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The Yanomami, who live deep in the Amazon rainforest, are indigenous people who are quite isolated from the outside world.
The good old days with traditional autarky
The Yanomami live in large circular flats called Yanos or shabonos. Some can accommodate up to 400 people. The central area hosts ceremonies, festivals, games and other activities.
Tasks are divided between men and women. Males hunt peccaries, tapirs, deer and monkeys and use curare (a plant extract) to poison their prey. Hunting makes up only 10% of a Yanomami’s diet, but among males, hunting is considered the highest skill, and meat is highly valued.
Women tend the gardens and grow about 60 different crops, which make up about 80% of the diet. They also collect nuts, crustaceans, and insect larvae.
Both men and women fish and use Timbo or fish poison on joint fishing trips. A group of men, women and children trample a floating bunch of grapes. The liquid stuns the fish, which rises to the surface and is scooped into a basket. They use nine grape varieties exclusively for fish poisoning.
The Yanomami have great botanical expertise, using approximately 500 plant species for food, medicine, homes, and various crafts. They are self-sufficient by hunting, gathering, and fishing, but also grow crops in their vast deforested gardens. The soil in the Amazon is not very fertile, so new gardens are cut every two to three years.
And their one-of-a-kind spiritual life
Typical of hunter-gatherers and itinerant farmers, the Yanomami need an average of fewer than four hours of labor per day to meet all their material needs. Plenty of time is left for leisure, mental and social activities.
The spirit world is an essential part of Yanomami life. Every creature, every stone, every tree, and every mountain has a spirit. It is said that it is sometimes vicious and attacks the Yanomami, causing disease.
The Yanomami has their own way to commemorate the dead people. The Yanomami believe that the spirit world exists parallel to the world of the living. The body disappears, but the soul remains forever. The body must be protected so that the dead can rest in peace so that the soul can be reborn. And there is no better way than… eating the ashes of the deceased, making the bodies of the dead and the living become one.
After drying the body with fire, it was decomposed and later added the powder to a drink. In other regions, one still finds the practice of cremating corpses and eating the charred and crushed bones in a banana pulp is still observed.
Here comes the conflict
It seems like they can maintain their traditional culture and live in harmony for as long as it takes. But one day, a fearless journalist tries to discover untold stories about the Yanomami and surprise them with the touch of civilization.
Enlightened by her way of life, a small group of young indigenous people reach out to connect with her, since they believe “Life begins when you unmask” – they no longer want to wear tribal masks a lot doing the traditional rituals, and they feel an urge to expose to the outside world to do what they really want. However, the majority want to protect their survival with continued solitude.
The tension escalates. At a communal dinner, a quarrel breaks out between the two factions. The faction that wants to give up is determined to leave, separating from their tribe since they could not get to any agreement. The already small population is now even smaller. Those who stay are upset, putting less and less energy into their daily activities. They wonder whether it is right or wrong for them to insist on tradition. Day by day, they wait for the comeback of their loved ones.
Those who leave with the journalist to tell her their stories and experience the modern world, though initially feel happy because they are no longer entangled in the common responsibilities of the tribe, but they can sense that a part of their lives is missing. They miss the time they live with the tribe. Eventually, they choose to go back to reunite with their “big family”.
Together they strive for a brighter future
The two factions sit down to make peace, one faction accepts change and slowly tries out new things. They are amazed by how a smartphone works, how a small object in their hand could perform so much “magic”. They freak out and then laugh out loud at the clothes they try on. Meanwhile, the progressive ones keep on exploring the civilization and agree to spend a certain amount of time every day to maintain the tradition with the tribe.