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I will be giving a review on the book, "Yanomamo, Fifth Edition", whose author is Napoleon A. Chagnon, published by Wadsworth Cengage Learning in Belmont, CA in 2009. In this review I will be discussing the following: Cultural Ecology, Myths and Cosmos, Social Organization and Demography, Political Alliances, Trading, and Feasting, and Gender and Age Roles.
The main group that this book is written about is the Yanomamo, who are called the Bisaasi-teri, and they are Tropical Forest Indians who are considered "foot people", and they live in a secluded part of the Amazon.
The physical environment in which they live in includes the lands, forests, assets, and food, but other things as well. The Bisaasi-teri village is located four hundred and fifty feet above sea level and it is at the intersections of the Mavaca and Orinoco River, which is flat, covered by the jungle. There are two key seasons for the Yanomamo, and the first one being the wet season will flood the lower lying jungle in which the rivers will swell and flood and this makes it difficult for them to travel. The second is the dry season, in which they use to feast, trade and politic allies. Because of the wet season, the Yanomamo avoid the larger streams when they select their gardens or village sites (pg.46). The jungle is very thick and has a lot of palm and hardwood trees, along with numerous kinds of birds and animals. The village has many trails that lead out and to them and going to their gardens and to other villages. These villages can be close or they can be far away in which they travel by foot up to ten days to reach a village. The Yanomamo break twigs about their knee high and also there are signs of frequent foot worn logs because of their travel on them. They have no shoes, so they travel barefoot and their feet get calloused and it is easy for them to travel but when they travel in streams, they soften up and them they get more thorns in their feet and have to stop frequently to dig them out. Another hazard for the Yanomamo is getting bit by snakes either on the trails, picking up firewood from the piles, and in their gardens, and most of them are not deadly.
Their technology is that of what they have in their surroundings to use, and occasionally what is traded with them since the anthropologists and missionaries that have came to the area and associate with them. They are known to have made pottery using the coil technique and the way that they fired the pots was by placing them in a pile of fire and when it breaks it is finished. The men will not allow women who are considered clumsy to touch the pots (pg. 49). In their technology that the Yanomamo have is very simple, so they don't need training or any other material because they get everything they need from the jungle. The Yanomamo make their bowstaves five to six feet long, and is always made from palm wood. The bow strings are made from the fibers of the inner bark of the tree. Pencil-shaped splinter of palm wood is used for one type of arrow point in which is a poisoned point (pg. 49). They make them in large bundles of 50 to 60 near Kaobawa's village and are often used for trading. Arrows are made from six foot long shafts, and two long black feathers are attached as fletching to cause the arrow to spin. There are several types of points that are used and desired for killing of animals. Most desirable is the lanceolate point is made from a section of bamboo and is used for large game, the curare-smeared is second and is used because they are pencil-like point and will break off in the animal, the third has a barbed point and is used primarily for birds, and the fourth is made from a twig with branching stems and is used on small birds to get their decorative feathers. Yanomamo use fish poisons made of wild lianas and are use to poison small streams, in order to catch the fish that are left when the flooding waters recede.
They use a splinter of a kind of reed to shave their heads bald on top and to trim their so called bowl bangs, and this goes for men and women. Living in the jungle gives the Yanomamo the advantage to know what in the jungle can be used for medicine, drugs, etc. Some of the plants are used by Yanomamo to make hallucinogenic snuff powders; the hisiomo is the more attractive and sought. It is made by drying the soft moist inner bark and then is grounded into a powder, then they add snowy white ashes made from the bark of the another tree and the mixture is moistened with saliva and kneaded into a gummy substance and then heated, and finally grounded into a fine green powder. A long hollow tube is used to blow the powder into the nostrils, after this is done the person who receives it gets running eyes, dry heaves and vomiting, and green snot comes out of the nostrils. They begin to have trouble focusing , their eyes start seeing spots before them and also lights, then they see the hekura spirits in the sky for which they want to enter their bodies so that they can control them by sending them to harm their enemies or help cure the sick.
Their shelter materials are gathered from the jungle and is built by individual clans in sections and is determined how big to make it by the amount of people in the village and by the headmen. These shabono only have a life expectancy of two years because different things start happening to it like infestation of roaches or it starts to fall apart, so once this happens the village looks for a new place, and starts over again, but goes back to the gardens and uses what is left there. The gardens consist of fruits of several species of palm, hardwoods, Brazil nuts, seed pods and etc. Honey is the most desirable of the Yanomamo, and they will trade anything or go to extremes to get it in their possession. They also cultivate to name a few, sweet potatoes, ohina, avocados, papaya trees, hot peppers, tobacco and cotton.
