Tag Archives: yanomamo

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 best canadian casino 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.

Indigenous Groups Hoaxed by Ruthless Conman

December 1995

Several hundred Venezuelan Indians were left stranded in Caracas this weekend after conman, Guillermo
Olivares, lured them there with false promises of an indigenous crafts fair.

The 368 indians, from various communities in the southern state of Amazonas, arrived in Caracas Friday night after travelling nearly 1,000 kilometres by bus and truck hoping to sell their craftwork in the city.

The craft fair was to occur between the 15th and 20th of Transparent Inflatable Commercial Tent For Sale this month, in the run up to Christmas, supposedly under the control of the State National Culture Council in the central Sabana Grande zone of the city.

When they arrived, no one was expecting them. There was no craft fair, nor was there anyone to pay the angry drivers who had brought them there.

They were abandoned in the centre of a violent city where indigenous people are prohibited from selling their goods in the street.

Luckily for them the central area of the city is also the site of the public central university, which took in the travellers.

”It was then that the role of conman Guillermo Olivares, a false cultural promotor in Amazonas, was discovered. He tricked the people with the help of an Indian called Ricardo Barrera,” University security chief, Lenin Molina told IPS.

”For two or three months (Olivares) promoted the fair in Amazonas, while he negotiated the permits in Caracas. He didn’t get these, and instead of stopping the process he let it continue in the hopes of charging a percentage of everything sold,” he added.

The people ”arrived thinking they had board and lodging, so even women with small babies came, in a procession which shows the inexistence of mechanisms to detect in time and help our indian brothers in their tasks and concerns,” he added.

The University, the Culture Council, Parliament and the Governor of Amazonas, Bernabe Gutierrez worked together on Saturday to feed the people and arrange their journey home.

But the humilliation was not over. It was decided to house the Indians in the former prison of San Carlos, a horrific building awaiting conversion into a museum.

When the first bus load of indians arrived, the soldiers refused to accept them, dubbing them ”subversives,” ordering
them to clean up the building, said group leader Rafael Estrada.

The group was finally sent home on Sunday night, crossing the Orinoco on their journey south around Monday lunch time.

Meanwhile, the authorities launched an investigation to find out how Olivares was able to promote the fake fair, and how he was able to get official support for this.

The indigenous peoples of Amazonas are especially susceptible to this sort of abuse. They live in a wild 175,000 square
kilometre region where 40,000 of the 90,000 inhabitants come from 18 different tribal groups, and there is no central national entity working for their cause.

The people of Amazonas were recently subjected to a system of new internal state divisions which bore no relation to the layout of their ancestral lands. Their complaints fell on deaf ears.

Also, two years ago 16 Yanomami people (from a group of 8,000) were killed by gold miners from neighbouring Brazil. The authorities took so long deciding which country the events occurred in, that little was actually done to resolve the case.


It’s been almost a year since President Collor ordered the dynamiting of illegal airstrips in the Yanomami territory but “Operation Free Jungle” has produced nothing but additional sorrow for the Yanomami and proved the government’s incompetence in protecting their constitutional rights.

The governor of Roraima, Ottomar de Souza Pinto, has repeatedly impeded the Federal Police’s work to rid the area of garimpeiros. He has ordered the civil and military police forces to obstruct the closing of airstrips, he paid the bail of 16 garimpeiros being held in a Roraima prison and he told penitentiary officials in Roraima not to detain any
more garimpeiros brought by federal police, who number 20 against the 1300 armed military and civil police who are controlled by the state government. Less than half of the 120 illegal airstrips in the Yanomami area have been dynamited and most of those have been reoccupied by the garimpeiros.

The governor’s actions, said Attorney-General Aristides Junqueira, are obstructing efforts by Federal Police to comply with a federal court order that requires the removal of Transparent Inflatable Commercial Tent For Sale garimpeiros from the Yanomami territory. That is why last week Junqueira requested the Regional Federal Court to intervene in the matter.

In the meantime, he has decided to suspend “Operation Free Jungle”. Federal Police and FUNAI officials said they lack the necessary funds to continue dynamiting as well as funds to pay personnel to guard the airstrips already dynamited. The Attorney-General asked Economy Minister Zelia Cardoso de Mello for the funds to continue the operation, but they have not yet been released.


