Life Among the Yanomami

Life Among the Yanomami

JOHN F. PETERS
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 292
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttsc8
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  • Book Info
    Life Among the Yanomami
    Book Description:

    This is a very comprehensive and detailed account of the Yanomami people in Brazil.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0269-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-12)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 13-14)
  4. List of Maps, Figures, and Tables
    (pp. 15-16)
  5. Glossary of Terms
    (pp. 17-20)
  6. One Yanomami, Xilixana, and the Anthropological Approach
    (pp. 21-42)

    For over two decades after the mid-1930s the Yanomami living on the Mucajai River in North Brazil—a people who call themselves the Xilixana (Shirishana)—remained a closed and isolated community, with a population not exceeding 140 persons. Then, just over 40 years ago, the walls of seclusion burst open when the Xilixana initiated contact with Brazilian farmers and ranchers. Other peoples in the Yanomami grouping had first made contact with Europeans only slightly earlier in the 1950s—making them one of the last preliterate peoples to both voluntarily and involuntarily make contact with non-aboriginal peoples. For these groups the...

  7. Part I The Xilixana Way of Life

    • Two Field Entry, Language-Learning, and Cultural Surprises
      (pp. 45-58)

      When my group arrived on the Mucajai River in 1958 we were the first outsiders to make contact, much less establish residency, with the Xilixana, except for their limited contacts during the preceding year with frontier Brazilians on the banks of the lower river. Soon after our arrival we offered a cutlass as a gesture to a man who seemed to be the headman. He accepted the gift. It quickly became clear to us that the Xilixana found our Western ways to be peculiar, mysterious, and often humorous. Over the coming days, months, and years they observed our every move...

    • Three Village Life and Social Culture: Basic Patterns
      (pp. 59-78)

      For decade after decade the Xilixana followed a certain pattern in their movements from place to place in an area. When they went out on hunting trips they would watch out for areas with good soil and readily accessible water. After about three years, in the dry season, the Xilixana would move to a new area for the purpose of building a new field and eventually a single house, the yãno. Men would cut vines and trees to clear a field. Hunting would be less a problem because game would be more plentiful compared to that of the territory near...

    • Four Everyday Life: Food and Child Care, Hunting and Fishing
      (pp. 79-106)

      Yanomami life is not exclusively a continuing pattern of hardship, toil, and struggle. Routine tasks appear to be more the nature of the female role than of the male. At the same time there are ample opportunities and occasions for leisure and pleasure. In the normative events of the day, the early morning through mid-afternoon is taken up with work. The women accompany one another in whatever they do: toiling in the field, carrying water, and working the yãno. They talk freely with one another during their more individual tasks in the yãno. By mid-afternoon the older men have returned...

    • Five Family and Social Organization
      (pp. 107-132)

      As in most preliterate societies, family is central to Yanomami life, and so too are marriage and heterosexual relations. Family is the focal point for providing food and shelter, for heterosexual partner selection and satisfying sexual needs, for procreation and childrearing, and social activity. The Xilixana seek social and physical protection from members within their own village, as well as against threats from Yanomami or other peoples in more distant regions, and their social organization addresses these preoccupations. Within the family an individual finds loyalty, support, trust, and cooperation—as well as jealousy, ambivalence, and a certain amount of suspicion...

    • Six Socialization and Life Stages
      (pp. 133-150)
      KONAKXAALIMA XILIXANA

      Anthropologists and other social scientists have used “life stages” theory, or the development approach to the study of the family, to explain the socialization processes and growth and learning patterns of people in society. Indeed, the development approach to the study of the family is embedded within family research (Duvall 1971; Aldous 1978). But applying this model to a preliterate people such as the Yanomami—although I will do so at least partially—requires a degree of flexibility. Not surprisingly, the model normally used to explain life patterns in Western societies has its limitations when transported south to explain a...

    • Seven Myths, Spirits, and Magic
      (pp. 151-162)

      The supernatural and mythical worlds of the Yanomami are fully integrated. There is no dichotomy, no segmentation. The real (visible and tangible) and the spiritual (abstract and ideological) are intricately woven into one colorful fabric. Indeed, often the supernatural appears to be more central than the visible and tangible, and the supernatural seems to determine everyday affairs. For many Westerners it might appear that the tail (the supernatural) wags the dog (the everyday affairs of fertility, health, harvesting, and hunting). The centrality of the supernatural—of myths, spirits,hekula,magic substances and their use, and even the sense of a...

  8. Part II Past and Present:: The Xilixana Then and Now

    • Eight The Precontact Period: A Time of Isolation
      (pp. 165-178)

      Much about the precontact period still remains unknown to Western researchers; and the further we move back in time from 1957, the more we lose pieces of the puzzle of Xilixana history.

      While I gathered some general segmented data from as far back as the 1930s during my residence with the Yanomami in the early 1960s, my serious efforts to reconstruct their history began only in the early 1990s, when just a few Xilixana born before 1930 remained alive. But from my association with the Xilixana in the late 1950s I had come to know some of the generation born...

