  • The overall size of the village will also take into account the number of visitors that may be expected
    • Have to provide them with a space to stay
  • The living space (called Shabono) is built from material gathered from the plentiful jungle environment
  • Vines and leaves are used for thatching
    • Requires constant maintenance
    • Provide only a small amount of protection from the rain
    • Have to be burned down when too many insects get into it after a couple years
  • The Shabono consists of a single shared roof that is then divided into a number of different family spaces
  • This structure surrounds a large open dirt plaza
  • Village sites are usually chosen with an eye towards which resources will be readily available to the occupants
  • Sometimes a large wooden fence or defensive barrier will be constructed to keep hostile outsiders at bay
    • This is particularly important if you live relatively close to a known enemy
  • Used to believe that the Yanomamo only hunted and gathered their food
  • Now we know that they grow a portion of their diet as well
  • As much as 80% of their food is grown in their own village gardens
  • Gardens are prepared by slashing and burning the chosen patch of land
  • Each family has its own garden
    • Size is based upon the number of individuals in the family
  • Crops:
    • Plantains
    • Manioc
    • Taro
    • Sweet Potato
    • Cane (for weaponry)
    • Tobacco
      • Widespread use by everyone in the village
    • Cotton
  • Hunting and gathering does play a large role though
  • Hunting:
    • Fishing near rivers
    • Birds
    • Monkeys
    • Pigs
    • Deer
    • Armadillos
    • Small rodents
  • Gathering
    • Various fruits
    • Vegetables
    • Honeycombs and Honey
hunting tools
Hunting Tools
  • Poisoned arrow are used
    • Palm wood arrows are dipped into a muscle relaxant called Curare
    • Point of the arrow is carved so that it breaks off in the skin
    • The actual shaft of the arrow is quite long and may be easily mistaken for a spear
    • Poisoned arrow tips are popular trade items as well
political and social organization
Political and Social Organization
  • Generally egalitarian society
  • Some exceptions:
    • Women hold a lower social status than men
    • Men can gain increased prestige through particular achievements
    • A head-man is also commonplace among the Yanomamo
      • Usually is the leader of the largest family group in the village
      • Usually is more of a representative to other villages and outsiders
      • Has limited power among the villagers
      • Has to lead by example
  • The maintenance of good relations is of central importance in Yanomamo village life
  • Better to have allies than enemies... especially close by
  • If you are an ally then you have to provide shelter for other villagers that are fleeing an attack
    • Can last for a long time
    • Usually the debt that is incurred by a prolonged stay is paid in women from the fleeing group
  • A number of alliances is very important for the Yanomamo
    • There is always an enemy that might attack you
    • Have to have a fall-back location if you can’t stand and fight
    • However, there is very little trust between allies
  • Delicate balance when forming an alliance
    • Have to appear strong enough to repel an attack but also have to appear somewhat deferential and respectful to gain allies
    • Usually initiated through a feast or a large trade
    • Marriage is another popular route, and is commonly used as a way of establishing alliances
  • Trading
    • Reciprocity is the norm among the Yanomamo
    • When an item is traded another item of equal value must be traded in return
    • This trade is not instantaneous
    • The initial trade occurs and then after a period of time the trade is reciprocated
    • Sometimes a village will claim to be the sole provider of an item
      • This allows the villages trading partners to save face because they are dependent upon this one “unique” item
      • Can say “Well they’re the only ones who have it, so that’s why we trade with them”
feasting activity
Feasting Activity!
  • Huge social occasions
  • However, violence is always a possibility
  • The men usually prepare the food for these events
  • Lots of extra hunting and gathering is required to ensure that everyone has enough
  • The host village prepares itself:
    • Everyone cleans up
    • The compound is also cleaned
  • When guests arrive there is an elaborate welcoming ritual
    • The lead guest walks into the center of the clearing of the village and shows his peaceful intent
    • Then the guest and the head man chant and dance together
    • After this is completed the rest of the guest village comes on over
      • Not just a mob scene but a very formal and ritualized activity that is accompanied by more dancing and chanting
    • Sometimes ritualized fights do break out
      • But this rarely results in death…although it does happen
    • These ritualized and violent activities act as a regulator to prevent escalation into all out combat
  • Yanomamo society is dominated by men
  • As far as women:
    • Start working at a very young age
    • Taught that they are of lower status than men
    • Promised to an older man for marriage at a young age as well
      • No room for choice, totally arranged marriage
      • Doesn’t start living with him until puberty
  • Physical Abuse of women:
    • Considered commonplace among the Yanomamo
    • Can be abused for preparing a meal too late or for a suspected affair or any other range of potential ‘offenses’
    • Actual abuse can consist of strikes with a piece of fire wood all the way up to arrow wounds and murder
    • Women rely on their brothers for protection in this regard
      • Only use protection for particularly hostile husbands
    • Women gain respect as they age and a greater degree of safety both within the village as well as in the outside world
  • Boys
    • Often encouraged to abuse girls from a young age
    • Told to hit people (specifically girls) whenever they are angry
    • Unlike girls, boys will be free to enjoy the pleasures of childhood until 17 or 18 years old
  • Children of both sexes are in danger of being attacked by evil spirits
    • Much more so than older people
    • This is because their own spirit is weaker than that of a more mature individual
yanomamo violence
Yanomamo Violence
  • Sometimes confrontations occur over a variety of issues
  • This may result in a Club Fight
    • Clubs = long wooden poles
  • Can escalate and involve the entire village as individuals start joining sides in the conflict
  • Sometimes these arguments grow into all out warfare
    • This leads to raids
yanomamo violence1
Yanomamo Violence
  • Raids
    • Objective:
      • Kill as many of the enemy villagers as possible
      • Escape undetected
      • Incur no casualties on your side
      • Occasionally women will also be captured and brought back to the attackers village
        • Raids may even be initiated for this sole purpose
yanomamo violence2
Yanomamo Violence
  • However, it must be noted that this violent activity may not necessarily be as widespread as previous reports (from Chagnon) have indicated
  • Many anthropologists believe that while the violence does occur, it is only a small part of an otherwise peaceful people
spiritual belief
Spiritual Belief
  • Oration is highly prized
  • In Yanomamo belief the universe is composed of Four distinct layers:

4th Layer

3rd Layer

2nd Layer

1st Layer

spiritual belief1
Spiritual Belief
  • 4th Layer
    • This might be where everything originated
    • Nothing here now
spiritual belief2
Spiritual Belief
  • 3rd Layer
    • The Sky
    • People can only see the bottom of this layer
      • This is where the stars hang from
    • The top of this layer might look just as the rest of the earth does
    • Thought that it rests very close to the surface of the earth
    • This is where the spirits of the Yanomamo ancestors live
spiritual belief3
Spiritual Belief
  • 2nd Layer
    • This is where we live
    • Created when part of the sky fell down
    • Next layer created when this layer fell and pushed a village down into the earth
spiritual belief4
Spiritual Belief
  • 1st Layer
    • Pushed down into the earth when the sky layer fell
    • The villagers were separated form their hunting ground and had no food to eat
    • Turned to cannibalism
    • These underworld inhabitants used to be an amalgam of human, spirit and animal
      • Now totally spirit beings
    • The Yanomamo fear being sent down into this place to be eaten
    • This is where their taboo against eating raw or undercooked flesh originates
      • Associated with cannibalism
spiritual belief5
Spiritual Belief
  • Mythology
    • The inhabitants of the last layer of the universe are what make up the subject of many Yanomamo stories
    • Responsible for creating many animals and plants
    • These stories are told with great fanfare and embellishment
    • Pride in their culture is expressed
spiritual belief6
Spiritual Belief
  • Concept of the Soul
    • The soul is what the Yanomamo fear being consumed by the spirits in the underworld
    • Different parts of the soul:
      • Will
      • Part Freed during Cremation
      • Chest Soul
      • Dual Soul
spiritual belief7
Spiritual Belief
  • Will
    • Makes the journey into the sky layer
    • Here it is judged and sent either to a nice relaxing place or to a place filled with fire
spiritual belief8
Spiritual Belief
  • Part Freed during Cremation
    • Lives in the jungle
    • Causes evil in the world
spiritual belief9
Spiritual Belief
  • Chest Soul
    • Most important part
    • If it is stolen or attacked then the individual can become sick and die
spiritual belief10
Spiritual Belief
  • Dual Soul
    • Inside the person
      • Part of the persons spirit
      • Part that is seen in photographs
    • Outside the person
      • An animal that leads a similar life and does things at the same time as its human counterpart
spiritual belief11
Spiritual Belief
  • Sickness
    • This is caused by spirits called Hekura
      • They eat a part of your soul
      • Shamans will use their own soul to try and save you
      • Many thousands of these spirits
      • Can be either male or female
        • Either way they are always very attractive
        • The shamans, in turn, must also present themselves as very attractive in order to get their attention
      • Variety of personalities
spiritual belief12
Spiritual Belief
  • Shamans:
    • Can only be men
    • Anyone can be one
      • Not dependent on status
    • Very rigorous training
      • Long fast
      • No sex
    • Have to learn how to attract the invading spirits to get them out of a sick persons body
      • These spirits then enter the body of the shaman, who must keep them happy
  • Drugs and other hallucinogens are always used by shamans
    • Cannot get in touch with the spirits without them
spiritual belief13
Spiritual Belief
  • Death
    • Bodies are cremated after death
    • A single person stays and watches the body to make sure it is completely burned
    • The remaining bones are then placed in a hollow log
    • These remains are then ground into a powder and redistributed into gourds
      • These gourds are saved for a larger ceremony in which others from different villages will ritually consume them in a special soup
    • The ashes left in the hollow log will also be consumed in a soup
modern issues
Modern Issues
  • Although many Yanomamo groups have been in contact with outside forces for a long time, some groups have yet to actually interact with foreigners
  • Disease has played a large role in the reduction of Yanomamo populations throughout their territory
  • 1987 Gold Rush
    • Miners came in with weaponry and construction equipment
    • Took the Yanomamo’s land
    • Polluted their environment with mercury and other toxins
  • Trails and streams that connect various communities are being destroyed
  • Leads to isolated villages with no way to contact other members of their society
  • Massacre occurred in 1993 in which the bodies were desecrated
    • Severe implications for the afterlife
  • Many political hurdles remain for the Yanomamo and there has historically been an unwillingness to help from the governments involved