After Roraima turned from federal territory to state in 1990 it was entitled to elect eight federal deputies and three senators. Those who were elected to these offices were in favor of maintaining the exploration of minerals in Roraima. Their numbers and their significant political strength call for careful watch from those who fight for the survival of the Yanomami. Federal and state deputies in the state of Roraima are following Governor Ottomar de Souza’s lead and lobbying for the maintenance of the garimpeiro reserves. They are trying to place garimpo supporters in key governmental offices that deal with indigenous issues.

One such candidate is former FUNAI anthropologist Celio Horst. Pro-garimpo representatives in Roraima and Brasilia are trying to have him chosen for the FUNAI administrative post in Boa Vista. In the late 1970s Horst was a major proponent of the division of the Yanomami territory into 19 separate areas or “islands”. He is also facing charges for the 1988 rape and torture of a Wapishina Indian girl during a FUNAI trip in Roraima.

The appointment of Tarcisio Ximenes Prado as administrator of the Funai regional office for the Northern and Western Amazon areas (which includes Roraima) was in line with Justice Minister Jarbas Passarinho’s declared policy of maintaining Funai within his Ministry and strengthening its control over all aspects of the indigenous question. Ximenes is linked to Sebastiao Amancio, “Operation Free Jungle” coordinator and well-known opponent of the presence of NGOs in the Yanomami area.

Garimpeiro leader Jose Altino Machado, who faces charges of illegally invading the Surucucus area of Yanomami territory, is also receiving considerable media attention. In an article that ran on March 29 in Brazil’s largest daily newspaper “Folha de S. Paulo”, he made inflammatory and erroneous statements about the Yanomami territory which were published on almost an entire page of the “Folha”. “Why can’t the Indians die? They have to die, like all of us,” Machado said in the article.


“Operation Free Jungle” is not the only governmental program that is failing in the Yanomami area. Health treatment for ailing Indians is still precarious. CCPY continues to give the most consistent health care in the area, although it is still insufficient for all of the Yanomami’s needs. CCPY currently sponsors the work of two nurses, a
doctor, a linguist and an anthropologist in the Demini area and two doctors in Surucucus. Since February CCPY and the Ministry of Health have also been jointly sponsoring a doctor in the Surucucus region, who has recently moved to Auaris to deal with the critical health situation there. Anthropologist Alcida Ramos, professionals from Mdecins du Monde (MDM) and a medical doctor from Brasilia, Dr Ivone Menegola, are dealing with the emergency in Auaris.

An emergency health situation in the Auaris region (in the northernmost part of Yanomami territory) this month demonstrated how sporadic medical care will not solve the health problems in the Yanomami area and that it is crucial to implement the permanent Yanomami Health Project. In the absence of any scheme of comprehensive permanent health coverage throughout the whole Yanomami area, emergencies such as that in Auaris often run out of control before medical help arrives. Villages located far from mission stations or Funai posts do not receive doctors’ visits
on a regular basis, with the result that epidemics can reach tragic proportions in the remoter areas before news of the outbreak reaches a post. An example of this is the community of Karimani, where many of the Auaris region’s 160 confirmed cases of malaria (out of a total population of less than 400) have occurred; a Yanomami woman who had lost her child was transferred to Boa Vista in a malarial semi-coma, and there are reports of children suffering from grave malnutrition with their whole families affected by malaria and unable to gather food. 90% of the 200 Yanomami currently receiving medical attention in the Auaris area have been diagnosed as suffering from malnutrition.

Despite problems such as the lacking of a helicopter small enough to land in the village, the release of emergency funds equivalent to $20,000 by the Health Ministry and contributions from CCPY and other NGOs allowed emergency work to get under way. It is clear, however, that only permanent monitoring under a comprehensive health plan will put an end to the suffering of the people of Karimani and hundreds of similar villages.

The new date set by the Health Ministry for the Permanent Health Plan is supposed to come into effect this month, though money is in critically short supply as the details of the final budget application have yet to be concluded. In addition, President Collor still has to sign a Decree sanctioning the creation of the body responsible for the project, the Health Ministry’s National Health Foundation (FNS).


Beginning April 10 Davi Kopenawa Yanomami travels to the United States accompanied by CCPY Coordinator Claudia Andujar. They will meet with officials at the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the World Bank as well as American Congressmen and the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington. They will participate in conferences at New York and Yale universities. Davi has also been invited to speak in Pittsburgh to supporters of the Catholic Consolata mission, a religious order that maintains a mission house in the Yanomami area.

The trip is sponsored by Survival International, the Museum of the American Indian of the Smithsonian Institute and other bodies linked to environmental and indigenous matters.”