Yanomamo believe the cosmos consist of four layers; in which they lay horizontal and are separated by a small space. The upper most layer is called Duku Ka Misi is considered by the Yanomamo as the pristine or tender, it is empty, sometimes things move downward to the next layer. The next layer is called Hedu Ka Misi, and is visible to us and is similar to what we know on earth, it is a mirror image of earth. The bottom of the hedu is what we see with our eyes, which is the sky. Next is the Hei Ka Misi, which is the layer that man dwells on and can be seen plainly. Final is the Hei Ta Bebi, is barren and a certain type of Yanomamo called Amahiri-teri live here. They are canabals and they would send spirits upward to bring back childrens souls so they could eat them. There is a myth regarding Jaguars, which they are as cunning and as smart as man, the story of The Twins Omawa and Yoawa, which are complete opposites, almost like Jing and Jang, The Soul in which the Yanomamo believes is the true or central part of the soul is the will (pg 114). Endocanibalism is where you eat your own people, and only selected parts are eaten. Then there are the Shamans and Hekura, the shamans are men and women who manipulate the spirit world, but in the Yanomamo, only men become shamans, it is a status or role that a man can chose in some villages, and you must train long to become one. They have to take the hallucinogenic in order to be able to contact the spirits.
Yanomamo are very pro men and that they are very masculine and think that women are below them, and they each have specific jobs required of them once they become adults. Little girls are required to help their mothers in daily chores and taking care of their younger siblings. When they are young, their elder kin decides who they shall marry and they have no say in it. There are no marriage ceremonies, and very little public knowledge of it, and is not given to her husband until after her first menstrual cycle. Women's jobs become more difficult after marriage because they are expected to do more for their husbands and they are more demanding of them. The husbands can punish their wives like hold a piece of firewood against them and inflicting pain and burns especially if they have slept with other men of the villages. The women can usually depend on their brothers for protection from their husbands (pg. 123). A woman does gain increasing respect as she grows older, especially when she is old enough to have grown children. These older women have a very unique place in the warfare and politics in which they are immune from the raiders of villages and can travel to any village without being harmed and are sometimes given the opportunity to deliver messages and if a man from her village is killed, she is allowed to collect the body without fear of being hurt or killed.
Children spend most of the time with their Mother's and the boys are taught specific sex-roles from their fathers, and are taught to be fierce and masculine, and are never disciplined by either parent. Kaobawa's group travels, his son mimics his father in everything that he does, because that is what a Yanomamo male does and he is learning to be like his father. The girl's childhood ends sooner because when she becomes ten years old she has become a asset and has to start helping her mother working, as the little boys can play all they want. When a girl changeover into womanhood, there are certain things that happen to her that she must go through before she is given to her husband. Yanomamo girls are confined to their houses where they are hidden behind leaves, and their cotton clothes are thrown away and new ones were made and given to them. She is fed little and in order for her to eat, she has to pick up the food with a stick, because she may not have any contact with it at all. She may only talk to close kin and that has to be in a whisper (pg.127). The after puberty confinement is over, she then goes to live with her husband that she was promised to. The males have no pre-ceremony into adulthood; they know when they have transitioned into some type of manhood when he is no longer called by his given name.
Yanomamo daily activities begin early in, people are up because of the cold and rekindle the fires and then just start chatting to others and so on. Some who have negotiated the night before to have sexual contact will encounter it at this time. They pretend to go to the toilet and meet at a chosen location, and then return to the village separately and using different trails (pg. 129). At this time in the morning is when the raiders can and will strike, so everyone in the village is on guard. Their work starts right after they eat breakfast and the women go with their husbands to the gardens, this way the men know that their women are not having affairs. It is cooler in the morning and they can use this to get a lot of work accomplished before the heat rises and it's too hot for them to do anything, which is somewhere around 1030 hours when they stop. The children play and the smaller ones stay close to the mothers where as the older children can go exploring more. Both the men and women do the cooking with the women doing most of it, and the biggest meal is prepared in the evening and is ready before dark, and everyone eats in their hammocks with their fingers. Kaobawa who is the village's headman has more special status and he does the thinking for most of the people in the village, this is because he is savvier with politics, and he also keeps the peace inside the village.
I thought it interesting to see that the Yanomamo only marry bilateral cross-cousins, which means both sides of the father's and mother's family. Every Yanomamo must be put into some type of kinship and be called by that. When a village gets too big, it fissions, which means they break off into their own village and move and start their own village and it usually is kin of the same family who either gets into either an argument or they need to move because there is just too many in the village. The Yanomamo are a society that practices polygyny and that way there are more cross-cousins to choose from and then there will be more male children to pass their heritage to. I noticed that they also have a set of rules along the line of who they can and cannot marry just like we do, and some may differ from our society. If someone gets caught marrying a forbidden female, there will be consequences and ultimately there will be fission among the village. Among the Yanomamo, there is a high birth rate, but there is also a high rate of death among children by the age of ten years old. They also have a high rate of what we call divorce and therefore the children will be raised by at least one parent who is not an actual parent, which leaves the "Nuclear Family" in the Yanomamo fading away.
