Janet’s Miracle Motor Adventure with the Yanomami

My time in the Indian villages in the Amazon was an amazing experience. With my previous trips and having read everything about the Amazon that I could get my hands on, my expectations were high, and I was not disappointed!

When I asked my guide, Juan Carlos what I could bring for the Yanomami in Venezuela, he said the usual things such as medicine, fish hooks and wire, red cloth for traditional garments, and candy, pencils, and paper for the children, all of which I took with me. He also said that I could donate to their motor fund.

The Yanomami had been putting as much money as possible into a village fund to buy a motor for their bongo boat.They lived too far away from medical attention to paddle in an emergency event, so the motor was to save their lives. The adult life expectancy is only 45 years, and most children don’t live past infancy because of simple problems.

With inflation problems in Venezuela, the village was getting further away from their goal instead of closer.So I promised I would do everything I could to help.After making some phone calls, I realized just how expensive a 40hp motor was, even in the United States.One of the calls I made was to the Mercury Company, and I told them the situation and sent pictures.I also asked them to donate a 40hp motor and help us get it to Puerto Ayacucho, a little jungle outpost town in the Amazon.

After three weeks of discussions, Mercury decided to help by donating a motor already on the way to Venezuela. With help from some friends, we got a motor into the Amazon, but not before what I think was a series of miracles.

When the motor got to Venezuela, it got stuck in Caracas customs, and was not released in time to fly with us to Puerto Ayacucho.A call went out to the few Mercury dealers in Venezuela, and there was one new 55 hp motor in the central region of the country.It turns out, the owner of the company was an old friend of our guide, Juan Carlos.He was not only happy to swap the motors, he took the lead and helped transport the 5 foot, 200 pound motor to Puerto Ayacucho himself. With Venezuela’s transportation system, the first miracle is that everyone and the motor arrived in Puerto Ayacucho at the same time. We were feeling good, but we could only hope that the Yanomami’s boat would hold the larger motor.

Then, when we got to Puerto Ayacucho, the motor had no bill-of-sale because it was donated. As a result, the National Guard would not let us have it!After much fruitless arguing, Juan Carlos asked to talk to the highest person in the National Guard there. Again, for the second miracle, this person just happened to be someone Juan Carlos knew.Out of four million people in the country, we were still running into friends of Juan Carlos, even way out in this little jungle outpost 300 miles from Caracas.

We finally flew out in a small plane toward this jungle mission in Tama Tama.The boat motor was so heavy we had to rent another small plane just to carry it.As we approached the mission, Juan Carlos radioed ahead to let them know we were arriving with the motor.They radioed back that the village not only did not have a motor, now they didn’t even have a boat. At this point, I found the situation hysterically funny.After regaining my composure, I told Juan Carlos that I could not believe we had gone through the various problems and road blocks to get a motor for the Indians who did not even have a boat!Juan Carlos’s only response was “Have faith.”We landed at the mission and headed downstream in a large bongo boat owned by a Ye’kuana Indian named Francisco. When we got to the village, I waited in the boat while Juan Carlos went to talk to the village leaders.He had instructed us not to show cameras, to walk and talk slowly, not to make big gestures, or come on too friendly, which is disrespectful.

We waited, and waited, and waited.Finally Juan Carlos returned with all the Yanomami men dressed in ceremonial attire.They were so overwhelmed by our generosity with the motor that they had wanted to give us a formal welcome. They brought us into the village, performed dances, made speeches, and told us we could take videos and pictures at will, which is very rare.We also found out (for the third miracle) that the previous week had been a reunion and several other Yanomami tribes had visited.Only two days earlier, they had traded for a boat big enough for most of the village that required a 55 hp motor!

Our time with the Yanomami was wonderful.They showed us their ceremonies, ways of making baskets, carving wooded arrows and tips, starting a fire with sticks, fishing (the women catch the fish by hand and break the neck with their teeth,) and gardening, etc.They were truly delightful and made us feel like a part of their tribe.

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