Interview: Yanomami Shaman

Interview + Photograph by Allan Spiegel

The Yanomami live in the northern Amazon along the Brazil/Venezuela border. They are 20,000 strong, about half on each side of the border. This makes them the largest nation in the Americas that is semi-isolated and thus relatively unchanged by contact with our culture. At a picnic in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, Davi Kopenawa Yanomami spoke to me about the role of play in his culture. Davi is a shaman from Brazil where his people live in 36,000 square miles of virgin rain forest that legally belongs to their nation. He was in New York for Amazon Week VI, an Transparent Inflatable Commercial Tent For Sale international conference sponsored by Amanaka’a Amazon Network each May. (The interview took place with the help of an interpreter who translated Davi’s Portuguese into English. This accounts for someof the awkwardness of the phrasing.)

Allan: In our culture a lot of times when we get older we forget how to play, we get so busy with work that we lose the child inside of ourselves… In Yanomami culture do grown-ups play, and how?
Davi: When we want to do a big party we call about five tribes to get together and we eat a lot… We don’t eat like this, a little bit, right? We like to eat a lot… and when we sing, we don’t use flutes or any other instrument, we just sing. When we’re working, or when we’re walking we sing all the time in our hearts. The only time we don’t sing is when we die but when we’re alive we never forget to sing. We’re working, we’re walking, we’re always singing, we never forget to sing. The whites forget that. They always worry about working, working, working… and they don’t sing. The only time they remember to sing and celebrate is when they listen to music, put on the radio, or put the walkman on.

Allan: What are the occasions that give rise to these celebrations when the villages get together?
Davi: We gather together to talk about what we’re going to plan and how we’re going to preserve the river and not kill the fish, how we can put out the message to the other tribes. The history of the Yanomami is very wise. The Yanomami are not rich but they are very rich in knowledge, in the knowledge of nature.

Allan: So besides the singing, what types of everyday play do you engage in? Besides the celebrations?
Davi: We talk to each other, we fish, we catch food… and we pray to our God, our Creator.
Allan: But that’s what we would call work. When you’re relaxing and you want to enjoy yourselves after the hunt or…
Davi: We put a hammock on the trees and just relax there… We have the Chief and everybody else is in silence after hunting and he’s the only one that talks. He tells his stories and everybody loves to hear it… and they learn from the stories, he teaches through the stories and everybody is attentive listening to what he has to say… Also, the women start singing at 7 o’clock at night until 5 in the morning, slow night singing [laughs].

Allan: And do you play any games?
Davi: We have a game called Shamanism. You need 4 people to play. You take the milk from the trees, the rubber and make powder of that and smell it and get high and see everything through the forest. It’s part of the game. It’s from the rubber tree. Only the men do that, no women or children do this, only the ones that are prepared. We start singing when we take it. It’s the game of the energy, of the forest, of the mountains, of the sun, of the moon… This game, it’s a secret. No white people watch this, otherwise they would take it from us. It’s a really nice game and they’re going to take it so we don’t show it… When we go to the city, we don’t do that. Only when we’re together. It’s a tradition of the forest.

Allan: So what do the women play?
Davi: They sing. They sing to attract happiness, that’s why they sing. And the men, they stay quiet to listen.
Allan: No physical games?
Davi: You know that game with the rope?
Allan: Tug of war?
Davi: That’s what we do. And we take it from the tree.
Allan: …the vines…
Davi: No one wins prizes or anything. The best has to win, that’s all. There will be 100 Indians on one side and 100 Indians on the other side. We take the strongest Indians in the tribe and just pull. I don’t want to teach the whites all these games, or they’re going to take it from us. I can teach them how to preserve nature, how to keep trees. That’s the only thing I teach.

Allan: What was the last celebration you attended?
Davi: We did a party last February. We were celebrating the birth of the Earth. How it was started, how it was created, how nature came about. This was our last celebration.
Allan: Kind of like Earth day!
Davi: We also remember a God, the Coyore insect. We remember the Coyore insect because it taught us how to plant, which fruits and which vegetables to plant.

Allan: The current situation, with people dying, is very hard. What do you do to relieve the stress?
Davi: I don’t have an outlet. I just try to change the way they think, the ones who go in there to take the gold from the farmers. I never get tired from stress, I just fight. I came with a message from my relatives and I want the message to be out there. I want to stop the fight between the Indian and the white man. I don’t want the miners going into our tribes. We just want to be left alone. You can see here, the white people all have their houses and their buildings, their money. They want to go over to where we are and take our gold. We just want to be left alone. I want to go off with the miners to take care of them, give them their own land so they don’t destroy ours, because they take their money to buy everything to destroy our land. I want to be left alone. I want to end the fight.