    • Nine Postcontact History: Enter the Missionaries
      (pp. 179-190)

      The expedition of the Protestant missionaries into Yanomami territory was by no means a haphazard event. The very nature of mission work in the forest region necessitated a support staff.

      The Brazilian government did not know precisely which tribes or how many indigenous peoples inhabited the frontier region. Generally the state authorities feared the aboriginals of the rainforest, or saw them as savage, and therefore tended to ignore and avoid them.

      The initial players in the saga of the contact with the Mucajai River Yanomami were Neill Hawkins and myself. Neill, an American, married with children, was a veteran missionary,...

    • Ten The Missionary Presence: Translation Literacy, and Social Effects
      (pp. 191-206)

      With the missionaries present, the Xilixana continued with their normal life of hunting, of making bows and arrows, canoes, of tree-clearing and field planting, pottery-making, food preparation, and childrearing. But there was now one significant difference in their mode of life: Westerners now lived permanently amongst them. They now had easier access to the prized items of axes, cutlasses, knives of various sizes, fish hooks and line, scissors, enamel pots (later aluminium), salt, matches, and valuable colored beads. The new goods facilitated daily Yanomami life enormously. Soon clothing, soap, guns, and ammunition were added to the material culture. The missionary...

    • Eleven “Warfare,” Raids, and Revenge
      (pp. 207-220)

      Anyone who is even minimally acquainted with the Yanomami is familiar with the central role of war in this culture. Violence seems always just a breath away in all Yanomami relations, whether husband and daughter, husband and wife, and brother to brother, or between villages or host and guest. Before contact a husband described locally as “bad” killed his wife. At the time of contact husbands would take firebrands and beat the backs of their wives. Soon thereafter an Aica in-migrant youth shot another Aica visitor. A Xilixana almost killed his brother after the brother stole his wife.

      Fights and...

  9. Part III Social Change

    • Twelve Adaptation in a Precapitalist Society: Agents of Change
      (pp. 223-238)

      In a modern heterogeneous and pluralistic Western society, it is not difficult to envisage a wide spectrum of potential change. These same principles of change are operative in a precapitalist society as well. In the precontact period, Xilixana village and family structures were both fragile and strong. The social structure was rarely harmonious or even covertly peaceful. Though their social system maintained recognized boundaries and proved to be enduring, it was nevertheless explosive. The elements of history, geography, environment, and population, and to a lesser degree personalities and leadership, all had the usual impact on social structures. The dynamics of...

    • Thirteen Health as an Agent of Change
      (pp. 239-252)

      Almost all indigenous people who make contact with Western societies face fatal diseases for which they have little or no immunity. Epidemics of colds, small pox, measles, and whooping cough have ravaged indigenous North and South American populations. As writer Ronald Wright (1992: 14) notes, “Even today, isolated tribes can be decimated by something as ‘minor’ as the common cold on first contact with missionaries or prospectors. In just two years—1988 to 1990—the Yanomami of Brazil lost 15 per cent of their people, mainly to malaria and influenza.”

      After the first three Xilixana contacts on the lower Mucajai...

    • Fourteen Broader Considerations in the Study of Social Change
      (pp. 253-268)

      To the casual observer, it may well appear that inanimate objects have little or nothing to do with social or cultural change. But the effects of the automobile, credit card, television, and computer are all dramatic evidence of objects that have made a solid impact upon Western culture. In the 1940s, and in about 1953, when the Xilixana returned to the Mucajai river region, the use of canoes altered their transportation patterns. Later on, the introduction of small items—flashlights, fish hooks, or matches, for instance—had a significant impact on the social fiber of their community.

      By the end...

    • Fifteen Reflections on Social Change Among the Yanomami
      (pp. 269-278)

      On my 1996 visit I was struck by the clutter of possessions now found within Xilixana’s dwelling: gourds, baskets, cloth or plastic bags, or sacks of various sizes, suitcases, wooden or cardboard boxes, and cans containing a variety objects—clothing, gunshot, cotton, radios, beads, salt, or items for purposes sorcery. They are placed on shelves against the yãno wall, or hung from a strong wood beam, or to the end of a hammock. Other items such as an old knife blade, can, or gourd are strewn anywhere in the house. Rope dangles from the yãno roof. Pieces of black, blue,...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 279-282)

    Wilber Moore (1963: 85) argues that our studies of acculturation have been too simplistic. Change occurs at various rates, affecting specific phenomenon at different times, and in general change accelerates with time. It is feared that what sociologists define as the acculturation process will soon bring “primitive” cultures to a close (Murphy 1989: 234). A component of change is that work becomes more clearly distinguished from leisure (Moore 1963: 104), and as well, according to Murphy (1989: 24), the trade commodity also changes: “The utilitarian law of the steel axe in a past period is matched by the charms of...

  11. Appendix: Language-Learning
    (pp. 283-284)
  12. References
    (pp. 285-288)
  13. Index
    (pp. 289-292)