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
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
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 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
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.
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.
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.