The Yanomami group are the most numerous forest-dwelling tribe, consisting of thirty-five thousand indigenous people (Thornberry 18). They live in the villages locating in the Amazon rainforest between Brazil and Venezuela and recognize themselves as individuals residing in the autonomous villages. Because of similar linguistic and cultural background, the Yanomami communities are grouped together in the militaristic, kinship, and marriage coalitions. The Yanomami are historically tied to the Caribbean speakers who lived near the Orinoco River and moved to the Venezuela and Brazil highlands, the Yanomami current location (Early and Peters 4). The life of the Yanomami tribe demonstrates the tenacity of individuals who seek radical changes in own culture, want to preserve it, and despite the complexity of this task, the indigenous tribe emphasizes the significance of preserving cultural identity and integrity.
The mature males possess a religious and political power. A headman is the leader of the tribe in each village. However, no leader presides over those, who are classified as the Yanomami. A headman gains political authority by showing his skills in resolving the disputes in the neighboring communities and villages. The mature men need to find consensus and act further for the maintenance of the tribe's life. However, no one requires the group's members to take part in this process. In the numerous anthropological studies, researchers describe the Yanomami culture as one that it is riddled with violence and offensive actions toward one another and other tribes.
In his influential ethnography, the well-known anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon describes the Yanomami as the indigenous tribe, which lives in the constant state of warfare (Lucas 104). Chagnon's report and description of the famous tribe as aggressive and hostile causes numerous controversies in anthropology along with huge interest in the Yanomami life. The debates are focused on the degree of violence in the tribe's society; the questions of whether the warfare can be regarded as an integral part of the tribe's culture, or it can be better explained through the particular historical events. The French researcher Jacques Lizot has been living among the indigenous tribe and studying it for over 20 years (Borofski 10). He once questioned the people's exaggerated representation of violence among these people. Though the members of this tribe can be cruel and fierce warriors, they can also be polite and sensitive in their actions. Violence is occasional. It never dominates the social life, and only sudden explosions can interrupt the durable peaceful moments. When humans recognize specific features of the North and South American societies, they cannot assert that the culture of the Yanomami tribe is centered only on warfare and hostility as Chagnon mentions in his work.
The famous anthropologist Marvin Harris follows the ecologist tradition and claims that the tribe's culture of violence has developed through the competition due to the absence of nutritional resources in the area. Although some Yanomami members have been involved in warfare and intensive bloody conflicts, violence, in this case, cannot be regarded as the expression of Yanomami culture. Many considered it a product of particular historical events. The Yanomami tribe wages war not because of the absence of the Western culture. The culture exists but in the specific forms. The conflicts usually occur beyond the state control in a tribal zone that is inhabited by the non-state individuals. The Yanomami tribe had experienced the consequences of colonization before their territory became accessible to the Western people in the fifties. Owing to the trade networks, the indigenous people acquired numerous useful materials from the Western culture that highly affected them.
Violence is probably the leading cause of death among the Yanomami tribe. More than a half of all males die a violent death in the constant conflicts over the scarce resources. The confrontation between the neighboring communities often leads to the fact that the indigenous people start to leave their villages searching for the new ones. Every Yanomami woman can become a victim of anger and physical abuse. The inter-village clashes and conflicts are common. However, they do not affect females. When the Yanomami tribe fights and raids the nearby tribes, females are often beaten and raped. According to the traditions, husbands may frequently beat wives in order to keep them faithful and obedient. Sexual jealousy also causes aggression and violence. Females are beaten with machetes, sticks, machetes, sharp and blunt objects. A stick burning often occurs. It symbolizes the men's strength or dominance over their spouses.
The Yanomami living in the Amazon areas is often described as the fierce tribe because of frequent warfare and personal violence among its members (Nanda and Warms 245). While changing own culture, the young generation of Yanomami always strives to keep their practices unchangeable. As the external influence increases, the tribe realizes the necessity to participate in the national politics. The Yanomami are aware of the fact that they can lose their livelihood because of outsiders and their attempts to colonize the Yanomami land. Consequently, in an attempt to continue own existence and preserve the native culture, men learn the complexities of the national policies and cooperate with other Indian tribes in order to get necessary goods that help them live and survive independently. One may see a contradiction to the traditional Yanomami customs since this tribe is one of the most isolated in the Amazon area that prefers not to interact with anyone outside. The participation in the affairs of an alien government, particularly one that differs from their own, is a violation of traditional practices. In addition, they participate in the national affairs to obtain commodities from the authorities, since they no longer fully rely on the traditional survival methods. Since the tribe tries to preserve the culture and support people, they not only alter interaction with the outside influences but also change the way of sustaining their own livelihood.
It is important to recognize how coloniality affects the Yanomami culture. Through the period of colonialism, one can deeply understand and appreciate changes in the tribe's culture and how indigenous people react to its evolution. The struggle of the Yanomami shows that it is impossible to interact with the outside forces without regular changes. No one should forget the traditional customs.
One may point to the fact that Indians are decimated. Numerous sources dedicated to the life of indigenous people commonly accept this idea. Anthropologists view changes in the Yanomami tribe and emphasize the spread of diseases and destruction of the land. Moreover, they witness the death of the culture and the human destruction caused by colonization. However, the culture is not completely dying. While the tribe's culture evolves as the result of the outside influences, it does not disintegrate. The Yanomami simply adapt and try to preserve specific aspects of their culture despite the numerous outside effects.
However, it does not mean that the culture of indigenous people disappears. All the efforts by the tribe are made to keep the Yanomami customs alive. Even if the Yanomami abandon the isolation practice, they may still preserve the traditional customs. For example, the tribe created a cooperative that promotes culture and traditions and helps earn money for people to sustain the livelihood. A cooperative allows the Yanomami to broadcast their culture and gain incomes to purchase necessary goods. In addition, when the indigenous people buy manufactured goods and various tools, they, thus, try to preserve culture among the goods and perpetuate conventional practices. It is important to mention that the majority of the Yanomami youth engaged in the national politics are males, aligning with the traditional view that men should dominate since they are powerful. These examples demonstrate that despite the extreme conflict mode, the Yanomami culture continues to change due to colonization and its consequences. According to Fink, the culture is far from extinction (34).
Although indigenous people of the Yanomami tribe adapt to the modern era and change traditions, these changes try to safeguard the culture's foundations. The diseases as well as numerous cultural changes caused by outside forces affect the culture and force the tribe to change it. It is important to remember that these changes do not indicate that the Yanomami culture will die because of coloniality and its irreversible effects. In the past years, the tribe's culture has undergone significant changes because of outside influences that are greatly affected by the past colonization practices. Nowadays, colonization brings destruction, death, and violence leaving an indelible mark in the traditional Yanomami practices. The most notable fact is that colonization breaks the isolation practice between the tribe and outsiders. Despite the fact that many people believe that the violation of traditions and the continuous existence of coloniality will break down the Yanomami culture, the tribe seems ready to struggle an defend own traditions and beliefs.
The Yanomami tribe admits their need of outside help and intervention in order to resist diseases and the environmental destruction, thus altering their cultural aspects. However, indigenous people view changes as a simple adaptation to the modern society. Moreover, the change is made to safeguard the greatest and fundamental part of own culture, including lifestyle practices. Many people see changes in the Yanomami culture as the extinction of the tribe's traditions. However, the misconception has been already disproved through the continued practices and own cultural beliefs. Despite the European colonialism and its effects on the Yanomami culture, the tribe will continue to preserve customs, traditions, and perpetuate the culture into the next generations.
Borofsky, Robert. Yanomami: The Fierce Controversy and What We Can Learn from It. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. Print.
Early, John D., and John F. Peters. The Xilixana Yanomami of the Amazon: History, Social Structure, and Population Dynamics. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. Print.
Fink, George, ed. Stress of War, Conflict and Disaster. San Diego: Academic Press, 2010. Print.
Lucas, George R. Anthropologists in Arms: The Ethics of Military Anthropology. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2009. Print.
Nanda, Serena, and Richard Warms. Cultural Anthropology. Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
Thornberry, Patrick. Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002. Print.