The Yanomami remember what we sometimes forget: to sing every day. Only death ends the song. Today, their death is most often a direct result of the invasion of illegal gold miners into their reserved traditional land. These prospectors bring epidemic diseases (especially fatal malaria), environmental destruction, mercury poisoning, and violence. Ten percent of the Brazilian Yanomami have died from the invasion in just two years! In the U.S., with echoes in Brazil and Europe, Amanaka’a Amazon Network amplifies the Yanomami voice. Working directly with Davi, a Yanomami leader and U.N. Global 500 Award recipient, Amanaka’a has helped the Yanomami get their land demarcated, build and staff a health clinic, launch a self-education project, warn villages about the dangers brought by gold miners, and more.

The struggle continues for the Yanomami and other indigenous nations. You can make a real difference. Amanaka’a is a volunteer organization that needs all skills. We know how to make things happen. Just as important, Amanaka’a earned this space in Sandbox, a journal of play. With their Brazilian roots it’s no surprise that they know how to throw a wild party and have a good time.

Yanomamo: The Fierce People

Excerpts from: Napoleon A. Chagnon. Yanomamo: The Fierce People, CBS College Publishing, New York, NY, 1983.

There is a large tribe of Tropical Forest Indians on the border between Venezuela and Brazil. They number approximately 12,000 people and are distributed in some 125 widely scattered villages. They are gardeners and they have lived until very recent time in isolation from our kind of culture. The authorities in Venezuela and Brazil knew very little about their existence until anthropologists began going there. The remarkable thing about the tribe, known as the Yanomamo, is the fact that they have managed, due to their isolation in a remote corner of Amazonia, to retain their native pattern of warfare and political integrity without interference from the outside world. They have remained sovereign and in complete control of their own destiny up until a few years ago. The remotest, uncontacted villages are still living under those conditions.

The Yanomamo are thinly scattered over a vast and verdant Tropical Forest, living in small villages that are separated by many miles of unoccupied land. They have no writing, but they Transparent Inflatable Commercial Tent For Sale have a rich and complex language… Much of their daily life revolves around gardening, hunting, collecting wild foods, collecting firewood, fetching water, visiting with each other, gossiping, and making the few material possessions they own: baskets, hammocks, bows, arrows, and colorful pigments with which they paint their bodies. [See photo.] Life is relatively easy in the sense they can ‘earn a living’ with about three hours’ work per day… The villages can be as small as 40 to 50 people or as large as 300 people, but in all cases there are many more children and babies than there are adults. This is true of most primitive populations and of our own demographic past. Life expectancy is short.

The Yanomamo fall into the category of Tropical Forest Indians called ‘foot people’. They avoid large rivers and live in interfluvial plains of the major rivers. They have neighbors to the north, Carib-speaking Ye’kwana, who are true ‘river people’: they make elegant, large dugout canoes and travel extensively along the major waterways. For the Yanomamo, a large stream is an obstacle and can only be crossed in the dry season. Thus, they have traditionally avoided larger rivers and, because of this, contact with outsiders who usually come by river…

Two major seasons dominate their annual cycle: the wet season, which inundates the low-lying jungle making travel difficult, and the dry season–the time of visiting other villages to feast, trade, and politic with allies. The dry season is also the time when raiders can travel and strike silently at their unsuspecting enemies. The Yanomamo are still conducting inter-village warfare, a phenomenon that affect all aspects of their social organization, settlement pattern, and daily routines. It is not simply ‘ritualistic’ war: at least one-fourth of all adult males die violently.

Social life is organized around those same principles utilized by all tribesmen: kinship relationships, descent from ancestors, marriage exchanges between kinship/descent groups, and the transient charisma of distinguished headmen who attempt to keep order in the village and whose responsibility it is to determine the village’s relationships with those in other villages. Their positions are largely the result of kinship and marriage patterns–they come from the largest kinship groups within the village. They can, by their personal wit, wisdom, and charisma, become autocrats but most of them are largely “greaters” among equals. They, too, must clear gardens, plant crops, collect wild foods, and hunt. They are simultaneously peacemakers and valiant warriors. Peacemaking often requires the threat or actual use of force, and most headmen have an acquired reputation for being waiteri: fierce.