(aka "the tree people," the "foot tribe")

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Yanomamo Warrior

   No white man has ever seen them, or the ones who have, never live to tell about it. What is known about the Yanomamo is from diary entries from missing anthropological expeditions,which have been recovered through trade with neighboring villages, and from the few Yanomamo who have escaped the jungle and moved to bigger cities in the southern Venezuela area. 

     In total, the Yanomamo number in the thousands in 200 to 250 widely scattered villages in the tropical forest of the Amazon, between Venezuela and Brazil. The Yanomamo (or "tree people," also known as the "foot tribe") get their name from the villages constructed of "shabonos." The village looks like one big communal tree house at first sight, but is actually a series of individual houses or apartments connected together. The name "tree people" and "foot tribe" is also attributed to the Yanomamo due to their travel means (by foot as opposed to by river) and they live at higher altitudes away from the rivers or swamps (thereby avoiding the seasonal flooding that occurs in the region). 

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Yanomamo Women

     The Yanomamo are typically hunters and gatherers who are quite adept at gardening -- plantains (cooking bananas) being the number one food source and crop. The Yanomamo have amazingly enough, withstood the tests of modern mankind and so-called progress - due to their isolation in the wilds of the jungle - managing to retain their often bizarre rituals , cultural rites, warfare between tribes, and basic day-to-day existence without the external interference or condemnation by western civilization. 

     The tribes have a very caustic, warlike relationship among each other within the jungle -- wars typically come about as a result of a need for resources, especially women, and/or the bad vibes or bad magic between one tribe over another. If a baby dies in a village, it is commonly thought that a neighboring village shaman (voodoo doctor, spiritual or political chief of a village) performed some malevolent voodoo ("hekura") to the other rival village, causing the stealing of the "soul" of the child, and ultimately the death. 

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Dinner with the Yanomamo

     The Yanomamo are historically a tribe of "endocannibals" (which means that they eat their own people). This rare form of cannibalism usually only occurs after death. The body of the deceased is set afire in a remote region away from the village (so as not to dirty the village or its food) and then the remaining bones and ash are pulverized into a fine powder which is mixed into a beverage (often juice from the plantain). The beverage is then consumed by the deceased person's relatives. This "drinking of the dead" is thought to be the way for the deceased's soul to enter the body of their living descendants, thus providing spiritual and physical strength to combat the evils of the jungle. The act of cannibalism may seem shocking to most Westerners, however a form of cannibalism called "theophagy" is practiced by many Catholics on a weekly or daily basis. The Communion 
(the symbolic eating of the body and blood of Christ) may seem like a natural ritual to us, but may make little sense to the Yanomamo. They prefer the real thing.

    Although the Yanomamo are known as endocannibals (choosing to eat from their own tribe) they are an aggressive and violent clan who have very tumultuous relationships with anyone perceived as being "other than" their tribe, or towards out-and-out foreigners. Anyone discerned as being "other" than the tribe, is considered to be subhuman. The laws and ethics that may keep a village from succumbing to warfare within its own walls, thereby do not apply to anyone perceived as being subhuman. In other words, war is hell and the 
Yanomamo will do anything including kidnapping, rapping, killing and abusing people from opposing tribes. 

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Yanomamo Chief
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     Violent acts also occur within the tribe -- women are frequently beaten by clubs (although unchivalrous to we Westerners, it is an attempt by the Yanomamo husband to show other village men his strength and virility). If a woman is found to have been adulterous, as punishment the husband may chop off the woman's ears or a portion of her buttocks with a machete. This seems horrific in light of recent gains by women in most parts of world -- but it is a culture that has its own rules and regulations which are untainted by the touch of outside civilization. Women are not given many rights in the village, including their exclusion from some of the cooking (they are thought to be too clumsy with the clay pots) which the men handle instead. The women are not given any respect until they reach the ripe age of 30, at which point they laugh and tell dirty jokes amongst one another (often about men's penises flopping out of their tiny string thongs, which is a source of great embarrassment for the younger Yanomamo men who are just learning to master tying their penises up to their waists). From the Yanomamo male point of view, the older the woman, the more highly she is held in esteem -- the more she is allowed to express her viewpoints and even joke and make fun of her male counterparts, without fear of reprisal. In all fairness, brothers of a woman often defend her from the beatings of a particularly cruel husband. Women are also not typically killed during the frequent war raids on other villages, as it is seen as poor form -- a faux pas.

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Rampaging Yanomamos

     Culture of Violence: the raid on outside villages is complete warfare for the Yanomamo. The idea is that the tribe members try to sneak up on their unsuspecting victims and attempt to kill one or more of them, then run away as fast and as quietly as they can without being detected by the raided villagers. If any of the raiding tribe are killed by the ones that they have raided, the whole event is considered a failure. Another benefit of a successful raid is the rape and/or capture of the other tribe's women (women -- whose numbers among some tribes are low). For example, if some members of one tribe stumble upon a man and wife away from their village (a rival tribe) they will kill the husband and take the woman for themselves. The machetes, axes and sometimes shotguns were obtained by the natives in trading or by larcenous acts upon some of the missionaries who dare to build along the Orinoco river.

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Fates of an Enemy 

 The weapons of choice for the Yanomamo are the machete, axe, and bows and arrows with curare-poisoned "husu namo" points. The point has one-inch intervals where they are rather purposely weakened, giving the arrows the ability to break off into the body of the victim, enabling the poison to be absorbed and making it extremely difficult to remove. The Yanomamo also use 6-foot-long spear-like arrows. 
     The Yanomamo take hallucinogenic drugs almost on a daily basis. All drugs they use are commonly available from the jungle: from the yakowana tree (whose bark is ground into a snuff powder) and from the seeds of the hisiomo tree (which are packed into cigar-shaped wads and traded amongst the friendly villages). In powder form, all drugs are referred to as "ebene" by the tribes. The men take ebene every day, paint themselves red and put on feathers. A long hollow tube called a "mokohiro" is used to blow the powder into another Yanomamo's nostrils. The drug-induced Yanomamo then awaits visits by the spirits.

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