Sunday, August 19, 2007
Yanomami: The Origin of Eating the Dead
Yanomami Myth 2: The Origin of Eating the Dead
This myth comes from the book "Literaturas Indigenas de Venezuela" (Monte Avila, 1975), an anthology of myths from many Venezuelan indigenous groups collected by Father Cesareo de Armellada. It explains the origin of the Yanomami practice of endocannibalism, consuming the ashes of their dead in a plantain soup. This is a unique practice among tribal peoples today, but endocannibalism was once widespread among Panoan-speakers in South America and was only banned among Aboriginal groups in Australia in the 1960s. The photo comes from a trip I made to La Esmeralda and the Yanomami community of El Cejal.
Poreími was a talented, generous Yanomami with a magnificent intelligence. He is the one who gave the Indians stone axe blades. All the stone axe blades that are found at ancient sites are from Poreími.
At that time, there was a terrible scarcity of food in the world and the Yanomami had to eat meat raw, as they did not possess fire yet.
At that time, Poreími went to the jungle and built a magnificent house to live in with his wife Poreímiyoma.
One day some Indians came to visit them, and as a gift, they left different kinds of plantains, including a very large variety called "pareamu". That is what the one they were presented with is called.
Later, Poreími received another visit from Wayaromi, who as a present left "wabu", a fruit that is eaten when better foods are in short supply. As 'wabu" is poisonous in its natural state, Wayaromiriwa (the spirit of Wayaromi) showed Poreími how it should be prepared, cutting it into small slices with a tortoise shell.
Then Wayaromi turned himself into a bird.
Later, some other Yanomami arrived at Poreími's house. Not with presents this time, but with... empty stomachs.
They brought with them a frightful hunger. Poreími, moved by their plight, gave them abundant food to eat and on saying goodbye gave them several kinds of plantains, urging them to plant many, especially the "pareamu". He also gave them the "wabu".
The vistors then returned to their village. In their gardens they planted many plantains, harvested them in great quantities and since then have not suffered hunger any more.
Grateful for the precious presents they had received they sent a delegation to pass on their thanks to Poreími.
Arriving at his house they found him very upset: his son had died.
At that time the Yanomami used to bury their dead.
Poreími told his guests how he had carried out his son's funeral: he had burnt the body, collected the bones, ground them to ash and eaten the ashes in a soup of "pareamu" plantains.
When he said goodbye, he urged them to do the same with their own dead.
Since then, the Yanomami no longer bury the dead but burn them and consume their ashes mixed with plantain soup.
Translated by Russell Maddicks
Click here to read Yanomami Myth 1: The Origin of Fire
Video of Sanema Shaman Ritual with Bruce Parry
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