Yanomamo Tribe of the Amazon

Yanomami Tribe in Amazon

Just an hour before the sunset, the electrifying green leaves slowly turn into a natural golden glow, time to listen to the buzzing sound of the cicadas and to spot the gorgeous macaws and parrots retreating to their roosts. Strangely special energy percolates the air here. Even the sounds of the animals became somehow soothing. And at night one can hear the conversations of the Yanomami’s speaking in the Xirianá language. And then the crackling of the fire and the chanting of the shaman simply blend harmoniously to the magical ambiance deep in the Amazonian jungle. 

Yanomami children staring
image: Juannites

The Yanomami tribe currently lives on the border of Venezuela and Brazil right in the Orinoco River basin. There are about 35,000 people from this tribe, who live in some 200 to 250 villages. It is believed that they came across the Bering Straits some 15,000 years ago and eventually made their way down to South America. Their apparent first contact with non-indigenous people was in 1630 to 1720 by conquistadors and Bandeirantes who were on a mission of slave-hunting. Then in the 1950s, the tribe came into contact with the New Tribes Mission and Catholic missionaries. By 1975 under the project RADAM deposits of important minerals were detected in the region, which soon attracted gold miners locally known as ‘garimpeiros’ to mine for gold up till today. Unfortunately, this has led to occasional violence and the spread of epidemics leading to a 20% decline in the Yanomami population. 

Yanomami group of native people
image: Malito

According to a study conducted in a Yanomami territory in Roraima, Brazil about 92% of hair samples of the tribe had high levels of mercury contamination. Some researchers have also been able to identify about 2,312 illegal mining sites and 245 large-scale areas equipped with infrastructure to extract gold, diamonds, and coltan. 

image: Do Xuan Thanh

Soon the once verdant land became patches of scorched earth, and the Yanomami are learning to accept their harsh reality. For centuries the indigenous tribes have safeguarded their precious knowledge of plants just like the Yanomami use approximately 500 different plant species. They generally know the cure to every ailment apart from the infectious diseases that they were not used to. Ethnobotanist Dr. William Milliken has rightly pointed out that the Yanomami are great observers of nature, and they have deep knowledge about the complex relationships between plants and animals as per their experience. For instance, they can easily recognize which flowers attract most of the wild honey bee. They can also spot specific plants to treat fever, muscular pain, or respiratory disorders. 

Yanomami Children
image: Dung Nguyen

It is no wonder why these people are referred to as the rightful guardians of the environment since they carry crucial knowledge of their ecosystem. And with the rapid change of the world’s landscape and climate, the knowledge that the indigenous people possess becomes a valuable asset for adapting to the environment. 

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Yanomami Tribe- Mother and Child
image: Wikimedia Commons

 

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