Deforestation Contributes In the Gradual Disappearance of the Yanomami Tribe Culture

Modernization and incessant innovation is one of the results of mankind’s cunning development that is both helpful and harmful to the society. On one hand, it has greatly changed the society’s way of life to become more conveniently suited for the current lifestyles of people. On the other hand, the desire and pursuit of man to make life more convenient and comfortable for all human beings has gradually taken its toll on other aspects. The consumerism, which people have become used to nowadays, contributes in destroying the environment. As the environment is compromised with human’s development, creatures that rely on it also gradually become extinct. Such is the case with the Yanomami Tribe and the continued deforestations taking place in their homeland. The deforestation within the area that the Yanomamis consider as their home has driven them out and forced them to move towards the city, which gradually diminished their culture.

The Yanomami Tribe

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Despite the incessant investigations and studies conducted by various scholars, the Yanomami tribe remains to be one of the many tribes with which most people have remained ignorant of. An incident which prompted their introduction is when an epidemic hit their home. Almost half of the Yanomami people were killed by the spread of measles in 1977. The tribe eventually became controversial because of the incident. However, when the issue has faded out, information concerning the tribe has also decreased (Park 111).

Contrary to the information that most people have known, the Yanomami is not a country or city. Rather, it is a nine-thousand-member tribe living on the sides of the borders of Brazil. It is known in archaeology as the last major Stone Age tribe found in the Amazon. It is a tribe whose health was kept protected for five centuries by their curare-tipped arrows. These arrows kept outsiders out, as well as diseases and infections. However, in the incident, where the tribe was almost wiped out, these arrows had been a failure. Because of the allure of numerous undiscovered treasures within the lands of the Yanomami, foreigners forced their way in and eventually passed their illnesses to the innocent tribe (Kraut 11).

According to research records, the Yanomamis are not much different from Africans. Their bodies have no innate immune system. They are malnourished. The Yanomami children have blonde hair when it is supposed to be dark. They also have bloated stomachs, and their limbs are spindly. The tribe’s mortality rate is extremely high and it is believed that further invasions may possibly cause their extinction (Kraut 12).

Other than the illnesses, however, there is another reason for the gradual extinction of the tribe. When foreigners entered the land of the Yanomamis, their forest was slowly exploited in order to gain valuable resources. As a result, the tribe’s resources were slowly consumed and natural minerals from their environment were taken away from the people. With the abrupt consumption of the tribe’s resources and mineral, the tribe’s food sources also diminished which eventually caused hunger among the tribe’s population. As such, most of the people in the tribe lacked the necessary nourishment needed for them to stay healthy; thus making the tribe largely susceptible to diseases and infections. In addition, this also forced some of the tribe’s members to transfer and find another place that can sustain life. However, the worst part is, those who chose to stay in their homes were forced to change their way of life (Kraut 12).

As the forest became filled with foreigners, they also brought in with them their cultures. The Yanomamis, fascinated by the difference in the articles brought by the invaders, and forced by the fact that their traditional ways seemed rather inappropriate for the current situation, the tribe adopted the foreign ways presented before them (Kraut 12). Although they did not totally let go of their own ways, it had been set aside to make way for development and progress. The ways of the foreigners became their new ways. The continued exploitation taking place in their homeland, as well as deforestation contributed to the gradual decrease of the tribe’s culture (Kraut 12).

Before the Foreigners

Even though in this generation the Yanomamis’ culture seemed to have vanished, there had been a time when they lived peacefully and quietly in the forests of the Amazon. They generally accept only their ways, know it by heart, and live by it until their death. The Yanomami ways generally involve life lived through the gifts of nature. They are hunter-agriculturists who live in collective homes or villages from an end of their tribe’s territory to the other (Browning).

Following what seem to be concentric circles, the tribe use up only the space within these circles. It marks the areas that may be used in a given period of time. The primary circle, which is typically within a five kilometer radius, margins the area that may be immediately used by the community. It is typically for small scale, gathering and fishing, and occasional short-span hunting. The second circle, a five to ten kilometer radius, is for individual hunting and for daily family food hunting and gathering. The circles coming after the second circle are for other life activities which are bigger or more complex than the first two (Browning).

Other than the food hunting and gathering, the Yanomami people also have other activities; the women, specifically, weave and decorate baskets. These baskets range from flat baskets to burden baskets, which they carry through a strap around their foreheads. After the weaving, these baskets are decorated by using a red berry called onoto and masticated charcoal pigment. But baskets are not the only things that the Yanomamis decorate with onoto, they also use it in decorating themselves as well as their loincloths (Browning).

The Yanomamis’ loincloths are the tribe’s main piece of clothing. For men, a piece of this cloth or a piece of string is tied to their waists to which the stretched foreskins of their penises are tied. It symbolizes the coming of age of a young man or maturity. For women, the loincloths are used to cover their genitals. It hangs down from a string tied to their waists, as with the male members of the tribe. On the upper part of the women’s ensemble, is another piece of string which looks like a halter stretched and criss-crossed around the breasts. For more than four hundred years, this has been practiced until foreigners arrived on their lands (Browning).

Development Resulted to vanishing Culture

As earlier mentioned, the arrival of foreigners prompted great changes not only the habitat of the Yanomamis, but also in their lives. Deforestation, which had been necessary to extract all the resources that the intruders sought for, slowly destroyed the well-preserved culture of the tribe. The sadder part, however, is that this activity on indigenous territory occurs both through private commercial loggers as well as national developers. In both cases the results are the same; the logging operations led to the decrease of trees and resources for the tribe.

In 1940, the foreigners first made contact with the tribe. After this initial contact, the preserved groups slowly decreased in number. Some were murdered by the foreigners, while others were hit by the diseases. Either way, the national government has been alerted by this fact, soon a demarcation has been set. However, despite the demarcation, violations were still rampant. It was not long after the setting of the demarcation when another Yanomami massacre occurred. This time, the government had to act. The investigations led to the punishment of five men for killing sixteen tribe members including a baby (“The Yanomami Need You”).

Despite this, it may be said that the government concerned still did not look closely at the real problem. The development may be considered as good and necessary; however, the changes that went with it damaged the tribe, their culture and their habitat. The land where the Yanomamis live should be given back to them. Together with strengthened protection and better imposition of law. The development should be done within the bounds of this law (“The Yanomami Need You”).

Unfortunately, rather than protecting the tribe and leaving them in peace, the government further allowed soldiers to build barracks within the tribe’s land. Even though this is not part of the commercial development, which leads to deforestation, this shows that there is no sincerity on the part of the national government in protecting the Yanomami land (“The Yanomami Need You”). This also points that there even seems to be a conspiracy with regard to the gradual destruction of the Yanomami land.

The Results of the Invasion

As the foreigners and the national government continue to enter the Yanomami territory, the activities led to numerous results. The place slowly became polluted, the trees continued to vanish and the people of tribe acquired diseases; however, it still remains that the most adverse effect is that it pushed the tribe out of their homes.

It may be noted that for hundreds of years, the tribe lived contentedly no matter how primitive other people may consider their way of life has been. They were able to survive through the resources they get from nature; however, it was only when the missions and the gold miners entered their forest that their lives were disturbed. The missions drove them to live outside the forest, into the villages surrounding it. It also encouraged them to embrace development and modernization leading to great changes in their ways of life. For instance, their clothing, especially for men have been changed from the primitive loincloths, into walking shorts. The barefoot that have been well-adapted for forest walking, became covered with slippers and sandals. They no longer settled with the food they can harvest from the forest, rather the tribe engaged into other means of obtaining food (Nelson).

Among other effects of the invasion and deforestation of the Yanomami tribe lands, this may be considered as the worse. This meant for the group to shed off their original and traditional means of living. It also meant losing their culture. As they lost their culture, they also lost their identities; and eventually, as their culture became extinct, their identity as a tribe will also become extinct regardless if their tribe has been the oldest existing in the world.

Conclusion

The changes in the lives of the Yanomami, may be justified by some as a part of the necessity to develop and progress. However, it fails to note that there are certain things in life that must remain as it is, especially those which keep the balance of nature. In the case of the Yanomami, the preservation of the forest was where the tribe anchored. Since the forest is gradually disappearing, the tribe members are slowly decreasing as well. As such, the people who caused it should be held accountable. Man should understand that real progress in the area of human rights can only be made if the national government holds violators accountable and enforces indigenous people’s rights.

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