My name is Eric Dunning and this is my proposal to go and study the Yanomamo tribe in the rain forests of Brazil. I have compiled a historical outline of the Yanomamo tribe and some of their religion and culture, ranging from marital status to the type of food they eat. I have chosen this tribe because according to many anthropologists the Yanomamo are perhaps the last culture to have come in contact with the modern world.
The Yanomamo people of Central Brazil are one of the oldest examples of the classic pre-Columbian forest footmen. The Yanomamo live in almost complete seclusion in the Amazon rain forests of South America. The Yanomamo live in small bands or tribes and live in round communal huts called shabonos, which are actually made up of individual living quarters. The Yanomamo language consists of a variety of dialect, but no real written language. Clothes are minimal, and much of their daily life revolves around gardening, hunting, gathering, making crafts and visiting with one another. These small tribes hold their men in high ranks. Chiefs are always men who are held responsible for the general knowledge and safety of the group’s women. The men are able to beat their wives if they feel the need to and are able to marry more than one woman at a time. This loose form of polygamy is a way of increasing the population of the tribe. Yanomamo people rely heavily on a system of political alliances based upon relationship. As part of that system, they have incorporated a complex feasting and trading system into their culture. One of these methods of forming political alliances is feasting. Feasting is when one village invites another village for a feast or dinner. During the feast there is a lot of social activity. The Yanomamo dance and mingle with each other along with eating a different variety of foods. The only catch is the other village must reciprocate a feast by one village. This feast is more like an American dinner party in which members of family or social group invite others to attend. A feast however can be dangerous and or fatal for those who attend. The Yanomamo can be very conniving and deceiving. They pretend to be loyal friends and invite the other village for a feast. The other very village very trustfully attends the feast not knowing that this might be their last meal. After the feast when the guests are helplessly resting in their hammocks they are attacked and brutally beaten to death.
The Yanomamo live in a constant state of warfare with other tribes and even within their own groups. Marriages are often arranged according to performances of one’s relatives in battles. Ideal marriages are thought to consist of cross cousin marriages and the males of the family and the religious leaders of the tribe perform all marriages. In addition to their strong kinship ties, political alliances and thirst for revenge, the Yanomamo have a detailed religion, based on the use of hallucinogenic drugs and the telling of mythical tales.
The religious beliefs of the Yanomamo are quite complex. According to Yanomamo wise men, there are four levels of reality. Through them, the Yanomamo believe that things tend to fall or descend downward to a lower layer is demonstrated. The uppermost layer of the four is thought to be “pristine” and “tender”. It is called “duku ka misi” and the Yanomamo believe that many things originated in this area. This layer does not play much of a role in the everyday life of the Yanomamo. It is considered to be just “there”, once having some vague function. The next layer down is called “hedu ka misi” and is known as the sky layer. The top surface is supposedly invisible, but is believed to be similar to earth. It has trees, gardens, villages, animals, plants and most importantly, the souls of the deceased. These souls are said to be similar to mortals because they garden, eat and sleep. Everything that exists on earth is said to have a counterpart on this level. The bottom surface of the layer is said to be what the Yanomamo on earth actually see: