Yanomami: Indigenous People of the Amazon

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Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami leader and shaman surrounded by children, Demini, Brazil. © Fiona Watson/Survival
Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami leader and shaman surrounded by children, Demini, Brazil. © Fiona Watson/Survival

 

The Yanomami people live in the forested mountains of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela. Their territory in Brazil is twice the size of Switzerland and over 9.6 million hectares, while in Venezuela they live in the 8.2 million hectare Alto Orinoco Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve. These areas form the largest forested indigenous territory in the world.

The Yanomami live in large communal houses called yanos, some of which can hold up to 400 people. Hunting accounts for only 10% of their food, with 80% of it being grown by women in gardens they keep. They strongly believe in the equality among people and do not have tribe chiefs. Instead, communities are dependent of one another and decisions are made by the group as a whole after everyone has been heard.

Illegal mining is the biggest threat to the Yanomami people. These gold miners spread disease such as malaria and pollute the rivers with mercury. It is believed that there is a group of uncontacted Yanomami called Moxateteu, who are believed to be living in the area with the highest concentration of illegal gold miners.

Gold miners work illegally on the Yanomami’s land, Brazil, 2003. © Colin Jones/Survival
Gold miners work illegally on the Yanomami’s land, Brazil, 2003. © Colin Jones/Survival

 

1940’s: Contact was first made with the Yanomami people when the government sent teams to delimit the Venezuelnian frontier.

1970’s: The military government drove bulldozers through the community of Opiktheri without any warning. The result was a road that cut through the northern part of the Amazon forest and wiped out two villages that had no immunity to the diseases they were exposed to. This road is still used today by cattle ranchers and loggers.

1980’s: Illegal gold miners arrive and there is a mass genocide of the Yanomami – 20% of the tribe died within seven years. 1992: Davi Kopenawa Yanomami led an international campaign to get their land in Brazil demarcated as the “Yanomami Park”; miners are expelled.

1993: 16 Yanomami people are murdered by a group of miners in the village of Haximú.

2004: Yanomami from 11 regions in Brazil decided to form an organization, Hutukara. Hutukara means ‘the part of the sky from which the earth was born’, and was created for the purpose of defending the rights of the Yanomami people.

2011: Yanomami in Venezuela formed their own organization called Horonami to defend their rights

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