Tuesday, March 7, 2006
The Yanomami are easily the best-known of Venezuela's indigenous peoples. But not for the best of reasons. A series of National Geographic articles describing them as Stone Age savages or isolated survivors of a prehistoric age have only perpetuated stereotypes about the group. The main person responsible for this depiction of the Yanomami as warlike and primitive is anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, whose book "The Fierce People", perhaps the most succesful anthropological book ever published, focuses on warfare between different groups.
Yanomami groups are found in Venezuela and Brazil and appear under a host of different names in the literature: Yanomami, Yanomame, Yanomam, Yanam, Ninam, Guaika, Waika, Guaharibo, Guajaribo, Sanuma, Tsanuma, Sanema, Samatari, Samatali, Xamatari, Chirichano and Shirishano.
Yanomami vs. Sanema
Some people classify the Sanema and Yanomami in separate linguistic groups, but generally they are lumped together as Yanoama speakers, an independent group not linked to the main Arawak, or Carib language families found in the region.
There are four branches to the Yanoama language family: the Yanomami, who make up over half the population, the Yanomam, who represent about a quarter, the Sanema, who represent just under a quarter, and the Yanam (or Ninam), who are the smallest group.
In Venezuela, the Yanomami are mainly found in the Orinoco basin and the Sanema in the Caura River basin. The Yanomam live mostly in Brazil and the Yanam are divided into communities living on both sides of the border.
Click here to read Sanema Myth on Origin of Fire
Click here to read Yanomami Myth 2: The Origin of Endo-Cannibalism
Video of Sanema Shaman Ritual with Bruce Parry