I was intrigued to find out that the Yanomamo feasts are political events, especially for making and maintaining political allies. The way in which the feast is presented will put the allies under an obligation have a feast in his own village for this group at a later date (pg. 159). By forming these alliances, it gives the Yanomamo assurance that one or more alliances will shelter and feed the village that was driven out by a stronger enemy. In Kaobawa village and the surrounding ones have formed an alliance and show that they are strong. They hide the real reason why they want to become allies with the reasoning of trading and feasting because they don't want to show there weakness or vulnerability to the possible allies. Although, I find this very disturbing, it actually happens with the Yanomamo in which they have three points in stabilizing alliances with other villages. The different types are: sporadic reciprocal trading, mutual feasting, or reciprocal women exchange, and with this one they also do the trading and the feast, but if they if they just do the trading or the feast they do it without women exchange. I found very interesting that Kaobawa and his village was to be hosting a feast for two groups, of which one showed up a week early and demanded to be fed and Kaobawa's people had to fed them. This tribe went out and killed some game for the feast and brought it back and presented it to the host village for the feast for the next day in which the group would have to leave after they ate. This group was called Mahekodo-teri and they demanded the plantains and really worn out their welcome with their presence and impoliteness. The feast went on and then the take home food was presented to the visiting tribe and they didn't want to leave because they wanted to stay for the other feast that was being held for Karohi-teri, but Kaobawa challenged them to a chest pounding contest and they were intimidated and they left. To make a long story short same thing happened with this tribe, and they had a chest pounding match and violence broke out and Kaobawa group maintained their foot hold and pushed them out of the village.
Not all warfare results in death, there are innocuous forms violence are chest pounding, side slapping and club fight in which keeps to a way that no one gets killed. The least innocuous form is chest pounding duel and it usually leads into the next level being side slapping where you injure your opponent enough that he will quit, some of the participants will hold rocks in their hands as so the other male cannot see it to inflict the damage. Club fights is the next level of violence which can occur inside or outside the village over women or sometimes the theft of food. The participants use these eight to ten feet poles to inflict pain especially trying for the head. Raids are the next level of violence that occurs; where they go into a village to kill as many people they can and leave without getting noticed. The ultimate form of violence is treachery, where they trick a tribe and then go in for the kill and steal the women and leave. I find the most interesting that the Yanomamo consider fights over women as the cause of most of the killings that happen. The raiders always develop a strategy for attacking their unwary enemy by splitting into two or more groups and meet later at a specific area. I find it heartening that after so many years has passed that the wars and the avenging of a death still remains today as it did back when it happened.
I feel that since the contact between the outsiders and the Yanomamo has influenced them and changes are being made and different things that they did before are being lost and not practice anymore. The outsiders were trading with the Yanomamo and introducing them to the outside world and teaching the Yanomamo the ways of our society. The missionaries have started schools to educate the children, introduce religion to them. Because of the Gold Rush of 1987, diseases brought by the gold miners spread village to village. This has been the most dramatic and devastating single event in recent Yanomamo history. I find it disturbing that in 1993 that a group of Brazilians attacked and massacred seventeen members of a Yanomamo village, Hashimo-teri. As many as 1,100Brazilian Yanomamo may have died from sickness introduced by miners (pg. 234). I thought it as being owed to the Yanomamo that in late 1991 they were guaranteed exclusive rights to their traditional lands.
I learned of a new society that live in the Amazon called the Yanomamo, and how they live and survive in their everyday life. What I read about this group of people was very informative to an extent. There was nothing noted in the book with regards to whether or not a female had to marry or could she just go off on her own. As for the information that is given in this book, I cannot say whether it is accurate or not because I am not familiar with the Yanomamo. It taught me that they solely depend on each other and that of the forest to live and survive, and they don't take anything for granted. By reading this book it showed me how we in the American culture take for granted that we have someone else do our work for us, our fights, our medicine, and we depend on technology that you have to be trained in or on. We need to keep life simple like the Yanomamo do. I thought that the author of the book made it somewhat difficult for the average person to read this book with his diagrams and kinship charts. To a person who just picked it up for the first time and was reading this came across the kinship chart; it would be very confusing for them to understand it. I have a couple of reactions to this book; one is of disbelief as to how they treat their women and little girls and one of peacefulness and appreciation. Little girls are children and they should be treated as such not some type of slave or animal for a man to take as a wife when he is in his mid to late thirties, that to me is sexual and child abuse. I very much liked how they depended on each other and the jungle to survive and lead a peaceful life without a care in the world except for the occasional tiffs, and I felt many different feelings, that of anger, disbelief, peaceful, calmness. The content was pretty good, but could have done away with some of those charts and diagrams, they were too confusing. I have learned how the Yanomamo make their hallucinogenic powder and how they take it in and what it does for them, how they make their villages and pick their garden, how they depend on their alliances for help in case they are raided, how they are married, the different roles that the men and women play, village fission. Over all, I enjoyed reading about the Yanomamo and would recommend this book to everyone to read to gain knowledge on this society that dwells in the Amazon.